Religion & Culture Forum

Seasons of Our Discontent: Anti-Catholicism, Islamophobia, and Systemic Racism in the United States

For the April 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.

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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.

*Image: John Hilling (1822 -1894), Burning of Old South Church, Bath, Maine, c. 1854, oil on canvas (Credit: National Gallery of Art)

About the Forum

The Martin Marty Center's Religion & Culture Forum is an online forum for thought-provoking discussion on the relationship of scholarship in religion to culture and public life. Each month the Marty Center, the research arm of the University of Chicago Divinity School, invites a scholar of religion to comment on his or her own research in a way that "opens out" to themes, problems, and events in world cultures and contemporary life. Scholars from diverse fields of study are invited to offer responses to these commentaries.

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The Religion & Culture Forum is edited by Joel A. Brown, Divinity School PhD student in Religions in America. Emily D. Crews, Divinity School PhD candidate in the History of Religions, was the previous editor.