Posts Tagged ‘media’

June 20th, 2017

Apologia pro Reza: Why I like Believer

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I am a comparative historian of early Christianity who reads widely in and engages in academic forums around new religious movements and popular and local religious forms, both contemporary and ancient. I also came into the study of religion out of great distaste for comprehensive generalizations (à la Huston Smith) about religions of the world—that is, generalizations that elevate the so-called “mainstream” of any religion. Religion, I believe, should be interesting, even exciting—for the likes of me but even more for the outsider or undergraduate whom I want to attract to my classes and hope finds value in my field. If the alternative to “sensational” is “mainstream,” then I will take—and encourage—the sensational.

So what has Believer been doing since it began? On the one hand, Aslan wants optimistically to find some inclinations toward tolerance and human rights in diverse religious movements around the world. In a world that is coming apart from nationalist intolerance and the demonization of indigenous religions (usually at the hands of Pentecostal missions in Africa and Latin America), that is a worthy, hopeful endeavor.

April 26th, 2017

Understanding the president’s reality: Our unconscious, not his

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Edvard Munch, "The Scream," 1895The matter of the love-hate relationship between psychoanalysis and public life has an unexpected link to the complexities of secularism in the United States. Officially, psychoanalysis has been dismissed as a mode of inquiry into the issues of public life and especially into the states of mind of its actors. This is the result of the famous Goldwater Rule, introduced into the ethics code of the American Psychiatric Association following the 1964 presidential election, when analysts had the temerity to “diagnose” Barry Goldwater without the benefit of having him on their couches.

The Goldwater Rule came at a time when psychoanalysis was influential among psychiatrists, who had transformed the complex experience of the talking cure and the endless variations of human behavior into rigid diagnostic categories of mental illnesses. It is now common practice among psychiatrists to say that unless a patient expresses a complaint, psychiatrists are not ethically permitted to speak of the condition that supposedly is causing the mental distress. My attempt to explain President Donald Trump’s behavior in psychoanalytic terms is perceived by some not only as unethical, but as arrogant and insulting to a citizen who is not a patient and most probably will never become one.

There was a time, however, when psychoanalysis was squarely part of American culture, public discourse, and of the world of ideas.

March 28th, 2017

Scholar or retailer of import goods? Reza Aslan, his guru, and his critics

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Image via Ken Wieland [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons“I came to Varanasi India to do a show about Hinduism, about karma, reincarnation, the caste system, and a little known Hindu sect called the Aghori. That’s when things got out of hand,” Reza Aslan narrates in the opening minute of his new show, Believer. The narration is accompanied by shots of Aslan riding down the Ganges on the bow of a boat, saffron robed Hindu holy men, fires burning on the ghats, cows, and ascetics covered in ashes.

Aslan’s new show is a kind of Anthony Bourdain, but for religion. Each week our fearless host embeds with a different religious community. It’s spiritual adventure television. In the debut episode, Aslan visits Varanasi to spend time among the Aghori, a small sect of ascetics that attempt to dismantle distinctions between pure and impure by engaging in rituals of defilement. After making him bathe in the Ganges, the Aghori guru promises to teach Aslan the ways of the Aghori. They offer Aslan human brains and charred human remains to eat. They cover him in ashes from the cremation ground. While the episode shifts focus later to a group of middle-class Aghori that use the rejection of purity distinctions to fight against caste discrimination and pursue social justice, it is the exotic images of the ascetics on the riverbank that dominated the advertising for the show and the reaction to it afterward.

March 15th, 2017

Understanding the president’s reality: A psychoanalytic contribution to public life

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Edvard Munch, "The Scream," 1895It would not have taken long for French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan to realize that President Donald Trump has a paranoid vision of the world. This does not mean that President Trump is insane, but rather that he has never left the mental space we all inhabited as toddlers and that we have never entirely forgotten. A glimpse of this place comes vividly to mind when we feel insanely jealous, dismissed, or ignored. But most adults no longer live here day in and day out, because the love we took in as children is usually strong enough to help us fashion an image of ourselves that we can rely upon when we feel challenged . . . .

The paranoid structure is not foreign to us because it is a rigid, simplified, and distorted version of the ordinary way we see the world. In that sense President Trump’s behaviors, discourse, and actions are not as erratic as they appear. They follow a logic that we are equipped to understand.

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?

September 22nd, 2016

Religion, secularism, and Black Lives Matter

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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?

September 2nd, 2014

Faith in the nation: Nigerian publics and their religions

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The cityscape of Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, is dominated by two houses of worship known as the National Mosque and the National Church. Facing each other in the heart of the city, these impressive architectural monuments symbolize the crucial place of organized religion in the postcolonial Nigerian state’s efforts at forging a unified national public. The national population of 160 million is notoriously heterogeneous, comprising hundreds of languages, ethnicities, and so-called “traditional” religious and political institutions. For political and rhetorical expediency, this diversity is often reduced to the country’s 36 states, 6 geopolitical zones, and 3 majority languages (plus English). But the Muslim/Christian dichotomy is arguably the central organizing trope in contemporary discourses of Nigerian nationhood.

August 26th, 2014

What kind of territory? On public religion and space in Ethiopia

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died shortly before the 2012 Meskel festival, the Finding of the True Crossone of the major festivals of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Its public centerpiece is the burning of a great bonfire in Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square, which takes its name from the occasion. State television broadcasts the ceremony every year, and the 2012 broadcast (2005 by the Ethiopian calendar) can be found on YouTube. The festival revolves around the bonfire, recalling the smoke that led Constantine’s mother Saint Helena to the recovery of Christ’s cross. On this occasion a kitsch re-enactment of the story precedes the lighting of the fire, as Helena and her entourage parade the cross, decked with fairy lights, on a carnival float [4:50-5:20]. Overlooking the whole event, and clearly visible as the fire burns, are several billboards depicting the recently deceased Prime Minister. One reads: “We will keep our word and fulfill your vision.” The religious connotations of the Ge’ez word ra’iy, “vision,” are presumably intentional.

August 6th, 2014

Now broadcasting: Atheist TV

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Starting last week, atheists and nonbelievers everywhere now have a new station to add to their television lineup: Atheist TV.

February 20th, 2014

The Charter of Quebec Values in the media: Panic, contempt, and division

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The recent media buzz stirred up by a sad story captures well the sense of uneasiness pervading Quebec since the ruling Parti Québécois (PQ) began working to implement a bill known as the “Charter of Quebec Values,” which would ban state employees from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols.”

July 9th, 2013

Buddhists, Time, and religious unrest in Burma

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At Religion Dispatches, Alan Senauke writes about Time magazine’s July 1st issue and its consequences in Burma.

July 8th, 2013

CFP: Media and Religion

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The Center for Media, Religion, and Culture will hold its fifth annual conference on Media and Religion: The Global View in January 2014.

July 17th, 2012

AIDS and LGBT equality

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In honor of the International AIDS Conference that will take place in Washington, D.C. later this month, Diane Winston, a member of the SSRC New Directions in the Study of Prayer Advisory Committee) contributed an essay to Religion Dispatches on the change in mainstream attitudes towards the LGBT community in response to the AIDS epidemic.

March 15th, 2012

Syposium on Derrida and religion

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“Of Miracles and Machines: A Symposium on Derrida and Religion” will take place Thursday, March 22, at Fordham University, New York, NY.

November 1st, 2011


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If the medium is the message, then what can we make of digitized religious texts? In The New Yorker, Macy Halford explores the implications of media and technology for religion.

September 26th, 2011

Secularism in Antebellum America

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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.

September 2nd, 2011

More on religion in the presidential race

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At The Daily Beast, Micheal Medved joins the current discussion, set off by Bill Keller’s recent Times article, on religion’s role in the presidential race.


August 29th, 2011

Questioning religion’s role in the presidential race

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At the Scoop, Maura Jane Farrelly rounds up some responses (and adds her own) to Bill Keller’s Times Magazine editorial appealing for closer scrutiny of presidential candidates’ religious backgrounds and beliefs.

August 23rd, 2011

World Youth Day reassessed

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Two writers at the The Guardian enter into the conversation about this year’s World Youth Day and the public reaction that accompanied Pope Benedict’s visit to Madrid. Andrew Brown asks why the public appears not to recognize the Church’s accomplishment, citing the role of the media in creating a narrow narrative of the event, while Miguel-Anxo Murado turns the discussion to politics, claiming that the protests were perhaps not as successful as it may have appeared.

August 4th, 2011

Why I don’t read non-fiction from Barnes and Noble, and why that’s a problem for public scholarship; or, what I learned in third grade about epistemology and essentialization

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I have not been interested in the Barnes and Noble non-fiction section for a long time. There might be a few history books that catch my eye, or a few recent works of book-length journalism that show me how to do what I claim to do—which is ethnography—with an eye for detail, insight, and refreshingly clear prose. Yet most of the stuff that’s there—particularly in the social sciences section—is pretty basic, often uninteresting, and available for free (to me) in more rigorous form on JSTOR.

August 3rd, 2011

The suspicious revolution: An interview with Talal Asad

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Not long after his return from Cairo, where he was doing fieldwork, I spoke with Talal Asad at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, where he is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology. Distinguished indeed: with books like Genealogies of Religion and Formations of the Secular, as well as numerous articles, Asad’s work has been formative for current scholarly conversation about religion and secularity, stressing both global context and the ways in which their interaction has been shaped by local histories, in the West and the Middle East. Most recently, he co-authored (along with Wendy Brown, Saba Mahmood, and Judith Butler) Is Critique Secular? (University of California Press, 2009) and contributed a chapter to the just published SSRC volume Rethinking Secularism (Oxford University Press, 2011).

July 15th, 2011

When news isn’t so black and white

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In light of Hasidic 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky’s recent murder, as well as The New York Times’ inclusion of “some of the blunt theological language of the funeral…without any kind of context and/or clarification from other Hasidic believers and outside experts,” Getreligion discusses the implications and delicacy of reporting on religious affairs.

June 13th, 2011

Whose foreskin?

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Courtney Bender discusses the controversial ballot measure to prohibit circumcision of males under eighteen years of age, which will  be up for a vote in San Francisco in November.

June 1st, 2011

Beyond denial

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For a brief moment in 2007, news of a hit Iranian television series, whose Farsi title was translated variously as Zero Degree Turn or Zero Point Orbit, proliferated across the print and digital mediascapes of the Anglophone world. The series, created by Iranian director Hassan Fathi at great expense and broadcast in a thirty-episode season on the flagship state television station IRIB1, revolves around a Romeo and Juliet plot of illicit romance, with a distinctive twist: while the proverbial Romeo is one Habib Parsa (played by Iranian hearthrob Shahab Hosseini), a Muslim Iranian pursuing his studies in France, his Juliet is none other than a Jewish classmate, Sarah Astrok (played by the French actress Nathalie Matti), with whom he falls in love.

May 2nd, 2011

O tedious selfhood, O aftertaste of splinters

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It’s striking to me how often, with what little resistance, the many scholarly forums this book has now generated have likewise settled into for-and-against discussions of Oprah. This no doubt is tribute to Lofton’s remarkable creation of what Daphne Brooks calls a “self-help meta-empire of scholars trying to come to terms with their own Oprah addictions.” It’s also, perhaps unavoidably, an Oprah effect: What other books have so readily pressed scholars into sharing our experiences, our feelings, about the subjects they engage? (Could we imagine Born Again Bodies prompting a gabfest on our struggles with weight loss and gain? The Mormon Question drawing out our deepest thoughts on monogamy alternatives? The New Metaphysicals eliciting a coming-clean on the checks we wrote to the astrologer?)

April 19th, 2011

CFP: Knight Grants for Reporting on Religion and American Public Life

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A new grants program for journalists, sponsored by the Knight Program at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism:

Knight Grants for Reporting on Religion and American Public Life, sponsored by the Knight Program at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, provides funding for projects that explore how religion — morals, values, spirituality and the search for meaning — shapes responses to social issues, including housing, health care, poverty, sexuality, immigration, economic equity, and civil rights in the US.

March 15th, 2011

Spirituality: what remains?

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To use the concept of spirituality analytically is enormously difficult. There comes a point in reading this book when one can’t help wondering what would not count as spiritual? But, of course, that all-encompassing capacity is an important part of the popular appeal of this category in the first place. In a helpful moment of specificity, Lofton reports that Oprah is opposed to religion, which is identified with “exclusive rituals, legislating hierarchies, codes of membership.” Spirituality, by contrast, would presumably be what remains once these impediments have been removed. It is not created or bestowed, but uncovered. In this respect, spirituality is the product of that purification characteristic of what I have called the “moral narrative of modernity.”

March 14th, 2011

“The hegemony of her sway”

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Oprah’s “gift is not her interviewing strategy but her confessional promiscuity.” While claiming only to tell you what she herself believes, Oprah “converts you to an idea, to the idea of her biographical revelations as a model for the world. She is the divine pervasion.” This is a largely passive religious practice. One watches the consumption and eclectic conversation of Oprah and her guests. The viewer participates by buying into Oprah’s interpretations and by buying the goods that Oprah offers and affirms. Paradoxically, the sure pathway to valuing oneself and finding one’s own truth is to follow in the way of Oprah, believing what she believes and possessing the cashmere sweater sets, elegant journals, and teak serving trays that she recommends. It is, in Lofton’s words, “the hegemony of her sway” that is the core of Oprah’s spiritual power.

March 9th, 2011

NPR’s religion reporters are not anti-religious

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Last month, conservative trickster James O’Keefe caught NPR fundraising executive Ron Schiller saying this: “The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian—I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move.” Yesterday, these secretly-taped remarks were made public, leading to the resignation of both Schiller and NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation).

March 9th, 2011

The future of Haaretz (and of Israel)

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David Remnick, in The New Yorker, profiles Amos Schocken, the prickly but principled (albeit ideologically nonconformist) publisher of Haaretz, which, though long seen—by its own staff as much as its readers—as the conscience of Israeli society, shares with the state itself an increasingly uncertain future.

February 24th, 2011

A Muslim revolution in Egypt

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News organizations reporting on Egypt in the last two and half weeks have repeatedly raised the specter of the Muslim Brotherhood taking over the government in the absence of an organized secular opposition. At the same time, most have been at pains to point out that the protests for reform represent a granular, grassroots movement, largely “secular” in its orientation. The narrative hook of the story is therefore the danger of a secular movement being taken over by more fundamentalist Muslims if the transition is not orderly, or if it is managed incorrectly. The problem with this story, of course, is that the vast majority of Egyptians, those in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, would not describe themselves as secular in any meaningful sense.

February 21st, 2011

Egyptian revolution round-up

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For the eighteen days that tens of thousands of Egyptians were rallying to push strongman Hosni Mubarak ever closer to abdication, time itself seemed to pass differently than usual. Something has been happening, though nobody knows exactly where it will go.

January 26th, 2011

Debating religion and media

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The latest issue of Social Anthropology (sub. req.) contains a debate on religion and media between Charles Hirschkind and Matthew Engelke. Additionally, it features articles on religion and media by Birgit Meyer, Patrick Eisenlohr and Martijn Oosterbaan.

November 19th, 2010

Muslims and their garb

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A few weeks have passed since Juan Williams, the erstwhile NPR commentator, said that he gets nervous when he sees passengers in “Muslim garb” on an airplane. A website called Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things has exposed just how ludicrous the concept of “Muslim garb” is.

October 26th, 2010

Ceding ground to propagandists

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As I noted in August, one in five Americans mistakenly believes that President Obama is secretly a Muslim.  Yet more disconcerting than the fact that this propaganda has been so widely disseminated, is that one of Obama’s most recent strategies for combating the problem is simply giving in.

October 22nd, 2010

Reviewing God in America

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Over a week since the conclusion of PBS’s three-night, six-hour television event God in America, new commentary on the documentary continues to appear online.

September 29th, 2010

Lessons learned from academic blogging

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At Religion in American History, Edward J. Blum reflects on how blogging may influence a junior scholar’s career, for better or for worse, and raises several important questions that we have also been puzzling about here at The Immanent Frame. In his piece, he draws on his own experiences as well as anecdotal evidence, and lays out his reservations about the academic blogging enterprise.

September 22nd, 2010

Journalism and theology

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At The Scoop, Diane Winston sums up and comments on Ross Douthat’s recent talk at USC.

September 9th, 2010

Jacoby: fixation on Obama’s religion is unprecedented and un-American

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In her Washington Post opinion column, The Spirited Atheist, Susan Jacoby reflects upon the “billions of words” published in newspapers, blogs, and articles about Obama’s religion, arguing that “there is nothing ordinary, or traditional in American politics, about subjecting a president’s private faith to this kind of scrutiny.”

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.

August 18th, 2010

“A Film Unfinished”

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New York Times film critic Jeannette Catsoulis reviews “A Film Unfinished,” an analysis of the unfinished Nazi Propaganda “Das Ghetto” revealing “vivid insight into the restrictions of daily life and the methods of the Nazi filmmakers.”

July 20th, 2010

Au contraire, Mr. Beck

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On July 13, 2010, Glenn Beck made liberation theology—and especially Black Theology—the subject of his televised program. The real subject of his complaint was twofold: liberation theology is “a perversion of God” that mistakes Marxism for the plain meaning of the Gospels, which, for Beck, are self-evidently about individual salvation, and liberation theology does away with the language of merit, convincing the down-and-out that they are victims deserving of a handout instead of hard work. The inconsistencies of this message, along with Beck’s misreading and simplification of the various complex traditions of Christian liberation theology have not gone unnoticed in rebuttals and reprisals.

May 29th, 2010

New York Times profiles Krista Tippett

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In today’s New York Times, Samuel G. Freedman warmly profiles Krista Tippett and her acclaimed weekly broadcast “Speaking of Faith.”

April 5th, 2010

The Christian response to Facebook

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Julie Potler, in her Culture Watch column in Sojourners magazine, gives a Christian perspective on the religious use of social media. Christians, she observes, are among the earliest adopters of social media. Even the Pope recently called for clergy to take up blogging and other forms of digital communication. Potler, however, cautions against this enthusiasm by giving an analysis of the redefinition of privacy in the era of social media, where users, especially young users, find it normal to have more and more personal information available for potential public access on the Web.

March 24th, 2010

What is a metaphor a metaphor for?

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Haiti has always suffered from a plight of representation:  “Black France” for Jules Michelet, “a tropical dog-kennel” for Thomas Carlyle, Haiti forced imagination high and low. For V.S. Naipaul, a later connoisseur of caricature, the “desert of Haiti” is the source of the “nothing” that he claims as a West Indian legacy. In their coverage of the earthquake, the media represented Haiti as a passive, neutered object of disaster,  with no history, no culture, nothing except images of rubble, pain, dirt, and misery. How did the news dare to show piles of bodies being bulldozed into mass graves after the earthquake?  To talk about the smell of urine?  To focus on women in postures that could only be called abject? What do the representations of Haiti tell us about the force of metaphor?  And why are these metaphors so crucial to North Americans? What is a metaphor a metaphor for?

March 19th, 2010

A new generation of Muslim activists

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According to a recent story in Time magazine, there is a new type of Muslim activism brewing across the globe. Nonviolent and antijihadist, this new cohort of activists is still profoundly religious, and its members seek a way to combine religious identity with the modern world of Facebook.

March 17th, 2010

Orthodox by Design

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Jeremy Stolow’s Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics and the ArtScroll Revolution will be published next month by University of California Press.

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?

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?

February 11th, 2010

Awe and wonder

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At Trans/Missions, Diane Winston comments on an unusual and interesting new study, which finds that the most popular New York Times pieces tend to be “articles that elicit an emotional sense of awe.”