Political Theology Today A forum for interdisciplinary and interreligious dialogue

Books We Love, Part 3 (Roberto Sirvent)

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To help us launch the Political Theology Network, we asked scholars working at the intersection of religion and politics to share five books that inspired them. The “Books We Love” series offers an enjoyable way to introduce readers of “Political Theology Today” to books that have influenced their favorite authors. It also features book recommendations from important thinkers whose work may not be familiar to the blog’s regular visitors.

We’re honored to share the third installment of “Books We Love” below. The first installment can be found here and the second one here.

Roberto D. Sirvent is Associate Professor of Political and Social Ethics at Hope International University.  He is the co-author with Duncan Reyburn of God, Gods, and Throwing Like a Girl: A Political Theology of Sport (Cascade Publications, forthcoming) under contract) and Embracing Vulnerability: Human and Divine (Pickwick Publications, 2014).

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“Five Books that Inspired Me to be a Scholar/Activist”

By Neomi DeAnda

Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek

The pieces in this volume have spoken to me at various stages in my life. The story which is the namesake of the book tells the story of how systems are set to keep women in certain places and yet how women manage to reformulate and break those imposed boundaries.

Miguel H. Diaz and Orlando O. Espin (eds.), From the Heart of Our People

I would not be a theologian without this book. When I was a MA student, I pulled this book from shelf in the library. Within the first few pages, I knew I had found my new home and my new community. It would be a few years before I met most of the authors in that volume. They now accompany me not only with their writings but with their own lives and struggles.

Sor Maria Anna Agueda de San Ignacio, Marabillas Selladas con el sello del Divino Amor

This manuscript was the topic of my dissertation. Sor Maria Anna’s writings taught me how to explore the underexplored and silenced areas of our Christian tradition.

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

This tragic novel taught me to look at the systemic treatment of people. Pecola and her family symbolize so many lost lives among our broken systems.

Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima

Being from the Southwestern USA, this book intertwines with my own story. It taught me that interreligious dialogue began long before the twentieth century and that it has hardly ever been a peaceful process.

Neomi DeAnda, Ph.D, is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Human Rights Center Research Associate at the University of Dayton.

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“Five Books I’m Counting On to Keep Me Going”

By Ellen T. Armour

Jessie Daniels, Cyber Racism: White Supremacy Online and the New Attack On Civil Rights

The recent precipitate rise in racist attacks in cyberspace and in the real world may have caught some of us off guard, but not Daniels, I bet. Published in the immediate wake of the 2008 election, Daniels (a sociologist, former tech worker, and media scholar) offers a sobering analysis of cyberracism’s spread across the internet and our interactions (knowing and unknowing) with it. She concludes with some practical suggestions about how to combat it.

Wendy Brown, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty

As we wait to see whether a wall will go up on our southern border, another book seems even more relevant now than when it was originally published. Brown diagnoses the rising preoccupation with national walls as a reaction to globalization’s pressure on national sovereignty.

Mariana Ortega, In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity, and the Self

Given the wall’s causes and likely impacts, Ortega’s constructive project is particularly salient. Ortega places Latina feminist scholars (Gloria Anzaldúa and María Lugones, especially) in conversation with Heidegger to generate a phenomenological account of selfhood as in-between – ontologically, personally, socially, and (for many) geographically. Navigating being-between calls, she argues, for rethinking being-together as an everyday embodied political practice, a call she takes up in productive and creative ways.

Judith Butler, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly

Speaking of being-together, another feature of our recent political landscape is the rise of political protests. Butler brings certain familiar motifs from her oeuvre to bear on the question of the political – and politicized – body (individual and collective). Drawing on Hannah Arendt (among others), she offers trenchant and timely reflections on the relationship between assembly and vulnerability, performativity and precarity, subjection and resistance.

Linda Martín Alcoff, The Future of Whiteness

Alcoff’s intellectually rich and politically astute reflections on the future of whiteness couldn’t be more apt for our time and place. She argues for moving the bar from abolishing whiteness as an (putatively irredeemable) identity to understanding it in its full complexity. Like all racial identities, whiteness is historically constituted, intersectional, multifaceted and changing. How to encourage changes – already apparent in how whiteness is understood and lived by at least some of us – that can foster cross-racial solidarity is the goal she seeks to advance.

Ellen T. Armour holds the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair in Feminist Theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School and directs the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality. Her latest book, Signs and Wonders: Theology after Modernity (Columbia University Press, 2016), uses photographs to diagnose and respond to our relationship to modernity. Her current book project, tentatively entitled Seeing is Believing: Theology, Community, and the New Media, will analyze the new media’s impact on and import for our communal life by following photography’s role in specific recent story lines connected to critical issues that we confront.

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“Five Books that Deeply Impacted My Life”

By Asma Lamrabet

Fatima Mernissi, Harem Politique (The Veil and the Male Elite)

One of the most important books about women and Islam. The Moroccan author was the first woman in the Arabic and Muslim world to challenge deeply the traditional and patriarchal religious discourse about women. Excellent!

Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the BooksA beautiful experience of a Muslim professor trying to find the beauty of Islam hidden by the extremist vision.

Farid Esack, Qur’an, Liberation and Pluralism: An Islamic Perspective Of Interreligious Solidarity Against Oppression

A very interesting book about the importance of living religion as a liberation from all kinds of oppression. It’s about the need for a theology of liberation and inter-religious dialogue to build peace and solidarity in our multicultural and globalized world.

Nasr Abu Zayd Nasr, Rethinking the Qur’an: Towards a Humanistic Hermeneutics

It’s about a humanistic hermeneutics of the Sacred Text in Islam. The author tries to demonstrate how Muslims can enter into modernity without losing their souls.

Muhammad Asad, The Road to Mecca

A beautiful autobiography about a Jewish journalist and diplomat from Austria who fell in love with the deep and authentic Arabian traditions, his fascinating travel around the Muslim world, and his final road to Mecca to find himself…

Asma Lamrabet is a biologist at the Avicennes Public Hospital in Rabat, Morocco. She has been the Director of the Center for Women’s Studies in Islam in the Rabita Mohammadia des Oulémas du Maroc since 2008. She is the author of the book Women in the Qur’an: An Emancipatory Reading.

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“Five Books That Require (at least) 50 Books to Understand”

By Agon Hamza

G.W.F. Hegel, Science of Logic

Hegel’s Science of Logic is in fact the absolute culmination of philosophical thinking. Even though his Phenomenology of Spirit is far more widely read and discussed, however, the “big Logic” is the name of Hegel’s philosophy in the widest understanding of the term. The risky thesis to propose is: Hegel becomes Hegel with his Logic, where he dismisses the distinction between ontology and metaphysics, and assumes that one is the other. It doesn’t take long to see why one needs (at least) 50 books to understand Hegel’s “big Logic” – in a formal sense, Logic to Phenomenology is what Second Volume of Capital is to the first one: boring, dry and very unpleasant read.

Karl Marx, Capital

Although we can question the “scientific” nature of the “critique of political economy” carried out by Marx, however the three volumes of Capital remain the most comprehensive, in-depth and consistent analysis of the dynamics of capitalism. For as long as our world will be organised based on private property, profit and capitalism, there will be no outside of Capital. The sadness of our situation is that although it has been 150 years since its publication (volume one) and its ‘historical’ and conceptual flaws, Marx’s work remains central for understanding of capitalist mode of production. Lastly, the very rich nature of the book in terms of what today is referred to as “multidisciplinary” book, takes us into the practically entire history of knowledge: into economy, philosophy, history, literature, ancient tragedies, and so forth.

Jacques Lacan, Écrits

There is always a dilemma regarding the work of Jacques Lacan. First, it concerns the obscurantism of his writings – for instance, the unnecessary logical and linguistic complications throughout his work. Second, and more pertinent is, if one is to read Lacan, should she read his Écrits or Seminars. Well, the simple answer is one should read both. Lacan indeed didn’t give and write 50 seminars, but 27 of them requires more than 50 books each to be fully grasped.

Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

Depending on how one looks at Žižek’s work, or even periodise his work – this darling enterprise of the contemporary academia – we might get different central books of philosopher’s system, from the Sublime Object of Ideology, through The Ticklish Subject, to The Parallax View. However, what distinguishes Less Than Nothing from his previous monumental books, is that it is the most consistent and coherent consolidations and systematisation of the lines of thought and thesis of Žižek’s project since his first book in English. It suffices to mention only his detailed systematisation and re-interpretation of the Kantian and post-Kantian traditions of German Idealism, Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis, among many other detailed-elaborated theses in the book (science, politics, popular culture, films, et cetera), to be urgently looking for help in the second literature.

Jesus Christ, The Bible

The authorship remains largely obscure. Nobody can exactly point out who the sole author is. Some even say it took decades for pieces of this book to be put together, including a ‘team’ of editors who have worked on it. However, we all like to believe that the author of this book is a Palestinian Jew, named Jesus (later to be known as Jesus Christ). Being one of the most influential books in the history of humanity, The Bible is also the book which (in theology, perhaps only Koran comes close to it) caused wide-ranging effects: political rebellions, wars, crusades, et cetera (both emancipatory and highly reactionary), religious divisions within Christianity and from the outside (i.e. Islam), culturally, scientific (as direct negation of the religious), et cetera. In this sense, in order to really understand The Bible, one has to read practically everything that has been written since the year 0. And this certainly amounts to more than 50 books.

Agon Hamza is a PhD candidate in philosophy at the Postgraduate School ZRC SAZU in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He serves as the co-editor-in-chief of the international philosophical journal Crisis and Critique.  His latest publications are, Repeating Žižek (Duke University Press, 2015), Slavoj Žižek and Dialectical Materialism (co-edited with Frank Ruda, Palgrave MacMillan, 2016), Althusser and Theology: Religion, Politics and Philosophy (Brill, 2016), a co-authored book with Slavoj Žižek, entitled From Myth to Symptom: The Case of Kosovo (KMD, 2013), and Althusser and Pasolini: Philosophy, Marxism and Film (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016). Currently he is working on a co-authored book entitled Reading Marx, with Slavoj Žižek and Frank Ruda (Polity, 2018).

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“Five Books to Read if You REALLY like Sex and Religion (doing it, reading about it, etc.!)”

By Monique Moultrie

Kelly Brown Douglas, Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective

I’m a sexual ethicist and this is by far my go-to teaching tool for explaining Christian sexual ethics. Her depiction of a Platonized Christianity offers more than just an analysis of black sexuality but presents all races with a lens for understanding relational sexuality that embraces the sacred.

Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality

Foucault’s three volume set is worth keeping in your office, especially volume 1 where Foucault discusses the modern day invention of homosexuality and the constantly evolving science of sex. I find myself returning to Foucault time and time again because of his interest in power and the public silencing of sexuality and how taboo topics become topics of great import (hello restrictions on women¹s bodies in our contemporary legal and medical debates!).

Kecia Ali, Sexual Ethics and Islam

This is one of the first texts to deal with deeply controversial issues related to sexuality within Islam. Ali explores sexual duties, sexual pleasure, same-sex desire, sex outside of marriage and presents a nuanced feminist critique of Muslim law. If you only have time to read one book on sexuality and Islam, this is it!

Kate Ott, Sex + Faith: Talking with Your Child from Birth to Adolescence

Ott’s book ventures into the dangerous territory of how to have “the talk” with kids while remaining helpful and faithful. The book is user friendly with age specific chapters and offers one of the best models for positively framing Christian sex.

John Portmann, The Ethics of Sex and Alzheimer’s

Too many people cringe at the concept of senior sexuality and this book tackles this taboo topic. Portmann presents an ethical model for a contemporary issue that is useful not only in discussions of senior sexuality but in expanding discourses around consent, disability, and ethical norms.

Dr. Monique Moultrie is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State University. Her scholarly interests include sexual ethics, African American religions, and gender and sexuality studies. Her book Passionate and Pious: Religious Media and Black Women¹s Sexuality will be published by Duke University Press in December 2017.

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“Five Books that Have Shaped my Thinking Profoundly”

By Charles Mathewes

My five books are books that have shaped my thinking pretty profoundly in just the ways that they make me realize some large dimension of commonly-accepted falsehood about our world today.

I will avoid the more usual suspects for me—Augustine, Niebuhr, Arendt, Bonhoeffer—and other obvious works, and stick to texts that you may have heard of but that I have reason to believe very few have genuinely grappled with.

At the end of my college years I began reading Stanley Cavell, and had a good long drink of him.  Nowadays Cavell seems a very hot figure. The below are people whom I found after I found Cavell, and I recommend them to eager readers. A world in which their work became commonplace to the point of shallow celebrification, as has Cavell’s, would not be unwelcome when compared to this one.

Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia

A book that did not give itself to me in any clear way, but that, over time, has served me in multiple ways, existentially as well as intellectually. How to live a damaged life? Adorno’s book is the closest thing I have yet found to the sunglasses in the movie They Live—that show you the ugly truth hidden behind illusion. There is a lot of illusion in our world, even in the academy, and this work repays annual re-reading.

Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good

It’s an interesting fact that Murdoch and Elizabeth Anscombe and Philippa Foot are the three post-World War II Anglophone philosophers who wrote the most profound and ground-breaking analytic moral philosophy. Of those three, Foot and Anscombe were broadly Aristotelians.  (Anscombe thought she was more deeply a Catholic, but she was wrong about that.) Their insights have now been significantly (though not entirely) incorporated into the analytic mainstream. Murdoch’s work was essentially Platonic, and stylistically gnomic, and it remains to a remarkable degree undigested. Others came after her—I think of Sabina Lovibond’s Realism and Imagination in Ethics, Jonathan Lear’s magisterial Open Minded, John McDowell’s brilliant Mind and World, and Talbot Brewer’s recent The Retrieval of Ethics—but no one has yet managed to see all that she saw, or what it meant.

Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity

Another brilliant anglophone philosophical book that is an outlier in anglophone philosophy; this is probably the most profound attempt to think through some of what Nietzsche said we moderns were missing. To understand Williams’s point, you have to understand something of what Nietzsche was trying to do; and to understand Nietzsche, you have to understand a great deal of not just pre-Christian, but pre-Platonic classical antiquity. This is the book that Martha Nussbaum’s Fragility of Goodness was too bourgeois to be, because in the end she’s a kind of Aristotelian psychologist with a Kantian sense of obligation.

Two others that are more for your metanoia than directly for your intellect:

Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam

There is something delightful in the idea of the Abolitionist John Brown not heading out for Bleeding Kansas and giving it, as he did, a sucking chest wound, but instead lighting out for the territory of Yaddo and becoming a post-Whitmanian rhapsode of America’s theo-democratic vistas.  He could have kept the anger for the page, instead of burying axes in people’s’ skulls. If Brown had undergone that transformation, he might have become almost worthy of being compared to Marilynne Robinson. Her charming pastoral novels, which are read as some ungodly (or, actually, Godly) hybrid of Frederick Buechner, Ole Edvart Rølvaag, and Field of Dreams, are as charming as Frost’s poetry was folksy; which is to say, not charming at all, they’re terrifying, and terrifyingly good.  But as good as they are, I actually think her essays are perhaps the only ones out there today (at least that I know of) that reliably tell useful truths in almost every sentence, with very little concern for self-regard. In an age of hyperbolic puerility and platitudinous duplicity, Robinson’s prose shows you what you can do with the everyday English language and a thought-through theological point of view.

Zbigniew Herbert, Report from the Besieged City or Mr. Cogito

It may be the moment in my life when I came across his poetry (the early 90s), but in a time when I was ravished by Jorie Graham’s early lyrics and swarmed by Charles Wright’s post-Stevensian harmonics (for both of which I remain grateful), Herbert’s austerity, both of style and of vision (expressed and implied), led me to see the world’s skeletal structure, as through a pair of X-ray glasses. A ton of other Eastern European writers could say something similar, and I encourage you to check them all out: Miroslav Holub, Czseslaw Milosz, Wislawa Symborska, Vaclav Havel, and more. Many of their lessons are the same: It turns out that a lot fewer things, and people, have spines than you might expect. It also turns out that having a spine is not quite as mysterious as we have been led to believe. But, alas, it turns out that what is straightforward is not easy.

Charles Mathewes is the Carolyn M. Barbour Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.

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“Books that Inspire Me (No Matter Where I Start Reading)”

By Elaine A. Peña

Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space

Lovely theoretical text that makes us remember that power operates multi-dimensionally.

Bruno Labour, Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy

Brilliant collaborative project. I love the way it makes me think of how to challenge disciplinary boundaries with aesthetic dares.

Dwight Conquergood, Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, PraxisBecause Dwight always saw and did with passion.

Michel de Certeau, The Capture of Speech and Other Political Writings

de Certeau’s arguments about agency and power give me hope.

John Berger, Ways of Seeing

I love how he reveals hierarchy.

Elaine A. Peña is an Associate Professor of American Studies at the George Washington University in Washington D.C. Peña’s work has appeared in e-misférica, American Quarterly, and American Literary History and she is the author of Performing Piety: Making Space Sacred with the Virgin of Guadalupe (University of California Press, 2011). She also edited and introduced Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s Ethno-Techno: Writings on Performance, Activism, and Pedagogy (Routledge, 2005).

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“Five Books So Precious to Me that I Took Them with Me by Car When I Moved”

By Heather Ohaneson

James Baldwin, Another Country

A discussion of Baldwin between Colm Tóibín and Jake Gyllenhaal during “The Year of James Baldwin” sent me in immediate search of Another Country. It is now a novel I cherish for the rawness of Baldwin’s insights into human existence. Baldwin’s unrivaled honesty in confronting both inner matters and outward social conditions is matched, in my opinion, by his lyricism.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit

Repeated and laborious parsing of the slave-master dialectic section in particular forged a bond with this copy of the Phenomenology of Spirit for me.

Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

When I was a junior at Barnard College, I was assigned Fear and Trembling in three courses. In appropriate Kierkegaardian manner, the book has been reading me ever since.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals

Without my annotations and marginalia, I was at a loss recently to locate the ‘why, we love little lambs’ passage—an all-time favorite, drenched in irony—in a colleague’s copy of the Genealogy, which goes to show the indispensability of personally marked works. (It is in Essay I, §13.)

Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Not only could I conduct a personal archaeology by sifting through the layers of comments I have left in this now-tattered copy of the Pensées over the years, I could create my own liasses, or bundles, from the fragments I have singled and copied out—on a slant, for some reason—on stray blank spaces within the book.

An incorrigible bibliophile, Heather C. Ohaneson is an assistant professor in the William Penn Honors Program at George Fox University. She also cherishes her teaching copy of Plato’s Republic.

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“Five Books that Kept Me Going”

By Santiago Zabala

Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom

There are very few books that can guide us. This is one of them. As Nietzsche said, “Europe has never produced anything finer or more complicated in matters of moral subtlety,” and Schopenhauer considered the book “Absolutely unique… a book made for constant use…a companion for life” for “those who wish to prosper in the great world.”

Martin Heidegger, The Hermeneutics of Facticity

It is no secret that hermeneutics plays a central role in Heidegger’s philosophy before the “turn” and still plays an important role afterwards. In this book (which is actually a course) one can learn why hermeneutics goes beyond merely academic philosophical concerns, reaching to the core of our Being through interpretation.

Reiner Schurmann, Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy

This is probably one of those few texts where Heidegger is studied properly: as a point of departure rather than arrival. This departure is evident in Schürmann definition of anarchy as the absence not of rules but of a unique and universal rule. This is how Heidegger, and philosophy in general, ought to be studied.

Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature

In order to move beyond analytic philosophy one must read Rorty’s groundbreaking book. Here he shows what are its limits as well as why we must move away from it. As N. Gross explains in his biography (which also keeps me going) this book has also affected Rorty personal life beside his academic one. The fact that Rorty predicted the election of a strong man as Trump in 1998 (in Achieving Our Country) must remind us how important he still is for us today.

Gianni Vattimo, Of Reality

This book by Vattimo consists of two lectures he delivered (and I attended) in Leuven (Cardinal Mercier Chair) and Glasgow (the Gifford Lectures) where he predicted the rise of realism in contemporary philosophy and culture at large. As a call to order, new realism is an attempt to demonstrate how we ought to behave in the 21st century. Only philosophical hermeneutics, together with other progressive continental stances, can stop this return to order.

Santiago Zabala is ICREA Research Professor of Philosophy at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. His forthcoming book is Why Only Art Can Save Us: Aesthetics and the Absence of Emergency (2017).

 

 

 

“5 Books I Want All My Students to Own”

By Adeana McNicholl

 

Kate Bowler, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel

I wanted to start off my list with a book written by a historian of American religions from my own hometown. Bowler traces the prosperity gospel from late nineteenth century Holiness and Pentecostal churches to the present day, covering New Thought, televangelists, and New Age healing. In her thought-provoking conclusion Bowler suggests that the prosperity gospel deified and ritualized the American dream. While Blessed was published before the 2016 presidential election, readers cannot help but think of the implications of the prosperity gospel on the religion of Donald Trump and his supporters.

 

Brett Hendrickson, Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo

Hendrickson’s book examines Mexican American religious healing from the 1890s to 2000s, asking how Mexican American folk religion and traditional healing affected and participated in the history of alternative medicine in the United States. Taking narratives of religious healing seriously, Hendrickson argues that curanderismo’s hybrid nature allows for multiple channels of convergence with other healing modalities in American metaphysical religion. Hendrickson manages to avoid the pitfalls of characterizing curanderismo as an archaic remnant of a pre-scientific era and of characterizing it as merely misguided cultural appropriation.

 

Tisa Wenger, We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom

Tisa Wenger’s impressive dissertation-turned-book tackles the issue of religious freedom. Wenger demonstrates that understandings of “religion” and “religious freedom” are not monolithic, but rather formed through contentious debate. Wenger’s beautifully written analysis of the Pueblo struggle for religious freedom forces readers to confront the varying uses and meanings behind the word “religion” and the real-life implications behind its application.

 

Sylvester A. Johnson, African American Religions, 1500-2000: Colonialism, Democracy, and Freedom

Sylvester Johnson’s expertly written book tackles the relationship between colonialism, the myth of freedom, and the institution of democracy. Arguing that the United States’ history of colonialism and its ideals of freedom and democracy are not ironic contradictions, Johnson demonstrates that colonialism is the matrix in which race, democracy, freedom, and African American religions operate. African American Religions, 1500-2000 is a superb contribution to the growing study of religion and empire.

 

Judith Weisenfeld, New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity During the Great Migration

When I was asked to share five of my favourite books Judith Weisenfeld’s New World A-Coming was the first book that popped into my mind. Weisenfeld’s ground-breaking book examines the new religio-racial movements that emerged in urban cities during the Great Migration (1910-1940). Each group promoted a co-constitutive religious and racial identity that rejected the label Negro Christian, thus participating in resignifying blackness within a transnational framework. New World A-Coming is bound to be a classic among scholars of African American Religious History, American religion, and race.
Adeana McNicholl is a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at Stanford University. Her work focuses on cosmology in early South Asian Buddhism and race in American Buddhist history.

 

 

“Five Books I Can’t Do Without”

By Tisa Wenger

 

Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam

Asad shows how the modern category of religion has been produced by particular historical circumstances and how this category serves the interests of the modern secular state. This book is essential: I return to it constantly and can’t do without it.

 

David Chidester, Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa

Here and in his more recent Empire of Religion, Chidester shows how the study of religion emerged as a colonial endeavor. This book inspired my questions about settler colonialism and religious studies in the United States.

 

Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race

Jacobson is the essential historian of whiteness in U.S. history, and everything I write about the history of American racial formations relies on this book.

 

Tracy Fessenden, Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature

This is the foundational history of the “Protestant secular” that allowed me to see both its variability and its structural ties to American formations of race and empire.

 

Jared Farmer, On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape

Farmer shows how Mormons claimed Utah as their homeland and displaced its Native American residents and histories. In the process, he shows how American landscapes have been created in and through settler colonial appropriations. This is simultaneously environmental history, religious history, a history of American settler colonialism, and a profound meditation on how places are made.

 

 

Tisa Wenger is Associate Professor of American Religious History at Yale Divinity School. Her books include We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom (University of North Carolina Press, 2009) and Religious Freedom: The Contested History of an American Ideal (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), which shows how religious freedom talk shaped the cultural politics of race and empire in U.S. history.

 

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