A Few New Books

Trevor Burrows

Two new books, one recent and one forthcoming, caught my eye this week.  Both seem promising for anyone interested in twentieth-century pluralism and/or interreligious interactions:

In the current issue of The New York Review of Books (March 21, 2013), Garry Wills reviews John Connelly’s From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution In Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965 (Harvard University Press, 2012). Connelly’s book explores how the Catholic Church came to reconsider and rewrite its teachings on Jews and Judaism, a process that would eventually be codified in Nostra Aetata, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, of Vatican II.  Unfortunately, Wills’s thorough and informative review is behind NYRB’s paywall, so here’s a section of the Amazon blurb:

The radical shift of Vatican II grew out of a buried history, a theological struggle in Central Europe in the years just before the Holocaust, when a small group of Catholic converts (especially former Jew Johannes Oesterreicher and former Protestant Karl Thieme) fought to keep Nazi racism from entering their newfound church. Through decades of engagement, extending from debates in academic journals, to popular education, to lobbying in the corridors of the Vatican, this unlikely duo overcame the most problematic aspect of Catholic history. Their success came not through appeals to morality but rather from a rediscovery of neglected portions of scripture.

What caught my eye about the book, aside from its generally fascinating subject, is its cast of characters. Connelly sees a group of converts to Catholicism, converts who became theologians in their own right (most notably Johannes Oesterreicher), as the driving force behind these changes.  It seems that such a conversion story goes against a more popular and perhaps expected narrative, where the convert rebukes his past religion/experiences and delivers to his new community a host of grisly facts that confirm their worst fears about ______.  (I’m thinking of a number of prominent persons today whose claims to have escaped Islam provide a sort of certificate of authenticity for the religious and political right, who then use the convert or escapee’s story to detail all of Islam’s terrible particulars.)  Connelly's converts, instead, encouraged deep and profound changes in how Catholics related to Jews and Judaism, changes that emphasized commonality and connection against previous understandings of Jews as enemies of the church or as racially impure or inferior.  Interested folks may also want to check out the extensive review of Connelly’s text, with contributions from a number of prominent scholars, in the October 2012 issue of the Catholic Historical Review.

An additional text that caught my eye this week is Kristy Nabhan-Warren’s forthcoming The Cursillo Movement in America: Catholics, Protestants, and Fourth-Day Spirituality (The University of North Carolina Press, 2013).  Here’s the Amazon blurb:

The internationally growing Cursillo movement, or "short course in Christianity," founded in 1944 by Spanish Catholic lay practitioners, has become popular among American Catholics and Protestants alike. This lay-led weekend experience helps participants recommit to and live their faith. Emphasizing how American Christians have privileged the individual religious experience and downplayed denominational and theological differences in favor of a common identity as renewed people of faith, Kristy Nabhan-Warren focuses on cursillistas--those who have completed a Cursillo weekend--to show how their experiences are a touchstone for understanding these trends in post-1960s American Christianity.

Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork as well as historical research, Nabhan-Warren shows the importance of Latino Catholics in the spread of the Cursillo movement. Cursillistas' stories, she argues, guide us toward a new understanding of contemporary Christian identities, inside and outside U.S. borders, and of the importance of globalizing American religious boundaries.
Lots of interesting angles to tackle there: Protestant/Catholic interactions, intersections of ethnicity and religious identity, and all against the historical backdrop of the tumultuous twentieth century.  I have not seen much scholarly work on the Cursillo movement, so it would seem that Nabhan-Warren is breaking some new ground here.  Should be an informative read!