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.

February 20th, 2014

The Charter of Quebec Values

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.
March 2nd, 2010

The new landscape of the religion blogosphere

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It’s no longer news that digital media are changing how knowledge is produced and disseminated, and how people relate to one another more broadly. This is so in the case of religion as much as any other. 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’ve asked a number of bloggers, journalists and scholars: how are blogs and new media changing both academic and public discussions of religion?

Read The new landscape of the religion blogosphere.
December 30th, 2009

Religion and the historical profession

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Abandoned Bible, White Oak Bayou, Houston, TX | Photograph by accent on eclectic used under a Creative Commons licenseReligion, reported Inside Higher Ed last week, is now the most popular theme of historical study in America, according to a recent survey conducted by the American Historical Association. For the past fifteen years that distinction belonged to “culture” and prior to that, to “social” history. Indeed, that the turn to religion represents at once a natural ramification of, and a challenge to, the methods and concepts particular to these formerly prevalent modes of historical study is a possibility suggested by Robert Townsend’s analysis of the AHA survey. In our latest off the cuff feature, several scholars to respond to the news that the proportion of historians who specialize in religion continues to climb, and to reflect on both the causes and the significance of of this distinct, and now confirmed, trend in historical studies.

Read Religion and the historical profession.
December 23rd, 2009

Christianity and the crash

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In the December 2009 issue of The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin added to the ongoing debate over the causes of the current economic downturn by casting light on the role played by the prosperity gospel—a strain of Christian teaching tens of millions of believers strong, which proclaims that an unfaltering faith in God will lead to monetary and other material blessings in this lifetime. In light of the questions raised and conclusions put forth in Rosin’s article, we asked a group of esteemed scholars and journalists about the relationship between contemporary Christianity and Americans’ economic attitudes, behaviors, and notions of responsibility. We are pleased to offer their responses below.

Read Christianity and the crash.