Notes from the field (2010)

In the summer and fall of 2010, a small group of graduate students who received the SSRC Dissertation Development Research Fellowship (DPDF) blogged regularly for The Immanent Frame. The fellows came together in conjunction with a 2010 DPDF subfield called “After Secularization: New Approaches to Religion and Modernity,” directed by Vincent Pecora and Jonathan Sheehan.

While the fellowship period has ended, a select group of fellows continues the blog this fall. In their short contributions to “Notes from the field,” the fellows share notes and reflections on their emerging research, as well as other insights and questions, ruminations and observations.

Browse all of their latest contributions below.

January 3rd, 2011

Of saints, separatism, and secularization (part 2)

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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.

Read Of saints, separatism, and secularization (part 2).
December 24th, 2010

Rubber soul

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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?

Read Rubber soul.
November 24th, 2010

Of saints, separatism, and secularization (part 1)

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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. […]

Read Of saints, separatism, and secularization (part 1).
November 22nd, 2010

Looking for God in the 2010 midterms

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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.

Read Looking for God in the 2010 midterms.
November 12th, 2010

Terry Eagleton, New Atheism, and the War on Terror

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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.

Read Terry Eagleton, New Atheism, and the War on Terror.
November 8th, 2010

Mapping religious landscapes

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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.

Read Mapping religious landscapes.
November 4th, 2010

Indifference we can believe in

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Why is it so difficult to treat religion as just another cultural phenomenon?

Read Indifference we can believe in.
October 29th, 2010

Don’t drink everything that runs downstream

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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.

Read Don’t drink everything that runs downstream.
October 28th, 2010

The wisdom of crowds

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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.

Read The wisdom of crowds.
October 27th, 2010

Minnesota secularism gone global

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Minnesota politics is a bit, well, different.  But uproar over the place of religion in an election mailing may show that, at last in terms of the stakes of secularism debates, Minnesota’s not so strange after all.

Read Minnesota secularism gone global.
October 14th, 2010

God in America? Really?

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I write having seen the first installment of God in America, a three-part series produced by PBS that showed some promise. While there is much still to come, I can report that it is not as bad as it might have been. (Is anything?) But it is also much, much worse than it has any good reason to be.

The most egregious problem—and it is really no surprise given the rather large role played by Stephen Prothero in the commentary—is the astonishing insularity. To put it bluntly, America is presented as an exception, once again. More specifically, the more nuanced argument one gets, largely from Prothero, is: America is an exceptional case, religiously speaking, because Americans believed (and still do believe) that they have an exceptional relationship with God.

Read God in America? Really?.
September 3rd, 2010

What Esther did for her people

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Early 2011 will mark the first US television broadcast of the critically acclaimed documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell.  Released in 2008, Pray the Devil back to Hell awakened a global audience to the work of the women of Liberia in bringing about peace in their country after a fourteen-year civil war.  The film chronicles Christian and Muslim women’s combined efforts to peacefully protest the war, demonstrating that women are active participants in peacebuilding work and that religious traditions and beliefs can be a vital resource for peace and reconciliation.

Read What Esther did for her people.
September 2nd, 2010

Black crescent, white cross

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By now, everyone has seen the Newsweek poll indicating that a majority of Republicans believes President Barack Obama sympathizes with radical Islamists who would like to impose Shari‘a on the United States.  Certainly, political debates in America generally get fairly nasty whenever the defense of “the American way of life” is at issue.  And in America, such threats have had a long history of steering the popular imagination back to the question of race.  But this time around, the mixture is especially volatile, I think, because race is once again being stirred into a mixture with religion.

Read Black crescent, white cross.
August 31st, 2010

The rise of “Islamic” broadcasting in Turkey

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Before the liberalization of broadcasting in Turkey, the state-owned broadcaster TRT considered Islam a “religion” that could be represented only in a limited, privatized form, rather than a way of life regulated by traditions and practices. However, the transformation of the political scene as well as the liberalization of the media industry in the 1990s have contributed to the reconfiguration of the concept of “religion” and its representation on TV.

Read The rise of “Islamic” broadcasting in Turkey.
August 30th, 2010

Belonging without believing

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As against Grace Davie’s vision of European secularization as a form of “believing without belonging,” here we see the genesis of a theological justification for an extreme form of “belonging without believing.” It’s one that I think forces us to rethink how we define membership to a religious tradition, by pointing to the possibility that individual will may not be the primary determinant of religious inclusion or exclusion, any more than a hand can repudiate the body to which it belongs. But it is equally worth considering what kind of ideological work such organic metaphors of embodiment perform in authorizing these kinds of inclusivist models, as well as their ambivalent political implications.

Read Belonging without believing.
August 24th, 2010

God at the Filipino polls

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In a country as religious as the Philippines, it would be easy to assume that clerics have a significant hand in driving voting behavior.  Looking at some recent examples and public opinion data from the Philippines, however, complicates this assumption.  It appears, in fact, that the most religious Filipinos are also the most suspicious of clerical involvement in voting.

Read God at the Filipino polls.
August 23rd, 2010

Defining “theodicy” (Part II)

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Tradition dictated that one of Immanuel Kant’s responsibilities as professor of metaphysics at the University of Königsberg was to lead the faculty in a march to the college chapel before worship services and other religious functions.  The figurative move from reason to revelation would be thereby embodied in a literal trek towards sacred space.  But according to an old—perhaps apocryphal—legend, Kant would dutifully march to the church door in full academic regalia, stop just before entering, and quietly dismiss himself from the service, content to contemplate the moral law he had so forcefully argued lay within us all. We see this same attitude formalized philosophically in his little-read essay, “On the Miscarriage of All Philosophical Trails in Theodicy.”

Read Defining “theodicy” (Part II).
August 21st, 2010

Secular representations of religion on Turkish television

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Television broadcasting has played a significant role in the creation of a public governed by norms of secular reason in Turkey. The state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) held a monopoly on broadcasting until the liberalization of television and radio broadcasting in the 1990s. . . . TRT represented “religion” only in the form of limited mosque sermon broadcasts on officially designated religious holidays, as well as a 15-30 minute show called “The World of Faith” (“İnanç Dünyası”) played every Thursday evening to mark the beginning of Islam’s day of special worship on Friday. The overall effect of TRT’s demarcating such programming as “religious”—and its dealing with issues only related to “personal faith” in these shows (as emphasized in its title)—was to subtract “religion” from other factors regulating the public lives of Turkish citizens (such as education, politics, high culture, and so on) and to reinforce the notion that Islam is primarily a matter of “faith.”

Read Secular representations of religion on Turkish television.