After Christendom, Christian Weirdness? by Paul Dafydd Jones

March 23, 2018

Religion and Its Publics Co-Director Paul Dafydd Jones writes in response to Peter Ormerod’s recent article for The Guardian, “So Christianity is no longer the norm? Going underground will do it good.”

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‘It’s quite a statement. “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good,” said Prof Stephen Bullivant this week, in response to figures showing widespread rejection of Christianity among Europe’s young people. He adds a slender caveat: “Or at least for the next 100 years.”’

So begins a short article in The Guardian by Peter Ormerod, which notes recent research on the disavowal of religious identification among sixteen to twenty-nine year olds across Europe, particularly in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. (Although (i) it’s possible to critique the methodology and construction of sociological studies of contemporary religion; and (ii) Omerod’s own piece doesn’t reckon with the fact that things look very different in some European countries, such as Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, and Poland.) The article’s positive claim is even more interesting, at least for those fascinated with the prospects for religion in a late modern age: Christianity should embrace its “weirdness,” its oblique and often complicated relationship with established conventions and norms, for in so doing it stands some chance of recovering a distinctive identity.

Now it should be said that Ormerod’s position isn’t original. A commendation of a Christianity that “goes underground” bears some resemblance to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s interest in “religionless Christianity,” and Ormerod’s positive reading of the (apparent) demise of “Christendom” is anticipated – and, in fact, lauded – in the work of Karl Barth. The question of how studies about European religious life relates to religious life in the Americas, and to religion in the “global South,” must also be raised; it’s important that one doesn’t fall into the trap of thinking that Europe leads the way, and the rest of the world is playing catch-up. But unoriginality and parochialism do not negate the significance or Ormerod’s claims. If Christianity in particular, and “organized” religion in general, no longer commands the field in Europe – if the era of Christian hegemony is really nearing an end – what comes next?

Paul Dafydd Jones is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and Co-Director of The Project on Religion and Its Publics.

Nadia Bolz-Weber for the Washington Post on the Apocalypse

March 15, 2018

Religion and Its Publics Co-Director Charles Mathewes writes:

“This is a nice bit of public theology, both in illuminating a contemporary situation by the organic use of theological categories, and also by explaining the meaning of those theological categories through applying them to a contemporary situation.”

Read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s full piece, “We’re in the midst of an apocalypse. And that’s a good thing.”, and read an excerpt below:

“In Greek, the word apocalypse means to uncover, to peel away, to show what’s underneath. That’s what this country has been experiencing in the past six months. There has not been a sudden uptick in sexual misconduct and assault in our country, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are simply exposing what was already there. The reality that some men comment on, threaten, masturbate in front of, intimidate and assault female bodies is finally being brought out of the dark ubiquity of women’s personal experience and into the light of public discourse. The male domination at the center of the sexual harassment issue — how those in positions of power (usually, but not always, men) have used that power to sexually gratify themselves at the expense of those who are subordinate to them (usually, but not always, women) — is being revealed apocalyptically in prime time.

 

Daniel Silliman for the Washington Post on Evangelicalism

March 8, 2018

Below, Religion and Its Publics Co-Director Charles Mathewes weighs in on Daniel Silliman’s recent Washington Post article, “Protestantism was born in Germany, but it was Billy Graham who brought evangelicalism there.”

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In Germany, “Evangelische” meant someone who was Protestant—who was for the “good news” (evangelion) of Christianity, in a distinctively Protestant way, as was traditional (after the Reformation) for most of Germany outside of Southern Germany, which remained mostly Roman Catholic.  But when American Evangelicalism came to Germany after World War Two, in the form of Billy Graham, the Germans realized that their word “Evangelische” did not exactly capture what Graham was offering.  So a new word was created: “Evangelikale.”  We should realize, too, the distinctive nature of white American Evangelical Protestantism, which is very much a product of American history, for good and ill. 

This is part of a larger truth, one captured well by the Oxford historian of Christianity Diarmaid MacCulloch.  There have been multiple Christianities throughout history—a Greek or Hellenic Christianity begun around the Eastern Mediterranean in the Roman Empire, a Latin Christianity in the West, a “West Asian” Christianity which was eventually subsumed by the rise of Islam.  Perhaps the rise of American “evangelical Protestantism” in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries is one of the Western Hemisphere’s contributions to the history of Christianity—a radically new kind of Christianity, which is now shaping Christianity worldwide, through missions and perhaps especially the rise of is Pentecostal variant.  Perhaps the Germans’ confusion about what to call what Graham was selling is indicative of that.

 

 

Dr. R. Marie Griffith For Our Podcast Series The Square

Sex has played a uniquely powerful role in bringing religion and politics together, and many of us have asked why it has driven the so-called culture wars for so long and so passionately. Dr. R. Marie Griffith, our third guest on The Square, takes a deep dive into this phenomenon in her new book, Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics.

Dr. Griffith is John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis where she is also Director the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics.

To revisit our first two episodes featuring Luke Bretherton and Shaun Casey, head to our Podcast page.

Congratulations to Our Emerging Scholars

Congratulations to our new Emerging Scholars. These early career scholars were selected to participate in a residency workshop in Charlottesville this summer. Participants will undertake focused readings, share work, and plan collaborations on academic projects of mutual interest. They will also be invited to continue supporting the work of Religion and Its Publics through publications of an academic and journalistic nature.

Karen Bray, Wesleyan College

Karen Bray is an Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy, and the chair of Religious Studies and Philosophy, at Wesleyan College. Her research areas include continental philosophy of religion; feminist, critical disability, black studies, queer, political, and decolonial theories and theologies; and secularism and the postsecular. She is particularly interested in exploring how secular institutions and cultures behave theologically. 

Deborah Casewell, Liverpool Hope University

Deborah Casewell is Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion at Liverpool Hope University. Her work focuses on the inter-relation of philosophy and theology in modern thought and culture. She is currently working on two projects: one on nothingness and God in modern philosophy and theology, and another on asceticism, vulnerability, and ethical action.

Janna Hunter-Bowman, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

Russell Johnson, University of Chicago

Russell Johnson is a PhD candidate in Philosophy of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His research focuses on nonviolence, the philosophy of communication, and “us versus them” frameworks.

Jaisy Joseph, Boston College

Jaisy Joseph is finishing up her dissertation at Boston College entitled Reimagining Catholicity: An Interstitial Perspective. Her work brings postcolonial theory and ethnographic method into conversation with ecclesiological discussions of catholicity. She is particularly interested in how globalization and migration impact discussions of unity-in-diversity within the US Catholic Church. In the fall of 2018, she will begin her tenure-track appointment as an Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at Seattle University.

Kyle Lambelet, Candler School of Theology

Dr. Kyle Lambelet is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and teaches and researches at the intersection of political theology, religious ethics, and social change. He is writing a book tentatively titled ¡Presente! Nonviolent Politics and the Resurrection of the Dead that develops an extended case study of the movement to close the School of the Americas. His current research explores the apocalyptic as a politically productive if dangerous lens for approaching ecological collapse.

Timothy McGee, Illinois College

Timothy McGee is the Chaplain and Coordinator of Interfaith and Inclusion Initiatives at Illinois College, having received his doctoral degree in Religious Studies from Southern Methodist University in 2017. His research engages issues of race, class, and Christian theology, focusing especially on whiteness as a death-laden project of human redemption. His constructive reconsiderations of Christian doctrinal and political theology have been published in leading academic journals but also make their way into his preaching, teaching, and community engagement in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Meadhbh McIvor, University of Groningen

Méadhbh McIvor is a social anthropologist with a particular interest in the anthropologies of law and religion. Her​ research focuses on law, Christianity, and the politics of religious freedom in the contemporary United Kingdom, where she has carried out long-term participatory fieldwork split between a conservative Christian lobby group and a conservative evangelical church. She received her PhD in Anthropology from the London School of Economics in 2016, and is currently Assistant Professor in Religion, Law and Human Rights at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. 

Luis Menendez-Antuna, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Luis Menéndez-Antuña is Assistant Professor of New Testament at California Lutheran University/Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and serves as Core Doctoral Faculty Member at the Graduate TheologicalUnion (Berkeley). His current research explores the queer and postcolonial afterlives of the biblical texts. He has published his research on journals such as Estudios Eclesiásticos, Ilu. Revista de Ciencias de las Religiones, Biblical Interpretation, Journal of Religious Ethics, and Early Christianity. His first monograph on Revelation, Thinking Sex with the Great Whore: Deviant Sexualities and Empire in the Book of Revelation is published by Routledge. 

Karen O’Donnell, Durham University 

Marika Rose, University of Winchester

Dr Marika Rose is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Philosophical Theology at the University of Winchester. Her research focuses on the intersection of continental philosophy of religion and Christian theology, and she is currently working on a project about angels and cyborgs.

Hilary Scarsella, Vanderbilt University

Hilary is a PhD Candidate at Vanderbilt University in the Graduate Department of Religion. She is also the Director of Theological Integrity for Into Account – an organization that offers advocacy and resources to survivors of sexual violence connected to communities of faith. Her current research uses theological and psychological resources to address the intersection of memory, trauma, and disciplines of thought and practice that have the potential to interrupt sexualized forms of harm.