Publications List

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Sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, in partnership with Columbia University Press, the publication series Religion, Culture, and Public Life is devoted to the investigation of the role of religion in society and culture today.

Edited by Karen Barkey from 2011-2016, the series is dedicated to exploring the ways in which religion intersects with public life in practice and theory, and examines connections between religion and art, literature, science, politics, and history. Publications focus on issues related to questions of difference, identity, and practice within local, national, and international contexts.  Special attention is paid to religious traditions in relation to conflict, violence, and intolerance, as well as to human rights, ecumenical values, and practices of mutual understanding.  Drawing on diverse methodologies and different religious, social and cultural traditions, works published in the series open channels of communication that facilitate critical analysis. The series includes both single author texts and edited collections of multi-author essays.

Relativism and Religion: Why Democratic Societies Do Not Need Moral Absolutes

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By Carlo Invernizzi Accetti
Published November 2015

Moral relativism is deeply troubling for those who believe that, without a set of moral absolutes, democratic societies will devolve into tyranny or totalitarianism. Engaging directly with this claim, Carlo Invernizzi Accetti traces the roots of contemporary anti-relativist fears to the antimodern rhetoric of the Catholic Church and then rescues a form of philosophical relativism for modern, pluralist societies, arguing that this viewpoint provides the firmest foundation for an allegiance to democracy.

In his analyses of the relationship between religious arguments and political authority and the implications of philosophical relativism for democratic theory, Accetti makes a far-ranging contribution to contemporary debates over the revival of religion in politics and the conceptual grounds for a commitment to democracy. He presents the first comprehensive genealogy of anti-relativist discourse and reclaims for English-speaking readers the overlooked work of Hans Kelsen on the connection between relativism and democracy. By engaging with contemporary attempts to replace the religious foundation of democratic values with a neo-Kantian conception of reason, Accetti also makes a powerful case for relativism as the best basis for a civic ethos that integrates different perspectives into democratic politics.

Carlo Invernizzi Accetti is an assistant professor of political theory at City College, City University of New York, and an associate researcher at the Center for European Studies of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po).

More information is available at Columbia University Press.

Beyond Individualism The Challenge of Inclusive Communities

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By George Rupp
Published: September 2015

In many places around the world, relations between ethnic and religious groups that for long periods coexisted more or less amicably are now fraught with aggression and violence. This trend has profound international implications, threatening efforts to narrow the gap between rich and poor. Underscoring the need for sustained action, George Rupp urges the secular West to reckon with the continuing power of religious conviction and embrace the full extent of the world’s diversity.

While individualism is a powerful force in Western cultures and a cornerstone of Western foreign policy, it elicits strong resistance in traditional communities. Drawing on decades of research and experience, Rupp pushes modern individualism beyond its foundational beliefs to recognize the place of communal practice in our world. Affirming the value of communities and the productive role religion plays in many lives, he advocates new solutions to such global challenges as conflicts in the developing world, income inequality, climate change, and mass migration.

George Rupp has served as dean of Harvard Divinity School and as president of Rice University, Columbia University, and the International Rescue Committee. As an activist and educator, he is committed to shaping fair institutions and building inclusive communities in both the developed and the developing worlds. His articles have appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and he is the author of five books, most recently Globalization Challenged: Conviction, Conflict, Community.

More information is available at Columbia University Press.

Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites: Religion, Politics, and Conflict Resolution Edited by Elazar Barkan and Karen Barkey

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Edited by Elazar Barkan and Karen Barkey
Published: November, 2014

This anthology explores the dynamics of shared religious sites in Turkey, the Balkans, Palestine/Israel, Cyprus, and Algeria, indicating where local and national stakeholders maneuver between competition and cooperation, coexistence and conflict. Contributors probe the notion of coexistence and the logic that underlies centuries of “sharing,” exploring when and why sharing gets interrupted—or not—by conflict, and the policy consequences. 

These essays map the choreographies of shared sacred spaces within the framework of state-society relations, juxtaposing a site’s political and religious features and exploring whether sharing or contestation is primarily religious or politically motivated. While religion and politics are intertwined phenomena, the contributors to this volume understand the category of “religion” and the “political” as devices meant to distinguish between the theological and confessional aspects of religion and the political goals of groups. Their comparative approach better represents the transition in some cases of sites into places of hatred and violence while in other instances they remain noncontroversial. The essays clearly delineate the religious and political factors that contribute to the context and causality of conflict at these sites and draw on history and anthropology to shed light on the often rapid switch from relative tolerance to distress to peace and calm.

Blood: A Critique of Christianity

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By Gil Anidjar
Published: May, 2014

Blood, according to Gil Anidjar, maps the singular history of Christianity. As a category for historical analysis, blood can be seen through its literal and metaphorical uses as determining, sometimes even defining Western culture, politics, and social practices and their wide-ranging incarnations in nationalism, capitalism, and law.

Engaging with a variety of sources, Anidjar explores the presence and the absence, the making and unmaking of blood in philosophy and medicine, law and literature, and economic and political thought from ancient Greece to medieval Spain, from the Bible to Shakespeare and Melville. The prevalence of blood in the social, juridical, and political organization of the modern West signals that we do not live in a secular age into which religion could return. Flowing across multiple boundaries, infusing them with violent precepts that we must address, blood undoes the presumed oppositions between religion and politics, economy and theology, and kinship and race. It demonstrates that what we think of as modern is in fact imbued with Christianity. Christianity, Blood fiercely argues, must be reconsidered beyond the boundaries of religion alone.

Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill

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By Mark C. Taylor
Published: February, 2014

Mark C. Taylor recounts a poignant love affair not with a person but with a place that, paradoxically, cannot be easily localized. For many years, Taylor has lived in the Berkshire Mountains, where he writes and creates land art and sculpture. In a world of mobile screens and virtual realities, where speed is the measure of success and place is disappearing, his work slows down thought and brings life back to earth to give readers time to ponder the importance of place before it slips away.

Taylor extends reflection beyond the page and returns with new insights about what is hiding in plain sight all around us. Weaving together words and images, his artful work enacts what it describes. Things long familiar suddenly appear strange, and the strange, unexpected, and unprogrammed unsettle readers in surprising ways. This timely meditation gives pause in the midst of harried lives and turns attention toward what we usually overlook: night, silence, touch, grace, ghosts, water, earth, stones, bones, idleness, infinity, slowness, and contentment.Recovering Place is a unique work with reflections that linger long after the book is closed.

Boundaries of Toleration

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Edited by Alfred Stepan and Charles Taylor
Published: February, 2014

How can people of diverse religious, ethnic, and linguistic allegiances and identities live together without committing violence, inflicting suffering, or oppressing each other? In this volume, contributors explore the limits of toleration and suggest we think beyond them to mutual respect. Salman Rushdie reflects on the once tolerant Sufi-Hindu culture of Kashmir. Ira Katznelson follows with an intellectual history of toleration as a layered institution in the West. Charles Taylor advances a new approach to secularism in our multicultural world, and Akeel Bilgrami responds by offering context and caution to that approach. Nadia Urbinati explores why Cicero’s humanist ideal of Concord was not used in response to religious discord. The volume concludes with a refutation of the claim that toleration was invented in the West. Rajeev Bhargava writes on Asoka’s India, and Karen Barkey explores toleration within the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires. Sudipta Kaviraj examines accommodations and conflicts in India, and Alfred Stepan highlights contributions to toleration and multiple democratic secularisms in such Muslim-majority countries as Indonesia and Senegal.

Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference

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Edited by Linell E. Cady and Tracy Fessenden
Published: November, 2013

Global struggles over women’s roles, rights, and dress increasingly cast the secular and the religious in tense if not violent opposition. When advocates for equality speak in terms of rights and modern progress, or reactionaries ground their authority in religious and scriptural appeals, both tend to presume women’s emancipation is ineluctably tied to secularization. Religion, the Secular, and the Politics of Sexual Difference upsets this certainty by drawing on diverse voices and traditions in studies that historicize, question, and test the implicit links between secularism and expanded freedoms for women. Rather than position secularism as the answer to conflicts over gender and sexuality, this volume shows both religion and the secular collaborate in creating the conditions that generate them.