Few books in the field of American religious history has received more attention over the few years than John Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America.
Posts Tagged ‘American history’
The question “Was Antebellum America Secular?” obviously depends on what one means by secular. Because the term is dialectical by nature and immanent to the struggles of the age, we cannot expect it to be a neutral analytic framework; like secularism or religion, it requires constant qualification to be of any analytic use. As Gauri Viswanathan has noted, in many polemical contexts “words like ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ have lost their descriptive value and function instead as signposts to given attitudes.” It is almost impossible to see the question of my title without anticipating that a question of validity will be at stake.
At Religion in American History, John Turner, Professor of History at the University of Southern Alabama, reviews two books that evoke the ghosts of Antebellum America.
At the Harvard University Press Blog, historian Brad S. Gregory discusses his latest book, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society: Brad S. Gregory’s new book, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, is very much in the tradition of and in conversation with Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. Both are […]
At the Rethinking Religion blog of Columbia University’s Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, Joseph Blankholm responds to Denis Lacorne’s recent presentation, at Columbia, of his latest book Religion in America (Columbia University Press, 2011), which explores the multiple and divergent narratives situating faith’s place in the foundation and ongoing life of the American republic. Lacorne also examines how the United States’ seemingly peculiar mixture of principled secularism and overt public religiosity has been understood, and misunderstood, by French philosophers and other observers of the American scene.
Paul Kahn, in his rereading of Carl Schmitt by way of the American context, seeks to “depersonalize the sovereign.” As he states, “there is no reason to think that such a power must be exercised by a natural person, as opposed to a collective agent or institution.” Indeed, Kahn identifies “the sovereign” with the univocal expression of collective agency—that is to say, with “popular sovereignty.” It is possible that such a significant revision of Schmitt’s concept of sovereignty might make some of what Kahn says unrecognizable to a Schmittian analysis. But Kahn is less interested in, as it were, what Schmitt would think (a lack of interest that I share) than in drawing on political theology to grapple with some problems that confound liberal analyses of political interest.
Forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, a “pioneering account of religion and society in nineteenth-century America” by John Lardas Modern, contributing editor at The Immanent Frame and co-curator (with Kathryn Lofton) of the recently launched Frequencies.
Paul Kahn has written a remarkable meditation on Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology. A truly adequate response would undoubtedly require a book at least as long as Kahn’s own. Instead, I want to offer some comments playing off of some of Kahn’s own observations. Indeed, as Kahn makes clear, his own book is meant to be, not a genuine exegesis of Schmitt’s (in)famous book, but rather his own reflections that have been stimulated by taking the concept of “political theology” seriously. I find Kahn convincing that the concept draws not only on the notion of “sovereignty,” insofar as it is transferred from God to those who claim “leadership” of the state, particularly when it is faced with existential threats, but also on the important reality of “sacrifice.”
David Campbell’s and Robert Putnam’s American Grace left me historically puzzled on my first reading, and my second didn’t clear things up. Its 550 pages of text, plus 97 pages of appendices and notes, probe the range and complexity of contemporary American religiousness with remarkable patience and detail. Although American Grace doesn’t leave historians on the whirling dime, wondering “So what?” it does raise questions about historical context. In other words, how do the changes that Campbell and Putnam retrace fit three centuries of evolution in American religion, politics, and culture?
As I argued in my previous post, there are indications that Paul Kahn subscribes to Carl Schmitt’s belief in the substantial cultural indebtedness of the modern to “the theological.” Most of these stem from the “genealogical” side of his methodology. But his search for residuum of the past is supported, as I will here attempt to demonstrate, by a very selective use of history.
Writing on the occasion of the National Day of Religious Freedom—observed in the United States on January 16—historian David Sehat, author of The Myth of American Religious Freedom, argues that the story of religious freedom is a “myth” that “distorts the current debate about religion in public life.” The notions of church–state separation, religious decline and exceptional liberty—all three of which are central to the narrative of religious freedom in the U.S.—are mythical and foreclose productive discussion about religion in American society, Sehat argues.
On Sunday, The New York Times featured an article on the significance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s “Operation Telstar” performance at Mount Rushmore, nearly fifty years ago. Telstar was the communications satellite through which U.S. programmers, in a “now nearly forgotten salvo of the cold war,” sent “a blast of American culture and technological prowess aimed at Europe,” on July 23, 1962.
Presidents are compelled to use the language of exceptionalism in two important ways. If our presidents are to be believed, we are always doing something New and something Great. We have had, in the past eighty years, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society, the New Nixon, Morning in America, A Thousand Points of Light, a New Covenant, a Bridge to Tomorrow, and Compassionate Conservatism, and now we have a New Foundation. These slogans are made to do a lot of work, in that they suggest another word that became the brand of the Obama campaign last year: change.
Yesterday’s presidential election in the United States and the 10th anniversary of the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) last week provide perfect bookends for considering the past, present, and possible futures of the role of religion in U.S. foreign policy. […]
That Jürgen Habermas and I probably agree on most fundamental issues does not mean that there are no differences between us; indeed we have engaged in a friendly debate over some of our differences over many years. Habermas writes as a “methodological atheist,” which means that when doing philosophy or social science, he presumes nothing about particular religious beliefs. Another friend of mine, the well-known sociologist Peter Berger, who is a professed Christian, also does his sociology from the point of view of methodological atheism. I have heard him in a public lecture say, “Now I am taking off my sociological hat and putting on my theological hat.” I don’t have two hats; I am a Christian sociologist. […]