In the News: Secularism, Nationalism, Pastafarianism, and more!

Hi Everyone!Welcome back! We’ve got a good amount of variety in this week’s round-up. Lots of good reading, listening, and even a game to play. Let us know what you think!

k10580We’re excited to read Saba Mahmood‘s new book Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report, but in the meantime, appreciated her introduction from the author herself over at The Immanent Frame in which she argues:

Through a focus on the case of Coptic Orthodox Christians and Bahá’ís in Egypt… that in the postcolonial period modern secular governance in the Middle East has exacerbated religious tensions, hardened interfaith boundaries, and polarized religious differences. This will seem counterintuitive to those who believe that secularism is a solution to the problem of religious strife rather than a force in its creation. Yet secularism, far from separating religion from politics, has extended the sovereign state’s control over religious life, allowing majoritarian religious norms to striate national identity and the legal-political structures of modern polities. This feature is not exclusive to Middle Eastern states but is a globally shared aspect of political secularism deriving in part from the structure of the modern liberal state and its division of the citizenry into majority and minority population.

And in case you need more encouragement, Talal Asad called it “A thought provoking study” and said:

Her detailed analysis of the rich historical and ethnographic material she has assembled reinforces the conclusion that instead of regarding the secular state as the solution to discrimination against religious minorities, it must itself be understood as part of the problem. So I offer a few reflections prompted by her excellent study, first on liberal ideals that are commonly said to promote equal treatment for minorities, and then about the secular anxiety that preceded the 2013 coup against the elected president Mohamed Morsi.

Not too long ago The Immanent Frame also published an excellent series of articles about Samuel Moyn‘s new book Christian Human RightsNow you can listen to Moyn discuss the book over at The New Books Network. While you’re there, give a listen to their interview with Timothy Snyder about his book Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.

Speaking of important authors, we appreciated this look at “Frameworks of Comparison: Benedict Anderson reflects on his intellectual formation” in the London Review of Books.

It was not until much later, in fact after I finally retired, that I began to recognise the fundamental drawback of this type of comparison: that using the nation and nation-states as the basic units of analysis fatally ignored the obvious fact that in reality these units were tied together and crosscut by global political-intellectual currents such as liberalism, fascism, communism and socialism, as well as vast religious networks and economic and technological forces. I had also to take seriously the reality that very few people have ever been solely nationalist. No matter how strong their nationalism, they may also be gripped by Hollywood movies, neoliberalism, a taste for manga, human rights, impending ecological disaster, fashion, science, anarchism, post-coloniality, ‘democracy’, indigenous peoples’ movements, chatrooms, astrology, supranational languages like Spanish and Arabic and so on. Recognition of this serious flaw helps to explain why Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination (2005) focused not only on global anarchism towards the end of the 19th century, but also on global forms of communication, especially the telegraph and the steamship.

While we’re on the subject of Nationalism of nationalism, Leah Falk has a very smart analysis of “The Fakelore of the Apache Wedding Blessing” in The Awl.

It’s easy to write off the rituals crafted for the modern wedding industry as just so much Portlandia, but the more troubling items in the trousseau of the traditionalesque are the ones with roots, albeit obscured ones. Mead’s book revealed that America’s wedding industry knew the “Navajo Prayer” better by the name “Apache Wedding Blessing.” Its origins were not Native American, as suggested by a number of anthologies and “officiant services” websites, but the imagination of Elliot Arnold, author of the 1947 ethnographic novel Blood Brothers, which later became the 1950 film Broken Arrow.  … Americans have embraced Arnold’s invented bit of culture as inoffensive but profound: just the right mixture for a “spiritual, but not religious” wedding.

Why has Arnold’s poem lived on and mutated when there is so much other, less appropriative poetry to go around? The sad story might be the poem’s ability to “pass” as Native American. For much of American history, native culture has appealed to non-natives, precisely because they have believed it was dead or dying, but also somehow simpler or more authentic than their own culture.


Speaking of “spiritual but not religious” Nalika Gajaweer asks”Religious, Spiritual, and ‘None of the Above”: How Did Mindfulness Get So Big?” in Religion Dispatches.

Yet, a theme that repeatedly emerges in my interviews and fieldwork among these groups is the notion that what they do is distinct and different from what they recognize as “religion.” For many it is part of a spiritual experience and practice, where Buddhism is at heart a rational philosophy consistent with scientific knowledge. Practitioners find evidence for this in the proliferation of cutting edge neuroplasticity studies that legitimize the uses of mindfulness within the broader secular “integrative health” scene. Moreover, the depth of Buddhist philosophy is recognized as emerging not through dogma or religious moral proscription, but rather through personal investigation and direct transformative experience.

Meera Subramanian also made art about and while mourning in “For Anna” at Killing the Buddha.

Writing is my form of prayer. It is all I can give him. No—it is all I can give myself. Movement can hinder the words as much as it spawns them.

And Lamya H. wrote a powerful “Personal History of Islamophobia in America” for Vox.

Suddenly people want to know if I’m okay; they tell me that they’re worried about me, ask if I’m experiencing any Islamophobia now.

“Don’t worry about me,” I say, but what I want to say is that this is not recent, this is not a trend, this is not going away because these incidents are being counted. Twelve years in this country, and I’ve switched to walking quickly down the middle of the subway platform, I’ve started pulling a hoodie up over my hijab and looking for exits when I enter a room. I’ve stopped being surprised, even stopped telling stories.

Speaking of bigotry and profiling: “Sikh actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia, known for Wes Anderson films, barred from Aero Mexico plane because of his turban” reported The Daily News with the help of our friend Simran Jeet Singh

Popular Sikh star Waris Ahluwalia was blocked from boarding a New York-bound Aero Mexico flight Monday morning after he refused to remove his turban for a security check. …

Wearing a turban is not optional. We don’t put it on and take it off when we please,” explains Simran Jeet Singh, senior religion fellow for the Sikh Coalition. “The turban represents our commitment to justice, to service and to faith.”


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Meanwhile, “Trump’s religious bigotry is as American as Apple Pie” argues Stephen Prothero in USA Today.

As a religion professor, a believer in religious liberty and an American who would like to continue to host Muslim friends from abroad at my dining table, I too find Trump’s latest provocation abhorrent. As a historian, however, I have to say that Trump is no anomaly.

We first heard about “That Dragon, Cancer” on the podcast Reply All. We recommend giving the story about a Christian father who made a video game about parenting a son with terminal cancer, a listen or checking out the article about it, “Playing for Time,” by Jason Tanz in Wired Magazine. 

Green’s idea to make a videogame about Joel came to him in church, as he reflected on a harrowing evening a couple of years earlier when Joel was dehydrated and diarrheal, unable to drink anything without vomiting it back up, feverish, howling, and inconsolable, no matter how Green tried to soothe him. He had made a few games since then and had been thinking about mechanics, the rules that govern how a player interacts with and influences the action on the screen. “There’s a process you develop as a parent to keep your child from crying, and that night I couldn’t calm Joel,” Green says. “It made me think, ‘This is like a game where the mechanics are subverted and don’t work.’”


Ammon Bundy and the Paradoxes of Mormon Political Theologies” by Benjamin E. Park for Religion & Politics.

Ammon is the son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who has previously led a standoff with the American government; like his father, Ammon defends his actions through religious belief and justification. Most importantly, as a Mormon, Bundy mixes LDS symbolism with a libertarian language of disgust for the federal government. He claims he prayed and received inspiration that guided his activities: “The Lord was not pleased with what has happening with the Hammonds,” he said. His protest against federal overreach, he believes, is an extension of his Mormon faith. In another interview, Bundy explained: “I have no idea what God wants done, but he did inspire me to have the sheriffs across the United States take away these weapons, disarm these bureaucracies, and he also gave me a little inspiration on what would happen if they didn’t do that.” This is as much a religious mission as it is a political action. If Ammon followed the example of his father from several years before, then prior to their quest, he would have fasted and prayed for the “spirit of their forefathers to be with them.” …

But this episode is also an important lesson in the danger of attempting to connect a straight line between traditions and individuals. Ammon Bundy is a product of Mormonism, but his Mormonism is also a product of his own making. His armed standoff is just another tale in the paradoxical history of LDS believers who have paved their own way by framing political beliefs through theological prisms. The Mormon tradition, like virtually any religious tradition, provides the material for both violent and pacifist strains, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, to simply connect the dots between the LDS faith and Bundy’s actions. Indeed, forfeiting superficial appeals to strict coherency or literal continuity within a faith tradition allows the true elasticity and dynamism of Mormonism, not to mention American religion, to come into view. 

Lastly, congratulations to our Pastafarian readers.



-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer


You can find previous “In the News” round-ups here.

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