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Political Philosophy and the Claims of Faith
The Teachings of Metropolitan Platon
This valuable study explores the Russian Enlightenment with reference to the religious Enlightenment of the mid to late eighteenth century. Grounded in close reading of the sermons and devotional writings of Platon (Levshin), Court preacher and Metropolitan of Moscow, the book examines the blending of European ideas into the teachings of Russian Orthodoxy. Highlighting the interplay between Enlightenment thought and Orthodox enlightenment, Elise Wirtschafter addresses key questions of concern to religious Enlighteners across Europe: humanity’s relationship to God and creation, the distinction between learning and enlightenment, the role of Christian love in authority relationships, the meaning of free will in a universe governed by Divine Providence, and the unity of church, monarchy, and civil society. Countering scholarship that depicts an Orthodox religious culture under assault from European modernity and Petrine absolutism, Wirtschafter emphasizes the ability of Russia’s educated churchmen to assimilate and transform Enlightenment ideas. The intellectual and spiritual vitality of eighteenth-century Orthodoxy helps to explain how Russian policymakers and intellectuals met the challenge of European power while simultaneously coming to terms with the broad cultural appeal of the Enlightenment’s universalistic human rights agenda.
When Sergius of Radonezh founded a monastery near Moscow, his example spawned a movement of monastic foundations throughout Russia. Within three decades of his death in 1392, Sergius was recognized as a saint, and by 1450 many considered him the intercessor for the Russian land who freed its people from Mongol rule. Over the next century and a half, thousands sought St. Sergius’s intercession with gifts to the monastery. Moscow’s rulers made Sergius patron saint of their dynasty and of the Russian tsardom. By 1605, the Trinity-Sergius monastery was the biggest house in Russia. Miller presents Trinity’s dramatic history from the 14th century to the beginning of the Time of Troubles. Using extensive archival materials, he traces the evolution of Trinity’s relationship to Sergius’s venerators and its traditions, governance, social composition, and the lifestyle of its members. In lucid prose, Miller argues that St. Sergius’s cult and monastery became integrating forces on a national scale and vital elements in the forging of a Russian identity, economy, and cohesive society. The power of religion to shape national identity is a lively topic today, and Miller’s study will interest both medievalists and modern historians, as well as readers of Orthodox Church history.
Arguing that there are ways to move beyond the limitations of methodological atheism without compromising scientific objectivity, the essays gathered in The Science and Theology of Godly Love explore the potential for collaboration between social science and theology. They do so within the context of the interdisciplinary study of Godly Love, which examines the perceived experience of loving God, being loved by God, and thereby being motivated to engage in selfless service to others. This volume serves as an introduction to and a call for further research in this new field of study, offering ten methodological perspectives on the study of Godly Love written by leading social scientists and theologians. Drawing on the work of Douglas Porpora and others, the contributors contend that agnosticism is the appropriate methodological stance when religious experience is under the microscope. Godly Love does not force a theistic explanation on data, instead these essays show that it sensitizes researchers so that they can take seriously the faith and beliefs of those they study without the assumption that these theologies represent an incontestable truth.
On Descartes, Darwin, and Locke
The Science of Modern Virtue examines the influence that the philosopher Rene Descartes, the political theorist John Locke, and the biologist Charles Darwin have had on our modern understanding of human beings and human virtue. Written by leading thinkers from a variety of fields, the volume is a study of the complex relation between modern science and modern virtue, between a kind of modern thought and a kind of modern action. Offering more than a series of substantive introductions to Descartes’, Locke’s, and Darwin’s accounts of who we are and the kind of virtue to which we can aspire, the book invites readers to think about the ways in which the writings of these seminal thinkers shaped the democratic and technological world in which modern human beings live. Thirteen scholars in this volume learnedly explore questions drawn from the diverse disciplines of political science, philosophy, theology, biology, and metaphysics. Let the reader be warned: The authors of these essays are anything but consensual in their analysis. Considered together, the chapters in this volume carry on a lively internal debate that mirrors theoretical modernity’s ongoing discussion about the true nature of human beings and the science of virtue. Some authors powerfully argue that Locke’s and Darwin’s thought is amenable to the claims made about human beings and human virtue by classical philosophers such as Aristotle and classical Christian theologians such as Thomas Aquinas. Others make the opposite case, drawing attention to the ways in which Descartes, Locke, and Darwin knowingly and dialectically depart from central teachings of both classical philosophy and classical Christian theology.
A broad, panoramic view of Russian imperial society from the era of Peter the Great to the revolutions of 1917, Wirtschafter’s study sets forth a challenging interpretation of one of the world’s most powerful and enduring monarchies. A sophisticated synthesis that combines extensive reading of recent scholarship with archival research, it focuses on the interplay of Russia’s key social groups with one another and the state. The result is a highly original history of Russian society that illuminates the relationships between state building, large-scale social structures, and everyday life.
Beginning with an overview of imperial Russia’s legal and institutional structures, Wirtschafter analyzes the “ruling” classes and service elites (the land-owning nobility, the civil and military servicemen, the clergy) and then examines the middle groups (the raznochintsy, the commercial-industrial elites, the professionals, the intelligentsia) before turning to the peasants, townspeople, and factory workers. Wirtschafter argues that those very social, political, and legal relationships that have long been viewed as sources of conflict and crisis in fact helped to promote integration and foster the stability that ensured imperial Russia’s survival.
Donald Lystra’s first novel, Season of Water and Ice, was the winner of the 2009 Midwest Book Award for fiction, making a nice publicity splash for our fiction imprint, Switchgrass, which proudly published it. The book garnered lots of publicity too, earing praise for Switchgrass in the pages of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Detroit Free Press, Time Out Chicago magazine, and other venues. This volume gathers a bracing selection of short stories by Lystra that are very much cut from the same cloth as his highly acclaimed novel. The stories in Something That Feels Like Truth confound expected plot turns, and Lystra develops his characters patiently and naturally, bringing them into convincing and honest actions. Lystra was a career engineer before retiring and launching a second career as a writer: I like to think this is why his fiction operates with such mathematical precision. Every plot point in every story here holds an integral part in the imbuing of its beauty and meaning. You can also tell Lystra has read a lot of Hemingway and Chekov: and that he aspires to be an inheritor of their effectively concise tradition. But there’s a touch of Cheever in Lystra’s stories as well: what that master storyteller did for the suburbs of New York, Lystra does for the Midwest.