Announcing Uncivil Religion: A Digital Resource about Religion in the January 6 Attack on the Capitol

A screenshot of the Uncivil Religion home page

Following announcements from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the University of Alabama, the Department of Religious Studies is proud to announce a new digital resource produced in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s Center for the Understanding of Religion in American History

Uncivil Religion uses publicly available digital media to trace the threads of religious symbols, ideas, discourses, and identities throughout the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Launching just days before the one year anniversary, the project includes a series of interpretive essays and a curated set of galleries of digital media that represent the various ways religion showed up that day. The essays, all of which were written by internationally recognized scholars of religion and politics, use individual examples of digital media from January 6 to explore the larger role of religion before, during, and after that day.

Prof. Mike Altman, from UA’s Department of Religious Studies, and Dr. Jerome Copulsky, a consulting scholar at the National Museum of American History’s Center for the Understanding of Religion in American History, are the project’s directors. Dr. Peter Manseau, Director of the Center for Understanding Religion in American History at the National Museum of American History, serves as project advisor. Religious Studies graduate students from the REL 502: Public Humanities and Religious Studies course in the Fall of 2021 provided research and digital expertise to the project. The REL Digital Lab, within the Department of Religious Studies, and eTech, within the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Alabama, provided additional technical resources, consulting, and support.

Uncivil Religion is an exciting new collaboration between the museum and the department and we are hopeful that it can grow. It is a resource that will be of value to teachers, scholars, and anyone interested in better understanding the role of religion in politics.

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

Citing the Misdoers and Bad Behavers?

Steven L. Jacobs, standing on the 2nd floor of Manly Hall at the University of Alabama

Dr. Steven L. Jacobs is Professor and Aaron Aronov Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies at The University of Alabama. His primary research foci are in Biblical Studies, translation and interpretation, including the Dead Sea Scrolls; as well as Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

In the December 14, 2018 issue of The Chronicle Review, Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago penned a piece entitled “Go Ahead, Cite the Nazi” (B2).* His unnecessarily provocative argument as summarized by his disingenuous solution— “cite work that is relevant regardlessof the author’s [sic] misdeeds—was made even more disturbing by his conclusion, “you should not—under any circumstances—adjust your citation practices to punish scholars for [sic] bad behavior” (emphases added). Even more problematic was his total failure to address any notion of historical contextualization regarding the work of the philosophers he cites, Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)—the former an avowed antisemite and the latter an unrepentant Nazi, both of whom he rather cavalierly dismisses, choosing only to celebrate their “contributions” to philosophy.  In my own field of religious studies, a “softer” but nonetheless equally problematic case would be that of Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), a formerly avowed Christian nationalist and supporter of the Romanian Iron Guard during World War II.

Continue reading

Argument Analysis: Legion v. American Humanist Association

Monica L. Waller, arguing for respondent in American Legion v. American Humanist Assoc., 2-27-19Jackson Foster is a freshman at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and History and minoring in the Blount Undergraduate Initiative and Randall Research Scholars Program. He is currently studying the intersections between law, politics, and religion in Dr. Altman’s REL130 course. This piece was originally published in High School SCOTUS, a national Supreme Court blog comprised of young students like Jackson.

The Supreme Court heard arguments last month in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, a case involving a 40-foot Peace Cross situated in a Maryland public park. Before (and since) the argument, American Legion has received special attention from the constitutional scholar and layman alike. It has been enveloped in media scrutiny (see Nina Totenberg’s Cross Clash Could Change Rules For Separation Of Church And State); it is one of the first Establishment Clause cases in the Kavanaugh era, and it may spell the end of the Lemon test.

While constitutional considerations carry great weight, they miss the heart of this case. American Legion does not so much implicate the Establishment Clause or the Lemon test as it implicates American civil religion. The questions argued in the case, therefore, can be nicely distilled to one: Is the cross civil or sectarian? Continue reading

Identity in Inter-Korean Politics

Jacob Inglis is a junior from Huntsville, Alabama majoring in International Studies and minoring in Korean, Asian Studies, and the Randall Research Scholars Program with an interest in Inter-Korean politics and diplomacy.

The world watched over the past year as war on the Korean Peninsula, an inevitable outcome according to North Korea, seemed poised to reignite. Amidst the backdrop of the controversial deployment of additional anti-ballistic missile systems, the testing of North Korea’s newest intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the mainland U.S, and the alleged detonation of a hydrogen bomb by North Korea, tensions on the Korean Peninsula were at their highest point in the decade since the relationship between North and South Korea deteriorated following the failure of the former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung’s Sunshine Policy in the mid-2000s. However, the start of 2018 brought an unexpected opportunity for diplomacy when North and South Korea agreed to enter the Olympic stadium under the joint Korean Unification flag (pictured above) at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. Continue reading

Democracy is Risky

Picture 9A couple years ago I gave a talk at Lehigh University (a lecture that became chapter 8 in a book I published not long after). The topic was on my frustration with how scholars of religion — because they define their object of study as a universally present and deeply meaningful human impulse — often assume their research is always relevant. As evidence I drew on a recent national conference where scholars of religion were encouraged to think about how their work on this or that ritual or text could contribute to solving the problem of climate change. I could just as easily have cited the program for that very annual conference (something I wrote on long ago, actually), and how the “religion and…” rubric was infinitely variable (e.g., Religion and Literature, Religion and Film, Religion and Science, Religion and Politics, Religion and Food, etc., etc.); we often presume our object of study always to be relevant because we think that it somehow points outside of, and thus before and beyond, the happenstance of history. So it is assumed to play a role in anything that happens.

The problem, though, is that we also claim to be historians, e.g., historians of religion — but, defining religion in this way, makes us historians who study the transcendental. And that’s very unhistorial if you ask me. Continue reading

It is Borders that Divide Us, as well as Our Ability to Recognize Them

Last week’s conclusion of the Canadian federal election marks another milestone in the exercise of democracy. Ballots were cast. A new party obtained a majority (of seats). The election is now over.

Opinion_Polling_during_the_2015_Canadian_Federal_Election.svg

I did not take part in that election. Despite being a Canadian citizen, I live outside the borders of the country, and I do not plan on moving back at a definite time in the future. Therefore, at least according to my reading, I am ineligible to participate in that democratic process.

My situation brings into relief Étienne Balibar’s observation about the undemocratic constitutive element of democratic nations: borders.

“They are, in sum, the point where, even in the most democratic of states, the status of a citizen returns to the condition of a “subject,” where political participation gives way to the rule of police. They are the absolutely nondemocratic, or “discretionary,” condition of democratic institutions. And it is as such that they are, most often, accepted, sanctified, and interiorized.” (author’s emphasis; We, the People of Europe: Relfections on a Transnational Citizenship. 2004, 109)

canadian-border-quebec-city-canada+1152_12866659878-tpfil02aw-29940One of the hot-button issues of the election, that of policing “barbaric cultural practices,” also brings Balibar’s observation into acute focus. Every now and then, democratic societies express the wish to recognize their borders more clearly. They ask that border-control practices circulate among themselves in order to secure their perception that their society is sacrosanct.

At such points in time, the absolutely nondemocratic condition of democracy comes into full view. And then, oftentimes in the denouement of a democracy’s crisis – the acceptance speech after an election in this case – the conditions of democracy slip into the shadows.

A Good Alabaman

allen_g

Allie Rash is a senior double majoring in Mathematics and Religious Studies. She hails from Franklin, TN but calls North Carolina and Kansas home as well. She wrote this post for Dr. Finnegan’s class, REL 370: Hijab, Hip Hop, and Halal.

Gerald Allen is the State Senator from the 21st district of Alabama, representing Hale, Pickens, and Tuscaloosa counties.  Before his election to the State Senate, Allen served four terms in the Alabama House of Representatives.  Politically, according to his most recent ad in May, he is a ‘real conservative.’

Continue reading

Degrees of Resistance, Angles of Repose

Picture 6

Prof. Greg Johnson, former Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, studies repatriation and reburial disputes in American Indian and Hawaiian contexts, as a means to understand the ways religious claims are announced, enlivened, and contested in the contemporary moment. He was a guest lecturer at UA last year and has written the following unsolicited response to a recent post on our grad blog.

In your face resistance is a hallmark of Hawaiian culture. Colin McElvenny gets that right, and I find his thoughts interesting and provocative. I simply want to round out the picture a bit by way of adding a few observations pointing to the historical depth and political contexts of this phenomenon. Continue reading