By Michael Cook
Oxford University Press. 162 pp. $8.95
The Qur’an is one of the world’s most important and most enigmatic books. In a beautifully written, concise, and insightful study, packed into one of a series of “very short” introductions to a multitude of subjects, Michael Cook makes clear some of the mysteries of this holy book, in part by his excellent examples. He tells about its origins, its content, organization, translation, pronunciation, commentaries, and dissemination. Cook takes up the subtle ironies connected with the book (Islam, for instance, is a missionary religion but the sacredness of the Qur’an means that Muslims face a “clear and insoluble conflict between the desire to proclaim God’s word to the unbelievers and the shudder of them touching it”). He takes up such seemingly minor but revealing topics as treating the Qur’an as literature, disposing of the worn text, and the role of calligraphy. Many of his descriptions are evocative and explanatory. Here is one on the effect of tajwid , a musical version of reciting the Qur’an: “It is not unseemly to weep silently during a particularly moving recitation. Much of the intensity that gives the art of Koranic recitation its effectiveness comes from a union of grave and dignified restraint with a kind of playing with fire.” To demonstrate the singular hold the Qur’an has in Muslim society, Cools tells of “a woman who for thirty years communicated exclusively ” with quotations from the Qur’an. For anyone, at almost any level of knowledge, wanting to learn more about the Qur’an, this is a wonderful place to start. Reading Cook does not replace immersion in the Islamic holy book, but it does prepare one for reading it. The miniature format of the Very Short Introduction and its miniature price only make the study more alluring.
” Daniel Pipes
The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature .
By Tarif Khalidi.
Harvard University Press. 245 pp. $22.95
Islamic Interpretations of Christianity .
Edited by Lloyd Ridgeon.
Curzon. 255 pp. $45
In 1989, the Iranian media called the showing in Istanbul of Martin Scor sese’s controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ a plot “hatched by world arrogance and international Zionism” and soon after fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Christians together protested the movie’s screening. A decade later, the “Shari’ah Court of the UK” condemned Terrence McNally to death for his defamatory play about Jesus, Corpus Christi , and again the faithful of the two faiths together protested outside the theater. The man who issued the edict, Omar Bakri Muhammad, commented that “the Church of England has neglected the honor of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.” Muslim groups also protested when the Brooklyn Museum mounted a scurrilous exhibit of the Virgin Mary. Don’t they have the wrong religious figure? No: from the Qur’an on, Jesus has always had a special place in Muslim piety, as Tarif Khalidi (professor of Arabic at Cambridge University) shows in his exemplary study, The Muslim Jesus . In fact, he even writes about a “Muslim gospel” which, though emphatically denying the divinity of “Isa ibn Maryam,” gives him an honored place as a prophet. The 303 snippets that Khalidi translates and comments on from a wide range of sources ( hadith , belles-lettres, mystical works, etc.) do convincingly establish his point that, “In his Muslim habitat, Jesus becomes an object of intense devotion, reverence, and love.” In an introductory essay, Khalidi traces the origins of the “Muslim gospel” and concludes by observing that this cross-religious history offers some lessons for a time like the present, when Christian-Muslim tensions are rife. The mostly Christian and British authors of ten fine chapters in Islamic Interpretations of Christianity have a decidedly less cheerful take on their subject. The book deals in roughly equal parts with the premodern and modern eras; in both, it finds that Islamic views of Christianity and Christians are generally harsh. The Qur’an is rather more friendly to an (Islam-receptive) ideal Christianity than the one that actually exists; the hadith literature consigns Christians to social and religious inferiority; the legal literature creates a binary Muslim vs. non-Muslim distinction that is “never” breached; even Jalal ad-Din Rumi, the favorite poet of mystically inclined Americans, turns out to be less inclusive and more doctrinaire than they realize. In the modern era, Sayyid Qutb’s aggressive attitude toward Christians amounted to an aggressive and “radical break” with traditional Sunni Islam; and while no one can find enlightened attitudes among British Muslims toward Christianity, most of the views expressed fit into “an older anti-Christian polemical tradition.” There is a long way to go before adherents of these two faiths can achieve the maturity of the Christian-Jewish relationship.
Legacy of the Prophet: Despots, Democrats, and the New Politics of Islam.
By Anthony Shadid.
Westview. 364 pp. $26 .
Another Western journalist careening around the Middle East, interviewing hundreds of people from cab drivers to heads of state, churning out a book with the words “of the Prophet” in his title, insisting that Islamism is really our friend. (Other examples of this genre include Milton Viorst’s In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam and Mark Huband’s Warriors of the Prophet: The Struggle for Islam , both published in 1998.) Shadid, formerly the Associated Press correspondent in Cairo, is a good writer and observer (and he reports much of interest in the course of his book), but he has not a clue about Islam. Interestingly, he guilelessly admits as much in his introduction, where he writes that Islam, through all his research on the subject, has remained to him “sometimes foreign and all too often confusing and troubling.” In his puzzlement, he falls for the voguish idea that Islamism’s future lies in “movements that are willing to exercise tolerance and adopt pluralism and compromise as both tactics and ideals.” The subtitle refers to Shadid’s overly optimistic theory that despots are part of Islamism’s past and democrats make up its future. That a journalist, someone paid for careful observation, can reach such a conclusion betrays a psychological barrier to seeing realities as they are. For the record: Islamism (as distinct from Islam itself) is a utopian ideology that seeks to use the State and other institutions to establish a totalitarian domination over the lives of individuals. Islamists, like other political radicals, are ready to use whatever tools are at hand; so when violent attempts to take power appear to have reached a dead end, they are quite ready to pursue the same ends through less violent means. This does not make them democrats nor does it render their movements tolerant and pluralist. Shadid and other journalists do a grave disservice in closing their eyes to these plain facts.
Psychology and American Catholicism: From Confession to Therapy?
By C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J.
Crossroad. 214 pp. $24
The new science of psychology-that is, the psychology that took off with Freud, Jung, Adler, and so many others, and has displaced the “old” psychology that went back to Aristotle and Aquinas-has always been a troubled enterprise. From the start, the leading thinkers have fought bitterly over whose approach really reflects the way human beings think, feel, and act. Religious and commonsense critics from outside the field have never been lacking either. This deeply troubled state of psychology is only dimly acknowledged in Jesuit Father C. Kevin Gillespie’s Psychology and American Catholicism. The book mostly comes off as boosterism for psychology-telling its twentieth-century history in American Catholic circles as a story of the progressively increasing acceptance of and reliance on psychology at every level of the Church. Gillespie is not blind to the danger of going too far in accommodating psychology. He sees psychology and Catholicism, however, as “two spires of inspiration, two forces of knowledge and wisdom,” that “now collaborate in the construction of a solid banner of wisdom.” Gillespie’s book offers something not available elsewhere. He tells the story of many leading American Catholic figures as they embraced psychology’s developments and promoted them in the Church. To name just a few: Fr. Edward Pace, who brought experimental psychology to the Catholic University of America; Fr. Thomas Verner Moore, who opened the first psychiatric outpatient department in Washington; Sr. Annette Walters, whose books introduced thousands of Catholic university students to psychology. The most conspicuous deficiency in the book is the lack of information about the different theoretical positions held by the various leaders chronicled in the book. Gillespie tells us very little about the intellectual history of Catholic psychology departments and institutions as they were being founded, as important books were written, and as bishops acted and reacted. Certainly it is important for the Church to understand psychology and whatever truths experimental science uncovers about the soul. At the same time, it seems as or more crucial now for psychology to understand the Church. The truths that theology and philosophy can teach it about the motivations of the human heart may be just what psychology needs to sort out its own internal discord.
” Gerry Rauch
Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe: Toward the Revival of Higher Education .
By Jeffrey Hart.
Yale University Press. 288 pp. $26.95 paper.
It is a curious fact that, while liberals and radicals on college campuses tend to dismiss conservatives as ignorant bigots and hold themselves up as exemplars of humanism, it is usually the conservatives who defend the careful study of humanity’s greatest cultural achievements. Jeffrey Hart, professor of English emeritus at Dartmouth College and a senior editor at National Review , is one of those ignorant conservatives who spends his time reading and thinking about the likes of Homer, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Molière, and Dostoevsky. That the classic texts written by these authors are rarely “part of the intellectual equipment even of professors in the liberal arts today, much less their students” is what lies behind the “catastrophe” to which Hart refers in his title. Rather than counseling despair, however, he encourages us to “smile” while continuing to transmit the wisdom embedded in the history of civilization. After all, today’s students and professors must surely “long for something more serious and more lasting” than the petty ideological crusades of the moment. They will thus eventually come back to their senses. And when they do, the great old books-and the great old debates recorded in those books-will still be there. In ten elegant chapters, Hart demonstrates how best to study our cultural heritage by exploring one such debate in the history of Western literature: the quarrel between Athens and Jerusalem. The dynamic interaction between these two camps-usually characterized by tension, sometimes synthesis, and sometimes outright conflict-exemplifies Western thinking at its most profound, and the author acts as a splendid guide throughout. We do indeed come away from the book hopeful for the future of liberal education in America, not least because we know that there are still scholars and teachers like Jeffrey Hart.
The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored.
By George Weigel.
HarperCollins. 196 pp. $24
George Weigel, author of the authoritative biography of John Paul II, Witness to Hope , and regular contributor to these pages, makes a big gift in a small and beautifully wrapped package. In an easy to read style he addresses ten hard questions often asked about Christian faith and life, and about Catholicism in particular. For example: Jesus as the only Savior. The connection between faith and authority. Why Catholicism is not simply a church among churches. The liberating power of moral law. Sexuality and the love of God. The truth in world religions. Catholic foundations of democracy, and, finally, the sadness of not being a saint. For both cradle Catholics and intelligent inquirers, this is catechesis of a high order, offering numerous “Ah, ha!” moments of intellectual and spiritual discovery. Warmly recommended.
The Meaning of Conservatism .
By Roger Scruton.
Revised Third Edition. St. Augustine. 272 pp. $30
Originally published in 1980, now substantially rewritten and available in the United States for the first time, this ambitious and thoughtful defense of conservatism as a political doctrine makes for bracing reading. The author’s outlook is very English-not just in his examples, which invariably come from British politics, but much more so in his approach to political life and ideas. When was the last time you heard an American conservative say that “conservatism is not about freedom, but about authority”? Only some of our so-called paleoconservatives come close to such views, and even they end up appealing to long-lost ideals of liberty to make their case. But not Scruton, who prefers to speak of the need to “perpetuate a social organism.” As a profound challenge to American-no less than liberal, democratic, and socialist-assumptions, The Meaning of Conservatism is an important work.
Evangelicals and Politics in Asia, Africa, and Latin America .
By Paul Freston.
Cambridge University Press. 344 pp. $59.95.
The first volume in a big project on evangelicals and the Third World funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and carried out in cooperation with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Freston is a Brazilian sociologist with first-hand experience of evangelicalism in Latin America and a formidable knowledge of the large and growing literature on evangelicalism elsewhere. The pres ent book serves as a map of what is known and what needs to be known, constituting an elaborate annotated bibliography that will be of great assistance to specialists. Freston argues effectively for the indigenous nature of evangelical growth in Latin America and elsewhere, and against conspiracy theories involving a central directorate based in the U.S. He is also sharply critical of the methodology of the huge Fundamentalism Project directed by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby.
Personal Catholicism .
By Martin X. Moleski, S.J.
Catholic University of America Press. 222 pp. $54.95.
This is an important and utterly engaging study, for all the reasons that Avery Cardinal Dulles cites in the foreword, and it is a pity that the price is so steep. Moleski examines the theo logical epistemologies-how do we know what we know?-of John Henry Newman and Michael Polanyi. Writing a century apart, Newman and Polanyi were both post-critical, expanding the definition of reason to include what Newman called the illative sense and Polanyi called tacit knowledge. Those familiar with Newman’s Grammar of Assent and Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge will appreciate the ways in which Moleski makes sometimes unexpected connections between the two thinkers, despite Polanyi’s critical disposition toward Catholicism. Personal Catholicism is a most welcome contribution to today’s rethinking of the relationship be tween faith and reason.
Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil.
By Cornelius G. Hunter.
Brazos. 192 pp. $17.99.
Everybody knows by now, or should know, that the theory of evolution is about much more than science. From Darwin to the present day, some champions of the theory acknowledge that it aims to serve as a kind of “theodicy,” explaining why God, if there is a God, made such a strange world. Hunter usefully makes explicit what too often remains implicit in the growing disputes about the status of evolutionary theory.
The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York .
By Vincent J. Cannato.
Basic. 702 pp. $35
So many years after politicians began running away from the L-word, one is reminded that John Lindsay’s winning poster in his 1965 campaign for mayor of New York was a photo with his two opponents seated and Lindsay standing. The motto: “Would the real liberal please stand up?” Lindsay, who was at first hailed as a White Knight and was touted as a presidential candidate in 1972, served two disastrous terms as mayor, and his failures contributed powerfully to the discrediting of the liberal label. He poured money the city didn’t have into endless antipoverty schemes in order to show that the city “cared,” and bribed black radicals and white crazies, including Abbie Hoffman, by paying them under the table. He was also a strident but embarrassingly ill-informed critic of U.S. policy in Vietnam. But nobody questioned his personal integrity or good intentions. Before he died last year at age seventy-nine, he had neither savings nor income and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani-in style and substance Lindsay’s very antithesis-put him on the city pension plan with a no-show job. To read this book is to relive an important part of the squalid sixties and seventies. It could have been at least a hundred pages shorter if the author had not felt obliged to include almost everything that almost every pundit said at the time about almost anything.
The Truth of Power: Intellectual Affairs in the Clinton White House.
By Benjamin R. Barber.
Norton. 320 pp. $26.95.
On the dustjacket, Benjamin Barber of the University of Maryland is described (by himself?) as the author of Strong Democracy “and other contemporary classics of political thought,” and by historian Douglas Brinkley as “a caring idealist with a vulnerable temperament.” The vulnerable temperament is everywhere here on display. He was infatuated with Bill Clinton and all aflutter when he was chosen as one of Clinton’s intellectual pickups for occasional bull sessions. Then he discovered that Clinton didn’t really respect him and was not serious about ideas, from which Barber draws the lesson that intellectuals should stay away from power. Others might conclude that naive academics panting for a pat on the head from the powerful should grow up.
Getting Over Equality: A Critical Diagnosis of Religious Freedom in America .
By Steven D. Smith.
New York University Press. 214 pp. $40
Smith, who has written for these pages, teaches law at the University of Notre Dame, and our Editor-in-Chief stands by what he says on the back cover of this fine book: “Moving beyond stale arguments about the separation of church and state’ and exposing the incoherence of doctrines of equality,’ Smith proposes a vibrant practice of tolerance and prudence that holds high promise for our continuing debate over the role of religion in the public square. His argument is lucid, forceful, sometimes eccentric, and refreshingly free of legalistic cant.”
Religious Freedom: History, Cases, and Other Materials on the Interaction of Religion and Government .
By John T. Noonan, Jr. and Edward McGlynn Gaffney, Jr.
Foundation. 998 pp. $60.
A second and much updated edition of the 1986 book by Judge Noonan, Religious Freedom will be warmly welcomed by all who deal professionally with questions of law and religion. Much more than a conventional casebook, although cases receive due attention, the book provides extended and thoughtful essays on the biblical, cultural, and historical interactions of religion and the powers that be, with particular reference to the American experience both past and present.
The Second Spring of the Church in America .
By George A. Kelly.
St. Augustine. 195 pp. $25
Taking his title from Cardinal Newman’s famous address, a veteran priest and skilled polemicist goes inveighing against what has gone wrong with the Catholic Church in this country since the Council and tells us what can be done about it. Vintage Kelly, and a bracing critique and proposal.
Theologians of the Baptist Tradition .
Edited by Timothy George and David S. Dockery.
Broadman & Holman. 414 pp. $24
.99 paper .
A substantially updated and revised version of Baptist Theologians by the same editors, this book is a useful introduction to a tradition that is often thought to reject tradition. Among the authors whose work and life are profiled are Frank Stagg, W. A. Criswell, Carl F. H. Henry, A. T. Robertson, Herschel H. Hobbs, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon. These and others, the editors note, have been shapers of the Southern Baptist tradition in particular.
Calhoun and Popular Rule .
By H. Lee Cheek, Jr.
University of Missouri Press. 202 pp. $29.95
It may be impossible to rescue the thought of John C. Calhoun from his identification with the South and its “peculiar institution,” but Professor Cheek makes a valiant effort that is worthy of very serious attention. Calhoun’s sophisticated theory of the “concurrent majority” as the American republic’s alternative to both despotism and anarchy holds much that might appeal, if they understood it, to both liberal and conservative parties today. His adamant insistence upon conciliation as the alternative to conflict might also, just possibly, have avoided the Civil War and, as Lincoln phrased it, put slavery on the road to ultimate extinction. Calhoun and Popular Rule is not, however, an exercise in what might have been. Prof. Cheek offers it as a challenging contribution to contemporary political theory, and the challenge should be taken up.
Western Creed, Western Identity: Essays in Legal and Social Philosophy .
By Jude P. Dougherty.
Catholic University of America Press. 256 pp. $24
The former dean of philosophy at Catholic University brings together formidable erudition and wisdom in a convincing affirmation of the credal basis of the culture of the West. Subjects range from religion and politics, to epistemology, to contemplation as the necessary ambiance in the search for truth.
The One-Minute Philosopher .
By Montague Brown.
Sophia. 207 pp. $19.95
The subtitle promises much more than any book should promise: “Quick Answers to Help You Banish Confusion, Resolve Controversies, and Explain Yourself Better to Others.” It does, however, provide a great deal of wisdom in succinct form on hundreds of subjects ranging from Admiration and Adulthood to Wisdom, Wish, and Wonder. On most of these topics, the author offers a good place to start toward deeper reflection.
Garlands of Grace: An Anthology of Great Christian Poetry .
By Regis Martin.
Ignatius. 130 pp. $11.95.
Of anthologies of poems you can never have enough, especially when the poems are as judiciously selected as they are for this little collection that brings together many standards but also offers surprises. The flowery title notwithstanding, Garlands of Grace leans against the sentimental.
In the Days of the Angels .
By Walter Wangerin.
Waterbrook. 164 pp. $13.95.
A lovely little book of stories, carols, reflections, and whimsy-all illuminating the significance of Christmas. Wangerin is author of the award-winning Book of the Dun Cow , and this volume suggests itself for Christmas reading, and giving.