The Artifacts of White Supremacy | by Kelly J. Baker
The June issue of the Forum features Kelly J. Baker’s essay, “The Artifacts of White Supremacy.” Discussions about racism—and white supremacy in particular—tend to treat it as a matter of belief, while there’s considerably less talk of how racialized hate becomes tangible and real. And yet, we know the Ku Klux Klan, the oldest hate group in the U.S., by their hoods and robes. Artifacts signal (and often embody) the racist ideology of the Klan, along with their particular brand of Protestantism and nationalism. Robes, fiery crosses, and even the American flag were all material objects employed by the 1920s Klan to convey their “gospel” of white supremacy. The Klan’s religious nationalism, its vision of a white Protestant America, became tangible in each of these artifacts, and each artifact reflected the order’s religious and racial intolerance. Nationalism (or “100% Americanism”), Protestant Christianity, and white supremacy became inextricably linked in these material objects. Examining the historical artifacts of white supremacy helps us to better understand how white supremacy manifests today and might also help us better identify and analyze the presence and effect of racism in American life and politics.
Over the next few weeks, scholars will offer responses to Baker’s essay. We invite you to join the conversation by sharing your thoughts and questions in the comments section on the Forum site.
- Jason C. Bivins (North Carolina State University), “What am I afraid of?”
- Randall J. Stephens (Northumbria University), “The Klan, White Christianity, and the Past and Present“
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Kelly J. Baker is the editor of Women in Higher Education and the author of Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930, The Zombies Are Coming!: The Realities of the Zombie Apocalypse in American Culture, and Grace Period: A Memoir in Pieces. She’s also a freelance writer with a religious studies Ph.D. (American religious history) who covers religion, higher education, gender, labor, motherhood, and popular culture. She’s written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Rumpus, Chronicle Vitae, Killing the Buddha, Religion & Politics, Washington Post, and Brain, Child. When she’s not wrangling two kids, a couch dog, and a mean kitty, she writes about zombies, apocalypses, and other bad endings.
Jason C. Bivins (North Carolina State University) is a specialist in religion and American culture, focusing particularly on the intersection between religions and politics since 1900. He is the author of Spirits Rejoice!: Jazz and American Religion, a study of the intersections of jazz and American religions in and across comparative themes/categories like ritual, community, and cosmology. Bivins has published most actively in the area of U.S. political religions, the subject of his first two books, Religion of Fear: The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, 2008) and The Fracture of Good Order: Christian Antiliberalism and the Challenge to American Politics (University of North Carolina Press, 2003). He is currently working on his next monograph in political religions: Embattled Majority, a genealogy of the rhetoric of “religious bigotry” in conservative Christian politics since the 1960s (as this category is manifested in Christian textbook narratives, conferences such as Justice Sunday, and political organizations like the JCCCR) and of the varied responses to such claims.
Randall Stephens is an Associate Professor and Reader in History and American Studies at Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. He is the author The Fire Spreads: Holiness and Pentecostalism in the American South (Harvard University Press, 2008); The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, co-authored with physicist Karl Giberson (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011); and editor of Recent Themes in American Religious History (University of South Carolina Press, 2009). His current book project is The Devil’s Music: Rock and Christianity Since the 1950s (under contract with Harvard University Press). Stephens has written for the Atlantic, Salon, Raw Story, the Wilson Quarterly, Christian Century, the Independent, the Chronicle of Higher Ed, and the New York Times. In 2012 he was a Fulbright Roving Scholar in American Studies in Norway.
*Image: “The City” by Vincent Valdez. The featured image is comprised of the middle third of Valdez’s six-panel, 43-foot-long black and white painting titled “The City.” He painted it over 11 months between November of 2015 and September of 2016. In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Valdez said of the painting, “It’s almost too predictable, too easy, to portray these very menacing, overly aggressive, these guys who are snooping around, up to no good. I was much more curious about presenting them as, underneath those hoods, they’re everyday Americans, working jobs, picking up their kids from school, paying their taxes. Just hanging out, like most families would do on a Sunday. But once they put these masks on they completely change their persona, their vision. In this case, they are strategizing, planning, plotting to continue to keep a stranglehold on the city.”
Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture | by Richard B. Miller
The May 2017 issue of the Forum features Divinity School Professor Richard B. Miller and his most recent book, Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture (Columbia University Press, 2016). Friends and Other Strangers argues for expanding the field of religious ethics to address the normative dimensions of culture, interpersonal desires, friendships and family, and institutional and political relationships. Professor Miller urges religious ethicists to turn to cultural studies to broaden the range of the issues they address and to examine matters of cultural practice and cultural difference in critical and self-reflexive ways.
Friends and Other Strangers critically discusses the ethics of ethnography; ethnocentrism, relativism, and moral criticism; empathy and the ethics of self-other attunement; indignation, empathy, and solidarity; the meaning of moral responsibility in relation to children and friends; civic virtue, war, and alterity; the normative and psychological dimensions of memory; and religion and democratic public life. Miller challenges distinctions between psyche and culture, self and other, and uses the concepts of intimacy and alterity as dialectical touchstones for examining the normative dimensions of self-other relationships. A wholly contemporary, global, and interdisciplinary work, Friends and Other Strangers illuminates aspects of moral life ethicists have otherwise overlooked.
The first post in the May issue includes the introduction to Friends and Other Strangers, “Alterity and Intimacy” (below). In the coming weeks, scholars will offer responses to different chapters of the book. At the end of the month, Professor Miller will close out the series with a final response. We invite you to join the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments section.
- Chapter 2, “On Making a Cultural Turn in Religious Ethics” (Thomas A. Tweed, University of Notre Dame)
- Chapter 3, “Moral Authority and Moral Critique in an Age of Ethnocentric Anxiety” (Caroline Anglim, University of Chicago)
- Chapter 3, "Moral Authority and Moral Critique in an Age of Ethnocentric Anxiety” (Cristina Traina, Northwestern University)
- Chapter 5, “Indignation, Empathy, and Solidarity” (Courtney Campbell, Oregon State University)
- Chapter 9, “The Moral and Political Burdens of Memory” (David Gottlieb, University of Chicago)
- Chapter 10, “Religion, Public Reason, and the Morality of Democratic Authority” (Luke Bretherton, Duke University)
- Author’s Response, “On Religion, Ethics, and Cultural Criticism: A Reply to Six Critics” (Richard B. Miller, University of Chicago)
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Richard B. Miller, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Religious Ethics at the Divinity School, is a scholar of religion and ethics, which he explores in an interdisciplinary, critical, and comparative way. Professor Miller’s interests include political ethics, theory and method in religious ethics, social criticism, and practical reasoning in ethics. Working with sources both classical and contemporary, Miller examines how normative claims that are generated by religious thought and practice provide guides to human conduct in personal and public life, and he does so in critical dialogue with moral and political philosophy. He is the author of Interpretations of Conflict: Ethics, Pacifism, and the Just-War Tradition (University of Chicago Press, 1991); Casuistry and Modern Ethics: A Poetics of Practical Reasoning (University of Chicago Press, 1996); Children, Ethics, and Modern Medicine (Indiana University Press, 2003), and Terror, Religion, and Liberal Thought (Columbia University Press, 2010). In addition, he has edited War in the Twentieth Century: Sources in Theological Ethics (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992). His new book, Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture charts and expands the field of religious ethics by exploring the implications of taking a cultural turn in the humanities and social sciences (Columbia University Press, 2016). His essays have appeared in the Journal of Religion, the Journal of Religious Ethics, Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Ethics and International Affairs, Harvard Theological Review, and Theological Studies.
Thomas A. Tweed is the Harold and Martha Welch Professor of American Studies and Professor of History. He is also Faculty Fellow in the Institute of Latino Studies and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Tweed’s research, which includes six books, has been supported by several grants and fellowships, including three from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He edited Retelling U.S. Religious History and co-edited Asian Religions in America: A Documentary History, which Choice named an “outstanding academic book.” He also wrote The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912: Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent and Our Lady of the Exile: Diasporic Religion at a Cuban Catholic Shrine in Miami, which won the American Academy of Religion’s book award. Tweed’s Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion was published in 2006, and his most recent book, “America’s Church”: The National Shrine and Catholic Presence in the Nation’s Capital, also received the AAR’s book award for historical studies. In 2015, Tweed served as president of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the largest professional organization for scholars of religion.
Caroline Anglim is a Ph.D. student in Religious Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Her research is interested in patterns of secularization and the theorization of religion in the history of medical ethics, as well as the broader intersection of science, religion, and politics. She has presented on religious responses to medical research ethics and on pragmatic definitions of religious difference, concentrating her analyses on the dialogue between constructive scholarship and religious practice.
Cristina L. H. Traina is a student of Christian theology and ethics, with emphasis on Roman Catholic and feminist thought. She received her Ph.D. in theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School and has been a member of the Department of Religious Studies since 1992. Areas of special interest include childhood, especially child labor; the ethics of touch in relations between unequals; sexuality and reproduction; ecology; justice issues in bioethics; economic and immigration justice; and method. Traina favors an interdisciplinary approach to ethics, drawing on research in philosophy, anthropology, psychology, history, and other fields. Many of her graduate advisees combine ethnographic methods with ethics. She is the author of Natural Law and Feminist Ethics: the End of the Anathemas(Georgetown 1999) and Erotic Attunement: Parenthood and the Ethics of Sensuality between Unequals (University of Chicago Press, 2011). Her current work focuses on the Christian ethics of non-nuclear families and the moral agency, economic rights, and labor rights of children. She has served as a board member and President (2016) of the Society of Christian Ethics and has received the Weinberg College Teaching Award.
Courtney S. Campbell is the Hundere Professor in Religion and Culture at Oregon State University and previously served as Chair of the Philosophy Department and as Director of the Program for Ethics, Science, and the Environment. Prior to coming to OSU, Courtney was a research associate at The Hastings Center, a “think tank” for medical ethics. Much of his scholarship treats Oregon as a social laboratory for many of the difficult ethical issues in medicine. He has authored numerous articles on the controversial Oregon Death with Dignity Act and on the Oregon Health Plan. He also authored papers for the National Bioethics Advisory Commission on the ethical questions of human cloning and of research on human tissue (www.bioethics.gov). Courtney seeks to develop an engaged classroom where teacher and student become partners in learning.
David Gottlieb is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is producer and co-host of the New Books in Jewish Studies Podcast, part of the New Books Network. Recipient of the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies Undergraduate Lectureship for 2017-18, and a member of the teaching faculty of Claremont Lincoln University. Gottlieb’s research focuses on rabbinic substitutions for sacrifice and the formation of Jewish cultural memory.
Luke Bretherton is professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School and senior fellow of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. Bretherton’s first two books include Hospitality as Holiness: Christian Witness Amid Moral Diversity (Ashgate, 2006) and Christianity & Contemporary Politics: The Conditions and Possibilities of Faithful Witness(Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), winner of the 2013 Michael Ramsey Prize for Theological Writing. His most recent book, Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship and the Politics of a Common Life(Cambridge University Press, 2015), focuses on the intersections between Christianity, radical democracy, globalization, responses to poverty, and patterns of inter-faith relations. Bretherton’s primary areas of research, supervision, and teaching are Christian ethics/moral theology, the intellectual and social history of Christian political thought, political theology, the relationship between Christianity and capitalism, missiology, and practices of social, political, and economic witness.
*Image: Touching Strangers by Richard Renaldi
For the April 2017 issue of the Forum, Scott C. Alexander offers a comparative historical analysis of two summers in American history of heightened anti-Catholicism (1854) and Islamophobia (2010). He characterizes these summers as “seasons of discontent” (cf. Shakespeare’s Richard III), although the “seasonal quality of social discontent has far less to do with the rhythms of the solar year, and far more to do with the nativist rhythms of our national psyche and mood.” As Professor Alexander writes, “This essay seeks to identify two specific ‘seasons’ of nativist U.S. American discontent with two minoritized religious out-groups: Roman Catholics and Muslims. It will argue that, as chronologically distant as these two micro-historical ‘seasons’ are from one another other (some 156 years), they share a striking number of common elements, not the least of which is the way in which they intersect with and reflect the macro-historical systemic perpetuation of white power and privilege as a key component of national identity. ” In the final portion of the essay, Professor Alexander considers the implications of his comparative analysis for thinking about the recently concluded presidential election season and the opening months of the 45th president’s term.
Over the next two weeks, scholars will offer responses to Professor Alexander’s essay. We invite you to join this conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments section.
Read responses to Professor Alexander's essay comes from Greg Chatterley (University of Chicago) and Andrew Kunze (University of Chicago).
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Scott C. Alexander is Associate Professor of Islam ic Studies and Director of the Catholic-Muslim Studies Program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Professor Alexander is the author of a number of articles on Islamic history and religion and Christian-Muslim Relations published in scholarly journals, edited collections, and encyclopedias such as the Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East (Macmillan, 1996) and the Encyclopedia of the Qur’an(E.J. Brill, 2001-2005). His most recent scholarly research focuses on the role of triumphalism in Christian-Muslim Relations and deals with the inherent contradiction between religious claims to universal truth and the religiously motivated desire to impose this truth on others as a means of political and cultural domination.
Andrew Kunze is a third-year Ph.D. student in Anthropology of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He studies the Hindu diaspora, with a focus on American Hinduism, and the mass media—that is, smartphone apps, websites, and magazines—that Hindu organizations use to facilitate devotional practice and to foster senses of belonging in their transnational networks.
Greg Chatterley is a Ph.D. candidate in Religions in America at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His interests include mutually qualifying relationships of race and religion in 20th-century U.S history. Chatterley’s current research addresses the reciprocal effects of material economic development and political activism on white evangelical influence, growth, and transformation in Chicago’s suburbs.
*Image: John Hilling (1822 -1894), Burning of Old South Church, Bath, Maine, c. 1854, oil on canvas (Credit: National Gallery of Art)
For the February-March issue of the Forum, we invited a small cadre of religion scholars to participate in a “scholars’ roundtable” reflecting on the implications of a Trump presidency for the academic study (and teaching) of religion. Throughout February and March we will be publishing pieces by a diverse group of scholars in the fields of religion and religious studies. Each scholar has been invited to share how the “Trump phenomenon” will shape (or has already shaped) their particular research, teaching, and activism as scholars of religion. Sarah E. Fredericks, Assistant Professor of Environmental Ethics at the Divinity School, closes out the series by offering a response to the posts. We invite you to join the roundtable conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments sections on the Forum site.
Contributions to the roundtable:
- Anthony M. Petro (Boston University), “How Not to be a (Religious Demographic) Size Queen in an Epidemic”
- Kent Brintnall (University of North Carolina at Charlotte), “It’s Complicated”
- Jawad Anwar Qureshi (University of Chicago), “‘I think Islam hates us’: Teaching Islam in an Islamophobic Era”
- Arlene Sánchez-Walsh (Azusa Pacific University), “Writing Latinxs into the Canon”
- L. Benjamin Rolsky (Drew University), "Taking Conservatism Seriously in the Era of #MAGA"
- Sarah E. Fredericks (University of Chicago), "A Response to the Roundtable"
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Anthony M. Petro is an assistant professor in the Department of Religion and in the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program at Boston University. His teaching and research interests include religion and culture in the United States; religion, medicine, and public health; and gender and sexuality studies. His first book, After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion (Oxford, 2015), investigates the history of U.S. American religious responses to the AIDS crisis and their role in the promotion of a national moral discourse on sex. He has published essays on a number of topics, including histories of Catholic sexual abuse, critical disability studies and religion, and approaches to studying race, gender, and sexuality in North American religion.
Kent Brintnall is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he is affiliated with the Department of Religious Studies and the Women's & Gender Studies program. He is the author of Ecce Homo: The Male-Body-in-Pain as Redemptive Figure (Chicago, 2011) and co-editor of Sexual Disorientations: Queer Affects, Queer Temporalities, Queer Theologies (Fordham, forthcoming 2017) and Negative Ecstasies: Georges Bataille and the Study of Religion (Fordham, 2015). He is currently working on a monograph that engages the work of Georges Bataille, psychoanalysis, and queer theory on the importance of grappling with the intractability of violence for thinking about political possibility.
Jawad Anwar Qureshi is a doctoral candidate in Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School. His areas of research pertain to Qur’anic studies, Sufi literature, and Islamic revival and reform. His dissertation explores debates amongst 20th-century Syrian ‘ulama on issues related to law, ethics, tradition, and politics, focusing on the exchanges between Syria’s most prominent religious scholar in the last half of the 20th century—Said Ramadan al-Bouti (1924-2013), rahimahu Allah—and his interlocutors. He is also currently assistant professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the American Islamic College in Chicago.
Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh is associate professor of religious studies at Azusa Pacific University. She is the author of the award-winning book, Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society. She has authored over a dozen articles and book chapters on the subject of Latino/a religion and has served as a media expert for outlets such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and On Being with Krista Tippett. Sánchez-Walsh’s current projects include a monograph on Latino/as, American exceptionalism, and the prosperity gospel. Her book, Pentecostalism in America, will be published in late 2017 by Columbia University Press.
L. Benjamin Rolsky is a recent graduate from Drew University’s PhD program in American Religious Studies. His work has appeared in a variety of popular and academic venues including Method and Theory in the Study of Religion and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion as well as The Christian Century, The Norman Lear Center, and The Marginalia Review of Books. His research and teaching interests include religion and politics, the study of popular culture, and critical theory. He is currently working on a manuscript entitled, “Norman Lear and the Spiritual Politics of Religious Liberalism.” Once complete, he plans to begin research on a second book project that examines the history of the Christian Right across the 20th century entitled, “Inventing the Christian Right: A Religious History of the Public Square.”
Sarah E. Fredericks is Assistant Professor of Environmental Ethics at the Divinity School. Her research focuses on sustainability, sustainable energy, environmental guilt and shame, and environmental justice. Professor Fredericks is the author of Measuring and Evaluating Sustainability: Ethics in Sustainability Indexes (Routledge, 2013), and articles in Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture; International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology; Environmental Justice, and Ethics, Policy, and Environment. Fredericks co-edits a book series, Religious Ethics and Environmental Challenges (Lexington Press), with Kevin O’Brien.
photo image: Trump photo (Ralph Freso | Getty)
This month the Religion & Culture Forum commemorates the retirement of Bruce Lincoln, the Caroline E. Haskell Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the Divinity School. Lincoln is an alumnus of the Divinity School (PhD, History of Religions, 1976) and was appointed to the faculty in 1993. He is the author of numerous books, including Discourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification (1989) and Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship (1999). Lincoln has taught courses on topics as varied as Ancient Near Eastern creation myths, Swazi kingship rituals, and American political discourse and has advised over twenty dissertations. He retired from the Divinity School on January 1st, 2017.
In this issue we share pieces from three PhD students in the History of Religions, Emily D. Crews, Andrew Durdin, and Adam Miller, in which they reflect on the impact of Lincoln’s scholarship, teaching, and mentorship on their own work at the Divinity School.
Click here to read PDF of the reflection from contributor Emily D. Crews. Crews is a PhD candidate in History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Her dissertation investigates the role of religion (in its many forms) in Nigerian immigrant communities in the United States.
Click here to read PDF of the reflection from contributor Andrew Durdin. Durdin is a PhD candidate in History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His dissertation seeks to redescribe the category and practices of “magic” in ancient Rome.
Click here to read PDF of the reflection from contributor Adam Miller. Miller is a PhD student in History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His most recent work focuses on Indian Mahayana history and literature.
*photo image: Jasmine Kwong, Seminary Coop Documentary Project
Which Life; What Enhancement? A Report on the Enhancing Life Project by William Schweiker and Günter Thomas
In this issue of the Religion and Culture Web Forum Professors William Schweiker (The University of Chicago Divinity School) and Günter Thomas (Ruhr-University Bochum) offer a report on The Enhancing Life Project. As Professors Schweiker and Thomas explain in the report, "The Enhancing Life Project is a multi-year, international and multi-disciplinary project funded by The John Templeton Foundation through collaboration between The University of Chicago Divinity School and Ruhr University Bochum. The Project has undertaken to address vexing questions seemingly as old as humanity itself and as new as the latest biomedical technologies and neuroscience, namely, what does it mean to enhance human and non-human life, what are the means and strategies to do so, towards what ends, and with respect to what limits, procedural and moral?"
To read a PDF of the report and learn more about The Enhancing Life Project and the scholars whose work it supports, please click here.
Professor William Schweiker is the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His scholarship and teaching engage theological and ethical questions attentive to global dynamics, comparative religious ethics, the history of ethics, and hermeneutical philosophy. A frequent lecturer and visiting professor at universities around the world, he has been deeply involved in collaborative international scholarly projects.
Professor Günter Thomas is Chair of Systematic Theology, Ethics, and Fundamental Theology at Ruhr-University Bochum, where he researches issues of medico-ethics; religion, media, ethics, and public culture; and the relationship between religion, politics, and society.
God in the 2015-2016 Presidential Debates: Using American Civil Religion and Public Religion to Win Party Delegates
by Michele Ferris
This month the Religion and Culture Web Forum welcomes Divinity School PhD student Michele Ferris. Her piece, "God in the 2015-2016 Presidential Debates: Using American Civil Religion and Public Religion to Win Party Delegates," considers candidates' use of religious language in the current American presidential debates. Through close readings and key-word analysis of the debates, Ferris asks whether such language should be understood "in the context of civil religion, public religion, a personal disclosure made by a religious person, or merely a colloquialism." In doing so, she addresses "a lacuna in sociological scholarship regarding the intersection of personal religion and formal politics."
Michele Ferris is a PhD student at the University of Chicago Divinity School studying Religions in America. She is interested in how religion, race, and ethnicity shaped the urban landscape on the American frontier. Her most recent work examines German Christians and Jews in antebellum Cincinnati.
*image via USA Today
Scripting Acts of Violence: Intersectionality and the Orlando Shooting
by Philip L. Tite
At 2 a.m. on Sunday June 12th in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida gunshots were heard by patrons. The nightmare that they experienced did not end until 5 a.m. when police killed Omar Mateen, the alleged shooter who had been holding hostages from the club for nearly three hours. With 50 people murdered and over 50 more injured, the nightmare has only begun for many who were there, or who personally knew people at the club, or who, like myself, read about this horrific event through various media channels on Sunday morning.
When faced with acts of such brutality, people often turn to the media – or, more often these days, social media – in order to make some sense of what strikes us as senseless violence. Over the past few years I have designed and taught a course on Theorizing Religion and Violence. Although we deal with various aspects of violence, a central topic is religious terrorism (largely working through the theoretical contributions by Mark Juergensmeyer, Bruce Lincoln, and William Cavanaugh among others). The first time I taught this course, the Boston Marathon Bombing occurred. That bombing became data for my student to theorize, almost as a type of grief processing. One thing I hate about this course is that whenever I go to the news I keep finding fresh data for the course. It can be depressing to teach a course where we study how and why people murder other people.
Like with Boston, the Newtown shooting, the Aurora shooting, or the San Bernardino shooting, this weekend’s Orlando shooting evokes a series of scripts. What follows is a brief reflection that originally arose from a post I made on Facebook in response to a former colleague’s concern that, by being described as a terrorist attack in the media, the gay and Latino aspects of the Orlando shooting (though certainly mentioned in news outlets) have been obscured. His comment got me wondering about how scripts function to direct our attention away from and toward certain arenas of public concern; specifically, in how such scripts tap symbolic or social capital for ideological and moral ends. Such discursive (re-)directing often obscures the complexity of such acts (and the reception of such acts by us, the viewer) in order to contain and control chaos – and thus transform such “chaos” into “events” that we can explain and process in moments of anger, grief, and shock.
As a scholar attempting to better explain the world around me – i.e., to “make sense” of the power dynamics and processes of reality-making that are at play within moments of violence (including those moments labeled “religious” violence) – I think that a more useful analytical model would be to explore what I’m calling intersectional violence (I don’t know if anyone else has used this terminology, at least in the way that I am using it, but I hope it is useful in guiding our theorization of such acts; on intersectional violence, especially with regard to race studies and feminism, see Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43.6 : 1241-99; Edward González-Tennant, “Intersectional Violence, New Media, and the 1923 Rosewood Pogrom,” Fire: The Multimedia Journal of Black Studies 1.2 :64-110; cf. Edna Keeble, Politics and Sex: Exploring the Connections between Gender, Sexuality, and the State [Toronto: Women’s Press, 2016], 110, who has a similar view of intersectional violence, linking it to systemic violence and identity politics).
We talk about intersectionality of identity in other areas of analysis, challenging the homogeneous identities that typify certain discussions of diversity or identity, especially such homogeneous treatments of identity prior to the 1980s. Today we are accustom to talking about the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, age, and sexual orientation (among other aspects of identity, including religion).
But I think that this model is helpful for discussing what we could call intersectional violence, specifically in application to events such as what occurred in Orlando. Often the “narratives” evoked for addressing moments of violence flatten identity, rendering the acts (and motives, etc.) to a singular explanatory framework. Certain narratives arise when a shooting or bombing occurs, at least within the North American context(s). Three of the most prominent ones that I’ve observed are: (1) this was a foreign terrorist attack (thus, the “Other” – often a Muslim from the Middle East – intrudes into “our” civilized society and their “barbarity” needs to be repelled), (2) this was done by a domestic terrorist (evoking images of Timothy McVeigh and the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building; here the narrative situates the attacker(s) as an internal “Other” bent on destroying the progressive and pluralistic advances of “our” society due to anti-government racism); and (3) the mentally ill narrative (such as the shooters at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Aurora theater, who are presented as pathological and thus not “us” but, rather, an aberration in society). These narratives tend to flatten the identity of the attacker/shooter, reducing the horrific event to a singular characteristic or set of narrative characterizations.
Such flattening, of course, has a functional role; i.e., it contains the violence, reaffirms social stability, and directs discussion/debate (the “now what?” question). Violence (and especially “religious” violence) is disruptive. It is often designed to be disruptive, to shatter perspectives of safety, orderliness, and (perhaps most importantly) cultural and moral superiority. Mark Juergensmeyer (in his Terror in the Mind of God [3rd ed.; Univ. of California Press, 2003]) has documented such disruptive moments in regard to two audiences: primary impact (those at the site of the attack as well as first responders; for Orlando this would include those in the club and then the police and medics who responded to the shooting) and secondary impact (those, like myself, who heard about the attack through media outlets). Sometimes members of a group committing such acts of violence are the main audience (what Juergensmeyer calls “silent terror”, when no group takes public credit for an attack but instead uses the attack to reinforce intra-group adherence to the leadership by reinforcing the ideology or worldview of the group).
Responses to violent acts, however, are also coded. But instead of functioning to disrupt, responses often are designed to reestablish order. Narratives help people to grasp the horror they are facing, to “make sense of it” and then to “effectively” respond to that horror. Narratives, therefore, contain and thus control acts of violence. Furthermore, whatever narrative is utilized will direct further debates and discussions (e.g., do we now engage in a debate over gun control, or international military action, or mental health reform, or systemic racism?). Even our political and social disagreements are bounded by a shared conceptual set of parameters (what might be called “place” by cultural geographers). In a sense, such containment offers us comfort and security. And the most effective way to offer such containment is to reduce the motives, acts, and responses to a limited, flattened set of identity components.
But such flattening also obscures the complexity and nuance of such acts. This shooting, based on what I’ve read online, seems to intersect various narrative options. Although some of this intersectional diversity is being raised in the media, often what we are seeing is less an acknowledgement of intersectionality and more a set of contending identities and identity politics from which to select for further discursive engagement.
An article in the Washington Post, for example, effectively engages various scripts no less in its very title, “Gunman in Orlando pledged allegiance to ISIS; at least 50 killed in shooting rampage at gay club” (by Hayley Tsukayama, Adam Goldman, Jerry Markon and Mark Berman) (June 12, 2016). Here we find the juxtaposition of Islamic terrorism with hate crimes against the LGBTQ community. Other aspects of identity arise in the article itself, such as the Latino-themed night at the club, domestic violence (reported by the shooter’s ex-wife, who also claims that he had not been overly religious) (perhaps evoking pathological scripts?), and the legal purchase of firearms by the shooter (with an extended discussion of the weapons). The shooter’s “motive” is left nebulous in the article, allowing various scripts to arise and contend with each other. This presentation is less a matter of intersectionality and more of an à la carte offering for narrative consumption.
Let’s look at some of the elements involved in the Orlando shooting. The shooter allegedly made a 911 call claiming allegiance to ISIS. As reported in the Post:
The gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, made a 911 call on Sunday identifying himself and declared allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, according to U.S. law enforcement officials who asked not to be identified to discuss the ongoing investigation. Mateen, whose family is from Afghanistan, also cited the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon during that call. Officials said the call was made during the attack.
The article goes on to compare Omar Mateen with Tamerlan Tsarnaev of the Boston bombing, raising questions as to whether this fits the foreign or domestic terrorism script (note the mention of Afghanistan). In some news coverage, the Orlando shooting was praised by, but not claimed by, ISIS (e.g., according to CNN’s correspondents Ralph Ellis, Ashley Fantz, Faith Karimi and Eliott C. McLaughlin, “Orlando shooting: 50 killed, shooter pledged ISIS allegiance”; June 12, 2016: “There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack on jihadi forums, but ISIS sympathizers have reacted by praising the attack on pro-Islamic State forums”), whereas in the Post the Islamic State-linked Amaq News Agency is reported to have claimed Mateen’s attack as one of their operations or at least by someone that they claim as one of their own (i.e., it “was carried out by an Islamic State fighter”) (though the connection is still being investigated by federal law enforcement).
From the American side of a geopolitical/religious conflict (Cavanaugh’s Myth of Religious Violence [OUP, 2009] comes readily to mind!), the threat of international terror becomes both a mobilizing and morally justifying script. Note, for example, the comments by Hillary Clinton reported in the Globe and Mail (“50 dead in Orlando shooting; Obama calls attack ‘terrorism’” by Joanna Slater and Jana G. Pruden; June 12, 2016):
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, released a statement calling to redouble efforts to defend the country, including by working with allies to go after international terror groups and countering recruitment attempts. She also called to keep guns out of the hands of “terrorists and violent criminals,” and expressed solidarity with the LGBT community.
“Hate has absolutely no place in America,” she wrote.
The symbolic capital of such an attack is being “cashed in” in various ways by social actors that see potential value in this event for furthering their own ideological interests.
The location was also a gay bar with a strong Latino-friendly atmosphere. Here we find an intersection of gay rights and ethnic identity, though the article in the Post does not go far in exploring how gay rights and Latino ethnicity intersect the Islamic connection. Instead, we find here and elsewhere a strong evocation of a “hate crime” script, situating the violence within debates over gay rights and racism in America. Although the Post raises such concerns by comparing the Orlando shooting with the arrest of “a heavily-armed man” in Los Angeles in the shadow of preparation for the Pride Parade, perhaps it is the coverage by the grassroots media outlet, Remezcla, that we find a far more extensive utilization of the “hate crime” script (intersecting race and sexual orientation) in an article entitled, “Worst Mass Shooting in US History Takes Place at Orlando Gay Club on Latino-Themed Night” by Yara Simón (June 12, 2016). Simón writes:
… Pulse describes itself as “not just another gay club,” and providing a safe space for the LGBTQ Latino community is proof of that.
Amidst speculation that Mateen was motivated by Islamic extremism and renewed conversations about gun control, the media has failed to report that this attack targeted LGBTQ communities of color. A 2012 report on hate violence against the gay community found that LGBTQ people of color were 1.82 times more likely to experience physical violence. In 2012, 73.1 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were people of color – with black/African Americans accounting for 54 percent and Latinos for 15 percent, according to Colorlines.
Former Pulse dancer Marco Di’Costa told the Miami Herald that the club attracted people of all backgrounds, and that Saturday’s Latin nights often drew many Latinos.
Many in the Latino community are speaking out about the lack of attention being given to violence against LGBTQ communities of color, and at the same time, they are striking down Islamophobia.
Similarly, another account was reported, for instance by NBC News, highlighting Mateen’s homophobic attitude: “The father said his son got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago and thought that might be related to the shooting” (“Orlando Nightclub Shooting: Mass Casualties After Gunman Opens Fire in Gay Club,” by Matthew Grimson, David Wyllie and Elisha Fieldstadt; June 12, 2016). And the Globe and Mail coverage juxtaposes Clinton’s call for international defense with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s focus on the LGBTQ community:
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement expressing shock and sadness.
“We stand in solidarity with Orlando and the LGBTQ2 community,” the statement read. “We grieve with our friends in the United States and Florida, and offer any assistance we can provide.”
Vigils were being planned across the country.
Here the scripts collide (or conflate) in order to raise awareness of what is viewed as an underappreciated aspect of the shooting; i.e., that this was an act of homonegativity or homophobia and racism. The effort to distance or even dismiss the Islamic connection strikes me as a rhetorical attempt to (re-)direct attention back to the Latino gay community impacted by the shooting. The issues and subsequent debates would be very different than those taken by a “Muslim extremist” or “foreign terrorist” narrative. Again, the symbolic capital is being claimed for a specific set of concerns.
The shooter is also presented in various media outlets as a lone shooter. In part such a qualification offers reassurance that the crisis is over. As the Post puts it, “…officials had not found any indications of outside help or another suspect, and added that they were confident there were no additional threats.” Such a statement by law enforcement certainly goes far to contain and reestablish a sense of safety for the public. It also opens up the incident for other scripting, such as the mental illness and gun control scripts. Again, the Post offers a helpful illustration when it presents claims of domestic violence:
Mateen’s ex-wife said in an interview Sunday that he beat her repeatedly during their brief marriage, and said that Mateen, who was Muslim, was not very religious and gave no indications that he was devoted to radical Islam.
This section of the article is immediately followed by a discussion of the guns used in the shooting, quoting Orlando Police Chief John Mina and Trevor Velinor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The handgun, AR-15 assault rifle, and extra rounds were all legally obtained. By juxtaposing accusations of domestic violence with legally acquired weapons inevitably opens the door for a debate over mental illness and gun control. Within such a narrative, Mateen fits into a “pathological script” (often the lone shooter is presented as mentally ill – in the case of Mateen, the accusation of spousal abuse reinforces such a view, as he is presented as a violent and unstable individual – and thus an aberration in society rather than a representative of a given demographic or ideological group). An even more pointed utilization of the pathological script was published by ABC News under the article entitled, “Orlando Shooter’s Ex-Wife: ‘This Was a Sick Person’” (by Carol McKinley and Sabina Ghebremedhin; June 12, 2016):
The ex-wife of Orlando shooter Omar Mateen said today she was shocked by her former husband’s attack, but she recognized something deeply wrong with him years ago.
“He would be perfectly normal and happy, joking, laughing one minute — the next minute his temper… his body would just [go] totally the opposite,” Sitora Yusufiy, 27, told ABC News. “Anger, emotionally violent and that later evolved into abuse, to beating.
“After being abused and after trying to do that and see the good in him, I can honestly say this is a sick person. This was a sick person that was really confused and went crazy,” she said.
Pathological scripts are useful. They allow us to create distance between social actors who commit horrific acts of violence from “the rest of us”. Social stability is reaffirmed. Mateen and others like him are not the norm (most people are not “crazy”) and therefore our sense of safety is reaffirmed (where the secondary impact of such an incident shatters any sense of safety; cf. Juergenmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, 120-21, 123, and esp. 132). Acts of violence are often empowering for those doing or affirming such violence and disempowering for those targeted by that violence (either through primary or secondary impact) (see, again, Juergensmeyer, especially his discussion of performative violence and “warrior’s power”; chapters 7 and 11). By presenting Mateen as mentally ill, the sense of disempowerment through chaos is reversed or at least countered. Mateen was not “us” and he’s not typical of the people we walk past on the street each day. We can continue, therefore, to live our lives in the midst of such horror. Symbolic capital is again being directed toward reestablishing social stability.
A tweet by Lauren Chief Elk is an example of another "counter-script." I actually ran across this tweet on a colleague’s Facebook page, who added the comment, “Only certain pasts count as legitimate….” Here is the tweet:
By evoking the Wounded Knee Massacre, where about 300 Lakota natives were killed by American troops in South Dakota on December 29, 1890, and thereby redacting the Associated Press statement, Lauren Chief Elk (re-)directs an emerging gun control debate toward other, historical and colonial conflicts that have recently gained increased public attention in North America (e.g., the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report).
Here the symbolic capital of the Orlando shooting allows us to raise questions over whose history has legitimacy, what legacy has colonialism given (even in a postcolonial era, or perhaps due to a postcolonial era) for the further empowerment of those benefiting from colonial domination and genocide. What is countered in this particular counter-script is not the motivation of the Orlando shooter, but rather the discursive location of that shooting within broader American identity politics and memory. This is an important critique, as it highlights for us how we use trajectories and genealogies to shape various violent “happenings” into “events” that fit our own need for significance, understanding, and social stability. When we analyze how a violent incident is located (e.g., set alongside other civilian mass shootings, hate crimes, international terrorist attacks, wars between nations and empires, etc.), we may gain insights into the values that are being attached to that event through narrative association. Furthermore, we gain a glimpse into what is obscured by such acts of location. The “place” (to evoke cultural geography once again) where we locate such events is important for seeing the places not being created or even being dismantled in the process. Who gains and who loses in such discursive moves? And when we look at Lauren Chief Elk’s tweet, along with reactions (positive and negative) to that tweet, we can ask what new types of containment are being promoted over against other acts of containment?
Each of these scripts (and likely any others that we may discern) may convey important facts. I’m not contesting the factuality of these narratives. Rather, what I am suggesting is that we could engage in a more fruitful analysis of the violence that erupted in Orlando (and elsewhere), thereby giving us greater insights into the power dynamics at play not only by such people as Omar Mateen, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Adam Lanza, James Eagan Holmes, Syed Rizwan Farook, and Tashfeen Malik (i.e., as a way to explain the acts of violence), but also within the responses to such violence by media outlets, social media exchanges, and political and religious figures (as part of the secondary impact and counters to secondary impact). Intersectionality may offer an important key to such analysis.
Intersectionality is one of the most significant contributions that feminist theory has made to the social sciences over the past thirty years. Leslie McCall offers a succinct definition of intersectionality: “… the relationships among multiple dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations” (McCall, “The Complexity of Intersectionality,” Signs30.3 : 1771-1800, see 1771). Rather than reducing identity to flat surfaces, where one modality of existence is essentialized and thereby rendered normative for defining a given social actor or set of actors, intersectionality highlights the relationship and power interactions of various modalities of existence. In the 1980s and ‘90s, such insights were applied to the generic category “Woman”, as if all women could be subsumed under the same classification without considering the role of race, ethnicity, economic status, geographic location, age, and religious or other ideological outlooks. McCall offers a typology of three methodological approaches in intersectonal studies that stress complexity over simplicity:
(1) anticategorical complexity (a rejection of fixed categories because, “[s]ocial life is considered too irreducibly complex—overﬂowing with multiple and ﬂuid determinations of both subjects and structures—to make ﬁxed categories anything but simplifying social ﬁctions that produce inequalities in the process of producing differences”; p. 1773);
(2) intercategorical complexity (“requires that scholars provisionally adopt existing analytical categories to document relationships of inequality among social groups and changing conﬁgurations of inequality along multiple and conﬂicting dimensions”; p. 1773);
and (3) intracategorical complexity (“falls conceptually in the middle of the continuum between the ﬁrst approach, which rejects categories, and the third approach, which uses them strategically.… tend to focus on particular social groups at neglected points of intersection … in order to reveal the complexity of lived experience within such groups.”; pp. 1773-74).
Regardless of the typology (or a combination of these types) adopted, intersectional analysis (in my opinon) highlights the following:
■ A recognition that bounded categories obscure rather than elucidate complex social relations.
■ Social actors (individuals) and sets of social actors (groups) carry various identity markers that affect identity and social interaction.
■ Identity markers intersect and affect each other, allowing certain identities to emerge over others within a wide range of hybrid products called “the self”.
■ Social conditions affect the suppression, conflation, emergence, and modification of identity markers so as to respond to such conditions (real or imagined). Conditions are the “triggers” for identity formation and utilization.
■ Social or symbolic capital is generated and “cashed in” through alignments of identity markers. Along with such an exchange, power dynamics are always at play.
■ Constricting or expanding complexity are both acts of empowerment and/or disempowerment for various social actors within moments of interaction.
To apply this model of intersectionality to violence, including of course religious violence, would lead us to recognize and explore some of the dynamics being played out within initial reactions to the Orlando shooting. We should ask how the various scripts “fit” together and, perhaps just as important, how do these scripts contest each other? The focus of such an analysis is not just on the shooter and his motivations or the influences that brought him to commit such a horrific act. Intersectionality certainly comes into play here, but it also plays a role in our analysis of the “secondary impact” scripting and counter-scripting that we see (and even participate in) through news outlets, political statements, online social forums, and in general conversations over this shooting. We’ll be seeing intersectional moves of constriction and expanding complexity being played out in the weeks and months ahead. Yet in looking at the Orlando shooting as intersectional violence, we also need to recognize the hybridity of such markers. When I first read the news Sunday morning, I was struck by two major elements: Islamic “terror” and the anti-LGBTQ factor. Later, other things came to my attention, notably the Latino factor (= ethnicity) and the domestic factor (= mental health).
The questions that came to mind were: Does the affirmation by ISIS (or representatives of ISIS) inform the homonegative position (is this a specific instance of the intra-Muslim debate over gay rights; in this instance being played out through violence against the LGBTQ community)? Does the location of a dance club play a role (perhaps evoking Lincoln’s distinction of maximalist and minimalist views of religion vis-à-vis secularization and moral debates; see Lincoln, Holy Terrors [Univ. of Chicago Press, 2003], especially 3-5, 8-15)? Are domestic and foreign violence being intersected or contending? What memories are evoked and ignored within national identity and colonial legacy? Does “religion” intersect narratives of pathology or mental illness? And how might colonialism intersect these various other questions?
This kind of analysis is what I am calling “intersectional violence” (which I hope is helpful as a label for theorizing this and similar events).
When I enter the classroom again to teach Theorizing Religion and Violence, I will have to ask my students (and myself!) to look at how violence plays out on various levels, levels that connect, inform, conflict, and (mis-/re-)direct discourses of identity, morality, religion, and violence. I will want to push away from narrative flattening, except as one of the rhetorical moves played out by social actors.
So I think that we could more effectively make sense of this horrific shooting if we avoid narrative flattening and instead begin discussing intersectional violence.
Philip L. Tite (Ph.D. McGill University, 2005) is the editor of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion and (with James Crossley) of Postscripts, is a specialist in early Christian studies with strong interests in method & theory in the academic study of religion, and is an affiliate lecturer in the Comparative Religion Program at the University of Washington in Seattle. He also serves on the AAR Comparative Approaches to Religion and Violence steering committee and the editorial board of the Journal of Religion and Violence. He is the author of several books, including co-editor with Bryan Rennie of Religion, Terror and Violence: Religious Studies Perspectives (Routledge, 2008).
*Image via NPR.com
**This post was first published on The Religion Bulletin on June 12, 2015. The original post can be accessed here.
Believing Scientists in America: Polling from Leuba to Larson to Pew by Nancy Frankenberry
This month the Religion and Culture Web Forum welcomes Martin Marty Center Senior Fellow Nancy Frankenberry. Her piece,"Believing Scientists in America: Polling from Leuba to Larson to Pew," offers an exploration of the findings and implications of three polls that attempted to measure the attitudes of leading scientists on the questions of the existence of God and the possibility of an afterlife. The paper is but one aspect of her work-in-progress under the broad title “Believing Scientists in America.” In April 2016 Frankenberry shared another portion of that project, entitled “Trials and Tribulations of Theistic Evolution," as part of her Martin Marty Center Senior Fellow Symposium.
Nancy Frankenberry is John Phillips Professor in Religion Emerita at Dartmouth College where she taught courses in philosophy of religion; women and gender studies and religion; and science and religion. Her research and writing have attempted to span all three areas. She is the author or editor/co-editor of five books, as well as over sixty scholarly articles, book chapters, and critical reviews. Most recently, she has completed a series of five papers in the general area of religious epistemology. With the completion of a book-manuscript tentatively titled “Pragmatism and the End of Religion,” she expects to wrap up her work in philosophy of religion. Frankenberry is currently a Senior Fellow at the Martin Marty Center.
*image via www.panpop.com
Failures in Ecstasy by Christine Libby, Indiana University Bloomington
This paper proposes to rethink the somatic and affective reverberations of ecstasy, in a celibate religious context, as a way of expanding the horizons of sexuality beyond an acts and identities paradigm. Focusing on the medieval mystic text The Flowing Light of the Godhead written by Mechthild of Magdeburg in conjunction with Jack Halberstam’sThe Queer Art of Failure, I argue that shifting attention to the way negative affect resonates at the limit of the ecstatic experience allows for a queering of the territory of affect by moving beyond the isolated “subject that feels” towards what I am calling the mystic assemblage.
Christine Libby is a PhD candidate in Religious Studies at Indiana University. In 2009 she received an M.A. in Historical Theology and Feminist Studies from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. She is currently working on a dissertation entitled, “Mystic Assemblages and the Translation of Affect,” that explores the role affect played in shaping the devotional practices recorded in late medieval mystic texts.
The September 2014-November 2016 issues of Religion and Culture Web Forum were edited by Emily D. Crews.