In the early pages of my recently published book, History and Presence (Belknap Harvard 2016), I describe something that happened to me many years ago which became a touchstone for the questions I have asked about religion since. I was traveling in Ireland in 1976 on one leg of a year-long journey around contemporary European Catholic monasteries when I stopped by chance in the town of Knock, County Mayo, to fuel my car. I asked the gas station attendant how it was that Knock boasted such an enormous church and plaza, which I had passed on my way through the town, and its own airport. Do you not know what happened here? he asked me. No, I did not. Are you Catholic? he asked. I am, I said. Not a very good one then, he said. He condescended to explain to me that on August 21, 1879, the Virgin Mary, along with several other holy figures, appeared beside the church wall to a cluster of villagers, and the sacred figures lingered in Knock. “Here,” the gas station attendant ended his story, “the transcendent broke into time.” I remember all this because I wrote it down in a journal at the time, but I would not have forgotten it even if I hadn’t.
Posts Tagged ‘Protestantism’
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.
What we need is a bird’s eye view, and that requires taking theology seriously, and considering a longer view of the history of Western civilization than any sociological survey can provide. […] American Grace adopts a position of respectful skepticism toward theology. The authors dutifully reproduce the questionnaire of “measures of theological belief and religious commitment” included in their survey, but they express surprise that many Americans “have stable views on such seemingly arcane theological issues” as whether a person is saved by faith or by their own good deeds. (Calling this fundamental question “arcane” is a bit like expressing confusion at that obscure rule in baseball that allows a player to score a run by crossing home plate.)
Is bland beautiful? Almost never, most of us would say. But when it comes to religion in a diverse society, the answer may be yes. This is the chief, if probably unintended implication of American Grace, which I take to be the most successfully argued, comprehensive sociological study of American religion in more than half a century. Robert Putnam and David Campbell harvest a generation of research and mature reflection about how religious affiliations of all kinds divide and unite Americans of different generations, regions, sexes, educational levels, and ethno-racial groups.
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.
Where a century ago liberal Christians (and even some anthropologists) were citing Marx and Bergson in the hope of transforming their tradition into an anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movement of revolution and revitalization, the current merger of continental philosophy and what Ruth Marshall has called Pentecostal “political spiritualities” seems driven more by anthropologists’ theoretical musings than by a broad Pentecostal reception of Žižek or Badiou (although this too is changing). With this earlier liberal Christian engagement in mind, I was particularly struck by a metaphor common to several of the essays (in Global Christianity, Global Critique), in which liberals—both secular and Christian—are diagnosed with blindness, or, more broadly, with a sensual deficit that disables them from seeing the distorting effects of their own triumphalist rationalism.
Debates regarding health care have struck at the core of social and political imaginaries of what it means for both bodies and societies to thrive. As Obama’s health care reforms pointedly demonstrated, debate in North America about the respective roles of government and private interests in the administration of health care has been a catalyst of enthusiastic civic engagement, with different results on either side of the Canadian-American border. While much of this civic engagement rests upon a shared assumption that biomedical health care, based on Western scientific method, is the best kind of care for suffering bodies, the politics of health care is also shaped by a spiritual politics, divided along several axes.
Conventional wisdom states that the Czech Republic is the least religious society in the West. At The Guardian, Dana Hamplová discusses the historical origins of the Czechs’ famed secularity, which reach back before Communism, and highlights the abiding forms of religious activity in the former Soviet satellite.
Public Religion Research and Third Way have jointly released a new report, Beyond the God Gap, which presents new research on “the beliefs and values underlying attitudes toward politics and cultural and domestic policy issues among white evangelical Protestants, white Mainline Protestants, African American Protestants, and Roman Catholics (Latino and non-Latino), which together account for about three-quarters of the U.S. population.”
Francis Davis discusses the role of religion in the prison system, why certain religious movements acquire certain followings, and the danger of conflating one’s religious beliefs with certain transnational movements.
In The Guardian, Karen McVeigh discusses a controversial advertisement that portrays a scan of a fetus with a halo above its head.
In The Guardian, Aidan O’Neill discusses the role of religion in the American and British Supreme Courts.
For a long time after November 4, I found it hard to believe that Barack Obama had actually been elected President of the United States. Even as his inauguration approaches I still find it a remarkable moment in our history.
Sarah Palin’s popularity and notoriety has many sources, but one source of her Red America popularity has not been sufficiently well understood in the last three weeks: Her pro-family ideals and the more complicated realities of her family life make it easy for many working-class whites—especially evangelical Protestants—to identify with her.
Discussions of the secular can often be peculiarly remote. Whenever secularism is imagined as unbelief, or political neutrality, or an empty social space to be filled up with religious pluralism, it can be difficult to remember how it can also serve as a framework of corporeal experience and struggle. We are used to associating corporeal discipline and affect with religion, but not with the secular. So it might be excusable to begin with some personal reflection, not for the sake of autobiography but in order to tether analysis in some awareness of how the problem comes to have stakes. […]
Lilla alludes to the fact that “in the Anglo-American orbit, a liberal theological outlook could grow up alongside a liberal politics whose principles derived from Hobbes’s materialism,” but this crucial part of his story he covers only with the cryptic observation that it was made possible by “a strong constitutional structure and various lucky breaks.” At issue is more than a historically accurate understanding of liberal Protestantism. At issue, too, is the role that liberal Protestantism can play in today’s struggles over religion-and-politics.