Tag Archives: Religion and Society

Lee, “Recognizing the Non-religious: Reimagining the Secular”

This month, Oxford University Press releases “Recognizing the Non-religious: Reimagining the Secular” by Lois Lee (University College London). The publisher’s description follows:

In recent years, the extent to which contemporary societies are secular has come under scrutiny. At the same time, many countries, especially in Europe, have increasingly large nonaffiliate, ‘subjectively secular’ populations, whilst nonreligious cultural movements like the New Atheism and the Sunday Assembly have come to prominence. Making sense of secularity, irreligion, and the relationship between them has therefore emerged as a crucial task for those seeking to understand contemporary societies and the nature of modern life.

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in southeast England, Recognizing the Nonreligious develops a new vocabulary, theory and methodology for thinking about the secular. It distinguishes between separate and incommensurable aspects of so-called secularity as insubstantial – involving merely the absence of religion – and substantial – involving beliefs, ritual practice, and identities that are alternative to religious ones. Recognizing the cultural forms that present themselves as nonreligious therefore opens up new, more egalitarian and more theoretically coherent ways of thinking about people who are ‘not religious’. It is also argued that recognizing the nonreligious allows us to reimagine the secular itself in new and productive ways.

This book is part of a fast-growing area of research that builds upon and contributes to theoretical debates concerning secularization, ‘desecularization’, religious change, postsecularity and postcolonial approaches to religion and secularism. As well as presenting new research, this book gathers insights from the wider studies of nonreligion, atheism, and secularism in order to consolidate a theoretical framework, conceptual foundation and agenda for future research.

Bendroth, “The Last Puritans”

In October, the University of North Carolina Press will release “The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past,” by Margaret Bendroth (executive director of the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston).  The publisher’s description follows: 

Congregationalists, the oldest group of American Protestants, are the heirs of New England’s first founders. While they were key characters in the story of early American history, from Plymouth Rock and the founding of Harvard and Yale to the Revolutionary War, their luster and numbers have faded. But Margaret Bendroth’s critical history of Congregationalism over the past two centuries reveals how the denomination is essential for understanding mainline Protestantism in the making.

Bendroth chronicles how the New England Puritans, known for their moral and doctrinal rigor, came to be the antecedents of the United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal of all Protestant denominations today. The demands of competition in the American religious marketplace spurred Congregationalists, Bendroth argues, to face their distinctive history. By engaging deeply with their denomination’s storied past, they recast their modern identity. The soul-searching took diverse forms–from letter writing and eloquent sermonizing to Pilgrim-celebrating Thanksgiving pageants–as Congregationalists renegotiated old obligations to their seventeenth-century spiritual ancestors. The result was a modern piety that stood a respectful but ironic distance from the past and made a crucial contribution to the American ethos of religious tolerance.

Petro, “After the Wrath of God”

In April, the Oxford University Press released “After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion,” by Anthony M. Petro (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows:

On a cold February morning in 1987, amidst freezing rain and driving winds, a group of protesters stood outside of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Amherst, Massachusetts. The target of their protest was the minister inside, who was handing out condoms to his congregation while delivering a sermon about AIDS, dramatizing the need for the church to confront the seemingly ever-expanding crisis. The minister’s words and actions were met with a standing ovation from the overflowing audience, but he could not linger to enjoy their applause. Having received threats in advance of the service, he dashed out of the sanctuary immediately upon finishing his sermon. Such was the climate for religious AIDS activism in the 1980s.

In After the Wrath of God, Anthony Petro vividly narrates the religious history of AIDS in America. Delving into the culture wars over sex, morality, and the future of the American nation, he demonstrates how religious leaders and AIDS activists have shaped debates over sexual morality and public health from the 1980s to the present day. While most attention to religion and AIDS foregrounds the role of the Religious Right, Petro takes a much broader view, encompassing the range of mainline Protestant, evangelical, and Catholic groups–alongside AIDS activist organizations–that shaped public discussions of AIDS prevention and care in the U.S. Petro analyzes how the AIDS crisis prompted American Christians across denominations and political persuasions to speak publicly about sexuality–especially homosexuality–and to foster a moral discourse on sex that spoke not only to personal concerns but to anxieties about the health of the nation. He reveals how the epidemic increased efforts to advance a moral agenda regarding the health benefits of abstinence and monogamy, a legacy glimpsed as much in the traction gained by abstinence education campaigns as in the more recent cultural purchase of gay marriage.

The first book to detail the history of religion and the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., After the Wrath of God is essential reading for anyone concerned with the intersection of religion and public health.

Wertheimer, “Faith Ed”

In August, Beacon Press will release “Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance,” by Linda K. Wertheimer. The publisher’s description follows:

A suburban Boston school unwittingly started a firestorm of controversy over a sixth-grade field trip. The class was visiting a mosque to learn about world religions when a handful of boys, unnoticed by their teachers, joined the line of worshippers and acted out the motions of the Muslim call to prayer. A video of the prayer went viral with the title “Wellesley, Massachusetts Public School Students Learn to Pray to Allah.” Charges flew that the school exposed the children to Muslims who intended to convert American schoolchildren. Wellesley school officials defended the course, but also acknowledged the delicate dance teachers must perform when dealing with religion in the classroom.

Courts long ago banned public school teachers from preaching of any kind. But the question remains: How much should schools teach about the world’s religions? Answering that question in recent decades has pitted schools against their communities.

Veteran education journalist Linda K. Wertheimer spent months with that class, and traveled to other communities around the nation, listening to voices on all sides of the controversy, including those of clergy, teachers, children, and parents who are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, or atheist. In Lumberton, Texas, nearly a hundred people filled a school-board meeting to protest a teacher’s dress-up exercise that allowed freshman girls to try on a burka as part of a lesson on Islam. In Wichita, Kansas, a Messianic Jewish family’s opposition to a bulletin-board display about Islam in an elementary school led to such upheaval that the school had to hire extra security. Across the country, parents have requested that their children be excused from lessons on Hinduism and Judaism out of fear they will shy away from their own faiths.

But in Modesto, a city in the heart of California’s Bible Belt, teachers have avoided problems since 2000, when the school system began requiring all high school freshmen to take a world religions course. Students receive comprehensive lessons on the three major world religions, as well as on Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and often Shintoism, Taoism, and Confucianism. One Pentecostal Christian girl, terrified by “idols,” including a six-inch gold Buddha, learned to be comfortable with other students’ beliefs.

Wertheimer’s fascinating investigation, which includes a return to her rural Ohio school, which once ran weekly Christian Bible classes, reveals a public education system struggling to find the right path forward and offers a promising roadmap for raising a new generation of religiously literate Americans.

“Writing Religion” (Ramey, ed.)

In August, the University of Alabama Press will release “Writing Religion: The Case for the Critical Study of Religion,” edited by Steven W. Ramey (University of Alabama). The publisher’s description follows:

In 2002, the University of Alabama’s Department of Religious Studies established the annual Aronov Lecture Series to showcase the works of nationally recognized scholars of religion capable of reflecting on issues of wide relevance to scholars from across the humanities and social sciences. Writing Religion: The Case for the Critical Study of Religions is an edited collection of essays that highlights critical contributions from the first ten Aronov lecturers.

Section one of the volume, “Writing Discourses,” features essays by Jonathan Z. Smith, Bruce Lincoln, and Ann Pellegrini that illustrate how critical study enables the analysis of discourses in society and history. Section two, “Riting Social Formations,” includes pieces by Arjun Appadurai, Judith Plaskow, and Nathan Katz that reference both the power of rites to construct society and the act of riting as a form of disciplining that both prescribes and proscribes. The writings of Tomoko Masuzawa, Amy-Jill Levine, Aaron W. Hughes, and Martin S. Jaffee appear in section three, “Righting the Discipline.” They emphasize the correction of movements within the academic study of religion.

Steven W. Ramey frames the collection with a thoughtful introduction that explores the genesis, development, and diversity of critical analysis in the study of religion. An afterword by Russell McCutcheon reflects on the critical study of religion at the University of Alabama and rounds out this superb collection.

The mission of the Department of Religious Studies is to “avoid every tendency toward confusing the study of religion with the practice of religion.” Instruction about—rather than in—religion is foundational to the department’s larger goal of producing knowledge of the world and its many practices and systems of beliefs. Infused with this spirit, these fascinating essays, which read like good conversations with learned friends, offer significant examples of each scholar’s work. Writing Religion will be of value to graduate students, advanced undergraduates, and scholars interested in the study of religion from a critical perspective.

Wuthnow, “Inventing American Religion”

This month, the Oxford University Press releases “Inventing American Religion: Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation’s Faith,” by Robert Wuthnow (Princeton University). The publisher’s description follows:

Today, a billion-dollar-a-year polling industry floods the media with information. Pollsters tell us not only which political candidates will win, but how we are practicing our faith. How many Americans went to church last week? Have they been born again? Is Jesus as popular as Harry Potter? Polls tell us that 40 percent of Americans attend religious services each week. They show that African Americans are no more religious than white Americans, and that Jews are abandoning their religion in record numbers. According to leading sociologist Robert Wuthnow, none of that is correct. Pollsters say that attendance at religious services has been constant for decades. But during that time response rates in polls have plummeted, robotic “push poll” calls have proliferated, and sampling has become more difficult. The accuracy of political polling can be known because elections actually happen. But there are no election results to show if the proportion of people who say they pray every day or attend services every week is correct. A large majority of the public doubts that polls can be trusted, and yet night after night on TV, polls experts sum up the nation’s habits to an eager audience of millions.

Inventing American Religion offers a provocative new argument about the influence of polls in contemporary American society. Wuthnow contends that polls and surveys have shaped-and distorted-how religion is understood and portrayed in the media and also by religious leaders, practitioners, and scholars. He calls for a robust public discussion about American religion that extends well beyond the information provided by polls and surveys, and suggests practical steps to facilitate such a discussion, including changes in how the results of polls and surveys are presented.

Walther, “Sacred Interests: the United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921″

In September, UNC Press will release “Sacred Interests: the United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921” by Karine V. Walther (School of Foreign Service, Qatar). The publisher’s description follows:

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as Americans increasingly came into contact with the Islamic world, U.S. diplomatic, cultural, political, and religious beliefs about Islam began to shape their responses to world events. In Sacred Interests, Karine V. Walther excavates the deep history of American Islamophobia, showing how negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims shaped U.S. foreign relations from the Early Republic to the end of World War I.

Beginning with the Greek War of Independence in 1821, Walther illuminates reactions to and involvement in the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the efforts to protect Jews from Muslim authorities in Morocco, American colonial policies in the Philippines, and American attempts to aid Christians during the Armenian Genocide. Walther examines the American role in the peace negotiations after World War I, support for the Balfour Declaration, and the establishment of the mandate system in the Middle East. The result is a vital exploration of the crucial role the United States played in the Islamic world during the long nineteenth century–an interaction that shaped a historical legacy that remains with us today.

“Post-Holocaust France and the Jews, 1945-1955″ (Hand & Katz, eds.)

This month, NYU Press releases “Post-Holocaust France and the Jews, 1945-1955” edited by Seán Hand (University of Warwick, UK) and Steven T. Katz (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows:

Despite an outpouring of scholarship on the Holocaust, little work has focused on what happened to Europe’s Jewish communities after the war ended. And unlike many other European nations in which the majority of the Jewish population perished, France had a significant post‑war Jewish community that numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Post-Holocaust France and the Jews, 1945–1955 offers new insight on key aspects of French Jewish life in the decades following the end of World War II.

How Jews had been treated during the war continued to influence both Jewish and non-Jewish society in the post-war years. The volume examines the ways in which moral and political issues of responsibility combined with the urgent problems and practicalities of restoration, and it illustrates how national imperatives, international dynamics, and a changed self-perception all profoundly helped to shape the fortunes of postwar French Judaism.

With contributions from leading scholars, including Edward Kaplan, Susan Rubin Suleiman, and Jay Winter, the book establishes multiple connections between such different areas of concern as the running of orphanages, the establishment of new social and political organisations, the restoration of teaching and religious facilities, and the development of intellectual responses to the Holocaust.

Baker and Smith, “American Secularism”

In September, the New York University Press will release “American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems,” by Joseph O. Baker (East Tennessee State University) and Buster G. Smith (Catawba College). The publisher’s description follows:

A rapidly growing number of Americans are embracing life outside the bounds of organized religion. Although America has long been viewed as a fervently religious Christian nation, survey data shows that more and more Americans are identifying as “not religious.” There are more non-religious Americans than ever before, yet social scientists have not adequately studied or typologized secularities, and the lived reality of secular individuals in America has not been astutely analyzed. American Secularism documents how changes to American society have fueled these shifts in the non-religious landscape and examines the diverse and dynamic world of secular Americans.

This volume offers a theoretical framework for understanding secularisms. It explores secular Americans’ thought and practice to understand secularisms as worldviews in their own right, not just as negations of religion. Drawing on empirical data, the authors examine how people live secular lives and make meaning outside of organized religion. Joseph O. Baker and Buster G. Smith link secularities to broader issues of social power and organization, providing an empirical and cultural perspective on the secular landscape. In so doing, they demonstrate that shifts in American secularism are reflective of changes in the political meanings of “religion” in American culture.

American Secularism addresses the contemporary lived reality of secular individuals, outlining forms of secular identity and showing their connection to patterns of family formation, sexuality, and politics, providing scholars of religion with a more comprehensive understanding of worldviews that do not include traditional religion.

Markofski, “New Monasticism and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism”

In June, Oxford University Press releases “New Monasticism and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism” by Wes Markofski (University of Wisconsin-Madison). The publisher’s description follows:

For most of the last century, popular and scholarly common sense has equated American evangelicalism with across-the-board social, economic, and political conservatism. However, if a growing chorus of evangelical leaders, media pundits, and religious scholars is to be believed, the era of uncontested evangelical conservatism is on the brink of collapse-if it hasn’t collapsed already. Combining vivid ethnographic storytelling and incisive theoretical analysis, New Monasticism and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism introduces readers to the fascinating and unexplored terrain of neo-monastic evangelicalism. Often located in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, new monastic communities pursue religiously inspired visions of racial, social, and economic justice-alongside personal spiritual transformation-through diverse and creative expressions of radical community.

In this account, Wes Markofski has immersed himself in the paradoxical world of evangelical neo-monasticism, focusing on the Urban Monastery-an influential neo-monastic community located in a gritty, racially diverse neighborhood in a major Midwestern American city. The resulting account of the way in which this movement reflects and is contributing to the transformation of American evangelicalism challenges entrenched stereotypes and calls attention to the dynamic diversity of religious and political points of view which vie for supremacy in the American evangelical subculture. New Monasticism and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism is the first sociological analysis of new monastic evangelicalism and the first major work to theorize the growing theological and political diversity within twenty-first-century American evangelicalism.