Of Many Things

The quality of America’s book review section is one of our boasts. Our literary editors have had a rule, however, that we do not invite reviews of collected essays. It is a rule I subscribe to; but one I occasionally work around by devoting an Of Many Things column to a worthwhile compilation. The book that moves me to circumvent the rule this week is Dennis R. Hoover and Douglas M. Johnston’s Religion and Foreign Affairs: Essential Readings (Baylor). At more than 600 large pages, it is a hefty book, but the richness of its content should make it a standard text.

Dennis R. Hoover is editor of The Review of Faith and International Affairs, a journal published by the Institute for Global Engagement founded by the far-sighted Robert A. Seiple. Doug Johnston is the founder of the Center for Religion and Diplomacy, a leader in the academic study of the role of religion in foreign policy and an action intellectual who has pursued religious reconciliation in some of the world’s most troubled conflict zones.

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I have worked with both editors, publishing a number of articles in Faith and International Affairs, including one, “Catholic Peacemaking, 1991-2005: The Legacy of Pope John Paul II,” republished in this volume. Doug Johnston was a collaborator with me in a project at the Woodstock Theological Center on forgiveness in politics that led to a book of the same name that I co-authored.

Religion and Foreign Affairs has a broad scope, beginning with an examination of secularization in the study and practice of international affairs. That section opens with a piece by Charles Taylor on secularization and closes with another by David Brooks on “Kicking the Secularist Habit.” After treating the interconnected topics of the ethics of force, religion and conflict and religion and peacemaking, it moves on to treat religion and globalization, economic development and democracy, as well as religious freedom and human rights.

The contributions include some by classic authors like Thucydides, Augustine and Aquinas. There are notable moderns, like Reinhold Niebuhr, John Howard Yoder and Peter Berger, along with practicing scholars, like Jose Casanova, R. Scott Appleby and Timothy A. Byrnes, and public intellectuals, like Brooks, Robert D. Kaplan, Samuel P. Huntington and Vali Nasr.

There is more than enough material here for a one-semester course or even a two-semester seminar interspersed with reading of full-length, original sources. For my own taste, however, there is too little on the contribution of religious pacifism and active nonviolence. Though there are responses by Yoder and Rowan Williams to permissive application of the just war, the selections lean to realist and Christian realist perspectives. This is disappointing because Johnston, in particular, began his work bringing the work of peacemakers like the Mennonites to public attention.

My other reservation is that Catholic sources are under-represented. The millennium between Augustine and the early modern period is represented solely by Aquinas, and the modern period overlooks key thinkers like John Ford, John Courtney Murray and J. Bryan Hehir, not to mention epochal church teachings, like “Pacem in Terris” and “Gaudium et Spes,” which re-shaped the church’s role in world politics. It also neglects “The Challenge of Peace,” which taught the whole nation how to apply the just war in the nuclear age.

Reservations aside, Religion and Foreign Affairs is an extraordinary achievement. It is a must-have for both personal and university libraries.

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