Pamela Klassen

Pamela E. Klassen is a Professor in the Department & Centre for the Study of Religion and past Director of the Religion in the Public Sphere Initiative at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Blessed Events: Religion and Home Birth in America (Princeton University Press, 2001) and Pathologies of Modernity: Medicine, Healing, and the Spirits of Protestantism (forthcoming). Klassen is also co-editor, with Courtney Bender, of After Pluralism (Columbia University Press, 2010). Read Pamela Klassen's contribution to Reflections on summer reading.

Posts by Pamela Klassen:

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Divine pervasion and the change that isn’t

Pervasive presence—or just ordinary ubiquity—is one of the main strategies in Oprah’s attempt to serve as a guide through the jumble of consumer choices, spiritual makeovers, and “original individuality” that is “secular” living in contemporary North America. Reading The Gospel of an Icon gave me a heightened awareness of this ubiquity, a new recognition of the way in which Oprah really is everywhere. As Lofton puts it in one of her clarifying turns of phrase: “She is the divine pervasion.”

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Friday, December 17th, 2010

Blinded by the light, or, Why can’t liberals see?

Where a century ago liberal Christians (and even some anthropologists) were citing Marx and Bergson in the hope of transforming their tradition into an anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movement of revolution and revitalization, the current merger of continental philosophy and what Ruth Marshall has called Pentecostal “political spiritualities” seems driven more by anthropologists’ theoretical musings than by a broad Pentecostal reception of Žižek or Badiou (although this too is changing). With this earlier liberal Christian engagement in mind, I was particularly struck by a metaphor common to several of the essays (in Global Christianity, Global Critique), in which liberals—both secular and Christian—are diagnosed with blindness, or, more broadly, with a sensual deficit that disables them from seeing the distorting effects of their own triumphalist rationalism.

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Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

The spiritual politics of healing

Debates regarding health care have struck at the core of social and political imaginaries of what it means for both bodies and societies to thrive. As Obama’s health care reforms pointedly demonstrated, debate in North America about the respective roles of government and private interests in the administration of health care has been a catalyst of enthusiastic civic engagement, with different results on either side of the Canadian-American border. While much of this civic engagement rests upon a shared assumption that biomedical health care, based on Western scientific method, is the best kind of care for suffering bodies, the politics of health care is also shaped by a spiritual politics, divided along several axes.

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Monday, July 12th, 2010

Power spots

“Shoveling fog” is Courtney Bender’s acute phrase for the work of “studying spirituality,” an amorphous term that has suffered much scorn and derision at the hands of both scholars and skeptics, nonplussed as they are by its conceptual vagueness and lack of clear social boundaries. While The New Metaphysicals does not tidy up the concepts or borders of spirituality, it goes a long way toward providing a new way of seeing its contours in the twenty-first-century United States, by zooming in on the present and past of metaphysical adepts in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Carefully attending to a network of metaphysical practices, which include past life regression, yoga, Reiki, out-of-body experiences, and a “mystical discussion group,” Bender finds that though these practices have a long and storied past in the salons, woods, and lecture halls of Cambridge, their contemporary practitioners are not really that interested in claiming, or even knowing about, such lineages.

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Friday, February 19th, 2010

Fantasies of sovereignty

Montreal [site of the 2009 AAR meetings] was a particularly appropriate site for a return to civil religion. A civic polity not part of the United States, shaped by both the political traditions of Rousseau and the Roman Catholic Church, its very foreignness forced the US-based panelists to catch themselves when using what David Kyuman Kim called the “register of the collective ‘we’.” At the same time, Quebec’s own conflicted history of “civil religion,” rooted in profound contests over sovereignty, was a reminder of how civic identity is premised, at least in part, on the violence of imperial conquest—in this case, the French subjugation of the Mohawk, Cree, and other First Nations, and in turn that of the French by the English. These legacies of conquest still haunt any possibility of civic covenant in North America, and probably always will.

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Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Repossessing the past

By some sort of happy coincidence—or to use the surrealist term referenced by Jeremy Biles, “objective chance”—I watched Youth Without Youth the same day that I viewed another movie about the “facts” of enchantment as they appeared in the twentieth century, Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997). Though doing so with admittedly different artistic aspirations and audiences, both movies allude to historical characters and controversies in the study of religion.

Read the rest of Repossessing the past.