off the cuff

off-the-cuff (adj.): extemporaneous, impromptu, improvised

A feature of The Immanent Frame in which the editors pose a question to a handful of leading thinkers and scholars, and invite a quick and succinct response.

Questions from the TIF editors have concerned the elections in Egypt, anti-immigration ideas and multiculturalism in Europe, the role of religion in the public sphere, the contraception mandate, reflections from our contributors on their summer reading,  and more.

September 22nd, 2016

Religion, secularism, and Black Lives Matter

posted by

Black Lives Matter In February 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman was initially released on the Stand Your Ground statute in Florida, claiming he had acted in self-defense, and was later acquitted of all charges.

As a call to action in response to this tragedy and the anti-Black racism that permeates society more broadly, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors founded #BlackLivesMatter—a Twitter hashtag against state violence that turned into a larger, in-the-streets movement against the pervasiveness of white supremacy. Black Lives Matter is a movement that declares itself to be “working to (re)build the Black liberation movement.”

But what role does religion play in this movement for Black lives—if any? What are the modern day connections between religion, secularism, and racial justice? Does a justice movement have to be openly religiously affiliated to invoke a sacredness?

Read Religion, secularism, and Black Lives Matter.
September 14th, 2015

Cosmology and the environment

posted by

The belief that scientific worldviews provide sufficient information and motivation to galvanize widespread action on environmental issues is gaining adherents both within and beyond the academy. The turn to science for materials from which to construct a new cosmology is evident in a variety of emerging movements that call for an evidence-based global story and a common ethic. Implicit or explicit in these movements is a conviction that existing religious traditions are too parochial (lacking global appeal) and too far removed from scientific realities and contemporary environmental concerns. Proponents of the new cosmology believe that the physical and biological sciences reveal the distinctly storied nature of our cosmos—a story that belongs to all—and that this new cosmology thus invests science with mythic, revelatory power; far from disenchanting our world, science is celebrated as a primary vehicle for restoring wonder, meaning, and value.

Can—and should—a scientific account of the universe function as a global myth? If so, what is the likely impact of contemporary scientific cosmologies on established religious traditions and environment-related beliefs and practices?

Read Cosmology and the environment.
February 17th, 2015

Values and violence: Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo

posted by

Until last month’s attack, Charlie Hebdo was little known beyond France. In the wake of the massacre, however, it was quickly valorized as a symbol of freedom of expression and French secularism, and the hashtag #JesuisCharlie (“I am Charlie”) spread rapidly across social media. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared a “war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity.” On January 11, 2015, more than a million people, including 40 of the world’s political leaders—not all of whom are otherwise known for their support of free speech—marched together in Paris.

The week after the massacre, Charlie Hebdo’s “All is forgiven” issue featured a cover depicting the prophet Muhammad in tears, holding a sign that read “Je suis Charlie.”

The violence, and responses to it, have raised a slew of questions. Is it helpful, or even accurate, to characterize these killings as religiously motivated? How have the attack and responses to it helped to construct or entrench the identities said to be in conflict? Should the events be understood in the context of France’s history of satire or its history of colonialism? Can the two be separated in this case? What is the significance of the willingness of many not only to affirm free expression, but also to identify themselves with the magazine? Are there limits to the freedom of expression?

Read Values and violence: Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo.
February 20th, 2014

The Charter of Quebec Values

posted by

On November 7th, 2013, on the heels of a heated public debate about the role of religion in public life, the government of Quebec tabled its controversial Bill 60, “Charte affirmant les valeurs de laïcité et de neutralité religieuse de l’État ainsi que d’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes et encadrant les demandes d’accommodement” (Charter affirming the values of state secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests). The legislation, introduced by Bernard Drainville, the minister for Democratic institutions and active citizenship, seeks to affirm the religious neutrality of the state, specifically by prohibiting public sector employees—including those working in hospitals, schools, daycare centers, and universities—from wearing “signes ostentatoires” [conspicuous religious symbols], examples of which include hijabs, kippas, Sikh turbans, and “large” crucifixes. The legislation also proposes to amend Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, in order to enshrine the equality of men and women as the highest human right, to which other rights (e.g. freedom of religious expression) would be subordinated.

Read The Charter of Quebec Values.
September 3rd, 2013

Reflections on summer reading

posted by

As the fall semester gets underway, we have again invited a number of contributors to The Immanent Frame to reflect on what they’ve read these past few months on the broad topic of secularism, religion, and public life. We asked: What are the best books and essays you’ve come across this summer? What are you most looking forward to reading in the near future?

Read responses by Courtney Bender, James S. Bielo, Anderson Blanton, John D. Boy, Wendy Cadge, Simon During, Omri Elisha, M. Christian Green, Martin Kavka, Tanya Luhrmann, John Schmalzbauer, and Jeff Sharlet.

Read Reflections on summer reading.
July 30th, 2013

Engaging religion at the Department of State

posted by

This past week, the US Department of State announced the creation of a new office that “will focus on engagement with faith-based organizations and religious institutions around the world to strengthen US development and diplomacy and advance America’s interests and values.” Citing widespread religious persecution and violence overseas, proponents of the new office of “religious engagement” hope to further institutionalize an official US commitment to globalize religious freedom, marginalize extremism, and promote interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance. Yet this initiative also raises concerns regarding the intersection of religious freedom, religious establishment, and foreign policy.

What are the prospects for the new office, and what are the potential implications of its efforts for the politics of religious diversity, both locally and transnationally? What assumptions about “religion” underlie these efforts, and what are the implications for civil society, including organizations and associations that do not self-identify as religious?

Read Engaging religion at the Department of State.
May 10th, 2013

The Vatican Spring?

posted by

Does the election of Francis I signal a major shift in Vatican policy, structure, or doctrine? How significant is Francis’ status as an “outsider” to the Roman Curia, especially his background as a Latin American and a Jesuit? Is this status likely to position him as an agent of change within the Church, or do his theological continuities with his predecessors and the entrenched Vatican bureaucracy guarantee that any reform he initiates will be largely cosmetic?

Read responses by Michele Dillon, John L. Esposito, Jeffrey Guhin, Cecelia Lynch, James Martin, S.J., J. Michelle Molina, and Sarah Shortall.

Read The Vatican Spring?.
November 5th, 2012

After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity

posted by

On Monday afternoon as Hurricane Sandy threatened landfall, President Obama warned reporters gathered at the White House that the storm would be a difficult one, and urged a collective, unifying response. In the wake of the storm, Obama has often shifted away from the polarized rhetoric of the campaign trail to a message reminiscent of the candidate circa 2008, employing hopeful metaphors of American unity and healed fracture.

Many scholars who initially saw in Obama the possibility of a reinvigorated prophetic civil religion have since been disappointed. Now, on the eve of the election and as the waters recede across New Jersey and New York City, we have a moment to reflect on the rhetoric and symbolism that Obama has employed during this disaster.

What, if anything, is new about the rhetoric and symbolism he is employing, and how should we understand the relationship between this rhetoric and his governing style? What does it suggest about the arc of American civil religion, about shifting and multiple visions of national solidarity, and about the election and the political climate to follow?

Read After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity.
July 2nd, 2012

Egyptian elections

posted by

The protests in the Middle East and North Africa, and the ensuing political changes, were intended to transcend the old military-Islamist dichotomy, which in Egypt was a legacy of the army-led Egyptian Revolution almost exactly 60 years ago. Yet following a long and contentious electoral season, Egyptians were again left with a choice between Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and Ahmed Shafik, a military man and the last Prime Minister under Hosni Mubarak. Nevertheless, despite the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ heavy-handed actions and subsequent protests by Brotherhood supporters and other advocates for a civil and democratic state, Egypt has, for the first time, a democratically elected president.

To what extent do current depictions of the Egyptian situation reproduce the simplistic narrative of the “Brotherhood” versus the “Army” as the only options worth discussing? How does this binary either illuminate Egypt’s cultural, political, and religious dynamics or obscure its more complex realities?

Read Egyptian elections.
June 1st, 2012

Multiculturalism in Europe

posted by

After the rise of multicultural policies in the 1980s and 1990s, the winds have shifted in Europe. Terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, Norway, and, most recently, in Toulouse, have furthered the securitization of Islam across Europe, while increasing immigration (predominantly from Muslim countries) has caused societal tensions. As a result, existing ideas concerning multiculturalism, religious pluralism, and national authenticity are being challenged. Past policies of cordon sanitaire are no longer in full effect, as mainstream political parties have come to adopt some of the ideas of their populist and right-wing peers; witness outgoing president Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign rhetoric against immigration and Muslims following the strong showing by right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen.

We’ve invited a small handful of scholars to comment on the increasing influence of anti-immigration and anti-Islam ideas and parties across Europe and to offer their thoughts on how best to accommodate minority claims (especially those involving Islam) in a democratic and liberal Europe.

Read Multiculturalism in Europe.
March 2nd, 2012

The naked public sphere?

posted by

In light of Rick Santorum’s recent comments on religion and the public sphere, we asked a small handful of scholars about the status of such claims regarding religion in American political life. Just how “naked” is the American public square? What is the appropriate place of religion in the public sphere?

Read responses by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Michele Dillon, John L. Esposito, John H. Evans, Philip S. Gorski, R. Marie Griffith, Cristina Lafont, Nancy Levene, Nadia Marzouki, Ebrahim Moosa, Justin Neuman, and John Schmalzbauer.

Read The naked public sphere?.
February 24th, 2012

The contraception mandate

posted by

In what is latest in a series of conflicts between the Obama administration and the Roman Catholic Church, a recent regulation announced by the Department of Health and Human Services mandating that all employers—including religiously affiliated institutions such as Catholic universities and hospitals—provide health care that covers the cost of contraception has provoked widespread outcry from religious leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, as well as from many politicians, both Republican and Democrat. President Obama has outlined a compromise whereby employees at religious organizations would be given access to free contraception directly from health insurers themselves, yet this has done little to quell criticism and ongoing debate.

We’ve invited a small handful of scholars to comment on how the debate highlights enduring and nascent issues involving claims to multiple rights made in the context of American public life.

Read The contraception mandate.
August 31st, 2011

Reflections on summer reading

posted by

As the summer months draw to a close, we’ve turned again to a handful of our contributors, asking: What are the best books and essays on religion, secularism, and public life that you’ve come across this summer? What are you most looking forward to reading in the near future?

Read responses by Richard Amesbury, Jason Bivins, Edward E. Curtis, IV, Tracy Fessenden, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, David Kyuman Kim, Cecelia Lynch, John Lardas Modern, Justin Neuman, John Schmalzbauer, and Diane Winston.

Read Reflections on summer reading.
November 17th, 2010

Contending Modernities

posted by

On November 18-19, dozens of scholars, religious leaders, business people, and intellectuals will gather in New York for the public launch of a new, multi-year project called “Contending Modernities: Catholic, Muslim, Secular.” Based on the premise that Catholic, Muslim, and secular modernities each bring distinctive resources to the task of illuminating and resolving an array of characteristically modern problems, the project will examine the dynamic co-existence and competition of these “multiple modernities”—as well as the conflicts and contentions among them—with the aim of opening “new paths for constructive engagement between and among religion and secular people and institutions.”

In anticipation of the launch of this new project, we asked a distinguished group of scholars: What is gained by framing research on religion, secularity, and modernity in terms of “multiple” or “contending” modernities, and what “new paths for constructive engagement” might such a frame afford?

Read Contending Modernities.
November 5th, 2010

Religion and the midterm elections

posted by

Set against a backdrop of continued economic distress, the emerging Tea Party movement, and mercurial public opinion of President Obama, many observers correctly predicted that this month’s elections would effect a reconfiguration of partisan power in Congress and among the governorships.

What role did religious discourse—both civil and uncivil—play in the public conversations leading up to the elections, and what light does this shed on the ways that religion is currently shaping contemporary political culture in the U.S.?

Read responses from: Richard Amesbury, Jason Bivins, J. Kameron Carter, Ernesto Cortes, Jr., John L. Jackson, Jr., David Kyuman Kim, Ebrahim Moosa, John Schmalzbauer, Jeffrey Stout, and Emilie Townes.

This post has been updated to include a contribution from Rabbi Michael Lerner.—ed.

Read Religion and the midterm elections.
October 5th, 2010

Surveying religious knowledge

posted by

Following the release last week of the results of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, which was widely reported as having demonstrated Americans’ considerable lack thereof, we invited a dozen leading scholars to weigh in on the survey’s significance.

What, we asked, do the results of Pew’s quiz tell us about knowledge—and ignorance—of religion in the United States? And how important is the sort of religious knowledge that the survey tested to American public life?

Read Surveying religious knowledge.
August 31st, 2010

Reflections on summer reading

posted by

As the start of the fall semester inches closer, we’ve invited a handful of our contributors to reflect on what they’ve read over the summer. We asked:

What are the best books and essays on religion, secularism, and public life that you’ve come across this summer? What are you most looking forward to reading in the near future?

Read responses from Richard Amesbury, Courtney Bender, Jason Bivins, Tracy Fessenden, David Kyuman Kim, Pamela Klassen, Patrick Lee Miller, John Schmalzbauer, James K.A. Smith, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, and John Torpey.

Read Reflections on summer reading.
March 16th, 2010

New media and the reshaping of religious practice

posted by

As older forms of communication begin to cede their exclusive hold on the public’s attention, it becomes all the more urgent to ask what newer forms stand to offer and what challenges they pose, not least because these burgeoning media are modifying and adapting themselves at unprecedented rates. In this context, a newly released SSRC report explores the “new landscape of the religion blogosphere,” mapping out its contours, presenting the voices of some of its bloggers, and asking what new possibilities blogging might represent for public and academic conversations about religion. In conjunction with the release of this report, we asked a number of bloggers, journalists, and scholars how blogs and new media have altered academic and public discussions of religion. Now, we ask another group of thinkers: how are new media—from blogs and social networking sites to mobile technologies and other forms of digital connection—shaping and reshaping the practice of religion?

Read New media and the reshaping of religious practice.