Joseph Blankholm

Joseph Blankholm is a PhD candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. His dissertation is an ethnographic study of organized nonbelievers and secular activism in the United States.

Posts by Joseph Blankholm:

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

CFP: Secularism and Secularity

It was a successful first year for the Secularism and Secularity Program Unit of the American Academy of Religion, which sponsored or co-sponsored four panels at the AAR’s annual meeting in Baltimore this past November. The call for papers for the 2014 meeting in San Diego is now available, and the deadline for submissions is March […]

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Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

A hard road for an atheist preacher

In an article in this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Robert F. Worth writes about the four days he spent with Pentecostal preacher turned itinerant atheist speaker Jerry DeWitt.

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Thursday, June 28th, 2012

American civil religion in the age of Obama: An interview with Philip S. Gorski

Philip S. Gorski is Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies and Co-Director of the Center for Comparative Research at Yale University. His work as a comparative historical sociologist has been influential in recovering Max Weber and asserting the strong influence of Calvinism on state formation in early modern Europe. In his recent book, The Protestant Ethic Revisited (Temple, 2011), he challenges Charles Tilly’s thesis that the technologies of war drove the creation of stable nation-states and argues that post-Reformation religious conflicts were the primary impetus of European state formation. In addition to co-editing The Post-Secular in Question earlier this year as part the SSRC’s series with NYU Press, Gorski is editor of another volume coming out early next year entitled Bourdieu and Historical Analysis (Duke, 2012). He and I sat down in Theodore Roosevelt Park in New York City, where we discussed the book he’s writing on civil religion, joked about Obama’s messianic burden, and considered what present-day America might learn from Émile Durkheim.

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Friday, June 15th, 2012

“Twin tolerations” today: An interview with Alfred Stepan

Alfred Stepan is Wallace S. Sayre Professor of Government at Columbia University and founder and director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion. He has written extensively on democratic transitions, military regimes, and the relationship between religion and democracy in countries throughout the world. His theory of the “twin tolerations,” which argues that healthy democracies require religious leaders to grant authority to elected officials, and that state authorities must not only guarantee freedom of private religious worship but allow democratic participation in civil and political society, has influenced political theorists, heads of state, and grassroots activists.

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Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Book Launch: Religion and International Relations Theory

There will be a book launch and panel discussion at Columbia University tomorrow, April 20th,  for a new volume entitled Religion and International Relation Theory.

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Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Brigitte Gabriel, Peter King, and the scrutiny of American Muslims

New York Times national religion correspondent Laurie Goodstein has written a bio/exposé piece on Brigitte Gabriel: “Through her books, media appearances and speeches, and her organization, ACT! for America, Ms. Gabriel has become one of the most visible personalities on a circuit of self-appointed terrorism detectors who warn that Muslims pose an enormous danger within United States borders.”

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Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Figuring American Spirituality

After attending a February 10th discussion with multimedia artist Laurie Anderson at Columbia University, Columbia Religion Professor Courtney Bender wrote a response that reflects on the roles of technology, spirituality, and religion in American society.

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Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Changing perceptions of yoga: from crime to co-optation

In an article in the Huffington Post, Harvard historian Leigh E. Schmidt relates the Hindu American Foundation’s “Take Yoga Back” campaign to the subject of his most recent book, Heaven’s Bride, a biography of “idiosyncratic” 19th century mystic Ida C. Craddock. Schmidt uses Craddock as an example of how much the perception of yoga has changed in the past century.

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Friday, November 12th, 2010

Terry Eagleton, New Atheism, and the War on Terror

Last Wednesday evening, eminent theorist of literature and culture Terry Eagleton gave a talk at Columbia University entitled “The New Atheism and the War on Terror.” New Atheism is also the subject of last year’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections  on the God Debate, which developed as the product of his Terry Lectures (no relation) given at Yale in 2008. Having never seen Eagleton speak before, the talk surprised me in a few ways, so I’d like to give a short review and also use the occasion to address some issues that were conspicuously absent given the title of the lecture.

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Friday, August 20th, 2010

After atheism (Part II)

In my last post, I made the claim that I wasn’t an atheist. That’s a complicated claim. Atheism, despite being technically no more than contra-theism, is most of the time a philosophy with positive content. It’s usually strict materialism buttressed by other moral and political ideologies (though who could really separate the latter two categories).

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Friday, August 20th, 2010

After atheism (Part I)

In a confessional mode, I’m afraid I have to get something off my chest: I don’t think I’m an atheist. Making things more difficult, I’m also clearly not religious.

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Friday, July 9th, 2010

The quiet (ir)religion of the polite and apathetic

For many Minnesotans, religion is a private matter that shouldn’t be talked about—not even among friends. For others, it hardly makes sense to think of religion as public or private because it seems so obviously embedded in both spheres. As someone who has to talk about religion a lot, two rough groups emerge for me: on the one hand, there are the public non-theists; and on the other, there are those who talk about religion, whether or not they are actually religious themselves.

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Thursday, June 24th, 2010

The making of a student of religion

Last week I wrote about the conversations I get into when I tell people what I do. Answering that I study religion usually leads to a conversation about it—a topic about as uncomfortable as politics during an election year. One of the first things people ask me in these conversations is what I believe. This question comes in a lot of forms, and every answer I give is an educated guess meant to quickly defuse any tensions. Sometimes I’m not particularly religious; other times I was raised Christian; and sometimes I’m simply an atheist.

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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

“I study religion,” or: How to start an awkward conversation

As a PhD student in Religion, my answer to the question, “What do you do?” is always a loaded one. The responses are mostly predictable, only occasionally aggressive, and sometimes spur wonderful conversations. Navigating these responses while minimizing awkwardness has become a bit of a hobby for me, so in addition to learning how to laugh on cue at the question, “Are you gonna be a priest or something?” I’ve come up with some strategies to steer the conversation to a place that’s more interesting for me personally, and if I’m in the mood, great for my research.

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