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Beyond Reformation?

An Essay on William Langland's Piers Plowman and the End of Constantinian Christianity

David Aers

In Beyond Reformation? An Essay on William Langland’s Piers Plowman and the End of Constantinian Christianity, David Aers presents a sustained and profound close reading of the final version of William Langland’s Piers Plowman, the most searching Christian poem of the Middle Ages in English. His reading, most unusually, seeks to explore the relations of Langland's poem to both medieval and early modern reformations together with the ending of Constantinian Christianity. Aers concentrates on Langland’s extraordinarily rich ecclesiastic politics and on his account of Christian virtues and the struggles of Conscience to discern how to go on in his often baffling culture. The poem’s complex allegory engages with most institutions and forms of life. In doing so, it explores moral languages and their relations to current practices and social tendencies. Langland’s vision conveys a strange sense that in his historical moment some moral concepts were being transformed and some traditions the author cherished were becoming unintelligible. Beyond Reformation? seeks to show how Langland grasped subtle shifts that were difficult to discern in the fourteenth century but were to become forces with a powerful future in shaping Western Christianity. The essay form that Aers has chosen for his book contributes to the effectiveness of the argument he develops in tandem with the structure of Langland’s poem: he sustains and tests his argument in a series of steps or “passus,” a Langlandian mode of proceeding. His essay unfolds an argument about medieval and early modern forms of Constantinian Christianity and reformation, and the way in which Langland's own vision of a secularizing, de-Christianizing late medieval church draws him toward the idea of a church of “fools,” beyond papacy, priesthood, hierarchy, and institutions. For Aers, Langland opens up serious diachronic issues concerning Christianity and culture. His essay includes a brief summary of the poem and modern translations alongside the original medieval English. It will challenge specialists on Langland's poem and supply valuable resources of thought for anyone who continues to struggle with the church of today.

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Beyond the Pulpit

Women’s Rhetorical Roles in the Antebellum Religious Press

Lisa J. Shaver

In the formative years of the Methodist Church in the United States, women played significant roles as proselytizers, organizers, lay ministers, and majority members. Although women's participation helped the church to become the nation's largest denomination by the mid-nineteenth century, their official roles diminished during that time. In Beyond the Pulpit, Lisa Shaver examines Methodist periodicals as a rhetorical space to which women turned to find, and make, self-meaning. In 1818, Methodist Magazine first published "memoirs" that eulogized women as powerful witnesses for their faith on their deathbeds. As Shaver observes, it was only in death that a woman could achieve the status of minister. Another Methodist publication, the Christian Advocate, was America's largest circulated weekly by the mid-1830s. It featured the "Ladies' Department," a column that reinforced the canon of women as dutiful wives, mothers, and household managers. Here, the church also affirmed women in the important rhetorical and evangelical role of domestic preacher. Outside the "Ladies Department," women increasingly appeared in "little narratives" in which they were portrayed as models of piety and charity, benefactors, organizers, Sunday school administrators and teachers, missionaries, and ministers' assistants. These texts cast women into nondomestic roles that were institutionally sanctioned and widely disseminated. By 1841, the Ladies' Repository and Gatherings of the West was engaging women in discussions of religion, politics, education, science, and a variety of intellectual debates. As Shaver posits, by providing a forum for women writers and readers, the church gave them an official rhetorical space and the license to define their own roles and spheres of influence. As such, the periodicals of the Methodist church became an important public venue in which women's voices were heard and their identities explored.

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The Black Christ of Esquipulas

Religion and Identity in Guatemala

Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez

On the eastern border of Guatemala and Honduras, pilgrims and travelers flock to the Black Christ of Esquipulas, a large statue carved from wood depicting Christ on the cross. The Catholic shrine, built in the late sixteenth century, has become the focal point of admiration and adoration from New Mexico to Panama. Beyond being a site of popular devotion, however, the Black Christ of Esquipulas was also the scene of important debates about citizenship and identity in the Guatemalan nation throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In The Black Christ of Esquipulas, Douglass Sullivan-González explores the multifaceted appeal of this famous shrine, its mysterious changes in color over the centuries, and its deeper significance in the spiritual and political lives of Guatemalans. Reconstructed from letters buried within the restricted Catholic Church archive in Guatemala City, the debates surrounding the shrine reflect the shifting categories of race and ethnicity throughout the course of the country’s political trajectory. This “biography” of the Black Christ of Esquipulas serves as an alternative history of Guatemala and sheds light on some of the most salient themes in Guatemala’s social and political history: state formation, interethnic dynamics, and church-state tensions. Sullivan-González’s study provides a holistic understanding of the relevance of faith and ritual to the social and political history of this influential region.

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The Bonhoeffer Reader

Edited by Clifford J. Green and Michael DeJonge

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the essential theological writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer have been drawn together in a helpful one-volume format. The Bonhoeffer Reader brings the best English translation to students, and provides a ready-made introduction to the thought of this essential thinker.

Drawn from decades of classroom teaching experience, the readings selected ensure that this volume provides everything necessary to introduce Bonhoeffer’s thought to the student of theology.

Every reading has been skillfully introduced and placed in the larger context of Bonhoeffer’s life and work by two respected Bonhoeffer scholars, Clifford J. Green and Michael DeJonge. Footnotes and textual apparatus have been carefully edited with the theology student in mind. The readings have been selected by a renowned group of teachers, scholars, and Bonhoeffer experts. Newly written introductions frame each reading in a concise, helpful way. This book is an essential resource for all those who study the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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Book of Harmony

Spirit and Service in the Lutheran Confessions

by Martin J. Lohrmann

The Reformation-era writings that make up the Lutheran Confessions remain lively resources for Christian ministry and mission today. Because each of the documents within the Book of Concord was written with a specific context and rhetorical purpose in mind, each has its own compelling story and objectives. Luther’s catechisms present the faith for daily life at the grass-roots level, with teaching elements that we might now view as typical of social media and multimedia. The Augsburg Confession and its Apology provide an adaptable foundation for preaching, teaching, church organization, and dialogue that is rooted in the promise of Christ, received through faith. Fifteen years after the Diet of Worms, the Smalcald Articles reveal yet another “Here I stand” moment for Luther. Finally, the Formula of Concord shows how the next generations of Lutherans used collaboration and consensus as they wrestled with important themes of faith and life. In summary, as these texts engage us with their stories, they invite us to consider what is most important about our journeys of faith and Christian witness in today’s twenty-first-century contexts.

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Border Lines

The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity

By Daniel Boyarin

The historical separation between Judaism and Christianity is often figured as a clearly defined break of a single entity into two separate religions. Following this model, there would have been one religion known as Judaism before the birth of Christ, which then took on a hybrid identity. Even before its subsequent division, certain beliefs and practices of this composite would have been identifiable as Christian or Jewish.In Border Lines, however, Daniel Boyarin makes a striking case for a very different way of thinking about the historical development that is the partition of Judaeo-Christianity.

There were no characteristics or features that could be described as uniquely Jewish or Christian in late antiquity, Boyarin argues. Rather, Jesus-following Jews and Jews who did not follow Jesus lived on a cultural map in which beliefs, such as that in a second divine being, and practices, such as keeping kosher or maintaining the Sabbath, were widely and variably distributed. The ultimate distinctions between Judaism and Christianity were imposed from above by "border-makers," heresiologists anxious to construct a discrete identity for Christianity. By defining some beliefs and practices as Christian and others as Jewish or heretical, they moved ideas, behaviors, and people to one side or another of an artificial border—and, Boyarin significantly contends, invented the very notion of religion.

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A Bridge Across the Ocean

The United States and the Holy See between the Two World Wars


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The British Zion

Congregationalism, Politics, and Empire, 1790-1850

Michael A. Rutz

Drawing upon extensive archival research and a wide range of secondary sources, The British Zion traces congregationalist missionaries’ involvement in domestic and colonial politics in early nineteenth-century Britain. As Michael A. Rutz ably demonstrates, evangelical nonconformists actively campaigned from both the Empire’s metropolitan centers and its periphery to extend religious liberty and civil equality in Britain, open colonial territories to evangelization, abolish slavery, and secure civil rights for indigenous peoples. Moving beyond the dichotomizing pictures of evangelical missionaries as either the advance forces of colonial domination or innocuous humanitarians and educators, Rutz carefully examines the humanitarian and theological impulses of the missionary movement while critically examining its political, social, and cultural impact within the larger development of the British Empire.

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A Brutal Unity

The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church

Ephraim Radner

To describe the Church as "united" is a factual misnomer—even at its conception centuries ago. Ephraim Radner provides a robust rethinking of the doctrine of the church in light of Christianity's often violent and at times morally suspect history. He holds in tension the strange and transcendent oneness of God with the necessarily temporal and political function of the Church, and, in so doing, shows how the goals and failures of the liberal democratic state provide revelatory experiences that greatly enhance one's understanding of the nature of Christian unity.

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By Force and Fear

Taking and Breaking Monastic Vows in Early Modern Europe

An unwilling, desperate nun trapped in the cloister, unable to gain release: such is the image that endures today of monastic life in early modern Europe. In By Force and Fear, Anne Jacobson Schutte demonstrates that this and other common stereotypes of involuntary consignment to religious houses-shaped by literary sources such as Manzoni's The Betrothed-are badly off the mark.

Drawing on records of the Congregation of the Council, held in the Vatican Archive, Schutte examines nearly one thousand petitions for annulment of monastic vows submitted to the Pope and adjudicated by the Council during a 125-year period, from 1668 to 1793. She considers petitions from Roman Catholic regions across Europe and a few from Latin America and finds that, in about half these cases, the congregation reached a decision. Many women and a smaller proportion of men got what they asked for: decrees nullifying their monastic profession and releasing them from religious houses. Schutte also reaches important conclusions about relations between elders and offspring in early modern families. Contrary to the picture historians have painted of increasingly less patriarchal and more egalitarian families, she finds numerous instances of fathers, mothers, and other relatives (including older siblings) employing physical violence and psychological pressure to compel adolescents into "entering religion." Dramatic tales from the archives show that many victims of such violence remained so intimidated that they dared not petition the pope until the agents of force and fear had died, by which time they themselves were middle-aged. Schutte's innovative book will be of great interest to scholars of early modern Europe, especially those who work on religion, the Church, family, and gender.

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