The interview opens with Seales describing how southern secularism is like a "greasy pig"; but, he quickly adds, it is not like David Duke. Trust me, this will make sense once you've heard his explanation. Since reading the book and recording the interview, I'm starting to think that The Secular Spectacle will do for the study of secularism what The Madonna of 115th Street has done for lived religion. Both dig a deep well into a local culture in order to bring to the surface a myriad of methodological insights, all the while telling a compelling story based on ethnographic and historical sources. And just as Robert Orsi has inspired many scholars to dig their own wells in the land of lived religion, I expect that Seales will likewise attract pilgrims to his intellectual territory.
So prepare yourself to hear much, much more about The Secular Spectacle. But first, listen to this interview.
Next, I caught up with Peter Gardella, author of American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred. I start the conversation with a "pot-meets-kettle" question: "Why another book on civil religion?" Gardella responds that he saw the need for an updated overview of civil religion, one that would work in a classroom and be of interest to general readers. The result is 34 accessible and richly illustrated chapters on the people, places, events, texts, and objects associated with America's civil religious past and present. Taken together, Gardella proposes that these items testify to the four central values of American civil religion: personal freedom, political democracy, world peace, and cultural tolerance.
Among the many gems in this book, Gardella's chapter on the Constitution references a 1968 Star Trek episode wherein the crew happens upon a war-torn planet that had been settled by humans centuries prior. Cold War awesomeness appears in not-so-subtle ways when we learn that the opposing factions in this conflict are the "Yangs" and the "Coms." Then, just in case any shred of subtly remains, Captain Kirk discovers among their relics a copy of the Constitution, prompting him to launch into a "dramatic" reading and interpretation of the document. Let's just say, I'll be showing this to all of my classes--irrespective of the topic.
Finally, we have Anthony Santoro discussing his provocative book, Exile and Embrace: Contemporary Religious Discourse on the Death Penalty. Near the end of the interview, I ask Santoro to elaborate on his conclusion that "the death penalty is an admission of failure." In response, he stresses that the death penalty is more than just the death penalty. Rather, it tells us about much broader issues of American justice, religion, and society. Santoro returns to this theme once more when he previews his forthcoming article for Marginalia, which will analyze the legal campaign to pursue the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the defendant in the Boston Marathon bombings.