In the News: Saints, Slavery, Celibacy, and more!

Welcome to this week’s round up! First, here are three hard to categorize but excellent pieces we want to share. Then a few items in each of our usual categories and, at the end, some artwork to start your weekend. 

Michael Taussig writes on “The Mastery of Non-Mastery” for Public Seminar.

“In the Women’s House in Kobane, I got to thinking that the issue in play amounts to a re-working of Hegel’s famous Master-Slave chapter, such that a new concept emerges: ‘the mastery of non-mastery.’ It was not that women replaced men by becoming masters.

The man with the furrowed face © Michael Taussig | Courtesy of the author

The man with the furrowed face © Michael Taussig

Mastery of non-mastery would very much include a new magic, transforming the way by which the magic of the state is spliced into forms of kinship and sentiment that bind women into stately forms as well as familial ones. (‘Women! The first colony!’ Back to Gilgamesh.)

By ‘magic of the state’ I am referring to the religious impulse underpinning the state that Ocalan, for instance, sees as an essential part of what he calls the ‘modern capitalist state,’ non-secular no less than secular. [8]

If this takes us into ‘political theology,’ then what are the implications for the ‘state of exception’?

As the largest stateless people in the world, does not Kurdistan itself exist as a permanent state of exception, both as regards the states of which it is baneful part and as regards modern history?

Benjamin asked us to think what a history based on the state of exception would look and feel like. Does the anarcho-feminism of the PKK suggest one answer? And might not this stimulate dazzling possibilities for the conversion of the magic of the master into the “mastery of non-mastery”?

The task is alchemical.”

Humanism Unshackles” by Ed Simon for Tikkun.

The immediate cause for celebration is that men and women in our federal prisons who adhere to humanist beliefs are now able to freely exercise their right to act as a participant in their religious community. But perhaps more importantly, the decision helps to complicate and enrich Americans’ understanding of what constitutes religion, something that benefits all of us, whatever religious position we hold or community we belong to. Rather than viewing humanism and atheism as simply the absence of faith and belief, this decision acknowledges that they are also metaphysical positions on ultimate reality, just like monotheism or polytheism. Indeed, the fact that some humanists choose to arrange themselves into communities that mark life with rituals demonstrates precisely that they are a religion and are deserving of the same federally recognized rights that other religions are accorded.

Learning to Speak Lingerie” by Peter Hessler for The New Yorker.

But on the whole this subject doesn’t interest Chinese dealers. Few of them are well educated, and they don’t perceive themselves as being engaged in a cultural exchange. On issues of religion, they are truly agnostic: they seem to have no preconceptions or received ideas, and they evaluate any faith strictly on the basis of direct personal experience. “The ones with the crosses—are they Muslim?” one Chinese dealer asked me. He had been living for four years in Minya, a town with sectarian strife so serious that several Coptic Christian churches had been damaged by mobs armed with Molotov cocktails. During one of our conversations, I realized that he was under the impression that women who wear head scarves are adherents of a different religion from that of those who wear the niqab. It was logical: he noticed contrasts in dress and behavior, and so he assumed that they believe in different things; a monolithic label like “Islam” meant nothing to him. In general, Chinese dealers prefer Egyptian Muslims to Christians. This is partly because Muslims are more faithful consumers of lingerie, but it’s also because they’re easier to negotiate with. The Copts are a financially successful minority, and they have a reputation for bargaining aggressively. This is what matters most to Chinese dealers—for them, religion is essentially another business proposition.


We recommend reading Ann Neumann‘s “The Patient Body: In the Blood” written for our June 2015 issue before diving into the first installment of Amanda Schaffer‘s three part series “Medicine Without Blood,” “How Jehovah’s Witnesses Are Changing Medicine.”

Though Witnesses accept virtually all other medical interventions, the stricture against transfusion can affect their care. Patients may need donor blood when they lose their own blood rapidly, as a result of a car crash or surgery, or when they develop severe anemia—for instance, during cancer treatment. In the past several decades, specialty programs in “bloodless medicine” that cater to Jehovah’s Witnesses have grown up at dozens of hospitals.

Also very well worth a read: “When Our Truths Are Ignored: Proslavery Theology’s Legacy” by Yolanda Pierce for Religion & Politics.

We often fail to deconstruct how proslavery theology still influences American Christianity. But simply put: Theological arguments upheld the institution of slavery long after every other argument failed. American Christian theology was born in a cauldron of proslavery ideology, and one of the spectacular failures of the Christian church today is its inability to name, interrogate, confront, repent, and dismantle the cauldron which has shaped much of its theology. We are daily living with the remnants of a theological white supremacy, coupled with social and political power, which continues to uphold racist ideologies. 

And lastly, “At War in the Garden of Eden: Christian fighters, ISIS invaders, and the fight for Iraq’s Nineveh Plains” by Jen Percy for The New Republic. 

NAEL MARCUS NISSAN sat smoking with his legs spread on a burgundy couch in an abandoned home in the village of Baqofa, 15 miles from the Islamic State front lines. Nissan was a fighter with the Dwekh Nawsha, one of the three primary Assyrian Christian militias founded in the Nineveh Plains in northwest Iraq’s Kurdistan, in the months after the ISIS invasion in June 2014. The Dwekh patrolled Baqofa in a black pickup truck with a small crucifix scratched on its side and a Russian machine gun mounted in the bed. They spoke Aramaic, the ancient language of Christ. Nissan was 25 years old, with high cheekbones and a trimmed goatee. He wore aviator sunglasses, a floppy camouflage hat, baggy fatigues, and an ammunition vest stocked with grenades and cigarettes. He preached gospel at the evangelical church in Dohuk, and since he learned English from listening to ’90s-era rap, he quoted Scripture in the cadence of Ja Rule. “I’m from New York,” he sang. “No, I’m from Baghdad!” His favorite song was Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.”


Speaking of ISIS, this extremely disturbing report, “ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape” comes from  Rukmini Callimachi for The New York Times. 

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets.

And, helpfully, Hussein Rashid reminds us that “Islam’ is Not a Person” in Sacred Matters.

As long as we continue to see Islam as a living being, rather than a religion composed of individual human beings, we rend the diverse fabric of the nation. It is not just about addressing religious illiteracy, or knowing the history of our own country, but about seeing another person’s humanity. A person does things, believes things, and she lives next door. She is the one who speaks, not Islam.


Masha Gessen memorializes an important scholar in “Postscript: Svetlana Boym, 1959-2015” for The New Yorker.

Svetlana had a private theory that after one emigrated, the pre-emigration self lingered, perhaps even lived on, inaccessible to the émigré. In the last few years, she looked for those other selves. In an unpublished story, she described the lives she might have led. She also went back to find a refugee camp in which she and other Soviet Jews were housed in Vienna in 1981; its location had been secret, and most other residents had diligently forgot its existence. At the time of her death, she was finishing a film about the camp and her search for it. It was not her first film: she was a filmmaker, an artist, a writer, a teacher; she was Svetlana, Susana, she was a bit of Zenita—the name her father had wanted to give her in honor of his favorite soccer team—and she was also Olga Carr, a self that seemed glamorous and unfamiliar but maintained a Facebook presence and occasionally sent e-mail messages referring to Svetlana in the third person, like some sort of virtual assistant.

You can listen to the Marginalia Review of Books’ books podcast “First Impressions #44: Ranan Omer-Sherman” for a very interesting discussion with the author about his new book Imagining the Kibbutz: Visions of Utopia in Literature and Film.


So much religious art news this week that we gave it its own category.

Saintly Collages of Everyday People” by Allison Meier about the artwork of Rodríguez Calero in Hyperallergic. 

These often large-scale, mixed media pieces interpret contemporary culture with the reverence of Catholicism. That’s not to say the work is religious, but harnesses the spiritual history and heritage of Catholicism that’s embedded in the artist’s Puerto Rican roots and makes ordinary people into these “urban martyrs and latter-day santos.” The gold flourishes framing faces, and angels lurking in the corners, recall Byzantine paintings; yet instead of those old world works which turned every biblical figure into a European, Calero’s are people of color, and the symbolism is a mix of consumer media fragments and the sacred.

Rodríguez Calero, “Saint Anthony” (1999), acrollage painting, 24 x 18 inches (all images courtesy the artist and El Museo del Barrio unless noted)

Rodríguez Calero, “Saint Anthony” (1999), acrollage painting, 24 x 18 inches

Unreleased Holocaust Film by Jerry Lewis Acquired by Library of Congress” reports Haaretz.

Lewis, now 89, decided after completing the movie that it should never been seen, even after his death. The reason is not known, though the comedian said in a 2009 interview that “It’s [either] better than ‘Citizen Kane’ or the worst piece of shit that anyone ever loaded on the projector.” 

Why Did Islam Disappear From Hip-Hop?” asks Adam K. Raymond for Vocativ.

The best known rappers affiliated with the Nation of Islam, the Five Percent Nation and more traditional Islam include Brand Nubian, Nas, Rakim, Gang Starr, Mobb Deep, Poor Righteous Teachers and several members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Many are still recording and performing in their 40s, but they don’t hold much relevance to hip-hop’s young fan base. Islamic and Islamic-sympathizing rappers are older, less prolific and, in the case of Ice Cube, too busy making bad family movies to preach the gospel of Muhammad or Farrakhan. In their place is a generation of rappers who grew up during a time when the influence of the Nation of Islam and Five Percent Nation was on the wane. They also grew up in a time when hip-hop wasn’t confined to the inner cities where those groups were strongest, meaning religious views in hip-hop have begun to better reflect those of America at large.


Slate published a “Not a Crime: A Gorgeous, Stirring Cartoon About the Status of Trans People in Malaysia” by Kazimir Lee Iskander.

When cartoonist Kazimir Lee Iskander learned that 17 Malaysian trans women had been arrested by the Islamic police in June 2014 for the crime of “impersonating women,” he was both riveted by the case and inspired to write about it. He wanted to show how trans people are harassed in Malaysia but also how effective LGBTQ organizing can be. “I didn’t want everyone to hear the story and assume Malaysia’s some fundie hell-hole (even though it can be),” he told me. “I also wanted to show a little bit of the activism happening on the ground.” —June Thomas

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 12.28.10 PM

The Los Angeles Review of Books shines their “Photographer Spotlight on the work of Markus Brunetti.

Anyone who has traveled in Europe has marveled at its abundance of ornate churches, from Romanesque and Gothic to Renaissance and Baroque. Photographing them is nothing new, but Markus Brunetti has for 10 years now brought the most advanced digital-imaging techniques to the task of revealing their facades with a comprehensive clarity. By painstakingly compositing many high-resolution shots of these magnificent edifices — while scrubbing them of blemishes and superfluous add-ons (pigeon defenses, lightning rods, cables, etc.) — Brunetti transforms them into the most exquisite of time capsules, laden with the coded iconography of bygone centuries. We see them as their architects conceived them, in their most pristine form. At the same time, Brunetti takes ancient structures and sees them through modern eyes.


Past links round-ups can be found here:

Pundits, Prophets, Politics, and more! (August 7, 2015)

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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