Tag Archives: Religion and Culture

“Religion and American Cultures: Tradition, Diversity, and Popular Expression” (Laderman & León eds.)

In December, ABC-CLIO will release the second edition of “Religion and American Cultures: Tradition, Diversity, and Popular Expression,” edited by Gary Laderman (Emory University) and Luis León (University of Denver). The publisher’s description follows:

This four-volume work provides a detailed, multicultural survey of established as well as “new” American religions and investigates the fascinating interactions between religion and ethnicity, gender, politics, regionalism, ethics, and popular culture.

This revised and expanded edition of Religion and American Cultures: Tradition, Diversity, and Popular Expression presents more than 140 essays that address contemporary spiritual practice and culture with a historical perspective. The entries cover virtually every religion in modern-day America as well as the role of religion in various aspects of U.S. culture. Readers will discover that Americans aren’t largely Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish anymore, and that the number of popular religious identities is far greater than many would imagine. And although most Americans believe in a higher power, the fastest growing identity in the United States is the “nones”—those Americans who elect “none” when asked about their religious identity—thereby demonstrating how many individuals see their spirituality as something not easily defined or categorized.

The first volume explores America’s multicultural communities and their religious practices, covering the range of different religions among Anglo-Americans and Euro-Americans as well as spirituality among Latino, African American, Native American, and Asian American communities. The second volume focuses on cultural aspects of religions, addressing topics such as film, Generation X, public sacred spaces, sexuality, and new religious expressions. The new third volume expands the range of topics covered with in-depth essays on additional topics such as interfaith families, religion in prisons, belief in the paranormal, and religion after September 11, 2001. The fourth volume is devoted to complementary primary source documents.

Özyürek, “Being German, Becoming Muslim”

This December, Princeton University Press will release “Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion, and Conversion in the New Europe” by Esra Özyürek (London School of Economics).  The publisher’s description follows:

Being German Becoming MuslimEvery year more and more Europeans, including Germans, are embracing Islam. It is estimated that there are now up to one hundred thousand German converts—a number similar to that in France and the United Kingdom. What stands out about recent conversions is that they take place at a time when Islam is increasingly seen as contrary to European values. Being German, Becoming Muslim explores how Germans come to Islam within this antagonistic climate, how they manage to balance their love for Islam with their society’s fear of it, how they relate to immigrant Muslims, and how they shape debates about race, religion, and belonging in today’s Europe.

Esra Özyürek looks at how mainstream society marginalizes converts and questions their national loyalties. In turn, converts try to disassociate themselves from migrants of Muslim-majority countries and promote a denationalized Islam untainted by Turkish or Arab traditions. Some German Muslims believe that once cleansed of these accretions, the Islam that surfaces fits in well with German values and lifestyle. Others even argue that being a German Muslim is wholly compatible with the older values of the German Enlightenment.

Being German, Becoming Muslim provides a fresh window into the connections and tensions stemming from a growing religious phenomenon in Germany and beyond.

Narayanan, “Religion, Heritage and the Sustainable City: Hinduism and Urbanisation in Jaipur”

This month, Routledge Publishing releases “Religion, Heritage and the Sustainable City: Hinduism and Urbanisation in Jaipur” by Yamini Narayanan (Deakin University). The publisher’s description follows:

The speed and scale of urbanisation in India is unprecedented almost anywhere in the world and has tremendous global implications. The religious influence on the urban experience has resonances for all aspects of urban sustainability in India and yet it remains a blind spot while articulating sustainable urban policy.

This book explores the historical and on-going influence of religion on urban planning, design, space utilisation, urban identities and communities. It argues that the conceptual and empirical approaches to planning sustainable cities in India need to be developed out of analytical concepts that define local sense of place and identity. Examining how Hindu religious heritage, beliefs and religiously influenced planning practices have impacted on sustainable urbanisation development in Jaipur and Indian cities in general, the book identifies the challenges and opportunities that ritualistic and belief resources pose for sustainability. It focuses on three key aspects: spatial segregation and ghettoisation; gender-inclusive urban development; and the nexus between religion, nature and urban development.

This cutting-edge book is one of the first case studies linking Hindu religion, heritage, urban development, women and the environment in a way that responds to the realities of Indian cities. It opens up discussion on the nexus of religion and development, drawing out insightful policy implications for the sustainable urban planning of many cities in India and elsewhere in South Asia and the developing world.

“Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right” (Doniger & Nussbaum, eds.)

In December, Oxford University Press will release “Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right”  edited by Wendy Doniger and Martha C. Nussbaum (both from the University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:

Wendy Doniger and Martha Nussbaum bring together leading scholars from a wide array of disciplines to address a crucial question: How does the world’s most populous democracy survive repeated assaults on its pluralistic values? India’s stunning linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity has been supported since Independence by a political structure that emphasizes equal rights for all, and protects liberties of religion and speech. But a decent Constitution does not implement itself, and challenges to these core values repeatedly arise-most recently in the form of the Hindu Right movements of the twenty-first century that threatened to destabilize the nation and upend its core values, in the wake of a notorious pogrom in the state of Gujarat in which approximately 2000 Muslim civilians were killed.

Focusing on this time of tension and threat, the essays in this volume consider how a pluralistic democracy managed to survive. They examine the role of political parties and movements, including the women’s movement, as well as the role of the arts, the press, the media, and a historical legacy of pluralistic thought and critical argument. Featuring essays from eminent scholars in history, religious studies, political science, economics, women’s studies, and media studies, Pluralism and Democracy in India offers an urgently needed case study in democratic survival. As Nehru said of India on the eve of Independence: ”These dreams are for India, but they are also for the world.” The analysis this volume offers illuminates not only the past and future of one nation, but the prospects of democracy for all.

The Obama Effect?

President_Barack_ObamaIn The American Interest this week, sociologist Peter Berger has a provocative essay on the controversy over the City of Houston’s demand for sermons several pastors have delivered on the topics of homosexuality and gender identity. Berger says the roots of the controversy lie in the Obama Administration’s disregard for religion. He makes a powerful point, but I wonder whether he overstates things.

The City of Houston’s demand came in the form of subpoenas in a lawsuit over a petition to repeal a city anti-discrimination ordinance. As I explained in an earlier post, the city’s demand was outrageous, even given the freewheeling standards of American litigation, and the city has in fact narrowed its request. Some smart observers think this “narrowing” is just a publicity stunt. In my opinion, the new subpoenas, which ask only for communications that relate to the petition and ordinance themselves, stand a better chance of surviving. We’ll see how the court rules.

But leave aside that narrow, procedural matter for now. Here’s a more important question. Why did the city issue the offensive subpoenas in the first place? America has a long tradition of respecting religion, and the idea that government would demand to know what pastors were saying in their own churches should have set off all kinds of alarms. We don’t do that sort of thing in our country.

Berger says the episode reflects America’s decreasing regard for religion and religious believers. And he lays the blame largely at the door of the Obama Administration:

This episode in the heart of the Bible Belt can be placed, first, in the national context of the Obama presidency, and then in a broad international context and its odd linkage of homosexuality and religious freedom. I’m not sure whether President Obama still has a “bully pulpit”; at this moment even close political allies of his don’t want to listen to his sermons, if they don’t flee from the congregation altogether. All the same, every presidency creates an institutional culture, which trickles down all the way to city halls in the provinces. This administration has shown itself remarkably tone-deaf regarding religion. This was sharply illuminated at the launching of Obamacare, when the administration was actually surprised to discover that Catholics (strange to say!) actually care about contraception and abortion. Eric Holder’s Department of Justice has repeatedly demonstrated that it cares less about religious freedom as against its version of civil rights. Perhaps one reason for the widespread failure to perceive this attitude toward the First Amendment is that Barack Obama is seen through the lens of race–“the first black president”. I think a better vision comes through the lens of class–“the first New Class president”–put differently, the first president, at least since Woodrow Wilson, whose view of the world has been shaped by the culture of elite academia. This is evident across the spectrum of policy issues, but notably so on issues involving gender and religion.

Now, there’s much in what Berger says. The Obama Administration has shown little enthusiasm for religious freedom. True, the Administration  intervened recently to protect a prison inmate’s right to wear a 1/4-inch beard for religious reasons. But in the two major religious freedom cases of its tenure, Hobby Lobby and Hosanna-Tabor, the Administration created obstacles for religious freedom in needlessly inflammatory ways. It insisted on the Contraception Mandate, even though it knew the mandate would gravely trouble some Christians and even though alternatives existed that could have given the Administration most of what it wanted. It accepted compromise only grudgingly and litigated the case to the bitter end. And in Hosanna-Tabor, the Administration argued that the Religion Clauses had nothing at all to do with a church’s decision to select its own minister–a position a unanimous Supreme Court rejected as “remarkable.”

Still, when it comes to a declining respect for religion in America, I’m not sure the Administration is a cause so much as an effect. Perhaps its actions reflect a broader cultural shift to secularism. Most likely, there is mutual reinforcement. A growing cultural secularism, embodied, for political purposes, in the Democratic Party, contributed to the President’s election; and the President’s election in turn has contributed to a growing secularism. This growing secularism leads many people to view religion–traditional religion, anyway–with antipathy. And that antipathy leads to things like the Houston subpoenas. It’s a vicious circle–or virtuous one, I suppose, depending on your view of things.

Also, it’s not clear things are so bad for traditional religion now, or that they were so good before. As Yuval Levin wrote recently in First Things, religious conservatives seem to have overestimated their cultural ascendancy during the Bush Administration–so did their opponents, as I recall; remember those cartoon maps of “Jesus Land”? –and may underestimate their influence today. According to a recent Pew survey, almost 50% of Americans think churches and houses of worship should express their views on political and social issues, an increase of six percent since 2010. Three-quarters of the public think religion’s influence in our national life is declining–and most of those people think it’s a bad thing. If anything, the Obama Administration seems to be contributing to a pro-religion backlash.

Well, these are complicated issues. Berger’s essay is very worthwhile. You can read the whole thing here.

Martin, “Politics, Landlords and Islam in Pakistan”

This month, Routledge Publishing releases “Politics, Landlords and Islam in Pakistan” by Nicolas Martin (University College London). The publisher’s description follows:

Politics, Landlords and Islam in Pakistan explores the linkages between politics, religion, class, and caste in politics in rural Pakistan. It documents how landlords continue to wield arbitrary and despotic power over much of Pakistan’s rural population in the 21st century, and how participatory democracy has been subverted and has largely benefitted rural elites.

The Synod on the Family and the Developing World

Opening_Session_of_the_Extraordinary_Assembly_of_the_Synod_of_Bishops_at_the_Vatican_on_Oct_6_2014_Credit_Mazur_catholicnewsorguk_CC_BY_NC_SA_20_3_CNA_10_7_14

First World Problems?

Not long after his election, the new Pope explained why he had taken the name “Francis”: “Ah, how I would like a church,” he said, “that is poor and is for the poor.” It was refreshing: the Pope was going to change the basic terms of the conversation between the Church and the world. Instead of waging a grinding “culture war” against a secular West, the Church would instead speak to the most urgent concerns of the global East and South. The first Pope to come from beyond Europe and the Mediterranean basin promised to be the champion of those who lived in the parts of the earth where hunger, injustice and persecution abounded. Places like the Philippines, Mexico, and Nigeria had already become the true center of gravity of a global Church, displacing Quebec, Chicago, Milan and Vienna. The new Pope would speak for the populations of the emerging world – for their suffering, their desperation, their resilience, their energy, their sense of hope. The “North/South” polarity would supplant the “Left/Right” one. The Church would make the pivot to poverty. In making that turn, it would address the West too – but by awakening it from the deadly self-absorption of the affluent.

So when one learns that the Synod of Catholic cardinals and bishops summoned by the same Pope has returned the conversation to the culture wars of the West – though with unmistakable overtones of capitulation on many of the bishops’ part — it is, to say no more, a disappointment. Try as it may, the Church under Francis seems to be unable to resist scratching the sores of Western sexuality. The consuming obsessions of the West, now in the terminal phases of the sexual and cultural revolutions that have swept over it for more than half a century, are dominating the Church’s agenda once again. At the Pope’s insistence, the bishops did a reset, plunging the Church into renewed debate over divorce and homosexuality and cutting short the conversation that the Pope had earlier invited over famine, persecution and want. With Islamist terrorist groups like Boko Haram recently murdering 2500 Catholics in one Nigerian diocese alone, and with Christian children being crucified or cut in half by ISIS, you might think that the world’s bishops would have more pressing things on their mind than the compatibility of same-sex unions with Church teaching. You would, of course, be wrong.

Indeed, even considering “family” issues alone, the non-Western Church was short-changed: how much attention was given to the question of inter-faith marriages, despite its being a major concern for the Church in India? In the Philippines, many marriages break up because poverty forces a spouse or parent to migrate overseas in search of employment, leaving home, spouse and children behind. Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle noted this problem, saying that poverty “goes right at the heart of the family” in his country ; but how much attention did this issue get?

What is more, the organizers of the Synod openly expressed their indifference to – if not contempt for – the opinions of the leaders of the non-Western Church. They spoke as if the opposition of the African bishops to their “modernizing” program could stem only from irrational hatred and prejudice. What the Africans needed, they seemed to be saying, was a good, stiff dose of Richard Posner’s writings. In the controversy over the initial draft of the Synod’s statement, Cardinal Walter Kasper, an octogenarian German theologian and a favorite of the Pope’s, infamously said:

Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

Kasper later denied having made those revealing remarks – a denial that was then proven to be false. In any case, the remarks hardly seemed out of character for the Cardinal. In an interview with the German magazine Focus published under the heading “Third World Land,” Kasper was reported to have said, “When you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country.” The German Cardinal obviously notices different things when he is at the airport from what Cardinal Tagle does. The Philippine prelate spoke of his anguish in watching Filipino mothers at airports forced to part from their children because their poverty is so desperate that they must leave their families and search for work abroad.

Not Just Cardinal Kasper

Even if Cardinal Kasper’s statement were merely condescension on the part of the passenger with the first-class cabin towards the passengers in steerage, it would be bad enough. But Kasper and those like him simply did not seem to understand the position. Perhaps the Africans and Asians are not just squinting narrowly at the issue of homosexuality, but rather looking at the state of Western culture as a whole? And perhaps they do not like what they see? Perhaps the cultural exports of the secular West – its current practices regarding marriage, abortion, childbirth, the family, the relations between the sexes – are no more wanted in Africa and Asia than the West’s toxic wastes and sewage effluents? (New York Cardinal Dolan’s wonderful defense of the “prophetic” African Church effectively made these points. )

But the problem with the Synod went far beyond the tactlessness and incomprehension of elderly European churchmen. Apparently at the Pope’s insistence, the Synod’s final report included three controversial articles that had received the approval of a Synod majority, but not the supermajority required for consensus. The final report will now go to the Church throughout the world for discussion and debate before the Synod reconvenes. You can be sure that the media coverage of the debate in this intervening period will focus overwhelmingly on the articles that the Pope reinstated. Cui bono? In their effort to get the conversation back on the familiar tracks of the Western culture wars, the Pope and his bishops are doing serious harm to millions of faithful Catholics trying to live out the Gospel in hostile and often dangerous conditions in the emerging world.

My former student, Andrew Ratelle, makes the point forcefully:

By upholding the nuclear family, the Church made what was perhaps the most important social investment in history. People in the poorer, more pagan regions of the world where polygamy, polyandry, arranged and child marriages were common, now had a place to look for support when it came to building a life that was most beneficial for themselves and their children. By weakening this support, or at the very least dispersing it to include more “diverse” arrangements, these bishops have weakened the very shield from which the nuclear family has received so much protection. Even in our own country, where “diverse” familial arrangements have almost become synonymous with urban poverty and crime (at least for those who have no gilded safety net to fall into), where should families look to now, since the Church has seen fit to dilute the medicine they have thrived on for so long?

Church leaders in the developing world understand this perfectly well. South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, for instance, wondered how he could deny communion to an African man living in polygamy in accordance with local culture and tradition, if he had to administer the sacrament to a divorced man married to his second wife? “Successive” polygamy, Napier pointed out, is hardly distinguishable from “simultaneous” polygamy.

Pope Francis was right (at first): it really is time to change the conversation. The global Church is not the parochial Western Church; the Church of the poor and the marginal is not the affluent, greying Church of Western Europe and North America. The Church should not be shadowing the West’s cultural trajectory all the way downwards. The future of the Church lies elsewhere. Ex oriente, lux.

Photo from the Catholic News Agency.

“The Oxford Handbook of American Islam” (Haddad & Smith, eds.)

Next month, Oxford University Press releases “The Oxford Handbook of American Islam”  edited by Yvonne Y. Haddad (Georgetown University) and Jane I. Smith (Harvard Divinity School, retired). The publisher’s description follows:

Islam has been part of the increasingly complex American religious scene for  well over a century, and was brought into more dramatic focus by the attacks of September 11, 2001. American Islam is practiced by a unique blend of immigrants and American-born Muslims. The immigrants have come from all corners of the world; they include rich and poor, well-educated and illiterate, those from upper and lower classes as well as economic and political refugees. The community’s diversity has been enhanced by the conversion of African Americans, Latina/os, and others, making it the most heterogeneous Muslim community in the world.

With an up-to-the-minute analysis by thirty of the top scholars in the field, this handbook covers the growth of Islam in America from the earliest Muslims to set foot on American soil to the current wave of Islamophobia. Topics covered include the development of African American Islam; pre- and post-WWII immigrants; Sunni, Shi`ite, sectarian and Sufi movements in America; the role and status of women, marriage, and family; and the Americanization of Islamic culture.

Throughout these chapters the contributors explore the meaning of religious identity in the context of race, ethnicity, gender, and politics, both within the American Islamic community and in relation to international Islam.

 

Hertel, “The Crescent Remembered”

This December, Sussex Academic Press will release “The Crescent Remembered: Islam and Nationalism on the Iberian Peninsula” by Patricia Hertel (University of Basel).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Crescent RememberedContemporary Spain and Portugal share a historical experience as Iberian states which emerged within the context of al-Andalus. These centuries of Muslim presence in the Middle Ages became a contested heritage during the process of modern nation-building with its varied concepts and constructs of national identities. Politicians, historians and intellectuals debated vigorously the question how the Muslim past could be reconciled with the idea of the Catholic nation.

The Crescent Remembered investigates the processes of exclusion and integration of the Islamic past within the national narratives. It analyzes discourses of historiography, Arabic studies, mythology, popular culture and colonial policies towards Muslim populations from the 19th century to the dictatorships of Franco and Salazar in the 20th century. In particular, it explores why, despite apparent historical similarities, in Spain and Portugal entirely different strategies and discourses concerning the Islamic past emerged. In the process, it seeks to shed light on the role of the Iberian Peninsula as a crucial European historical “contact zone” with Islam.

“Politics of Religion and Nationalism” (Requejo & Nagel, eds.)

This December, Routledge Press will release “Politics of Religion and Nationalism: Federalism, Consociationalism and Secession” edited by Ferran Requejo and Klaus-Jürgen Nagel (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona).  The publisher’s description follows:

There are numerous examples of how religion and nationalism intertwine. In some cases, a common religion is the fundamental marker of a nation’s identity, whereas in others secular nationalism tries to hold together people of different religious beliefs.

This book examines the link between religion and nationalism in contemporary polities. By exploring case studies on India, Russia, Israel, Canada, Chechnya, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Catalonia and the Basque Country, it seeks to understand the relationship between these two key societal forms of diversity and assess the interaction between religious and nationalist perspectives. Expert contributors examine a variety of phenomena, including secular nationalism, secessionism, and polities in which religious pluralism is evolving.

This book will be of interest to students and scholars of political science, religion and politics, nationalism, federalism, secession, political philosophy, racial and ethnic politics and comparative politics.