Tracy Fessenden

Tracy Fessenden is the Steve and Margaret Forster Professor on the faculty of Religious Studies at Arizona State University. She is the author of Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature (Princeton, 2007) and the forthcoming Religion Around Billie Holiday (Penn State).

Posts by Tracy Fessenden:

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

America’s music

Jazz pianoOn December 4, 1987 both chambers of the 100th United States Congress passed a “resolution expressing the sense of Congress respecting the designation of jazz as a rare and valuable national American treasure.” No opposing votes were cast. The Jazz Preservation Act (JPA), as the bill came to be known, defined jazz as “an indigenous American music and art form” rooted in “the African-American experience,” and as “a unifying force, bridging cultural, religious, ethnic, and age differences in our diverse society.”

How do claims of indigeneity made on behalf of jazz, as in the text of the JPA, help to negotiate these competing representations: jazz as black, born of dispossession, and jazz as every American’s birthright? As this forum’s editors suggest, claims of indigeneity are at least implicitly claims about religion and race. Appeals to indigeneity permit race to enter into discussions of national identity and religiosity to appear in secular space. As a figure for race, religion, or both, indigeneity exerts a particular push-pull in relation to the secular.

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Monday, May 2nd, 2011

O tedious selfhood, O aftertaste of splinters

It’s striking to me how often, with what little resistance, the many scholarly forums this book has now generated have likewise settled into for-and-against discussions of Oprah. This no doubt is tribute to Lofton’s remarkable creation of what Daphne Brooks calls a “self-help meta-empire of scholars trying to come to terms with their own Oprah addictions.” It’s also, perhaps unavoidably, an Oprah effect: What other books have so readily pressed scholars into sharing our experiences, our feelings, about the subjects they engage? (Could we imagine Born Again Bodies prompting a gabfest on our struggles with weight loss and gain? The Mormon Question drawing out our deepest thoughts on monogamy alternatives? The New Metaphysicals eliciting a coming-clean on the checks we wrote to the astrologer?)

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Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Sex and the subject of religion

secular_age.jpgThe current campaign within the Archdiocese of New York to canonize the radical activist Dorothy Day (1897-1980) offers a good example of what Elizabeth Povinelli, writing here on December 13 (“Can Sex be a Minor Form of Spitting?”), calls the “mutual conditions and secret agreements” that tie the sexual revolution and Catholic teaching together behind the scenes—and of the “transformation in the field of sin” sealed in their alliance. It isn’t simply that the candor with which Cardinal O’Connor and now Cardinal Egan have described Day’s sexual agency, single motherhood, and presumed abortion signals the Church’s accommodation to new, post-1960s norms of frankness.

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