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New ASU books: religion, philosophy – and a purple horse


November 29, 2011

From the study of morality, rationality, and the interconnections between the two, to children’s stories about a cowgirl and her horse and Clarence and a purple horse, and from a look at the Hindu god Vitthal to an analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach to the Bible, ASU faculty and graduates have had a variety of books go to press recently.

They include:

“Rise of a Folk God: Vitthal of Pandharpur,” by Ramchandra Chintaman Dhere, translated by Anne Feldhaus, Foundation Professor of Religious Studies, who teaches Hinduism, Sanskrit, and religious geography.

Synopsis: Vitthal, also called Vithoba, is the most popular Hindu god in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, and the best-known god of that region outside India. His temple at Pandharpur is the goal of an annual pilgrimage that is one of the largest and most elaborate in the world. This book is the foremost study of the history of Vitthal, his worship, and his worshippers. First published in Marathi in 1984, the book remains the most thorough and insightful work on Vitthal and his cult in any language, and provides an exemplary model for understanding the history and morphology of lived Hinduism. The author, Ramchandra Chintaman Dhere, is the leading scholar of religious traditions in Maharashtra and throughout the Deccan, the plateau that covers most of central India. This is the first English translation of this important book by an influential scholar.

“Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality by Douglas W. Portmore, associate professor, Department of Philosophy.

Synopsis: “Commonsense Consequentialism” is a book about morality, rationality, and the interconnections between the two. In it, Portmore defends a version of consequentialism that both comports with our commonsense moral intuitions and shares with other consequentialist theories the same compelling teleological conception of practical reasons.

Broadly construed, consequentialism is the view that an act’s deontic status is determined by how its outcome ranks relative to those of the available alternatives on some evaluative ranking. Portmore argues that outcomes should be ranked, not according to their impersonal value, but according to how much reason the agent has to desire that each outcome obtains and that, when outcomes are ranked in this way, we arrive at a version of consequentialism that can better account for our commonsense moral intuitions than even many forms of deontology can.

“On the Rim of the Mandala,” by Paul Cook, lecturer, Sr., in the Department of English.

Synopsis: Lou Colleran is an immortal. But even immortals can be killed. For the universe is being threatened by genetically designed creatures called calibans. And the only thing between them and the destruction of the worlds of the Mandala is Lou Colleran. But can Lou Colleran, an immortal haunted by a woman dead hundreds of years, and preoccupied by seductive dreams, survive long enough to save the universe from destruction?

“Martin Luther King's Biblical Epic: His Final, Great Speech,” by Keith D. Miller, professor of English.

Synopsis: In his final speech "I've Been to the Mountaintop," Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his support of African American garbage workers on strike in Memphis. Although some consider this oration King's finest, it is mainly known for its concluding two minutes, wherein King compares himself to Moses and seems to predict his own assassination.

Even though King cited and explicated the Bible in hundreds of speeches and sermons, “Martin Luther King's Biblical Epic” is the first book to analyze his approach to the Bible and its importance to his rhetoric and persuasiveness. Miller argues that King challenged dominant Christian supersessionist conceptions of Judaism in favor of a Christianity that affirms Judaism as its wellspring. In his final speech, King implicitly but strongly argues that one can grasp Jesus only by first grasping Moses and the Hebrew prophets.

"Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971," by Yasmin Saikia, professor of history and holder of the Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.

Synopsis: In this book, Saikia allows the survivors and perpetrators of war-time atrocities to tell their stories, revealing the power of speaking about traumas so often deemed unspeakable. She points out that 1971 was a pivotal time for the Indian subcontinent. Just a few decades free of British colonial rule, tensions between East Pakistan, West Pakistan and India came to a head in a war that would produce a new country – Bangladesh – and establish the contemporary geo-political structure of the region.

But one story of the war remained untold. 
“Hidden beneath what I call the ‘grand Manichean narratives’ of nationhood, men on all sides of the conflict used rape as a weapon of war, looting, killing and terrorizing noncombatants,” Saikia says. “These horrors left a generation of victims and perpetrators with unspeakable trauma, trauma that included rape, loss of status and citizenship, and ‘war babies’ born as a result of these rapes.”

“A Cowgirl and Her Horse,” by ASU alumna Jean Ekman Adams, author/illustrator.

Synopsis: There are so many things a cowgirl has to do for her horse. It’s hard to keep them all straight! But this cowgirl has what it takes. Her horse needs new shoes. Better head to the department store! When it’s time to eat, she must properly order for him. Sometimes she even has to protect him from wild rattlesnakes.

“Clarence Goes Out West and Meets a Purple Horse,” by ASU alumna Jean Ekman Adams, author/illustrator.

Synopsis: While visiting a Western ranch, Clarence the pig plays cards, line dances, plays the washtub in a cowboy band, and reads stories at bedtime with his new friend Smoky the purple horse.

Adams was born in Illinois, the daughter of illustrator Stan Ekman, who drew magazine covers for Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s. She exhibited her own paintings for 30 years, and finally turned to writing and illustrating picture books herself.

“Surface Encounters: Thinking with Animals and Art,” by Ron Broglio, assistant professor of English.

Synopsis: Developing a phenomenology of the animal other through contemporary art, Ron Broglio bypasses the perspectives of biology or natural history to explore how one can construct an animal phenomenology, to think and feel as an animal other – or any other. Broglio considers contemporary artists who take seriously the world of the animal on its own terms, developing languages of interspecies expression that challenge philosophy and fashion new concepts for animal studies.