“ ‘Has the West lost its pizzazz and gravitas?’, asks Marcia Pally at the start of Commonwealth and Covenant.” So begins William Storrar, Director of the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, in his review of Pally’s book, Commonwealth and Covenant: Economics, Politics, and Theologies of Relationality. Storrar answers, “Not if we read this magisterial study of relationality in Western theology and culture, brimming with brio and erudition.”
In Commonwealth and Covenant, Pally asks whether a loss of vision and purpose is driving some to extreme ideologies and terrorism. Is it eroding “the good life” at home, the economics and politics of broad-based opportunity and the common good. Through careful political analysis, Pally describes the key difficulties of our time and argues that it is not more policy proposals that are needed but rather a renewed understanding of our ontology, the foundations of the way we and the world work.
Pally describes our ontology as “separability-amid-situatedness.” We are unique individuals, yet we become our singular selves through our relations and responsibilities to the people and environments around us. Our separability and situatedness must be included together in worldview and policy, for together they bring broad-based opportunity, reciprocal responsibility, and societal principles we can believe in.
By contrast, an overemphasis on “separability” — individualism run amok — results in greed, adversarial political discourse, and alienation from a society with self-absorption as its ethos. Scott Atran, at the CNRS École Normale Supérieure and senior research fellow at Oxford, has written that, while among westerners, there is considerable disengagement and “little willingness” to defend societal foundations, both ISIS and the opposition Kurds are fighting for their principles.
Commonwealth and Covenant draws upon intellectual history, philosophy, and Christian and Jewish theologies of relationality to construct a renewed ontology of “separability-amid-situatedness” as a framework for public policy and as a principle that inspires and motivates.
Storrar concludes, “With an original and compelling thesis as her lantern, Pally lights up not only the history of ideas with dazzling insight but also our present parlous state with hopeful remedy. Read this book – how the West can recover its élan and equipoise.”
What people are saying:
“In her previous writing Marcia Pally has demonstrated her keen insight into the American religious situation. In this well-crafted and highly readable book, Pally has now taken a central principle in the American spiritual heritage, that of the covenant, and related it with impressive skill to the psychological and political dimensions of our lives. This book advances the discussion in many ways and should not be missed.”— Harvey Cox, Harvard University
“Brilliant! In addition to its insightful lessons in history, philosophy, culture, government, psychology, and moral theology, this book contains a description of the virtue derived from the proper relationship between self and society. This is the best theology I’ve read in a long time and some of the best history, philosophy, organizational psychology course too. This book is so helpful to me as a pastor.– Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, A Church Distributed, Obama’s White Hose Council on Faith-based and neighborhood partnerships (2009-2010).
Commonwealth and Covenant asks one of “big questions” of our time: What worldview is now needed for understanding our world and each other in order to develop productive public policy? Marcia Pally grasps that it’s not more economic theory but a full worldview that’s needed. In addressing this fundamental and daunting task, she moves elegantly and authoritatively among modern intellectual history as well as Christian and Jewish theology. The clear, graceful prose of Commonwealth and Covenant make it a must read for those concerned with our economic and political future.– Tsvi Blanchard, Fordham Law School
“The challenge of promoting values beyond Western-style individual autonomy–but avoiding top-down oppression–is both a puzzle for academics and a broad social problem with real-world consequences. This most welcome book leverages an ancient and helpfully foreign concept–the Biblical idea of convent–to move beyond this paralyzing binary. The trajectory set by Prof. Pally, tightly argued and socially oriented, is one which many different kinds of people can and should support.”–Charles Camosy, author of Beyond the Abortion Wars
Eerdmans Publishing, Feb., 2016; 430 pages
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Hardly a day goes by when religion is not in the news, often associated with oppression and terrorism. In this book, Marcia Pally rebuts this bleak and superficial view by offering the first in-depth look at “new evangelicals”—those who have moved away from the Religious Right toward a broadened focus on economic justice, environmental care, and democracy. The far-reaching effects of this shift—in the US and abroad—ask us to reconsider religious stereotypes and refine our political thinking.
The sharp empirical analysis and vivid reporting include interviews with “new evangelicals” across the country, ages 19–74–with megachurch pastor Greg Boyd, professor David Gushee, new monastic Shane Claiborne, and ordinary evangelical plumbers, bikers, students, and firemen, assembling a collage of thoughtful, passionate voices that create a compelling snapshot of this significant new movement in American Christianity.
What people are saying:
A groundbreaking study of America’s religio-political landscape. Beautifully written with scientific rigor and great understanding … Believers and secularists alike will be moved and challenged, and will learn much from Pally’s explanation of the issues, her field research, and the compelling interviews that show “new evangelicals” to be sensitive and sophisticated thinkers on some of today’s most pressing political and economic questions. — Nadine Strossen, Professor of Law,New York Law School; former President, American Civil Liberties Union
I like everything about it…. breaks the damaging stereotypes of evangelicals; Pally does it splendidly. I have been waiting for such a text, and now I can use this one in my teaching and research. The artful mixture of history, analysis, description and especially the interviews makes her case eloquently and with needed nuance. — Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith
Marcia Pally’s book opens for us an insightful and sympathetic window into the world of the “new evangelicals,” capturing their voices, their beliefs, their practices in their evangelical novelty…. a compelling case for a subtle yet profound and most likely long-lasting shift in evangelical political culture. — José Casanova, Georgetown University
Eerdmans Publishing, Oct., 2011; 256 pages
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