MERCER UNIVERSITY PRESS NEWS

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Mercer University Press Authors Featured at AJC-Decatur Book Festival – August 29-31, 2014

Mercer University Press authors featured or moderators at Decatur Book Festival this weekend, August 29-31, 2014,

Great prices on all titles brought to the show, so stop by our booth 409/411 and stock up on some wonderful new and backlist books.

Robert Jenkins, Steve Davis, and Daniel Cone

Raymond L. Atkins

Jackie K. Cooper

Cliff Graubart

Megan Sexton

Martha M. Ezzard

Carolyn Newton Curry

Rembrandt as Christian Artist

Biblical RembrandtToday, on Rembrandt’s birthday (1606), John I Durham joins us for a word about Rembrandt’s faith and it’s role in his art. Find out more in John’s Biblical Rembrandt: Human Painter in a Landscape of Faith.

 

Rembrandt Van Rijn: A Believer?

That Rembrandt was a believer is an undoubted fact of his life; that he was not a practicing member of any Church is also a fact of his life. Rembrandt grew up in a Protestant (Dutch Reformed) home in Leiden, a town famous for science and, in some circles, for its hospitality (in 1608 and much of the decade following) to some of the Pilgrim fathers. His father Harmen’s upbringing was Roman Catholic, but by the time of his marriage to Rembrandt’s mother Cornelia, Harmen had joined the Dutch Reformed Church. Cornelia (Neeltje) was brought up Roman Catholic, but by the time she and Harmen were married (on October 8, 1589) in the Dutch Reform Pieterskerk in Leiden, she too had obviously left Catholicism for Protestantism.

In 1631, in his twenty-fifth year, Rembrandt painted an elderly woman reading a great heavy Bible—though he may have intended to depict a biblical figure (Anna from Luke 2:36–38 has often been named.) I believe he was thinking of his mother, whom he had no doubt often seen with the Bible open on her lap. The painting was done with obvious affection; Neeltje would have been around sixty-three when the work was created.

Though we have no firm record of Rembrandt’s birth, the date customarily listed is July 15, 1606, from a reference in a history of Leiden by the city’s mayor, J. J. Orlers. By that date, his parents had been married for around twenty-seven years; Rembrandt was the ninth of ten children born to Harmen and Neeltje. Three of the ten died at birth, two before Rembrandt’s arrival, the third when he was three years old.

That Rembrandt was drawn to the Bible as a source for his art is an inevitable result of his family life, his instruction at Leiden’s Calvinist “Latin School” from the ages of seven to fourteen, and above all from his guidance at the hand and eye of Pieter Lastman, the great “history painter” in Amsterdam. Yet if no piece of this evidence was available to us, we would be forced to remember Rembrandt as very much the painter of the Bible by the predominance in his drawings and in his etchings and in his paintings of biblical persons, biblical themes, and especially of biblical moments. No serious study of the life and work of Rembrandt known to me fails to take note of this fact, not least because so large a percentage of the legacy he has left to us, around one-third by general estimate, is devoted to the Bible. “An old Bible” is listed among Rembrandt’s possession in the bankruptcy inventory of 1656, and following his death on October 5, 1669, the only book among his possessions “in the inner chamber” was a Bible. That he lived with the Bible right through his life cannot be contested; thus what can be said about the Bible in Rembrandt’s belief?

To put it in simplest terms, Rembrandt’s belief, his faith, came not from any connection with a church, and not from any appropriation of a doctrinal system. He was friendly with a considerable array of religious persons, both humble and grand: Protestants, of course, even Mennonite Protestants, but also Catholic and Jewish figures. He was commissioned to paint their portraits, to illustrate some of their publications, and to create works decorating their homes and meeting places (but never their places of worship: Protestants and Jews objected to images in their places of worship, and Roman Catholics felt that Rembrandt’s works were not religious enough, and even sometimes sacrilegious).

Rembrandt’s believing was therefore a biblical believing. The Bible was for him a real book more than it was a holy book. Its heroes and heroines were real people, people who made real mistakes and were sorry for it, not saints above temptation and reproach and criticism. To model Jesus, he picked a Jew; to represent Judas, he depicted a painfully regretful traitor who had torn out his hair in distress; to help us know religious hypocrisy and pomp, he painted Temple officials far more interested in the coins Judas had thrown down than in a man in deep grief.

Rembrandt’s Tobit is both unjustly irritated at his good wife and fumblingly blind. Rembrandt’s Balaam is so caught up in his own self-defensive fury that he overlooks the fact that he is having a conversation with a she-ass. Rembrandt’s prodigal son is caught up in the healing hug of a father whose love is rooted in caring instead of in self-justification and judgment. Rembrandt’s Mary at the Tomb on Easter morning is so human that, in spite of all she had witnessed, she assumes the risen Christ must be a gardener.

I think Rembrandt began his biblical works as works of illustration, attempts to picture what the words of the Bible’s text suggested. Before the passing of many years, however, Rembrandt began interpreting the words of that text, giving us an exegesis of what he felt the words may mean. And in his maturity as a biblical artist, Rembrandt created what must be called works of confession, moving statements of his own belief, in particular the famous “Hundred Guilder Print,” an astonishing summary of the entire nineteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. It is a sermon on an etching plate that presents Jesus healing theological, psychological, and physical sickness and dealing at the same time with legalism, the pride of self-importance, and the reality of indifference. And not even the “rich young man” or the proverbial camel of Matthew 19 are left out!

I have been looking at Rembrandt looking me into looking for many years now; yet as I keep on looking, I find myself seeing more and more, because Rembrandt, it turns out, teaches the Bible without prejudice, and gives us human genius mixed with divine love.

 

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Happy Fourth of July from MUP!

It’s time for fireworks and grilling out and nothing goes better with the festivities like in-depth academic examinations of literature, American history, Christianity, Kierkegaard, African-American history, politics, and theology. The mental stimulation just makes the cole slaw taste sooooo much better.

 

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National Country Music Day!

RedneckLiberationIn addition to celebrating the birth of our nation today, we also celebrate the contributions of country music to American culture. Far more than bemoaning the loss of a trailer, a wife, and a dog, country music provides voice to an entire worldview, both secular and religious. Read more about the explicit and implicit theologies of country music in David Fillingim’s Redneck Liberation: Country Music as Theology. It makes a great read beneath the glow of fireworks.

 

 

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An Excerpt from the Award-Winning Novel Camp Redemption

Camp_Redemption-COVER.inddAs promised, here’s an excerpt from Camp Redemption by Georgia’s two-time Author of the Year, Raymond Atkins. Raymond will also be speaking at the Catoosa Citizens for Literacy’s Sixth Annual, “One Book, One Community” event at the Benton Place Learning Center in Ringgold, Georgia on June 26 at 6:30 p.m.

Excerpt
After supper, they all adjourned to Nathanael, and over the course of the next three hours, they took over the former camp counselors’ duties—sweeping, mopping, washing, and dusting everything within reach. While Early and Ivey turned the mattresses and began to make up the beds, Jesús announced that he was going outside to wash the exterior glass.

“That boy is a hard worker,” Early noted as he snapped a sheet and tucked a corner.

“He’s that,” Ivey agreed, but she seemed preoccupied as she smoothed the wrinkles. She worried with the linen until it suited her.
“What’s on your mind?”

“I can’t get Brother Rickey out of my head. I swear I don’t know how I could have been so wrong about someone. And the deacons! I’ve known some of them since they were just boys. How could I not see their ugliness?”
“Screw Brother Rickey and the deacons he rode in on.” “Early!”

“Sorry, Ivey. That one just slipped out. I don’t know what
to tell you about the gang down at the church, except to say that it’s real easy to pretend to love thy neighbor when you’re in an all-white congregation. Same way it’s easy to say you love the poor when everyone around you has a little money. Talk is cheap until someone like Avis Shropshire comes along and calls your bluff. When he did that, Brother Rickey and the deacons had to put their Bibles where their mouths were, and they couldn’t do it.”

“Well, it makes me sad.”

“I know it does. But don’t worry about it anymore. What’s done is done.…”

 

More Fiction from Mercer University Press

CuttercaneRoth_Pridemore_tbnlMother.of.Rain.300Sammy Levitt

 

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Tennessee State University Accepts Its First Students (1912)

TouchOfGreatOriginally founded as Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School in 1909, Tennessee State University (TSU) began accepting students on this day in 1912. TSU has grown into a major institution that serves thousands of students each year. Join Dr. Bobby Lovett in A Touch of Greatness: A History of Tennessee State University as he explores the tumultuous history of this major Southern university as it struggled to enlighten, expand, and survive.

Dr. Bobby Lovett joins us today to give us an overview of America’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

 A Short History of America’s Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

The story of the development of America’s black colleges is a fascinating, complex, difficult but intriguing 177-year-old history. Americans had nine institutions of higher education by 1776. From 1837 to 1862, church-affiliated leaders established more colleges including three institutions for Negroes. Several traditionally white institutions (TWIs) including ones in the South accepted a few Negroes. The federal Morrill Land Grant Act (1862) aided the establishment of public colleges in each state and Northern state land-grant colleges accepted a few Negro students. Southern states established separate land-grant colleges for black and white citizens. A few American colleges began to offer graduate studies by 1876. Most TWIs barred Negro students, and only one black American held a Ph.D. degree by 1900.

Through the hard and benevolent work of black and white missionaries, mostly Northern-based, there emerged an estimated 800 freedmen’s schools by 1900. By 1920, some 240 of these operations had high school or “college” labels. Northern philanthropic agencies and the Commission on Interracial Cooperation pressed regional accreditation agencies—especially the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools—and the federal and state governments to provide targeted support to nearly 120 of the Negro schools and convert them into accredited colleges. The pressure continued throughout 1930-1942, resulting in the beginning of graduate studies at several HBCUs. Some 109 historically black colleges and universities survived and thrived in post-World War II America.

However, in 1954, the US Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) began to desegregate American society. But Brown did not erase deeply embedded American racism. Some of the desegregated inner-city institutions in or near heavily minority race neighborhoods rapidly lost white students and white financial support, yielding after 1965 a new American racial phenomenon: 465 predominantly black or minority colleges/universities (PBCUs) that enrolled a third of minority post-secondary education students including Chicanos, Latinos, Native Americans and African Americans. Amongst these PBCUs, the remaining 105 HBCUs helped comprise America’s 4,500 colleges/universities. Minority students comprised nearly half of the students in the for-profit colleges. Enrollment of blacks at HBCUs declined from 95 percent of America’s total black college students in 1955 to 16 percent by 2010.

Under serious threat, between 1970 and 2005, the public HBCUs successfully sued nineteen states in federal court for inequitable funding and unfair program allocation. That movement yielded new undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs and more public funding for major public HBCUs. The desegregated milieu also endangered the private institutions such as Fisk University, Bishop College, and Knoxville College. Private institutions had comprised the majority of the HBCUs, but with little or no government support and pitiful endowment funds several of them closed, merged, or consolidated with other institutions. The public HBCUs also suffered threats of the loss of accreditation and student appeal due to budget deficits, a dearth of quality leaders, faculty candidates and student athletes, and poor fundraising among the alumni.

Yet, by 2010, the HBCUs represented 2.5 percent of all American colleges and universities. They continued to graduate nearly a quarter of blacks with college degrees, and remained among the top 10 percent of America’s colleges and universities that served as the bachelorette-institution-of-origin for African Americans receiving master’s and doctorates in math, sciences, engineering, and professional fields awarded by the TWIs and others. The HBCUs enrolled some 309,258 students by 2012. Some 44,000 HBCU students took at least one course online via computers. Indubitably, the intriguing, miraculous, resilient, sheer will to win tradition and sometimes painful story of America’s HBCUs provides a valuable lesson for all to learn about the American past, the present, and perhaps our future, in particular in regard to system of higher education.
 

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MUP Authors to Attend Decatur (GA) Book Festival!

Mercer University Press is proud to announce a number of our fine authors will be attending the Decatur Book Festival!

Stephen Davis (What the Yankees Did to Us)
Robert Jenkins (The Battle of Peach Tree Creek)
Daniel Cone (Last to Join the Fight)
Raymond Atkins (Sweet Water Blues)
Carolyn Newton Curry (Suffer and Grow Strong)
Megan Sexton (Swift Hour)

 

WhatTheYankees    PeachTreeCreek     Last to Join.jpgCurry_Suffer_Jacket01.inddSexton-Cvr-02.indd

 

 

Decatur BookFest

An Excerpt from the Award-Winning The Second Bud

Last week, Martha M. Ezzard won Best Memoir at the fiftieth annual Georgia Author of the Year Awards for her work The Second Bud. Today, we have an excerpt that will leave you craving the best wines that Georgia has to offer. Enjoy!

Second Bud

Excerpt

It is during our Norton vineyard’s second leaf when John discovers he can’t get the tractor between some of the rows. The reason, although Coach is loath to admit it, is that the two of them had relied on Coach’s alleged twelve-foot board to measure the distance between the rows when they were installing trellises. The problem was that Coach had two boards in the back of his pick-up—a twelve-foot board and a ten-foot board—and had pulled out the wrong one for spacing some of the rows. John finds it impossible to drive his tractor or sprayer between six of the Norton rows, which are only ten feet apart.

Once he discovers the error, John is despondent, a rare state for him. Not even his favorite mashed potatoes and chicken gravy I make for a “comfort food” dinner cheer him. We have planted 792 Norton vines, and he is already putting in long days, with help only from Coach since I’m in Atlanta all week. (It would be another eight years before we pull up 194 Norton plants to widen the rows so we can get the tractor through to spray and tend the vines properly.)

It’s early April—the canes on the vines are “bleeding” as the tiny buds wake to another spring and begin to swell. To walk through the rows is to absorb the energy and anticipation that something is about to happen. There is nothing routine about bud break; it’s always fresh and challenging—as if a new movement of a great musical composition is being created each spring.

 

Other Memoirs from Mercer University Press

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MUP Remembers Leonidas Polk

Bishop/ROBINS_dj080306On this day in 1864, Leonidas Polk, one of the Confederacy’s more unique generals as he was also an Episcopal bishop, died this day in 1864 during William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. In fact, Sherman was directly involved in Polk’s death as the general spotted a cluster of Confederate officers scouting along a ridge. On his orders, the 5th Indiana Battery opened fire and General Polk was nearly cut in two.

Today, Glenn Robins joins us to discuss his biography of Polk, The Bishop of the Old South, and Polk himself.

1. Why do people remain interested in Leonidas Polk?

Aside from a basic interest in the mid-nineteenth century, I think people are fascinated with why a high-profile and well-liked cleric accepted a combat assignment with the Confederate army rather than serve as a chaplain. The noted Civil War historian James McPherson contends that the Civil War armies may have been the most religious in American history. And yet, there is really no one comparable to Polk, a bishop who became a general. Also, the dramatic and unusual circumstances of Polk’s death—being killed by artillery fire—seem to have created something of a sympathetic figure. Some people see him as a symbol of the Confederate cause by conflating his religious devotion, his reputable personal character, and his military service. Finally, religious generals such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are viewed simply as Christian, whereas Polk is a decidedly Episcopalian figure, which appeals to a certain population.

2. What were your reasons for writing this biography of Leonidas Polk?

Generally, Leonidas Polk is known as the Bishop-General and his life is viewed through the narrow lens of the Civil War. I wanted to construct a narrative of Polk’s life that emphasized his prewar activities, particularly his ministerial career, his ownership of a large sugar plantation, and his role in developing the University of the South.

3. What surprised you the most about Polk’s prewar life?

First, in economic terms, he was a very successful sugar planter. He used innovative farming techniques and employed a slave management system that afforded slaves more responsibility and greater autonomy. Second, he was deeply committed to his ministerial responsibilities. He helped make the Louisiana Diocese a vibrant Episcopal organ in the South that challenged the societal influence of the region’s larger protestant denominations. Third, Polk had a remarkably ambitious vision for the University of the South. He did not envision the university as an insular institution—quite the contrary. He hoped that the university would compete with the premier universities of the nation and of Europe. He intended to recruit world-class scholars, promote academic excellence, and cultivate the Episcopal faith, as well as make the university a gathering place for social elites and public intellectuals. Of course, the war and Polk’s death changed all of that.

4. What stands out about Polk’s Civil War generalship?

Polk was a mediocre corps commander serving in a theater dominated by mediocre generals. Despite his West Point education, Polk had no real military experience and was probably not deserving of such a high-ranking appointment. It’s counterfactual history, but I have always wondered how Polk would have fared in the Army of Northern Virginia under that army’s superior leadership. Whatever limitations Polk had as a fighting man, he was widely popular with his men. Late in the war Polk became more involved in the religious life of the Army of Tennessee. He baptized several generals, including Braxton Bragg, which was truly bizarre considering that each man attempted to have the other stripped of his command.

5. Having reached the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the death of Leonidas Polk, do you have any thoughts about future studies in these areas?

I think for those individuals who survived the war more work needs to be done on their postwar lives and not just on their involvement in the political reconstruction of the nation and their respective states. Instead, there needs to be a greater emphasis on how the war impacted the participants as individuals and as families, and on how groups and individuals understood and assigned meaning to the war. As for those figures like Polk who died in battle, we need clear assessments of their initial view of the war and to know if their view of the war changed over time, and why. And for those individuals who have become symbols of a particular version or interpretation of the war, we need to examine whether the memory of the man matches the realities of the man.

Related Titles

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MUP Authors Win in Two Categories at the 50th GAYA

Second BudEveryone here at Mercer University Press is tickled that Martha M. Ezzard (The Second Bud, Best Memoir) and Raymond Atkins (Camp Redemption, Best Novel) took home awards at the fiftieth annual Georgia Author of the Year Awards. Congratulations to two hard-working authors who brought their stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, to the light of a wider audience.

Join us later this week when we’ll have excerpts from both books!Camp_Redemption-COVER.indd

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