The Religious is the Political

President Donad Trump posing with a Bible after protestors were cleared from the park

Savannah H. Finver is a recent graduate of U.A.’s Master of Arts in Religion in Culture program. Beginning in the Fall of 2020, she will be pursuing her Ph.D. at Ohio State University in Comparative Studies. Her interests lie in discourses on religion as they appear in U.S. law and politics, especially as they pertain to the assignment of civil rights and legal privileges.

Regardless of what platform you use to get your news, you likely saw a photo circulating in the early days of June like the one above of President Donald Trump holding up a bible in what many have decried as an irreverent fashion in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. The President’s photo op unleashed a whirlwind of controversy for several reasons, including that he reportedly used police and National Guard troops to clear the area of demonstrators peacefully protesting police brutality and the death (though some would prefer the term murder—after all, the two terms place the onus of responsibility on different subjects, with important legal implications) of George Floyd. Likely due to the civil unrest that has been so prominent throughout the U.S. in the past few months, the photo also prompted backlash from religious practitioners, clergy, and institutions who insisted that Trump was using the bible and St. John’s Church—objects traditionally associated with religion—for a political stunt. Continue reading

The Uses of Symbolism

Donald Trump holding a bible in front of a boarded-up church

There are certainly those scholars of religion who will study yesterday’s episode — when a large number of peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, were dispersed by police and the national guard with tear gas, batons, and flash-bang canisters (otherwise known as stun grenades), about a half hour before a curfew went into effect, so that Donald Trump could walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church, just across the street from the park, to pose with a bible as part of a 17 minute photo-op — as an episode in the misuse of a holy object. Continue reading

It Cuts Both Ways

President Trump poses with newspaper headline sayig he was acquitedIf you were paying attention to US news this past week it was probably tough not to know that the Senate trial of President Trump concluded with him being acquitted by a vote that pretty much went along straight party lines. I say pretty much because a lone Republican Senator, Mitt Romney, from Utah, voted to convict.

The reason Romney’s vote stood out for some scholars of religion on social media was likely the manner in which he couched his decision in light of his faith. Continue reading

On Paying Attention to Politicians Signing Bibles

Geoff Davidson graduated from the University of Alabama Religious Studies Department in 2009 before earning his M.Div. at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. He is now a minister, writer, and library information specialist at Baylor.

Late last week President Trump was seen autographing Bibles while surveying the effects of a devastating tornado in eastern Alabama, leading to skirmishing in both news media and religious communities. There were those who dismissed this incident immediately, and why shouldn’t they? Why should a signed Bible merit discussion in the face of any other pressing political or religious topic de jour?

For the scholar of religion, such easy dismissiveness is a good way to miss important data. Christians, not a monolithic lot by any stretch, have been hotly divided on the topic with some leveling serious religious charges against both the president and those who asked that their Bibles be signed. This disagreement warrants accurate reflection in its own right, but it also points to critical underlying issues: how Christians see their holy texts and how this affects their actions. Continue reading

“A confidential informant is not a spy…”

The title of this post is a quotation from US Senator Lindsey Graham, during a recent radio interview — find more details here, in a recent Washington Post report, along with a transcript of that portion of his interview. It concerns the President characterizing someone who is now much in the news as being a “spy” planted in his campaign by the FBI. That others understand this person as an informant — someone who, of their own volition, apparently decided authorities needed to know something he himself knew — is one among many current examples in US politics where it ought to be profoundly obvious that, yes, classification matters. Continue reading

Understanding Our Present Moment

My colleague tweeted the following the other day:

It was a bit tongue-in-cheek to be sure, but it made a good point, I think, as he elaborated in a few tweets that followed, such as his claim that “religious studies has theorized myth since its foundation & has a set of theoretical tools useful in the case of confederate monuments.” Continue reading

A Strategic Political Tool

townhallDid you watch the town hall meeting the other night, the second of this season’s Presidential debates?

Because scholars of religion are trained in the study of how rhetorics of privacy are used by social actors, I think we might have more to say about what’s going on than we at first realize. Continue reading

Religious Studies in the Time of Trumpism

160613223709-trump-speech-fact-check-bash-ron-pkg-00003714-large-169-2

When I heard Donald Trump’s speech on Monday I realized that Trump’s rhetoric presents the scholar of religion with a crossroads. Scholars of religion have to make a decision about how to engage Trumpism.

Continue reading

“But as a businessman, there are things you do for business…”

Picture 5If you’re interested in how people use rhetoric or how they divide and classify social space in order to make a more persuasive image of the world that’s conducive to their interests, then give a listen to this interview that aired yesterday morning. (Or click here if the player doesn’t load properly.) Continue reading

Making Identity by Expelling the Other in Their Midst

Picture 4

A Facebook friend just posted the above — while it’s a good idea (think about it: those so-called walks of shame [or walks of resistance and triumph?] that protestors are forced to do at his rallies…, they serve a purpose, no?), I think he’s already done enough analysis to explain it.

And if you don’t know what he’s talking about, then here’s something that took place at a rally in Kentucky from just a couple days ago.