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Holy Books and Manuscripts  

Mikeal C. Parsons

Most religious traditions venerate a certain corpus of writings as authoritative for the beliefs, practices, doctrine, and ethics of that community. Often that corpus is a closed canon of sacred texts collected in one document that may be accompanied by traditions of interpretive strategies, which in turn may be formal and written, ad hoc and oral, or some combination of the two. Reverence for those writings often manifested itself in the care of and attention to the ongoing production of those texts. Illustrations, illuminations, or decorative designs frequently accompanied the reproduction of the text, further revealing the devotion to and reverence for the community’s holy book. Judaism and Christianity are two such religious traditions, and their adherents are often called “people of the Book.” Manuscripts (in particular illuminated ones) played a crucial role in establishing and sustaining the religious authority of the Bibles of Judaism and, especially, of Christianity.

Article

Early Christian Worship  

Paul F. Bradshaw

The forms of Christian worship changed and developed considerably during the first four centuries of its existence, not least from a distinctive local or regional diversity to an increasing standardization of practice throughout the ancient world. One of the major factors influencing these changes was the eventual adoption of the New Testament as the Christian scripture, and another was the emergence of the church into public life early in the 4th century. Rites of initiation chiefly involving baptism in water marked the entry of new converts into the community of believers. The central observance was the Eucharist, celebrated every Sunday from at least the end of the 1st century. This was supplemented by services of the word on certain days of the week and by regular times of prayer each day undertaken by individuals or small groups of believers. Annual festal celebrations, the majority of which were associated with the anniversaries of martyrs and others who had died, also increased in number as time passed. Christians understood the worship that they offered through Jesus Christ to be the spiritual fulfillment of the sacrificial cult of the Old Testament. Although at first insisting that they were not a religion like others around them—indeed, they were regarded as atheists by their contemporaries—they ultimately came to adopt the language, images, and terminology of standard religious discourse once their persecution had ceased and the Church had emerged as a cultus publicus in the 4th century. This also coincided with a shift from an understanding of worship as an essentially corporate action presided over by its appointed ministers to one where those ministers were seen as carrying out its liturgy on behalf of the people.

Article

Poetry, Prophecy, and Theological Revelation  

William Franke

In the history and prehistory of human societies, poets, prophets, and seers (the word vates can cover all three) have often been virtually indistinguishable from one another. From time immemorial, their respective activities overlap and interpenetrate to such an extent that prophets (or mantics or seers) and poets have been closely associated and tend to completely coalesce in many of their functions and modalities. The Sanskrit word kavi (like its Latin cognate vates) embraces both. A certain strand of ideology running through the Bible (at least as interpreted by classical rabbinic texts) aims to drive a wedge between God-inspired prophecy and humanly created poems. Nevertheless, the Hebrew word nabi for “prophet” means “bubbling forth, as from a fountain,” so the vocabulary of the Hebrew Bible, too, is naturally apt to suggest the creative fecundity of verbal imagination. In fact, Amos, Isaiah, Elisha, and Ezekiel frequently produce parables, proverbs, and even love songs. In primordial cultures, with only minimal social stratification and differentiation of roles, long before any specific mantles as either prophet or poet can be identified and donned, a figure like that of the shaman or even the wizard (Merlin, for example) is often emblematic of a certain undecidability between religious revelation or spiritual experience and creative imagination and invention. Of course, in modern cultures, with their highly differentiated social roles, theological revelation and poetry are typically seen as distinct and often even as opposed to each other in crucial respects. Yet the two still need to be understood together as reciprocal and symbiotic in their origins, aims, and purposes. Throughout subsequent history, the deepest intents of literary and religious practices remain inseparable from each other in their myriad manifestations within our cultural traditions and institutions; they thus stand to be illuminated by such a juxtaposition. Poetry and prophecy together comprise the common matrix of some of the oldest and most fundamental modes of expression of humanity across cultures.

Article

Print Media and Religion in America  

Elesha J. Coffman and Timothy D. Grundmeier

An extraordinary number of printed words about religion have been produced and consumed in the United States. Religious print media in America encompasses the Christian Bible (a perennial best-seller) and scriptures of other religions; religious books, both fiction and nonfiction; pamphlets and tracts; periodicals; and, more recently, electronic media. The bulk of this output has been Protestant, because the United States has always been a predominantly, though never exclusively, Protestant country, and because Protestants have always been especially fond of print. The main historical trend, however, has been in the direction of increased diversity. The proportion of religious media within the universe of American media, and the proportion of Christian media within the universe of American religious media, both fell from the colonial period to the present. The trajectory of religion as a topic in secular periodicals has been less linear, rising and falling in conjunction with news events and perceived cultural trends. America has come a long way since the early 1740s, when revivalist George Whitefield absolutely dominated the media landscape, but religion remains a potent force in print, especially if one broadens the category to include the non-creedal spirituality of a figure like Eckhart Tolle or Oprah Winfrey. Three goals have spurred the proliferation of religious print media in the United States. (Religion coverage in secular print media has followed a separate logic, commonly known as “news values.”) The first and perhaps most obvious goal is proclamation, or the transmission of religious ideas. Dissemination of scriptures, evangelistic or apologetic works, sermons, speeches, and educational materials all fit within this category. The second goal is religious community formation and boundary marking. Periodicals have contributed most significantly in this realm, linking co-religionists across often vast spaces, preserving languages and other communal traits, and providing in-group perspective on current events. The third goal is making money. While much religious publishing has been conducted on a nonprofit basis, many Americans have made careers in the trade, and a few have become rich and famous. Because printed materials fill the archives that are foundational for religion scholarship, knowledge of print media history is extremely useful for researchers interested in a variety of topics, not only those working on print culture specifically.

Article

Women and Religion in Colonial North America and the United States  

Catherine A. Brekus

Historically, women in colonial North America and the United States have been deeply influenced by their religious traditions. Even though world religions like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam are based on scriptural traditions that portray women as subordinate to men, women have made up the majority of most religious groups in America. While some Americans have used religious arguments to limit women’s legal, political, and economic rights, others have drawn on scripture to defend women’s dignity and equality. Women’s religious beliefs have shaped every aspect of their lives, including their choices about how to structure their time, their attitudes toward sexuality and the body, and their understanding of suffering. Unlike early American Catholic women, who saw their highest religious calling as the sisterhood, most white colonial women identified their primary religious vocation as ministering to their families. In the 19th century, however, white Protestant women become increasingly involved in reform movements like temperance, abolitionism, and women’s suffrage, and African-American, Native American, Asian-American, and Latina women used religious arguments to challenge assumptions about white racial supremacy. In the 20th century, growing numbers of women from many different religious traditions have served as religious leaders, and in some cases they have also demanded ordination. Despite these dramatic changes in religious life, however, many religiously conservative women opposed the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s and early 1980s, and in the first decades of the 21st century they have continued to identify feminism and religion as antithetical.

Article

Amoghavajra  

Geoffrey Goble

Amoghavajra (Bukongjin’gang不空金剛; 704/5-774) was a historically significant Buddhist monk who operated in China during the Tang dynasty (618–907). He was a prolific translator and is widely regarded as the founder of an Esoteric or Tantric Buddhist tradition in East Asia. Arriving in China at a young age, Amoghavajra became a monk and practiced under Vajrabodhi (Jin’gangzhi金剛智; 671–741). Following his master’s death, Amoghavajra undertook an ocean voyage to Sri Lanka and southern India. He returned to Tang China in 746/747 with a collection of newly acquired Buddhist texts and training in ritual practices. He was the recipient of patronage and support from members of the ruling elite in Tang China, including a succession of three emperors—Xuanzong 玄宗 (r. 713–756), Suzong 肅宗 (r. 756–762), and Daizong 代宗 (r. 762–779). Amoghavajra served the Tang government with his ritual services and was appointed a minister in the central government bureau charged with overseeing official ritual services for the Tang state. With this support and influence, Amoghavajra translated a vast collection of Buddhist scriptures and authored numerous commentaries, ritual manuals, and compendia, and he effectively established a teaching of Buddhism in China that is generally referred to as “Esoteric Buddhism.” This teaching of Buddhism was subsequently transmitted by Kūkai 空海 (774–835) to Japan, where it became established as the Japanese Shingon school. In Chinese and Japanese Buddhist histories, Amoghavajra is regarded as a patriarch of Tang dynasty Esoteric Buddhism and Japanese Shingon.

Article

Johannes von Staupitz’s Influence on Martin Luther  

Franz Posset

The impact of Johannes von Staupitz (c. 1468–1524) on Martin Luther can hardly be overestimated. Staupitz was elected vicar general of the reformed Augustinian Order in 1503. Between 1504 and 1506 he had the order’s constitutions printed for the first time, which was about the time when Luther became an Augustinian. It is uncertain whether Luther frequently went to Staupitz for confession. However, Luther clearly was a “Staupitzian,” and as such Staupitz sent him from Wittenberg to Rome as the travel companion of the chief negotiator. Upon Luther’s return, he became Staupitz’s successor as professor of biblical theology in Wittenberg. In his preaching Staupitz was celebrated as the “tongue of the Apostle Paul” and the “herald of the gospel,” one who stood up for the evangelical truth. Criticism of indulgences had begun long before Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses or Propositions of 1517. Staupitz and his disciple Luther, in cooperation with their confrère Wenceslaus Linck, spoke up publicly against the indulgences. They composed a text called Treatise on Indulgences, which Luther “edited.” Luther sent his mother a copy of the first edition of Staupitz’s On the Love of God in 1518. As a true Staupitzian Luther gave his endorsement to subsequent editions of that book, which is essentially a book about “grace alone” and “Christ alone” for salvation. In this book Christ’s suffering is “for us,” and God is made sweet and pleasant to us by grace. Staupitz was a Christocentric theologian in following 1 Corinthians 1:23, “We preach nothing else than Christ crucified.” Luther with his “theology of the cross” remained a faithful discipulus of Staupitz. Luther was grateful to Staupitz that the issue of penance had been solved for him, because now penance appeared “sweet” to him and Christ was his “most sweet Savior.” Staupitz and Linck stood by Luther at Augsburg during the encounter with Cardinal Cajetan in 1518. A later letter in which Luther tells about a bad dream in which he felt deserted by his superior does not necessarily demonstrate any change in Staupitz’s attitude toward him. Their friendship and correspondence continued. Staupitz was fully aware of Luther’s admiration for him, which Staupitz cited in his last letter (of April 1, 1524) to Luther, a letter showing that they remained on good terms despite a difference of opinion on monastic vows. Toward the end of his life Luther, in a letter to Elector John Frederick of March 27, 1545, summed up his indebtedness: “Doctor Staupitz is first of all my father in this doctrine and gave birth to me in Christ.”