BookReligion and State Formation in
Postrevolutionary Mexico
Ben Fallaw (Latin American studies)
Duke University Press (2013)

The Mexican Revolution was intended to set off a wave of agrarian and education reform. But, as Ben Fallaw’s new book shows, the Roman Catholic Church remained a force at local and state levels and had a profound effect on the extent of state reformation. Fallaw examines the history of Catholicism in four under-studied Mexican states and shows that religious influence frustrated the secular vision of anti-Catholic leader Plutarco Elias Calles and President Lázaro Cárdenas. Fallaw’s prodigious research and careful analysis have resulted in a rethinking of the process of state formation in Mexico and produced what one critic calls “a key text in Mexican revolutionary history.”

Editor’s note: Read a Q&A with Fallaw on ongoing political change in Mexico

BookInquisition in Early Islam: The Competition
for Political and Religious Authority
in the Abbasid Empire
John P. Turner (history)
I.B. Tauris (2013)

Most people know about the Inquisition, which began when Roman Catholic authorities decided to root out heresy in 12th-century France, setting off a process that spread throughout Europe and continued for some 700 years.

But the Roman Catholic version came nearly 400 years after the ruling Islamic caliph, Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun, launched a similar effort in Baghdad, interrogating religious scholars to make sure they adhered to and taught the “correct” Islamic beliefs.

As in the Inquisition that would follow centuries later, those who didn’t toe the theological line suffered greatly. And though the Islamic inquisition, known as the mihna, lasted just 15 years, it was a pivotal moment in the struggle between secular and religious authorities. The period was marked by a new definition of heresy, which emerged from a series of trials, vividly recreated by Turner in this new study.

Says scholar Sir James Montgomery, Thomas Adams Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge, “The mihna was, as Turner persuasively argues, one of the many complex steps backwards and forwards which culminated in the articulation of sunni Islam.”