Writing My Global Religion Cycle – And Where I Go Next

Writing My Global Religion Cycle – And Where I Go Next May 2, 2024

There are great magisterial scholars who plan out vast multi-volume series on grand topics. Then there are people like me who write a lot, but only in retrospect do they get a sense of what they have really been up to all these years. To that extent, this post is about me, but maybe it applies to plenty of other authors who only in hindsight see the literary wood for the trees. And in my own case, it massively helps me decide where next to go in my research career.

Through the years, I have published some 36 sole-authored books, plus a lot of articles. At first sight, these seem to cover a lot of ground in an almost random way, but that is misleading. Back in 2020, I did a post at this site called “Writing My Christian History Sequence,” which showed how those books of mine fell into four or five different groupings, each with a strong internal theme. The most significant was what I call the Christian History cycle, which includes a dozen or so separate titles from different presses, but which actually do provide a remarkably logical sequence from the Old Testament through early and medieval Christianity, and right up to the modern world, in books like my The Next Christendom (2002). I found it really informative putting that list together, as it allowed me to see all sorts of long themes and trajectories that I had never highlighted in quite so prominent a way. As an exercise, it also helped me understand where I next needed to work within that general ambit, and it actually shaped my research agenda for the following year or two. You can’t see where you are going until you know where you have been.

If I were doing that Christian History list again, I would expand it with two 2023 items that grew directly out of that process, namely my He Will Save You from the Deadly Pestilence (Oxford University Press) on the many lives of Psalm 91 though Jewish and Christian history and culture; and also my A Storm of Images: Iconoclasm and Religious Reformation in the Byzantine World (Baylor University Press). Including those would expand my Christian History cycle to around a dozen titles, spread over twenty years, and it also plugs a couple of glaring holes (SEE BELOW for a summary listing). It is beginning to look like I was almost planning this!

And now, in 2024, here I am again to announce another sequence or cycle that I never fully recognized while I was writing it, but now suddenly it seems quite self-evident. In the past four years, I have published the following three books: Fertility and Faith: The Demographic Revolution That Is Transforming All The World’s Religions (Baylor University Press, 2020); Climate, Catastrophe, and Faith: How Changes in Climate Drive Religious Upheaval  (Oxford University Press, 2021); and now, or at least in a couple of months, Kingdoms of this World: How Empires Have Made and Remade Religions (Baylor University Press, forthcoming July 2024). If you will pardon the grandiloquent language, I  call this my Global Religion Cycle.

Although the topics are diverse, what these have in common is a very wide geographical and temporal range in the study of religion worldwide, respectively focusing on demography, climate, and empire. Each, of its nature, is a Big Concept book. Each in its way identifies one of the absolutely critical factors that drives and shapes religion in any era, any region, and also, any faith tradition. These are three decisive forces that we have to address whether we are looking at Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, or any other creed. The three factors also interact closely: climate forces affect the growth or contraction of empires, and the religions that depend on them. Empires also have a profound effect on migration and demographic shifts, which often serve as vectors for faiths. The interconnections are actually numerous, but I will just mention those linkages briefly.

Assume for the sake of argument that I am stating this case fairly, and that these forces do indeed interact as I suggest. So where should I go next in my writing? One obvious topic is pandemic and plague, but that is already a very well-trodden field, and I moreover have a lot of material on that in my Climate, Catastrophe and Faith book. If you try to understand historical pandemics without taking account of climate factors, you are making a huge mistake.

So what other force am I omitting that might carry equal weight as a force affecting religious change and development? I don’t say it is the only one, but as I see things at present, it has to be warfare, defined very broadly. I have posted on these topics quite often at this site, for example here and here and here. Let me emphasize that I am not specifically referring to the attitudes of particular religions towards violence and war, although that might be part of the study. Rather, I mean how war spreads or constrains religions; how it stirs mystical and apocalyptic expectations, driving revivals and new religious movements; how beliefs and superstitions arising in war affect the character of particular faiths; and how war fosters militarized versions of faith, for example in the rhetoric and language of theology. I have lots more to say there, but that will do right now. At every stage, we see obvious linkages to those other “big three” factors, namely empires, climate, and demography.

Hmm, and when I phrase the argument in that way, I realize that I already have another publication that is directly relevant, namely my The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (HarperOne, 2014). That is also global in theme, with lots of material on how war made and remade Islam, Hinduism and other world faiths, over and above Christianity and Judaism. If so, then that book too would fit well into my newly defined Global Religion cycle. The only issue is that it covers a narrow chronology, roughly 1910-24 or so.

My plans may change, but right now, the natural next stage in my Global Religion cycle would be a new and very wide-ranging book on war, religion, and religions, on a much broader time frame. This would not of course mean trying to write some kind of whole history of War, Religion, the Universe and Everything. I would think of a two part book, the first section of which described the ways in which war and religion interacted in multiple societies. The second section might be a half dozen or so detailed case studies. It would be a substantial book, but well within the bounds of possibility.

Climate, demography, empires, and war.

Watch this space.

 

Just by way of reference, here are the titles in my Christian History sequence. They are presented in the order of the historical eras they cover, rather than their dates of publication:

Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (HarperOne, 2011).

Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World (Basic Books, 2017).

He Will Save You from the Deadly Pestilence: The Many Lives of Psalm 91 (Oxford University Press, 2023)

Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (Oxford University Press, 2001).

The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels (Basic Books, 2015).

Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, And Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe For The Next 1,500 Years (HarperOne, 2010).

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died  (HarperOne, 2008).

A Storm of Images: Iconoclasm and Religious Reformation in the Byzantine World (Baylor University Press, 2023)

Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History (Oxford University Press, 2000).

The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (HarperOne, 2014).

The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2002: third edition, 2011).

The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (Oxford University Press, 2006).

God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europe’s Religious Crisis (Oxford University Press, 2007).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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