Church History: Books of the Month

 January 2024

Monthly Updates on Recent Books in the History of Christianity

To raise awareness of recent books in the history of Christianity, the editorial staff of Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture highlights each month a list of 10-15 books in diverse periods and geographical regions that we hope will be of interest to our members.  We include here below the 39th monthly list, chosen by our staff, with excerpts from the publishers’ blurbs.

Timothy Keegan, An Age of Hubris. Colonialism, Christianity, and the Xhosa in the Nineteenth Century. 2023

University of Virginia Press

An Age of Hubris is the first comprehensive overview of the impact of missionary enterprise on the Xhosa chiefdoms of South Africa in the first half of the nineteenth century, chronicling a world punctuated by war and millenarian eruptions, and the steady encroachment of settler land hunger and colonial hegemony. With it, Timothy Keegan contributes new approaches to Xhosa history and, most important, a new dimension to the much-trodden but still vital topic of the impact—cultural, social, and political—of missionary activity among African peoples.

The most significant historical works on the Xhosa have either become dated, foreground imperial-colonial history, or remain heavily theoretical in nature. In contrast, Keegan draws fruitfully on the rich Africanist comparative and anthropological literature now available, as well as extant primary sources, to foreground the Xhosa themselves in this crucial work. In so doing, he highlights the ways in which Africans utilized new ideas, resources, and practices to make sense of, react to, and resist the forces of colonial dispossession confronting them, emphasizing missionary frustration and African agency.

Giovanni Mandolino, Yaḥyā ibn ʿAdī: Treatise on Divine Unity According to the Doctrine of the Christians. 2023


How do intellectual traditions interact? This is the fundamental question driving this book, which explores a case study set in the early Islamicate world: the Treatise on Divine Unity According to the Doctrine of the Christians by the Christian-Arabic theologian and philosopher Yaḥyā ibn ʿAdī (d. 974). The book attempts to contextualise the treatise and its intellectual environment by exploring the interplay between philosophy, Christian theology and Islam. This volume includes a revised Arabic text of Samir’s 2015 edition, collated with the manuscript Tehran, Madrasa-yi Marwī 19, recently discovered by prof. Robert Wisnovsky.

Alex R. Mayfield, The Kaleidoscopic City: Hong Kong, Mission, and the Evolution of Global Pentecostalism. 2023

Baylor University Press

The Kaleidoscopic City explores the development of Pentecostalism in Hong Kong between 1907 and 1942. Focusing primarily on Pentecostal missionaries and the Chinese leaders who worked alongside them, Alex R. Mayfield analyzes how changes within the social structures and ideological frameworks of global Pentecostalism dramatically impacted the movement within the colony. As such, Mayfield helps us to better understand both the spread of Pentecostalism in China and the evolution of global Pentecostalism in the first half of the twentieth century.

Throughout the book, Mayfield delves into specific facets of Pentecostalism’s development in the colony. First, he explores how Pentecostals' changing relationship to the space of Hong Kong reflected both historical happenstance and deep-rooted evangelical narratives. Second, Mayfield traces how the move from faith mission models to denominational models in Hong Kong marked a dramatic shift in Pentecostal aims, identities, and approaches. Third, he examines the ways Pentecostal evangelistic practices remained, for the most part, "un-Pentecostal" in their conformity to evangelical missionary norms. Fourth, Mayfield considers how Pentecostal spirituality gradually evolved to better respond to the competitive religious marketplace of Hong Kong. Finally, he studies the important roles of Chinese and Western Pentecostal women in Hong Kong and how their perceptions and enactments of gender changed as they fulfilled those roles.

With each turn of the kaleidoscope a different vision comes into view. In some places, Pentecostalism looked like standard evangelicalism; in others, it was a radical, ecstatic departure. It was urban one moment and rural the next; it was liberating for women but also not; it was a move of the Spirit, and it was careful planning. This unique volume marks a step forward in the attempt to make sense of the paradoxical early Pentecostal movement in China concentrated in the vibrant colonial city of Hong Kong.

James E. Kelly and John McCafferty, eds. The Oxford History of British and Irish Catholicism. Volume I: Endings and New Beginnings, 1530-1640. 2023

Oxford University Press

This volume explores the period 1530–1640, from Henry VIII’s break with Rome to the outbreak of the civil wars in Britain and Ireland. It analyses the efforts to create Catholic communities after the officially implemented change in religion, as well as the start of initiatives that would set the course of British and Irish Catholicism, including the beginning of the missionary enterprise and the formation of a network of exile religious institutions such as colleges and convents. This work explores every aspect of life for Catholics in both islands as they came to grips with the constant changes in religious policies that characterized this 110-year period. Accordingly, there are chapters on music, on literature in the vernaculars, on violence and martyrdom, and on the specifics of the female experience. Anxiety and the challenges of living in religiously mixed societies gave rise to new forms of creativity in religious life which made the Catholic experience much more than either plain continuity or endless endurance. Anti-popery became in many respects a kind of philosophy about which political life in England, Scotland, and colonized Ireland began to revolve. At the same time the legal frameworks across both Britain and Ireland which sought to restrict, fine, or exclude Catholics from public life are given close attention throughout, as they were the daily exigencies which shaped identity just as much as devotions, liturgy, and directives emanating from the Catholic Reformation then ongoing in continental Europe.

Robynne Rogers Healey and Carole Dale Spencer, eds. Quaker Women, 1800-1920: Studies of a Changing Landscape. 2023

Pennsylvania State University Press

This collection investigates the world of nineteenth-century Quaker women, bringing to light the issues and challenges Quaker women experienced and the dynamic ways in which they were active agents of social change, cultural contestation, and gender transgression in the nineteenth century.

New research illuminates the complexities of Quaker testimonies of equality, slavery, and peace and how they were informed by questions of gender, race, ethnicity, and culture. The essays in this volume challenge the view that Quaker women were always treated equally with men and that people of color were welcomed into white Quaker activities. The contributors explore how diverse groups of Quaker women navigated the intersection of their theological positions and social conventions, asking how they challenged and supported traditional ideals of gender, race, and class. In doing so, this volume highlights the complexity of nineteenth-century Quakerism and the ways Quaker women put their faith to both expansive and limiting ends.

Reaching beyond existing national studies focused solely on white American or British Quaker women, this interdisciplinary volume presents the most current research, providing a necessary and foundational resource for scholars, libraries, and universities.

Mikael Haxby, The First Apocalypse of James: Martyrdom and Sexual Difference. 2023

Mohr Siebeck

In this study, Mikael Haxby offers a comprehensive reading of a little-studied ancient Christian text, making use of recently discovered manuscript evidence. This text was originally found in the Nag Hammadi Codices and has historically been classified as Gnostic or heretical. Using new manuscript evidence, the author shows that the First Apocalypse of James intervenes in ancient Christian debates about martyrdom, ritual practice, scriptural interpretation, and questions of gender in both theology and social order. By bringing the First Apocalypse of James back into dialogue with other Christian texts, whether later classified as heretical or not, this study offers new insights into how Christians responded to the threat of political violence, engaged with holy texts, and produced new social formations in which women might hold authoritative positions.

Katherine Dugan and Karen E. Park, eds. American Patroness: Marian Shrines and the Making of US Catholicism. 2024

Fordham University Press

American Patroness: Marian Shrines and the Making of US Catholicism is a collection of twelve essays that examine the historical and contemporary roles of Marian shrines in US Catholicism. The essays in this collection use historical, ethnographic, and comparative methods to explore how Catholics have used Marian devotion to make an imprint on the physical and religious landscape of the United States. Using the dynamic malleability of Marian shrines as a starting place for studying US Catholicism, each chapter reconsiders the American religious landscape from the perspective of a single shrine to Mary and asks: What does this shrine reveal about US Catholicism and about American religion?

Elizabeth A. Littell-Lamb, The YWCA in China: The Making of a Chinese Christian Women’s Institution, 1899-1957. 2023

UBC Press

The YWCA in China explores how the Young Women’s Christian Association responded to the needs of Chinese women and society both before and after the 1949 revolution ushered in a communist state. Western secretaries defined the Chinese YWCA movement in its formative years, but an emphasis on developing homegrown direction eventually empowered Chinese women. Successive generations of leadership then localized a Western-defined organizational ethos. Over time, "the Y" became class conscious and progressive as Chinese leaders transformed it from a vehicle for moral and material uplift to an instrument for Christian-inspired social action. The Sino-Japanese War of 1937–45 provided a catalyst for commitment to the Chinese nation state. And after 1949, national YWCA leaders supported the Maoist regime because they believed the social goals of the YWCA aligned with Mao’s revolutionary aims.

Steven Rozenski, Joshua Byron Smith, and and Claire Waters, Mystics, Goddesses, Lovers, and Teachers: Medieval Visions and their Modern Legacies. 2023


The conjunction of medieval religious studies and gender studies in the past several decades has produced not only nuanced attention to medieval mystics and religious thinkers, but a transformation in the study of medieval culture more broadly. This volume showcases new investigations of mysticism and religious writing in the Middle Ages and the early modern period. It also presents groundbreaking explorations of the feminized divine, from medieval to modern, and the many debts of medieval secular texts and cultures to the religious world that surrounded them. Medieval crossover also defines this volume: the contributors examine the crossovers between male and female, cloister and saeculum, divine and human, and vernacular and Latin that characterized so much of the complexity of medieval literary culture.

Vefie Poels, Red Pope: A Biography of Cardinal Willem van Rossum C.Ss.R. (1854–1932). Translated by Brian Heffernan. 2023

Radboud University Press

Arriving in Rome from the Netherlands in 1895, the Catholic priest and Redemptorist Willem van Rossum (1854–1932) rose quickly through the ranks of the curia. In many ways an outsider, he made a resounding success of his career. His zeal in the fight against the ‘virus of modernism’ earned him a cardinal’s hat in 1911, and he was appointed prefect of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide in 1918. As ‘red pope’ or head of the Vatican’s mission department, Van Rossum led a hard-fought and ultimately successful campaign to separate missionary policy, fundraising and staffing from Western nationalism, and concentrate control over the worldwide missionary project at supranational level in Rome. He was the driving force behind two programmatic documents on the missions by Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI, which promoted the building up of indigenous churches and the educating of native clergy, thus helping to create a favourable position for the Catholic church during the subsequent wave of decolonisation. In the meantime, Van Rossum continued to decry Italian dominance in the church as well as the curia’s inefficiencies, for instance in a vituperative pamphlet that he wrote shortly before his death. This scholarly biography of Willem van Rossum rescues this great strategist behind the ‘popes of the missions’ from oblivion, and throws fascinating light on the history of the Catholic church and the Roman curia from the late nineteenth century until far into the twentieth.

Artan Hoxha, Communism, Atheism and the Orthodox Church of Albania: Cooperation, Survival and Suppression, 1945–1967. 2022


This book examines the relations between the Albanian communist regime and the Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (AAOC) from 1945, when the communists came to power, to 1967, when Albania became the only atheistic state in the world, and religion of all kinds was completely suppressed. Based on extensive archival research, the book outlines Orthodox Church life under communism and considers the regime’s strategies to control, use, and subordinate the Church. It argues against a simple state oppression versus Church resistance scenario, showing that the situation was much more complex, with neither the regime nor the Church being monolithic entities. It shows how, despite the brutality and the constant pressure of the state, the Church successfully negotiated with the communist authorities and benefited from engaging with them, and how the communist authorities used the Church as a tool of foreign policy, especially to strengthen the regime’s ties with their East European allies.

Pádraig Lenihan, Raw Generals and Green Soldiers: Catholic Armies in Ireland 1641-1643. 2023

Helion & Company

The eleven years of conflict that engulfed Ireland (1641-53) can be seen as a drama in three acts, each of which drew Ireland into progressively closer alignment with the Civil Wars (1642-52) in the other two Stuart kingdoms, Scotland and England. The first act in the Wars of Religion in Ireland (1641-53) began in October 1641 with a rising in Ulster and shuddered to a halt in September 1643 when the insurgents, now embodied as the Confederate Catholics, agreed a ceasefire with Charles I’s representative in Ireland.

This study is confined to Act One to manage its sheer scope and scale. Not a single county in Ireland was unscathed by war and in summer 1642 there were more men under arms than there ever had been or would be again. Moreover, Act One was singularly nasty. Insurgent slaughter of Protestant settlers in the winter of 1641-42 quickly gained canonical status. English and Scots armies routinely massacred natives in the spring and summer that followed.  is open-ended, the stakes would never be higher or the range of possible outcomes wider Act One.

Finally, for staying up-to-date on the latest titles in all fields, we recommend regularly perusing New Books Network and its "New Books in Christian Studies” page. These pages are updated regularly.