In the News: Calligraphy, Coens, a Caffeinated Casket and much more!

You may have already noticed, but we’re pretty darn excited about our former executive editor and current contributing editor and columnist Ann Neumann‘s new book, The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America.

While you wait for your copy (because surely you’ve already ordered one) you can read a couple of excerpts: “What Dying Looks Like in America’s Prisons” at The Atlantic and “I was sure that legalizing aid in dying was the right thing to do. Then I met Bad Cripple” at Slate.

Then, make sure you check out a few interviews she’s done recently. We especially liked the ones with Nathan Schneider at America Magazine, , Ellie Faustino at Religion Dispatches, Sheri Fink at Guernica Magazine, Joy Cardin at Wisconsin Public Radio, Kimberly Winston at the Religion News Service, and Sheryl McCarthy at CUNY TV (below).

And lastly, writing for The Baffler, Neumann switches gears and writes about “Taking Liberties: Cults and capitalism.”

However, there’s another way to consider the history of the self-help cults of Synanons era. Rather than trace the triumph of the therapeutic back to crumbling religions—namely, the Protestant work ethic that, in Oprah’s parlance, teaches us to “behave our way to success”—we might well descry the strange discipline of self-reinvention in the founding ethos of modern capitalism. As any day trader will tell you, it’s a myth that economic forces are data-driven, rational vectors of a triumphant secularism that has delivered us beyond the pale of ghosts, spirits, and the numinous. It’s likewise a secular wish-fulfillment fantasy that the unscientific specters of belief are outmoded primitive superstitions, all smartly dispatched by cresting modernity.

We’ve also been excited to see a lot of other familiar names in the news recently, including:

Elizabeth Castelli writing for the Ancient Jew Review about “Researching and Responding to Violence, Ten Years On.”

My point is that we have tended not to begin with broader theoretical framings, negotiations over fine-grained definitions of violence, but rather worked from particular examples outward. I don’t say this as a criticism but rather simply as an observation. Violence as an analytical category seems to evade historicization: the ubiquity and perennial nature of violence leads us to the tendency to extract it from its temporalities, to attribute to it an essential quality (e.g., “human nature”), most recently increasingly accounted for with neuroscientific or evolutionary explanations. 

Josef Sorett on “Faith in a New Black Future” at The Huffington Post.

In this regard, #blacklivesmatter may not be formally associated with the church, but it is still very much of it. It is not just a critique of the exclusions of the nation-state, but it is also an attempt to reconstitute the matter—that is, spiritual and social terms—of black lives. If nothing else, through singing, dancing and preaching black churches have been spaces for reorganizing and reimagining the terms of black existence. Indeed, even absent the doctrinal orthodoxies of churches, this movement has carried forward the spiritual songs, chants and marching music of earlier eras; remixing old sounds to the demands (and rhythms) of a new day.

Colin Dickey writing about Peter Manseau‘s new book, Melancholy Accidents: Three Centuries of Stray Bullets and Bad Luck,  in “The Fatalism of Gun Worship” at The New Republic. 

But our approach to gun violence is both more cynical and impotent. Our long-standing obsession with guns and the harm they do reveals how fatalistic our nation is, how empty its rhetoric about progress is. This is the deal that guns rights advocates have made with the Devil: in exchange for unfettered access, they have abandoned a moral universe in favor of nihilism. What Manseau’s Melancholy Accidents reveals above all is that while we may call ourselves a nation under God, the god we worship first and foremost is Fate.

Anthony Petro makes an appearance in a special issue of Notches about Gay Rights and Religion.

Together, these essays remind historians of sexuality that religions are not singular, monolithic, or unchanging. Rather, they are heterogeneous and politically diverse. Historians, in other words, should not assume that religious institutions have always been hostile to gay rights. Because religion does not carry within it a universal sexual politics, then it is imperative to ask after denominations’ changing stance on gay rights in different cultures or time periods.

Hussein Rashid was a consultant for the design of a new museum exhibit for children, you can read more at Newsday in their profile, “Children’s Museum exhibit aims to bridge gap between Islam, West.”

“Our goal is to have children deal with differences in a healthy, positive way and encourage them to be inquisitive while exploring the world instead of running away from its differences,” Rashid said.

Definitely sounds worth a visit. Afterward, you might want to check out Simon & Schuster’s new imprint for “Muslim-themed” Children’s books.

As a young Pakistani-American Muslim girl growing up in Connecticut, Zareen Jaffery used to devour novels by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, hoping those stories would offer some clues for how to fit in.

“I remember looking at books to try to figure out, ‘What does it mean to be American? Am I doing this right?’” Ms. Jaffery said. “The truth is, I didn’t see myself reflected in books back then.”

Some 30 years later, Muslim characters remain scarce in mainstream children’s literature. But now Ms. Jaffery, an executive editor of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, is in a position to change that.

Ms. Jaffery is heading a new children’s imprint, Salaam Reads, dedicated to publishing books that feature Muslim characters and stories. The imprint, which Simon & Schuster announced this week, will release nine or more books a year, ranging from board books and picture books to middle grade and young adult titles.

Peter Bebergal explains how Jessa Crispin is “Making the Tarot Literary Again” for The New Yorker. 

Talking to Crispin, and reading her book, it is not always clear just what she sees as psychological and what, for her, has a metaphysical import. She insists that the “meaning of the cards comes from us.” But there is something transcendent at play for her when it comes to the tarot. She considers herself a religious person, and is intensely critical of the “new atheism.” She sees a renewed interest in tarot cards and other occult practices as a direct reaction to that kind of secular extremism. “We are uncomfortable with our irrational selves,” Crispin said. In her view, the irrational is something we need. And it is also, she added, “where all the interesting work comes from.”

We don’t know Lisa Frank personally (probably for the best), but that doesn’t mean we weren’t excited to see these psychedelic tarot cards made in her spirt by Ariel Hart.




And speaking of psychedelics…

According to the Times of Israel, “Science seeks rabbis to do shrooms.”

Most germane to the study is the fact that psilocybin has been associated with unitive and mystical experiences, which the Hopkins scientists wish to explore further with leaders from all religious traditions.

In the explanatory material sent out with the call for participants were quotes from such leaders, including the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, one of the founders of the Jewish Renewal movement.

In other Jewish news:

Diana Clarke and Saul Noam Zaritt interview Jill Soloway and Micah Fitzerman-Blue about Yiddish on Transparent.

Your writing team includes first-timers who got a crash course from you in how to write TV. Many critics also see the series as doing a good amount of teaching about trans and queer politics. Do you feel you had to do similar teaching about Yiddish or a Yiddish sensibility—teaching your writers and your audience?

JS: I’ve come to think of Transparent as religious programming. It’s church. It’s synagogue. We should be in the same category as The 700 Club.

For more about the church of Transparent, check out Geoffrey Pollick‘s piece from our pages a few months back: “Rituals of Transformation in Jill Soloway’s ‘Transparent.'”

And an “Allegedly ‘Dystopian’ Robot Joins Campus Debates” reports Inside Higher Ed.

A robot, operated by a Stand With Us representative, did indeed attend the event. It wore a suit, though its body consisted essentially of a screen on top of a stick affixed to some wheels. But its owner, Roey Tzezana, co-founder of the telecommunication company Tele-Buddy, insisted in a Facebook post that it “absolutely did not ‘harass’ anyone.” He also rejected Open Hillel’s assertion that this might be “the first use of a robot to monitor Israel-Palestine discourse on campus.”



Lastly, you can tour of “500 Years of Jewish Life in Venice: A journey into one of the world’s oldest Jewish ghettos,
where this year a long, rich history is commemorated” with The New York Times. 

In the course of my visit, what I became most curious about was the mood of the current Jewish community of 450 people. Venice is such an impossibly beautiful fantasy, it seems astonishing that ordinary people, Jews among them, actually live there. How, I wondered, did deep-rooted Jewish families feel about their past — and future — in this ancient, vulnerable city?

While you’re “in” Italy:

Italy’s coffee pot king was buried in the appliance that made him famous

(AP Photo/Danilo Donadio)

(AP Photo/Danilo Donadio)

Holy Ravioli! Cookbook Reveals The Vatican’s Favorite Recipes” reports The Salt.

He loves Argentinian empanadas and dulce de leche. In 2015, he said that if he had only one wish, it would be to travel unrecognized to a pizzeria and have a slice — or two or three. In other words, he may be protected by the world’s smallest army and be responsible for the spiritual governance of 1.2 billion people, but when it comes to eating, Pope Francis loves comfort food as much as the next person.

And, you can now follow Pope Francis on Instagram. Because of course you can. (We have fewer white frocks and a lot less solemnity, but if you want, you can also follow us too while you’re there.

We’re admittedly a bit hooked on Instagram, but we still quite like our old media, too. And what’s better old media than BBC radio?

We’ve been following along as presenter Kanishk Tharoor and producer Maryam Maruf publish their series of recordings and articles for BBC4 Radio, “Museum of Lost Objects” tracing the stories of ten antiquities and cultural sites that have been destroyed or looted in Iraq and Syria. We strongly recommend checking them out.

Speaking, unfortunately, of ruins, we also suggest having a look at “The Buddha of Kabul” by Taran N. Khan in Guernica Magazine. Khan goes to Tepe Naranj where “archaeologist Zafar Paiman is working to preserve the remnants of an ancient monastery—and the memory of Afghanistan’s Buddhist past.”

 Initially, it was this sense of urgency that drew me to the site, the feeling of breathless struggle embedded in the story of this archaeological mission. But as I followed Zafar’s work from a distance, I realized that it was in fact imbued with a subtler, more challenging truth. The excavated bricks of Tepe Naranj can be read as a parallel, contemporary narrative of the city. In its exposed vulnerability, and in its slow vanishing into precarious memory, this shrine from Kabul’s past is an apt monument to its tortured present.

Lastly, stories we really wanted to share with you but couldn’t find a way to group together:

Sarah Dees writes about being “Haunted by the Archive” for Religion in American History.

Indeed, the violent event—described at the time as a “battle” and today as a “massacre,” represents a singular moment in American religious history. This event is significant for Native American religious history, American religious history, and for the broader study of religion—as a single case study, it raises important questions about race and religion, the violence of purportedly progressive efforts at missionization and assimilation, the role of religion in social control, the status of non-majority religions in law and politics, anxieties over new religious movements, and the elusive ideal of religious freedom. Thus, while I think that Martin’s critique is still relevant, I would hope that it ultimately encourages scholars to keep teaching the Ghost Dance—but to teach beyond it, drawing on a variety of scholarship in and beyond the field of Native American religions.

Alex Mar contends that “A Witch is a Witch is a Witch” in Tin House. 

Though a definitive biography of her life has yet to be published—both scholarship and her own writings have focused on her magical life—we know the basics. She was born Doreen Dominy in 1922 in Surrey, outside London. Her parents were conservative Christians; her father was a civil engineer; but Doreen felt marked for a different life. When she was still a child, she had her first mystical experience one night while staring up at the moon. By thirteen, she believed she was having psychic episodes, and she began experimenting with magic. Doreen made a poppet to protect her mother from a local woman who’d been bothering her, and she believed the spell had worked. Hoping to cure their daughter of her interest in witchcraft, her parents decided to send Doreen to a convent school. But before her second year was up, she walked out the door and never returned.

In fact, we should probably all read the current issue of Tin House on Faith

Professor Jacob Olupona discusses “The Spirituality of Africa” in The Harvard Gazette.

For starters, the word “religion” is problematic for many Africans, because it suggests that religion is separate from the other aspects of one’s culture, society, or environment. But for many Africans, religion can never be separated from all these. It is a way of life, and it can never be separated from the public sphere. Religion informs everything in traditional African society, including political art, marriage, health, diet, dress, economics, and death.

This is not to say that indigenous African spirituality represents a form of theocracy or religious totalitarianism — not at all. African spirituality simply acknowledges that beliefs and practices touch on and inform every facet of human life, and therefore African religion cannot be separated from the everyday or mundane. African spirituality is truly holistic. For example, sickness in the indigenous African worldview is not only an imbalance of the body, but also an imbalance in one’s social life, which can be linked to a breakdown in one’s kinship and family relations or even to one’s relationship with one’s ancestors.

Because of a Trappist monk, Apple computer displays look the way they do today” according to the New York Times obituary for Rev. Robert Palladino.

The word “calligraphy” is born of Classical Greek κάλλος (kallos, “beautiful”) and γράφω (grapho, “write”). Though he was by all accounts too courtly to have said so, it would doubtless have pained Father Palladino — whom Mr. Jobs consulted on the design of the Mac’s Greek letters — to see the flagrant unloveliness of the only Greek font at this newspaper’s disposal.

In Father Palladino’s hands, however, calligraphy was about far more than mere beautiful letters: It was about the ways those letters can be coaxed to nestle companionably together to make words, and how those words in turn can be assembled to form a meaningful text.

Francine Prose writes about “The Passion of the Coens” in The New York Review of Books.

Like all the best films, Hail, Caesar! alters how the world looks to us—the sharpness with which we pay attention to reality—after we’ve left the theater. Riding the escalator down in the multiplex where I saw the film, I couldn’t help noticing the posters heralding the features slated to open during the next few weeks. The three films receiving the most advance publicity were all costume epics. One (Gods of Egypt) takes place during the age of the pharaohs, while the other two—Risen and The Young Messiah—have, as their subject, or partial subject, the life and teachings of Christ. More than half a century after the era in which Hail, Caesar! is set, Hollywood is still making pictures of the sort that would likely contain a meaty role for an actor like Baird Whitlock, but which will presumably lack the irony, the nuance, the humor—and the fun—which the Coen brothers have brought to this latest chapter in their ongoing exploration of how we live, or try to live, in the presence or absence of the divine.

Phillip M. Sherman reviews Erin Runion‘s book “The Babylon Complex” for the Marginalia Review of Books. 

The book proceeds as a series of forays into the diverse ways in which the image of Babylon interacts with U.S. anxieties surrounding identity and sovereignty. Deeply informed by political theory and cultural studies, Runions unearths how “a deep-seated biblical stratum in U.S. culture influences, limits, and enables political policy, expression, and action.”

Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Our Motto, 1883, J. W. Dorrington. Webb Collection.

Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Our Motto, 1883, J. W. Dorrington. Webb Collection.

We’re definitely going to go check out this new show of “Folk Art Relics from the Golden Age of America’s Secret Societies” at the American Museum of Folk Art which we found out about at the end of an Internet rabbit hole we fell down reading about “The Bizarre Branding Of America’s Many, Many Secret Societies” in Co.Design.

A strange visual language developed from the 18th to the 20th century behind the closed doors of American secret societies. It’s a languae made up of all-seeing eyes, ominous skulls, hourglasses, arrows, axes, and curious hands holding hearts. Each of these icons was deeply symbolic for the thousands of people — mostly men — who participated in rituals of borrowed meaning, where ancient Egypt, biblical Christianity, and some homegrown amusements like wooden goats on wheels met the rise of American folk art. The American Folk Art Museum’s (AFAM) Mystery and Benevolence: Masonic and Odd Fellows Folk Art from the Kendra and Allan Daniel Collection examines this often hidden history through its arcane artifacts.

Speaking of shows we want to see, “An Exhibition to Mark the Canonization of Saint Bowie” should definitely be at the top of any list.



Until next time!


-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer


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


Leave a Reply

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