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.
Shaun Casey has shuttled easily between the worlds of God and Mammon. He can readily converse with church leaders, academics, and politicians; he spent four years establishing religion at the heart of American diplomacy in the Obama State Department. He’s now director of The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, as well as one of our senior fellows here at Religion and Its Publics.
In this episode of The Square, he says the demand for a deep understanding of public religion has never been stronger, and takes aim both at academics who exile themselves from public discourse as well as those who would use religion for political purposes.
Listen to the conversation below:
To revisit our first episode of The Square featuring Luke Bretherton, Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School, head to our Podcast Page.
Religion and Its Publics Co-Director Charles Mathewes recently contributed to the Washington Post with a piece entitled “White Christianity is in big trouble. And it’s its own biggest threat.” Read the full article below.
“White Christianity is in big trouble. And it’s its own biggest threat”
Charles Mathewes | December 19, 2017
It’s that time of year again, when we hear about the profanity of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and about Starbucks’ covert “war on Christmas,” run through their seasonal coffee cups. Inevitably, President Trump has intervened, insisting that stores everywhere “don’t have Merry Christmas. They don’t have Merry Christmas. I want them to say, ‘Merry Christmas, everybody.’” Once again, we are awakened to the terrible assaults on the Christian heritage of our nation.
This year, however, it’s increasingly difficult not to notice that the main threat to Christianity in America comes from American Christians themselves.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard a case from a baker who argued his Christian convictions led him to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Last week, we witnessed the spectacle of white Christians in Alabama who convinced themselves either that the man they hoped to elect as their senator was not so creepy around young girls as to get himself banned from a mall (fact check: he was), or that the behavior that got him banned is actually biblical in character, and therefore okay (exegesis check: it isn’t). In the end, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Moore.
When we’ve reached a place where good Christian folk think it’s a matter of major theological principle not to sell pastries to gay people but are willing to give pedophiles a pass, I think it’s safe to say that American Christianity today — white American Christianity in particular — is in a pretty sorry state.
It’s not just that a vocal segment of white Christians can’t tell righteous leaders from sexual predators and overestimate the power of baked goods to communicate spiritual messages; our failures are wider and deeper and more foundational than that. We’re remarkably ignorant of the history and the current state of the world we inhabit, and no better with scientific knowledge either. We don’t believe the media, but we’ll believe the most incredible Twitter rumor or Facebook post, curated for us by Vladimir Putin. We are surprisingly ignorant about religion, not only other people’s, but even our own.
But perhaps most importantly, white Christians seem unwilling to be guided by the plain truth of our shared faith. Instead of forming judgments about how to live our lives based on how our religious convictions interact with real-life circumstances, we pass off irascible reactions as theological principles. White evangelical Christians like guns, for example, and do not especially likeimmigrants. Compared to other demographics, we’re excited about the death penalty, indifferent to those who are impoverished or infirm, and blind to racial and gender inequalities. We claim to read the Bible and hear Jesus’ teachings, but we think poor people deserve what they (don’t) get, and the inmates of our prisons deserve, if anything, worse than the horrors they already receive. For believers in a religion whose Scriptures teach compassion, we’re a breathtakingly cruel bunch.
Indeed it’s hard to know who we do feel pity toward, except ourselves — for we believe that we are the real victims in today’s world. Those among us who are evangelical Christians are especially paranoid: While Americans overall are twice as likely to say there is more discrimination against Muslims than against Christians, the numbers are almost reversed for white evangelical Protestants. And apparently things are getting worse: the percentage of evangelicals who said that religious freedom in the U.S. declined over the past decade rose from 60 percent in 2012 to 77 percent in 2015.
There are many factors — historical, social and political — that have helped shape white American Christianity into what it is today. But when it comes to keeping us away from the core truths of our faith, I suspect this one error is key: Christians today seem governed by fear. Theologians as well as psychologists will tell you that there is a spiritual peril in acting out of fear and a sense of danger. Fear drives us into patterns of “reasoning” that are far from reasonable, but more akin to reactionary patterns of cause-and-effect. And fear moves us away from the core of Christianity — love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love,” says the first epistle of John.
The tyranny of fear in white Christian life is especially visible among white evangelicals, who stand out in their opposition to pluralism in America. While all other religious groups, like Americans overall, oppose letting small business owners refuse to serve gay and lesbian people — by margins of roughly two to one — white evangelicals, by 56 percent to 39 percent, say shopkeepers should be allowed to so discriminate. And Christians’ defensiveness is increasing: in 2012, 54 percent of white evangelicals supported giving preference to “traditional Judeo-Christian values”; that number rose to 76 percent in 2015. What’s true of white evangelicals is a leading indicator for white Christians as a whole. The fear of the future makes us, in Jesus’ words, strain at gnats while we swallow camels (Mt 23:24).
This is disastrous because, from the perspective of hope, in many ways our age represents an unprecedented opportunity for Christians. The collapse of Christendom over the past few centuries has created a potentially more egalitarian, authentic and pluralistic religious world. Serious relationships with members of other religious traditions, as well as atheists, teaches believers more about their faith than we would ever have otherwise known. Religious and secular human rights activists uncover the depths of our world’s suffering and pain and display more of God’s care for the oppressed, the marginalized, and the abused. The incredible tumult among ordinary churchgoers increases theological literacy in the pews, so that 500 years after the Reformation, Luther’s dream of a “Priesthood of all believers” is potentially closer than ever.
Ironically, it may well be that it is Christians’ fears about losing control of the culture that have accelerated the rise of secularism itself. (This has been an open secret in the sociology of religion for almost two decades.) Consider the rise of the “Nones” in American public life — those adults, especially younger adults, who when asked about their religious affiliation, say “none.” For decades that number was very low, but then it began to increase rapidly in the 1980s. Why was that? It seems to be caused by the tight alliance of Christianity, especially conservative white Christianity, with conservative politics over the past several decades — an association itself driven by prophesies of a rising tide of godlessness in America after the 1960s. Those prophesies about the 1960s were wrong; but they fueled the alliance of white Christians with right-wing politics from the 1980s forward, and that alliance has repelled many younger people from religion out of a distaste at seeing religion so eagerly bend the knee to short-term political gain. That is to say, Christians’ response to a misperceived crisis have become, in fact, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Pope John Paul II, who most American Christians (even Protestants like me) would allow was a pretty good Christian, said in his first homily as pope, “Do not be afraid!” This remains useful theological advice. If we are Christians, we must believe that we are safer in God’s hands than in our own. We should take no care for the morrow, but preach compassion and mercy to all, without distinction. If we do that, they’ll know we are Christians by our love — rather than our fear.
Our own Jane Little tells the story behind that infamous August weekend in Charlottesville: how clergy trained for weeks to disrupt the far right marchers, of the MLK scholar-activist-musician who trained them, and of what it represents in an ongoing struggle for the soul of American Christianity.
Listen to the full program here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3csvzm6
The Project on Religion and its Publics hosted a vibrant public discussion to reflect on the tragic and violent events over the weekend of August 11th and 12th that occurred in our home town of Charlottesville, VA. It was held in St. Paul’s Memorial Church – the venue where clergy and other peace activists gathered on the evening of the 11th as white nationalists marched outside. It focused on the role and responsibility of people of faith to tackle white supremacy theologically, intellectually, culturally – and how to continue to move forward with a new, invigorated religious-based activism.
The five-member panel included the Reverend Brenda Brown-Grooms, co-pastor of New Beginnings Christian Communities; Charlottesville Vice-Mayor, Dr. Wes Bellamy; the Reverend Seth Wispelwey, co-founder of Congregate Charlottesville; Dr. Larycia Hawkins, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Virginia; and Dr. Jalane Schmidt, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. It was chaired by John Edwin Mason, Professor of History at UVA.