In the News: Pundits, Prophets, Politics, and more!


We’re very excited about this new book out from the University of Chicago Press, Politics of Religious Freedom edited by Winnifred Fallers SullivanElizabeth Shakman HurdSaba Mahmood, and Peter G. Danchin with chapters (originally published on The Immanent Frame) by each of the editors as well as Revealer favorites Elizabeth CastelliCourtney Bender, Samuel MoynAnn PelligriniMichael LambekWendy Brown and tons of other brilliant scholars.

Speaking of fantastic scholars, we recommend reading this interview with Anthony Petro in Religion Dispatches, “How AIDS Changed the Way American Christians Talk About Sex.”

For readers interested in religion, my key message is that the AIDS crisis changed the way American Christians talked about sexuality. Sex was by no means a new topic for Christians, but the AIDS crisis brought discussion of gay sex and of various sexual practices, like oral and anal sex, into virtually every household in the country.

And our awesome Alt-Ac friend Brook Wilensky-Lanford made a very smart appearance in The New Yorker this week to tell us about “An Awkward Adaptation of Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet.’

The movie’s juxtaposition of poetry and drama makes for an oddly jarring viewing experience, as if a Lebanese grandfather were lecturing a satori-seeking college student. But it may also be a fairly accurate dramatization of the strange cultural space that “The Prophet” occupies, poised awkwardly between utmost seriousness and sheer whimsy. The book is a best-seller with a largely forgotten author; it was written for adults, but has been adopted by teen-agers; it is dismissed as lightweight, but remains dogged in its longevity. It even produces conflicting reactions in its fans, people like Allers, who seem both nostalgic for and possibly embarrassed by how the book made them feel. “The Prophet,” as this odd adaptation helps to demonstrate, may be both “very meaningful” and too ridiculous to talk about.


Still from “Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet”

The Atlantic has been publishing a series of pieces about Ta-Nahisi Coates‘ new book Between the World and Me in a book club. This week’s installment, “Not Trying to Get Into Heaven” by Tressie McMillan Cottom was especially good.

He is not the first to articulate a black politics without churchiness, but it is a particular moment for Coates to do so. The consensus seems to be that millennials are less religious than previous generations but that they maintain cultural beliefs rooted in religion. They may not go to church—but like black agnostics and atheists, they hold onto its linguistics and ritual. But I have been struck by the sight of youth organizers gathering under the “Black Lives Matter” banner, who seem to also be articulating a post-black church political language. Even as they welcome elders like the theologian and academic Cornel West as foreparents of the movement, some organizers are speaking without explicitly religious themes. … I also think that the book is an entry in a long conversation about the role of religion, especially western Christianity, in the articulation of black people’s lives.

And Philip Perdue reflects “On Light, God, Photography… and That Moment Just Before the Bad Thing Happens.”

The point isn’t that photography is God, or that God is a photograph—at least not literally. But we are in fact dealing with a mode of communication that freezes time and space, obeys its own laws, is both visual and grammatical, and does more to generate meaning—and generates more meaning—than we can fully understand.

How unsettling, then, that this brief meditation on photography as a play on light is sparked by a gruesome scene of religiously-inspired hatred? Taken just moments before Ultra-Orthodox Yishai Schlissel whips out a knife and stabs six people at Jerusalem’s annual gay pride parade, this photograph is striking in part because it captures the crime scene before the crime even happens.

Ultra-Orthodox Jew Yishai Schlissel walks through a Gay Pride parade and is just about to pull a knife from under his coat and start stabbing people in Jerusalem Thursday, July 30, 2015. Schlissel was recently released from prison after serving a term for stabbing several people at a gay pride parade in 2005, a police spokeswoman said.(AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Ultra-Orthodox Jew Yishai Schlissel walks through a Gay Pride parade and is just about to pull a knife from under his coat and start stabbing people in Jerusalem Thursday, July 30, 2015. Schlissel was recently released from prison after serving a term for stabbing several people at a gay pride parade in 2005, a police spokeswoman said.(AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)


Speaking of art and religion, Bilal Qureshi launches a series of stories about Islam and art, “Muslim Artists, Now” with “Opulent and Apolitical: The Art of the Met’s Islamic Galleries.”

But at a time when the meaning of Islam is so fraught and the debate over Muslim values is so charged, what exactly constitutes Islamic art? Is it a religious definition, an ethnic category or a political statement?

Hannah Ellis-Peterson reports on a “Controversial Isis-related play cancelled two weeks before opening night” for The Guardian.

“The whole point was that it was more of a kaleidoscopic exploration of the treatment of homegrown radicalisation and to explore the breadth of opinion that is out there, and that the young people find themselves subject to. To cancel it is to undermine that entirely – what message does that send these young people about the environment of fear and politics we live in?”

Thanks to The Atlantic, you can watch a video of Arsalan IftigkharDalia Mogahead, and Reza Aslan discussing “Struggles of the Muslim Pundit: Islam and the Media” from the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival.

As various news outlets reacted to the attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher, a Kosher deli in Paris, producers across America picked up their phones, looking for people to speak for the global Muslim community. When jihadists take lives, Muslim public intellectuals are often asked to explain, make distinctions, or even apologize. Arsalan Iftikhar,Dalia Mogahed, and Reza Aslan share their stories from years spent answering for Islam. They reflect on the media’s role in distributing images of violence and propaganda, and the editorial decisions around when to publish—or not to publish—images of the Prophet.

And Rafia Zakaria takes on Ayaan Hirsi Ali‘s latest for the Los Angeles Review of Books in “Defining the Dissident.”

If Luther had the printing press, Hirsi Ali has Google. As she says: “Without the assistance of Google it would have been far harder to write this book.” It is this confession that best sums up her book; Heretic reads like a well-Googled assemblage on Islam and reform, put together with little attention to either historical context or philosophical complexity. Hirsi Ali seems unaware, for instance, that her central prescription — that Islam should have a “reformation” — is rooted in the evolutionary precepts of Western colonialism toward their colonized populations. As Bernard Cohn has written in Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India, “[T]he application of social evolutionary theories to India by a wide range of British officials and scholars yielded a crucial ruling paradigm; the Indian present was the European past.” The trick was a useful one for colonizers past; in the subcontinent it permitted the British to characterize their presence as benevolent and progressive, diverting attention from its exploitative and extractive reality. Hirsi Ali simply repeats the formulation here.


Christians under pressure: from bigotry at school to imprisonment and murder” by Jared Malsin, Saba Imtiaz, Tom Phillips, and Peter Beaumont for The Guardian.

Faith leaders warn of a rise in persecution around the world. Here we focus on four countries where Christian believers face official discrimination and threats of attacks by militants – sometimes at the same time.

Andrea Smardon reports for NPR, “In Utah, ‘Book of Mormon Strikes a Chord.”

 As for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s running ads in the playbill promoting the actual Book of Mormon. You’ve seen the play, one ad says; now read the book. For NPR News, I’m Andrea Smardon in Salt Lake City.

Speaking of Mormonism, “Revealed: The stone that ‘translated’ the Book of Mormon.”

The church has always possessed the stone, which was transported across the country during Mormon pioneers’ trek from Illinois to Utah in the mid-1800s, but it decided to publish the photos now to allow people who prefer visuals to words to better understand the religion’s roots, said Richard Turley, assistant church historian. The stone will remain in the vault.

Naomi Shavin explains “Why an Indie Press in Brooklyn is Publishing the Pope” for The New Republic. 

Indeed, for the Melville House team, which usually plans books at least a year in advance, publishing a book this quickly can only happen if there is significant enthusiasm for the project. “I’m not particularly interested in preaching to the choir, you have to expand an author’s readership,” Johnson explained. “The Pope has become an activist figure, a beloved figure… We are salespeople for the Pope. We want people to buy the book, we want them to get the message, we want them to read it.” According to Johnson, “This is what the Vatican realized [this] publication could do for them. We’ll get it out to a much wider audience—otherwise, they’d read about it in a newspaper and that would be that.

Emma Green asks “What would the American culture wars look like if they were less about ‘values’ and more about Jesus?” in “The Freakishness of Christianity” for The Atlantic.

This word, “freak,” is both jarring and effective: It’s a high-school-hallway diss, all hard-edged consonants and staccato contempt. Christians have reclaimed this word before; the 1960s-era “Jesus freaks” mixed gospel teachings with hippie counter-culture. In many ways, Moore wants to capture a similar mentality, one of standing against and apart from culture, rather than trying to win it over. This is not quite the 304same as “the Benedict option,” as Rod Dreher has called it—a strategic retreat from culture and fortification of communities that share similar values. As Moore pointed out, the core of being an evangelical is evangelism, spreading the good news of Christ; there’s no low-church history of monastic retreat like there is in the Catholic or Orthodox traditions. But it is a strategic reorientation: to see the world through the eyes of the outcast, rather than the conqueror.

And, speaking of “freaks,” Nathan Rabin takes us to the “2015 Gathering of the Juggalos: Children, a wedding, and Juggalos for Jesus” in the A.V. Club.

The first form of family that I encountered surprised me. It was less the traditional Juggalo surrogate family than the brotherhood of Christ. In the upside down world of the Gathering, however, what’s shocking isn’t extreme behavior but piety. So I was not expecting to enter the camp grounds of Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio, and immediately encounter a group of fresh-faced, smiling Christians manning a “Juggalos For Jesus” booth.


What made the Juggalos For Jesus so oddly charming was the soft-sell nature of their appeal. They weren’t hectoring Juggalos or condemning them (at least overtly) but rather offering up simple kindness, along with Faygos and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.


Talia Levin goes “Off the Path of Orthodoxy” for The New Yorker.

There are many terms for people who have left Orthodox Judaism: apikores (an ancient Hebrew term for “apostate”); chozer b’she’elah (a decorous Israeli term, which translates roughly to “one who returns with questions”); frei (Yiddish for “free,” usually used in a derogatory fashion); and “O.T.D.,” or “off the derech” (“derech” is Hebrew for “path”). The last term, once a dismissive way to describe Orthodox youth who sought to explore drugs and sex, has been reclaimed by some ex-Orthodox Jews. Using this term says: Yes, I have left your path—and now I must find my own way.

Monika Zgustova takes us to “In the Unlikeliest of Places, a Museum Dedicated to Jewish Life” for The Nation.

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, a Canadian scholar specializing in Jewish studies and the program director of the museum, gives me a tour through several of the many spaces the building offers. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett repeatedly insists: “There are several Holocaust memorials in the world focused on the Shoah. However, this museum is different—it’s about life. About Jewish life in Poland, about the Jewish tradition and culture that have been enriching Polish life for a thousand years. It’s a celebration of the important role the Jews played in the development of Polish cities.”

Illustration by Amos Biderman

Illustration by Amos Biderman

And Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt brings us “Inside the World of ultra-Orthodox Newsrooms: Haredim in Their Own Words for Haaretz.

So – who are the people behind these papers, these powerful opinion-makers? And is journalism still journalism when stories are censored by the all-powerful rabbis? When the editors and reporters who were interviewed for this article requested to review their own quotes before publication – a breach of mainstream journalistic ethics, certainly – what does that say about the definition of a controlled “Pravda” here?

And, from Kimberly Winston at Religion News Service, African American revives the songs of the shtetl.”

“The potential for personal connection that performing in Yiddish provided was very attractive to me as a performer,” Russell said from his office at Netivot Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Berkeley where he is an educator. A reprint of an old black-and-white photo of African-American children learning Hebrew letters is one of the few personal decorations he has added to the office’s white walls.

Russell, 35, discovered Yiddish music through the Coen brothers’ film “A Serious Man,” which featured a song performed by Sidor Belarsky, Ukrainian-born Jewish singer who brought Yiddish songs to Carnegie Hall after World War II. He taught himself Belarsky’s repertoire, writing out the Yiddish lyrics, translating them and practicing his pronunciation.

Last of all, we will miss Jon Stewart’Daily Show for so many reasons, not least of all, his religion reporting.

And now, a moment of Zen.


Past links round-ups can be found here:

Senselessness, Stereotypes, Slayer, and more! (July 31, 2015)

Apps, Apologies, Apocalypse, and more! (July 15, 2015)

Heathens, Hymns, and Holy Men (July 8, 2015)

#LoveWins, #TakeItDown, #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches (July 2, 2015)

Racism, Ramadan, Romanian Witches, and more! (June 25, 2015)

Emanuel A.M.E., Encyclicals, Etsy, and more! (June 19, 2015)

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

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