In the News: Racism, Ramadan, Romanian Witches and more!

Gold is an essential part of Roma culture, especially for the queen of the witches, Maria Câmpina

Gold is an essential part of Roma culture, especially for the queen of the witches, Maria Câmpina. Photo by Lucia Sekerkova


Maurice Chammah has done a ton of really great reporting for Vice on “How Germany Does Prisons

And S. Brent Plate wrote beautifully about “Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015) and the Rise of Extreme Evangelicalism” in Religion Dispatches. 

In the evangelical world in which I was born and raised, Elisabeth Elliot (who died on June 15) and her husband Jim Elliot were modern day saints. Being of the Protestant persuasion, we didn’t believe in saints the ways those Catholics did, and though we believed in supernatural power we didn’t ever expect humans to be the performers of miracles.


Here is a selection of the best commentary we’ve seen in the wake of the massacre at Emanuel A.M.E. in Charleston, SC last week.

Black Bodies in Motion and in Pain” by Edwidge Danticat for The New Yorker.

Black bodies are increasingly becoming battlefields upon which horrors are routinely executed, each one so close to the last that we barely have the time to fully grieve and mourn. The massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the racist rant that preceded it highlight the hyper-vigilance required to live and love, work and play, travel and pray in a black body. These killings, and the potential mass expulsions from the Dominican Republic, remind us, as Baby Suggs reminds her out-of-doors congregation in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” that, both yonder and here, some do not love our flesh and are unwilling to acknowledge our humanity, much less our nationality or citizenship.

The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning” by Claudia Rankine for the New York Times.

I asked another friend what it’s like being the mother of a black son. “The condition of black life is one of mourning,” she said bluntly. For her, mourning lived in real time inside her and her son’s reality: At any moment she might lose her reason for living. Though the white liberal imagination likes to feel temporarily bad about black suffering, there really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black: no hands in your pockets, no playing music, no sudden movements, no driving your car, no walking at night, no walking in the day, no turning onto this street, no entering this building, no standing your ground, no standing here, no standing there, no talking back, no playing with toy guns, no living while black.

What This Cruel War Was Over” by Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic. 

This mythology of manners is adopted in lieu of the mythology of the Lost Cause. But it still has the great drawback of being rooted in a lie. The Confederate flag should not come down because it is offensive to African Americans. The Confederate flag should come down because it is embarrassing to all Americans. The embarrassment is not limited to the flag, itself. The fact that it still flies, that one must debate its meaning in 2015, reflects an incredible ignorance. A century and a half after Lincoln was killed, after 750,000 of our ancestors died, Americans still aren’t quite sure why.

"Church of God" by Jacob Lawrence

“Church of God” by Jacob Lawrence

Enlightenment Values Aren’t Just the Solution to Racism, They’re Also the Problem” by Hussein Rashid for Religion Dispatches.

If we believe that there are Enlightenment values that have meaning, we need to live up to those in practice, stop being shocked at everyday violence inside our borders, and do something that puts an end to it. Our number one export has to stop being weapons, because that too demonstrates where our values lie.

Michael Eric Dyson writes of “Love and Terror in the Black Church” for the New York Times. 

In a country where black death is normal, even fiendishly familiar, black love is an unavoidably political gesture. And that is what happens in our churches: The act of black love, which seems to make our houses of worship a target of hate. It is a political act in this culture that must remind the nation, once again, as hate and terror level our community, that black lives matter.

The decision to forgive is rootedin faith. the Desire to forget is rooted in racism” by Anthea Butler for The Guardian. 

How long will forgiveness and the subsequent forgetting be a means to derail sustained efforts to confront racism in America? For black people, there is no forgetting of the history of American racism, or the complicity of Christians in that history.  When a white man walks into a black church, sits for an hour, and then allegedly shoots nine black people dead, no amount of forgiveness given for his murderous act by the families of the dead can absolve America of its violent history of racism, no matter how much those complicit in that racism might hope for it.

After Charleston, Black pastors weigh in on gun rights, control” reports Massoud Hayoun for Al Jazeera.

The Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church of Washington, D.C., spoke out for greater gun control. “When America makes violence, it begets more violence,” Lamar told Al Jazeera on Friday.

“America is locked in that narrative,” he said. “You cannot help but call this a continuation of the violence against black bodies that started that beginning. This is the destruction of Rosewood, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the lynchings all recapitulated.


First up, Mormons:

James Ross Gardner invites you to “Meet the Gay Mormon Men (and Their Wives) Beseeching SCOTUS to Save ‘Traditional’ Marriage” in Talking Points Memo‘s The Slice.

Danny, a therapist, and Erin, a part-time pediatric nurse, had invited me into their home in Orem, Utah one Sunday after church so I could learn more about that marriage. So I could ask the obvious questions: Why would an openly gay man marry a woman, and why would he so vociferously oppose the rights of other gay men to marry? And of course, an even more obvious question, to which Erin’s conspicuous show of affection was the perfect segue.

Mormons head up effort to make available records of 4 million former black slaves” reports Lee Davidson for The Salt Lake Tribune.

Hollis Gentry, genealogy specialist at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, said, “These are the earliest of recordings of people who were formerly enslaved. We get a sense of their voice. We get a sense of their desires, their goals, their dreams, their hopes.”

Christofferson said the church is involved in genealogy because it believes families are linked forever, and that knowing the sacrifices of ancestors helps those living now. Mormons also perform ordinances, such as baptism, on behalf of ancestors in LDS temples with the belief that those forebears can accept or reject them in the next life.

Speaking of baptisms, Hillary White writes about “Baptism for the Dead,” “a stitched-together conversation between four siblings who have participated in these baptisms—three who have left the LDS church and one who has stayed, providing a fragmented insider’s perspective on the practice” in Killing the Buddha. 

But what’s funny about baptisms for the dead as a concept is assuming that dead people in an afterlife wished they had been Mormon. It is an enormous assumption, thinking that this person would have wanted that done. I think, “I wonder if it is okay with their relatives that this person’s name is being used in a ritual.”

And then, of course, your weekly papal update:

The Mood of ‘Laudato Si”: A Reply” from Nathan Schneider in America.

One expects a debate about Pope Francis’ new encyclical to form around the details of climate science, or the efficacy of carbon credits, or the theological merits of ecology. But a stranger, subtler difference of opinion has emerged, one that I suspect has more political consequence than it lets on: the interpretation of mood.

Pope Francis: The Cry of the Earth” by Bill McKibben for the New York Review of Books.

My own sense, after spending the day reading this remarkable document, was of great relief. I’ve been working on climate change for a quarter century, and for much of that time it felt like enduring one of those nightmarish dreams where no one can hear your warnings. In recent years a broad-based movement has arisen to take up the challenge, but this marks the first time that a person of great authority in our global culture has fully recognized the scale and depth of our crisis, and the consequent necessary rethinking of what it means to be human.

And one last pope story: “Pope Francis suggests those in weapons industry can’t call themselves Christian” reports Reuters.

Francis issued his toughest condemnation to date of the weapons industry at a rally of thousands of young people at the end of the first day of his trip to the Italian city of Turin.

“If you trust only men you have lost,” he told the young people in a longcommentary about war, trust and politics, after putting aside his prepared address.

“It makes me think of … people, managers, businessmen who call themselves Christian and they manufacture weapons. That leads to a bit of distrust, doesn’t it?” he said to applause.


Politics of gender and religion surface in Women’s World Cup” writes Graham Parker for Al Jazeera America. 

The young woman is wearing a black hoodie fashioned from one of the recognizable smart fabricspopular with sportswear manufacturers. The familiar Nike Swoosh is emblazoned on her chest, and she wears a black “veil” redolent of goal netting over her face. The hoodie is tightly stretched around her head. It’s impossible not to see it as signifying the hijab.

The young woman is Jessica Houara-d’Hommeaux, and she was posing for a Surface Football magazine feature in her native France. The image was ostensibly to help preview the Women’s World Cup in Canada, now underway, but it also served as a provocative response to a debate in France over the role of Muslim women in sports — and society.

Jessica Houara-D'Hommeaux in a photograph for Surface Football Magazine

Jessica Houara-D’Hommeaux in a photograph for Surface Football Magazine

In Ramadan, Saudi Families Break Bread and Watch TV Dramas” reports Deborah Amos for NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.

The holy month of Ramadan is prime time for television dramas and soap operas across the Arab world. TV shows get the highest ratings of the year as families gather to break their fast at sunset. In Saudi Arabia, a drama that was a YouTube hit has crossed over to the mainstream broadcast TV for Ramadan viewing. And this show reflects the youth culture in the kingdom, as NPR’s Deborah Amos reports from Riyadh.

The show is called “Takki,” chill in English. When it played on the Internet in 2012, it was an instant hit with more than 3 million views per episode. This year, a private television channel has backed production of a second season. Mohammed Makki is the 26-year-old writer and director. He explains the first season was about a group of friends trying to make a film in the city of Jeddah and their entanglement with women. Makki says he aimed the series for Saudis under the age of 25.

Speaking of fashion and Ramadan, here’s this week’s installment of the New York Times Thursday style section being unsure of what to do with women who “dress for other women“: “For Ramadan, Courting the Muslim Shopper” by Ruth La Ferla.

Indeed, the retail courtship of free-spending Muslims is being greeted skeptically in some quarters. The thing about corporations, said Fareeha Molvi, a young Muslim-American, in an essay on the Racked website, “is that they rarely do things out of sheer human goodwill.” For stores, Ms. Molvi observed, “Financial gains are a far greater motivator.”

But profiling, to some minds, is just another word for canny marketing, the strategic, and progressive, attempt to identify consumers, women in particular, who have traditionally greeted Ramadan in their most lavish finery.

And lastly, please do read Morwari Zafar astounding, “A Thousand Splendid Stuns” for Granta. It’s amazing.

Contrary to assumptions about Afghan men and secular activity, my father never beat us (or my mom) for having Western or non-Islamic inclinations. Dad did not wield an iron fist, choosing instead a zen-like state of patience and reason to deal with the three women in the household. Not blessed with sons (something of a curse among more conservative Afghans), my dad never faltered in his open affection and his mastery of psychological warfare when it came to negating our appeals to his pathos. He rarely flat-out denied us anything, but disguised refusal as a question that challenged the integrity of our moral core – ‘you can wear that dress, but do you think it best reflects the person you know you are?’ Basically, he guilt-tripped the hell out of us and it worked like a charm almost every time. But he changed my life with music.


Meanwhile, in Egypt: Sigal Samuel asks “Will ‘Jewish Quarter’ Win Over Egyptians — or Backfire?” in The Forward.

A scene from the Egyptian television series "The Jewish Quarter," which follows a Jewish family living in Cairo in 1948. The series has astonished Egyptians with its compassionate treatment of Egypt's Jews and its depiction of their fierce anti-Zionism. Credit El-Adl Group (via the New York Times)

A scene from the Egyptian television series “The Jewish Quarter,” which follows a Jewish family living in Cairo in 1948. The series has astonished Egyptians with its compassionate treatment of Egypt’s Jews and its depiction of their fierce anti-Zionism. Credit El-Adl Group (via the New York Times)

And David D. Kirkpatrick says in the New York Times that “For Egypt, TV Show’s Shocking Twist Is Its Sympathetic Jews.”

It is a stark turn from the overt anti-Semitism that has dominated Egyptian television for decades. The Israeli Embassy in Cairo commended the first episodes, commenting on an embassy-run Facebook page that for the first time, “it shows Jews in their real human state, as a human being before anything, and we bless this.”

Oh, and Ross Arbes explains “How the Talmud Became a Best Seller in South Korea” in The New Yorker. 

In 2011, the South Korean Ambassador to Israel at the time, Young-sam Ma, was interviewed on the Israeli public-television show “Culture Today.” “I wanted to show you this,” he told the host, straying briefly from the topic at hand, a Korean film showing in Tel Aviv. It was a white paperback book with “Talmud” written in Korean and English on the cover, along with a cartoon sketch of a Biblical character with a robe and staff. “Each Korean family has at least one copy of the Talmud. Korean mothers want to know how so many Jewish people became geniuses.” Looking up at the surprised host, he added, “Twenty-three per cent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish people. Korean women want to know the secret. They found the secret in this book.”


Juan Vidal writes for NPR Books about “Words Made Flesh: Literature and the Language of Prayer.”

Lately, my prayers have become a form of artistic expression: Carefully chosen words, praise reports like songs, and sometimes pissed-off pronouncements entwined with polite requests that I please not screw something up. This season of life has required thoughtful consideration of even my private devotional time — and that makes me think of the conviction of Flannery O’Connor.

No other writer in the history of American letters has been able to pin down the intersection of faith, prayer, and art as evocatively as O’Connor.

Escaping Colonialism, Rescuing Religion: on Alicia Turner’s Saving Buddhism” by Alexandra Kaloyanides for the Marginalia Review of Books.

By attending to sāsana and religion in colonial Burma, Saving Buddhism shows how Burmese communities were able to draw on traditional Buddhist resources and newly available colonial technologies to renegotiate the conditions of life under the British crown. Rather than yield to Western ideas about religion, these Burmese communities creatively combined long-established Buddhist techniques of reform and preservation with modern innovations such as such as the printing press, subscription associations, and modern schools. Turner describes these colonial Burmese communities as “active and adept bricoleurs” who recast ideas about Buddhism and their community’s role in its history.

Satanic Temple Will File Federal Lawsuit Against Missouri Abortion Laws” reports Anna Merlan for Jezebel.

The Satanic Temple, God bless and keep them, is filing a federal lawsuit today against Missouri’s abortion restrictions, where one of their members, known as “Mary Doe,” recently terminated a pregnancy. The Satanic Temple is arguing that Missouri’s abortion laws, specifically its 72-hour waiting period and an “informed consent” booklet given to Doe, violate her free exercise of religion.

William Dalrymple tells the story of The Great Divide: The Violent Legacy of Indian Partition” by for The New Yorker.

The question of how India’s deeply intermixed and profoundly syncretic culture unravelled so quickly has spawned a vast literature. The polarization of Hindus and Muslims occurred during just a couple of decades of the twentieth century, but by the middle of the century it was so complete that many on both sides believed that it was impossible for adherents of the two religions to live together peacefully. Recently, a spate of new work has challenged seventy years of nationalist mythmaking. There has also been a widespread attempt to record oral memories of Partition before the dwindling generation that experienced it takes its memories to the grave.

And lastly, the story of that magnificent woman from the top of the page: Robert Alexe (words) and Lucia Sekerkova (photographs) take us “Inside the Gaudy World of Romania’s Wealthiest Witches” for Vice.

I’ve been both fascinated and scared by the occult ever since I was a child. I decided to come to Romania through the Erasmus student exchange program because I thought the country was quite mysterious and rich in folklore. I was searching the internet for information about the villages, the people, and their traditions when I came across a YouTube video of one of these fortune tellers. I knew right away that I needed to meet them in person.


Past links round-ups can be found here:

Emanuel A.M.E., Encyclicals, Etsy, and more! (June 19, 20

Satanism, Sacred Music, Shasta Seekers, and more! (June 11, 2015)

Hip Hop, Hijabs, Hasidic Fashion, and more! (June 5, 2015)

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *