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December 7th, 2016

Obama, the Democratic Party, and Islamophobia

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Islam | Image via Flickr user FirasWhile reasonable people might disagree with him for his compromises on questions involving universal health care and his approach to the Great Recession—especially given the fact that he had to deal with a thoroughly intransigent Congress—it is much harder to let Obama off the hook for his failure to take a strong stand against Islamophobia. This is especially puzzling insofar as the facts that he bears a Muslim name and was born to a Muslim father were repeatedly used by his Republican enemies to delegitimize him. Yet, to my knowledge, he never once responded to these charges in a fashion that reinforced the equal citizenship of Muslims in the United States. While he ridiculed the claim that he was a Muslim, he did not, unlike Colin Powell, state the constitutionally appropriate answer: that whether or not he was a Muslim was not relevant to whether he could or should become president of the United States, much less did it disqualify him from being president of the United States.

December 5th, 2016

The Virtues of Abandon

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The Virtues of AbandonIn 1698 the Parlement of Dijon found a Catholic priest guilty of engaging in sex with members of his flock. Philibert Robert, the cleric in question, characterized the sexual abandon he and the women experienced as a devotional act that brought them closer to God. If that’s not an arresting opening hook for a scholarly book, I don’t know what is! Robert and his followers were Quietists, adherents of a theology that explored the individual’s ownership of herself and feared an obsession with consumer goods might ultimately alienate people from their true identities as selfless fragments of a divine whole. As a spiritual practice that links self-surrender to a rejection of too much stuff, one can’t help but wonder if Quietism could be the missing link between Marie Kondo and E. L. James. Suffice it to say, Charly Coleman’s lucid, insightful book, The Virtues of Abandon: An Anti-Individualist History of the French Enlightenment, arrived at an ideal moment.

December 1st, 2016

The refugee crisis and religion: Beyond physical and conceptual boundaries

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refugeecrisis_2dAccording to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as of the end of 2015, 65.3 million people were displaced globally at a rate of twenty-four persons per minute. This is the largest number on record and is expected to have grown in 2016. Despite the enormity of the situation, responses from Western countries (who host a mere 24 percent of displaced persons in comparison to the 86 percent hosted in countries surrounding conflict zones) have been inadequate, to say the least. Their harsh exclusionary rhetoric has resulted in increasingly hardline immigration policies.

Australia has led the way in this regard, deploying a deterrence-driven model of offshore mandatory indefinite detention, which prevents asylum seekers from ever settling in the country, even if found to be “genuine refugees,” and laws that make family reunion almost impossible. Whilst this approach has been condemned by the UNHCR and multiple human rights organizations, it has been highlighted by numerous policymakers in Europe as a possible model for governing migration on the continent. Despite the notable exceptions of Germany and, to a smaller extent, Italy, European responses to the crisis have privileged exclusionary and securitizing policies, leading many commentators to observe that rather than a refugee crisis, this should be more properly described as a crisis of leadership or a crisis of solidarity.

November 29th, 2016

Muslim Cool: An introduction

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Muslim Cool

The book focuses on interminority relationships to articulate a narrative of race and racism in the United States that transcends the Black-White binary and also the fallacy of postracialism, which holds that racism, particularly anti-Black racism, is over and that any talk of race is actually counterproductive to the work of antiracism. I identify the ways in which race, and specifically Blackness, is marshaled in the work of antiracism.

For Muslim Cool, Blackness is a point of opposition to white supremacy that creates solidarities among differently racial­ized and marginalized groups in order to dismantle overarching racial hierarchies. Yet as the stories in this book illustrate, these solidarities are necessarily entangled in the contradictions inherent in Blackness as something that is both desired and devalued. The engagement with Blackness by young US Muslims, Black and non-Black, is informed by long-standing discourses of anti-Blackness as well as the more current co-optation of Blackness in the narratives of United States multiculturalism and American exceptionalism.

November 23rd, 2016

Race, secularism, and the public intellectual

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Writing | Image via Flickr user Jonathan KimWho counts as a black Christian public intellectual? There are certainly public figures who are not intellectuals, and there are intellectuals whose primary audience is in the academy. Similarly, when adjectives are added, not all Christians who are public intellectuals are Christian public intellectuals, as they may not engage publicly or intellectually with Christianity. And not all black people are intellectuals, or Christians, or speak to a given public.

Is it possible for black public intellectuals, formed and surrounded by white, secular elites, to continue to occupy the role of intellectual given the constraints of our current cultural and economic regime?

November 21st, 2016

Islamic and Jewish Legal Reasoning: An introduction

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Islamic and Jewish Legal ReasoningIslamic and Jewish Legal Reasoning: Encountering Our Legal Other is a curious book, in part because it came out of a working group that seemed the least likely vehicle for producing a collection of articles in book form. For five years, sponsored by the University of Toronto and Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council, approximately six Rabbinic law scholars and six Islamic law scholars sat around a table with various legal texts from their respective traditions and talked, discussed, and queried.

As a protocol of discussion, we would have the scholar of one tradition introduce the text of the other tradition. In other words, a Rabbinic scholar would introduce the Islamic legal text, and the Islamic law scholar would introduce the Rabbinic text. This process precluded anyone from claiming expertise over what the text “says,” and instead created a space of openness, engagement, and even play. The endeavor was not designed to make us into scholars of our tradition’s Other, but rather to experience (in the most robust sense of that word) the encounter with our legal tradition’s Other.

November 15th, 2016

Underestimating the force of the New Evangelicals in the public sphere: Lessons from Colombia, South America

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Colombia Paz | Image copywrite Government of Venezuela via AULA BlogThe peace agreements in Colombia had been meticulously negotiated and mapped out over five years of talks between representatives of the Colombian government and the FARC. International experts had described the accords as some of the most comprehensive agreements, on par with Sudanese peace accords and the El Salvador Final peace agreement. The accords would bring an end to the civil war waged between the FARC and the government that had raged in the South American nation for over half a century. With seven million displaced, over two hundred and fifty thousand dead, and over one hundred thousand disappeared, the death toll in the Colombian war is so staggering, the thought of voting against an end to the violence was equally so.

Yet, the movement to oppose the implementation of the accords shored up significant allies, especially from the growing evangelical Christian right. For many, the links between the No campaign and the evangelical Christian movement was a surprise. But for those who had been watching the rise of the evangelical right into spheres of public influence since the 1990s, the move was less of a shock.

November 14th, 2016

The Weimar Century

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The Weimar Century: German Émigrés and the Ideological Foundations of the Cold WarThe international turn in intellectual history, which David Armitage announced in 2014, has evolved into a surge of publications on the global, international, and transnational aspects of the history of ideas. The migration of concepts around the world and moments of conceptual conjunction in history have attained growing attention from historians. Although methodological nationalism had never been the only option for writing the history of a specific country or society, it seems that now an international perspective is indispensable for explaining the political, cultural, or economic history of any given country. Historians seek to put their finger on the complex, dynamic moments which generate and reverberate influential ideas around the world. The patterns of relationship between different social, cultural, and political spheres, and the exchanges that lead to the evolution of ideas and concepts across national boundaries, have become increasingly appealing to historians of all creeds.

Udi Greenberg’s The Weimar Century: German Émigrés and the Ideological Foundations of the Cold War can be read as a contribution to this growing literature on international intellectual history.

November 7th, 2016

On “beyond Trump”: Evangelical politics, born again

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MercyMe by Flicker user susieq3cSurvey data indicates a growing generational split among evangelicals, with the younger generation supporting a range of left-leaning policies that their parents and grandparents vehemently opposed. These young evangelicals are interested in environmentalism, alleviating global poverty, fighting the AIDS epidemic, and supporting LGBT rights, while continuing a generally conservative tack on abortion, national defense, and capital punishment. Although, even those core issues are sometimes thrown into question. Furthermore, young evangelicals are more ethnically diverse than previous generations, which also works to shift their politics to the left on most issues.

Historically, this is not a surprising shift, as the story of evangelical America supplies ample precedents for an evangelical leadership that throws their weight behind leftist causes: “the old fashioned gospel” of the Gilded Age; the “social gospel” of the Progressive Era; and the political preaching and religiously-infused activist rhetoric of black evangelical pastors during the civil rights era. Furthermore, since the 1970s, the dominance of the Christian right has always been countered by progressive evangelical denominations and organizations, such as Sojourners and Messiah College. While the forces of the evangelical left will not reach a critical mass in this week’s election, it seems inevitable that they will make their presence known four years from now, if not in earlier congressional and local races.