Theologies of American exceptionalism

March 13th, 2017

Theologies of American exceptionalism: Cohen and Kahn

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This is the fifth and final installment in the “Theologies of American exceptionalism” series. In this final post, Shaul Magid reflects on Arthur Cohen’s essay, “The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition” in conversation with Stephanie Frank’s reflection on Paul W. Kahn’s introduction to his volume Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty.

Magid’s essay explores the “double exceptionalism” that exists for the Judeo-Christian in American society, as Cohen depicts a masking of domination through tolerance for the Jewish in the United States. Frank then dives into the “possibility that American politics is distinguished by—is exceptional because of—its association with sacrificial violence” through Kahn’s text.

These essays conclude the series by leaving us with a complicated understanding of American exceptionalism and its impact on our global relationships, as well as relationships within our nation.

March 1st, 2017

Theologies of American exceptionalism: Ali and Khomeini

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This is the fourth installment in this series of paired essays. In this post, Noah Salomon reflects on Noble Drew Ali’s “A Warning from the Prophet in 1928,” in his essay, “Exceptional Americanism.” Salomon’s essay is paired with Spencer Dew’s reflection on Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s posthumous message, The Last Will and Testament (or, The Last Message).

Through these texts, they examine narratives of race and religion in the United States and beyond, as well as the question of what creates citizenship in a nation.

February 22nd, 2017

Theologies of American exceptionalism: Moreton and Paarlberg

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“For its proponents, Americans and perhaps others, Christian free enterprise is not a religion but a natural way of being, religiously, economically, and socially, when all obstacles to freedom have been transcended. Its unstable and ambivalent naturalization and nationalization of Protestantism—the free market religion and religion of the free market—helps to secure the American exception, necessitating, for some, a tireless and violent drive to remake the world in our image.”

The above is an excerpt from Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s essay, “The America-Game,” which uses Bethany Moreton’s To Serve God and Wal-Mart to examine the relationships between American Protestantism and its global economics. Lisa Sideris, in her companion essay “Exceptionalism, environmentalism, and excess,” looks at a similar relationship with American excess and the effects on climate. She looks at whether “narratives of exceptionalism actually abet the destruction of nature?”

February 17th, 2017

Theologies of American exceptionalism: Marshall and Morgan

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In this second installment in the series, Winni Sullivan and M. Cooper Harriss find theology of American exceptionalism in documents that are less conventionally theological.

First, Sullivan examines the US Supreme Court decision Johnson v M’Intosh from 1823, claiming that in Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion to the court, you can find “the fancy legal footwork at the heart of the American project, one that claims fidelity to the rule of law and to the law of nations while acting as an outlaw—an outlaw whose justification in subjugating savages is in her claim to being Christian and civilized in a new and very special way.”

Then, Harriss reflects on the theology within the concept of the “Great American Novel” through examining recent writings from C. E. Morgan, who “unabashedly” defends the canon of literature, despite its shortcomings.

February 13th, 2017

Theologies of American exceptionalism: Winthrop and Cavell

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“Among the many possible ways of figuring, interpreting, and receiving the problem of American exceptionalism, Cavell pursues a line of thought discernible in Winthrop, Alexander Hamilton, Emerson, and Lincoln. Putting it plainly, the claim here is not that Americans are an exceptionally blessed, virtuous, or accomplished people. Much to the contrary, the point of these interventions is to spur the American people to transcend their all-too-compromised circumstances. In its basic outlines, the idea is that the people at large must be converted to a new set of values, a new way of life, a new world. The idea is not to praise Americans as an exceptional people, but rather to press Americans to take exception to their present shortcomings in order to begin amending them.” -Scherer

This is the first installment in this series of paired posts. Constance Furey and Matthew Scherer have a conversation about American exceptionalism as depicted in John Winthrop’s speech, “A Model of Christian Charity,” and Stanley Cavell’s essay, “Finding and Founding.”

February 13th, 2017

Theologies of American exceptionalism: Introduction

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The one-day workshop which produced these essays focused on “Theologies of American Exceptionalism,” asking participants to expound on an exemplary text (a link to those texts is found in each essay). What followed was an intense discussion of the deeply ambiguous heritage of US exceptionality, both in terms of the stories Americans tell themselves and the stories others tell of them, of what they do at home and what they do abroad—of those excluded and those in charge,—of whether and how the US is or ever was new and innocent—of revolution and the exception,—and of the credibility of the rule of law. Perhaps reflecting the current political climate, much of the discussion, while not centered on the US presidential election, elaborated on the indeterminacy, elusiveness, and provisionality of the US project. Lingering questions concerned the nature and status of sacrifice, sovereignty, and supersessionism in the American context.