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February 4, 2022 Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of five responses to Philip Gorski’s American Babylon:
June 21, 2021 Yelle, Robert. Sovereignty and the Sacred: Secularism and the Political Economy of Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
February 24, 2021 More than 100 evangelical leaders, including a number of influential pastors and seminary leaders, published an open
January 14, 2021 Méadhbh McIvor. Representing God: Christian Legal Activism in Contemporary England. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2020. How is it,
December 28, 2020 Lepore, Jill. This America: The Case for the Nation, New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2019         The twentieth
December 11, 2020 If the 2020 pandemic is not to become “another tragedy of history from which we learned nothing,”
November 27, 2020 Gaston, K. Healan. Imagining Judeo-Christian America: Religion, Secularism, and the Redefinition of Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago
November 6, 2020 Anderson, Amanda, Rita Felski, and Toril Moi. Character: Three Inquiries in Literary Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago
October 30, 2020 Over the last several weeks, growing protests in the West African nation of Nigeria have driven many
October 29, 2020 Echoing and building on his prior calls for “the growth of a culture of encounter,” in Fratelli
September 3, 2020 A day after President Obama delivered his speech at the Democratic National Convention 2020, David Blight named
August 31, 2020 Lamb, Michael, and Brian A. Williams, eds. Everyday Ethics: Moral Theology and The Practices of Ordinary Life.
The multi-generational saga of the Falwell family of Lynchburg, Virginia has always been a dramatic epic of sin and redemption.
Although the sudden emergence of a novel form of coronavirus might bring Martin Luther to mind, it is revealing that many apparently
On a recent Monday, we commemorated Memorial Day, a day that is set aside to honor those who have died
Paul Dafydd Jones (University of Virginia, Co-Director of Religion and its Publics) recently interviewed Mari Joerstad (The Kenan Institute for Ethics,
"We are all on a Vision Quest now.” Religion and Its Publics Associate Director, Jane Little, reflects on whether the
As Jewish children raised in Morningside Heights (also known as Cathedral Parkway), New York City, plagues were a topic reserved
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Paul Dafydd Jones (University of Virginia) recently interviewed Ruth Jackson Ravenscroft (Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge) about her new book The Veiled God:
A good small Sunday sermon for you can be found in this nice piece. Complexity, maturity, reality. In an ideal situation,
Writing in The Guardian, Eric Beinhocker offers a stirring commentary on the current global climate strike, which is led by
The Religious Left has returned! And just in the nick of time, too. The country was on the brink of
Charles Mathewes, co-director of the Religion and Its Publics project, has recently started a blog entitled "We Are the Times,"
No idea is more fundamental to the American religious ethos than the separation of Church and State. But to the
Religion and Its Publics' own Evan Sandsmark recently reported a story for Sacred & Profane, a new podcast produced by
It will come as no surprise to hear that the British press – and the people they serve – are
Over the past few weeks, we published a series of responses to Darren Dochuk’s Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and Crude
Editor's Note: Over the past few weeks, we published a series of responses to Darren Dochuk’s Anointed with Oil: How
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final response to Darren Dochuk’s Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of four responses to Darren Dochuk’s Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of four responses to Darren Dochuk’s Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of four responses to Darren Dochuk’s Anointed with Oil: How Christianity
Religion and Its Publics’ own Jane Little recently produced a three-part series for the BBC entitled "Fork in the Road."
Religion and Its Publics’ own Jane Little recently produced a three-part series for the BBC entitled "Fork in the Road."
Religion and Its Publics’ own Jane Little recently produced a three-part series for the BBC entitled "Fork in the Road."
Elisabeth Becker-Topkara, postdoctoral fellow for the Religion and Its Publics project, recently published another piece in the Washington Post on the most
Elisabeth Becker-Topkara, postdoctoral fellow for the Religion and Its Publics project, recently published a piece in the Washington Post on
February 13, 2019 In early December of last year, the crowdfunding website Patreon banned two accounts for using racist speech.
November 9, 2018 The alt-right is a specific political and social ecosystem that has many nodes. The best article that
November 7, 2018 The official representatives of American evangelicalism have been almost uniformly opposed to the Alt-Right—issuing statements, condemnations, and
November 7, 2018 While others have offered reflections on the alt-right from the standpoints of political science, sociology, and American
October 29, 2018 When thinking about the relationship between the alt-right and Christianity, it is worth noting that many theories
October 29, 2018 Race, religion, and politics have long shared a space in American discourse. In the 1920s, the Ku
October 19, 2018 Lenin once quipped that Russia without Ukraine is a body without a head. Zbigniew Brzezinski echoed the
September 24, 2018 Towards the end of his bold attempt to write a history of reason itself in just a
Jane Little was the founding Religious Affairs Correspondent for the BBC World Service and is currently the Associate Director of Religion and
September 14, 2018 In A New History of African Christian Thought: From Cape to Cairo (Routledge, 2017), David Tonghou Ngong
August 20, 2018 On August 2, 2018 the Vatican announced that Pope Francis approved a new change to the Catechism
August 15, 2018 In a piece for Political Theology, Luis Aranguiz brings up interesting points and poignant questions about the
July 23, 2018 Over the past two decades, American Muslims have been profiled, surveilled and even detained without cause. With
July 9, 2018 The Trump phenomenon has scholars feverishly adding to the already burgeoning literature on populism. Yet, the relationship
June 28, 2018 Like many of us today, Nobel Prize winning economist Jean Tirole is worried about the increasingly ‘post-factual’
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June 20, 2018 In his conversation with Religion & Its Publics Senior Fellows, E. J. Dionne argues that America needs
The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Christian baker in Colorado who refused to bake a wedding cake
May 16, 2018 Invited by the Council of Bishops of France in early April, President Emmanuel Macron delivered a rare
May 3, 2018 The past century or so of evangelical history in America might best be understood as a story
April 26, 2018 As the already mountainous evidence of Trump’s immorality, or amorality, steadily grows, the commentariat is searching for
March 23, 2018 Religion and Its Publics Co-Director Paul Dafydd Jones writes in response to Peter Ormerod's recent article for
March 15, 2018 Religion and Its Publics Co-Director Charles Mathewes writes: "This is a nice bit of public theology, both
March 8, 2018 Below, Religion and Its Publics Co-Director Charles Mathewes weighs in on Daniel Silliman's recent Washington Post article, "Protestantism
February 26, 2018 One of the central claims of Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem is that intention is not the most
*** This piece was originally published by The Immanent Frame on January 5, 2018 ( Image via Flickr User John
January 12, 2018 After the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation and the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, I
Religion and Its Publics' own Jane Little tells the story behind that infamous August weekend in Charlottesville: how clergy trained for
Religion and Its Publics Co-Director Charles Mathewes recently contributed to the Washington Post with a piece entitled "White Christianity is
*** A response to this piece was posted by Hannah Schell, Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Monmouth College,
October 27, 2017 In the first issue of the new magazine American Affairs, its editors ask: “Can nationalism be leavened
Dr. Sarah Azaransky
Isaac Barnes May & Sarah Azaransky Sarah Azaransky, Assistant Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, just released her
How Muslim Women Dress
Elizabeth Cable, Elizabeth Bucar Elizabeth Bucar, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Northeastern University and one of our Senior
A recent study reported that Christians are more likely than people of other or no faiths to believe that people
Trump signing something
In one recent, desperate week, with the Russia probe threatening the legitimacy of his presidency, Donald Trump unleashed a barrage
Rorchach test
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rainbow flagin Rome
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Jun 8, 2017 "We won't walk by on the other side.” Those were the words of British Labour Party leader,
Black Lives Matter
Here is the story that is told about religion and racial justice today: The US civil rights movement was led
Why are so many American Christians seemingly unbothered by the gutting of the institutions and policies dedicated to protecting our
Glasses Guy
Mar 31, 2017 In his essay for The Baffler, George Scialabba does a fine job summarizing Ivan Illich's most famous
March 24, 2017 When your democratic republic and unchecked global, political, and ecological trends feel as though they're hurtling in
March 15, 2017 To say that 2016 was a politically tumultuous year is, at this point, to state the blindingly

Nationalism is Not Populism by Slavica Jakelić

October 27, 2017

In the first issue of the new magazine American Affairs, its editors ask: “Can nationalism be leavened by justice—or even be essential to it—rather than being abandoned to its worst expressions?”

At the moment in which a major public American university (UVA) can become a site for marches of the clean-shaven, torch-bearing neo-Nazi white nationalists, and in which the ruling nationalist party of one of the European Union’s states (Hungary) can unapologetically produce and post antisemitic advertisements, relating justice to nationalism seems not only indefensible but also irresponsible. The idea of nationalism as a possible path toward more just societies would seem historically unwarranted as well: The record of oppressive, hegemonic political institutions and violent conflicts that nationalist movements and nationalist politicians have helped shape during the last two centuries is long and hardly reassuring. But nothing more greatly fuels contemporary doubts about nationalism—and specifically, the power of nationalism to produce a democratic civic culture—than the current tendency to identify nationalism with populism.

This is not surprising. Both nationalists and populists act in the name of strong visions of collective identity; both nationalist and populist politicians assert the sovereignty of a people to include some and exclude other groups in the notion of “the people.” Perhaps most importantly, many of the contemporary populist movements and parties—whether progressive in Latin America, Spain, and Greece, or radical right populists in France, Austria, and the Netherlands—employ nationalist and, in the case of the latter group, nativist agendas. Yet distinguishing between nationalism and populism has never been more important, for reasons that are analytic, normative, and political in nature.

It is important to avoid the temptation to substitute one tendency among scholars and certainly among religious studies scholars—that is, thinking about nationalisms as identical to and embedded in nation-states—with another inclination: thinking of nationalisms as they are expressed in populist movements and politics. Both tendencies carry the same danger—the conceptual and historical flattening of nationalism rather than a fuller, more nuanced appreciation of its cultural narratives and political manifestations. For scholars of populism, identifying the differences between nationalism and populism is central to understanding the multiple forms of populism that are not always organized around nationalist rhetoric or agendas. But appreciating the differences between nationalism and populisms is also vital in helping us see both the expressions and the democratic possibilities of contemporary nationalisms.

While all populisms, progressive or conservative, are (as Jan-Werner Mueller correctly asserts) about the denial of pluralism, that is not the case with nationalisms. Yes, nationalisms always involve some level of homogenization inside the national group and impose boundaries around those who are not considered to be members of that group; and, yes, nationalisms often share with populisms the exclusive focus on justice for one people or one nation. But populisms represent what scholars call a “thin ideology”. As such, they might initially increase the level of political contestations and bring together many ideological constituents, but they ultimately involve two processes: a narrowing of political imagination and platforms, and the silencing of many voices in the political arena to accentuate the one voice of “the people” in its struggle against “the elite.”

By contrast, multiple narratives of national identity can exist next to, or in competition, with one another. As a result, nationalism is not simply an ideology of collective identity defined against other nations; it is also a significant field of democratic antagonistic struggle (to use Chantal Mouffe’s terminology) within some society. Most importantly, nationalisms can involve expressions of identity that do not marginalize or abolish pluralism but can simultaneously affirm drive toward homogeneity and respect for plurality; nationalisms can also, while clearly asserting boundaries of belonging and collective attachment, frame more expansive forms of national identification that acknowledge and respect the members of other national groups.

I’ve written about the historical and contemporary expressions of such nationalisms elsewhere (while uncovering the place of religion and religious ethics in collective identities and while staying away from the simplistic distinctions between civic and ethnic nationalisms). Here, I want to highlight two concrete instances in which nationalism is framed within narratives that link homogeneity and pluralism, on the one hand, and inclusion and justice, on the other. The first is the event that started as a symbolic protest of just one NFL player, Colin Kaepernick, and grew into a movement of solidarity (as well as contention) among many NFL players—the event that, at least in one reading, emerges as part of a narrative of American identity that is not just a protest against racial injustice but also the affirmation of the idea of what America as a nation ought to be. The second event I want to highlight is the sustained protests of American citizens of all ethnic and religious backgrounds against Trump’s policy to prohibit immigrants of selected Muslim countries from entering the United States— protests which are constitutive of a vision of a more just, more inclusive American national identity.

These two cases—as well as the American history of (in John Courtney Murray’s words) “a unity of a limited order,” wherein “one” and “many” are in conflict but also in a productive tension—are central to distinguishing contemporary expressions of populism and nationalism, in the American context and beyond. Most of all, such cases raise important questions about the range of democratic responses to contemporary populist politics: Is the only plausible and forceful challenge to a populism that threatens democratic pluralism some type of cosmopolitan vision and identity (which is often, it ought to be underlined, intertwined with the discourse and practices of global capitalism)? Or can a more powerful response to white nationalism and radical populisms be a nationalism that asserts a robust but more expansive—pluralistic—narrative of American national identity, defined by questions of justice, equality, and inclusion?

While white nationalists and radical right populists continue to bring torches to the lawn of a public university to call for a resurgence of white-only America, citizens all over the United States keep responding with their own vision of America by posting signs on their own lawns welcoming the others in their mother tongue. Nationalism is not synonymous with populism; it can be its foil.

Slavica Jakelić is Associate Professor of Humanities and Social Thought at Christ College, The Honors College of Valparaiso University. Her scholarly interests and publications center on religion and collective identity, religious and secular humanisms, theories of religion and secularism, theories of modernity, nationalism and populism, interreligious dialogue, and conflict resolution. Before joining the Christ College faculty, Jakelić has worked at or been a fellow of a number of interdisciplinary institutes in Europe and the U.S., including the Erasmus Institute for the Culture of Democracy in Croatia, the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University, the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna, Austria, the Erasmus Institute at the University of Notre Dame, the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago, and the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, and the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame. She is an Affiliated Scholar of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, where she was a faculty member and co-director of the institute’s program on religion for several years.

Jakelić is a co-editor of two volumes, The Future of the Study of Religion and Crossing Boundaries: From Syria to Slovakia, a co-editor of The Hedgehog Review’s issue “After Secularization,” and the author of Collectivistic Religions: Religion, Choice, and Identity in Late Modernity. She is currently working on a book The Practice of Religious and Secular Humanisms.

This Worldwide Struggle with Sarah Azaransky

Dr. Sarah Azaransky

Isaac Barnes May & Sarah Azaransky

Sarah Azaransky, Assistant Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, just released her new book This Worldwide Struggle: Religion and the International Roots of the Civil Rights Movement via Oxford University Press. Isaac Barnes May, Doctoral Candidate in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, spoke with her about it — read their conversation below.

Q: Your book looks at the careers of a number of prominent black Christian intellectuals. What attracted you to those particular figures?

A: This project grew out of my dissertation and first book about Pauli Murray. In research on Murray’s time at Howard Law School, Howard Thurman and Benjamin Mays grabbed my attention. Their theological voices were anticipating black theology, they were doing groundbreaking work in religious studies, and they were great friends. I wanted to learn more about them and set out to write a kind of theological buddy book. I soon discovered that they visited India, separately, but both in 1936, where they interviewed Gandhi, and that they mentored a subsequent generation of activists.

The book then grew broader in scope as I found that Thurman and Mays were part of a network of black Christian intellectuals who were creating the intellectual infrastructure for a black Christian activism. They were also experimenting with forms of activism—like sit-ins, multicity marches, and integrating buses—that would become mainstays of the later civil rights movement.

In short I was attracted to these figures because they are great examples of intellectuals whose work is interested in social application, and activists who grounded their work in intellectual reflection. They show the symbiosis between theory and practice that helped fuel the most important American social movement of the last century.

I emphasized relationships, professional and personal, because they were an important part of what helped to build the movement.

Q: This book draws from different bodies of scholarship on history and religion, peace studies, civil rights studies, and even Quaker theology. What were the advantages and challenges of writing a work at the intersection of so many fields?

A: Researching interdisciplinarily is the only way, to my mind at least, to tell a story like this. The challenges are also significant: these are indeed different disciplines with different audiences and slightly different interests.

The larger challenge is how to be accountable to the people I’m writing about—how to offer a version of the international and interreligious roots of the movement that does some kind of justice to the brilliance and bravery of this group of intellectuals and activists. With that criterion in mind, the fields start to feel less divergent; instead disciplinary differences start to feel more like different kinds tools that are necessary to develop a better version of this history and its moral lessons.

Q: How does putting the religious aspects of the struggle for civil rights in a global context change our understanding of that movement?

A: The story of the civil rights movement is often told as inexorably American—that American democratic (and American Christian, for that matter) ideals necessarily coalesced in a great social movement that affirmed U.S. egalitarianism. This is not what happened, of course.

That the greatest civil rights movement has significant international and interreligious roots tells us that American resources were not enough. This group of black Christian intellectuals and activists looked abroad, including in other religious traditions, for ideas and practices that could inspire an American racial justice movement. For example, after Thurman and Mays traveled to India in the mid-1930s they began to understand Jim Crow as a kind of colonialism, and believed that black Americans should organize themselves as people of color around the world were organizing against white supremacy.

Q: How did examining the religious and theological convictions of the black Christian intellectuals featured in your book inform your understanding of their activism?

A: To best answer this question, I’ll point to how Bayard Rustin’s theological convictions were integral to his activism. Rustin is best-known as the organizer of the March on Washington and as an important advisor to King. He was both things, and he was an incredibly sophisticated thinker; actually a religious thinker. People miss this, because he was an activist, so they overlook all the intellectual work that requires. And Rustin was Quaker, so even people trained in religious studies or Christian theology don’t necessarily know how to make sense of his particular kind of religious reasoning. Reading so much of Rustin’s writing from the 40s and 50s convinced me that he is among the most important—and most effective—religious thinkers of the mid-twentieth century.

As a Quaker, Rustin’s religious belief was always connected to practice; in fact, Quaker theological ethicist Rachel Muers describes Quaker religiosity as a kind of “interpretation-in-practice.” Rustin wrote about how Quakers seek to develop “workable trials;” that is social activism to address social, political, and economic injustice. Examples include prison reform, women’s rights, pacifism, and post-war reconstruction. For Rustin, then, religious convictions are somewhat unintelligible unless they are connected to social action.

From Rustin’s experiments with direct action in the 1940s to his engagement in what he would later call the “classical” phase of the civil rights movement, Rustin’s careful moral reflection and his thoughtful action are necessarily connected.

Q: Does studying this phase of the civil rights movement offer any insights or guidance for the contemporary political situation?

A: I think there are many insights. I’ll list two:

1. The importance of learning from people whose moral visions are limited. This is a crucial skill as we look for moral and intellectual resources to address contemporary crises.

It turns out Gandhi is someone with a limited moral vision. Lately, there has been important reevaluation of Gandhi’s work, prompted by questions like: Why did Gandhi exclude black South Africans from his movement there? Could Gandhi reconcile his service in the Boer War with his later anti-imperialism? Why did Gandhi oppose untouchability, but not caste? These questions suggest that Gandhi’s program was not as nonviolent as he insisted it was. In 1936, Howard Thurman and Benjamin Mays asked these exact questions to Gandhi himself.

Thurman and Mays knew that Gandhi had moral blind spots that limited his activism. Yet Thurman and Mays were able to learn crucial lessons from Gandhi about antiimperialism and organizing a mass movement.

2. This history shows us how the greatest American social movement has international roots. Indeed, the international history of the civil rights movement affirms how democratic histories are always transnational. If our president asks whether Western values will survive, well, this is the wrong question. History shows that democracy has prophets in every region of the globe, and that learning from many others has made this country more just and more free. And it strikes me that these are the kinds of lessons we need today, as we develop our own disciplines, methods, and techniques toward a more just social order.

How Muslim Women Dress with Elizabeth Bucar

How Muslim Women Dress

Elizabeth Cable, Elizabeth Bucar

Elizabeth Bucar, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Northeastern University and one of our Senior Fellows, has a new book out this September called Pious Fashion: How Muslim Women Dress. Elizabeth Cable, a doctoral student in Thelogy, Ethics and Culture at UVA asked her about it.

Q: What prompted you to research this topic and write the book?

A: I actually avoided writing about Muslim women’s clothing for many years, even though as a scholar of Islam and gender I get asked to comment on this topic all the time. My hesitancy was because I think non-Muslims put too much importance on the Islamic headscarf, and assume it symbolizes the patriarchal and radical strands of Islam. And frankly, after a while, I grew tired of trying to explain to various audiences that Muslim clothing has so many variations that it couldn’t possibly mean one thing.

Then a couple of years ago while I was in Indonesia, I began to think about the connections between aesthetics and ethics, beauty and character, fashion and piety because much of the cut, color, and fabric used there differed from other locations I was more familiar with, such as Iran and Turkey. And I realized that the fashion in those three countries was reflecting local politics, values, and taste in interesting and unique ways. So I decided to try my hand at focusing on the fashion of Muslim women’s dress, as a way to explore larger issues of authority, consumption, nationalism, innovation, and social control.

Q: What surprised you during your research?

A: I realized very early on that modesty was defined and enacted in different ways, so I spent a fair amount of time trying to understand how this was the case. And I was surprised by how even though trends and styles were radically different among the three, there were some themes that continued to pop up.

Take the case of the incorporation of traditional cloth in each location. Pious fashion featuring batik is a distinct feature of clothing fashion in Indonesia. It asserts Indonesian identity, national pride, and local aesthetic values. But when this cloth is made into a modest dress or a headscarf it is also the expression of a particular version of a modern Indonesia which is publically Muslim in new, more visible ways.

In Tehran, forms of urban fashion also use embroidered cloth from the region. This “ethnic” style challenges existing aesthetic standards by asserting the value of the taste and style of minority groups over that of the dominant tastemakers. However, this valuation of minority taste or village life only pertains to fashion. “Village chic” can only be adopted by fashionable women in Tehran because there is an immense distance between these women and the poor rural people they are imitating.

In Istanbul, we see a recent reclaiming of forms of clothing reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire which links a Turkish Muslim identity to a period of regional power, wealth, and opulence. This trend is a far cry from the 1970s when Turkish Islamists were promoting an anti-consumerist lifestyle as a way to combat what they saw as the moral corruption caused by materialism and capitalism. In today’s model, religion is not corrupted by consumption; rather, consumption, such as buying and wearing pious fashion, becomes the mechanism through which religious ideals are transformed into aesthetic style.

Q: What would be one “take-away” from this book for academics, policy-makers or journalists covering religion?

A: While modest clothing can indeed be used as a form of social control or as a display of religious orthodoxy, in practice, it is both much less and much more. Much less, because for many Muslim women, it is simply what they wear. Much more, because like all clothing, Muslim women’s clothing is motivated by social and political reasons as well as religious ones. Islam may be an important factor in what Muslim women wear, but it is not the only one.

Q: Which scholars have played a significant role in shaping your thought in this work? How might you compare your work with that of Saba Mahmood, or Judith Butler, or other feminist theorists?

A: I have learned a tremendous amount about how to think about gender, consumption, and ethics from scholars outside religious studies who have written about Muslim women’s fashion. I am thinking especially of the careful work of Banu Gökarıksel and Anna Secor, geographers who focus on urban Turkey, and Carla Jones, a cultural anthropologist working on contemporary Indonesia.
My book adds something new to this conversation, by comparing pious fashion in three Muslim-majority locations. Comparison, arguably one of the trademark methods of religious studies, prevents us from viewing one particular form of Muslim dress as representative of piety or style. I also intentionally selected locations that are not part of the Arab world. Westerners tend to assume that Muslim dress around the world is based on the styles of Cairo, Mecca, or Abu Dhabi. The three countries treated in this book have fraught political and cultural relationships with Arab nations and societies, which play out in interesting ways in how women dress. Observing pious fashion in non-Arab countries underscores the global diversity of this practice.

In terms of the feminist theorists you mention, I assume something like Judith Butler’s theory of performance in my book, emphasizing the idea that clothing choices involve a kind of role playing. Much like Saba Mahmood, I also conceptualize clothing as a practice that occurs within structural constraints—whether based on social class, religious authority, or political institutions. As a practice, I think Mahmood and I would agree that pious fashion is not entirely “empowering” for Muslim women in a liberal sense, since it relies on traditional gender ideologies and structural injustices. However, wearing pious fashion is an expression of agency, one that can succeed as a political critique, the habituation of virtue, or a shift in the visual culture of public religion. Where I think I depart most from Mahmood’s work is that I have made the material and aesthetic aspects of women’s clothing central to my research. Fashion is not a peripheral or trivial matter to Muslim women. Their clothing matters, and not only to non-Muslims trying to make sense of it. Within Muslim communities, there are multiple, competing opinions about what pious fashion should look like. The story of pious fashion is not a simple one of patriarchy or orthodoxy; rather, it is one of religious politics grounded in local debates about taste, nationalism, authenticity, and public norms.

It’s Their Own Fault? Christians and the (Un)Deserving Poor | Kate Ward


A recent study reported that Christians are more likely than people of other or no faiths to believe that people are poor due to their own failings, rather than to external circumstances. The Washington Post reports, “When comparing demographics and religious factors, the odds of Christians saying poverty was caused by a lack of effort were 2.2 times that of non-Christians. Compared to those with no religion, the odds of white evangelicals saying a lack of effort causes poverty were 3.2 to 1.”

I’m with other early responses to this study in finding these results extremely disconcerting. What’s troubling is not so much differing views about the genesis of poverty, as the conclusions they can lead to: if poverty is a person’s own fault, I must be exempt from helping that person. After all, whatever they may be suffering, they deserve it. (One Christian who sees things that way is quoted in the WaPo article, and others can be found in your local congregation.)

It is troubling that many Christians believe poverty is earned. This belief isolates the poor and deprives them of needed support. It is a false belief, because it ignores the fact that a host of political and social practices, from regressive tax policies that funnel economic growth to the wealthy, to wages too low to live on, from civil asset forfeiture to wage theft, to racist practices like redlining and sentencing disparities, make people poor, and keep them that way. But most significantly, the idea that poverty is earned—and that therefore relative prosperity must be as well—is a serious theological error. It gets God wrong.

For those of us who are not poor, it’s very seductive to look at our comfort and think that we’ve earned it. “Look what I’ve achieved through my own hard work: this house, this two car garage, these new clothes and bags of groceries.” For sure, work is more meaningful when it benefits ourselves and our family; that’s why the Catholic tradition gives a qualified endorsement to private property. But the reason that endorsement is qualified—the reason the question gets asked in the first place—is that all goods, whether we work for them or not, are God’s free gift. Every single comfort we enjoy, every drop of something that might be called wealth, originates in God’s creation. We humans are no more the sources of our own wealth than we are of our own lives. God is the source of all of it.

When we imagine that we created the blessings we enjoy, we fail to let God be God. And when we extend our concern for others only to those who couldn’t possibly be responsible for their suffering, we reject the chance to imitate Christ. It is no exaggeration to say that the central mystery of Christianity is an offer of help to those who don’t–who never could–deserve it.

It’s no coincidence that it is white Christians who most believed that poverty is earned through personal failings, rather than the result of misfortune. Like other forms of earthly power, white privilege tempts those who have it to see their advantages as their own doing, not as gifts from God. White Christians are barely beginning to learn how to talk about the unearned benefits whiteness brings to our lives. The violent hatred on display in Charlottesville last weekend, as well as the fact that it surprised many white Christians, makes it clear that we need to learn, and soon.

The Bible is obsessed with wealth and poverty, and justly mediating between them. Catholic social thought demonstrates that poverty is a plant with many tangled roots, never simply one’s own fault but traceable to the sins of employers, consumers, apathetic Christians, and more.

Christians, who believe God offers us grace that we don’t and never could deserve, should strive to extend the same grace to those who are poor.

Kate Ward is Assistant Professor of Theology at Marquette University


Trump, Toxic Masculinity, and Theology | Kris Norris

Trump signing something

In one recent, desperate week, with the Russia probe threatening the legitimacy of his presidency, Donald Trump unleashed a barrage of messages reminding the country that he is still the man for the job. Recalling his penchant for “locker room talk” and anticipating his provocative “fire and fury” threat to North Korea, Trump shamed his Attorney General for following the rules of recusal, made “jokes” about police brutality, and boasted of his crowd size and win over Hillary Clinton (again) in a controversial speech before the Boy Scouts.

Yet, it was Trump’s proposed ban on transgender individuals in the military that proved most revealing. It suggests that for someone so obsessed with his manly image and proud of his newly-acquired military command, gender nonconformists in one of the most intensively masculine institutions pose an unequaled threat to masculine norms. And while Trump seems especially sensitive to challenges to his masculinity, he has tapped into a pervasive anxiety, not least among fellow, male politicians, some of whom signal that women’s bodies are theirs to grabpunish, and, in one case, challenge to an old-fashioned pistol duel.

Polls suggest that two out of five Americans think the country has become too soft and feminine, and this evinces what many are calling a crisis of masculinity. Due in part to a decrease in “masculine” jobs like construction or mining, many men feel like victims of an economy and society that are leaving manliness behind. Trump’s behavior stokes the grievances of those who believe they are losing out on jobs to immigrants, are made impotent by affirmative action, and are assaulted by a political correctness crafted to discriminate against them. Put simply, these men feel “stiffed.” Trump’s announced ban of transgender people from the military and continued vilification of his female election opponent assures his followers that he can restore men to their proper place.

Masculinity crises are not new phenomena. Nearly every male generation peers back nostalgically to a simpler past when men were allowed to be men, when they displayed the grit of a cowboy or valor of an Iwo Jima marine (both occasions where “real” manliness was pitted against a male ethnic other). All of this before feminism became fashionable and gender identity a matter of choice. When America used to be great, people knew what a real man looked like—they reason—and maybe Trump can make it great again.

Despite its generational recurrence, this diagnosis is not unfounded—men are experiencing lower rates of employment, for example. Yet, the label risks feeding a victimization narrative. The crisis of masculinity is more accurately described as a legitimation crisis of masculinity. This points to a deeper, more sinister pathology, trading on fears of losing control and reasserting masculine “norms” (sometimes by violent means) in response to the disruption of “long-established and powerful ideals for men’s lives” and sense of self.

The problem is not that men have been culturally and politically neutered. Rather, when the social system that has maintained male power is openly questioned and experiences tangible resistance, men entrench themselves ready to fire back against anyone who confronts the legitimacy of their cultural and political authority. Public displays of virility from the White House are both a goad to and a symptom of this larger cultural problem: a toxic masculinity, defensive and often aggressive, that infects the public consciousness and the structural systems of society.

This coincides with a rise in white nationalism and what Robin DiAngelo has coined “white fragility.” In this case, there is a white, masculine fragility, fueled largely by Christian working class people defensive and frustrated because they suspect that “others” are cutting them in line. All of this rings eerily similar to historian Doris Bergen’s assessment of 1930s Germany in which men felt delegitimized by their loss in World War One and began to exclude men of other ethnicities and religions from what counts as a real man. Like those gloried times past when men defended their women from racialized others, today even black and Latino men present threats to (white) masculinity; any success they achieve competes with the status of white men.

The reality is that this is fuelled in part by evangelical anxiety. Grievances over the perceived perils of feminism, LGBTQ rights, and immigration—and desires to “take back” America from these liberal forces—are recorded most commonly among the white evangelical males of Trump’s base. 81% of white evangelicalsvoted for him, choosing to overlook – and sometimes maybe even embolden – his misogynistic flaws.

And this makes sense theologically. The valorization of Christian machismo is rooted not only in the patriarchy that marks evangelical faith, based on interpretations of the Apostle Paul’s teaching about women’s roles, it is also the legacy of the colonialist theology that helped birth this nation.

The marriage of masculinity and white supremacy boasts a strong union. During the period of European exploration and expansion, Christian theology became filtered through a masculine colonial logic. As Willie James Jennings argues, when Europeans encountered the native inhabitants of Africa and America, their masculine missionary impulses to simultaneously evangelize and conquer contorted their theology into one framed by comparison: sorting others into insiders and outsiders, those further from and closer to themselves—the Christian norm of the white European male. This competitive and evaluative focus continues to hold captive the modern Christian imagination. Any upstart “other” challenges the legitimacy of the stable masculinist economy established within this tradition.

Ultimately, Christians are responsible for giving voice to toxic masculinity, and for giving it a name and face in the White House. This must be resisted on a political level: the twin evils of white supremacy and toxic masculinity must be combatted by forming coalitions across all of those imperiled by white male fragility and their allies. Considering its theological origins and engines, white toxic masculinity must also be contested with better theology, compelling to those evangelicals feeling most embattled. I am thinking ofworks like that of biblical scholar Brittany Wilson, whose book, Unmanly Men, demonstrates the way scriptural figures like Zechariah, Paul, and Jesus shed “manly” characteristics in order to fulfill their divine calling. These stories challenge the assumptions of Christian masculinity and create alternative narratives of manhood—dependent and vulnerable, compassionate and meek—that may be able to trump the legacies of white toxic masculinity.

Kristopher Norris is Visiting Distinguished Professor of Public Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary.