September 10, 2007
— Martin E. Marty
"Sightings is back!" Told to take off four weeks while
our publishers/editors did some realigning, I, bad at math, miscounted
and let five weeks go by. The first impulse was to try to catch up. No
way. Sightings was chartered to scout for (rare) mentions of
religious themes in the media. Blindings might be a better title, there
being so much these days in our hardly secular world. Daily at 4:44 a.m.
four newspapers are at our door: the Chicago Tribune, the New
York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Wall Street
Journal. Look at just one typical day's reporting, September 7. I'll
omit the regularly covered "religion-and -terrorism" and "religion-and-presidential-campaign"
features. What else is there?
John Wilson in a Wall Street Journal column shows how reporting on "the sixties" systematically overlooked the Christian humanitarian movements of the time, while focusing on hippiedom. He calls for historical revisionists to emerge. Sun Times columnist Cathleen Falsani, a fan of suicide-prone actor Owen Wilson, offered Wilson empathy and solace, and invited him to re-try church after, according to news reports, he had visited one in Santa Monica.
In international news: According to the New York Times, the pope is heading for Austria, described as a nation with emptying churches and a scandal-ridden clergy. Will the pontiff's call for a return to conservatism help the church recover some place? Circumcised Muslims in West Africa have fewer cases of AIDS than uncircumcised Christians, who are now lining up for operations, says the Wall Street Journal . Some tribes, which have religious taboos against circumcision, are worst off. And we read in the Tribune that "Olympic Village Gets Worship Center," against all odds, in Beijing.
On the local scale: Fifty-five years ago I ministered one mile from the largest Lutheran congregation in the U.S. The Tribune reports that North Austin Lutheran's last ten members are giving up this week. They tried everything. An African-American Lutheran congregation will emerge from the well-tended ruins. A Chicago builder is trying to get a zoning change so he can build a high-rise on property adjacent to and owned by St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Church. Ruth Fuller does a half-page profile of the ministry of John Lionberger, ex-agnostic, now head of Renewal in the Wilderness Ministry. The paper also reports that Kentucky's chief naturalist is field-tripping to the (six-day) Creation Museum, so he can better answer questions about creationism.
"Convicted Priest Avoids Return to Jail," in the Sun Times, deals with the all too familiar priestly abuse theme. A map and picture in the same paper show St. Therese Chinese Catholic Mission, home to the St. Rocco Society, which includes some celebrated mobsters now on trial. Evangelist D. James Kennedy's obituary in the Tribune revisits his role in forming the religious-political right. Also in the Tribune, a feature displays several churches with landmark status among twenty-five historic buildings in a fight-for-funds competition. Pew Research Center finds that 50 percent of polled people think Republicans are religion-friendly, 30 percent say Democrats are religion-friendly.
Incredibly, Religion Newswriters Association has to chronicle the efforts by religion writers to gain or hold places on newspapers and magazine staffs!
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
A note from the editor:
I'm pleased to introduce myself as the new editor of Sightings.
I am a PhD student in Anthropology and Sociology of Religions at the University
of Chicago Divinity School, where my work focuses most specifically on
the contemporary Catholic Left. More broadly, I study how self-marginalizing
religious groups, in both historical and contemporary America, create
and maintain their outsider identities in the midst of changing social
circumstances. Issues of public religion are at the core of my research:
How are religious convictions expressed to and regarded by the public?
How do practitioners of religion understand the place(s) of those convictions
in their lives as citizens, and in the operations of their societies?
Of course the list goes on, as you all are well aware, and I greet with
enthusiasm the opportunity to work with Sightings as it continues
to address itself to the task of "sighting" and analyzing appearances
of religion in the public sphere. Sightings' authors and readers,
dedicated to turning nuanced attention to even the most unlikely interstices
between religion and public life, will be a privilege to engage.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Sightings welcomes submissions of 500 to 750 words in length that seek to illuminate and interpret the forces of faith in a pluralist society. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. The editor also encourages new approaches to issues related to religion and public life.
Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Sightings, and the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Please send all inquiries, comments, and submissions to Kristen Tobey, managing editor of Sightings, at email@example.com. Subscribe, unsubscribe, or manage your subscription at the Sightings subscription page.