In my previous post, I discussed the ambivalent legacy of the Catholic Church in Québec in light of the recent canonization of the province’s first homegrown saint. I suggested that the post-sixties rise of Québécois nationalism emerged largely at the expense of this Catholic identity, which many blamed for Québec’s longtime passivity in the face of English-Canadian domination, even as the Church also played a key historical role in the survival of French-Canadian culture. In this post, I would like to suggest the ways in which this complex politico-religious legacy has shaped current debates over the “reasonable accommodation” of immigrants in Québec.
Notes from the field (2010)
To much fanfare, the Vatican recently decreed that under certain conditions the trapping of male semen by a thin balloon of rubber fastened around the penis when it is inserted into various orifices (mouths, anuses, vaginas?) is officially, morally, and doctrinally acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church. Now, why would anyone ever say that religion is no more than a fantastic spiritual exercise?
Three weeks ago, in a province with the lowest rate of Church attendance in Canada, 50,000 people attended Mass to honour the canonization of Québec’s first homegrown saint. Born into poverty in 1845 and orphaned at the age of 12, largely illiterate and chronically sickly, “Brother André” has been acclaimed as the archetypical hero of a Québec that seems largely unrecognizable today. [...]
The 2010 elections changed a lot about the makeup of Congress, but did they change much about American secularism? A new poll shows partisanship in pulpits is rare, issue-based politics is alive and well, and Islam’s electoral prominence is ripe for future manipulation.
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.
This summer in Kenya I was able to observe one such community health asset mapping project in the informal settlement of Mukuru, in Nairobi. The work of Emory’s Interfaith Health Program (IHP) in Mukuru has led to a greater understanding of the informal networks that exist in a community that is often marked by its invisibility—both on physical maps (until this project, Mukuru was not visible on maps of Nairobi) and to international and state-level actors (where much of the actual religious and health-related work happening in Mukuru was not recognized or acknowledged). Mapping, in the sense of identifying the myriad ways people understand and seek out healing and literally mapping these places (using GPS handhelds) provides a counter to the ways that real people can become marginal in international and national scholarly and practical debates around health, development, and human rights.
Why is it so difficult to treat religion as just another cultural phenomenon?
Concerning recent (and seemingly conflicting) poll results from the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, Justin Reynolds is, I think, exactly right when he says: “Actually, a sounder reading of these results would suggest that most Americans see the separation of church and state itself as the mark of a ‘Christian’ nation.” Absolutely correct. What the average American (if there is such a thing) sees in the First Amendment is primarily a guarantee that he or she can practice whatever religion he or she wants to practice. But this “right” to practice the religion of one’s choice, however impinged upon by cultural prejudices about various “minority” beliefs (such as Catholic or Jewish in former days, or Islam today) has nothing to do with how Americans understand the deeper cultural roots of their nation. What, alas, is often missing in Americans’ view of their culture is the sense that things do not have to remain exactly the same for all time.
The majority of Americans may not know much about their own religions, but they seem to have a pretty good handle on the intricacies of secularization theory. That, at least, was what I got from looking at the findings of two surveys published this fall.