Stephen C. Finley
The history of African Americans is important in the formation of, but presents a challenge to, black theology. African American history provided a lens through which to view the world and Christian theology more generally. James H. Cone, the progenitor of academic black theology, initiated the formal discourse of black theology and argued that the exigencies of the moment required a theology of liberation that could speak to conditions currently facing African Americans. This essay examines the ways in which African American history is used to construct and justify the existence of black theology and discusses some of the conceptual problems arising from this use. It first considers history as a source and method of African American theology and the role of African American history in womanist theology. It then analyzes the way William R. Jones and Eddie S. Glaude Jr. challenge black theology’s use of African American history.
Alan Charles Kors
This article discusses the meanings, origin, context, scope, and central intellectual claims of atheism in the Age of the European Enlightenment. It emphasizes debates about proofs of the existence of God and about the problem of categorical naturalism, that is, of whether or not the world we observe and its seeming design could be the product of unintelligent causes. It explores the philosophical origins of Enlightenment atheism both in prior heterodox and Epicurean thought, and, of even greater importance, in the orthodox debates, scholarship, and mutual contestations that generated so many of the themes and often arguments of Enlightenment atheists. It pays special attention to the complexity of the relationship between philosophical skepticism and atheistic thought. Given the flowering of explicitly atheistic thought in the late French Enlightenment, the article looks closely at the work of Denis Diderot, the baron d’Holbach, and Jacques-André Naigeon.
American Jewish history as a field of scholarly inquiry takes as its subject-matter the experience of Jews in the United States and places it within the context of both modern Jewish history and the history of the United States. Its practitioners see their intellectual project as inextricably connected to both histories. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the enterprise of American Jewish history enjoys a condition of robust health. By the 1990s American immigration history had generally declined in favour within the ranks of American historians. That Jews, outsiders to American culture upon their arrival in the United States, were able to penetrate barriers and enter the mainstream clashes with the way historians want to see the American past. As a group who craved both economic security and respectability, their story lacks the dramatic punch of resisters and rebels to the American ethos.
Atheists, conservative theists, and religious liberals often read the history of science in ways that support their own position. Atheists expect continual mutual support between science and nonbelief, conservatives emphasize theistic metaphysical foundations for science; and liberals find a historical development toward separate spheres for science and religion. The rise of science was more complicated than anticipated by any of these stories. Atheism and science have usually developed almost independently, with weak connections. Today, the naturalism of modern scientific descriptions of the world is consonant with an atheistic position. But even now, significant tensions between science and atheism remain.
James C. VanderKam
The work that is today called the Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch is actually a collection of ancient booklets written at different times by several authors, almost all of them composed in the Aramaic language. They all share the trait that Enoch is the speaker and/or protagonist. Though a book of Enoch was known and fairly widely used in antiquity, most of the text was lost to Western readers until copies of the Ethiopic translation of the book were brought from Abyssinia to Europe beginning in the late eighteenth century CE. This article describes the components, the textual evidence, and influential themes in 1 Enoch. It also considers the place of the book in Second Temple Judaism and evaluates the Enochic–Essene hypothesis.
Richard K. Payne
This essay examines a variety of dysfunctional consequences of employing modern nation-states as the default organizing category for Buddhist studies regardless of the period being studied. Two of these consequences are directly related to one another: conflating contemporary nation-states with religious cultures, and equating religious and ethnic identities. Additionally, the organizing category tends to privilege some particular tradition as representative of or the essence of Buddhism in a specific nation-state, marking that tradition as uniquely authoritative. More broadly, research is constrained within the boundaries of nation-states, and the continuity of Buddhist traditions that cross nation-state boundaries is obscured. At the same time artificial continuities are retrospectively imposed, and the tradition comes to be defined by forms located at the center of political power. The work of four contemporary scholars is discussed as exemplifying the arguments for and value of moving away from nation-state categories. Consideration is given to the formative role of the training of missionaries and other agents of empire in the institutionalization of nation-state categories.
Irena Borowik, Branko Ančić, and Radosław Tyrała
This essay offers a fresh exploration of atheism in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), while also providing an overview of existing research into atheism and non-religion in the region. In light of the legacy of state-imposed atheism, and the subsequent (apparent) ‘religious awakening’ in some countries, the authors demonstrate the significance of national religious traditions and confessional structures for understanding diversity of atheism’s nature and extent within the area. Analysis of European Values Survey data show that confessional structures of societies play more important role in spread of atheism than religious tradition (Catholicism or Orthodoxy) and that religious mono-confessionality supports vitality of religion, while religious pluralism makes more space for further differentiations of world-views, including atheism. The analysis also confirm that in CEE atheists, both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’, are not coherent as a group, and that some of them profess belief in supernatural powers and/or declare a religious affiliation.
Stephen R. L. Clark
Judith L. Kovacs
One of the earliest surviving Christian writings, Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians provides a fascinating picture of the life of one early Christian community and the challenges its members faced as they attempted to live out the gospel as a tiny minority in the midst of a pagan world. It also gives a first-hand glimpse of Paul's work as missionary and teacher. Written to a church Paul founded (Acts 18:1–17) and knows especially well, in response to a letter from the Corinthians asking him for guidance (7:1), the letter gives advice on healing factions in the community (chs. 1–4), sexual morality (chs. 5–7), how to relate to the civil and religious institutions of the pagan world (6:1–11; chs. 8–10), and various aspects of Christian worship (chs. 11–14). This article shows how 1 Corinthians is interpreted by a biblical scholar in the 21st century, drawing on a tradition of historical-critical study of the Bible that reaches back to the Enlightenment. It also provides a few glimpses into the long and rich reception history of the letter.
The period between the third and fifth centuries CE was crucial for the development of Christianity not least for ideas about desire and the body. Patristic writers hoped for the elimination of sex and sexual desire among Christians, encouraging the renunciation of sexual activity, marriage, and family life. Monasticism and men’s self-castration were among the varied means by which to achieve that renunciation, the former encouraged by the Church Fathers and the latter discouraged. Marriage was permissible if couples engaged only in procreative sex with each other, and married only once. Other types of sexual behaviour, including what we would call homosexuality, were condemned. Gender difference was also reinforced in this period and earlier notions of a genderless ideal in Christianity were mostly abandoned, through the strengthening of traditional public lives for men and private lives for women.
Marilyn McCord Adams
Scotus’ estimate of the female gender is shaped by his view that Mary is pre-eminent among merely human saints. Because Mary must be a real mother, he rejects the Aristotelian view that mothers are merely passive causes in reproduction. Christ’s most perfect saving act preserves Mary for immaculate conception, freedom from original sin, not just from birth but from the moment of foetal animation. Gender-justice is important in the marriage contract, even though God never dispenses from life-long indissoluble monogamy to allow polyandry or to permit women to divorce. The Franciscan distinction between dominion and use allows Mary and Joseph to be really married even though both vowed chastity. Gender-justice means that right reason would never permit merely human institutions from restricting ordination to men. The command must come from Christ himself.
Early Chinese writers rose above particular descriptions of spirits and sacrifices to a meta-discourse about the nature of spirits and the meaning of sacrifices. That is, they themselves mused about the broader meaning of religious phenomena. They recognized diverse ideas about spirits (e.g. whether they possessed agency); they theorized on dependency relationships between spirits and humans (e.g. the nature of reciprocity); they identified secular justifications behind religious discourses (e.g. the orthopraxy of affirming community or sanctioning ethics); they justified religious pluralism (e.g. by recognizing one’s own tradition as the trunk tradition and others as merely branch traditions); and they even permitted personal religious diversity (e.g. the same person could explain away immortals in one setting and yet glorify them in another). Because they themselves theorized about the nature of religious phenomena, we should become cognizant of those theories before projecting our own understandings of religion onto their spirits and sacrifices.
This article notes that the study of the modern history of East European Jews is not a field driven at present by deep conceptual or ideological divides or abiding scholarly or methodological controversies. The past debates on this score between Israeli and diaspora Jewish scholarship have all but disappeared, as has even more dramatically the attempt at a Marxist version of juedische Wissenschaft. While the major works of the founders of the field from Simon Dubnov on ought to be studied and the impressive resurgence of interest in the history and culture of East European Jewry in the modern age is underway, the work is still largely undone. The crucial challenge to the field is not to succumb to the lachrymose and romanticized stereotypes of Jewish life in Eastern Europe while continuing to explore the history of this the largest Jewry in the world before the Holocaust.
The Book of Esther tells the tale of a prime minister, Haman, who, through various political machinations, attempts to annihilate the Jews of the ancient Persian empire. Esther, queen of the empire and secretly a Jew, averts the disaster and, together with her uncle, Mordecai, is celebrated as the saviour of the Jews. The end of the book institutes Purim as a festival to celebrate ‘rest from their enemies’ and the turning of ‘sorrow to gladness’ and ‘mourning into a good day’. As early as 1935, parallels were being drawn between this story and the politics of the Nazi party, which are discussed in this article.
Warren Zev Harvey
This chapter discusses the ethical views of medieval Jewish philosophers, showing that the varieties of Jewish philosophy in the medieval period defy easy categorization, let alone condensation into a single notion of Jewish ethics. Scholars surveyed include Saadia Gaon, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Bahya ibn Paquda, Judah Halevi, Abraham ibn Ezra, Abraham ibn Daud, Moses Maimonides, Levi Gersonides, Jedaiah Bedersi, Hesdai Crescas, Joseph Albo, and Joseph ibn Shemtob.
This article describes conceptions of the early modern period in Jewish historiography, the Italian Renaissance, intellectual history, the Jews of Central Europe in the early modern period, the Sephardic diaspora in Western Europe, and messianism. Classical Jewish historiography depicted a sharp break between medieval and modern patterns, the movements of transformation seeming to emerge virtually out of nothing. Cecil Roth's The Jews in the Renaissance introduced Jewish historians to the riches of Jewish life in this multifaceted world. Jewish intellectual history in the early modern period is characterized by successful attempts to cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497 had a profound impact on the life of Western European Jews, even beyond that on Iberian Jewry itself. Meanwhile, the messianic movement of Sabbatai Zevi reverberated strongly through the Jewish historiography of the early modern period.
While Sceptics canvassed arguments against the existence of any gods, and Cynics were abrasive in their strictures on conventional religion, late antiquity offers no indubitable evidence of naked disbelief in the divine. Christians were called atheists because they abstained from popular and mandatory acts of worship, Epicureans because they denied the providential ordering of the world. In Christian literature the term is applied both to pagans, on account of their failure to recognise the true God, and to heretics who denied God any part in the creation or governance of the material realm. The ‘fool’ of Psalm 53.1 was characterized by some commentators as an absolute atheist by others only as a practical atheist. Christians of the early middle ages often accepted that the pagan gods had existed, either as demons or (according to the theory of Euhemerus) as humans who had merited special notoriety.
‘Atheism’ is a term that has historically carried a wide range of meanings and connotations. Popular speech, in particular, admits of a range of definitions, but the same is true of contemporary scholarly usage also. This chapter therefore surveys the sheer variety of ways of defining ‘atheism’, before outlining the pressing need for a generally agreed-upon usage in the growing—and, thus far, Babel-like—field of scholarship on atheism. It then outlines and explains the precise definition used throughout the Handbook: an absence of belief in the existence of a God or gods. The utility of such a broad definition, taking atheism to be an ‘umbrella concept’ that admits of a range of subdivisions (e.g., ‘positive’ and ‘negative’), is then explored and defended at length.
This chapter justifies the general application of the taxon ‘religion’ as a unitary analytical concept situated in history, and locates religions as interculturally translatable and communicable systems of beliefs and practices related to superhuman agents. It argues that the postmodern claim that religion was an exclusive invention of modern European scholarship should be dismissed. The author shows that European discourse did not impose on non-European cultures alien colonial configurations such as the separation of the sphere of religion from other spheres of human culture. That this separation was not ‘invented’ is implied by the universal process of construction of boundaries between distinct domains of social life and the consequent elaboration of cross-cultural categories. The possibility itself of defining and translating religion into the most diverse historical and geographical milieus shows the panhuman character of this historical constellation.