REVEALERS IN THE NEWS
Samira K. Mehta interviewed Professor Adam H. Becker about his new book, Revival and Awakening: American Evangelical Awakenings in Iran and the Origins of Assyrian Nationalism on the Religion in American History Blog. You can read an excerpt from Becker’s book here.
One of the most exciting things for me in this project is that when you work on antiquity and you have a good sense of the kind of cultural theoretical thinking we do, for example, in religious studies, you find yourself often simply pointing out how different the past was. So much of our theoretical apparatus has developed explicitly and implicitly answering the question about modernity, what it is, how it happened, did it happen, is it pluriform, etc. In this project I was able to follow that story—of course, a particular rendering of it with certain nuances–through my own sources and observe the Syriac tradition as it was transformed within the missionary encounter. There are certain interventions I wanted to make in that theoretical conversation. One is the relationship between religion and nationalism, which I think remains stuck in a certain secularization narrative, one we see built into Anderson’s work and repeated by many. Another is the fundamentally social basis of even the most interiorized forms of piety.
NEW ARGUMENTS, OLD PREJUDICES
It should go without saying that no one deserves to die this way or for these reasons. But, what do you do when the ideology of Western “New Atheists” is, itself, violent? We still think that Luke Savage‘s “New Atheism, Old Empire” for Jacobin last winter is the best commentary we’ve read on the foibles and failings of New Atheism. But these debates are far from over.
Sam Harris just published his exchange with Noam Chomsky on his blog with the title “The Limits of Discourse.” Andrew Aghapour replied in Religion Dispatches with “Fighting Fire with Ire: 3 Lessons from Noam Chomsky’s Takedown of Sam Harris.”
This reminds me a bit of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent argument that pleas for nonviolence in Baltimore are ultimately demands to back down and comply. “When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out,” Coates states, “it exposes itself as a ruse.” Similarly, for Chomsky to politely return to the philosophical premise of Harris’s choosing would be to ignore the larger context that makes his arguments flawed in the first place.
And Khaled Diab‘s put in his two cents for Haaretz, “When it comes to Islam, New Atheists sound a lot like Christian Fundamentalists.”
After reading the debate, I was left with the impression that Harris has a knack for speaking truth to the powerless – and in doing so, sounds quite a lot like the religious fundamentalists he so disdains.
All of it just makes us want to go back to a time when Noam Chomsky had much more worthy adversaries.
“I would be very happy to have the Templeton Foundation sponsor research on religion and science,” he said in a phone interview from Spain, where he is lecturing. “But what they are doing now is sponsoring some very fine science with no strings attached and then using their sponsorship of that to try and win prestige for other projects that are not in the same league.”
He pointed specifically to the Darwin Festival held in Cambridge, England, in 2009, which was also funded in part by Templeton. He wrote that some of the presentations there were “full of earnest gobbledegook.”
YOUR WEEKLY ISIS THINK-PIECE ROUND-UP
Dina Temple-Raston reports for The New Yorker on “How to Take the Internet Back from ISIS.”
Last week, in the ballroom of the St. Regis Abu Dhabi, Chris Blauvelt climbed onstage with three other Americans to accept first prize in the world’s inaugural Haqqathon. The tech-centered event, whose name is a play on “haqq,” the Arabic word for “truth,” took place on the fringes of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, a conference of scholars from around the globe. For the past several years, the group has focussed primarily on quelling violent extremism, with limited success. Last year, it issued a fatwa against the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which did very little to stop young Muslim men from taking up arms in Syria. The decision to include two dozen hackers in the 2015 conference was, in part, an acknowledgment of that failure. “We need to relate more to people on the ground,” Zeshan Zafar, the forum’s young executive director, told me. “The scholars aren’t resonating. We need to meet the youth where they are—online, in social media.”
LET’S TALK ABOUT MUSLIMS WHO AREN’T IN ISIS, SHALL WE?
One of the books we probably recommend to people most around here is Mahmood Mamdani’s Good Muslim, Bad Muslim. So, we were pretty interested when we learned about a new podcast by the same name. Well, the same name plus an octothorpe. NPR interviewed the hosts of #GoodMuslimBadMuslim, Zahra Noorbakhsh and Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed, in “What is a ‘Good Muslim’ Anyway?”
“We’re always thinking about how people are being labeled as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ and we kind of wanted to disrupt that narrative and shake things up,” says Ahmed. “We’re taking the good and we’re re-imagining it for ourselves.”
Rafia Zakaria writes powerfully about “Writing While Muslim: The Freedom to Be Offended” for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Honoring Charlie Hebdo, then, represents a particular coming together of two different but coexisting Western prejudices, both posing as commitments to secular ideas, and neither really having anything to do with freedom.
Sigh. “Officials Threaten to Close Mosque Installation at Venice Biennale” reports Randy Kennedy for The New York Times.
The project, by the Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel, serves as Iceland’s national pavilion for the Biennale and is intended in part to highlight the absence of a mosque in the historic heart of Venice, a city whose art and architecture were deeply influenced by Islamic trade and culture. But the idea has upset Venetian city officials and police authorities, who have warned that the mosque poses a security threat because of possible violence either by anti-Islamic extremists or Islamic extremists upset that the mosque has been created inside a disused Catholic church. City officials have also argued that special legal permission is needed within Venice to create a place of worship, and they have rejected claims by Mr. Büchel and Icelandic art officials that the mosque is a simply a work of art functioning as a place of worship.
From Nones to nuns. Al Jazeera reports that “Appeals court overturns sabotage conviction against nun.” We’ve suggested it before and will recommend doing so once again: You can read more about Megan Rice and her comrades in Eric Schlosser‘s “Break-in at Y-12” from The New Yorker a couple of month’s ago.
From the witness stand, Sister Megan described her mystical, nature-loving form of Catholicism. All living things were miraculous, she believed. “I was aware of every moment being an imminent threat to the life and harmony of the planet,” Sister Megan said under cross-examination. “Every moment, as we sit here now, is an imminent threat to the life of the planet, which is sacred.”
And now, thanks to Boing Boing and Tom Fassbender, we know “How to buy secret cookies baked by cloistered nuns.”
We followed the arrow and passed through a small courtyard before reaching the end of the hallway where we found a window with a three-chambered lazy susan. This was the torno indicated by the sign we’d seen, and it looked like a small revolving door, but with brown-painted wood instead of glass. Taped to the wall on the right side of thetorno was a price list. We’d made it … now all we had to do was figure out how to order our cookies.
Grumblegrumblegrumble. “Nightly News Turns to Bishops about Contraception More Often than Docs,” shares Patricia Miller in Religion Dispatches.
Jodi Rudoren and Diaa Hadid report for the New York Times, “Vatican to Recognize Palestinian State in New Treaty.”
ROUNDING OUT THE ROUND-UP
Jason Dilts, Full Circle’s communications and development director, called the raid “distressing,” and explained to VICE that “part of our spiritual practice is drinking kombucha.”
“It’s a sacred tea to a lot of people who come into our temple. So to have a raid, saying we can’t do the sorts of practices that we do on a daily basis is rather disturbing,” Dilts said.
You know what else has alcohol in it? Bourbon. You knew that, though. What you maybe didn’t know about is “The Forgotten Jewish Heritage of Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey” reported on by Reid Mitenbuler in The Atlantic.
After Russia grabbed hold of many Eastern European enclaves, the liquor business was often one of the few jobs where Jews weren’t restricted, meaning that Jews have “brewed, distilled, and sold all varieties of intoxicating beverages to both Jews and gentiles since the beginning of the Diaspora,” according to the book Jews and Booze by Georgia State University history professor Marni Davis. By the second half of the 19th century, increasing numbers of that diaspora, including Bernheim, began arriving to the United States.
Speaking of things forgotten and Jewish, “Secret Jewish cemetery survives in Detroit’s GM car factory” reports Jeff Karoub for Haaretz.
While the arrangement is unconventional, Zuckman described the relationship between the automaker and cemetery officials as “very good.” Some landscaping work and headstone repairs are needed, but the grounds and graves are in generally good shape given their age. Clover Hill Park is responsible and pays for upkeep, though GM has access in case of emergency.
Somewhere in all this talk of Saul Bellow, Kombucha, that GM cemetery, and Jewish Bourbon, there’s Simon Rich. Did you ever read his incredible four part series “Sell Out” in The New Yorker? If not, please, please do.
Soon, though, I have another thought. When I freeze in brine, Sarah was with child. Maybe I still have family in Brooklyn? Maybe our dreams have come true?
The science man turns on computing box and types. I have one great-great-grandson still in Brooklyn, he says. By coincidence, he is twenty-seven years, just like me. His name is Simon Rich. I am so excited I can barely breathe. Maybe he is doctor, or even rabbi? I cannot wait to meet this man—to learn the ending of my family’s story.
“How about Thai fusion?” Simon asks me, as we walk along the street where I once lived. “This place has these amazing gluten-free ginger thingies.”
Past links round-ups can be found here:
Lindsey Graham, Garland, TX, God’s Plaintiff, and more! (May 8, 2015)
Pamela Geller, Prophesy, PEN, and more! (May 1, 2015)
Talal Asad, Taylor Swift, Turbans, and more! (April 2015)
Passover, Prison, Pop Music, and more! (March 2015)
The Crusades, Anti-Vaxxers, Chocolate Gods, and more! (February 2015)
Paris, Witches, the CNN Apocalypse, and more! (January 2015)
Hasidim, Mormons, Borges and more! (November 2014)
Wicca, Climate Change, Gaza, and more! (August 2014)
-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer