Posted by Paul Harvey
Posted by Kelly J. Baker
International Association for the Study of Popular Romance
The Journal of Popular Romance Studies is looking for essays, interviews, and pedagogical materials on love and religion in global popular culture, for a special issue guest-edited by Lynn S. Neal (Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction). How do film, fiction, popular music, and other media represent the complex relationships between love and religion? How do these representations compare across national, cultural, and theological divides, and what happens when they cross those boundaries? How have they changed over time? What can a sophisticated understanding of love in religious discourse—from whatever tradition—teach us about individual songs, films, novels, or other popular texts?
Topics of particular interest include:
- Theologies of love in popular song: Leonard Cohen, U2, Richard Thompson, Al Green, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Niyaz, Shye Ben-Tzur, etc.
- Sacred and secular love in popular culture: drawing boundaries, blurring distinctions
- Interfaith romance (Jewish / Christian, Hindu / Muslim, etc.) in popular culture
- Love, Religion, and Politics in popular culture
- Romance vs. Religion: warnings, advice literature, debates over idolatry, etc.
- Romantic love as a surrogate or secular religion
- Christian inspirational romance fiction, and its non-Christian equivalents: studies of individual novels, publishing lines, reader behavior, etc.
- Crossover texts and figures: Rumi, the Song of Songs, etc.
- God as lover and beloved in popular culture
- Sacred love stories in popular culture (Krishna / Radha, Majnun / Layla, Adam / Eve, etc.)
- One Love, or many? Rastafari, Wiccan, and other traditions of love in popular culture
Published by the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR), the peer-reviewed Journal of Popular Romance Studies is the first academic journal to focus exclusively on representations of romantic love across national and disciplinary boundaries. Our editorial board includes representatives from English, Comparative Literature, Ethnomusicology, History, Religious Studies, African American Studies, and other fields. JPRS is available without subscription at http://jprstudies.org.
Please submit scholarly papers of no more than 10,000 words by June 1, 2012, to An Goris, Managing Editor managing(dot)editor(at) jprstudies(dot)org. Longer manuscripts of particular interest will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Submissions should be Microsoft Word documents, with citations in MLA format.
Posted by Matt Sutton
I have recently come across two excellent articles that may be of interest to readers of the blog. While I usually prefer some good Reconstructionist conspiracies mixed with anti-dominionist fear-mongering, both of these pieces (by Ross Douthat and Lisa Miller) are thoughtful and smart. I am sure our friends over at Religion Dispatches will view Miller and Douthat as dupes of Rousas John Rushdoony, but I am much more afraid of the Ralph Reeds and Karl Roves of the GOP than I am of dead Reformed preachers. Of course when Bachmann pushes a proposal through Congress reinstituting Levitical law, the US Supreme Court upholds such legislation as Constitutional, and we start stoning people in the streets, we will all know that I was wrong. But that is about as likely as Harvey fielding a good fantasy football team.
Posted by Kelly J. Baker
by Sean McCloud
Classes started at my university last week. The hallways and corridors of my religious studies department—which were virtually left to the ghosts this summer—now brim with life as students and faculty fill the spaces. But even though the revnants have been temporarily pushed out of my hallways by the new semester, spirits have materialized elsewhere in various media forms. The new season of Ghosthunters, one of the original of the now dozens of ghost hunting reality television shows, began on the Syfy network Wednesday. Their often repeated commercial tells viewers that one out of three Americans believe in ghosts, though polls by Pew and CBS suggest that the number of those who accept the existence of departed spirits (and angels and demons) may be much higher—even when it’s not Halloween.
Aside from Ghosthunters, two other items conjured up spirits in my presence. The first was Terry Gross’s Wednesday Fresh Air interview with Rachel Tabachnick about The New Apostolic Reformation, a movement of Third Wave Evangelicals who are bringing their practice of spiritual warfare into the American political arena. In Tabchnick’s case, the Protestants are socially conservative and theologically tend toward charismatic and Pentecostal practice. The primary spirits they are focused on are demons, whom spiritual warfare practitioners seek to exorcise from individual bodies, objects, places, regions, and nation states. While the movement is numerically small, its influence can be seen in as variant examples as televangelist Pat Robertson’s 2010 comment that the Haitian earthquake was caused by a pact that the country’s founders made with Satan, former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin’s videotaped deliverance prayer from the spirits of witchcraft by the African minister Thomas Muthee and Evangelical missionary strategies in Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, and Latin America (see, for example, Kevin O’Neill’s discussion of spiritual warfare in Guatemala in his book, City of God: Christian Citizenship in postwar Guatemala (University of California Press, 2010). I find Third Wave Evangelicalism and its practice of spiritual warfare fascinating, so much that I am writing a book that uses the movement as a case study to examine contemporary U.S. religious culture. And who doesn’t find ghosts, demons, and curses interesting? But at the same time, I am guessing that few American religion scholars (knowing the group’s charismatic and Pentecostal roots) would express surprise at the movement’s supernaturalism, which includes the aforementioned demons, but also angels, divine healings, and other miraculous events. But that is definitely not the case with the second spirit-filled item that has possessed my time: Pamela Klassen’s provocative new book, Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity (University of California Press, 2011).
In Klassen’s case, the Protestants under discussion are theologically and socially liberal, Canadian, and concerned with healings simultaneously medical and supernatural. Klassen rightfully notes that miraculous healing—as well as other forms of Christian supernaturalism—“have been more often associated with Roman Catholic or Pentecostal versions of spiritual healing”(xiv), rather than with liberal Protestants in denominations such as the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada. She tells readers that her interest in liberal Protestants stems from the “lack of imagination” scholars have had in analyzing the Protestant versions of the “liberal subject” (xvii). Utilizing both historical and ethnographic approaches, Klassen focuses on activities centered around healing. She hopes to reveal the diversity and “messiness” of liberal Protestant practice. I am just a few chapters into it, but Spirits of Protestantism is already effectively battling stereotypes (by examining what Klassen aptly dubs “supernatural liberalism”) and breaking down borders (by focusing on Canadians who are often involved in medical missions). Klassen’s study is also contributing to the cultural history of the study of religion by registering the connections between the anthropology of religion and supernatural liberalism. Spirits of Protestantism looks to be a rich, complex, and promising work that I plan on adding to my spring semester graduate seminar on American religions. In the meantime, I am hoping that the local university spirits will keep their poltergeist activities to a minimum so that I can finish the book before fall semester classes start possessing me.
Posted by esclark
La Familia Michoacana – religiously-inspired drug-traffickers of the Mexican-American borderlands – are back, sort of. La Familia dramatically appeared on the media’s radar in 2006 when they rolled the severed heads of five criminals onto the floor of a discoteca with the note: “The family doesn’t kill for money. It doesn’t kill women. It doesn’t kill innocent people, only those who deserve to die. Know that this is divine justice.” Over on ReligionDispatches, Luis Leon has an article on the re-emergence of La Familia Michoacana, who is now the Knights Templar of Michoacan. I was intrigued to see Leon’s take on the “new” cartel society because this is a regional ethos that Leon knows. I recently flipped back through his book La Llorona’s Children: Religion, Life, and Death in the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands for my upcoming comprehensive exams, and I continue to be struck and intrigued by the narrative Leon tells. Religion in the borderlands, Leon tells us, is “creative and often effective means to manage the crisis of everyday life.” His narrative includes the literature of popular chicana author Sandra Cisneros, Catholicism, the healing traditions of curanderismo, folk traditions of espiritualismo, and born-again evangelicos.
In his essay over on Dispatches, Leon explains how the more Protestant worldview of La Familia has developed into the more Catholic-looking Knights Templar of Michoacan (KTM). Leon takes you through parts of the El Codigo de los Caballeros Templarios de Michocan, or The Code of KTM. Last December, I posted here on La Familia, reflecting both on the then-recent death of leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez (or El Más Loco) and the integration of his remembrance in celebrations of the feast day of La Virgen de Guadalupe. Just a few days after Moreno’s death, San Antonio law officers attended a workshop exploring “the saints that narcos pray to,” including Santa Muerte, San Simón, and other borderlands icons. When explaining to the local San Antonio paper why the workshop was important, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas John Murphy said “It might seem laughable that someone would have these idols. It's remarkable, but true. There's always an advantage about knowing about this.” I don’t think “laughable” is a good description for this aspect of borderlands religion, but at least law officers are getting interested in learning about it.
Posted by Paul Harvey
Heaven’s Bride: An End-of-Summer Beach Read for Religious Historians (and everyone else) -- except during the hurricane please don't read it at the beach per se.
In addition to being a great read, Schmidt offers a useful reminder that evangelicalism is only one part of the religious history of America. Though Anthony Comstock, the inspiration behind federal and state laws suppressing vice, and his evangelical allies presented an almost unstoppable force in the late 19th-century, Craddock associated with a loosely organized group of transatlantic secularists, religious liberals, Quakers, spiritualists, occultists, and yogis, who rejected evangelical domination of American life."
A brief synopsis: Schmidt views Craddock as a leading example of a time when sexual expression and American religion did not necessarily clash. Craddock and her associates advocated more liberated, pleasurable sex in monogamous heterosexual relationships, preferably marriage. Despite little or no direct experience with intercourse, Craddock set up shop as a pre-marital and marriage counselor, advising husbands how to please their wives (like Oneida Community founder John Humphrey Noyes, she separated sex and procreation, advocating a longer sex act with no male ejaculation) and instructing wives how to please their husbands (move their hips during intercourse). Craddock viewed the sex act as a form of worship, an experience of the divine on earth. In her physical and emotional marriage to a spirit husband, she practiced what she preached. Unsurprisingly, Craddock’s mother placed her in an institution. Comstock charged her with obscenity.
Contextualizing Craddock’s personal religious journey “from Methodist holiness to Unitarian individuality right on through spiritualist séances and South Asian traditions,” Schmidt examines the notices for religious services in the Chicago Tribune. In the 1870s, the announcements were predictably Protestant, calling Chicagoans to services at Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Baptist, and Methodist churches. By 1900, as Schmidt observes, “all hell was breaking loose,” with announcements for Jewish, Spiritualist, Christian Scientist, Ethical Culture, and Hindu services. Craddock advertised her own combination of spiritual and sexual education at her Church of Yoga with a Bible talk titled “Man and Woman as They Were, as They Are, as They ought to Be.”
One aspect of Ida Craddock’s thought naturally caught my attention: she viewed Quaker minister and pioneering feminist Lucretia Mott as a foremother, quoting her famous line “Truth for Authority, not Authority for Truth” in her death match with Anthony Comstock. This intellectual connection is not as farfetched as it seems. Craddock attended Friends Central School in Philadelphia, founded in part by Mott’s Cherry Street Meeting. Craddock also served as secretary for the American Secular Union, an offshoot of the Free Religious Association, an organization established in 1867. Before her death, Mott traveled to Boston regularly to attend meetings. In 1900, the Free Religious Association memorialized Mott, along with Roger Williams, Hindu reformers Ram Mohun Roy and Keshub Chunder Sen, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker, and Octavius Brooks Frothingham , as “Prophets of Liberalism.”
Schmidt expands our understanding of this heady religious period through the life of the fascinating Ida Craddock. In her work with the American Secular Union, Craddock urged members to ally with “Free religionists, Quakers, Progressive Jews and Liberal Christians” against religious intolerance. Though she failed in her efforts to rally these groups, it is important to note that Comstock also viewed them as linked in their committed defense of the rights of accused pornographers, sexologists, and free lovers. Under the guise of religion, he argued, liberal Protestants were “champions of obscenity.”
Posted by Kelly J. Baker
Randall Stephens will be on the Dr. Howard Gluss show tonight from 8 pm-9pm PST. Unlike Paul and myself, he gets the whole hour!
Tune in to listen to Howard and Randall discuss "Right Wing America: Evangelicals, Conservative Christians, and Christian Pyschologists." And hopefully, they'll discuss Randall's forthcoming book with Karl Giberson, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age (October).
This program provides live streaming on the internet here.
P.S. Yes, we are trying to take over the world. We'll let y'all know how it goes.
Posted by Kelly J. Baker
Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing Omri Elisha speak about his field work on evangelical Christians and megachurches conducted in Knoxville, Tennessee. Elisha's book, Moral Ambition: Mobilization and Social Outreach in Evangelical Megachurches is now available in paperback and Kindle versions. This book is taunting me from my Kindle as we speak, and I'll blog more about my impressions of the book soon. What was striking to me is Elisha's discussion of social engagement among evangelicals and the tensions that arise in megachurches over how socially involved congregations should be. Socially engaged evangelicals were a small and vocal minority, and Elisha traces the struggles of individuals within megachurches to elicit social change. Marie Griffith describes Elisha as "a wonderfully talented ethnographer—‘empathetic’ in the very best sense: critically engaged, attentive, and clearly committed to forming genuine relationships." The University of California Press describes Moral Ambition in this way:
In this evocative ethnography, Omri Elisha examines the hopes, frustrations, and activist strategies of American evangelical Christians as they engage socially with local communities. Focusing on two Tennessee megachurches, Moral Ambition reaches beyond political controversies over issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and public prayer to highlight the ways that evangelicals at the grassroots of the Christian Right promote faith-based causes intended to improve the state of social welfare. The book shows how these ministries both help churchgoers embody religious virtues and create provocative new opportunities for evangelism on a public scale. Elisha challenges conventional views of U.S. evangelicalism as narrowly individualistic, elucidating instead the inherent contradictions that activists face in their efforts to reconcile religious conservatism with a renewed interest in compassion, poverty, racial justice, and urban revivalism.
Additionally, the press includes an excerpt on their site. Here's a sample:
In order to get their messages across despite such hindrances, the socially engaged evangelicals I observed in Knoxville-not unlike Christian social reformers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries-always portrayed charitable social outreach as a legitimate and necessary component of evangelism. They demonstrated that ministries of social outreach were basically meant to achieve the same goals as most highly regarded revivalist and missionary enterprises, namely, to spread the Word of God and "make disciples" by religious conversion. The discourse of outreach mobilization was rife with tales of personal, cultural, and spiritual transformation, filled with alluring tropes of faith, compassion, redemption, and sacrifice. The tendency among many conservative Protestants to insist on a firm distinction between humanitarian effort and religious proselytization (privileging the latter) was rejected by those who favored a more integrative, holistic approach, the kind that prioritizes "words and deeds" and regards both as equally crucial for effective evangelism among society's poor, distressed, and marginalized populations. Making the case for holistic evangelism in the evangelical churches of Knoxville-whether this meant arguing for broader conceptions of the church's role in society or simply arguing that, as one pastor put it, "You can't talk to an empty stomach"-was a vital strategy by which the socially engaged evangelicals I observed appealed to their conservative base (Elisha 2008b). Their appeals consistently upheld religious virtues that are commonly valued among conservative evangelicals, drawing on existing cultural repertoires informed by authoritative theological and pastoral discourses within the evangelical movement. Yet the socially engaged evangelicals in my study represented a surprisingly small and frustrated minority relative to the megachurches they belonged to-I encountered barely more than one or two dozen such individuals in each congregation-and the local evangelical community as a whole.Part of the aim of this book is to explore what happens when religious actors of a certain aspirational persuasion-people like Paul Genero-pursue moral ambitions that are recognized as virtuous by others and simultaneously regarded with ambivalence and aversion. I examine how such moral ambitions are shaped within specific cultural and institutional milieus that define, authorize, and constrain their actual potential. Moreover, I analyze the mobilization strategies employed by those who, in claiming these moral ambitions, seek to inspire others to follow suit. The strategies usually involved identifying and critiquing deficiencies in the faith community, and then proposing socially relevant methods of counteracting those deficiencies. My ethnography works alongside other recent ethnographies in exploring the role of institutionalized narratives, concepts, and motifs in framing religious interventions in the modern world (Coleman 2000; Harding 2000), the ways that everyday religiosity is shaped by disciplines of ethical self-cultivation, especially in urban settings (Deeb 2006; Mahmood 2005; O'Neill 2010), and the significance of religious activism as a form of social action and cultural critique (Coutin 1993; Ginsburg 1989). All told, this book portrays a localized cultural arena where I found conservative evangelicals engaged in modest yet meaningful activities akin to what Sherry Ortner has called "serious games": a concept that helps us think about "the way in which people are defined and constrained by the intersections of culture, power, and history in which they find themselves, and yet at the same time are active players in making (and sometimes remaking) those worlds that have made them" (1999: 35).
For those of you interested in evangelicals, evangelicalism, social reform, and/or megachurches, this book is a must-read.
Posted by Art
I can't say enough good things about Rebecca Alpert's new book, Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball (OUP, 2011). I'll be reviewing it soon for a local radio program. You can read Professor Alpert's thoughts on the book over at Religion Dispatches, along with an interview. And then there's my conversation with her below. Enjoy!
AR: Please begin by giving us some background on this project, and particularly how this is both a continuation of your previous scholarship and a new direction.
RA: I have been interested in twentieth century American Jewish history I wrote my dissertation on American reform rabbis from that era many decades ago. Later in my career I became interested in the intersection of sport and religion, and began to write about Jews and baseball. Writing about racial identity and secular Jewish concerns are the newest parts of the puzzle, and these interests all coalesced around I began to discover about the role Jews played in black baseball.
AR: Your book is as much about race and religion as it is about baseball. Would you discuss how you balanced writing about the game and addressing these broader issues?
RA: An historian friend who read the manuscript in draft complained that there was too little baseball in it. Although I do enjoy the game, I was really interested in how Jews related to the world of black baseball mostly from the perspectives of business and entertainment, so I probably erred on the side of focusing on broader issues.
AR: With a topic like this, I imagine that it was difficult locating sources. Was this the case? And could you talk generally about your experiences in the archives and sorting through newspapers?
RA: I began with secondary materials that would mention the tensions between black and Jewish Negro League owners and the role of the communist sportswriters but didn’t go into detail. I was lucky to meet Rabbi Curtis Caldwell who introduced me to the Belleville Grays, the black Jewish team run by his community. From there, I began to read the African American press. Access to digitized versions of Black Historical Newspapers (rather than the dizzying and eye straining microfilm versions) through my university library made all the difference in the world in terms of being able to do this project. I relied heavily on the observations of the many fine newspapermen in the black press who were writing social commentary on the sports pages. Archives that I consulted proved spottier, but there were gems tucked away in many places; not uncommon in archival research. I also cannot overstate the kindness (and curiosity) of the sundry librarians and archivists who came to my aid, either via email or in person.
AR: Complimenting your impressive assortment of primary sources are your interviews with former Negro League players. How do you feel your book benefited from these interviews? Do you have advice for anyone planning to do interviews for their own projects?
RA: While I loved talking to many of the former players (and reading the oral histories other researchers compiled), I found that the players were mostly reluctant to talk about the Jewish owners I was interested in. There are many possible reasons for that reluctance, but I didn’t really want to speculate about that.
As far as advice is concerned, the website of the Oral History Association is very useful in getting started. It’s really important to do your homework--know as much as you can about the person you want to talk to before contacting them. That will help you craft interesting questions which make good answers possible.
AR: You talk extensively about the Jewish entrepreneurs of black baseball, such as Ed Gottlieb, Syd Pollock, and Abe Saperstein. I felt like their motivations were difficult to pigeonhole. Sometimes they seemed to have noble intentions. Other times, profit won the day. Is this accurate? And what conclusions did you reach about the motives of these businessmen of black baseball?
RA: I think that when good intentions and profit were in sync the entrepreneurs were quite noble. But I also tried hard not to impose the ideas about race and racism that we hold today on them anachronistically.
AR: In contrast, it seemed like the Jewish communists writing for The Daily Worker were much more ideologically driven. That is, they drew from both their Jewish and political rhetorical toolboxes to devise arguments favoring baseball’s integration. Is this accurate? And were these writers coming to the conversation from an entirely different place than the businessmen? Or did they share some common ground?
RA: The communists and the businessmen lived in different worlds. I like to think that it was the communists who were expressing Jewish values rather than the businessmen, but both groups’ behaviors were the product of the experience of second generation immigrants. They just expressed different dimensions of that social situation.
AR: I have always admired Hank Greenberg, but do now even more after reading about his relationship with Jackie Robinson, which began after a collision in 1947. Did you gain a deeper appreciation of any particular person? Similarly, was there anyone who you found to be utterly dislikable?
Buster Haywood, who seemed to crop up in all the stories I was telling. He played both for the Belleville Grays (the team of Hebrew Israelites) and the Indianapolis Clowns (owned by Syd Pollock) and was friends with Jackie Robinson. I felt like he accompanied me through the research and writing process, and I ended up writing a separate article about him. Through Buster Haywood I was able to gain some perspective on the difficulties and joys in the life of an ordinary African American player in the era of segregation.
Although the Jewish entrepreneurs often behaved in ways I didn’t always appreciate, I actually found them rather sympathetic characters. I think it’s important not to demonize (or idolize) people you’re writing about.
AR: If I had a time travel machine, I’d go back to 1926 and watch the game between the “Hebrew All-Star Nine” and the Ku Klux Klan that you mention. Are there any games that you wished you could have witnessed too?
RA: I would love to have been at an East-West All-Star game. These games took place in Chicago each summer from the 1930s through the 1950s and featured all of the outstanding Negro League players that I came to admire as I was doing this research. I would have appreciated seeing them in action and also being among the fans who gave them the accolades they deserved.
AR: What do you hope that general readers (i.e., John and Jane Q. Sports Fan) will take away from this book? Likewise, what should American religious historians take from your book?
RA: I hope general readers appreciate the complex role Jews played in segregated baseball. I hope American religious historians see the value of using baseball as a way to understand the intertwining of race and religion in twentieth century America.