When scholars of religion are feeling provocative, they like to point out that there is no such thing as “religion”—only “religions.”Like language, religion cannot be merely an abstraction; it must always be expressed in a particular way.
The many biographies of Thomas Aquinas range from the popular and hagiographic to the scholarly. But all writers on the saint agree that Thomas was notoriously reticent about his own life. Almost never in his voluminous writings did he reveal a personal voice. It was thus brave of Denys Turner to subtitle his wonderful book “A Portrait.”
Nothing outrages students in Jonathan Sheehan’s course on the history of Christianity at the University of California at Berkeley more than the writings of John Calvin. What kind of God is it who would predetermine the ultimate destiny of all humans before the creation of the world? students wonder. Reading Calvin, he says, helps students see the power of an argument and consider the consequences of their own beliefs and commitments. Sheehan wants students to wrestle with Calvin with “integrity, reason, creativity, and charity . . . intellectual virtues that we need in our modern world” (New York Times, September 12).