Johnson et al., “Ekklesia”

9780226545585In popular discourse, the American Framers had one of two, mutually-exclusive positions on church-state relations: Either the Framers were Deists who believed that church and state must be completely separate, or the Framers were proto-Evangelicals who thought of America as a Christian nation. In fact, the record is murkier. From the beginning, the two views of church-state relations have existed together in a productive tension, with neither side completely dominating the other. Many of our bitter fights today, in fact, arise because each side is trying to eliminate the other, rather than adjusting and figuring out a way to get along. At least that’s how it seems to me.

A new anthropological study from the University of Chicago Press, Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State, discusses the tensions surrounding church and state in the New World, addressing not only the United States but Latin America and Canada as well. The authors are Paul Christopher Johnson, Pamela E. Klassen, and Winnifred Sullivan. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State offers a New World rejoinder to the largely Europe-centered academic discourse on church and state. In contrast to what is often assumed, in the Americas the relationship between church and state has not been one of freedom or separation but one of unstable and adaptable collusion. Ekklesia sees in the settler states of North and South America alternative patterns of conjoined religious and political power, patterns resulting from the undertow of other gods, other peoples, and other claims to sovereignty. These local challenges have led to a continuously contested attempt to realize a church-minded state, a state-minded church, and the systems that develop in their concert. The shifting borders of their separation and the episodic conjoining of church and state took new forms in both theory and practice.

The first of a closely linked trio of essays is by Paul Johnson, and offers a new interpretation of the Brazilian community gathered at Canudos and its massacre in 1896–97, carried out as a joint church-state mission and spectacle. In the second essay, Pamela Klassen argues that the colonial church-state relationship of Canada came into being through local and national practices that emerged as Indigenous nations responded to and resisted becoming “possessions” of colonial British America. Finally, Winnifred Sullivan’s essay begins with reflection on the increased effort within the United States to ban Bibles and scriptural references from death penalty courtrooms and jury rooms; she follows with a consideration of the political theological pressure thereby placed on the jury that decides between life and death. Through these three inquiries, Ekklesia takes up the familiar topos of “church and state” in order to render it strange.

Clarke et al., eds., “Religion, Intolerance, and Conflict”

Here’s an interesting cross-disciplinary collection that assembles a Religion, Intolerance, Conflictreasonably broad range of contributors–Religion, Intolerance, and Conflict: A Scientific and Conceptual Investigation (OUP 2013), edited by Steve Clarke (Oxford), Russell Powell (BU), and Julian Savulescu (Oxford).  The publisher’s description follows.

The relationship between religion, intolerance and conflict has been the subject of intense discussion, particularly in the wake of the events of 9-11 and the ongoing threat of terrorism. This book contains original papers written by some of the world’s leading scholars in anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and theology exploring the scientific and conceptual dimensions of religion and human conflict.

Authors investigate the following themes: the role of religion in promoting social cohesion and the conditions under which it will tend to do so; the role of religion in enabling and exacerbating conflict between different social groups and the conditions under which it will tend to do so; and the policy responses that we may be able to develop to ameliorate violent conflict and the limits to compromise between different religions. The book also contains two commentaries that distill, synthesize and critically evaluate key aspects of the individual chapters and central themes that run throughout the volume.

The volume will be of great interest to all readers interested in the phenomenon of religious conflict and to academics across a variety of disciplines, including religious studies, philosophy, psychology, theology, cognitive science, anthropology, politics, international relations, and evolutionary biology.

Silvestri on the Identities of Europe’s Muslim Women

In June, Columbia University Press will publish Europe’s Muslim Women: Beyond the Burqa Controversy, by  Dr. Sara Silvestri, Senior Lecturer in International Politics at City University London.  Silvestri’s text attempts to transcend the international debates—e.g., about the burqa, the niqab, and subjection to men—surrounding Muslim women in Europe that inadvertently have the effect of obscuring who these women actually are.  Through the content of interviews and surveys, Silvestri hopes to paint a truer portrait of the domestic, religious, and socio-political identities of Europe’s Muslim women.

Please see the publisher’s description after the jump. Continue reading

Day, “Believing in Belonging”

From Abby Day (Sussex) comes this study in the sociology of religion, with complex implications for legal policy.  The book is Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World (OUP 2011).  Of particular interest is the finding that “nominal” religious affiliation — long dismissed as empty — may be nothing of the kind.  The publisher’s description follows.  — MOD

Believing in Belonging draws on empirical research exploring mainstream religious belief and identity in Euro-American countries. Starting from a qualitative study based in northern England, and then broadening the data to include other parts of Europe and North America, Abby Day explores how people ‘believe in belonging’, choosing religious identifications to complement other social and emotional experiences of ‘belongings’. The concept of ‘performative belief’ helps explain how otherwise non-religious people can bring into being a Christian identity related to social belongings.

What is often dismissed as ‘nominal’ religious affiliation is far from an empty category, but one loaded with cultural ‘stuff’ and meaning. Day introduces an original typology of natal, ethnic and aspirational nominalism that challenges established disciplinary theory in both the European and North American schools of the sociology of religion that assert that most people are ‘unchurched’ or ‘believe without belonging’ while privately maintaining beliefs in God and other ‘spiritual’ phenomena.

This study provides a unique analysis and synthesis of anthropological and sociological understandings of belief and proposes a holistic, organic, multidimensional analytical framework to allow rich cross cultural comparisons. Chapters focus in particular on: the genealogies of ‘belief’ in anthropology and sociology, methods for researching belief without asking religious questions, the acts of claiming cultural identity, youth, gender, the ‘social’ supernatural, fate and agency, morality and a development of anthropocentric and theocentric orientations that provides a richer understanding of belief than conventional religious/secular distinctions.

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