New and noteworthy – 24 August 2017

Gender still matters, even for Angela Merkel; the future of education and Moocs; religion and terrorism; sports fandom; and the rise of the coroner

August 24, 2017
Angela Merkel effigy
Source: iStock

Becoming Madam Chancellor: Angela Merkel and the Berlin Republic
Joyce Marie Mushaben
Cambridge University Press

How has “a shy, apolitical pastor’s daughter from the East” become “the world’s most powerful woman” and proved highly effective in helping Germany face up to “the challenges of twenty-first-century globalization”? And why has Angela Merkel nonetheless often been so underestimated? Joyce Marie Mushaben, an American scholar who has spent almost 18 years living in Germany, puts those questions at the heart of her major new study. She considers the series of “makeovers” that accompanied Merkel’s rise to the top; examines her policies on everything from relations with Israel and Russia to climate change, the euro and refugee crises; and concludes by reflecting on “why gender still matters”.

Disrupt This! MOOCs and the Promises of Technology
Karen J. Head
University Press of New England

In autumn 2012, Karen Head at the Georgia Institute of Technology was unexpectedly asked to produce a Mooc (massive open online course) on first-year writing. She was well aware of the rhetoric surrounding Moocs as a form of “disruptive innovation” that would transform higher education, but could the reality live up to the hype? Although they “have contributed to some changes that will continue to influence teaching methods”, her experience convinced her, Moocs have “failed to be superior to a traditional classroom experience”. Her book challenges head-on “the simplistic technological optimism that drives much of the thinking on the future of education and which waves away reasonable objections as Luddism”.

The Cambridge Companion to Religion and Terrorism
Edited by James R. Lewis
Cambridge University Press

Ever since 9/11 there has been a deluge of academic writing about terrorism. Yet most of it, notes James Lewis, has come from “secularist critics with axes to grind against religion” and political scientists who have “tended to downplay if not dismiss the religion factor altogether…Voices from religious studies have been relatively few.” His new collection sets out to redress the balance. Some contributors address fundamental questions such as “Does religion cause terrorism?” or analyse specific cases everywhere from France to Sri Lanka, from China to Kyrgyzstan. Others consider “radicalization”, revolution and apocalypse, and whether terror can be a form of “sacrificial ritual” or even a matter of “rational choice”.

The I in Team: Sports Fandom and the Reproduction of Identity
Erin C. Tarver
Chicago University Press

Many of her “most vivid childhood sporting memories”, writes Erin Tarver, feature her “weaving with my parents through a sea of people all clad in the same colors…By the time I was a teenager, I had also learned to disparage our rivals…” Yet for all the pleasures of fandom, it also has a distinctly dark side “characterized by the overt policing of gender norms and rampant homophobia” (as well as a tendency for white fans to “treat black athletes more like mascots than heroes”). Given that spectator sports are both massively popular and a major source of identity for fans, The I in Team demonstrates why we ought to take them far more seriously.

The Conquest of Death: Violence and the Birth of the Modern English State
Matthew Lockwood
Yale University Press

In early modern England, according to Matthew Lockwood, “few violent deaths went unnoticed, unexamined, or unexplained”. And that is because “the financial interests of heirs, creditors, coroners, and crown all rested on the outcome of the coroner’s inquest”. The sociologist Max Weber proposed that it is central to the definition of the state that it “lays claim to the monopoly of legitimate physical violence within a particular territory”. The Conquest of Death shows how it was the creation of the office of the coroner that created “a new system of surveillance” which enabled “the [English] state to obtain a true monopoly of violence for the first time”.

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