Monday, January 18, 2010

Difdafti January 2010

What I browsed last week, from the new book shelves in Hillman Library and from some new books from other libraries brought by PALCI.

A festschrift for Eric Zimmer, edited by Gershon Bacon, Daniel Sperber, and Aharon Gaimoni, title in English: Studies on the History of the Jews of Ashkenaz; title in Hebrew (all the articles are in Hebrew): Meḥkarim be-toldot yehude ashkenaz. (Bar Ilan University Press, 2008) Almost all the articles are on the history of various Ashkenazic minhagim or on conceptualizations of minhagim in halakhic literature. Most of the studies seem to combine fine-grain textual analysis with an attention to larger socio-cultural historical questions.

Last week, I saw the new list of National Jewish Book Awards: Congratulations to Judy Klitzner for the scholarship prize. (I will send you the commemorative trophy.) The next day, I saw her book on the shelf: Subversive Sequels in the Bible: How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other (Jewish Publication Society, 2009).

Add to the growing literature on time and calendars in early modern Europe an English translation of Max Engammare, On Time, Punctuality, and Discipline in Early Modern Calvinism (Cambridge University Press); this is an expansion of the French original published in Geneva in 2004 (L’ordre du temps. L’invention de la ponctualité au XVIe siècle.)

Laura Lunger Knoppers and her colleagues have put together an impressive Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing. I just wish they had added “in England and Britain” to the title.... Seems to me I’ve mentioned this problem before. To my good friends (who would never make this mistake) and to their colleagues (who might) in English literary and cultural studies, I wish to remind you that England was not the only place to have a “medieval” or “early modern” period or to have (possibly) had a “Renaissance” or “Reformation.”

Elliot Wolfson’s new study of the messianism of Menahem Mendel Schneerson, in Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision (Columbia University Press, 2009) is an impressive close reading of the writings of the late Habad rebbe. Wolfson also has interesting methodological comments on the role that textual analysis can play in studying contemporary religious movements. And it may be the first scholarly work on Kabbalah in which texts by Ronald Reagan are cited.

More on semi-secret messianic movements: Marc David Baer, our sometime colleague at the University of Pittsburgh, has published The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks (Stanford University Press, 2010). This book is getting lots of attention.

In the history of the book, Adrian Johns placed the issue of trust and authority between readers, printers, and authors on the agenda. So when I saw a new collection on the shelf with the title eTrust: Forming Relationships in the Online World (ed. Karen S. Cook et al; Russell Sage Foundation, 2009), I thought some book historian might want to look at this. It’s part of a series “The Russell Sage Foundation Series on Trust” with 13 previous volumes. But brush up on your math before you tackle it.

I notice that the philosopher Thomas Nagel has a new collection of essays, Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament (Oxford 2010), including the one that led one philosophy blog to ask whether he has “jumped the shark.”

If you think on-line discussions about religion can get heated, check out sixteenth-century French “literature of vituperation” studied by Antónia Szabari, Less Rightly Said: Scandals and Readers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford University Press, 2010).

“Real” religious violence in the past: Jill N. Claster, Sacred Violence: The European Crusades to the Middle East, 1095-1396 (University of Toronto Press, 2009) looks like a very readable survey.

Last week I was also reading P.D. James, Talking about Detective Fiction, where she stresses the importance of the inter-war period as the “Golden Age” of [British] detective fiction. She also suggests that reading novels from this period gives as good a sense of post-WW 1 British anxieties as any social history. But one could look at Richard Overy, The Twilight Years: The Paradox of Britain between the Wars (Viking Press, 2009) for an account of Britons trying to grapple with a sense of impending doom. His starting off point Eric Hobsbawm and friends at Cambridge in 1939 grappling with the idea that they might all die soon.

To the burgeoning literature on the Catholic Church and the Holocaust (in the news this week), one can add Derek Hastings, Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism (Oxford UP 2010). Hastings threads a fine needle--perhaps anticipating the kind of controversy his book might arouse: “In striving to characterize accurately the activities of early Nazi Catholics in and around Munich, the distinction between the internal-ideal and external-historical perspectives helps to navigate around a central conundrum: avoiding the appearance of indicting Catholicism (as an institutional entity or in ideational terms) for the tragic excesses of the Nazis while at the same time recognizing the important and very real role played by Nazi Catholic clergy and laypeople who, acting as Catholics and in pursuit of what they perceived to be a legitimate form of Catholic identity, were indeed central to the stabilization and spread of the early Nazi movement.” (p.179)

Finally, more theoretical food-for-thought for the study of religion. and history in G.E.R. Lloyd, Disciplines in the Making: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Elites, Learning, and Innovation (Oxford University Press 2009). People in Religious Studies departments spend a lot of time debating how to define “religion” and often assume that it’s our special cross to bear and that those lucky folks in other fields know just what their subject is. Lloyd argues that folks in philosophy, mathematics, history, medicine, art, law, and science all have to think about this also.

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