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Recent Publications By Humanities Faculty

Below are recent books published by Humanities Division faculty. See the faculty pages for complete lists of their publications.


Levisohn, Jon A. and Susan P. Fendrick (eds.), Turn It and Turn It Again: Studies in the Teaching and Learning of Classical Jewish Texts. Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2014.

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The study of classical Jewish texts is flourishing in day schools and adult education, synagogues and summer camps, universities and yeshivot. But serious inquiry into the practices and purposes of such study is far rarer. In this book, a diverse collection of empirical and conceptual studies illuminates particular aspects of the teaching of Bible and rabbinic literature to, and the learning of, children and adults. In addition to providing specific insights into the pedagogy of Jewish texts, these studies serve as models of what the disciplined study of pedagogy can look like. The book will be of interest to teachers of Jewish texts in all contexts, and will be particularly valuable for the professional development of Jewish educators.





Sherman, DavidIn a Strange Room: Modernism’s Corpses and Mortal Obligation. Oxford, Uk: Oxford University Press, 2014.Sherman Book

Literary modernism emerged as death, stripped in the developing world of traditional meanings and practices, became strange. The sea-change over the first part of the twentieth century in how people died and tended corpses-the modernization of death-was a crucial context in which modernist writers developed their new novelistic and poetic techniques. They sought ways to renovate mortal obligations in an age of the obsolescence of the dead.
For many years, the flesh-and-blood body has been a central protagonist in literary scholarship–the body in pain, the body as spectacle and performance, embodiments of social identity–but the body in its mortality, as corpse, has not received sustained critical attention. Filling this gap, In a Strange Room investigates modernism’s preoccupation with corpses, death rituals, and the ethical demands the dead make on the living who survive them.

Informed by insights from psychology, anthropology, political theory, and philosophy, David Sherman shows how modernist aesthetics sought to re-animate the complex meanings and values of dead bodies during an era of their efficient, medical administration and hygienic disposal. The modernist imagination reckoned with the processes by which the modern corpse became a secularized object increasingly subject to scientific inquiry, governmental regulation, specialized medical technologies, and new forms of market exchange. Chapters explore representations of state power over the war dead in Virginia Woolf and Wilfred Owen, the narrative problem of the unburied corpse in As I Lay Dying and Ulysses, mortal obligation as erotic desire in Eliot’s The Waste Land and Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, and mortuary pedagogies embedded in elegies by Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams.
Gathering examples from fiction, poetry, and the visual arts, In a Strange Room considers the changing relationship between aesthetics and mortality during the first half of the twentieth century. New attitudes toward dying and dead bodies demanded modernism’s strange, bracing ways of representing ethics at the limits of life.


Singh, Harleen. The Rani of Jhansi: Gender, History, and Fable in India. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

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Colonial texts often read the Indian woman warrior as a cultural anomaly, but Indian texts find recourse in the mythological examples of the female warrior. Rani Lakshmi Bai’s remaking transforms the mythologically viable, yet socially marginal, figure of a woman in battle into bounded and meaningful feminine roles such as daughter, wife, mother, and queen. Women and the home were integral to how nationalist discourse envisioned the modern, yet traditional, Indian nation. The Rani remains a metaphoric referent of the home, and is an abiding symbol of the nation, reinvented as authority, power, and tradition. The depictions of the Rani signals what is at stake in representing the unrestricted woman in the public sphere. The book extends the discussion on what constitutes the historical archive of the gendered colonial subject and the postcolonial rebel by being attentive to the vexed figures produced within the competing ideologies of colonialism and nationalism.





Freeze, Chaeran Y. and Jay M. Harris. Everyday Jewish Life in Imperial Russia: Select Documents, 1772-1914. Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2013.

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This book makes accessible—for the first time in English—declassified archival documents from the former Soviet Union, rabbinic sources, and previously untranslated memoirs, illuminating everyday Jewish life as the site of interaction and negotiation among and between neighbors, society, and the Russian state, from the beginning of the nineteenth century to World War I. Focusing on religion, family, health, sexuality, work, and politics, these documents provide an intimate portrait of the rich diversity of Jewish life. By personalizing collective experience through individual life stories—reflecting not only the typical but also the extraordinary—the sources reveal the tensions and ruptures in a vanished society. An introductory survey of Russian Jewish history from the Polish partitions (1772–1795) to World War I combines with prefatory remarks, textual annotations, and a bibliography of suggested readings to provide a new perspective on the history of the Jews of Russia.



Mirsky, Yehudah. Rav Kook: Mystic in an Age of Revolution New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.

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Rav Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935) was one of the most influential—and controversial—rabbis of the twentieth century. A visionary writer and outstanding rabbinic leader, Kook was a philosopher, mystic, poet, jurist, communal leader, and veritable saint. The first chief rabbi of Jewish Palestine and the founding theologian of religious Zionism, he struggled to understand and shape his revolutionary times. His life and writings resonate with the defining tensions of Jewish life and thought.

A powerfully original thinker, Rav Kook combined strict traditionalism and an embrace of modernity, Orthodoxy and tolerance, piety and audacity, scholasticism and ecstasy, and passionate nationalism with profound universalism. Though little known in the English-speaking world, his life and teachings are essential to understanding current Israeli politics, contemporary Jewish spirituality, and modern Jewish thought. This biography, the first in English in more than half a century, offers a rich and insightful portrait of the man and his complex legacy. Yehudah Mirsky clears away widespread misunderstandings of Kook’s ideas and provides fresh insights into his personality and worldview. Mirsky demonstrates how Kook’s richly erudite, dazzlingly poetic writings convey a breathtaking vision in which “the old will become new, and the new will become holy.”




Abdur-Rahman, Aliyyah. Against the Closet: Black Political Longing and the Erotics of Race.. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.


In Against the Closet, Aliyyah I. Abdur-Rahman interrogates and challenges cultural theorists’ interpretations of sexual transgression in African American literature. She argues that, from the mid-nineteenth century through the twentieth, black writers used depictions of erotic transgression to contest popular theories of identity, pathology, national belonging, and racial difference in American culture. Connecting metaphors of sexual transgression to specific historical periods, Abdur-Rahman explains how tropes such as sadomasochism and incest illuminated the psychodynamics of particular racial injuries and suggested forms of social repair and political redress from the time of slavery, through post-Reconstruction and the civil rights and black power movements, to the late twentieth century.
Abdur-Rahman brings black feminist, psychoanalytic, critical race, and poststructuralist theories to bear on literary genres from slave narratives to science fiction. Analyzing works by African American writers, including Frederick Douglass, Pauline Hopkins, Harriet Jacobs, James Baldwin, and Octavia Butler, she shows how literary representations of transgressive sexuality expressed the longings of African Americans for individual and collective freedom. Abdur-Rahman contends that those representations were fundamental to the development of African American forms of literary expression and modes of political intervention and cultural self-fashioning.


Anjaria, Ulka. Realism in the Twentieth-Century Indian Novel: Colonial Difference and Literary Form. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.


Early twentieth-century Indian novels often depict the harsh material conditions of life under British colonial rule. Even so, these “realist” novels are profoundly imaginative. In this study, Ulka Anjaria challenges the distinction between early twentieth-century social realism and modern-day magical realism, arguing that realism in the colony functioned as a mode of experimentation and aesthetic innovation – not merely as mimesis of the “real world.” By examining novels from the 1930s across several Indian languages, Anjaria reveals how Indian authors used realist techniques to imagine alternate worlds, to invent new subjectivities and relationships with the Indian nation, and to question some of the most entrenched values of modernity. Addressing issues of colonialism, Indian nationalism, the rise of Gandhi, religion and politics, and the role of literature in society, Anjaria’s careful analysis will complement graduate study and research in English literature, South Asian studies, and postcolonial studies.



Burt, John. Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.


In 1858, challenger Abraham Lincoln debated incumbent Stephen Douglas seven times in the race for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. More was at stake than slavery in those debates. In Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism, John Burt contends that the very legitimacy of democratic governance was on the line. In a United States stubbornly divided over ethical issues, the overarching question posed by the Lincoln-Douglas debates has not lost its urgency: Can a liberal political system be used to mediate moral disputes? And if it cannot, is violence inevitable?

As they campaigned against each other, both Lincoln and Douglas struggled with how to behave when an ethical conflict as profound as the one over slavery strained the commitment upon which democracy depends—namely, to rule by both consent and principle. This commitment is not easily met, because what conscience demands and what it is able to persuade others to consent to are not always the same. While Lincoln ultimately avoided a politics of morality detached from consent, and Douglas avoided a politics of expediency devoid of morality, neither found a way for liberalism to mediate the conflict of slavery.

That some disputes seemed to lie beyond the horizon of deal-making and persuasion and could be settled only by violence revealed democracy’s limitations. Burt argues that the unresolvable ironies at the center of liberal politics led Lincoln to discover liberalism’s tragic dimension—and ultimately led to war. Burt’s conclusions demand reevaluations of Lincoln and Douglas, the Civil War, and democracy itself.


Feiman-Nemser, Sharon. Teachers as Learners. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2012.



In Teachers as Learners, a collection of landmark essays, noted teacher educator and scholar Sharon Feiman-Nemser shines a light on teacher learning.


Arguing that serious and sustained teacher learning is a necessary condition for ambitious student learning, she examines closely how teachers acquire, generate, and use knowledge about teaching over the trajectory of their careers. Together, these essays bear witness to the evolution and development of a body of scholarship about teacher learning in which the author herself played a catalyzing role.






Fraleigh, Matthew et al. Toward a History Beyond Borders: Contentious Issues in Sino-Japanese Relations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2012. Fraleigh cover

Originally published simultaneously in Chinese and Japanese in 2006, this volume brings to English-language readers the fruits of a critical long-term project by Chinese and Japanese historians addressing contentious issues in their shared modern histories.







Freeze, Gregory L. (ed.)Boris N. Mironov. The Standard of Living and Revolutions in Imperial Russia. Oxford: Routledge, 2012.

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This is the first full-scale anthropometric history of Imperial Russia (1700-1917). It mobilizes an immense volume of archival material to chart the growth, weight, and other anthropometric indicators of the male and female populations in order to chart how the standard of living in Russia changed over slightly more than two centuries. It draws on a wide range of data—statistics on agricultural production, taxation, prices and wages, nutrition, and demography—to draw conclusions on the dynamics in the standard of living over this long period of time. The economic, social, and political interpretation of these findings make it possible to reconsider the prevailing views in the historiography and to offer a new perspective on Imperial Russia.





Gonzalez Ros, Elena and Scott Gravina. Cartelera: Spanish Language and Culture through Film. Boston: Alucen Learning, 2012.


Cartelera provides an exciting learning experience where culture takes a central role as the context for linguistic production. Based on eight highly acclaimed feature films from Spain and Latin America, this unique book is designed for students of Spanish language and culture at the intermediate to advanced level. It may be used either as the primary text in a culture, conversation, or film course, or as an enriching supplement to any existing language program.Specifically developed to exploit the content and themes presented in each of the films, the activities in Cartelera are designed to encourage language development while fostering a greater appreciation for and a heightened cultural awareness of the Spanish-speaking world. Through the use of discussion, debate, analysis, dramatization, and creative writing, students will expand their vocabulary and significantly improve their language proficiency in a stimulating environment.



Moran, Kate A. Community and Progress in Kant’s Moral Philosophy. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012.


Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy has often been criticized for ignoring a crucial dimension of community in its account of the lives that agents ought to lead. Historical and contemporary critics alike often paint Kant’s moral theory, with its emphasis on rationality, as overly formalistic and unrealistically isolating. Against these criticisms, Kate A. Moran argues that Kant’s moral philosophy reserves a central role for community in several important respects. In the first part of her book, Moran asserts that Kant’s most developed account of the goal toward which agents ought to strive is actually a kind of ethical community. Indeed, Kant claims that agents have a duty to pursue this goal. Moran argues that this duty entails a concern for the development of agents’ moral characters and capacities for moral reasoning, as well as the institutions and relationships that aid in this development. Next, Moran examines three specific social institutions and relationships that, according to Kant, help develop moral character and moral reasoning. In three separate chapters, Moran examines the role that moral education, friendship, and participation in civil society play in developing agents’ moral capacities. Far from being mere afterthoughts in Kant’s moral system, Moran maintains that these institutions are crucial in bringing about the end of an ethical community. The text draws on a wide range of Immanuel Kant’s writings, including his texts on moral and political philosophy and his lectures on ethics, pedagogy, and anthropology. Though the book is grounded in an analysis of Kant’s writing, it also puts forward the novel claim that Kant’s theory is centrally concerned with the relationships we have in our day-to-day lives. It will, therefore, be an invaluable tool in understanding both the complexities of Kant’s moral philosophy, and how even a liberal, deontological theory like Kant’s can give a satisfying account of the importance of community in our moral lives


Polonsky, Antony. The Jews in Poland-Lithuania and Russia 1350 to the Present Day. Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2012.

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In his three-volume history, Antony Polonsky provides a comprehensive survey – socio-political, economic, and religious – of the Jewish communities of eastern Europe from 1350 to the present. Until the Second World War, this was the heartland of the Jewish world: nearly three and a half million Jews lived in Poland alone, while nearly three million more lived in the Soviet Union. Although the majority of the Jews of Europe and the United States, and many of the Jews of Israel, originate from these lands, their history there is not well known. Rather, it is the subject of mythologizing and stereotypes that fail both to bring out the specific features of the Jewish civilization which emerged there and to illustrate what was lost. Jewish life, though often poor materially, was marked by a high degree of spiritual and ideological intensity and creativity. Antony Polonsky recreates this lost world – brutally cut down by the Holocaust and less brutally but still seriously damaged by the Soviet attempt to destroy Jewish culture. Wherever possible, the unfolding of history is illustrated by contemporary Jewish writings to show how Jews felt and reacted to the complex and difficult situations in which they found themselves. This first volume begins with an overview of Jewish life in Poland and Lithuania down to the mid-eighteenth century. It describes the towns and shtetls where the Jews lived, the institutions they developed, and their participation in the economy. Developments in religious life, including the emergence of hasidism and the growth of opposition to it, are described in detail. The volume goes on to cover the period from 1764 to 1881, highlighting government attempts to increase the integration of Jews into the wider society and the Jewish responses to these efforts, including the beginnings of the Haskalah movement. Attention is focused on developments in each country in turn: the problems of emancipation, acculturation, and assimilation in Prussian and Austrian Poland; the politics of integration in the Kingdom of Poland; and the failure of forced integration in the tsarist empire. Volume 2 will cover the period 1881-1914; Volume 3 covers 1914-2005.


Sarna, Jonathan D. When General Grant Expelled the Jews. New York: Schocken/Nextbook, 2012.bookcover

A riveting account of General Ulysses S. Grant’s decision, in the middle of the Civil War, to order the expulsion of all Jews from the territory under his command, and the reverberations of that decision on Grant’s political career, on the nascent American Jewish community, and on the American political process.

On December 17, 1862, just weeks before Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, General Grant issued what remains the most notorious anti-Jewish order by a government official in American history. His attempt to eliminate black marketeers by targeting for expulsion all Jews “as a class” unleashed a firestorm of controversy that made newspaper headlines and terrified and enraged the approximately 150,000 Jews then living in the United States, who feared the importation of European antisemitism onto American soil.

Although the order was quickly rescinded by a horrified Abraham Lincoln, the scandal came back to haunt Grant when he ran for president in 1868. Never before had Jews become an issue in a presidential contest, and never before had they been confronted so publicly with the question of how to balance their “American” and “Jewish” interests. Award-winning historian Jonathan D. Sarna gives us the first complete account of this little-known episode—including Grant’s subsequent apology, his groundbreaking appointment of Jews to prominent positions in his administration, and his unprecedented visit to the land of Israel. Sarna sheds new light on one of our most enigmatic presidents, on the Jews of his day, and on the ongoing debate between group loyalty and national loyalty that continues to roil American political and social discourse.



Brettler, Marc (co-editor). The Jewish Annotated New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.


Although major New Testament figures–Jesus and Paul, Peter and James, Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene–were Jews, living in a culture steeped in Jewish history, beliefs, and practices, there has never been an edition of the New Testament that addresses its Jewish background and the culture from which it grew–until now.

In The Jewish Annotated New Testament, eminent experts under the general editorship of Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Z. Brettler put these writings back into the context of their original authors and audiences. And they explain how these writings have affected the relations of Jews and Christians over the past two thousand years.An international team of scholars introduces and annotates the Gospels, Acts, Letters, and Revelation from Jewish perspectives, in the New Revised Standard Version translation. They show how Jewish practices and writings, particularly the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, influenced the New Testament writers. From this perspective, readers gain new insight into the New Testament’s meaning and significance. In addition, thirty essays on historical and religious topics–Divine Beings, Jesus in Jewish thought, Parables and Midrash, Mysticism, Jewish Family Life, Messianic Movements, Dead Sea Scrolls, questions of the New Testament and anti-Judaism, and others–bring the Jewish context of the New Testament to the fore, enabling all readers to see these writings both in their original contexts and in the history of interpretation.

For readers unfamiliar with Christian language and customs, there are explanations of such matters as the Eucharist, the significance of baptism, and “original sin.”For non-Jewish readers interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity and for Jewish readers who want a New Testament that neither proselytizes for Christianity nor denigrates Judaism, The Jewish Annotated New Testament is an essential volume that places these writings in a context that will enlighten students, professionals, and general readers.


Hirsch, Eli. Quantifier Variance and Realism: Essays in Metaontology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.


Eli Hirsch has contributed steadily to metaphysics since his ground-breaking (and much cited) work on identity through time (culminating in the 1982 OUP book The Concept of Identity). Within the last 10 years, his work on realism and quantifier variance has been front-and-center in the minds of many metaphysicians. Metametaphysics, which looks at foundational questions about the very practice of metaphysics and the questions it raises, is now a popular area of discussion. There is a lot of anxiety about what ontology is, and Hirsch’s diagnosis of how revisionary ontologists go wrong is one of the main views being discussed. This volume collects Hirsch’s essays from the last decade (with the exception of one article from 1978) on ontology and metametaphysics which are very much tied to these debates. His essays develop a distinctive language-based argument against various anti-commonsensical views that have recently dominated ontology. All these views go astray, Hirsch says, by failing to interpret ordinary assertions about existence in a plausibly charitable way, so their philosophizing leads them to misuse language about ontology — our ordinary concept of ‘what exists’—in favor of a position othat is quite different. Hirsch will supply a new introduction. The volume will interest philosophers of metaphysics currently engaged in these debates.


Yourgrau, Palle. Simone Weil. London: Reaktion Books, 2011.


Simone Weil, legendary French philosopher, political activist, and mystic, died in 1943 at a sanatorium in Kent, England, at the age of thirty-four. During her brief lifetime, Weil was a paradox of asceticism and reclusive introversion who also maintained a teaching career and an active participation in politics.

In this concise biography, Palle Yourgrau outlines Weil’s influential life and work and demonstrates how she tried to apply philosophy to everyday life. Born in Paris to a cultivated Jewish-French family, Weil excelled at philosophy, and her empathetic political conscience channeled itself into political engagement and activism on behalf of the working class. Yourgrau assesses Weil’s controversial critique of Judaism as well as her radical re-imagination of Christianity—following a powerful religious experience in 1937—in light of Plato’s philosophy as a bridge between human suffering and divine perfection.

In Simone Weil, Yourgrau provides careful, concise readings of Weil’s work while exploring how Weil has come to be seen as both a modern saint and a bête noir, a Jew accused of having abandoned her own people in their hour of greatest need.



Brooten, Bernadette, ed. Beyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacies. With the editorial assistance of Jacqueline L. Hazelton. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.Brooten - Beyond Slavery

In a United States that continues to be driven by racial and cultural divisions, from the disproportionately high number of incarcerated African Americans to heartfelt disagreements over the true nature of marriage and the proper role of faith in public policy, the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project (from which this book originated) has identified a crucial nexus underlying these fiercest of arguments: The conjunction of religion, slavery, and sexuality.






Lansing, Richard H., ed. The Dante Encyclopedia. Paperback (with revisions) ed. New York: Routledge, 2010.


The Dante Encyclopedia is a comprehensive resource that presents a systematic introduction to Dante’s life and works and the cultural context in which his moral and intellectual imagination took shape.






McCauley, Stephen D.. Insignificant Others. first ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010.


Richard Rossi works in HR at a Boston-based software company and prides himself on his understanding of the foibles and fictions we all use to get through the day. Too bad he’s not as good at spotting such behavior in himself. What else could explain his passionate affair with Benjamin, a very unavailable married man? Richard is also not entirely available himself—there’s Conrad, his adorable if maddening partner to contend with. But when Conrad starts spending a suspicious amount of time in Ohio, and economic uncertainty challenges Richard’s chances for promotion, he realizes his priorities might be a little skewed.





Quinney, Laura. William Blake on Self and Soul. first ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.


It has been clear from the beginning that William Blake was both a political radical and a radical psychologist, and in William Blake on Self and Soul Laura Quinney uses her sensitive, surprising readings of the poet to reveal his innovative ideas about the experience of subjectivity.

Blake’s central topic, Quinney shows us, is a contemporary one: the discomfiture of being a self or subject. The greater the insecurity of the “I” Blake believed, the more it tries to swell into a false but mighty “Selfhood.” And the larger the Selfhood bulks, the lonelier it grows. But why is that so? How is the illusion of “Selfhood” created? What damage does it do? How can one break its hold? These questions lead Blake to some of his most original thinking.

Quinney contends that Blake’s hostility toward empiricism and Enlightenment philosophy is based on a penetrating psychological critique: Blake demonstrates that the demystifying science of empiricism deepens the self’s incoherence to itself. Though Blake formulates a therapy for the bewilderment of the self, as he goes on he perceives greater and greater obstacles to the remaking of subjectivity. By showing us this progression, Quinney shows us a Blake for our time.




Johnston, Patricia A., and Giovanni Casadio. Mystic Cults in Magna Graecia. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009Johnston - Mystic Cults

In Vergil’s Aeneid, the poet implies that those who have been initiated into mystery cults enjoy a blessed situation both in life and after death. This collection of essays brings new insight to the study of mystic cults in the ancient world, particularly those that flourished in Magna Graecia (essentially the area of present-day Southern Italy and Sicily).

Implementing a variety of methodologies, the contributors to Mystic Cults in Magna Graecia examine an array of features associated with such “mystery religions” that were concerned with individual salvation through initiation and hidden knowledge rather than civic cults directed toward Olympian deities usually associated with Greek religion. Contributors present contemporary theories of ancient religion, field reports from recent archaeological work, and other frameworks for exploring mystic cults in general and individual deities specifically, with observations about cultural interactions throughout. Topics include Dionysos and Orpheus, the Goddess Cults, Isis in Italy, and Roman Mithras, explored by an international array of scholars including Giulia Sfameni Gasparro (“Aspects of the Cult of Demeter in Magna Graecia”) and Alberto Bernabé (“Imago Inferorum Orphica”). The resulting volume illuminates this often misunderstood range of religious phenomena.


Lumbard, Joseph E.  (ed.) Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition: Essays by Western Muslim Scholars. 2nd ed. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom Books, 2009.bookcover-2

This fully revised edition of the critically acclaimed book contains a series of essays that explain the misconceptions that lie at the heart of Western attitudes towards Islam. Including a new essay on the role of women in Islam, an updated chapter containing insights into the concept of Jihad, and three fully revised chapters that bring the discussion up-to-date with the current global situation, this book is a must read for anyone interested in Islam and its relation to the West.





Plotz, John. Portable Property: Victorian Culture on the Move. 1st ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.


What fueled the Victorian passion for hair-jewelry and memorial rings? When would an everyday object metamorphose from commodity to precious relic? In Portable Property, John Plotz examines the new role played by portable objects in persuading Victorian Britons that they could travel abroad with religious sentiments, family ties, and national identity intact. In an empire defined as much by the circulation of capital as by force of arms, the challenge of preserving Englishness while living overseas became a central Victorian preoccupation, creating a pressing need for objects that could readily travel abroad as personifications of Britishness. At the same time a radically new relationship between cash value and sentimental associations arose in certain resonant mementoes–in teacups, rings, sprigs of heather, and handkerchiefs, but most of all in books.


Portable Property examines how culture-bearing objects came to stand for distant people and places, creating or preserving a sense of self and community despite geographic dislocation. Victorian novels–because they
themselves came to be understood as the quintessential portable property–tell the story of this change most clearly. Plotz analyzes a wide range of works, paying particular attention to George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, Anthony Trollope’s Eustace Diamonds, and R. D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone. He also discusses Thomas Hardy and William Morris’s vehement attack on the very notion of cultural portability. The result is a richer understanding of the role of objects in British culture at home and abroad during the Age of Empire



Wright, David. Inventing God’s Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. bookcover-1


Most scholars believe that the numerous similarities between the Covenant Code (Exodus 20:23-23:19) and Mesopotamian law collections, especially the Laws of Hammurabi, which date to around 1750 BCE, are due to oral tradition that extended from the second to the first millennium. This book offers a fundamentally new understanding of the Covenant Code, arguing that it depends directly and primarily upon the Laws of Hammurabi and that the use of this source text occurred during the Neo-Assyrian period, sometime between 740-640 BCE, when Mesopotamia exerted strong and continuous political and cultural influence over the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and a time when the Laws of Hammurabi were actively copied in Mesopotamia as a literary-canonical text. The study offers significant new evidence demonstrating that a model of literary dependence is the only viable explanation for the work. It further examines the compositional logic used in transforming the source text to produce the Covenant Code, thus providing a commentary to the biblical composition from the new theoretical perspective. This analysis shows that the Covenant Code is primarily a creative academic work rather than a repository of laws practiced by Israelites or Judeans over the course of their history. The Covenant Code, too, is an ideological work, which transformed a paradigmatic and prestigious legal text of Israel’s and Judah’s imperial overlords into a statement symbolically countering foreign hegemony. The study goes further to study the relationship of the Covenant Code to the narrative of the book of Exodus and explores how this may relate to the development of the Pentateuch as a whole.



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