Civil Religion or Christian Nationalism?

Image from Jeep commercial, of cross and map of America on the wall of a small chapel

How scholars use categories to name things, and thereby identify those things that deserve our critical attention, has long interested me. And among the things that have caught my attention over the years is the once prominent category “civil religion” — one made famous by the late U.S. sociologist Robert Bellah, drawing on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s much earlier use of the term in his 1762 book, The Social Contract (for e.g., see book 4, chpt. 8; read Bellah’s influential 1967 essay.) I first came to the term in the light of my studies of commentaries on Mircea Eliade’s early political activities in Romania, as a young man between the world wars. I was curious about the lengths to which his contemporary defenders went to protect him from any criticism — such as claiming that Eliade had exhibited what one scholar characterized as mere “patriotic fervor” or even “non-political nationalism” (see Carol Olson’s The Theology and Philosophy of Mircea Eliade [1992], 44-45 — something I discussed in Manufacturing Religion [1997], 90).

Now, those familiar with how “we” are patriots while “they” are nationalists shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, of course, knowing that national alignments and actions with which “we” agree are easily represented as positive and desirable. This suggests that the distinction between patriotism and nationalism is all in the eye of the self-interested beholder.

None of this is new, of course. Continue reading

What’s Screamo? How the Same Term Can Mean Different Things

Tanner (far left) and Kyle (far right) with Nick and Joe of Knuckle Puck. Taken July 1, 2018.

Kyle Ashley is a junior from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Majoring in Religious Studies, his main interests include loitering in libraries, copious amounts of coffee, and
keeping it emo in 2019.

“Knuckle Puck is awesome, but they can be a little screamo,” my stepbrother Tanner states, responding to my recommendation for which band he should play next.

“Ya… I guess.” I respond. We were fresh off attending the “Last cross-country Warped Tour” (Vans Warped Tour, for those who may not know, is a punk-centric music festival) and had a wealth of bands we wanted to push on others. Knuckle Puck, a band out of Chicago, was amongst our favorites.

Continue reading

The Hegemony of Normalcy and the Academic Study of Religion

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Daniel Jones is a graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies at Missouri State University. His research focuses on critical discourse analysis of the intersections of religion, nature, science, and humanity.  His research interests also pertain to theories of religion, culture, communication, and anthropology.

“The hegemony of normalcy is, like other hegemonic practices, so effective because of its invisibility.”-Lennard Davis

“We must… take account of the persistence of a model of interpretation and the inversion of its sense, if we wish to engage in a genuine critique of critique.”- Jacques Rancière

For those of us involved in the critical study of religion, we often find ourselves embroiled in debates about what the object of our study actually is. For we are a tribe of diverse scholars with diverse methods. I, for one, cherish Bruce Lincoln’s “anti-disciplinary” sensibilities, and nomadic approaches to scholarly inquiry (think Braidotti, Deleuze/Guattari).

How we each “find” data depends on the relationship between what we see and the discourse that precedes (and thereby makes possible) our observation. It shapes our view of “religion” as observational data—what it is, does, or where it might be absent or found. Continue reading

What is Cool?

White_Matter_Connections_Obtained_with_MRI_TractographyReading about Steve Quartz, who studies what happens when people experience something “cool,” made me think of our department, not because we are cool (although that is a reasonable connection), but because the label “cool” has no set definition, much like the category “religion”. People assume that they know it when they see it, but no consistent definition is possible. Continue reading

Survey Says…?

Picture 2Have you seen this new Pew Foundation survey on being Jewish in America?

Like all surveys it raises some interesting questions, such as whether it simply describes an already existing object of study (one that nicely divides into a variety of easily and clearly distinguishable sub-types) or whether the questions, categories, and sub-divisions actively constitute an object of study.

What’s more, who is doing that constitution: group members themselves or the people who study them? For a survey such as this is likely aimed at simply documenting how members of a group think about themselves — it’s an opinion survey, after all. But what’s a scholar to do with its results? What do we do with any group members’ own self-representations and claims (sifted through the demographer’s questions and assumptions, of course) about themselves and the world around them?

So, as a scholar, what do you do with a survey that says…?