August 16, 2011

Summer Reading

I am off for a week's vacation on the family farm in East Tennessee and will be away from the blog during that time, so I wanted to highlight a few reading suggestions while I am away.

1. I took a little good-natured teasing for suggesting over Twitter that I can often find policy-relevant research in the American Political Science Review and the International Journal of Middle East Studies, but this month's IJMES really does have a great roundtable discussion that will be of interest to those studying the Middle East from a policy perspective and, specifically, what is taking place in the "Arab Spring."

In Foreign Affairs a few months back, Greg Gause wrote:

Scholars did not predict or appreciate the variable ways in which Arab
armies would react to the massive, peaceful protests this year. This
oversight occurred because, as a group, Middle East experts had largely
lost interest in studying the role of the military in Arab politics.

A number of scholars do, though, take the study of Arab militaries quite seriously. And this month's IJMES features a roundtable discussion on "Rethinking the Study of Middle East Militaries" with short essays by Yezid Sayigh, Roger Owen, Robert Springborg, Oren Barak and others. I highly recommend policy-interested scholars of the region check it out.

[Warning: what follows has nothing to do with the topics normally considered on this blog. Proceed at your own risk.]

2. I am getting a little tired of political journalists and their thumb-nail deep understanding of trends within and strands of evangelical and fundamentalist Christian thought in America. Even as good an article as Ryan Lizza's profile of Michelle Bachmann -- which I enjoyed -- left something to be desired in its treatment of Francis Schaeffer and evangelical theology. Most treatments of the religious beliefs of Bachmann and also Rick Perry that I have been reading over the past few weeks are clumsy at the least and intolerant and ignorant at the worst. Watching Bachmann on Meet the Press on Sunday, for example, I was shaking my head in disbelief as the candidate advanced her "understanding" of "economics," but once David Gregory started grilling her on her theological beliefs, I started considering the whole exchange unfair, uninformed and inappropriate.*

If political journalists are going to start writing about the theological beliefs of people like Bachmann and Perry, they should first take the time to study evangelicalism and fundamentalisms within American Christianity in a serious way. One great, pithy (just 224 pages!) introduction to the subject, even if it is a bit dated, is George Marsden's Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Another great book, which is really a criticism of evangelical anti-intellectualism and should be read by believers and non-believers alike, is Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Reading these books -- or, at the very least, the first book -- will better equip Americans of all trades and political stripes to speak intelligently about the evangelical and, in cases, fundamentalist beliefs of some candidates for the presidency.

I suspect that as many of these politicians have been as influenced by John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones
as by R. J. Rushdoony and J. Gresham Machen, and it's important for political reporters to know the differences and similarities between them all if they are going to start throwing out names and ideas as being relevant to the election.

*Look, I realize that it's the politicians who have opened to door to a discussion of their faiths by making such a big deal out of them in front of prospective voters. But last Sunday, it seemed as if David Gregory was telling Michelle Bachmann she was theologically wrong, and it just struck me as terribly unfair. For one brief moment, such did Gregory's line of questioning bother me, I found myself actually rooting for Bachmann.