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August 3rd, 2016

Religion and politics beyond religious freedom

posted by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd | Beyond Religious FreedomI would like to thank each of the contributors to this series for their generous engagement with my book, Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion. In this response I address a question that arose in several of the posts: what is the role of the scholar or expert in responding to what comes “after” or lies “beyond” religious freedom? In working on this project I have encountered considerable anxiety concerning what Jeremy Walton refers to as the threat of a “conceptual and political vacuum” arising in the wake of the argument of this book. I am interested in engaging with the concerns that motivate that anxiety. I also want to push back against the insistence that a strong prescriptive stance is required to do the work that I do. There are other paths forward and I’ll discuss a few of them here.

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July 22nd, 2016

Rethinking religion in a political scientific wilderness

posted by Ruth Marshall

July 20th, 2016

Keeping up with “culture”

posted by J. Barton Scott

July 19th, 2016

Another Law’s Religion

posted by Benjamin Schonthal

~ More recent posts ~

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August 23rd, 2016

The breaking-in of the gods

posted by Robert Orsi
History and Presence | Harvard University Press In the early pages of my recently published book, History and Presence (Belknap Harvard 2016), I describe something that happened to me many years ago which became a touchstone for the questions I have asked about religion since. I was traveling in Ireland in 1976 on one leg of a year-long journey around contemporary European Catholic monasteries when I stopped by chance in the town of Knock, County Mayo, to fuel my car. I asked the gas station attendant how it was that Knock boasted such an enormous church and plaza, which I had passed on my way through the town, and its own airport. Do you not know what happened here? he asked me. No, I did not. Are you Catholic? he asked. I am, I said. Not a very good one then, he said. He condescended to explain to me that on August 21, 1879, the Virgin Mary, along with several other holy figures, appeared beside the church wall to a cluster of villagers, and the sacred figures lingered in Knock. “Here,” the gas station attendant ended his story, “the transcendent broke into time.” I remember all this because I wrote it down in a journal at the time, but I would not have forgotten it even if I hadn’t.

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August 15th, 2016

Teaching religion: Refusing the Schempp myth of origins

posted by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan
I was recently asked to speak about the current state of US religious freedom law. I guess it somehow seemed appropriate to do that in Indiana—at ground zero in the culture wars, where religious freedom seems to have gone to die. I used the occasion to address the peculiar relationship that religious studies as a field seems to have with the Supreme Court and its decisions—indeed, with religious freedom, American style.

It is surprisingly common for religious studies scholars, particularly, but not exclusively, those teaching at US public universities, to define their work with reference to the jurisprudence of the First Amendment. Not infrequently, they point very specifically to the Court’s 1963 decision in Abington School District v. Schempp as the authorizing text for religious studies as a field. (See, among many recent examples, Jonathan Sheehan on “Why We Should Teach Theology in the Public University” and Ivan Strenski’s review of the Norton Anthology of World Religions in History of Religions.) As my colleague, American religious historian Sarah Imhoff, tells it in her recent Journal of the American Academy of Religion piece about the Schempp decision, many religious studies scholars seem to believe that “The Supreme Court, like the God of Genesis, came down and created by separation. Earth from sky, land from water; the teaching of religion from teaching about religion.” In other words, we seem to believe that it is law—or maybe, very specifically, the Court—that properly defines our job.

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