A recent arrival on the doormat was the latest volume of Studies in Church History, being papers mostly from the Ecclesiastical History Society’s conference in Chichester in 2013. Given the theme of religious plurality, there are rich pickings for scholars of the twentieth century, which isn’t always the case with Studies.
In no particular order, some of the papers of particular interest are:
John Wolffe’s presidential address to the conference on the Christian response to religious minorities in London since 1800;
Marion Bowman on plurality and vernacular religion in early twentieth century Glastonbury;
Martin Wellings on James Hope Moulton’s 1913 book Religions and Religion;
Stuart Mews on a Christian-Hindu encounter in the University of London (1909-17);
John Maiden on a fascinating contested church building redundancy in Bedford in 1977-8; and
my own paper on Michael Ramsey and his encounter with other faiths (of which there is an extended summary).
As well as these, there are papers on twentieth century Egypt, Indonesia, Lebanon and Jerusalem, as well as on the Chaldean Catholic Church in modern Iraq.
‘The city, and in particular the metropolis, has always been key to local, national and international networks: of trade, of communication, of governance. And the briefest acquaintance with the history of London, for instance, shows that the same applies to networks of religious exchange. ….. London has acted as a node in the networks around which money, information, material objects and people have flowed. As this new collection of essays shows, these interactions have only become faster and more complex as empires were dismantled and the former colonial powers gave room to significant immigrant populations who might or might not share the inherited faith of their hosts.’
The volume includes contributions from ‘historians, theologians and sociologists, and from scholars of music, social and cultural geography and anthropology… organised in thematic sections, on languages, place and space, gender and generation, and public policy, with editorial introductions to each… In this diversity lies the volume’s strength. There are rich connections to be made between essays that deal with native and migrant Christian experience across several denominations, and those on Jewish, Hindu and Muslim cases. London figures heavily, alongside studies of Paris, Warsaw, and of Australian and North American cases…’
The essays that stand out are those that engage most with historical context: in particular, those by Matthew Grimley, Gil Toffell, Nazneen Ahmed, Michael Keith and Abigail Wood. Thomas Hodgson wins my prize for best article title of the year with ‘”Do what the Qu’ran says and stay away from crack”: Mirpuri Muslims, rap music and the city.’
Other were less successful, not so much for the content as for the style, being:
‘poorly structured and lacking a clear analytical thrust. … Others are heavily larded with some rather rebarbative jargon, and plain bad writing; the sentence that must be read three times to be understood is a bad sentence.’
It is a shame that in a policy environment focussed on ‘impact’ outside the academy, some authors make their readers, even the initiated ones, work so hard.