Review essay the jewish roots of the modern republic

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


A concise study of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Protestant Hebraica does not immediately suggest a provocative contribution to contemporary debates about secularization, religion, and politics. But that is what Eric Nelson's learned yet accessible book about the Jewish sources of early modern republicanism provides. According to Nelson, Professor of Government at Harvard University, the distinctive authority of the Hebrew Republic made possible the Protestant development of three central ideas: republican liberty, care for equality, and religious toleration. Nelson's rehabilitation of the neglected Christian Hebraism of the late Renaissance and Reformation seeks to challenge historiographies which characterize modern political thought in terms of a rationalist independence from theology. These dominant narratives roughly describe a transition from political theology to political science that excludes religious conviction from political argument. Nelson invokes (but does not engage) Mark Lilla's description of "the Great Separation" of religion and politics as one expression of this threshold of disenchantment. He also associates this narrative with figures as diverse as Hans Blumenberg, Leo Strauss, C. B. Macpherson, Michael Oakeshott, John Rawls, and Jonathan Israel. The book, therefore, contributes to scholarship that complicates the primacy of the "Enlightenment" origins and character of Western politics. It also raises complex questions about our relation to these origins. Much like Nelson's own argument about the way Jewish sources helped reorganize accepted categories, his book opens new spaces for scholarly conversation across multiple fields of study. This review briefly raises normative implications of Nelson's book for scholars of theology, ethics, and religious studies. I examine stronger and weaker versions of Nelson's historical narrative as well as his gestures at their implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)372-380
Number of pages9
JournalHarvard Theological Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies


Dive into the research topics of 'Review essay the jewish roots of the modern republic'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this