Author: Philip Jenkins (Philip Jenkins)

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Greater Than the French Revolution
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Greater Than the French Revolution

On July 15, 1870, the French Empire mobilized its armed forces, and the following day, the North German Confederation—led by Prussia—followed suit. Once the Franco-Prussian War was declared, actual combat began with startling rapidity. The Prussians won a decisive victory at Sedan at the start of September, capturing French Emperor Napoleon III. Even so, the...

Praying Alone
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Praying Alone

When Americans look back on 2020, the year of the virus, they will see multiple transformations. I fear that some of the most sweeping changes will come in the realm of religion, marking a grim turning point in the story of American faith. Historically, pandemics have played a major role in shaping religion, by undermining...

And a Little Child Shall Mislead Them
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And a Little Child Shall Mislead Them

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has become a vastly influential force in the discussion of global climate change. Even so, policy makers are reluctant to challenge her because her global reputation verges on the hagiographic. Conservative Italians denounce her fanatical disciples as gretini—a heavy-handed pun on the Italian word for cretins, cretini. Even so, the joke...

Remembering the Twenty-Teens
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Remembering the Twenty-Teens

Decades provide a useful, if not infallible, structure for organizing and understanding our historical experience. However frayed and disputed their limits, terms like “the twenties,” or “the eighties” each conjure their particular images and memories. Whatever we call the decade we have just completed—the twenty-teens?—it is one with landmarks arguably as important as any in...

Which Terrorism?
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Which Terrorism?

The U.S. is about to make a disastrous blunder in its terrorism policies. In recent months, a series of savage shootings has drawn attention to the dangers posed by far-right, or white-supremacist, terrorism. Commentators from across the political spectrum have demanded a robust response, and law enforcement agencies are clearly listening. In principle, such a...

Remembering Slavery
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Remembering Slavery

The topic of slavery and reparations has been much in the news of late and might feature prominently in next year’s presidential elections. Slave ownership taints the reputations of historical figures, to the point of provoking campaigns against their commemoration. Modern dismay over slavery is quite justified, but a couple of reality checks might be...

Missing the Main Story
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Missing the Main Story

In 1946, the U.S. intelligence community published a series of studies on the current and future dangers threatening global peace, and among these was a surprisingly detailed essay entitled, “Islam: A Threat to World Stability.” Those remarks obviously carry a special weight in light of subsequent decades. I am not the first person to discuss...

Poet Against Empire
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Poet Against Empire

When I mention that I am reading Robinson Jeffers, even cultivated and well-read people look bemused; the name seems obscure.  By way of explanation, I borrow the closing words of the classic gangster film The Roaring Twenties: “He used to be a big shot.”  Just how big Jeffers had once been is hard to convey...

Too Dangerous to Read
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Too Dangerous to Read

I offer a moral dilemma.  Are there books or fictional works so dangerous that they should not be taught in school or college, and that should as far as possible be kept from a general audience?  Some observers would apply this label to political tracts like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, but however loathsome its content,...

The Last of the Royals
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The Last of the Royals

When historians survey Europe’s 20th century, rarely do they question the fundamental evil of the old irrelevant monarchies and aristocratic regimes, and the obvious necessity of replacing them with progressive socialist and nationalist substitutes.  A strong case can in fact be made that those ancien regime states disappeared some decades too early, and that had...

How the Crusades Were Won
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How the Crusades Were Won

The Christian Crusades of the Middle Ages are today deployed for a wide range of political and rhetorical purposes—to make claims about the Church’s betrayal of Christ’s teaching, the evils of European imperialism, or the inextricable link between intolerant religion and ghastly violence.  Any or all of those claims might be justified.  One problem, though,...

Anniversary of the Modern West
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Anniversary of the Modern West

Some of the greatest events in human history simply fail to register in popular consciousness. Last year, we rightly heard a terrific amount about the Reformation, or at least, about its early Lutheran phase. But the spring of 2018 actually marks the 400th anniversary of the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, another critical event...

“Only Connect!”
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“Only Connect!”

Niall Ferguson is a distinguished historian of Scottish origin who specializes in big arguments, and contrarian claims.  His books are always provocative, frequently infuriating, and often (if not always) correct in their analyses.  Unlike most academic historians, he genuinely understands issues of business and finance, both in the contemporary world and in the historic past,...

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Islam, Europe, and Slavery

At Midsummer 1631, Barbary pirates from North Africa raided the Irish village of Baltimore, and took several hundred local people into lifelong captivity.  Such a distant projection of Islamic power might seem extreme and even bizarre, but it was no such thing.  Forgotten today, the danger of Arab and Turkish assault remained a nightmare for...

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Race, Genocide, and Memory

In 2012, U.S. historian William H. Frederick sparked a fierce controversy about a horrible if largely forgotten episode in Asian history, the so-called Bersiap movement of the 1940’s.  The affair demands our attention for what it suggests about the politics of memory, and how we value human lives.  It also reminds us of the quite...

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Remembering the Old Russia

This Fall marks the centennial of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.  Although few commentators today are likely to glorify that event or its aftermath, most will assume that the revolution was a regrettable necessity, which swept away a repressive and stagnant ancient regime.  Such a view is false.  Culturally and spiritually, that lost pre-revolutionary Russia was...

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Missed Manners and Creeping Laws

From the August 2001 issue of Chronicles. All societies regulate personal behavior: That is part of what makes them societies, instead of mere aggregations of isolated individuals. Societies differ enormously, though, in just how they perform this regulation, how much they rely on law and the state, rather than informal or private means. If I...

A Long Way Behind
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A Long Way Behind

Yale’s Little Histories represent an admirable project, whereby true experts perform the exceedingly difficult task of summarizing a large field of knowledge in a short space, and in an accessible manner.  Ideally, the resulting book offers a good introduction for the novice, while even the most knowledgeable reader will gain some new insight. Even within...

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The Wrong War

The assault on American history continues apace, with the further removal of Confederate monuments and symbols, and the expunging of anything relating to slavery or slaveholders.  Mounting any defense against this cultural warfare has been next to impossible, because it would seem to demand justifying slavery.  The same considerations prohibit any criticism of the Union...

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Predators

In an earlier phase of my career, I researched the subject of serial murder.  What struck me repeatedly was how many of the cases defied the common stereotype of the lone Jack the Ripper figure, always a white male.  In fact, multiple homicide is an equal-opportunity career: Many offenders are female, and all ethnic groups...

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The Forgotten Secret War

This past December, the United States commemorated the 75th anniversary of Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.  Most commentators rightly played down any conspiratorial suggestion that Franklin Roosevelt had deliberately provoked that particular attack, although they agreed that the U.S. had been putting heavy diplomatic pressure on Japan in the months leading up to it. ...

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Buddha Nature and Gender Nature

I have decided that the only way to understand American liberal society is through the mystical practices of Asia’s ancient religions.  Let me explain. Hundreds of millions of the world’s Buddhists have at the heart of their faith a seemingly irreconcilable mystery.  For two millennia, they have been taught that emptiness (sunyata) is a fundamental...

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Survivors and Liars

Lauren Stratford might be called the woman who never was, or rather the woman whose existence we dare not admit.  Even the soberest retelling of her fantastic story makes nonsense of so many contemporary assumptions and pieties. Over the last generation, ideas about child abuse have grown to the status of social orthodoxy in the...

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Lord Dunmore’s Revenge

In great historic cities like Charleston and Savannah, it is all but impossible to avoid memories of the Revolutionary War.  At every turn, you find commemorations of the triumphs and disasters of those years, of the heroes and villains of the national struggle.  On my recent journeys, though, I have seen those monuments and plaques...

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Hearts and Minds

We’ve only just begun . . . Have you ever wondered what it was like to live through a sweeping cultural revolution?  If you lived in France in late 1789, for instance, and you reviewed the events of the previous 12 months, you would have shaken your head in wonderment at all that had happened. ...

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Conquering History

I recently obtained a copy of a British newspaper published in 2025, which discussed the country’s favorite television program in that year.  The reviewer gives a crisp summary of the latest incarnation of Downton Abbey, and the episode in question is a crowd-pleaser.  Everything is bustling in the historic English mansion in 1925, as butlers,...

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Are You a Bigot?

A major function of liberal society is inventing new forms of bigotry.  You take an obvious idea—something believed always, everywhere, and by all—and show that in fact it is not just false, but a vicious form of hatred and discrimination.  As a current case in point, I offer transphobia, which is defined as holding antagonistic...

Gone With the Wind
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Gone With the Wind

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Appomattox.  In recent times, academics studying the Civil War have reached a striking degree of consensus about how that war should be understood, and its practical implications today.  Sadly, that consensus has one enormous omission. Overwhelmingly, scholars agree that the war was about the defense and preservation of...

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The Christmas War 1914

This past year, we have heard a great deal about the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.  Throughout that commemoration, though, we have rarely paid due attention to the religious language of Holy War and crusade deployed by all combatants. Think, for instance, of the great historic moment that many will remember this...

(Not) The Age of Aquarius
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(Not) The Age of Aquarius

I may be stereotyping Chronicles readers unfairly, but I suspect that not many read witches&pagans.  If your subscription has lapsed, I draw your attention to a recent feature that actually has far-reaching consequences for more mainstream believers of all kinds. In an interview, well-known pagan author Diana L. Paxson complained that The generation that founded...

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A Chestertonian Assault

I begin with a confession. Whenever I receive a new number of The Chesterton Review, I groan inwardly and, from time to time, outwardly.  Let me hasten to add that said groan is not a sign of tedium or disappointment—far from it.  But opening those pages means that once again, despite myself, I will be...

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The Way to Translate

There are people who think the classics are a dated luxury.  Anyone who believes that should stay far away from the Christian Bible. It’s been many years since I was able to read the New Testament in English.  Now, don’t think I’m showing off there.  My Greek is not wonderful, and I find a parallel...

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Back to the Trenches

Stand by for a barrage of centennials.  For some years to come, we will be facing very regular commemorations of the various horrors of World War I and its aftermath, so expect a great many books, documentaries, and newspaper pieces on Sarajevo, the Armenian massacres, the Lusitania, the Russian Revolution, and on through the 2020’s. ...

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The Night the World Didn’t Change

Most sober historians have little respect for counterfactuals, those extrapolations of alternative worlds where matters developed differently from the world we know.  Yet such alternatives are actually hard to avoid.  How can you claim that Gettysburg was a significant battle unless you contemplate the other paths that American history might have taken if the South...

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The Stafford Disaster

If you didn’t hear about the social and medical catastrophe that occurred at Stafford Hospital, in the English Midlands—a disaster that claimed some 1,200 lives—then you must have been following the U.S. news media.  The Stafford experience should be a nightmarish wake-up call for Americans, and a crushingly definitive argument in the nation’s debate over...

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A Modest Proposal for Speech Control

Can we be adult about this?  Can we finally say publicly what so many people believe privately—namely, that the whole Bill of Rights thing was a nice idea in its day, but it’s time to move on? Now, before you take offense, let’s think practically about this.  Yes, the Bill of Rights has all these...

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The Revolution of Greed

Do you remember Gordon Gecko in the film Wall Street proclaiming that “Greed is good”?  Unwittingly, he may have formulated a law about how religions rise and fall.  Worldwide, the churches that succeed and boom, that win and retain members, tend to be the “greedy groups”—greedy, above all, for your time and commitment.  They don’t...

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Predators

In an earlier phase of my career, I researched the subject of serial murder.  What struck me repeatedly was how many of the cases defied the common stereotype of the lone Jack the Ripper figure, always a white male.  In fact, multiple homicide is an equal-opportunity career: Many offenders are female, and all ethnic groups...

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Forgetting China

I am unusual among American conservatives in feeling quite positive about the rise of a strong and prosperous China.  Not long since, I was exploring Beijing’s thronged Wangfujing Street, which is consumer heaven, and it was sobering to realize that the ancestors of virtually all those prosperous customers would have been permanently hungry peasants who...

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VENONA

I faithfully read the New York Review of Books as a prime source of hilarious writing and self-parody.  Sometimes though, the absurdities reach such a height as to demand comment. Recently, a Gail Collins rant in NYRB described “How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us,” claiming that the economic power of that state’s educational system...

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Progress and Poverty

While it never pays to get upset about the American public’s periodic fits of moral outrage, the rhetoric sometimes becomes so near obsessive, and so ridiculous, that it demands a response.  In this instance, I am thinking of the last few years’ debates about the national standard of living, an issue that has surfaced so...

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And Pastures New

Suppose you had to choose the single motion picture that dealt most seriously and challengingly with religious matters.  What might it be?  Offhand, I can think of a dozen or so possible answers from various countries, and probably most cinema-literate people would agree on at least a common short list.  It’s a reasonable bet, though,...

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The Christian in the Cave

I have a continuing interest in popular historical mythology—that is, the yawning gulf that separates what really happened in the past from what large numbers of even quite well-educated individuals think occurred.  Given contemporary cultural debates, it is scarcely surprising that such myths commonly focus on religious themes, usually to the massive disadvantage of religion,...

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The Miracle Program

I wrote recently about the silly contemporary myth that portrays Christianity as implacably opposed to science and progress.  The legend is thoroughly disproved by an abundance of counterexamples, but some of the available correctives are so powerfully convincing that they startle, and it is odd that Christian apologists have not used them more freely against...

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Wisdom and Science

Societies live by their mythologies, which become so passionately held that it’s usually risky to challenge them.  Having said that, one major component of contemporary secularist mythology really has to be confronted, because it is so influential, so widely reflected in even the saner mass media, and so totally wrong.  I’m referring to the familiar...

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Peace With Zulus

Like most literate Brits of my generation, I grew up immersed in the book 1066 and All That, the brilliant parody of historical writing published in 1930 by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman.  Among the large chunks of the book I can still recite verbatim is the catalogue of Victorian colonial wars, which mimics with...

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Killing No Murder

Don’t they wish they had listened to her!  Back in 2003, when the United States was planning to lead the invasion of Iraq, my elderly Welsh aunt was appalled by the prospect of war: “I hate all the violence.  I’m not an educated woman; I don’t understand politics.  I just hate to think of all...

The Triumph of Nice
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The Triumph of Nice

Imagine reading an interview with the founder of a new Christian church.  As the interviewer points out, new denominations are scarcely a surprising story, so what makes yours so different and noteworthy?  Well, explains the prophet, we have a totally different attitude toward the Bible.  Our focus groups tell us that many modern people do...

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The Lost Secret of Kells

When I tell you that I was recently shocked by the treatment of history in a children’s cartoon, you may wonder what kind of pompous buffoon I might be.  (“I cannot begin to list the fundamental errors in marine biology that The Little Mermaid parades before our vulnerable children . . . ”)  Yet watching...

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Unto Them a Child Was Born

Normality is a fragile concept, and that observation is nowhere more true than in sexual matters.  In making that point, I am not questioning the existence of absolute moral standards—quite the contrary.  Rather, I am suggesting that, once a society loses its religious moorings, it drifts into startling novelties with a haste even more vertiginous...