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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 16 June 2017

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Jesuits, Mormons, and American Religion in the World

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Dr. Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp has written extensively on the importance of space and geography in studying American religions. I interviewed her at the University of Notre Dame, Cushwa Center’s Seminar in American Religion. This session dealt with Dr. John McGreevy (History, Notre Dame)’s new book, “American Jesuits and the World.” Maffly-Kipp and Thomas Bender (History, NYU) gave remarks about the book; McGreevy responded; and two hours of Q&A with scholars and graduate students followed.

My conversation with Maffly-Kipp begins with McGreevy’s book, expands to include her work on Mormonism in contrast to Catholicism, and ends with a discussion of evangelical historian Mark Noll, in whose honor Notre Dame was originally going to host a conference, but was cancelled at the last minute. This free-ranging conversation nonetheless centers on Jesuits, Mormons, and transnational religious history.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, Frankincense, and Myrh.


A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World

Podcast with Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

Interviewed by Daniel Gorman Jr.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock

Audio and transcript available at: Maffly-Kipp_-_Jesuits,_Mormons_and_American_Religion_in_the_World_1.1

Daniel Gorman (DG): Dr Maffly-Kipp, welcome to the Religious Studies Project

Laurie Maffly-Kipp (LMK): Thank you.

DG: We’re here at the Morris Inn, at the University of Notre Dame. We just finished the Cushwa Centre’s Biannual Seminar in American Religion, discussing John McGreevy’s book on Jesuits in the World. So, you have been writing about space, and geography, and understanding religion for more than twenty years now, beginning with your essay in Thomas Tweed’s edited volume, Retelling US Religious History. I’d be curious to know how your views have evolved, and what you believe is the importance of space and geography in studying American religions.

LMK: That essay was my initial foray into the field and it was more of a thought piece, based on sort-of the hypothetical question of: what would you do if you didn’t narrate American religious history from the perspective of European movements from East to West – particularly British American movements. In a sense, it was also inspired by the work, in the 1930s, of Herbert Bolton – who was a historian of empires in the New World – and his basic observation that the Spanish Empire had been a part of North America and South America, long before the British ever came along. So, what would it do to sort-of retell the story of the growth of the US nation and religion in that sort-of setting, but come at it from the perspective of all theses different movements into North America, at various points in time? So that was, I think, a framework that I laid out. And since then I’ve been, I guess, exploring different avenues into that. Most recently, I’ve been spending time doing work on Mormon history and looking at Mormonism. But I think that that focus on space has then led me to think about Mormonism differently: how do I think about Mormonism as having a particular kind of centre in the United States, but also has having other areas in other parts of the world that are significant for particular purposes?

DG: So today, the book we’ve been talking about – American Jesuits in the World, by John McGreevy – it’s dealing with, well, somewhat missionary activity, but a little different from what you focus on. Because you’re often talking about American Mormons going outwards, whereas he’s talking about, at first, Europeans coming to missionise America. Can you talk a little bit about the differences you see between Mormons and Jesuits operating on the world stage?

LMK: Well, they’re very different. I mean, certainly, they’re different in terms of having a different focus on what they were doing with other people. So, for Jesuits: Jesuits are a particular Catholic order; their jobs revolve around educating peoples, administering the sacraments and keeping people in the faith. For Mormons, the goal tends to be to create habits of discipline and industry – much like those of the missionaries themselves. There’s sort-of a distinct separation between the kinds of spiritual practices that a Jesuit missionary undertakes, and what he’s trying to inculcate in other people. Whereas, for Mormon’s, they were sort-of one and the same thing. So that’s just one small difference. But, I think, on all kinds of different levels there are differences. But there are also similarities, because Mormons are also exiles – perhaps exiles in their own land. But they have a very – I guess, the best way to put it is – angular relationship to the US government in the 19th century, and often a very combative relationship. So, they aren’t sold on the idea of the nation state as necessarily an all-encompassing good, just as the Catholics are disaffected from the US Government in various ways.

DG: Well, certainly, one of the points that came up in the Q and A session, today, was that the Jesuits were roundly denounced as a secret society on the floor of Congress – one that should be banned. But there wasn’t widespread Catholic persecution in the 19th century, the way we saw against the Mormons.

LMK: I don’t know, I think you could argue with that: the burning of convents, riots in the streets . . .

DG: Well, that’s true.

LMK: . . . in Philadelphia and Boston. So, in some ways, I think that the tensions were manifest in more physical kinds of ways than they were for the Mormons. There were a few incidents with the Mormons. And the Mormons certainly fought back at various points. So I think, actually, a comparison of them is really helpful to see the ways that Protestant America was shaping the limits of its own toleration.

DG: I suppose, what I was thinking of more was that there was not state legislation against the Catholic Church in the way that there was, for instance, when the Governor of Missouri declared war on the Mormon people, saying: “Leave my state or I’m going to kill all of you!” (5:00) That is a difference.

LMK: Right! Yes. You’re right. That’s a difference. Although, I think one of the interesting things about John McGreevy’s book is the way he points out how assiduously Protestant Americans worked to create laws that would exclude Catholics in certain kinds of ways. So, from public education: there were certain rules put in place that made it obvious that the Catholics were not going to fall within the bounds of the law. I mean, their kind of education wouldn’t be acceptable as a form of public education. So, it seems to me that the very creating and shaping of laws is another way to put boundaries around religious toleration.

DG: Now, I’m curious also . . . You’ve obviously read the book – you’ve just delivered a short paper commenting on it. If you were writing a book about transnational religion in the 19th century – I mean, McGreevy is focussing on the ideas of nationhood and politics – what would be the factors that you’d want to pursue? What do you see as mattering the most?

LMK: Well, in fact, I am writing that kind of book right now.

DG: Well that’s fortuitous!

LMK: Yes. So, in fact, I am writing a book on transnational religion, in that I am writing a history of Mormonism that tries to take seriously Mormonism as a global religion and an international movement from the beginning, not simply since World War II. It’s certainly the case that there are now more Mormons outside the US than in, but even in the 1850s there were more Mormon’s in England than in the US.

DG: Oh certainly, they were very active with sending missionaries – also to Scandinavia as well as England.

LMK: Later, to Scandinavia. There were sort-of waves of migration, and missionisation and migration, starting with England and moving into Scandinavia by the 1860s and 1870s. And all of those – or many, many of those people – came over to the US, and really saved what had been a dying movement by the 1850s.

DG: Yes. I believe you mentioned, during the Q and A period, that most Mormons at the end of the 19th Century in America were foreign-born.

LMK: Either foreign-born or second generation at best. Because, yes, the bulk had been immigrants.

DG: That’s not a comment that the Church stresses very much any more!

LMK: No, but it’s also not a comment that other historians have noticed much.

DG: Certainly not.

LMK: I think the focus has been on Mormonism as a distinctly American religion, which is certainly true in terms of the influences on its founders. But it’s not true in terms of who joined the movement in the first half-century.

DG: Very interesting. I think the claims you’re making will certainly overhaul graduate reading lists round the country – including my own! So, the other thing . . . I’m thinking that at my University , the University of Rochester, the graduate . . .well, loosely defined, our graduate interests are supposed to be around “the world of goods, the world of nations and the world of ideas”. So, a nice way to integrate cultural and social history. Now, listening to the Q and A today, lo and behold! The comments wind up revolving around ideas, goods and nations. So the comments from, for instance, Thomas Bender – one of your co-panellists – saying that we should think of the Jesuits as a cosmopolitan religion; the discussion from Dr McGreevy that later Jesuits were embracing American nationalism, even though they weren’t necessarily OK with separation of church and state; and your discussion of the culture Jesuits were bringing from around the world. Now, I just recapped – for the listeners – a lot of material and I certainly threw a lot at you, but I’d be curious . . . . These concepts of the physical things and the more intangible things: what do you see of those as their place in American religion?

LMK: What do I see as the place of those in American religion?

DG: So, I suppose, is there an aspect: nationhood, ideology, material culture? Do you see one factor as being more important than another?

LMK: No. I think what I was trying to call for was not separating them – at least, disaggregating them in some way but not isolating any of them one from another. I think it’s easy. . . . We often get a little too free with our definitions of globalism, internationalism, transnationalism. . .

DG: Sure

LMK: . . . and I think, part of what my colleague was calling for was the use of the term cosmopolitan as sort-of an orientation towards the rest of the world. (10:00) What it seems to me, though, that using that term can do is to draw attention away from the way power flows in the movements: the power of states is one kind of power, economic power is another kind of power. I think that’s how I would break things down. Material goods are interesting to focus on, but there’s also, appending to that, the question of “Who’s paying for what?”

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: Right? And that determines the flow of those goods.

DG: So, if you were to say, simply, that “Oh, the Jesuits were cosmopolitan”, that may be obscuring who’s leading their operations.

LMK: Right. So, if you just notice that they’re bringing chalices over from Italy and putting them into chapels in North Dakota, it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the circumstances behind those movements. And so, you just don’t want to separate those two things out. I suppose that’s the simple point I’m trying to make.

DG: So, a lot of the conversation today dealt with the fact that the Jesuits do eventually, wind up launching outward from their bases in America to the Pacific Empire. And that really intersects with several of your books dealing with Pacific missionaries. Could you expand a bit on missionaries in the Pacific?

LMK: Yes. I think the 19th Century was the Pacific Century in that regard. If one could say that the 17th and 18th centuries sort-of focussed on Atlantic movements – with the slave trade, with European migrations to the new World – the Pacific Century is very much caught up, at least in terms of the relationship of the US to other nations, with: movements from various countries in Asia, eastward; the US becoming an imperial power, moving to places like Hawaii and later down to Central and South America. And those sorts of exchanges and contexts become focal points for interesting religious phenomena.

DG: Sure. And then the other thing, I’m thinking about, though, was – coming towards the end of the conversation – was that McGreevy’s book is mostly focussing on putting Jesuits into the international story, not so much on their interior life. I mean, he touches on that in the discussion with Father Bapst but it’s not the main point of the book. And we’re sitting here at the Cushwa Centre which has. . . the nature of spirituality and history has been a recurring topic for them. Do you think the book could have done more to consider the interior life of these priests?

LMK: By interior life, do you mean . . . ? I mean, he does consider things like the devotionalism, the increasing devotionalism in the 19th century – which is tied to interiority, I guess.

DG: I suppose I was thinking of the one gentleman’s comments which were about: “the book doesn’t really deal with the sort of spiritual exercises that Jesuits do”.

LMK: Yes. It ‘s certainly more focussed on the Jesuits as missionaries. And it struck me, as that conversation was going on, that Jesuits are not necessarily trying to inculcate the same disciplines in the people they are leading to the faith as they do in themselves. And, in a sense, those are almost two different tasks of a missionary. One question is: how do you inculcate discipline, education, bodily exercises or whatever into your subjects? But, as members of a Jesuit order, how do you try to maintain your own spiritual discipline, which might be a very different thing?

DG: Oh, certainly.

LMK: That’s certainly not where McGreevy’s interest lays.

DG: Well, it also brings up an interesting contrast with your work, for instance, studying Mormons – who take the Protestant idea of “every man his own priest” to an extreme, compared to the Catholic priest, saying: “There are certain things that are just for us and not for you.”

LMK: Exactly. Exactly, yes. So Mormons: they’re trying to replicate themselves and say, “This is how you live a Christian life – do as I do.” It’s a lay order, there isn’t a trained ministry, in that sense. So, I think , the tasks are really different. And what the Jesuits are trying to preserve for themselves in their own spiritual lives, can be – and in some situations is – very different from what they’re trying to get others to do.

DG: Another topic that comes up, involving America in the World in Dr McGreevy’s book, is the fact that Jesuits were becoming more politically liberal as the 20th century approached, but they had an interesting relationship to America as empire. For instance, they’re perfectly happy to sail on American ships to go into the Pacific. But on the other hand, they oppose, for instance, the war in the Philippines, in the early 1900s, because it’s a war against a Catholic nation. So, in the Mormon Church, did you find similar ambivalence about the imperial message?

LMK: Earlier on there was a lot of ambivalence about it. (15:00) When Mormons send off missionaries to the South Pacific in the mid-19th century, and later to places like New Zealand, the message is, “We’re also being oppressed by our government, just as you are being oppressed.” In other words, they’re an anti-colonialist movement spreading a message of joining common cause with the oppressed people’s in Utah. “And we will”, you know, “have more strength together”. So, yes, it’s sort-of an interesting thing. And, of course, by the 20th century they are certainly in line with American liberal values in a very different way. But there are other traditions that have a much more – I would say – a much more conflicted relationship to the US Government throughout. So, African American Christians, for example, also have some debates about how much to support the American imperial project, in various places: be it Haiti, where there’s a long tradition of African American missionaries in Haiti; or in Africa, because they have their own loyalties as they see it to people in Africa. So I think the whole issue of loyalties to religion and nation – aside from the Protestant mainstream one – have always been much more conflicted, and often more complicated, than we’ve realised.

DG: So we’ve spent a long time talking about comparative aspects of your work and Dr McGreevy’s work. But, I’m curious now. The role of the Catholic Church today in the United States is . . . . So, just to narrow in on Catholicism: the Catholic Church today is a large supporter of the United States Government, although it’s basically at odds with – sometimes at odds over – social issues. Do you think that trend is going to continue, of the Catholic Church having a liberal voice in American society? Because there certainly was a resurgence of conservatism under John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

LMK: Yes . . . . Historians, typically, aren’t very good prophets.

DG: Yes, so I caveat all of this with, “This may go wrong!”

LMK: Right! You know, I think there are potentially lots of counter-cultural elements in Catholicism . Even the social teachings of Catholicism – there is an anti-militarism which goes way back, that is combined, in ways different for Catholics, with their pro-life policies. So even though they might agree with evangelical Christians or other Protestants about questions of abortion, they’d part ways over the role of the American military and its work abroad. So it’s a complicated picture, I think. And as we’ve seen – and as a historian I suppose my take is – it’ll probably come around again. We will see more episodes of liberal . . . . I’m not a whiggish historian, so I don’t believe that we are in some inevitable march towards progress of all sorts, or enlightenment. And therefore it’s hard to predict what the next step would look like.

DG: Absolutely. The thing that’s been weighing on my mind – less so than recent political developments – is population shifts and demographics in the Catholic Church. I mean, certainly, with the rise of birth control – despite what bishops might want to know – the families are smaller now than they were in, say, the 1800s. And certainly, with the rise of secularity, I am curious to see the role of Catholicism in American public life. Dr McGreevy’s book deals with them taking on a larger role and now, I wonder, as the population shrinks, what’s going to happen?

LMK: That’s a great question. We have certainly seen revivals before in this country.

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: So it’s hard to predict. The demographic shifts are obviously significant, but exactly how they’ll play out, I think, is not easy to prognosticate. Just because there are people in the Southern Hemisphere who are becoming the voice of Christianity, it’s not clear to me what political pay-off that has, or what path that portends. In fact, if you look at something that I know a little more about, in Protestant missionary work, the kinds of Protestantism that are making in-roads in places like Africa and South America are some of the more conservative kinds of Protestantism: Pentecostalism . . .

DG: Which is a counter-narrative to the modern, growing secularism in America.

LMK: And now they’re sending missionaries back to the United States.

DG: Really?

LMK: Yes. There are reverse migratory flows of missionaries. One of the biggest churches in Western Europe right now is a church – and this may be out of date because it’s a few years ago someone told me this: that there’s a huge evangelical church that was founded by a Nigerian pastor that has grown by leaps and bounds in Europe. (20:00) Now who that’s growing among, in Europe, is an interesting question. But, of course, the make-up of Western Europe and the United States is changing, as well. So the demography may just follow back to the Northern Hemisphere.

DG: Sure. Well, this discussion of transnational Catholicism and which particular voice will win out, makes me think of the original intention for why we’re sitting here in Notre Dame. So, for our listeners, this conference was originally meant to be part of a much larger conference on the work of Mark Noll, the historian of American Christianity. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the conference had to be, mostly, scrapped. But I’m curious what you would think of this, to bring in Mr Noll as an evangelical historian and historian of evangelicalism. His recent work has been abandoning America Studies, to some extent, to talk about the world. His book, Clouds of Witnesses is about Africa and Asia. So, the work of Mark Noll: how, if at all, does that influence your research? Do you see his views about pluralism . . . do you think those are going to carry more weight, going forwards, in the academy?

LMK: In certain sections of the academy, absolutely. I mean, Mark has been a pioneer in that sort of field, looking at global Christianity, for a long time. And thinking about, well – he’s a historian with an eye to the future, and where the church is going. And that’s certainly a big piece of the puzzle that I think has trickled back into the academy, in all kinds of ways. So I don’t see that stopping, by any means. But the question of what globalism or increasing globalisation of any of these religious traditions actually means for piety, for spirituality, for institutional life is, I think, the next big question. We know what it means in terms of bodies moving from one place to another, but how that actually, then, plays out – in terms of building institutions and building structures – is anybody’s guess.

DG: Well, and you’ve also mentioned – on sort-of a final note – that you and the other panellists talk about how the Catholics have become, you know, comfortable with their place in American society. Whereas Mark Noll, in his works, is talking about how some evangelicals want to make the country an explicitly evangelical nation – and he rejects that, as an evangelical man. So do you see these fights in the academy at all, over how to define religion? Should there be an exclusively Protestant historical mould, or should we find news ways of thinking and defining religion – ways that aren’t just tied to Christianity?

LMK: So, are you thinking . . . ? Yes – I think the horse is out of barn on that one! I don’t see going back to any kind of narrow focus on either churches, or institutional life or Protestantism. But I think, in some ways, the study of religion in all of its dimensions can only enrich the future study of Protestantism, along with other traditions.

DG: Yes, I think pluralism is here to stay. Or, at least, that’s what we’re supporting, right?

LMK: Yes.

DG: And then, a genuinely final note, I’ll ask: some scholars consider Mormonism a Christian faith; others say it is a Christian inspired faith.Where do you stand on those issues?

LMK: It’s certainly inspired by Protestantism and that’s where, if you look at the first sort of members of the movement, they came by way of other Christian traditions. I don’t . . . . The theological question – of whether it is a Christian tradition – I don’t feel, as a scholar, is mine to answer. I guess, on one level, I take seriously the self-identification of Mormons who see themselves as Christians. I think it’s an interesting question to look at. I think there are other Mormons who don’t see themselves as Christian, so that’s also an interesting question: where are the fault lines, and when and where do these questions matter? As a cultural historian, I think those are the more interesting questions for me. But I am not a theologian and I am not a historian of a particular kind of church tradition, so I’ll leave that to the experts.

DG: Laurie Maffly-Kipp discussing bodies in space: what they think, what they say and what they do. Thank you very much.

LMK: You’re welcome. Thank you.


Citation Info: Maffly-Kipp, Laurie. 2017. “Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 29 May 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 22 May 2017. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/jesuits-mormons-and-american-religion-in-the-world/

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Healing and higher power: a response to Dr Wendy Dossett

Headlines warning of the social fallout from alcohol and drug addiction often fail to record the remarkable fact that hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have successfully “recovered” from these often devastating dependencies.  The highly lauded “12 Steps” programme, that has fronted the decades long efforts of both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, as well as similar organisations, have undoubtedly saved many lives.

At the heart of this success story is an acceptance of a spiritual “higher power” available to all, one which supersedes mere will power and puts them on the road to recovery. In her interview Dr Wendy Dossett explains that Bill Wilson and Dr Robert Smith, founders of the AA and the 12 Steps programme, were influenced by the religious practices of the Oxford Group, a conservative evangelical form of Protestantism, which looked back to the early Christian church for its inspiration. As a result the pair believed alcoholism was a “spiritual malady”.

However, Dossett agrees that this “higher power” in no way automatically means the “God of religion”.  The religious studies academic, a senior lecturer at Chester University, tells the interviewer this higher power “can be anything so long as it is not will power”. Discussing her research she explains that while some of the recovered addicts she spoke to about their experiences identified this power with God, others variously described it as the “spirit of the universe”, nature, or even ”the force” – an echo of Star Wars.  On the other hand, a number felt this power was derived from fellow addicts in their recovery group, while some associated it with their friends and one even initially identified it as the ‘unconditional love’ from her cat.

Dossett makes clear it is essential that religious studies researchers listen to, value and document the experiences of the practitioners of contemporary spiritualities.  And it is equally appropriate for them to use their subject knowledge and skills to identify the religious elements and separate them out so that they did not unduly influence the interpretation of their findings. What resulted in her work “is the actual experience of people who work these programmes”.

It is worthwhile at this stage to point out that while Dossett describes of what she has discovered, what the ‘higher power’ or ‘spirituality’ can mean to others, she offers no definition of her own. I suggest that this disinclination to define the words limits or even forecloses their meaning.  To support her view that the ‘higher power’ is not necessarily religious she referred to Robert C. Fuller’s book (Spiritual, but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, OUP, 2001) which made it clear that although organisations like AA were spiritual they were not aligned to any religion or faith and had no “requirements of belief to be a member”. However does this not beg the familiar question: can we genuinely understand spirituality without relating it to religion or metaphysics?  Can we legitimately define it to be whatever anyone wants it to be at any particular time?  Is there not a danger that a concept like spirituality, when deprived of a specific definition, loses its depth and profundity?

In a direct challenge to those unprepared to countenance a metaphysical view viewpoint, the late Vaclav Havel once warned: “Man is not an omnipotent master of the universe, allowed to do with impunity whatever he thinks, or whatever suits him at the moment.”  The former Czech president and philosopher continued: “The world we live in is made of an immensely complex and mysterious tissue about which we know very little and which we must treat with utmost humility” [i]. It seems to me Havel’s reference to the “immensely complex and mysterious tissue” helps, to some extent, in explaining the concept of spirituality associated with the 12 Steps’ “higher power” and the remarkable recoveries Dossett documented in her research.  And I certainly feel the importance Havel gives to “humility” is mirrored by Dossett’s sensitive approach to her research group and the analysis of her findings.

While those that reject the concept of God can never associate the “higher power” with the divine, it is obviously still appropriate to explore if a metaphysical force might lie at the back of this power and, if so, what it might be. After all the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous, founded in the late 1930s, are undeniably Christian.

Given these Christian origins, it is relevant to look at the accounts of Jesus’ healings. Like those the programme has successfully treated, Jesus, too, spoke of a “higher power”, although he called it the “kingdom of heaven”.  Interestingly, he also said that he could do nothing on his own[ii], a remark that, in my view, alludes to a “power greater than ourselves”, a phrase 12 Steps participants have also used when explaining their recovery. The Bible clearly links Jesus’ view of the kingdom of heaven with the power he healed by.  Furthermore, later New Testament writings show others in the early Christian Church echoed Jesus’ cures.

But even Christians, particularly within the last 150 years, have often found it hard to regard Jesus’ healings as anything other than myths or natural events.  Paul Tillich recognised this neglect of the healing aspect of Jesus. He wrote that the Gospels ‘abound in stories of healing; but we are responsible, ministers, laymen, theologians, who forgot that “Saviour” means “healer”, he who makes whole and sane what is broken and insane, in body and mind’ [iii]Thus he identifies healing as an essential element of salvation.

Nevertheless, not only has the healing element of Christianity gone largely unacknowledged, it has in fact been almost subsumed by the advances of modern medicine. Be that as it may, many Christians combine their prayers with the work of doctors. In my research on Christianity and healing I am aware of several studies that identify the health benefits of a combined approach to healing such as those done by Harold G. Koenig at the Centre for Spirituality, Theology and Health, Duke University, North Carolina.

One denomination of Christianity was founded specifically on the practice of healing through reliance on the power of God alone. The French sociologist, Regis Dericquebourg, using the Weberian typification of ‘ideal types’, defines The Church of Christ, Scientist as the “first healing church”[iv].  Started by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879 – Christian Science was a precursor to the approach of the Oxford Group in that it looks to “primitive Christianity” for its inspiration and practice [v]. According to its own periodicals it claims hundreds of thousands of recoveries and cures, many accompanied by medical diagnoses.

If Jesus healed two millennia ago, if subsequent Christians have also used similar healing powers down the centuries, and, if the healings reported by Christian Scientists are genuine, it is plausible that the “higher power” of the 12 steps programme is sourced in a divine power It is beyond the scope of this commentary to explore what kind of divine power this is, but given the roots of the AA, it is likely to correspond with a Christian understanding of God. Whatever the case, the recoveries and healing experiences of those who use a ‘higher power’ are too numerous and too well documented for it not to evoke further study as to how it works and where it comes from. For all its reticence to use religious terminology and perhaps because of it, Dossett’s research indicates that the answers are going to be new and surprising.

Endnotes

[i] The New York Times, 3 June 1992

[ii] Luke 17: 21

[iii] Tillich P, The New Being, Scribner, New York, 1955, p42

[iv] Dericquebourg R, ‘Christian Science: The first healing church’ presented at The Evolutions of Christian Science in Scholarly Perspective seminar, April 23/24 2015, FVG Wilrijk-Antwerp, Belgium. Published in Acta Comparanda Subsidia ll, FVG, June 2015

[v] Church Manual, Christian Science Publishing Society, Boston, p17

Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality

When we think about ‘religion’ and ‘youth’ a number of images might come to mind. Young people rebelling against their parents. Young people as mere containers for the religiosity of their parents. Creative reinterpretation of stagnant traditions. Systemic abuse and lack of agency. And so on. In the context of the United Kingdom, where we are recording today, with its historically hegemonic Christianity, one scholar has written that

young_old

“It is no secret that Christian churches are struggling to attract and retain young people. The current generation of young people has largely abandoned the church or never known it as a significant part of their lives. The 2005 church census revealed that many churches have no young people at all in their congregations: around half have no 11- to 14-year-olds attending and well over half have no 15- to 19-year-olds (Brierley 2006).” (Stanton 2012, 385)

But of course, this misses much of what is going on. That scholar is Naomi Thompson (formerly Stanton) who joins us today on the Religious Studies Project to give us a more nuanced overview of the broad topic “Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality.”

We begin this interview by asking what is ‘youth’? How do sociologists define it? What are some of the current trends in sociological research on youth? What, if anything, is distinctive about youth experience? Discussion then turns to ‘religion and youth’, focusing on why scholars might be interested in it, the current state of play, common assumptions, how we might go about researching it, before focusing on some of Dr Thompson’s own research. Towards the end of the interview, we focus on the ‘transmission model’ and the relationship between generations, before thinking to the future of this growing area of research.

This episode is the fourth in a series co-produced with Religion and Feminism‘ with Dawn Llewellyn, ‘Evangelicalism and Civic Space‘ with Anna Strhan, and ‘An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion‘ with Grace Davie.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, Jaffa Cakes, Lion bars, and more.


References:

Stanton, Naomi. 2012. Christian youth work: teaching faith, filling churches or response to social need? Journal of Beliefs & Values, Vol. 33, No. 3, December 2012, 385–403

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 30 August 2016

Do you have a call for papers, an event announcement, a job vacancy, grant or award you would like others to distribute?

How about having your notification posted with the Religious Studies Project’s weekly Opportunities Digest? It’s easy, just forward them to oppsdigest@gmail.com! Please be aware that the old e-mail address oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com does not currently work.

You can find previous Opportunities Digests here: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/categ…/opportunities/

Calls for papers

Special issue: Journal for the Study of Religion

Theme: The Role of Religion in Violence and Peacebuilding

Deadline: November 15, 2016

More information

Reviews and overviews: Material Religion

Theme: Museums, exhibitions

More information

Conference: Mountains and Sacred Landscapes

April 20-23, 2017

New York City, USA

Deadline: September 19, 2016

More information

Conference: Modern Hadith Studies Between Arabophone and Western Scholarship

January 9-10, 2017

Pembroke, Oxford, UK

Deadline: October 15, 2016

More information

Symposium & Ph.D. course, workshop: Death Online: Method and content

March 6-8; 9-10, 2017

Aarhus University, Denmark

Deadline: September 10, 2016

More information

Symposium: Simpósio sobre Religião e Política

October 17-21, 2016

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Deadline: September 20, 2016

More information (Portuguese)

Events

“Om at tage animisme alvorligt – men ikke for alvorligt?”

September 1, 8 PM – 10 PM

Copenhagen, Denmark

More information (Danish)

Jobs

University researchers, Postdoctoral researchers, Doctoral students

University of Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: September 18, 2016

More information

Interdisciplinary Fellowships: Sacred Music, Religion, and the Arts

Yale Institute of Sacred Music, USA

Deadline: November 1, 2016

More information

Assistant Professor, Tenure Track: Religion and Environment

University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Deadline: October 31, 2016

More information

Assistant Professor: Hinduism

University of California, Davis, USA

Deadline: October 31, 2016

More information

Associate / Full Professor: Latin American/Latino/LatinX Christianity

Emory University, USA

Deadline: August 26, 2016

More information

Assistant / Associate Professor: Buddhist Philosophy

University of New Mexico, USA

Deadline: October 19, 2016

More information

Assistant Professor: South Asian Religions

University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada

Deadline: October 17, 2016

More information

Fellowships: Research Group “Editing Metaphysics”

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Germany

Deadline: October 15, 2016

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – March 15, 2016

Dear subscriber,

We are pleased to bring you this week’s opportunities digest and would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has submitted calls for papers, event notifications, job vacancies, etc. On that note, we would also like to encourage you to continue to do so (and invite those who remain hesitant to begin)!

It is super easy to have a Religious Studies call for papers, exciting event, or alluring job vacancy appear in future Opportunities Digests! Simply use the submission form, forward them to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com or, better yet, include said e-mail address in your mailing list for such e-mails!

We thank you for your contribution.

Calls for papers and applications

Workshop: Translations: indigenous, religion, tradition, culture

University of Tromsø, Norway

August 17–19, 2016

Deadline: June 1, 2016

More information

Travel grants: Religious Pluralisation – A Challenge for Modern Societies

October 4–6, 2016

Hanover, Germany

More information (travel grants, program)

Summer school: Religion and water

June 13–24, 2016

University of Bergen, Norway

Deadline: April 1, 2016

More information

Summer school: Religion, Culture and Society: Entanglement and Confrontation

August 28–September 3, 2016

Antwerpen, Belgium

Deadline: May 15, 2016

More information

Events

Conference: Islam and Peaceful Relations

April 5, 2016

Coventry University, UK

More information

Conference: Radicalisaton and Violent Extremism: Society, Identity and Security

July 22–23, 2016

University of Leeds, UK

April 15, 2016

More information

Conference: Reconsidering Religious Radicalism

May 21, 2016

University of Cambridge, UK

More information

Symposium: Muslims in the UK and Europe

May 13–15, 2016

University of Cambridge, UK

More information

Jobs

Funded postgraduate positions

University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Deadline: March 31, 2016

More information

Full-time PhD studentships

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: April 4, 2016

More information

Faculty Fellow: Japanese Religions

University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Deadline: May 15, 2016

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Professor: Alevism in Europe

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Deadline: April 13, 2016

More information

Professor: History of Modern/Contemporary Christianity

University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Deadline: April 14, 2016

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 8 December 2015

Dear subscriber,

We are pleased to bring you this week’s opportunities digest and would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has submitted calls for papers, event notifications, job vacancies, etc. On that note, we would also like to encourage you to continue to do so (and invite those who remain hesitant to begin)!

It is super easy to have a Religious Studies call for papers, exciting event, or alluring job vacancy appear in future Opportunities Digests! Simply use the submission form, forward them to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com or, better yet, include said e-mail address in your mailing list for such e-mails!

We thank you for your contribution.

Calls for papers

Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Multiple Religious Belonging

Deadline: April 1, 2016

More information

Conference: FINYAR-konferanse 2016: Mellomvesen og mellom vesen: Kommunikasjon i og om nyreligiøsiteten

April 27–28, 2016

Bergen, Norway

Deadline: December 20, 2015

More information (Norwegian)

Conference: NSRN Conference: The Diversity of Nonreligion

July 7–9, 2016

Universität Zürich, Switzerland

Deadline: January 15, 2016

More information

Conference: SOCREL: Construction and disruption: The power of religion in the public sphere

July 12–14, 2016

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: December 11, 2015

More information

Conference: BRISMES: Networks: Connecting the Middle East through Time, Space and Cyberspace

July 13–15, 2016

University of Wales, UK

Deadline: February 19, 2016

More information

Conference panel: EASR: Relocating Protestants: Pilgrimage and De-/Re-Reformation

June 28–July 1, 2016

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

Conference panel: EASR: Christianity in diaspora: Ethnographic case studies of religoius practice and identity construction

June 28–July 1, 2016

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

Conference panel: EASR: Contesting and Relocating Authority

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

Events

Animals in Mesopotamia

December 14–15, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

More information

Jobs

Assistant Professor: Islamic Studies

Virginia Commonwealth University, USA

Deadline: January 15, 2016

More information

Assistant Professor, Associate Professor: Roman History and Culture

University of British Columbia, Canada

Deadline: January 16, 2016

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Postdoc Position

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

Deadline: February 14, 2016

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Assistant Professor, Associate Professor: Japanese Religions

McGill University, Canada

Deadline: August 1, 2016

More information

PhD Studentship: Integrated Peace Building, Living Side by Side and Trust Matters

Coventry University, UK

Deadline: February 19, 2016

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 13 October 2015

Dear subscriber,

We are pleased to bring you this week’s opportunities digest, booming with calls for papers, events and job opportunities!

We would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has forwarded notifications. On that note, we would also like to encourage you to continue to do so (and invite those who remain hesitant to begin)!

It is super easy to have a Religious Studies call for papers, exciting event, or alluring job vacancy appear in future Opportunities Digests! Simply use the submission form, forward them to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com or, better yet, include said e-mail address in your mailing list for such e-mails!

We thank you for your contribution.

Now, sink your teeth into this:

Calls for papers

Conference: Religious Materiality and Emotion

February 17–18, 2016

Adelaide City, Australia

Deadline: October 31, 2015

More information

Conference: Hermeneutics, symbol and myth and the Modernity of Antiquity in Italian Literature and the Arts

December 1–2, 2015

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Italy

Deadline: November 10, 2015

More information

Conference: Shia Minorities in the Contemporary World

May 20–21, 2016

University of Chester, UK

Deadline: December 15, 2015

More information

Conference: Religion and Non-Religion in Contemporary Societies

April 21–24, 2016

Zadar, Croatia

Deadline: November 15, 2015

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Conference: Esotericism, Literature and Culture in Central and Eastern Europe

May 27–28, 2016

Belgrade, Serbia

Deadline: December 1, 2015

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Conference: Religion and Revolution

June 16–17, 2016

University College Cork, Ireland

Deadline: January 21, 2016

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Conference: Dialogue among religions as strategy and means for peace

July 12–15, 2016

Havana, Cuba

Deadline: November 20, 2015

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Conference: Anticipating the End Times: Millennialism, Apocalypticism, and Utopianism in Intentional Communities

October 6–8, 2016

Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Deadline: May 15, 2016

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Conference: Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits

July 5–7, 2016

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 10, 2015

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Colloquium: Translating Christianities

December 7, 2015

University of Stirling, UK

Deadline: October 30, 2015

More information

Symposium: The End of the World: A Universal Imagination

June 8–10, 2016

Nantes, France

Deadline: December 15, 2015

More information

Symposium: 41st Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions

April 15–17, 2015

Cardiff University, UK

Deadline: December 7, 2014

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Symposium: Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies

December 7–9, 2015

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 6, 2015

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EASR panel: Nonreligion and Atheism in Central and Eastern Europe

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

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Journal: Preternature

Special issue: Delineating the Preternatural: Modern Occultism in a Scientific Context

Deadline: December 15, 2015

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Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Religion and Racism: Intercultural Perspectives

Deadline: January 31, 2016

More information

Events

Conference: Religion, Addiction and Recovery

November 2, 2015

University of Chester, UK

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Seminar: Islamic Studies in Scotland: Retrospect and Prospect

October 23–24, 2015

University of Edinburgh, UK

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Jobs

4 PhD positions: “Communication and Exploitation of Knowledge in the Middle Ages”

University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Deadline: October 15, 2015

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Assistant Professor of Religion: Buddhist Studies

Bard College, NY, USA

Deadline: November 1, 2015

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Senior Research Associate: CREST

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: October 23, 2015

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Doctoral positions: Muslim Cultures and Societies

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Deadline: November 15, 2015

More information

Conference Report (and rant): Fandom and Religion, Leicester, 2015

Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by our very own Venetia Robertson, RSP Editor and a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.

The University of Leicester hosted the Fandom and Religion conference this July 28-30 in affiliation with the Theology, Religion and Popular Culture network. A reasonably small conference with just over 30 presenters and 50 attendees, organisers Clive Marshall and Isobel Woodcliffe of Leicester’s Lifelong Learning Centre ran the event smoothly with the help of attentive session chairs and the professional staff at the clean and comfortable College Court conference centre. The Court was truly the home of the conference—with all of the sessions, meals, drinks, and most of our accommodation being there (and with little to do in the surrounding area)—one could be excused for experiencing a bit of cabin fever by end of the week. Still, when tomorrow morning’s keynote speaker is ordering another pint at midnight, we’re probably all glad that bed is just a few steps away from the bar. I want to talk about the papers I saw, and those I wish I’d caught, because that’s primarily what a conference review should be, but I’m also going to take this opportunity to give the study of fandom and religion in general some evaluation, as this conference both pointed out to me the breadth and the dearth of this relatively new academic field.

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One of the main draws of this conference for me, and why I was willing to endure the very long plane trip to get there, was the keynote line-up. I heard of this event at last year’s Media, Religion, and Culture Conference, and was excited to see that it would be featuring excellent speakers like Kathryn Lofton (who sadly had to pull out), and scholars whose work my own is intimately connected to, like Chris Partridge and Matt Hills. The way these thinkers combine innovative thinking with the analysis of meaning-making and popular culture highlights, and inspiringly so, the importance of this area of investigation. Partridge and Hill’s plenary papers, ‘Fandom, Pop Devotion, and the Transfiguration of Dead Celebrities’ and ‘Revisiting the “Affective Spaces” of Fan Conventions: Sites of Pilgrimage, Sacredness, and Enchantment… or Non-Places?’ respectively, were both illustrative of the fruitful amalgamation of approaches from media, cultural, and religious studies when examining these developments. I brought together Partridge’s concept of occulture with Hill’s hyperdiegesis in my own paper on how medieval female mystics and modern fangirls use relational narratives with their ‘gods’ to reify sacred subjectivities from within the patriarchal cultures of Christendom and geek culture. On the whole, the conference represented multi- and inter-disciplinary methods, with scholars of anthropology, psychology, music, digital cultures, and literature alongside those of religion. There was, however, in the overall makeup and theme of Fandom and Religion, an unmistakeably strong theological bent—but more on that in a moment.

Though it meant having to miss out on what I heard was a great session on fan experiences in Bob Dylan, indie, and Israeli popular music scenes, and a session on comics and hero narratives that I would have no doubt enjoyed, I felt very satisfied with the methodological offerings from Rhiannon Grant and Emanuelle Burton that dealt with the tensions of canon and fanon, interpretation and creativity, group consensus and personal gnosis, that affect religious and fan communities alike. With a mix of midrashic, pagan, and Quaker approaches to truth and authority, this panel had my mind whirring. Papers on the commercial and the communal aspects of the Hillsong and the role of music in the Pentecostal mega church system provided fascinating insights (and stay tuned for more on this from Tom Wagner). Offerings from Bex Lewis on the Keep Calm and meme on trend and Andrew Crome on My Little Pony fandom, Bronies, and Christianity, proffered some intriguing ways in which viral cultures enable believers to remix media for religious purposes and find the sacred within the secular. Film and television were well represented with talks on American Horror Story, the Alien franchise, small screen vampires, children’s programming, and anime, though I unfortunately could not get to those sessions. Sport, fiction, and celebrity were of course popular topics, with a Harry Potter themed session, and talks on football and faith and evangelism amongst skaters and surfers. Two talks I again missed but would have liked to have caught were the inimitably odd Ian Vincent on tulpas and tulpamancy and François Bauduin’s talk on the Raelians, for what I’m sure would have been a robust discussion of how these esoteric movements translate into the online sphere, and how this affects notions of authenticity and creativity.

11222652_10156115964950413_6985333271960933871_oWhile this program certainly presents a swathe of relevant subjects in the field of fandom and religion, there were several key moments that made me realise that some central issues had gone by the wayside. It struck me that this was a very “white” conference: there were, even for a small number of papers, strikingly none that I could see on non-Western peoples or traditions. A tiny fraction looked at non-Western media and non-Abrahamic religious beliefs. Searching the abstract booklet I found Islam mentioned once, Buddhism only in passing, and no references to countries with historical, pertinent, and I would say seminal engagements with religious fandoms (Japan, India, Vanuatu are just a few examples). When pointed out during the ‘feedback session’ that concluded the conference two responses were offered: one, that there was no one writing on these topics, and two, that it’s a shame that it looks like the conference lacked diversity but that the organizing body does have one Jewish member… In her keynote, Tracy Trothen remarked on the subject of religion and sport that when we say ‘religion’ we usually mean ‘Christianity’, which I had initially interpreted as a reflexive moment on the ‘god problem’ the academy continues to have, that is, the perpetuation of “the myth of Christian uniqueness” despite the reality of pluralism and secularization, but unfortunately it merely signaled the habitual preferential treatment of this one theological outlook. The suggestion that “no one is writing on these topics” is patently false, but is indicative of the core issue I had with this event: it wasn’t just saturated with a Christo-theological focus in material and approach because that’s representative of the academy, but rather it seemed it was primarily interested in representing that viewpoint—and this is something I don’t think was made clear from the outset.

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For example, the website for this conference followed on from the flyer that had first alerted me to the “international, inter-disciplinary conference,” and stated that its purpose was to “explore interactions between religion and popular culture” which sounded great. “What is happening to fans as they express their enthusiasms and allegiances? Has fandom replaced or become a form of religion?”—cool, interesting questions, I thought. Compare with this description from a CFP I, after the fact, found elsewhere: “A Major Conference for Faith Community Practitioners and Academics,” “including a session solely for faith community practitioners.” There were actually several ‘practitioner’ sessions, and it seemed clear after a while that ‘faith community’ meant Christian worship. It became explicit from the first day with our welcome that in part this event was for not just religious people but those active in their Churches to learn not so much about, but from fandoms. I am used to attending academic conferences with a notable number of ‘practitioners’ present, they may even present non-academic papers. I am also used to having to define religious studies as a separate disciplinary enterprise to theology. But what I wasn’t expecting in Leicester, and I don’t think I was alone here, was to be at a conference where religion, theology, and Christianity were so automatically synonymous that it didn’t seem to occur to the organisers that major non-Christian themes in religion and fandom had been overlooked in their selection of papers, or even that such themes were major. I wasn’t expecting to feel like such an outsider, as a religious studies academic at what I had thought was an academic religious studies affair.

To be fair, now that I have delved deeper into the faith-based networks that organised this event (Donald Wiebe). However, this issue goes beyond the academy, and this became obvious when a reporter for a religion-themed program on BBC4 interviewed some of the conference’s speakers. What thankfully doesn’t make it into our few minutes of fame in this radio segment is the interviewer’s clear discomfort with the idea of converging ‘obsessive’ fans and their ‘low brow’ media with ‘devoted’ believers and their ‘respectable’ forms of the divine. “Are they [typical othering language] just crazy?” he asks me of fans, and makes me repeat my answer several times in order to get something “more quippy, less academic”, and, I suppose, more damning to confirm his perception that there are right and wrong forms of meaning-making. Journalists from The Daily Mail also tried (but failed) to get a talking head, so I guess things could have been worse.

Venetia Robertson ready for the conference!

Venetia Robertson ready for the conference!

I certainly don’t mean to detract from the importance of making niche areas like fandom and religion studies visible on an international and interdisciplinary scale, or the much-appreciated effort that went in to the organisation and contribution of this conference and its participants: there was indeed a wealth of interesting, useful, and high-quality papers. Nonetheless, as a reflection on the state of popular culture and its integration into multi­-religious studies (not to mention the relevant spheres of civil/quasi/alternative/implicit religion etc.) I feel these criticisms need timely evaluation. And I have some heartening thoughts to that effect: there is a blossoming field of intersectional work on these topics at the moment if one takes the time to look! The promotional material available at Leicester, interestingly, confirmed this, and I include some pictures of it here. I think it’s telling that Joss Whedon studies has had its own journal, Slayage, for over ten years, but to find more journal articles on a vast panoply of religion and fandom junctures you can try the Journal Of Religion And Popular Culture, the classic Journal Of Popular Culture or the newer Transformative Works And Cultures and the Journal of Fandom Studies, whose book reviews keep on top of the most recent additions to this field. This conference also saw the launch of the comprehensive volume, The Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture (which ranges in price between $277 AUD on BookDepository to a whopping $405 at Angus and Robertson), edited by John Lyden and Eric Mazur, as yet another example of the popularity of this topic in contemporary scholarship. I’m also pleased to say that my paper will be a chapter in the forthcoming volume for INFORM/Ashgate, Fiction, Invention, and Hyper-reality: From Popular Culture to Religion (edited by Carole Cusack and Pavol Kosnáč) alongside some brilliant minds exploring the relationship of spirituality to conspiracy theories, Tolkein’s legendarium, Discordianism, with a handful of, yes, practitioner’s accounts, this time from Pagans, Jedis and Dudeists—it’s sure to be a vibrant, diverse, and illuminating contribution to the discussion on fandom and religion.

 

 

Christian Reconstruction

Rousas John Rushdoony might be one of the most important Christian theologians you’ve never heard of. As the primary architect of a unique version of conservative protestantism referred to as Christian Reconstructionism, Rushdoony worked for several decades to implement Old Testament Biblical law in contemporary America. Though he never realized his vision, and though his movement largely died with him, Rushdoony remains an important figure because his comparably extreme vision for Christian America challenged contemporary conservatives on a number of religious and theological issues and helped pull them farther to the political right

In this interview, Professor Michael McVicar discusses Rushdoony and Christian Reconstruction. McVicar gained unprecedented access to Rushdoony’s personal files, archives, and correspondence, which provided invaluable data for McVicar’s book on Rushdoony.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, hamster cages, vintage VHS tapes, and more.

Sri Lankan Buddhism and Colonialism

Stephen Berkwitz doesn’t really speak of either. Instead, the interview focuses on Sri Lankan colonial past and how the presence of European rulers and Christian missionaries affected local Buddhism.

Pogacnik and Berkwitz discuss the effects of colonial missionaries on the solidification of a Buddhist religious identity in Sri Lanka and the far-reaching consequences of this turn on some contemporary Buddhist monks, who are turning to the Pali canon in search of ‘authentic Buddhism’. Berkwitz explores the connection of this turn to scripture with the presence of Protestant missionaries and the idea of ‘Protestant Buddhism’ in Sri Lanka, presenting some challenges to seeing the missionary influence as a straight-forward one. Exploring examples of the counter influences Buddhism had on Christian missionaries that came to Sri Lanka, Berkwitz concludes the interview by talking about the complex relationship and interplay of religion and power in the Sri Lankan context.

Listeners interested further in the authors Berkwitz mentioned in the interview can look into the works of Gananath Obeyesekere and Anne Blackburn. You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, choral scores, lunchboxes and more.

Identity Crisis: the Nones and Habitual Christianity

This podcast coincides with Linda Woodhead’s recent Croall Lectures, aimed at interrogating the question: Is Britain still a Christian country? Drawing on her own qualitative research and recent surveys in the UK, and from the nearly 80 projects funded by the Religion and Society programme, Woodhead is extremely well placed to examine this broad, nicely impossible question. I decided in the end to do two things, first to give a summary of some of the key points and second, to stick with what I know of this topic – drawing on my own research with (secular) humanists, based in the UK.

There has been much debate generated about the Christian status in Britain, not least following the comments of David Cameron in 2014 – who stated that Britain was a Christian country. Cameron had made his comments in a letter published in the Church Times on 16th April 2014[1] and his target audience should be borne in mind. He wrote:

I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives (Cameron, 2014).

Here (as elsewhere) Cameron emphasises that such a confidence in Christianity will help people get out there and do something. He also emphasises that: “Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love are shared by people of every faith and none” (ibid.).

In this podcast, Linda Woodhead takes up this debate from a sociological perspective, drawing on her experience as the overseer of the AHRC/ESRC funded Religion and Society programme which commissioned 75 UK based research projects over a five year period (2007-2012). In response to the question ‘Is Britain a Christian country?’, Woodhead’s response is a qualified ‘yes’. This means, Britain is not Christian in every way; numbers of people attending Church are certainly falling as are the number of people who self-identify as Christian[2]. She also states that Britain will certainly not be Christian forever if current trends continue, and, further, argues that Britain is not straightforwardly secular and a rise in ‘nones’ (those ticking ‘no religion’ on the Census) does not equal a rise in atheist or new atheist discourse. Many people continue to believe in a God (although not necessarily the Trinity) or consider themselves ‘spiritual’. But, in sum she argues that: “the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.”

Secular Humanists

Over the last four years, I have been working on an ethnography of nonreligious[3] groups and individuals in the UK. I was resident archivist and volunteer for the Rationalist Association (publishers of the New Humanist magazine), and through these activities I was able to meet many, many nonreligious individuals. I also interviewed and observed humanist celebrants in action across the UK and met couple’s marrying in humanist ceremonies. Woodhead points out in this interview, the ‘nones’ (those who ticked no religion on the census) are a broad category, who do not easily conform to atheism per se nor should they be understood as self-identifying Christians.

My own research confirms, as Woodhead suggests, that the ‘none’ category is in no way monolithic nor should it be equated with ‘atheism’ per se. I rarely met people who wholeheartedly sympathised with new atheists or who were hardline secularists. In the course of my work it also become clear that many situate their nonreligious identity in relation to a Christian heritage, either as a result of personal experience or of education. This familiarity emerged in a number of ways. One such example is in regards to religious criticism; many of my participants felt that familiarity with Christianity permitted them to be critical in a way that they could not with other religious traditions. In an interview with Peter, a 28 year old writer and doctoral student, we came onto the topic of the Danish Cartoons in which he made the following comments:

‘[W]ell I think it was more, Christianity I [am] up for taking the piss out of, because I always take the perspective that, and I’ve heard comedians point this out, Stewart Lee and Dara Ó Briain, Christianity’s kind of ours to take the piss out of. I went to church, I got dragged to the Church of England every Sunday, so we get, so I could get into the right school, whereas I’ve always felt that something like Islam [for example] is tied into racial minorities [and is thus off limits].’ [London, April, 2013]

I was particularly interested in the explicit reference to the Church of England in relation to “other religions.” This certainly raises a number of questions for me. Does Cameron mean all denominations of Christianity? Or just Anglicanism? Moreover, what does it really mean to state that we are Christian anyhow? Woodhead illuminates some of these points more clearly – that it is in institutions and in a sense of ‘cultural Christianity’.

Certainly, by self-identifying with Christianity, Peter situates himself very clearly inside both nonreligious and Christian groups, at least nominally. Abby Day brings some qualitative description to the category of ‘Christianity’ in her research ‘Believing in Belonging’ (2006). The non-faithful are categorised by Day as ‘nominalist’; that is, ethnic, natal and aspirational. This group are: ‘not merely unchurched and neither are they indifferent to Christianity: it functions to reinforce familial, ethnic and social connections.’ (2006: 126). Day’s work is useful in demonstrating how despite being anti-religious or not-religious, Christianity can continue to provide a reference point. The choice to call oneself ‘Christian’ whilst not ‘practicing’ can be understood as ‘cultural’ Christianity (Demerath, 2000: 127) or a quasi-ethnic category (Voas and Bruce, 2004; Voas and Day, 2007: 3). Yet despite familiarity my own participants do not personally identify as Christian and, as Woodhead points out, there should be caution used in labelling anyone ‘Christian’ who does not do so for themselves. Thus, I am not suggesting that my participants are ‘nominally’ Christian, simply that their attitude to religions was inflected by their experiences of it.

What such examples demonstrate is a negotiation of this term ‘Christianity’. Whilst many of my participants were aware of their own ‘habitual Christianity’, they were also at pains to break the habit[4].

Concluding Thoughts

I would be very interested to hear of other research addressing these issues. My own research – as I state – was within smaller scale populations and other researchers will be able to illuminate these debates at the macro-level, more clearly than I can. What I will state in summary is that central to this question – ‘Is Britain is a Christian country?’ – is a tension between issues of privilege and privatisation. Moreover, the debate rests on that tricky dichotomy between religious institution (and power) and people’s personal religious experiences and identities. As Woodhead stated in her article ‘How Religious Identity has Changed’ [in the UK]: ‘for a majority today, being religious is just a part of life and identity, not what defines them’ (2013). To say that Britain is a Christian country, as per Cameron’s speech, is therefore problematic not so much because the historical and (fragmented) contemporary trends it speaks to are contestable. It is problematic because it is totalising. Further, as Day points out, people who are otherwise ‘not religious’ state that they are Christian and give reasons of upbringing, culture or national identity. On a micro scale, this might resonate, and many, including my own nonreligious, secular participants may share this sense of ‘cultural Christianity’. However, despite any protestations from the PM, when a politician makes such a statement, there is a magnification of natal, national and cultural themes, and it is perhaps understandable that this creates anxieties about the political agenda implied by such bold statements – whether real or otherwise.

References

DAY, A. (2006). Believing in Belonging: a Case Study from Yorkshire. Unpublished PhD

Thesis, Lancaster University.

DAY, A. (2011). Believing in belonging: Belief and social identity in the modern world. Oxford University Press.

ENGELKE, M. (2012) ‘In Spite of Christianity: humanism and its others in contemporary Britain’ Talk given at the NSRN annual conference.

ENGELKE, M. (2014), ‘Christianity and the Anthropology of Secular HumanismCurrent Anthropology, Vol. 55, No. S10, pp. S292-S301

LEE, L. (2011). From ‘Neutrality’ to Dialogue: Constructing the Religious Other In British Non-religious Discourses In Modernities Revisited, Behrensen, M., Lee, L., & Tekelioglu., A. S. Vienna: IWM Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences 2011Available at www.iwm.at. [accessed 21 August 2012]

LEE, L. (2012). Research Note: Talking About a Revolution: Terminology for the New Field of Non-religion Studies. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 27(1): 129-139.

OFFICE OF NATIONAL STATISTICS (2012). Religion in England and Wales 2011. 12 December. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_290510.pdf [accessed 2 December 2014]

VOAS, D. & BRUCE, S (2004) ‘Research note: The 2001 census and Christian identification in Britain’, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 19:1, 23-28

VOAS, D & DAY, A (2007). Secularity in Great Britain. In Secularism and Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives, edited by Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar. Hartford, CA: ISSSC: 95-110.

WOODHEAD, L. (2012) ‘How Religious Identity has Changed’ published on Pandemonium.

 

 

[1] This follows remarks from other conservative MPs, including Baroness Warsi, who argued in 2011 that Britain should become more Christian.

[2] The results of the 2001 Census suggest 15.5 per cent of the population (8.6 million people) considered themselves to have no religion. Whilst 77.2 per cent of the population considered themselves to have some religious belief, with the majority identifying as Christian at 71.8 per cent (41million people). Results of the more recent 2011 Census demonstrate a marked shift in numbers. The number of people now reporting as Christian decreased to 59.3 per cent and there was an increase in those reporting no religion to 25.1 per cent of the population (ONS, 2012)

[3] Non religion is understood as different to the ‘secular’ and defined as defined as: ‘any position, perspective or practice which is primarily defined by, or in relation to, religion, but which is nevertheless considered to be other than religious (Lee, 2011).

[4] In my forthcoming thesis, I discuss the great length humanists and other nonreligious people went to, negotiating the boundaries between what is ‘culturally’ Christian and what was not (see also Engelke, 2014); the equation of moral values and Christianity was a particular sticking point. More space would also have allowed me to comment on the British Humanist Association’s Census campaign and letter to the Prime Minister, both relevant to this topic.

The Gamrie Brethren: At the Heart of Cosmic Struggle and the Fringes of the Imagined Community

In the RSP’s interview with Joe Webster, listeners are treated to rich ethnographic data which reveal how an immediate ‘local’ context is embedded in ‘global’ processes and networks. Webster conducted his fieldwork in the fishing village of Gardenstown or ‘Gamrie’ in Aberdeenshire, in the north-east of Scotland. Its population are notable for the concentration of followers of offshoots of the movement known as the ‘Plymouth Brethren’, or simply ‘Brethren’[1].

Both the local context and the Brethren movement generally are far from my areas of expertise, my own research concerns the contemporary relationship between ‘religious’ (including ‘non-religious’) affiliations and various constructions of ‘Scottish national identity’. In this regard I hope I can at least place Webster’s research in the wider social and historical context, the ‘national level’ alongside the ‘local’ and ‘global’ ones.

If one considers the question of how the Gamrie Brethren ‘fit into’ the wider picture of religion in Scotland, they would not appear to ‘fit’ at all. According to the latest census, conducted in 2011, only 54% of respondents identified as ‘Christian’, 16% identifying as ‘Roman Catholic’[2], and of the majority of this Christian population who could be classified as ‘Protestant’, it is difficult to gauge how many would have much in common with the Brethren – I suspect relatively few. This is novel for a country with an immensely long and complicated Christian history and which was long associated with staunch Protestantism.

While Scotland does possess an official national Church (the Church of Scotland), it could be quite accurately described as for the most part highly secularised. Along with this, religious pluralism has become part of the system of norms inculcated in Scottish civil society, despite the comparatively low numbers of non-Christian religious minorities.

In many ways this image of Scotland as secular and pluralist is that which many contemporary Scots project, a reflection both of their norms and experiences. As Benedict Anderson argued, nations are imagined communities, though the community that is imagined can vary immensely over time and in the present[3].

While much of Scotland’s romantic symbolism may be derived from the Highlands and many areas have contributed to the Scottish imagination, arguably the dominant perspective is that of the ‘central belt’. That is the area of the country dominated by its two biggest cities – Edinburgh and Glasgow; the centres of politics, business, the media, and, to large extent, ‘national’ religious institutions. Notably these cities have high concentrations of ‘non-religious’ people and are more religiously plural, meaning that a city-dweller may be more likely to attend a local Diwali celebration than a Gamrie Brethren service. As Anderson argued, ‘members’ of nations could never hope to personally interact with all who claim or are claimed to be members of the nation, which can help smooth over differences and affect the imaginative process[4].

However this does not mean that the Gamrie Brethren are necessarily representative of ‘traditional’ Scottish religion either. The movement was founded in Plymouth by an Irish medical student and would have to be implanted in this local Scottish soil. I cannot help but share the intuitive reaction of the interviewer (David Robertson) in being struck by the sense in which the movement and its religious practices appear more stereotypically ‘American’ to myself as someone raised in Scotland, than stereotypical of rural Scotland. The calls to emotional testimony of personal experience certainly do not fit the dour Calvinism stereotype of Scottish religion. Alive and well, living in Aberdeenshire and speaking Doric[5] it is though–regardless of how well it fits some preconceived image.

This cautions us against treating rural religion as an unbroken ‘survival’ of a bygone age; at the very least the Brethren could not have come to Gamrie earlier than 1831 when the movement was founded, and I would expect a much later date. Regardless, the Brethren have clearly been able to fundamentally shape life in the village down to the level of everyday interaction, and it is notable that the local branch of the ‘national’ Church has been moulded into the local ‘Brethren’ image.

Nonetheless, their case is not as atypical as it might first appear.  Without intending to essentialise, such cases have a long history in Scotland. Much of northern Scotland, especially, is rugged and rural and perhaps encourages the development of pockets of concentrated difference from the norms disseminated from the centre. When Presbyterian Calvinism was ascendant in the south, much of the north was Episcopalian with pockets of Roman Catholicism. Radical Calvinistic Presbyterianism began to take root in parts of the Highlands and continued to thrive when it began to fall from favour in the south, etc.

Webster related how the Brethren’s religious practices have led many of them to utilise Christian media, much of which is based in the US. Steve Bruce has argued that religious conservatives in Scotland did not develop the kind of alternative networks set up by their US counterparts because they were simply oblivious to the changes going on underneath their feet[6]. Nonetheless, clearly, expanding global communications have allowed the Gamrie Brethren to take advantage of such networks, which, in turn, inform the local context.

This religious context may be rural and divergent from the current Scottish norm (in both senses of the word) but this does not make it a product of isolation, and, in fact, appears to be as caught up in wider developments as central belt secularism. However, these global links clearly attain specific local significance. Webster’s informants not only see the power of God and the Devil working in their daily lives but also in the political relationship between the fishing communities of the north-east and the European Union.

Over the course of the interview, the question of how the Gamrie Brethren view themselves in relation to Scottish national identity and modern Scottish society was never broached as such. One would certainly not want to presume that it is significant at all; the local setting and transnational Evangelical networks may be of much greater significance. Webster has indicated that religious decline did not appear to trouble his informants who viewed it as indicative of end times. Scottish secularism may be viewed in similar terms. They may draw comfort and significance from the history of Scottish Protestantism, its leading figures such as John Knox and the Covenanter rebels, as many Scots did and still do. The advantage of a long and untidy history is there are plenty of ‘Scotlands’ to choose from. Clearly dealing with the religious landscape of the country in the present offers up no less diversity.

Bibliography

Anderson, B. Imagined Communities (2006) London: Verso

Bowker, J. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (1997) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Broun, D., Finlay, R.J. and Lynch, M. (eds.) Image and Identity: The Making of Scotland through the Ages (1998) Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd

Brown, C. Religion and Society in Scotland since 1707 (1997) Edinburgh University Press

Bruce, S. No Pope of Rome: Anti-Catholicism in Modern Scotland (1985) Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing

Devine, T.M. The History of the Scottish Nation 1700-2000 (2000) London: Penguin Books Ltd.

National Records of Scotland 2011 Census: Key results on Population, Ethnicity, Identity, Language, Religion, Health, Housing and Accommodation in Scotland – Release 2A (2013) Crown Copyright 2013

[1] C.f. “Plymouth Brethren” in Bowker, J. (ed). Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (1997) Oxford: Oxford University Press: p756

[2] National Records of Scotland 2011 Census: Key results on Population, Ethnicity, Identity, Language, Religion, Health, Housing and Accommodation in Scotland – Release 2A (2013) Crown Copyright 2013: p5

[3] Anderson, B Imagined Communities (2006) London: Verso: p5-6

[4] ibid

[5] ‘Doric’ is the name of the highly specific form of Scots or Lallans spoken in the region.

[6] Bruce, S No Pope of Rome: Anti-Catholicism in Modern Scotland (1985) Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing: p216

 

African, Christian… Fake? Explorations in Religious Authenticity

A highlight of Afe Adogame’s interview is his emphasis upon the brimming capacity for African Christianities, whether in Western or African settings, to contribute to the broader, age old discourse on religious authenticity. Adogame asks, “which kind of Christianity is authentic?” Certainly, as he asserts, to answer this question as a scholar is to make a loaded theological statement, and I would add, to also assume a rather provocative level of religious authority. Nevertheless, the question is important for both the practitioner and the scholar.

Presently, many Westerners (and Africans) address Christianity’s place in contemporary Africa as a colonial import. A subsequent repercussion is that Western forms of Christianity are referenced as the normative standard bearers for Christian authenticity. Indeed, in some parts of Africa, people refer to mission-based mainline Protestant and Catholic churches as “orthodox” churches. From this perspective, the question of “which kind of Christianity is authentic” is less about critically examining issues in authenticity and more about asking whether indigenously-led Christianities ought to be treated as legitimate expressions of Christianity, or as exotic Africanized pseudo-Christianities.

Adogame rightly problematizes this framework in a couple of ways. He reminds listeners that Africa has fostered Christian communities since the emergence of early Christianity, and therefore, the continent has always been relevant to discussions of authenticity. Further, he reminds listeners that transculturation is not a simple, unidirectional scheme. While African communities have appropriated Western Christianities in numerous ways, so too have Western Christian communities participated in ongoing cultural appropriations. Thus, Adogame suggests that many contemporary African Christianities are not “Africanized” versions of Christianity, but “African interpretations of Europeanized Christianities.”

This latter point is an excellent one, although I do not think that Adogame has taken it quite far enough. When he speaks of “the West” in this interview, he refers only to Europe, which inadvertently discounts the significance of Africa’s relationship with North America. Might we also consider contemporary African Christianities as “African interpretations of Americanized Christianities” or, perhaps even, “African interpretations of American adaptations of Europeanized Christianities?” My intention is not to get caught up in petty linguistic criticisms, but it is important to acknowledge the drastic differences between North American forms of Christianity and those of Europe, as well as North American relationships with Africa and those between Europe and Africa. These differences significantly affect the forms and trajectories of Christianites in Africa, including the growing presence of African ministries in Western settings.

While Adogame mentions that many African Christians today perceive Europe to be a religiously “dark continent,” I have not found the same sentiments to be very consistent when applied to North America, particularly the United States. Rather, many African Christians, especially those in the booming Pentecostal-Charismatic sector, look to American evangelical leaders for ideas on missions strategies, organizational structures, styles of preaching, as well as Christian thought and theology. This is not to say that Africans in the Pentecostal-Charismatic sector uncritically mimic thriving forms of American Christianity, but the parallels cannot be ignored when viewing the growth of the African Christian self-help literature, franchise-style church institutions, televangelism, and prosperity gospels.

Nevertheless, Adogame’s commentary makes a strong case as to how studies of African Christianities can elevate current approaches to authenticity, and I stand in full agreement. Because of Africa’s place within the longue durée of Christian history, its complicated relationships with colonial powers and missions projects, as well as its recent role in “reverse missions,” African Christianities are particularly well-positioned to elucidate issues in power, religious authority, and the ways in which religious interpretations and practices are culturally informed. All of these factors can significantly contribute to any discourse on religious authenticity.

In the remainder of this short essay, I want to turn attention to one additional dimension of religious authenticity through a quick illustration from some of my own work. When Adogame rhetorically asks, “which kind of Christianity is authentic,” he implies that conversations on religious authenticity revolve around evaluating various strains of interpretation and practice. Or, put another way, that religious authenticity is a matter of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. But is it?

A recent ethnographic project of mine examines what I call a “fake pastor phenomenon” in Ghana. One of the most densely Pentecostal-Charismatic places in the world today, the nation is experiencing an eruption of quackery accusations aimed at leaders in Pentecostal-Charismatic ministries from local street evangelists to African celebrity pastors such as TB Joshua or Enoch “Daddy G.O.” Adeboye. It is truly a media sensation, with fiery accusations and juicy exposés reported nearly daily in local press and tabloid sources, comedians and rappers mocking “fake pastor” prototypes, and Ghanaian film industries frequently featuring a “fake pastor” character in their plotlines. But, it is also a focal point of community gossip. Many worry that African Christianity is being run amok by charlatans. There are numerous circumstances in which a Pentecostal-Charismatic leader may rank among the accused, but the general premise is that “fake pastors” are those who are perceived as abusing their position of religious authority for the sake of personal (usually financial) gain.

One of the things that I like so much about the “fake pastor phenomenon” is how well it wonderfully complicates questions of authenticity. It places issues of sincerity and intentionality center stage, reminding us that there are more dimensions to the authenticity discourse than questioning orthodoxy and orthopraxy. I also like the “fake pastor phenomenon” for its implications in the West. What does it mean when leaders of African churches, like Bishop Kofi Adonteng Boateng and his Virginia-based Divine Word International Ministries, are accused of “fakery?” What does it mean when influential platforms in the West such as the evangelically-inclined periodical, Christianity Today, feature a Ghanaian news dispatch that condemns religious quackery in Ghana while simultaneously attempting to bracket mainline denominations from the phenomenon?

Most of all, I like the “fake pastor phenomenon” for its implications for responsible scholarship. How are we, as scholars, to consider “fake pastor” accusations when illustrating forms of contemporary African Christianities? When building (or deconstructing) taxonomies? When theorizing trends in global Christianity?

African Christianity in the West

‘Africa’. ‘Christianity’. ‘The West’. Three seemingly simple terms with clear referents. Three categories which – perhaps unsurprisingly, to regular listeners of the RSP – have been, and continue to be, associated with and invoked in support of myriad competing agendas, truth claims, ideologies, and more.

In telling the story of the complex interrelationship between these terms, some might point to the Berlin Conference of 1884/5 as a defining moment marking the beginning of intensive Euro-American Christian mission to Africa. Others might direct attention to the fact that Christianity has been present in Africa almost since its emergence, with three of the best known figures of the early church – Anthony (c. 285-356), Athanasius (296-373) and Augustine (354-430) – living and working in the north of the continent. Still others might prefer a more contemporary approach, focusing upon the Christianities that can be discerned among communities of African origin in Diaspora. This week’s podcast focuses upon the latter.

In this interview with Chris, Dr Afe Adogame of the University of Edinburgh provides a stimulating introduction to this vast and complicated triad.

Discussion covers a wide range of questions, including:

  • What makes African Christianity ‘African’? Is it only for ‘Africans’? Who decides? Why do we take this huge continent as a single entity?
  • If African Christianity is particularly non- or anti-Western, how does this manifest itself in the West? Is it also non-African (i.e. non-indigenous?)
  • Does referring to ‘African Christianity in the West’ or even ‘African Christianity’ in general perpetuate racial divides, systems of exclusivity?
  • What is the public image of African Christianity in the West? Is there one?
  • What does the study of African Christianity – in the West or elsewhere – bring to the study of ‘religion’ in general?

This interview was originally conceived as a kind of two-parter with an interview on ‘African Indigenous Traditions in the West’ which has, as yet, not occurred. Of course, it must be stated that ‘Christianity’ and ‘Indigenous Traditions’ are not the full story of ‘religion’ in Africa, with one glaring omission being ‘Islam’ amongst others. However, due to time constraints this interview will focus almost exclusively on ‘Christianity’ and we shall attempt to rectify this in the future.

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Jesuits, Mormons, and American Religion in the World

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Dr. Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp has written extensively on the importance of space and geography in studying American religions. I interviewed her at the University of Notre Dame, Cushwa Center’s Seminar in American Religion. This session dealt with Dr. John McGreevy (History, Notre Dame)’s new book, “American Jesuits and the World.” Maffly-Kipp and Thomas Bender (History, NYU) gave remarks about the book; McGreevy responded; and two hours of Q&A with scholars and graduate students followed.

My conversation with Maffly-Kipp begins with McGreevy’s book, expands to include her work on Mormonism in contrast to Catholicism, and ends with a discussion of evangelical historian Mark Noll, in whose honor Notre Dame was originally going to host a conference, but was cancelled at the last minute. This free-ranging conversation nonetheless centers on Jesuits, Mormons, and transnational religious history.

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A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World

Podcast with Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

Interviewed by Daniel Gorman Jr.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock

Audio and transcript available at: Maffly-Kipp_-_Jesuits,_Mormons_and_American_Religion_in_the_World_1.1

Daniel Gorman (DG): Dr Maffly-Kipp, welcome to the Religious Studies Project

Laurie Maffly-Kipp (LMK): Thank you.

DG: We’re here at the Morris Inn, at the University of Notre Dame. We just finished the Cushwa Centre’s Biannual Seminar in American Religion, discussing John McGreevy’s book on Jesuits in the World. So, you have been writing about space, and geography, and understanding religion for more than twenty years now, beginning with your essay in Thomas Tweed’s edited volume, Retelling US Religious History. I’d be curious to know how your views have evolved, and what you believe is the importance of space and geography in studying American religions.

LMK: That essay was my initial foray into the field and it was more of a thought piece, based on sort-of the hypothetical question of: what would you do if you didn’t narrate American religious history from the perspective of European movements from East to West – particularly British American movements. In a sense, it was also inspired by the work, in the 1930s, of Herbert Bolton – who was a historian of empires in the New World – and his basic observation that the Spanish Empire had been a part of North America and South America, long before the British ever came along. So, what would it do to sort-of retell the story of the growth of the US nation and religion in that sort-of setting, but come at it from the perspective of all theses different movements into North America, at various points in time? So that was, I think, a framework that I laid out. And since then I’ve been, I guess, exploring different avenues into that. Most recently, I’ve been spending time doing work on Mormon history and looking at Mormonism. But I think that that focus on space has then led me to think about Mormonism differently: how do I think about Mormonism as having a particular kind of centre in the United States, but also has having other areas in other parts of the world that are significant for particular purposes?

DG: So today, the book we’ve been talking about – American Jesuits in the World, by John McGreevy – it’s dealing with, well, somewhat missionary activity, but a little different from what you focus on. Because you’re often talking about American Mormons going outwards, whereas he’s talking about, at first, Europeans coming to missionise America. Can you talk a little bit about the differences you see between Mormons and Jesuits operating on the world stage?

LMK: Well, they’re very different. I mean, certainly, they’re different in terms of having a different focus on what they were doing with other people. So, for Jesuits: Jesuits are a particular Catholic order; their jobs revolve around educating peoples, administering the sacraments and keeping people in the faith. For Mormons, the goal tends to be to create habits of discipline and industry – much like those of the missionaries themselves. There’s sort-of a distinct separation between the kinds of spiritual practices that a Jesuit missionary undertakes, and what he’s trying to inculcate in other people. Whereas, for Mormon’s, they were sort-of one and the same thing. So that’s just one small difference. But, I think, on all kinds of different levels there are differences. But there are also similarities, because Mormons are also exiles – perhaps exiles in their own land. But they have a very – I guess, the best way to put it is – angular relationship to the US government in the 19th century, and often a very combative relationship. So, they aren’t sold on the idea of the nation state as necessarily an all-encompassing good, just as the Catholics are disaffected from the US Government in various ways.

DG: Well, certainly, one of the points that came up in the Q and A session, today, was that the Jesuits were roundly denounced as a secret society on the floor of Congress – one that should be banned. But there wasn’t widespread Catholic persecution in the 19th century, the way we saw against the Mormons.

LMK: I don’t know, I think you could argue with that: the burning of convents, riots in the streets . . .

DG: Well, that’s true.

LMK: . . . in Philadelphia and Boston. So, in some ways, I think that the tensions were manifest in more physical kinds of ways than they were for the Mormons. There were a few incidents with the Mormons. And the Mormons certainly fought back at various points. So I think, actually, a comparison of them is really helpful to see the ways that Protestant America was shaping the limits of its own toleration.

DG: I suppose, what I was thinking of more was that there was not state legislation against the Catholic Church in the way that there was, for instance, when the Governor of Missouri declared war on the Mormon people, saying: “Leave my state or I’m going to kill all of you!” (5:00) That is a difference.

LMK: Right! Yes. You’re right. That’s a difference. Although, I think one of the interesting things about John McGreevy’s book is the way he points out how assiduously Protestant Americans worked to create laws that would exclude Catholics in certain kinds of ways. So, from public education: there were certain rules put in place that made it obvious that the Catholics were not going to fall within the bounds of the law. I mean, their kind of education wouldn’t be acceptable as a form of public education. So, it seems to me that the very creating and shaping of laws is another way to put boundaries around religious toleration.

DG: Now, I’m curious also . . . You’ve obviously read the book – you’ve just delivered a short paper commenting on it. If you were writing a book about transnational religion in the 19th century – I mean, McGreevy is focussing on the ideas of nationhood and politics – what would be the factors that you’d want to pursue? What do you see as mattering the most?

LMK: Well, in fact, I am writing that kind of book right now.

DG: Well that’s fortuitous!

LMK: Yes. So, in fact, I am writing a book on transnational religion, in that I am writing a history of Mormonism that tries to take seriously Mormonism as a global religion and an international movement from the beginning, not simply since World War II. It’s certainly the case that there are now more Mormons outside the US than in, but even in the 1850s there were more Mormon’s in England than in the US.

DG: Oh certainly, they were very active with sending missionaries – also to Scandinavia as well as England.

LMK: Later, to Scandinavia. There were sort-of waves of migration, and missionisation and migration, starting with England and moving into Scandinavia by the 1860s and 1870s. And all of those – or many, many of those people – came over to the US, and really saved what had been a dying movement by the 1850s.

DG: Yes. I believe you mentioned, during the Q and A period, that most Mormons at the end of the 19th Century in America were foreign-born.

LMK: Either foreign-born or second generation at best. Because, yes, the bulk had been immigrants.

DG: That’s not a comment that the Church stresses very much any more!

LMK: No, but it’s also not a comment that other historians have noticed much.

DG: Certainly not.

LMK: I think the focus has been on Mormonism as a distinctly American religion, which is certainly true in terms of the influences on its founders. But it’s not true in terms of who joined the movement in the first half-century.

DG: Very interesting. I think the claims you’re making will certainly overhaul graduate reading lists round the country – including my own! So, the other thing . . . I’m thinking that at my University , the University of Rochester, the graduate . . .well, loosely defined, our graduate interests are supposed to be around “the world of goods, the world of nations and the world of ideas”. So, a nice way to integrate cultural and social history. Now, listening to the Q and A today, lo and behold! The comments wind up revolving around ideas, goods and nations. So the comments from, for instance, Thomas Bender – one of your co-panellists – saying that we should think of the Jesuits as a cosmopolitan religion; the discussion from Dr McGreevy that later Jesuits were embracing American nationalism, even though they weren’t necessarily OK with separation of church and state; and your discussion of the culture Jesuits were bringing from around the world. Now, I just recapped – for the listeners – a lot of material and I certainly threw a lot at you, but I’d be curious . . . . These concepts of the physical things and the more intangible things: what do you see of those as their place in American religion?

LMK: What do I see as the place of those in American religion?

DG: So, I suppose, is there an aspect: nationhood, ideology, material culture? Do you see one factor as being more important than another?

LMK: No. I think what I was trying to call for was not separating them – at least, disaggregating them in some way but not isolating any of them one from another. I think it’s easy. . . . We often get a little too free with our definitions of globalism, internationalism, transnationalism. . .

DG: Sure

LMK: . . . and I think, part of what my colleague was calling for was the use of the term cosmopolitan as sort-of an orientation towards the rest of the world. (10:00) What it seems to me, though, that using that term can do is to draw attention away from the way power flows in the movements: the power of states is one kind of power, economic power is another kind of power. I think that’s how I would break things down. Material goods are interesting to focus on, but there’s also, appending to that, the question of “Who’s paying for what?”

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: Right? And that determines the flow of those goods.

DG: So, if you were to say, simply, that “Oh, the Jesuits were cosmopolitan”, that may be obscuring who’s leading their operations.

LMK: Right. So, if you just notice that they’re bringing chalices over from Italy and putting them into chapels in North Dakota, it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the circumstances behind those movements. And so, you just don’t want to separate those two things out. I suppose that’s the simple point I’m trying to make.

DG: So, a lot of the conversation today dealt with the fact that the Jesuits do eventually, wind up launching outward from their bases in America to the Pacific Empire. And that really intersects with several of your books dealing with Pacific missionaries. Could you expand a bit on missionaries in the Pacific?

LMK: Yes. I think the 19th Century was the Pacific Century in that regard. If one could say that the 17th and 18th centuries sort-of focussed on Atlantic movements – with the slave trade, with European migrations to the new World – the Pacific Century is very much caught up, at least in terms of the relationship of the US to other nations, with: movements from various countries in Asia, eastward; the US becoming an imperial power, moving to places like Hawaii and later down to Central and South America. And those sorts of exchanges and contexts become focal points for interesting religious phenomena.

DG: Sure. And then the other thing, I’m thinking about, though, was – coming towards the end of the conversation – was that McGreevy’s book is mostly focussing on putting Jesuits into the international story, not so much on their interior life. I mean, he touches on that in the discussion with Father Bapst but it’s not the main point of the book. And we’re sitting here at the Cushwa Centre which has. . . the nature of spirituality and history has been a recurring topic for them. Do you think the book could have done more to consider the interior life of these priests?

LMK: By interior life, do you mean . . . ? I mean, he does consider things like the devotionalism, the increasing devotionalism in the 19th century – which is tied to interiority, I guess.

DG: I suppose I was thinking of the one gentleman’s comments which were about: “the book doesn’t really deal with the sort of spiritual exercises that Jesuits do”.

LMK: Yes. It ‘s certainly more focussed on the Jesuits as missionaries. And it struck me, as that conversation was going on, that Jesuits are not necessarily trying to inculcate the same disciplines in the people they are leading to the faith as they do in themselves. And, in a sense, those are almost two different tasks of a missionary. One question is: how do you inculcate discipline, education, bodily exercises or whatever into your subjects? But, as members of a Jesuit order, how do you try to maintain your own spiritual discipline, which might be a very different thing?

DG: Oh, certainly.

LMK: That’s certainly not where McGreevy’s interest lays.

DG: Well, it also brings up an interesting contrast with your work, for instance, studying Mormons – who take the Protestant idea of “every man his own priest” to an extreme, compared to the Catholic priest, saying: “There are certain things that are just for us and not for you.”

LMK: Exactly. Exactly, yes. So Mormons: they’re trying to replicate themselves and say, “This is how you live a Christian life – do as I do.” It’s a lay order, there isn’t a trained ministry, in that sense. So, I think , the tasks are really different. And what the Jesuits are trying to preserve for themselves in their own spiritual lives, can be – and in some situations is – very different from what they’re trying to get others to do.

DG: Another topic that comes up, involving America in the World in Dr McGreevy’s book, is the fact that Jesuits were becoming more politically liberal as the 20th century approached, but they had an interesting relationship to America as empire. For instance, they’re perfectly happy to sail on American ships to go into the Pacific. But on the other hand, they oppose, for instance, the war in the Philippines, in the early 1900s, because it’s a war against a Catholic nation. So, in the Mormon Church, did you find similar ambivalence about the imperial message?

LMK: Earlier on there was a lot of ambivalence about it. (15:00) When Mormons send off missionaries to the South Pacific in the mid-19th century, and later to places like New Zealand, the message is, “We’re also being oppressed by our government, just as you are being oppressed.” In other words, they’re an anti-colonialist movement spreading a message of joining common cause with the oppressed people’s in Utah. “And we will”, you know, “have more strength together”. So, yes, it’s sort-of an interesting thing. And, of course, by the 20th century they are certainly in line with American liberal values in a very different way. But there are other traditions that have a much more – I would say – a much more conflicted relationship to the US Government throughout. So, African American Christians, for example, also have some debates about how much to support the American imperial project, in various places: be it Haiti, where there’s a long tradition of African American missionaries in Haiti; or in Africa, because they have their own loyalties as they see it to people in Africa. So I think the whole issue of loyalties to religion and nation – aside from the Protestant mainstream one – have always been much more conflicted, and often more complicated, than we’ve realised.

DG: So we’ve spent a long time talking about comparative aspects of your work and Dr McGreevy’s work. But, I’m curious now. The role of the Catholic Church today in the United States is . . . . So, just to narrow in on Catholicism: the Catholic Church today is a large supporter of the United States Government, although it’s basically at odds with – sometimes at odds over – social issues. Do you think that trend is going to continue, of the Catholic Church having a liberal voice in American society? Because there certainly was a resurgence of conservatism under John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

LMK: Yes . . . . Historians, typically, aren’t very good prophets.

DG: Yes, so I caveat all of this with, “This may go wrong!”

LMK: Right! You know, I think there are potentially lots of counter-cultural elements in Catholicism . Even the social teachings of Catholicism – there is an anti-militarism which goes way back, that is combined, in ways different for Catholics, with their pro-life policies. So even though they might agree with evangelical Christians or other Protestants about questions of abortion, they’d part ways over the role of the American military and its work abroad. So it’s a complicated picture, I think. And as we’ve seen – and as a historian I suppose my take is – it’ll probably come around again. We will see more episodes of liberal . . . . I’m not a whiggish historian, so I don’t believe that we are in some inevitable march towards progress of all sorts, or enlightenment. And therefore it’s hard to predict what the next step would look like.

DG: Absolutely. The thing that’s been weighing on my mind – less so than recent political developments – is population shifts and demographics in the Catholic Church. I mean, certainly, with the rise of birth control – despite what bishops might want to know – the families are smaller now than they were in, say, the 1800s. And certainly, with the rise of secularity, I am curious to see the role of Catholicism in American public life. Dr McGreevy’s book deals with them taking on a larger role and now, I wonder, as the population shrinks, what’s going to happen?

LMK: That’s a great question. We have certainly seen revivals before in this country.

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: So it’s hard to predict. The demographic shifts are obviously significant, but exactly how they’ll play out, I think, is not easy to prognosticate. Just because there are people in the Southern Hemisphere who are becoming the voice of Christianity, it’s not clear to me what political pay-off that has, or what path that portends. In fact, if you look at something that I know a little more about, in Protestant missionary work, the kinds of Protestantism that are making in-roads in places like Africa and South America are some of the more conservative kinds of Protestantism: Pentecostalism . . .

DG: Which is a counter-narrative to the modern, growing secularism in America.

LMK: And now they’re sending missionaries back to the United States.

DG: Really?

LMK: Yes. There are reverse migratory flows of missionaries. One of the biggest churches in Western Europe right now is a church – and this may be out of date because it’s a few years ago someone told me this: that there’s a huge evangelical church that was founded by a Nigerian pastor that has grown by leaps and bounds in Europe. (20:00) Now who that’s growing among, in Europe, is an interesting question. But, of course, the make-up of Western Europe and the United States is changing, as well. So the demography may just follow back to the Northern Hemisphere.

DG: Sure. Well, this discussion of transnational Catholicism and which particular voice will win out, makes me think of the original intention for why we’re sitting here in Notre Dame. So, for our listeners, this conference was originally meant to be part of a much larger conference on the work of Mark Noll, the historian of American Christianity. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the conference had to be, mostly, scrapped. But I’m curious what you would think of this, to bring in Mr Noll as an evangelical historian and historian of evangelicalism. His recent work has been abandoning America Studies, to some extent, to talk about the world. His book, Clouds of Witnesses is about Africa and Asia. So, the work of Mark Noll: how, if at all, does that influence your research? Do you see his views about pluralism . . . do you think those are going to carry more weight, going forwards, in the academy?

LMK: In certain sections of the academy, absolutely. I mean, Mark has been a pioneer in that sort of field, looking at global Christianity, for a long time. And thinking about, well – he’s a historian with an eye to the future, and where the church is going. And that’s certainly a big piece of the puzzle that I think has trickled back into the academy, in all kinds of ways. So I don’t see that stopping, by any means. But the question of what globalism or increasing globalisation of any of these religious traditions actually means for piety, for spirituality, for institutional life is, I think, the next big question. We know what it means in terms of bodies moving from one place to another, but how that actually, then, plays out – in terms of building institutions and building structures – is anybody’s guess.

DG: Well, and you’ve also mentioned – on sort-of a final note – that you and the other panellists talk about how the Catholics have become, you know, comfortable with their place in American society. Whereas Mark Noll, in his works, is talking about how some evangelicals want to make the country an explicitly evangelical nation – and he rejects that, as an evangelical man. So do you see these fights in the academy at all, over how to define religion? Should there be an exclusively Protestant historical mould, or should we find news ways of thinking and defining religion – ways that aren’t just tied to Christianity?

LMK: So, are you thinking . . . ? Yes – I think the horse is out of barn on that one! I don’t see going back to any kind of narrow focus on either churches, or institutional life or Protestantism. But I think, in some ways, the study of religion in all of its dimensions can only enrich the future study of Protestantism, along with other traditions.

DG: Yes, I think pluralism is here to stay. Or, at least, that’s what we’re supporting, right?

LMK: Yes.

DG: And then, a genuinely final note, I’ll ask: some scholars consider Mormonism a Christian faith; others say it is a Christian inspired faith.Where do you stand on those issues?

LMK: It’s certainly inspired by Protestantism and that’s where, if you look at the first sort of members of the movement, they came by way of other Christian traditions. I don’t . . . . The theological question – of whether it is a Christian tradition – I don’t feel, as a scholar, is mine to answer. I guess, on one level, I take seriously the self-identification of Mormons who see themselves as Christians. I think it’s an interesting question to look at. I think there are other Mormons who don’t see themselves as Christian, so that’s also an interesting question: where are the fault lines, and when and where do these questions matter? As a cultural historian, I think those are the more interesting questions for me. But I am not a theologian and I am not a historian of a particular kind of church tradition, so I’ll leave that to the experts.

DG: Laurie Maffly-Kipp discussing bodies in space: what they think, what they say and what they do. Thank you very much.

LMK: You’re welcome. Thank you.


Citation Info: Maffly-Kipp, Laurie. 2017. “Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 29 May 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 22 May 2017. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/jesuits-mormons-and-american-religion-in-the-world/

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Healing and higher power: a response to Dr Wendy Dossett

Headlines warning of the social fallout from alcohol and drug addiction often fail to record the remarkable fact that hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have successfully “recovered” from these often devastating dependencies.  The highly lauded “12 Steps” programme, that has fronted the decades long efforts of both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, as well as similar organisations, have undoubtedly saved many lives.

At the heart of this success story is an acceptance of a spiritual “higher power” available to all, one which supersedes mere will power and puts them on the road to recovery. In her interview Dr Wendy Dossett explains that Bill Wilson and Dr Robert Smith, founders of the AA and the 12 Steps programme, were influenced by the religious practices of the Oxford Group, a conservative evangelical form of Protestantism, which looked back to the early Christian church for its inspiration. As a result the pair believed alcoholism was a “spiritual malady”.

However, Dossett agrees that this “higher power” in no way automatically means the “God of religion”.  The religious studies academic, a senior lecturer at Chester University, tells the interviewer this higher power “can be anything so long as it is not will power”. Discussing her research she explains that while some of the recovered addicts she spoke to about their experiences identified this power with God, others variously described it as the “spirit of the universe”, nature, or even ”the force” – an echo of Star Wars.  On the other hand, a number felt this power was derived from fellow addicts in their recovery group, while some associated it with their friends and one even initially identified it as the ‘unconditional love’ from her cat.

Dossett makes clear it is essential that religious studies researchers listen to, value and document the experiences of the practitioners of contemporary spiritualities.  And it is equally appropriate for them to use their subject knowledge and skills to identify the religious elements and separate them out so that they did not unduly influence the interpretation of their findings. What resulted in her work “is the actual experience of people who work these programmes”.

It is worthwhile at this stage to point out that while Dossett describes of what she has discovered, what the ‘higher power’ or ‘spirituality’ can mean to others, she offers no definition of her own. I suggest that this disinclination to define the words limits or even forecloses their meaning.  To support her view that the ‘higher power’ is not necessarily religious she referred to Robert C. Fuller’s book (Spiritual, but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America, OUP, 2001) which made it clear that although organisations like AA were spiritual they were not aligned to any religion or faith and had no “requirements of belief to be a member”. However does this not beg the familiar question: can we genuinely understand spirituality without relating it to religion or metaphysics?  Can we legitimately define it to be whatever anyone wants it to be at any particular time?  Is there not a danger that a concept like spirituality, when deprived of a specific definition, loses its depth and profundity?

In a direct challenge to those unprepared to countenance a metaphysical view viewpoint, the late Vaclav Havel once warned: “Man is not an omnipotent master of the universe, allowed to do with impunity whatever he thinks, or whatever suits him at the moment.”  The former Czech president and philosopher continued: “The world we live in is made of an immensely complex and mysterious tissue about which we know very little and which we must treat with utmost humility” [i]. It seems to me Havel’s reference to the “immensely complex and mysterious tissue” helps, to some extent, in explaining the concept of spirituality associated with the 12 Steps’ “higher power” and the remarkable recoveries Dossett documented in her research.  And I certainly feel the importance Havel gives to “humility” is mirrored by Dossett’s sensitive approach to her research group and the analysis of her findings.

While those that reject the concept of God can never associate the “higher power” with the divine, it is obviously still appropriate to explore if a metaphysical force might lie at the back of this power and, if so, what it might be. After all the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous, founded in the late 1930s, are undeniably Christian.

Given these Christian origins, it is relevant to look at the accounts of Jesus’ healings. Like those the programme has successfully treated, Jesus, too, spoke of a “higher power”, although he called it the “kingdom of heaven”.  Interestingly, he also said that he could do nothing on his own[ii], a remark that, in my view, alludes to a “power greater than ourselves”, a phrase 12 Steps participants have also used when explaining their recovery. The Bible clearly links Jesus’ view of the kingdom of heaven with the power he healed by.  Furthermore, later New Testament writings show others in the early Christian Church echoed Jesus’ cures.

But even Christians, particularly within the last 150 years, have often found it hard to regard Jesus’ healings as anything other than myths or natural events.  Paul Tillich recognised this neglect of the healing aspect of Jesus. He wrote that the Gospels ‘abound in stories of healing; but we are responsible, ministers, laymen, theologians, who forgot that “Saviour” means “healer”, he who makes whole and sane what is broken and insane, in body and mind’ [iii]Thus he identifies healing as an essential element of salvation.

Nevertheless, not only has the healing element of Christianity gone largely unacknowledged, it has in fact been almost subsumed by the advances of modern medicine. Be that as it may, many Christians combine their prayers with the work of doctors. In my research on Christianity and healing I am aware of several studies that identify the health benefits of a combined approach to healing such as those done by Harold G. Koenig at the Centre for Spirituality, Theology and Health, Duke University, North Carolina.

One denomination of Christianity was founded specifically on the practice of healing through reliance on the power of God alone. The French sociologist, Regis Dericquebourg, using the Weberian typification of ‘ideal types’, defines The Church of Christ, Scientist as the “first healing church”[iv].  Started by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879 – Christian Science was a precursor to the approach of the Oxford Group in that it looks to “primitive Christianity” for its inspiration and practice [v]. According to its own periodicals it claims hundreds of thousands of recoveries and cures, many accompanied by medical diagnoses.

If Jesus healed two millennia ago, if subsequent Christians have also used similar healing powers down the centuries, and, if the healings reported by Christian Scientists are genuine, it is plausible that the “higher power” of the 12 steps programme is sourced in a divine power It is beyond the scope of this commentary to explore what kind of divine power this is, but given the roots of the AA, it is likely to correspond with a Christian understanding of God. Whatever the case, the recoveries and healing experiences of those who use a ‘higher power’ are too numerous and too well documented for it not to evoke further study as to how it works and where it comes from. For all its reticence to use religious terminology and perhaps because of it, Dossett’s research indicates that the answers are going to be new and surprising.

Endnotes

[i] The New York Times, 3 June 1992

[ii] Luke 17: 21

[iii] Tillich P, The New Being, Scribner, New York, 1955, p42

[iv] Dericquebourg R, ‘Christian Science: The first healing church’ presented at The Evolutions of Christian Science in Scholarly Perspective seminar, April 23/24 2015, FVG Wilrijk-Antwerp, Belgium. Published in Acta Comparanda Subsidia ll, FVG, June 2015

[v] Church Manual, Christian Science Publishing Society, Boston, p17

Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality

When we think about ‘religion’ and ‘youth’ a number of images might come to mind. Young people rebelling against their parents. Young people as mere containers for the religiosity of their parents. Creative reinterpretation of stagnant traditions. Systemic abuse and lack of agency. And so on. In the context of the United Kingdom, where we are recording today, with its historically hegemonic Christianity, one scholar has written that

young_old

“It is no secret that Christian churches are struggling to attract and retain young people. The current generation of young people has largely abandoned the church or never known it as a significant part of their lives. The 2005 church census revealed that many churches have no young people at all in their congregations: around half have no 11- to 14-year-olds attending and well over half have no 15- to 19-year-olds (Brierley 2006).” (Stanton 2012, 385)

But of course, this misses much of what is going on. That scholar is Naomi Thompson (formerly Stanton) who joins us today on the Religious Studies Project to give us a more nuanced overview of the broad topic “Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality.”

We begin this interview by asking what is ‘youth’? How do sociologists define it? What are some of the current trends in sociological research on youth? What, if anything, is distinctive about youth experience? Discussion then turns to ‘religion and youth’, focusing on why scholars might be interested in it, the current state of play, common assumptions, how we might go about researching it, before focusing on some of Dr Thompson’s own research. Towards the end of the interview, we focus on the ‘transmission model’ and the relationship between generations, before thinking to the future of this growing area of research.

This episode is the fourth in a series co-produced with Religion and Feminism‘ with Dawn Llewellyn, ‘Evangelicalism and Civic Space‘ with Anna Strhan, and ‘An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion‘ with Grace Davie.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, Jaffa Cakes, Lion bars, and more.


References:

Stanton, Naomi. 2012. Christian youth work: teaching faith, filling churches or response to social need? Journal of Beliefs & Values, Vol. 33, No. 3, December 2012, 385–403

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 30 August 2016

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – March 15, 2016

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 8 December 2015

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It is super easy to have a Religious Studies call for papers, exciting event, or alluring job vacancy appear in future Opportunities Digests! Simply use the submission form, forward them to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com or, better yet, include said e-mail address in your mailing list for such e-mails!

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Conference panel: EASR: Christianity in diaspora: Ethnographic case studies of religoius practice and identity construction

June 28–July 1, 2016

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

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Conference panel: EASR: Contesting and Relocating Authority

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

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Events

Animals in Mesopotamia

December 14–15, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

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Jobs

Assistant Professor: Islamic Studies

Virginia Commonwealth University, USA

Deadline: January 15, 2016

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Assistant Professor, Associate Professor: Roman History and Culture

University of British Columbia, Canada

Deadline: January 16, 2016

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Postdoc Position

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

Deadline: February 14, 2016

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Assistant Professor, Associate Professor: Japanese Religions

McGill University, Canada

Deadline: August 1, 2016

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PhD Studentship: Integrated Peace Building, Living Side by Side and Trust Matters

Coventry University, UK

Deadline: February 19, 2016

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 13 October 2015

Dear subscriber,

We are pleased to bring you this week’s opportunities digest, booming with calls for papers, events and job opportunities!

We would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has forwarded notifications. On that note, we would also like to encourage you to continue to do so (and invite those who remain hesitant to begin)!

It is super easy to have a Religious Studies call for papers, exciting event, or alluring job vacancy appear in future Opportunities Digests! Simply use the submission form, forward them to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com or, better yet, include said e-mail address in your mailing list for such e-mails!

We thank you for your contribution.

Now, sink your teeth into this:

Calls for papers

Conference: Religious Materiality and Emotion

February 17–18, 2016

Adelaide City, Australia

Deadline: October 31, 2015

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Conference: Hermeneutics, symbol and myth and the Modernity of Antiquity in Italian Literature and the Arts

December 1–2, 2015

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Italy

Deadline: November 10, 2015

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Conference: Shia Minorities in the Contemporary World

May 20–21, 2016

University of Chester, UK

Deadline: December 15, 2015

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Conference: Religion and Non-Religion in Contemporary Societies

April 21–24, 2016

Zadar, Croatia

Deadline: November 15, 2015

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Conference: Esotericism, Literature and Culture in Central and Eastern Europe

May 27–28, 2016

Belgrade, Serbia

Deadline: December 1, 2015

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Conference: Religion and Revolution

June 16–17, 2016

University College Cork, Ireland

Deadline: January 21, 2016

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Conference: Dialogue among religions as strategy and means for peace

July 12–15, 2016

Havana, Cuba

Deadline: November 20, 2015

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Conference: Anticipating the End Times: Millennialism, Apocalypticism, and Utopianism in Intentional Communities

October 6–8, 2016

Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Deadline: May 15, 2016

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Conference: Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits

July 5–7, 2016

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 10, 2015

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Colloquium: Translating Christianities

December 7, 2015

University of Stirling, UK

Deadline: October 30, 2015

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Symposium: The End of the World: A Universal Imagination

June 8–10, 2016

Nantes, France

Deadline: December 15, 2015

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Symposium: 41st Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions

April 15–17, 2015

Cardiff University, UK

Deadline: December 7, 2014

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Symposium: Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies

December 7–9, 2015

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 6, 2015

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EASR panel: Nonreligion and Atheism in Central and Eastern Europe

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

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Journal: Preternature

Special issue: Delineating the Preternatural: Modern Occultism in a Scientific Context

Deadline: December 15, 2015

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Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Religion and Racism: Intercultural Perspectives

Deadline: January 31, 2016

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Events

Conference: Religion, Addiction and Recovery

November 2, 2015

University of Chester, UK

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Seminar: Islamic Studies in Scotland: Retrospect and Prospect

October 23–24, 2015

University of Edinburgh, UK

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Jobs

4 PhD positions: “Communication and Exploitation of Knowledge in the Middle Ages”

University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Deadline: October 15, 2015

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Assistant Professor of Religion: Buddhist Studies

Bard College, NY, USA

Deadline: November 1, 2015

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Senior Research Associate: CREST

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: October 23, 2015

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Doctoral positions: Muslim Cultures and Societies

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Deadline: November 15, 2015

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Conference Report (and rant): Fandom and Religion, Leicester, 2015

Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by our very own Venetia Robertson, RSP Editor and a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.

The University of Leicester hosted the Fandom and Religion conference this July 28-30 in affiliation with the Theology, Religion and Popular Culture network. A reasonably small conference with just over 30 presenters and 50 attendees, organisers Clive Marshall and Isobel Woodcliffe of Leicester’s Lifelong Learning Centre ran the event smoothly with the help of attentive session chairs and the professional staff at the clean and comfortable College Court conference centre. The Court was truly the home of the conference—with all of the sessions, meals, drinks, and most of our accommodation being there (and with little to do in the surrounding area)—one could be excused for experiencing a bit of cabin fever by end of the week. Still, when tomorrow morning’s keynote speaker is ordering another pint at midnight, we’re probably all glad that bed is just a few steps away from the bar. I want to talk about the papers I saw, and those I wish I’d caught, because that’s primarily what a conference review should be, but I’m also going to take this opportunity to give the study of fandom and religion in general some evaluation, as this conference both pointed out to me the breadth and the dearth of this relatively new academic field.

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One of the main draws of this conference for me, and why I was willing to endure the very long plane trip to get there, was the keynote line-up. I heard of this event at last year’s Media, Religion, and Culture Conference, and was excited to see that it would be featuring excellent speakers like Kathryn Lofton (who sadly had to pull out), and scholars whose work my own is intimately connected to, like Chris Partridge and Matt Hills. The way these thinkers combine innovative thinking with the analysis of meaning-making and popular culture highlights, and inspiringly so, the importance of this area of investigation. Partridge and Hill’s plenary papers, ‘Fandom, Pop Devotion, and the Transfiguration of Dead Celebrities’ and ‘Revisiting the “Affective Spaces” of Fan Conventions: Sites of Pilgrimage, Sacredness, and Enchantment… or Non-Places?’ respectively, were both illustrative of the fruitful amalgamation of approaches from media, cultural, and religious studies when examining these developments. I brought together Partridge’s concept of occulture with Hill’s hyperdiegesis in my own paper on how medieval female mystics and modern fangirls use relational narratives with their ‘gods’ to reify sacred subjectivities from within the patriarchal cultures of Christendom and geek culture. On the whole, the conference represented multi- and inter-disciplinary methods, with scholars of anthropology, psychology, music, digital cultures, and literature alongside those of religion. There was, however, in the overall makeup and theme of Fandom and Religion, an unmistakeably strong theological bent—but more on that in a moment.

Though it meant having to miss out on what I heard was a great session on fan experiences in Bob Dylan, indie, and Israeli popular music scenes, and a session on comics and hero narratives that I would have no doubt enjoyed, I felt very satisfied with the methodological offerings from Rhiannon Grant and Emanuelle Burton that dealt with the tensions of canon and fanon, interpretation and creativity, group consensus and personal gnosis, that affect religious and fan communities alike. With a mix of midrashic, pagan, and Quaker approaches to truth and authority, this panel had my mind whirring. Papers on the commercial and the communal aspects of the Hillsong and the role of music in the Pentecostal mega church system provided fascinating insights (and stay tuned for more on this from Tom Wagner). Offerings from Bex Lewis on the Keep Calm and meme on trend and Andrew Crome on My Little Pony fandom, Bronies, and Christianity, proffered some intriguing ways in which viral cultures enable believers to remix media for religious purposes and find the sacred within the secular. Film and television were well represented with talks on American Horror Story, the Alien franchise, small screen vampires, children’s programming, and anime, though I unfortunately could not get to those sessions. Sport, fiction, and celebrity were of course popular topics, with a Harry Potter themed session, and talks on football and faith and evangelism amongst skaters and surfers. Two talks I again missed but would have liked to have caught were the inimitably odd Ian Vincent on tulpas and tulpamancy and François Bauduin’s talk on the Raelians, for what I’m sure would have been a robust discussion of how these esoteric movements translate into the online sphere, and how this affects notions of authenticity and creativity.

11222652_10156115964950413_6985333271960933871_oWhile this program certainly presents a swathe of relevant subjects in the field of fandom and religion, there were several key moments that made me realise that some central issues had gone by the wayside. It struck me that this was a very “white” conference: there were, even for a small number of papers, strikingly none that I could see on non-Western peoples or traditions. A tiny fraction looked at non-Western media and non-Abrahamic religious beliefs. Searching the abstract booklet I found Islam mentioned once, Buddhism only in passing, and no references to countries with historical, pertinent, and I would say seminal engagements with religious fandoms (Japan, India, Vanuatu are just a few examples). When pointed out during the ‘feedback session’ that concluded the conference two responses were offered: one, that there was no one writing on these topics, and two, that it’s a shame that it looks like the conference lacked diversity but that the organizing body does have one Jewish member… In her keynote, Tracy Trothen remarked on the subject of religion and sport that when we say ‘religion’ we usually mean ‘Christianity’, which I had initially interpreted as a reflexive moment on the ‘god problem’ the academy continues to have, that is, the perpetuation of “the myth of Christian uniqueness” despite the reality of pluralism and secularization, but unfortunately it merely signaled the habitual preferential treatment of this one theological outlook. The suggestion that “no one is writing on these topics” is patently false, but is indicative of the core issue I had with this event: it wasn’t just saturated with a Christo-theological focus in material and approach because that’s representative of the academy, but rather it seemed it was primarily interested in representing that viewpoint—and this is something I don’t think was made clear from the outset.

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For example, the website for this conference followed on from the flyer that had first alerted me to the “international, inter-disciplinary conference,” and stated that its purpose was to “explore interactions between religion and popular culture” which sounded great. “What is happening to fans as they express their enthusiasms and allegiances? Has fandom replaced or become a form of religion?”—cool, interesting questions, I thought. Compare with this description from a CFP I, after the fact, found elsewhere: “A Major Conference for Faith Community Practitioners and Academics,” “including a session solely for faith community practitioners.” There were actually several ‘practitioner’ sessions, and it seemed clear after a while that ‘faith community’ meant Christian worship. It became explicit from the first day with our welcome that in part this event was for not just religious people but those active in their Churches to learn not so much about, but from fandoms. I am used to attending academic conferences with a notable number of ‘practitioners’ present, they may even present non-academic papers. I am also used to having to define religious studies as a separate disciplinary enterprise to theology. But what I wasn’t expecting in Leicester, and I don’t think I was alone here, was to be at a conference where religion, theology, and Christianity were so automatically synonymous that it didn’t seem to occur to the organisers that major non-Christian themes in religion and fandom had been overlooked in their selection of papers, or even that such themes were major. I wasn’t expecting to feel like such an outsider, as a religious studies academic at what I had thought was an academic religious studies affair.

To be fair, now that I have delved deeper into the faith-based networks that organised this event (Donald Wiebe). However, this issue goes beyond the academy, and this became obvious when a reporter for a religion-themed program on BBC4 interviewed some of the conference’s speakers. What thankfully doesn’t make it into our few minutes of fame in this radio segment is the interviewer’s clear discomfort with the idea of converging ‘obsessive’ fans and their ‘low brow’ media with ‘devoted’ believers and their ‘respectable’ forms of the divine. “Are they [typical othering language] just crazy?” he asks me of fans, and makes me repeat my answer several times in order to get something “more quippy, less academic”, and, I suppose, more damning to confirm his perception that there are right and wrong forms of meaning-making. Journalists from The Daily Mail also tried (but failed) to get a talking head, so I guess things could have been worse.

Venetia Robertson ready for the conference!

Venetia Robertson ready for the conference!

I certainly don’t mean to detract from the importance of making niche areas like fandom and religion studies visible on an international and interdisciplinary scale, or the much-appreciated effort that went in to the organisation and contribution of this conference and its participants: there was indeed a wealth of interesting, useful, and high-quality papers. Nonetheless, as a reflection on the state of popular culture and its integration into multi­-religious studies (not to mention the relevant spheres of civil/quasi/alternative/implicit religion etc.) I feel these criticisms need timely evaluation. And I have some heartening thoughts to that effect: there is a blossoming field of intersectional work on these topics at the moment if one takes the time to look! The promotional material available at Leicester, interestingly, confirmed this, and I include some pictures of it here. I think it’s telling that Joss Whedon studies has had its own journal, Slayage, for over ten years, but to find more journal articles on a vast panoply of religion and fandom junctures you can try the Journal Of Religion And Popular Culture, the classic Journal Of Popular Culture or the newer Transformative Works And Cultures and the Journal of Fandom Studies, whose book reviews keep on top of the most recent additions to this field. This conference also saw the launch of the comprehensive volume, The Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture (which ranges in price between $277 AUD on BookDepository to a whopping $405 at Angus and Robertson), edited by John Lyden and Eric Mazur, as yet another example of the popularity of this topic in contemporary scholarship. I’m also pleased to say that my paper will be a chapter in the forthcoming volume for INFORM/Ashgate, Fiction, Invention, and Hyper-reality: From Popular Culture to Religion (edited by Carole Cusack and Pavol Kosnáč) alongside some brilliant minds exploring the relationship of spirituality to conspiracy theories, Tolkein’s legendarium, Discordianism, with a handful of, yes, practitioner’s accounts, this time from Pagans, Jedis and Dudeists—it’s sure to be a vibrant, diverse, and illuminating contribution to the discussion on fandom and religion.

 

 

Christian Reconstruction

Rousas John Rushdoony might be one of the most important Christian theologians you’ve never heard of. As the primary architect of a unique version of conservative protestantism referred to as Christian Reconstructionism, Rushdoony worked for several decades to implement Old Testament Biblical law in contemporary America. Though he never realized his vision, and though his movement largely died with him, Rushdoony remains an important figure because his comparably extreme vision for Christian America challenged contemporary conservatives on a number of religious and theological issues and helped pull them farther to the political right

In this interview, Professor Michael McVicar discusses Rushdoony and Christian Reconstruction. McVicar gained unprecedented access to Rushdoony’s personal files, archives, and correspondence, which provided invaluable data for McVicar’s book on Rushdoony.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, hamster cages, vintage VHS tapes, and more.

Sri Lankan Buddhism and Colonialism

Stephen Berkwitz doesn’t really speak of either. Instead, the interview focuses on Sri Lankan colonial past and how the presence of European rulers and Christian missionaries affected local Buddhism.

Pogacnik and Berkwitz discuss the effects of colonial missionaries on the solidification of a Buddhist religious identity in Sri Lanka and the far-reaching consequences of this turn on some contemporary Buddhist monks, who are turning to the Pali canon in search of ‘authentic Buddhism’. Berkwitz explores the connection of this turn to scripture with the presence of Protestant missionaries and the idea of ‘Protestant Buddhism’ in Sri Lanka, presenting some challenges to seeing the missionary influence as a straight-forward one. Exploring examples of the counter influences Buddhism had on Christian missionaries that came to Sri Lanka, Berkwitz concludes the interview by talking about the complex relationship and interplay of religion and power in the Sri Lankan context.

Listeners interested further in the authors Berkwitz mentioned in the interview can look into the works of Gananath Obeyesekere and Anne Blackburn. You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, choral scores, lunchboxes and more.

Identity Crisis: the Nones and Habitual Christianity

This podcast coincides with Linda Woodhead’s recent Croall Lectures, aimed at interrogating the question: Is Britain still a Christian country? Drawing on her own qualitative research and recent surveys in the UK, and from the nearly 80 projects funded by the Religion and Society programme, Woodhead is extremely well placed to examine this broad, nicely impossible question. I decided in the end to do two things, first to give a summary of some of the key points and second, to stick with what I know of this topic – drawing on my own research with (secular) humanists, based in the UK.

There has been much debate generated about the Christian status in Britain, not least following the comments of David Cameron in 2014 – who stated that Britain was a Christian country. Cameron had made his comments in a letter published in the Church Times on 16th April 2014[1] and his target audience should be borne in mind. He wrote:

I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives (Cameron, 2014).

Here (as elsewhere) Cameron emphasises that such a confidence in Christianity will help people get out there and do something. He also emphasises that: “Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love are shared by people of every faith and none” (ibid.).

In this podcast, Linda Woodhead takes up this debate from a sociological perspective, drawing on her experience as the overseer of the AHRC/ESRC funded Religion and Society programme which commissioned 75 UK based research projects over a five year period (2007-2012). In response to the question ‘Is Britain a Christian country?’, Woodhead’s response is a qualified ‘yes’. This means, Britain is not Christian in every way; numbers of people attending Church are certainly falling as are the number of people who self-identify as Christian[2]. She also states that Britain will certainly not be Christian forever if current trends continue, and, further, argues that Britain is not straightforwardly secular and a rise in ‘nones’ (those ticking ‘no religion’ on the Census) does not equal a rise in atheist or new atheist discourse. Many people continue to believe in a God (although not necessarily the Trinity) or consider themselves ‘spiritual’. But, in sum she argues that: “the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.”

Secular Humanists

Over the last four years, I have been working on an ethnography of nonreligious[3] groups and individuals in the UK. I was resident archivist and volunteer for the Rationalist Association (publishers of the New Humanist magazine), and through these activities I was able to meet many, many nonreligious individuals. I also interviewed and observed humanist celebrants in action across the UK and met couple’s marrying in humanist ceremonies. Woodhead points out in this interview, the ‘nones’ (those who ticked no religion on the census) are a broad category, who do not easily conform to atheism per se nor should they be understood as self-identifying Christians.

My own research confirms, as Woodhead suggests, that the ‘none’ category is in no way monolithic nor should it be equated with ‘atheism’ per se. I rarely met people who wholeheartedly sympathised with new atheists or who were hardline secularists. In the course of my work it also become clear that many situate their nonreligious identity in relation to a Christian heritage, either as a result of personal experience or of education. This familiarity emerged in a number of ways. One such example is in regards to religious criticism; many of my participants felt that familiarity with Christianity permitted them to be critical in a way that they could not with other religious traditions. In an interview with Peter, a 28 year old writer and doctoral student, we came onto the topic of the Danish Cartoons in which he made the following comments:

‘[W]ell I think it was more, Christianity I [am] up for taking the piss out of, because I always take the perspective that, and I’ve heard comedians point this out, Stewart Lee and Dara Ó Briain, Christianity’s kind of ours to take the piss out of. I went to church, I got dragged to the Church of England every Sunday, so we get, so I could get into the right school, whereas I’ve always felt that something like Islam [for example] is tied into racial minorities [and is thus off limits].’ [London, April, 2013]

I was particularly interested in the explicit reference to the Church of England in relation to “other religions.” This certainly raises a number of questions for me. Does Cameron mean all denominations of Christianity? Or just Anglicanism? Moreover, what does it really mean to state that we are Christian anyhow? Woodhead illuminates some of these points more clearly – that it is in institutions and in a sense of ‘cultural Christianity’.

Certainly, by self-identifying with Christianity, Peter situates himself very clearly inside both nonreligious and Christian groups, at least nominally. Abby Day brings some qualitative description to the category of ‘Christianity’ in her research ‘Believing in Belonging’ (2006). The non-faithful are categorised by Day as ‘nominalist’; that is, ethnic, natal and aspirational. This group are: ‘not merely unchurched and neither are they indifferent to Christianity: it functions to reinforce familial, ethnic and social connections.’ (2006: 126). Day’s work is useful in demonstrating how despite being anti-religious or not-religious, Christianity can continue to provide a reference point. The choice to call oneself ‘Christian’ whilst not ‘practicing’ can be understood as ‘cultural’ Christianity (Demerath, 2000: 127) or a quasi-ethnic category (Voas and Bruce, 2004; Voas and Day, 2007: 3). Yet despite familiarity my own participants do not personally identify as Christian and, as Woodhead points out, there should be caution used in labelling anyone ‘Christian’ who does not do so for themselves. Thus, I am not suggesting that my participants are ‘nominally’ Christian, simply that their attitude to religions was inflected by their experiences of it.

What such examples demonstrate is a negotiation of this term ‘Christianity’. Whilst many of my participants were aware of their own ‘habitual Christianity’, they were also at pains to break the habit[4].

Concluding Thoughts

I would be very interested to hear of other research addressing these issues. My own research – as I state – was within smaller scale populations and other researchers will be able to illuminate these debates at the macro-level, more clearly than I can. What I will state in summary is that central to this question – ‘Is Britain is a Christian country?’ – is a tension between issues of privilege and privatisation. Moreover, the debate rests on that tricky dichotomy between religious institution (and power) and people’s personal religious experiences and identities. As Woodhead stated in her article ‘How Religious Identity has Changed’ [in the UK]: ‘for a majority today, being religious is just a part of life and identity, not what defines them’ (2013). To say that Britain is a Christian country, as per Cameron’s speech, is therefore problematic not so much because the historical and (fragmented) contemporary trends it speaks to are contestable. It is problematic because it is totalising. Further, as Day points out, people who are otherwise ‘not religious’ state that they are Christian and give reasons of upbringing, culture or national identity. On a micro scale, this might resonate, and many, including my own nonreligious, secular participants may share this sense of ‘cultural Christianity’. However, despite any protestations from the PM, when a politician makes such a statement, there is a magnification of natal, national and cultural themes, and it is perhaps understandable that this creates anxieties about the political agenda implied by such bold statements – whether real or otherwise.

References

DAY, A. (2006). Believing in Belonging: a Case Study from Yorkshire. Unpublished PhD

Thesis, Lancaster University.

DAY, A. (2011). Believing in belonging: Belief and social identity in the modern world. Oxford University Press.

ENGELKE, M. (2012) ‘In Spite of Christianity: humanism and its others in contemporary Britain’ Talk given at the NSRN annual conference.

ENGELKE, M. (2014), ‘Christianity and the Anthropology of Secular HumanismCurrent Anthropology, Vol. 55, No. S10, pp. S292-S301

LEE, L. (2011). From ‘Neutrality’ to Dialogue: Constructing the Religious Other In British Non-religious Discourses In Modernities Revisited, Behrensen, M., Lee, L., & Tekelioglu., A. S. Vienna: IWM Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences 2011Available at www.iwm.at. [accessed 21 August 2012]

LEE, L. (2012). Research Note: Talking About a Revolution: Terminology for the New Field of Non-religion Studies. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 27(1): 129-139.

OFFICE OF NATIONAL STATISTICS (2012). Religion in England and Wales 2011. 12 December. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_290510.pdf [accessed 2 December 2014]

VOAS, D. & BRUCE, S (2004) ‘Research note: The 2001 census and Christian identification in Britain’, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 19:1, 23-28

VOAS, D & DAY, A (2007). Secularity in Great Britain. In Secularism and Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives, edited by Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar. Hartford, CA: ISSSC: 95-110.

WOODHEAD, L. (2012) ‘How Religious Identity has Changed’ published on Pandemonium.

 

 

[1] This follows remarks from other conservative MPs, including Baroness Warsi, who argued in 2011 that Britain should become more Christian.

[2] The results of the 2001 Census suggest 15.5 per cent of the population (8.6 million people) considered themselves to have no religion. Whilst 77.2 per cent of the population considered themselves to have some religious belief, with the majority identifying as Christian at 71.8 per cent (41million people). Results of the more recent 2011 Census demonstrate a marked shift in numbers. The number of people now reporting as Christian decreased to 59.3 per cent and there was an increase in those reporting no religion to 25.1 per cent of the population (ONS, 2012)

[3] Non religion is understood as different to the ‘secular’ and defined as defined as: ‘any position, perspective or practice which is primarily defined by, or in relation to, religion, but which is nevertheless considered to be other than religious (Lee, 2011).

[4] In my forthcoming thesis, I discuss the great length humanists and other nonreligious people went to, negotiating the boundaries between what is ‘culturally’ Christian and what was not (see also Engelke, 2014); the equation of moral values and Christianity was a particular sticking point. More space would also have allowed me to comment on the British Humanist Association’s Census campaign and letter to the Prime Minister, both relevant to this topic.

The Gamrie Brethren: At the Heart of Cosmic Struggle and the Fringes of the Imagined Community

In the RSP’s interview with Joe Webster, listeners are treated to rich ethnographic data which reveal how an immediate ‘local’ context is embedded in ‘global’ processes and networks. Webster conducted his fieldwork in the fishing village of Gardenstown or ‘Gamrie’ in Aberdeenshire, in the north-east of Scotland. Its population are notable for the concentration of followers of offshoots of the movement known as the ‘Plymouth Brethren’, or simply ‘Brethren’[1].

Both the local context and the Brethren movement generally are far from my areas of expertise, my own research concerns the contemporary relationship between ‘religious’ (including ‘non-religious’) affiliations and various constructions of ‘Scottish national identity’. In this regard I hope I can at least place Webster’s research in the wider social and historical context, the ‘national level’ alongside the ‘local’ and ‘global’ ones.

If one considers the question of how the Gamrie Brethren ‘fit into’ the wider picture of religion in Scotland, they would not appear to ‘fit’ at all. According to the latest census, conducted in 2011, only 54% of respondents identified as ‘Christian’, 16% identifying as ‘Roman Catholic’[2], and of the majority of this Christian population who could be classified as ‘Protestant’, it is difficult to gauge how many would have much in common with the Brethren – I suspect relatively few. This is novel for a country with an immensely long and complicated Christian history and which was long associated with staunch Protestantism.

While Scotland does possess an official national Church (the Church of Scotland), it could be quite accurately described as for the most part highly secularised. Along with this, religious pluralism has become part of the system of norms inculcated in Scottish civil society, despite the comparatively low numbers of non-Christian religious minorities.

In many ways this image of Scotland as secular and pluralist is that which many contemporary Scots project, a reflection both of their norms and experiences. As Benedict Anderson argued, nations are imagined communities, though the community that is imagined can vary immensely over time and in the present[3].

While much of Scotland’s romantic symbolism may be derived from the Highlands and many areas have contributed to the Scottish imagination, arguably the dominant perspective is that of the ‘central belt’. That is the area of the country dominated by its two biggest cities – Edinburgh and Glasgow; the centres of politics, business, the media, and, to large extent, ‘national’ religious institutions. Notably these cities have high concentrations of ‘non-religious’ people and are more religiously plural, meaning that a city-dweller may be more likely to attend a local Diwali celebration than a Gamrie Brethren service. As Anderson argued, ‘members’ of nations could never hope to personally interact with all who claim or are claimed to be members of the nation, which can help smooth over differences and affect the imaginative process[4].

However this does not mean that the Gamrie Brethren are necessarily representative of ‘traditional’ Scottish religion either. The movement was founded in Plymouth by an Irish medical student and would have to be implanted in this local Scottish soil. I cannot help but share the intuitive reaction of the interviewer (David Robertson) in being struck by the sense in which the movement and its religious practices appear more stereotypically ‘American’ to myself as someone raised in Scotland, than stereotypical of rural Scotland. The calls to emotional testimony of personal experience certainly do not fit the dour Calvinism stereotype of Scottish religion. Alive and well, living in Aberdeenshire and speaking Doric[5] it is though–regardless of how well it fits some preconceived image.

This cautions us against treating rural religion as an unbroken ‘survival’ of a bygone age; at the very least the Brethren could not have come to Gamrie earlier than 1831 when the movement was founded, and I would expect a much later date. Regardless, the Brethren have clearly been able to fundamentally shape life in the village down to the level of everyday interaction, and it is notable that the local branch of the ‘national’ Church has been moulded into the local ‘Brethren’ image.

Nonetheless, their case is not as atypical as it might first appear.  Without intending to essentialise, such cases have a long history in Scotland. Much of northern Scotland, especially, is rugged and rural and perhaps encourages the development of pockets of concentrated difference from the norms disseminated from the centre. When Presbyterian Calvinism was ascendant in the south, much of the north was Episcopalian with pockets of Roman Catholicism. Radical Calvinistic Presbyterianism began to take root in parts of the Highlands and continued to thrive when it began to fall from favour in the south, etc.

Webster related how the Brethren’s religious practices have led many of them to utilise Christian media, much of which is based in the US. Steve Bruce has argued that religious conservatives in Scotland did not develop the kind of alternative networks set up by their US counterparts because they were simply oblivious to the changes going on underneath their feet[6]. Nonetheless, clearly, expanding global communications have allowed the Gamrie Brethren to take advantage of such networks, which, in turn, inform the local context.

This religious context may be rural and divergent from the current Scottish norm (in both senses of the word) but this does not make it a product of isolation, and, in fact, appears to be as caught up in wider developments as central belt secularism. However, these global links clearly attain specific local significance. Webster’s informants not only see the power of God and the Devil working in their daily lives but also in the political relationship between the fishing communities of the north-east and the European Union.

Over the course of the interview, the question of how the Gamrie Brethren view themselves in relation to Scottish national identity and modern Scottish society was never broached as such. One would certainly not want to presume that it is significant at all; the local setting and transnational Evangelical networks may be of much greater significance. Webster has indicated that religious decline did not appear to trouble his informants who viewed it as indicative of end times. Scottish secularism may be viewed in similar terms. They may draw comfort and significance from the history of Scottish Protestantism, its leading figures such as John Knox and the Covenanter rebels, as many Scots did and still do. The advantage of a long and untidy history is there are plenty of ‘Scotlands’ to choose from. Clearly dealing with the religious landscape of the country in the present offers up no less diversity.

Bibliography

Anderson, B. Imagined Communities (2006) London: Verso

Bowker, J. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (1997) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Broun, D., Finlay, R.J. and Lynch, M. (eds.) Image and Identity: The Making of Scotland through the Ages (1998) Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd

Brown, C. Religion and Society in Scotland since 1707 (1997) Edinburgh University Press

Bruce, S. No Pope of Rome: Anti-Catholicism in Modern Scotland (1985) Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing

Devine, T.M. The History of the Scottish Nation 1700-2000 (2000) London: Penguin Books Ltd.

National Records of Scotland 2011 Census: Key results on Population, Ethnicity, Identity, Language, Religion, Health, Housing and Accommodation in Scotland – Release 2A (2013) Crown Copyright 2013

[1] C.f. “Plymouth Brethren” in Bowker, J. (ed). Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (1997) Oxford: Oxford University Press: p756

[2] National Records of Scotland 2011 Census: Key results on Population, Ethnicity, Identity, Language, Religion, Health, Housing and Accommodation in Scotland – Release 2A (2013) Crown Copyright 2013: p5

[3] Anderson, B Imagined Communities (2006) London: Verso: p5-6

[4] ibid

[5] ‘Doric’ is the name of the highly specific form of Scots or Lallans spoken in the region.

[6] Bruce, S No Pope of Rome: Anti-Catholicism in Modern Scotland (1985) Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing: p216

 

African, Christian… Fake? Explorations in Religious Authenticity

A highlight of Afe Adogame’s interview is his emphasis upon the brimming capacity for African Christianities, whether in Western or African settings, to contribute to the broader, age old discourse on religious authenticity. Adogame asks, “which kind of Christianity is authentic?” Certainly, as he asserts, to answer this question as a scholar is to make a loaded theological statement, and I would add, to also assume a rather provocative level of religious authority. Nevertheless, the question is important for both the practitioner and the scholar.

Presently, many Westerners (and Africans) address Christianity’s place in contemporary Africa as a colonial import. A subsequent repercussion is that Western forms of Christianity are referenced as the normative standard bearers for Christian authenticity. Indeed, in some parts of Africa, people refer to mission-based mainline Protestant and Catholic churches as “orthodox” churches. From this perspective, the question of “which kind of Christianity is authentic” is less about critically examining issues in authenticity and more about asking whether indigenously-led Christianities ought to be treated as legitimate expressions of Christianity, or as exotic Africanized pseudo-Christianities.

Adogame rightly problematizes this framework in a couple of ways. He reminds listeners that Africa has fostered Christian communities since the emergence of early Christianity, and therefore, the continent has always been relevant to discussions of authenticity. Further, he reminds listeners that transculturation is not a simple, unidirectional scheme. While African communities have appropriated Western Christianities in numerous ways, so too have Western Christian communities participated in ongoing cultural appropriations. Thus, Adogame suggests that many contemporary African Christianities are not “Africanized” versions of Christianity, but “African interpretations of Europeanized Christianities.”

This latter point is an excellent one, although I do not think that Adogame has taken it quite far enough. When he speaks of “the West” in this interview, he refers only to Europe, which inadvertently discounts the significance of Africa’s relationship with North America. Might we also consider contemporary African Christianities as “African interpretations of Americanized Christianities” or, perhaps even, “African interpretations of American adaptations of Europeanized Christianities?” My intention is not to get caught up in petty linguistic criticisms, but it is important to acknowledge the drastic differences between North American forms of Christianity and those of Europe, as well as North American relationships with Africa and those between Europe and Africa. These differences significantly affect the forms and trajectories of Christianites in Africa, including the growing presence of African ministries in Western settings.

While Adogame mentions that many African Christians today perceive Europe to be a religiously “dark continent,” I have not found the same sentiments to be very consistent when applied to North America, particularly the United States. Rather, many African Christians, especially those in the booming Pentecostal-Charismatic sector, look to American evangelical leaders for ideas on missions strategies, organizational structures, styles of preaching, as well as Christian thought and theology. This is not to say that Africans in the Pentecostal-Charismatic sector uncritically mimic thriving forms of American Christianity, but the parallels cannot be ignored when viewing the growth of the African Christian self-help literature, franchise-style church institutions, televangelism, and prosperity gospels.

Nevertheless, Adogame’s commentary makes a strong case as to how studies of African Christianities can elevate current approaches to authenticity, and I stand in full agreement. Because of Africa’s place within the longue durée of Christian history, its complicated relationships with colonial powers and missions projects, as well as its recent role in “reverse missions,” African Christianities are particularly well-positioned to elucidate issues in power, religious authority, and the ways in which religious interpretations and practices are culturally informed. All of these factors can significantly contribute to any discourse on religious authenticity.

In the remainder of this short essay, I want to turn attention to one additional dimension of religious authenticity through a quick illustration from some of my own work. When Adogame rhetorically asks, “which kind of Christianity is authentic,” he implies that conversations on religious authenticity revolve around evaluating various strains of interpretation and practice. Or, put another way, that religious authenticity is a matter of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. But is it?

A recent ethnographic project of mine examines what I call a “fake pastor phenomenon” in Ghana. One of the most densely Pentecostal-Charismatic places in the world today, the nation is experiencing an eruption of quackery accusations aimed at leaders in Pentecostal-Charismatic ministries from local street evangelists to African celebrity pastors such as TB Joshua or Enoch “Daddy G.O.” Adeboye. It is truly a media sensation, with fiery accusations and juicy exposés reported nearly daily in local press and tabloid sources, comedians and rappers mocking “fake pastor” prototypes, and Ghanaian film industries frequently featuring a “fake pastor” character in their plotlines. But, it is also a focal point of community gossip. Many worry that African Christianity is being run amok by charlatans. There are numerous circumstances in which a Pentecostal-Charismatic leader may rank among the accused, but the general premise is that “fake pastors” are those who are perceived as abusing their position of religious authority for the sake of personal (usually financial) gain.

One of the things that I like so much about the “fake pastor phenomenon” is how well it wonderfully complicates questions of authenticity. It places issues of sincerity and intentionality center stage, reminding us that there are more dimensions to the authenticity discourse than questioning orthodoxy and orthopraxy. I also like the “fake pastor phenomenon” for its implications in the West. What does it mean when leaders of African churches, like Bishop Kofi Adonteng Boateng and his Virginia-based Divine Word International Ministries, are accused of “fakery?” What does it mean when influential platforms in the West such as the evangelically-inclined periodical, Christianity Today, feature a Ghanaian news dispatch that condemns religious quackery in Ghana while simultaneously attempting to bracket mainline denominations from the phenomenon?

Most of all, I like the “fake pastor phenomenon” for its implications for responsible scholarship. How are we, as scholars, to consider “fake pastor” accusations when illustrating forms of contemporary African Christianities? When building (or deconstructing) taxonomies? When theorizing trends in global Christianity?

African Christianity in the West

‘Africa’. ‘Christianity’. ‘The West’. Three seemingly simple terms with clear referents. Three categories which – perhaps unsurprisingly, to regular listeners of the RSP – have been, and continue to be, associated with and invoked in support of myriad competing agendas, truth claims, ideologies, and more.

In telling the story of the complex interrelationship between these terms, some might point to the Berlin Conference of 1884/5 as a defining moment marking the beginning of intensive Euro-American Christian mission to Africa. Others might direct attention to the fact that Christianity has been present in Africa almost since its emergence, with three of the best known figures of the early church – Anthony (c. 285-356), Athanasius (296-373) and Augustine (354-430) – living and working in the north of the continent. Still others might prefer a more contemporary approach, focusing upon the Christianities that can be discerned among communities of African origin in Diaspora. This week’s podcast focuses upon the latter.

In this interview with Chris, Dr Afe Adogame of the University of Edinburgh provides a stimulating introduction to this vast and complicated triad.

Discussion covers a wide range of questions, including:

  • What makes African Christianity ‘African’? Is it only for ‘Africans’? Who decides? Why do we take this huge continent as a single entity?
  • If African Christianity is particularly non- or anti-Western, how does this manifest itself in the West? Is it also non-African (i.e. non-indigenous?)
  • Does referring to ‘African Christianity in the West’ or even ‘African Christianity’ in general perpetuate racial divides, systems of exclusivity?
  • What is the public image of African Christianity in the West? Is there one?
  • What does the study of African Christianity – in the West or elsewhere – bring to the study of ‘religion’ in general?

This interview was originally conceived as a kind of two-parter with an interview on ‘African Indigenous Traditions in the West’ which has, as yet, not occurred. Of course, it must be stated that ‘Christianity’ and ‘Indigenous Traditions’ are not the full story of ‘religion’ in Africa, with one glaring omission being ‘Islam’ amongst others. However, due to time constraints this interview will focus almost exclusively on ‘Christianity’ and we shall attempt to rectify this in the future.

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