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Books of Interest: Harnessing Chaos
James G. Crossley, Harnessing Chaos: The Bible in English Political Discourse Since 1968 (Bloomsbury, 2014).
Harnessing Chaos is an explanation of changes in dominant politicalized assumptions about what the Bible ‘really means’ in English culture since the 1960s. James G. Crossley looks at how the social upheavals of the 1960s, and the economic shift from the post-war dominance of Keynesianism to the post-1970s dominance of neoliberalism, brought about certain emphases and nuances in the ways in which the Bible is popularly understood, particularly in relation to dominant political ideas. This book examines the decline of politically radical biblical interpretation in parliamentary politics and the victory of (a modified form of) Margaret Thatcher’s re-reading of the liberal Bible tradition, following the normalisation of (a modified form of) Thatcherism more generally.
Part I looks at the potential options for politicized readings of the Bible at the end of the the1960s, focussing on the examples of Christopher Hill and Enoch Powell. Part II analyses the role of Thatcher’s specific contribution to political interpretation of the Bible and assumptions about ‘religion’. Part III highlights the importance of (often unintended) ideological changes towards forms of Thatcherite interpretation in popular culture and with particular reference to Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the Manchester music scene between 1976 and 1994. Part IV concerns the modification of Thatcher’s Bible, particularly with reference to the embrace of socially liberal values, by looking at the electoral decline of the Conservative Party through the work of Jeffrey Archer on Judas and the final victory of Thatcherism through Tony Blair’s exegesis. Some consideration is then given to the Bible in an Age of Coalition and how politically radical biblical interpretations retain a presence outside parliamentary politics. Harnessing Chaos concludes with reflections on why politicians in English politicians bother using the Bible at all.
Books of Interest: Race and Displacement
Maha Marouan and Merinda Simmons (eds.), Race and Displacement: Nation, Migration, and Identity in the Twenty-First Century (University of Alabama Press, 2013).
Race and Displacement captures a timely set of discussions about the roles of race in displacement, forced migrations, nation and nationhood, and the way continuous movements of people challenge fixed racial definitions.The multifaceted approach of the essays in Race and Displacement allows for nuanced discussions of race and displacement in expansive ways, exploring those issues in transnational and global terms. The contributors not only raise questions about race and displacement as signifying tropes and lived experiences; they also offer compelling approaches to conversations about race, displacement, and migration both inside and outside the academy. Taken together, these essays become a case study in dialogues across disciplines, providing insight from scholars in diaspora studies, postcolonial studies, literary theory, race theory, gender studies, and migration studies.The contributors to this volume use a variety of analytical and disciplinary methodologies to track multiple articulations of how race is encountered and defined. The book is divided by editors Maha Marouan and Merinda Simmons into four sections: “Race and Nation” considers the relationships between race and corporality in transnational histories of migration using literary and oral narratives. Essays in “Race and Place” explore the ways spatial mobility in the twentieth century influences and transforms notions of racial and cultural identity. Essays in “Race and Nationality” address race and its configuration in national policy, such as racial labeling, federal regulations, and immigration law. In the last section, “Race and the Imagination” contributors explore the role imaginative projections play in shaping understandings of race.Together, these essays tackle the question of how we might productively engage race and place in new sociopolitical contexts. Tracing the roles of “race” from the corporeal and material to the imaginative, the essays chart new ways that concepts of origin, region, migration, displacement, and diasporic memory create understandings of race in literature, social performance, and national policy.
Books of Interest: The Trouble with Post-Blackness
Houston A. Baker and K. Merinda Simmons (eds.), The Trouble with Post-Blackness (Columbia University Press, 2015).
An America in which the color of one’s skin no longer matters would be unprecedented. With the election of President Barack Obama, that future suddenly seemed possible. Obama’s rise reflects a nation of fluid populations and fortunes, a society in which a biracial individual could be embraced as a leader by all.Yet complicating this vision are the shifting demographics, rapid redefinitions of race, and instant invention of brands, trends, and identities that determine how we think about ourselves and the place of others.
This collection of original essays confronts the premise, advanced by black intellectuals, that the Obama administration marked the start of a “post-racial” era in the United States. While the “transcendent” and post-racial black elite declare victory over America’s longstanding codes of racial exclusion and racist violence, their evidence relies largely on their own salaries and celebrity. These essays strike at the certainty of those who insist life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are now independent of skin color and race in America. They argue, signify, and testify that “post-blackness” is a problematic mythology masquerading as fact—a dangerous new “race science” motivated by black transcendentalist individualism. Through rigorous analysis, these essays expose the idea of a post-racial nation as a pleasurable entitlement for a black elite, enabling them to reject the ethics and urgency of improving the well-being of the black majority.
Books of Interest: Changing the Subject
K. Merinda Simmons, Changing the Subject: Writing Women across the African Diaspora (Ohio State University Press, 2014)
In Changing the Subject: Writing Women across the African Diaspora, K. Merinda Simmons argues that, in first-person narratives about women of color, contexts of migration illuminate constructions of gender and labor. These constructions and migrations suggest that the oft-employed notion of “authenticity” is not as useful a classification as many feminist and postcolonial scholars have assumed. Instead of relying on so-called authentic feminist journeys and heroines for her analysis, Simmons calls for a self-reflexive scholarship that takes seriously the scholar’s own role in constructing the subject.
The starting point for this study is the nineteenth-century Caribbean narrative The History of Mary Prince (1831). Simmons puts Prince’s narrative in conversation with three twentieth-century novels: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, and Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. She incorporates autobiography theory to shift the critical focus from the object of study—slave histories—to the ways people talk about those histories and to the guiding interests of such discourses. In its reframing of women’s migration narratives, Simmons’s study unsettles theoretical certainties and disturbs the very notion of a cohesive diaspora.
Books of Interest: Entanglements
Russell T. McCutcheon—former executive secretary of NAASR—has a new book with Equinox, titled Entanglements: Marking Place in the Field of Religion (2014). From the description:
Entanglements attempts to argue against those who claim that scholarship on the category religion is only of secondary interest, in that it fails to do primary research on real religions. The volume collects eighteen responses, written across twenty years, that each exemplify the inevitably situated, give-and-take nature of all academic debate. These essays call into question the often used distinction between primary and secondary sources, between description and analysis. Published here in their original form, each contribution is accompanied by new, substantive introduction describing the context of each response and explaining how each shows something still at stake in the academic study of religion–whether its the rhetoric used to authorize competing scholarly claims or the difficulty involved in suspending our commonsense view of the world long enough to study the means by which we have come to see it that way.
An ethnography of scholarly practice written mainly for earlier career readers–whether undergraduate or graduate students or even tenure-track faculty–Entanglements tackles the notion that some scholarship is more pristine, and thus more valuable, than others, thereby modeling for scholars earlier in their careers some of the obstacles and arguments that may face them should their research interests be judged unorthodox.
Books of Interest: Religion and Politics in the Graeco-Roman World
Religion and Politics in the Graeco-Roman World was written by Panayotis Pachis (2010). According to the description, “In this study the author focuses on the proliferation of worship of Egyptian deities in the Roman era and the direct relationship with social and political situation of the period.” Contents include:
Foreword by Professor Gerhard van den Heever
1. ‘Manufacturing Religion’ in the Hellenistic Age: The Cases of Isis-Demeter Cult
2. The Discourse of a Myth: Diodorus Siculus and the Egyptian Theologoumena during the Hellenistic Age
3. Isis Tyrannos and the Construction of Imperial Society: Ecumenism and Social Formation
4. The Use of Felicitas and Aeternitas during the Graeco-Romas Age: The Case of Isis and Sarapis Cult
Books of Interest: Philosophy and the Study of Religions
NAASR member Kevin Schilbrack has a new book out with Wiley-Blackwell, Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto (2014). From the book description:
Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto advocates a radical transformation of the discipline from its current, narrow focus on questions of God, to a fully global form of critical reflection on religions in all their variety and dimensions.
- Opens the discipline of philosophy of religion to the religious diversity that characterizes the world today
- Builds bridges between philosophy of religion and the other interpretative and explanatory approaches in the field of religious studies
- Provides a manifesto for a global approach to the subject that is a practice-centred rather than a belief-centred activity
- Gives attention to reflexive critical studies of ‘religion’ as socially constructed and historically located
Books of Interest: A Ministry of Presence
Former NAASR officer Winnifred Fallers Sullivan has a new book with University of Chicago Press, titled A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law (2014). From the description:
Most people in the United States today no longer live their lives under the guidance of local institutionalized religious leadership, such as rabbis, ministers, and priests; rather, liberals and conservatives alike have taken charge of their own religious or spiritual practices. This shift, along with other social and cultural changes, has opened up a perhaps surprising space for chaplains—spiritual professionals who usually work with the endorsement of a religious community but do that work away from its immediate hierarchy, ministering in a secular institution, such as a prison, the military, or an airport, to an ever-changing group of clients of widely varying faiths and beliefs.
In A Ministry of Presence, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan explores how chaplaincy works in the United States—and in particular how it sits uneasily at the intersection of law and religion, spiritual care, and government regulation. Responsible for ministering to the wandering souls of the globalized economy, the chaplain works with a clientele often unmarked by a specific religious identity, and does so on behalf of a secular institution, like a hospital. Sullivan’s examination of the sometimes heroic but often deeply ambiguous work yields fascinating insights into contemporary spiritual life, the politics of religious freedom, and the neverending negotiation of religion’s place in American institutional life.
Books of Interest: Religion in Science Fiction
Religion in Science Fiction: The Evolution of an Idea and the Extinction of a Genre, by Steven Hrotic (Bloomsbury, 2014), is part of a series edited by NAASR founders Don Wiebe and Luther H. Martin. From the book description:
Religion in Science Fiction investigates the history of the representations of religion in science fiction literature. Space travel, futuristic societies, and non-human cultures are traditional themes in science fiction. Speculating on the societal impacts of as-yet-undiscovered technologies is, after all, one of the distinguishing characteristics of science fiction literature. A more surprising theme may be a parallel exploration of religion: its institutional nature, social functions, and the tensions between religious and scientific worldviews.
Steven Hrotic investigates the representations of religion in 19th century proto-science fiction, and genre science fiction from the 1920s through the end of the century. Taken together, he argues that these stories tell an overarching story—a ‘metanarrative’—of an evolving respect for religion, paralleling a decline in the belief that science will lead us to an ideal (and religion-free) future.
Science fiction’s metanarrative represents more than simply a shift in popular perceptions of religion: it also serves as a model for cognitive anthropology, providing new insights into how groups and identities form in a globalized world, and into how crucial a role narratives may play. Ironically, this same perspective suggests that science fiction, as it was in the 20th century, may no longer exist.
Books of Interest: Deep History, Secular Theory
Deep History, Secular Theory: Historical and Scientific Studies of Religion, by Luther H. Martin (Walter De Gruyter, 2010), is a collection of essays from one of NAASR’s founders over the last couple of decades. From the description:
Over the course of his career, Luther H. Martin has primarily produced articles rather than monographs. This approach to publication has given him the opportunity to experiment with different methodological approaches to an academic study of religion, with updates to and different interpretations of his field of historical specialization, namely Hellenistic religions, the subject of his only monograph (1987). The contents of this collected volume represent Martin’s shift from comparative studies, to socio-political studies, to scientific studies of religion, and especially to the cognitive science of religion. He currently considers the latter to be the most viable approach for a scientific study of religion within the academic context of a modern research university. The twenty-five contributions collected in this volume are selected from over one hundred essays, articles, and book chapters published over a long and industrious career and are representative of Martin’s work over the past two decades.