Category: Current Events

Every Pope a Saint? The Politics of Canonization

For our #YUPapr conversations this month about “Ancient Texts, Modern Beliefs”, a closer inspection of contemporary religious practices—and their comparative differences— is important for our consideration of changing beliefs in the greater context of world history. Here, Yale University Press author Michael Coogan discusses the upcoming April 27 canonization of two popes and the rapidly increasing rate of sainthood for modern Bishops of Rome, offering some perspective on the changing political nature of the Church in today’s society.

Michael Coogan—

On April 27, ornately robed clerics will celebrate the canonization of two recent popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. In the modern Roman Catholic Church until the last few decades, canonization­—declaring someone a saint—was rare and occurred only after a protracted process. Successive steps lead to canonization: first, one is declared “Servant of God,” then “Venerable,” then “Blessed,” and finally “Saint.” From the beginning of the fourteenth century to the mid-twentieth, only two popes were canonized and another three were declared “Blessed.” Not so any more: since the papacy of John Paul II a flurry of canonizations has been underway, not just for ordinary individuals deemed holy, but also for modern popes.

GWB LB DIGITAL 12:35 Statements with Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II

Remarkably, all of the popes since the mid-twentieth century, except of course for those still alive, are on the path to canonization: Pius XII (1939–1958, declared Servant of God in 1990 and Venerable in 2009), John XXIII (1958–1963, declared Servant of God in 1965, Venerable in 1999, and Blessed in 2000), Paul VI (1963–1978, declared Servant of God in 1993 and Venerable in 2012), John Paul I (1978, declared Servant of God in 2003), and John Paul II (1978–2005, declared Servant of God in 2005, Venerable in 2009, and Blessed in 2011). Why this sudden, almost automatic rush to sainthood for recent popes?

Part of the answer lies in nineteenth-century realpolitik. For more than a thousand years, the pope was not just the spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church, but also a monarch, the ruler of the Papal States in the central Italian peninsula. As sovereigns of this territory, popes engaged in diplomacy and war to maintain and expand their control. In the nineteenth century, however, the papal domain was virtually eliminated by the unification of Italy under Garibaldi and his successors, culminating with the capture of Rome by Italian forces in September 1870. All that was left of papal territory was tiny Vatican City. Only a few months before, when the fall of Rome was already inevitable, the First Vatican Council, at Pope Pius IX’s prompting, declared the doctrine of papal infallibility. If the popes could not be political sovereigns, it seems, they could at least have absolute spiritual authority, especially, as the official wording has it, when they say they are speaking infallibly on an issue of faith or morals.

Although there has been only one technically infallible pronouncement since 1870—Pius XII’s proclamation in 1950 of the doctrine of the Assumption, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had been bodily taken up to heaven at her death—papal authoritarianism has expressed itself in other ways, as when John Paul II asserted in an apostolic letter that women could never be priests, and then Cardinal Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) subsequently called this teaching infallible, unchangeable, and binding on all Catholics forever.

By the second half of the twentieth century, even the popes’ spiritual authority was being eroded, because of flawed leadership. Pius XII’s silence about the Holocaust was moral cowardice, if not latent anti-Semitism. Paul VI’s insistence on banning artificial contraception in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, against the opinion of a majority of his advisors, effectively ended papal authority for many Catholics. John Paul II’s clericalism led to years of denial and coddling of predatory priest pedophiles and their episcopal superiors, which further diminished the Church’s authority as well as its coffers. Significantly, these last two issues concern what the current pope has called an obsessive preoccupation with sex and reproduction; it is of more than tangential interest that of the thousands of men and women put on the path to sainthood by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, only a tiny percentage were married. Most openly sexually active persons, it seems, can’t really be saintly.

The haste to canonize the last five deceased popes is an effort to shore up the diminished spiritual authority of the papacy. If every pope is a saint, who could dare disagree with them? Surely they are being elevated to sainthood not mainly because of their personal holiness but because they were popes, even though as popes most of them were deeply flawed. Is flawed leadership no bar to sainthood?

Among the popes whose canonization process John Paul II sped up was none other than Pius IX, declared Servant of God in 1907, but Venerable only in 1985 and Blessed in 2000: the most authoritarian pope of the nineteenth century was propelled toward sainthood by one of the most authoritarian popes of the twentieth. The Vatican is locked in a time warp of absolute monarchical authority, and popes canonizing their predecessors is an attempt to preserve and enhance it. The joint canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II—the first a darling of liberal Catholics, the second a favorite of traditional Catholics—is calculated to appeal to different constituencies. Even sainthood is political, and it is disingenuous to pretend that it is not.

Michael Coogan is the author of The Ten Commandments: A Short History of an Ancient Text, out this month from Yale University Press.


Michael Coogan



The Mayoral Impact: First the Cities, then the World

If Mayors Ruled the WorldBoston and New York are entering new eras in their respective histories. Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino is ending his 20-year period in office while Michael Bloomberg is stepping down after serving the city of New York for 12 years. More than ever before, mayoral elections are being closely watched by citizens across the country and around the world. Bill de Blasio’s victory as Bloomberg’s successor made headlines in newspapers across Europe and Latin America as well as the U.S.

But why do non-Americans care about the mayoral elections in New York and other American cities? Because the role of mayor has expanded from city caretaker to global pioneer of change and action. Benjamin R.  Barber, author of If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, argues that the conversation on effective governance is evolving. The world is suffering from a global democratic crisis; nation-states are failing us. So rather than focus on international relations, cities need to foster intercity relations, to work from the ground up and eventually join forces with other cities to make change possible.

Learn more about Barber’s book and his views on the future of global governance by watching the video below, and read our blog interview with the author, including his 2013 TED Talk.

If Mayors Ruled the World: A Conversation with Benjamin Barber

If Mayors Ruled the WorldAs the government shutdown eases through its thirteenth day, Congress’s’ approval rating has dropped near an all-time-low of 5%. The American people are quickly losing their faith in their federal government as deep party lines prevent progress and decision-making. Benjamin Barber, author of If Mayors Ruled the World, points out that while these federal leaders seem set on gridlock, mayors and their cities continue to flourish and promote democracy. Perhaps, he argues in his new book, mayors and cities provide the key to solving the nation’s interior and international dilemmas. Watch Barber’s TED Talk and check out his interview below!

Yale University Press
:  Why are you writing about cities when nation-states have all the power and are creating all the problems?

Benjamin R. Barber
:  Because it’s time to change the subject: we have been talking about independent nation-states for centuries, but more and more their power counts for little when it comes to the challenges of an interdependent world. The city’s not just where the action needs to be; it’s where the action is. Let’s talk intercity relations, not international relations; a parliament of mayors, not a League of Nations or a United Nations; global citizens, not local special interest consumers.

YUP:  The American democratic process seems to be tied up in partisan knots. How can city mayors and their municipal governments do better?

BRB:  As Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem said, mayors don’t give sermons, they fix sewers. They are pragmatists, not ideologues, because in the end someone has to pick up the garbage. They are doing better than national politicians, which is why their trust rates are twice as high.

YUP:  Can you give an example of a mayor who has addressed a problem that his or her federal government hasn’t dealt with effectively?

BRB:  Ever since Copenhagen, nation-states have been trying to deal with global warming, but sovereignty keeps getting in their way. Cities haven’t waited: Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles has been greening up the port, cutting carbon emissions from freighters and trucks by nearly one-half. Since the port accounts for almost 40 percent of L.A.’s carbon emissions, over five years the city’s carbon pollution is way down.

David Lesch: The Westerner Who Knows Assad

Watch David Lesch on C-SPAN2′s Book TV

Around a year ago, David Lesch settled on a subtitle for his new book on the ever-changing Syria. He called it Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad. He admits to realizing, midway through the publishing process that Assad may not have fallen by the time the book went to press, writing:

But I have gone with this title for another reason: whether or not he remains in power, Bashar al-Assad, in my mind, has already fallen… This is the judgment of someone who got to know Bashar al-Assad fairly well and, at one point, has high hopes of him… Even if the event is more metaphorical than real, however, he has fallen in my estimation.


Through the on-going saga of the Syrian Civil War and the escalating powers of the discovery that Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, Lesch could not have been more apt in choosing his title. Once a shining beacon of hope for his country, Assad now stands at the center of a global emergency.

David Lesch probably knows Bashar al-Assad better than any other Westerner, having had unique access to the leader over the span of many years. After Lesch published his first book on the man, Assad insisted they continue to meet. And yet, as Lesch divulged in a recent NPR interview, he is disappointed but not surprised by the recent news developments. He said:

And so, I think, you know, for many of us inside and outside Syria were hoping that Bashar al-Assad would change the authoritarian system. And what I think ended up happening is the authoritarian system changed him. And I saw this on an incremental basis as time went on and when I met him, that I think he really started to believe the sycophants that normally surround an authoritarian leader that praise him out a daily basis. And I think it’s human nature that after a while you start to believe that praise.

And I think after surviving these major challenges to his regime after putting, you know, his people in power and becoming more comfortable with power, that he really started to develop a sense of triumphalism that he could survive anything; that it was his destiny to rule Syria and bring Syria into the limelight, you know, regionally and even internationally.

Perhaps it because the beginning of his rule seemed so hopeful – so progressive and pro-Western – that the global community is so shocked by the reports coming from Syria. And yet Lesch’s book does seem to claim that much of this failure can be blamed on the broken and narrow political world Assad inherited.

Lesch discusses the Obama administration’s hesitation to act, short of some unforeseen, dramatic event; now, the event has happened: the videos of citizens, children, writhing in pain at the hands of a chemical attack have been shown to the American public. President Obama drew a red line, which has now been crossed; the world is left waiting to see if a diplomatic solution can be reached. Syria has applied to become a member of the global anti-chemical weapons treaty, but the “clock is ticking,” says the New York Times. Until then, the threat of US force has not been eliminated.

While it remains to be seen how the United States and the rest of the world will move forward in the coming days, Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad, available as a paperback, provides a solid account of the complicated events that shaped Assad and the decisions of his rule.

What Changed When Everything Changed : The Fluidity of American National Identity

When Americans come upon a social arrangement they want to preserve, they do not alter their behavior to fit their values; they alter their values to fit their behavior. They change what it means to be an American…

With intensely divisive issues like voting rights, immigration policy, and the war on terror in the news, the notion of what is “American” or “un-American” is much in question. In What Changed When Everything Changed: 9/11 and the Making of National Identity, Joseph Margulies presents the surprising analysis that despite consistent language usage in describing out ideals, national identity is quite fluid. As the counsel of record for the first Supreme Court case regarding the detentions at Guantanamo Bay, Margulies has had personal experience with changing American values. In this insightful and persuasive book, Margulies calls attention to the language and themes of the political discourse and popular culture serve as important indicators of the shifting ideals of the nation.

“Liberty”, “equality”, “the rule of law”, “limited government”, “individualism”, and “community” are constant words and phrases used to define American ideals. While the words do no change, we use different stories and contexts to assign them new meanings. The twists and turns of political language are an expected aspect of politics, and become common fodder for satirists and pop culture. This normalization of fluidity in the meaning of words, even those words with which we form our national identity, makes the shifts in our national identity almost subconscious.

The normalization of new values in pop culture changes the meanings we assign these words at an even more subconscious level. The immensely popular television show 24 reinforced the idea that torture can provide key information for the defense of the country. This kind of influence certainly does not flow in only one direction, and the show could not have been created or risen to such fame without an initial change in the public opinion of torture. Still, the mass influence of entertainment media calls into question the moral responsibility of popular culture.

How we build our national identity is complex. Few would have predicted that as the threat of terrorism declined, the American appetite for repressive policies would have increased. Margulies urges his readers to consider the changes to the American national identity more actively, but maintains optimism that thanks to this very fluidity, the “American Creed” will return to “the way things ought to be.”

Democracy in Retreat: A Divided Egypt

Democracy has long been upheld as the ideal way to run a country. America, “land of the free” is revered for its representative government elected by the people for the people, and the US has committed to a mission of spreading and supporting democracy worldwide. In Joshua Kurlantzick’s newest book Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government, he argues that nations are actually moving against democracy as a solution. When newly democratic governments appear to fail, public opinion is often swayed to believe democracy is not an effective option.

Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative GovernmentDemocracy in Retreat is especially relevant to the current situation in Egypt. This July, their first publicly-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was overthrown after just one year in office. Morsi attempted to undertake some democratic initiatives, such as firing certain ineffective military officials who were not publically elected, granting defendants greater rights in court cases, and creating a presidential website, where citizens could offer feedback on the administration. At the same time, reporters and a TV personality were jailed for expressing criticism of the president and the Muslim Brotherhood. Citizens were tortured, raped, and killed, and the Egyptian economy continued to suffer. Kurlantzick cites a major study showing that in 2012, “about 40% of Egyptians did not believe democracy was the best system of governance for the country,” even before Morsi could complete a year in office.

Fearful that Morsi would force Islamic authoritarianism on the country, many Egyptians fought to overthrow him, obtaining 20 million signatures on a petition demanding his removal (more than the 13 million votes Morsi won in his election). The military decided to depose Morsi, and are currently detaining him in unknown whereabouts. Backlash from the military takeover resulted in a divided Egypt and mass emigration.

During Morsi’s time in office, many Egyptians felt corrupt ballot boxes were no longer the way to get their voices heard and took to the streets in protest. A recent Time magazine cover displayed an image of the rallies, reading “Egypt: World’s Best Protesters, World’s Worst Democrats.” It could be argued that Time’s cover is unfair, considering Morsi’s opposition believes that by protesting a leader who is no longer fit to rule their country, they are exercising the very foundations of democracy. A New York Times article quoted one male anti-Morsi demonstrator as saying “We had to show Morsi that we could get rid of him if we didn’t like him just like we got rid of the one before him. What the Egyptian people did is pure democracy.”

The big question to answer is: is it more democratic to elect a leader or to overthrow one? Supporters of Morsi are angered by the President’s upheaval, feeling that the military got rid of the “people’s choice” by removing Morsi from office; however, Morsi would not have been removed if the people also had not chosen to overthrow him in the first place. The conflict remains irreconcilable as both sides believe they are exercising democratic values. When democratic practices result in the election of an undemocratic leader, it becomes difficult to define what democracy truly is.

Many are also skeptical about whether democracy can make a comeback under the authoritative control of the military-led interim government. The Egyptian armed forces claim that they are attempting to keep the nation in a state of calm until elections for a new leader can begin. But with citizens killed and injured in attempts to quash opposition to the military, are military governments working towards or away from democracy? And some citizens, especially the middle class, support a military takeover, believing that the armed forces will act as a check against Islamists, crime, and violence. The middle classes, who Kurlantzick claims are integral to the success of a democracy, are often suspicious of democratic rule out of fear that if the poor are all backed behind one candidate, their own needs will be ignored if that candidate wins.

Despite the many problems posed for democracy in the Middle East, Kurlantzick remains committed to democracy as an institution and discusses how it can successfully come about, even in countries like Egypt. Part of his solution is to assert civilian control over the armed forces and separate the military from national politics, like Indonesia has done. This would be especially important for countries such as Egypt and Syria, where their governments have been inextricably tied to the military, often against the people. In order to do so, Kurlantzick suggests that civilian leaders may have to create incentives for the military to cooperate with such a transition, such as increasing the defense budget or reserving certain privileges and rights to the armed forces.

July Theme: The American Century…and After

So far in July, we’ve discussed Susan Dunn’s 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler—the Election amid the Storm, which powerfully argues for this year and its presidential election—the third, unprecedented win for FDR—as a major turning point in American History. As David Shribman recently wrote for the Wall Street Journal: “Few years turn out to be as perilous as 1940, or as portentous.” Stay tuned for details on a forthcoming Goodreads giveaway!

Meanwhile, Stephen D. King, author of When the Money Runs Out: The End of Western Affluence has been interviewing on expectations of continued economic growth and increase in living standards in the U.S., Western Europe, and Australia are out of sync with what the future holds, and the associated dangers with that mindset.

YUP July 2013 Theme

No consideration of the American Century is complete without the other key players on the international stage: In Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin, journalist Ben Judah takes us through the rise of the Russian President-turned-Prime-Minister with an inside account of Putin’s years of rule and the impending crisis that threatens his tsar-like regime.  Close to Russia’s sprawling borders, and within the former USSR, former Wall Street Journal reporter, Philip Shishkin has reported from the ground since 2005 on politics and turmoil for his book: Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder, and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia, investigating the nations of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and the negotiation of their roles with both the U.S. and Russia in the American campaign in Afghanistan.

And as for competition on the horizon, Timothy Beardson makes the case that a daunting array of challenges confront China today, countering the widespread assumption that China is poised to surpass the United States and rise to global supremacy in Stumbling Giant: The Threats to China’s Future.

Luuk van Middelaar, author of The Passage to Europe: How a Continent Became a Union, considers the origins of the European Union, the forces binding it together and driving it forward, and how political leaders will surmount the current economic turmoil amidst speculation on its continued existence as more nations are added.

Certainly one of—if not the –most remarkable additions to global society and culture is the rising popularity and interconnectivity of the Internet, which law professor Anupam Chander analyzes in The Electronic Silk Road: How the Web Binds the World Together in Commerce, exploring how global trade on the Internet is now regulated, why regulation matters to individuals as well as nations, and how better regulatory laws can encourage international trade while protecting national and human rights. Fittingly, you can follow The Electronic Silk Road on Facebook for more updates.  

Lastly, the theme title takes its cue from Patrick Smith’s Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century, asking why America’s founding myths no longer apply, and why we must reconsider the facts of our history; coupled with Joseph MarguliesWhat Changed When Everything Changed: 9/11 and the Making of National Identity, our conversation bookends with a new idea of the challenges faced not only by Americans, but the whole of global society.

As always, we invite you to read along and share your thoughts on these timely issues and discussions!

What SUP from Your Favorite University Presses, June 28, 2013

Yale University Press Welcome to our weekly roundup of news from university presses! There is much to share from our fellow academic publishing houses and much to learn on What SUP at the social university presses.  This week we found conversations on public safety, the Battle of Gettysburg, the history of the world, and even a tasty recipe. What did you read this week?

New book Tuesday continues at Columbia University Press and they are offering another free book giveaway for the title Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice.

Duke University Press remembers the late author Martin Bernal.

NYU Press continues their article series honoring LGBT Pride month.

Harvard University Press discusses why throwing is human, as well as health and human rights.

Oxford University Press talks about Wimbeldon, Shakespeare, and strawberries, the history of the world, and explains why days are long and life is short.

University of Pennsylvania Press announced this week’s new books.

Princeton University Press shared a great new find in the world of books on Terrific Texts Thursday and also shared a recipe from a member of the staff on Tasty Tuesday.

MIT Press adds another article to their series dedicated to National Safety Month.

The University of North Carolina Press previews C-SPAN’s coverage of the Battle of Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary which will be airing live all-day on Sunday, June 30.

The University Press of Kentucky goes back to June 24, 1948, the day the Soviet Union blocked access to allied Berlin.

What SUP from Your Favorite University Presses, June 21, 2013

Yale University Press Welcome to our weekly roundup of news from university presses! With the AAUP annual meeting now in Boston, there is much to share from our fellow academic publishing houses and much to learn on What SUP at the social university presses.  This week we found a series of book giveaways, as well as conversations on the environment, gender and sexuality, religion and more! What did you read this week?

Columbia Univerisity Press shared new books this week on New Book Tuesday and is offering a book giveaway for Me Medicine vs. We Medicine. Michael Marder and Monica Gagliano also answer the question, How Do Plants Sound?

The NYU Press continues its article series honoring LGBT pride month with What About the Children? and Government to promote marriage a caring society. NYU Press also offers a few suggestions for fathers who want to be more involved with their children.

Indiana University Press asks, How should Anne Frank be remembered? They are also offering a book giveaway for Dreams of Duneland.

At Temple University Press Evelyn Ibatan Rodriguez discusses coming of age ceremonies in immigrant families and how they can help us better understand gender and American immigration adaptation.

Oxford University Press relates the religious, political, and spiritual, suggests some music to surf by, and delves into the evolution of language and society.

Princeton University Press is offering a free sampler of Pterosaurs by Mark P. Witton and is also offering a free book giveaway for the same book on Goodreads. They also announced their new biology catalog.

The Chicago University Press announced the launch of their summer series of Chicago Shorts, which includes a variety of titles from their large archive as well as the best of their newest books.

At the MIT Press Ian Brown and Christopher Marsden contributed an article for public safety month and also spoke at MIT and Harvard this past Monday.

The University of Hawai’i Press announces a program on the history of the Waialua Sugar Plantation hosted by the North Shore Chamber of Commerce’s Historic Preservation Committee. The event on June 22 will include lectures, rare photos, dramatic readings and more.

The University of Kentucky Press lists 3-D movie premiering this summer and also reminds readers to enter to win a free copy of 3-D Revolution: The History of Stereoscopic Cinema.

What SUP from Your Favorite University Presses, June 14, 2013

Yale University Press Welcome back to our weekly roundup of news from university presses! With the AAUP annual meeting going to Boston next week, we felt it was a good time to restart our conversations with other academic publishing houses and educate ourselves on What SUP at the social university presses.  A series of book giveaways, as well as conversations on the environment, film, and travel celebrate the summer season, with more to come in the weeks ahead!

Columbia University Press announced more new books this week on New Book Tuesday, and is holding another book giveaway.

Oxford University Press wants to know what your favorite superpower is. Enter for your chance to win a whole slew of great prizes.

Princeton University Press wants to help you to wish Dad a happy Father’s Day with some witty e-cards.

New fall titles were announced this week at The University of Georgia Press.

Visit the University Press of Kentucky blog to enter for your chance to win the ultimate bourbon book give away.