In the News: Hip Hop, Hijabs, Hasidic Fashion, and more!

Welcome to this week’s religion and media news round-up! This week, we swear we’re not trying to play into any religious/culture war binary paradigms, but most of the stories we read were about Christianity and Islam, so that’s how we’re grouping ’em. Then, as always, some tales from the everyone else when we round out the round-up. 


First of all, this New York Times website is becoming increasingly necessary: “Who Is Running for President (And Who’s Not?)

Here are a few stories about those who are, at least sort-of, in the running:

Thomas J. Whitley of Marginalia asking “What Can We Learn From Christian Hip Hop That Supports Ted Cruz?

The coupling of “religious” and “political” is even more obvious in “Set It on Fire,” which includes two shout-outs to Reagan and declares that We Are Watchmen is “all in for Ted Cruz” (Notice also that the ted Cruz for President logo is the background of the “Set It on Fire” video). “Set It on Fire” goes quite a bit further than “Stand” in its espousing of conservative political positions. A strong federal government is not just a different opinion about how government should be run, but a poison: “When power is concentrated centrally and federally, it creates dependency that’s medically like leprosy.” Since America is “the greatest nation that’s ever been implanted on the planet,” it must be saved and the only way to do that is by upholding the Constitution, pushing back evil liberal policies, and outing RINOs.

Don Gonyea explains “Why Jeb Bush Can’t Bank on Faith Like His Brother Did” for NPR.

Despite Jeb Bush’s opposition to abortion — and same-sex marriage — many voters here see him as moderate. This reaction, from Republican voter Byron Carlson, a physician, is not unusual: “I would say I’m a Christian conservative, but I think at this time it’s a wide open field with lots of options.” After seeing this Bush speak recently, he added, “Jeb just wasn’t that impressive to me listening to him.”

And “Rick Santorum Lectures the Pope on Weighing in on Climate Change” Rebecca Leber at The New Republic.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a Catholic, describes himself as a “huge fan” of Pope Francis. Nonetheless, he thinks the Pope would do better to “leave science to the scientists” and stop talking about climate change. “I’ve said this to Catholic bishops many times—when they get involved with agriculture policy or things like that that are really outside the scope of what the church’s main message is, that we’re better off sticking to things that are really the core teachings of the church as opposed to getting involved with every other kind of issue that happens to be popular at the time,” he said on a Philadelphia radio show this week. Instead, he urged the Catholic Church to “focus on what we’re really good on, which is theology and morality. When we get involved with political and controversial scientific theories, then I think the church is probably not as forceful or credible.”


Speaking of the Pope, Gary Wills explains “Why the Pope Chose Francis” in The New York Review of Books.

In this closeness to the laity, Pope Francis earns the name he has chosen. He tells bishops and priests to get out of their palaces and rectories, to go to “the periphery,” where they can get “the smell of the sheep.”

Speaking of popes, The Immanent Frame has just begun to post a series of articles about Christian Human Rights, centered around the recent work of the always smart and incisive Samuel Moyn. 

In 2010, Samuel Moyn published The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, which offered an alternative historical explanation for the origins of human rights. In particular, Moyn rejected narratives that viewed human rights as a long-term historical product of the Judeo-Christian tradition, The French Revolution, or Enlightenment rationalism, arguing that human rights as it is now understood began to emerge only during the 1970s. Prior to this, according to Moyn, rights were connected to the nation-state and had nothing to do with an international standard of morality or justice. In addressing critiques of The Last Utopia, Moyn has given considerable attention to the relationship between human rights and religion, conceding that there is, undoubtedly, a relationship between Christianity—Catholicism in particular—and human rights, but arguing that the “death of Christian Europe” by the 1960s “forced a complete reinvention of the meaning of human rights embedded in European identity both formally and really since the war” (“Personalism, Community, and the Origins of Human Rights,” 2010).

In this series, contributors offer their thoughts on Moyn’s article “Personalism, Community, and the Origins of Human Rights,” which became a central focus (see excerpt below) in his forthcoming book, Christian Human Rights (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). Contributors also respond to “Christian Human Rights,” the introductory essay written for this series.

In pop culture news:

NBC‘s The Voice finds religion” according to John L. Crow writing for the Religion in American History blog.

What is so significant is that this is the first time, to my knowledge, that a singing reality TV program has appealed to a religious constituency so directly. It is not uncommon in politics to see particular candidates appealing for certain religious community support, but competition reality shows generally remain quiet about religion, preferring to stay neutral religiously. This season of The Voice broke this model and it seems there was no backlash for its religiosity. In the end how did Hawthorne and the others do? Hawthorne came in fourth and Lindsey came in second. Lindsey already had a fan base from a previous musical career, but Hawthorne didn’t. There can be no doubt that it was her appeal to Christians that helped her reach the finals. Will others attempt to mobilize Christians in other reality competition shows? This remains to be seen, but if this season of The Voice is any indication, it is likely that other participants will call on a religious constituency to do well in the competition.

And Emma Green writes for The Atlantic about “The Real Christian Debate on Transgender Identity” in the wake of Caitlin Jenner‘s debut in Vanity Fair. 

“Many evangelicals, and probably most Americans, [believe] that sex and gender are the very same thing,” said Sara Moslener, a professor at Central Michigan University who studies religion and sexuality. Outside of the LGBT community, many people haven’t had significant exposure to transgender issues. And for those who look to their church and faith for guidance on sexuality and gender, Biblical teachings don’t necessarily speak to the complexity of transgender identity. “When evangelical Christians look at the Bible, they go to the creation story and say this is the story of Adam and Eve, this is how God created it,” Moslener said.

While Todd A. Comer writes  about “Defying the Certainty of the Christian Right” for Killing the Buddha

Interpretation is not an easy business. How can one read a book without smuggling in one’s selfish interest? How can I also put aside my whiteness, my own Christian background, my own relative privilege and read objectively? I’m not sure I can. I’m not sure anyone can, but what remains important is that I/we/Mr. Taylor honestly recognize and account for why we read history as we do.

Speaking of defiance, this how-to polemic made its way around the religion news sphere this week: “8 steps to confront your wife’s sexual refusal” by a man whom, you may not be surprised, wishes to blog profusely, but remain anonymous. We were fairly shocked, but un-cowed, by his arguments.

cow in front of a white background

Feeling the need to run away and take a nap. No worries, these churches have you covered.  “Camping in Church? Make Way for Champers” cheers the New York Times. 

Glampers, make way for “champers.” Travelers can now spend a night surrounded by history in three of England’s treasured country churches as part of the “champing” program — camping in churches — run by the Churches Conservation Trust. The trust, which cares for more than 340 churches no longer used for regular worship, is offering overnight stays as a way to help preserve the buildings, raise money and promote “slow tourism.”


As we’ve been discussing (here and here), Islamophobic “free speech” advocates are now invoking not only the first, but also the second, amendments. You can read more in Rebecca Zemansky‘s report for the Daily Beast, Anti-Islam Bigots Fail to Provoke in Phoenix.”

What concerned both community members and law enforcement is that the event’s Facebook page encourages rally participants “to utilize there (sic) second amendment right at this event just incase our first amendment comes under the much anticipated attack.”

After the Phoenix rally, its organizer, Jon Ritzheimer, published a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for his own protection. The campaign has been shut-down, but Addicting Info wrote about it first: “Guy Who Staged Anti-Muslim Hate Rally Now Wants You To Give Him $10 Million ‘For Protection.'”

Ritzheimer seems to be the latest in a growing number of conservatives who saw how much money an anti-gay pizza shop made by begging for money and took an opportunity to pull the same stunt. It’s not just that his GoFundMe campaign was a foregone conclusion, it was probably built into his anti-Muslim rally from the very start. In fact, even his interviews while at the rally were rife with mentions of how scared he was for his family and that he would “going into hiding” after it was over. (Note the irony of a group of men with assault rifles standing in front of women and children entering a mosque and claiming they are the ones who are being terrorized.)

We appreciated Jeremy F. Walton‘s analysis in Jadaliyya as a bit of antidote, “Beyond Blame: Troubling the Semiotic Ideology of Muslim Passion.”

 If we hope to move beyond a kneejerk reassertion of dominant moral orders, we must also interrogate the semiotic ideology that relentlessly depoliticizes Muslim sensitivities and passions, and thereby renders them devoid of political context. This resistance to depoliticization is an aspect of a broader project: the refusal to engage in essentialist “culture talk” about Muslim politics. Some will surely claim that this insistence against depoliticization risks blaming the victims, but blame is not the aspiration. Rather, beyond blame, we require an accounting of the dilemmas and pressures that shape all lives in European and North American liberal democracies, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. As of yet, it seems that the only lessons drawn from the recent attacks are that freedom of expression is under threat, and that Islam, yet again, constitutes this threat. Such hackneyed, predictable conclusions merely cater to dubious moral certitude, and foreclose the very questions that we must urgently pursue.

Speaking of Islamophobia, Haroon Moghul interviews “Aasif Mandvi on Islamophobia, Acting, and the Long Shadow of Jon Stewart” for Religion Dispatches. 

Wow. What is the line between free speech and bigotry? Look, there’s always going to be free speech, and it’s a fundamental right. We are allowed to speak our minds. But bigotry will always exist—there will always be a certain amount of prejudice, and I don’t think you can eradicate that. What I wanted to do was address some of that prejudice, the misinformation that gets put out there.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25: Samantha Elauf (R) and her mother Majda Elauf of Tulsa, Oklahoma, pose for photographers outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the court heard oral arguments in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. Elauf filed a charge of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying Abercrombie & Fitch violated discrimination laws in 2008 by declining to hire her because she wore a head scarf, a symbol of her Muslim faith. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 25: Samantha Elauf (R) and her mother Majda Elauf of Tulsa, Oklahoma, pose for photographers outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the court heard oral arguments in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Some good news! Simran Jeet Singh explains in the Washington PostA Muslim woman beat Abercrombie & Fitch. Why her Supreme Court victory is a win for all Americans.”

This case illustrates how we see ourselves as a society. Current policies on workplace discrimination have gaping loopholes that allow employers to not hire applicants on the basis of their appearance. Therefore, the American workforce does not accurately reflect or leverage the proud diversity of this nation. Having a more diverse cross section represented in the workforce would cut against negative stereotypes that contribute to xenophobia and hate violence targeting minority communities.


It’s June, and that means, it’s wedding season! (At least according to our matrimonially inclined Facebook feeds.) So, we enjoyed this chance to go “Behind the Veil With Kleinfeld’s Modest Bridal Consultant” thanks to Chavie Leber at Racked.

During her two decades at Kleinfeld, Katz has worked with women from a wide array of backgrounds. She’s learned the different set of modesty rules that come along with each one, but Katz says most of her clients are Orthodox Jewish. This is, of course, familiar territory for her. She can converse with brides in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish, and understands the guidelines of tzniut, or modesty according to Jewish customs, which translates to women covering their elbows, knees, and collar bones and not wearing anything too form-fitting in some traditions.

Speaking of orthodox fashion, we consistently enjoy hearing what Leandra Medine, aka The Man Repeller, has to say about the world. Medine, in case you do not also uncomfortably split your RSS feed between lifestyle blogs and religion news and are not yet familiar with her oeuvre, is a much admired fashion blogger who happens to have been raised as an Orthodox Jew. So, when fellow hip young person Lena Dunham has a frum fashion question, she knows just who to ask.

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The Row, of course, being the cosmically expensive fashion line produced by the little known sect of Hasidic Stevie Nicks impersonators, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. The Birkenstocks are a whole other story…


Now it’s time to cross over with Nathan Thornburgh‘s “The Root of All Things” in Roads and Kingdoms.

I saw my own ancestors, people I have never spared a thought for, line the circular hut and benedict me in warm Yiddish and Dutch and Middle English. I saw a jaguar walk through the room, and when Don Enrique blew smoke on me and sang to me, I surged along with his song and then the vine—the real vine this time—went through me like spiritual endoscopy, and deliberated and diagnosed my gut and the jaguar and a snake had a conversation with Don Enrique about how many leaves of this plant should be mixed with how many leaves of another, and how often I should take the medicine.

See you on the other side (i.e., next week)!


Past links round-ups can be found here:

TLC, THC, OMG! (May 29, 2015)

Mad Men, Mormons, Monks, and more! (May 22, 2015)

Candles, Kombucha, Crocodiles, and more! (May 15, 2015)

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)

#black lives matter, #Illridewithyou, TL;DR Bible Stories, and more! (December 2014)

Hasidim, Mormons, Borges and more! (November 2014)

Wicca, Climate Change, Gaza, and more! (August 2014)

Prison Churches, Museums, and, of course, Hobby Lobby (July 2014)


-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer

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