How should we respond to Charlottesville?

First things first, to quote the mighty Mos Def: “Stop with the nonsense!” I’ve written a lot in the week or so since the white supremacist rally and consequent violence in Charlottesville. Some of that writing now appears on NYU Press’s blog From the Square. Check it out and thanks for reading.

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Crossing Faith & Color Lines in the South

This May I had the opportunity to teach a course unlike any I’ve taught before: Interfaith Atlanta Across the Color Line (RELS 298). 1) It was a Maymester course (a semester condensed into a little over two weeks), making each day effectively a week of class. 2) It was a study away course, so we spent one week in a traditional classroom setting (albeit one that met 3.5 hours-a-day Monday-Friday) and one week learning through a variety of activities outside the classroom. 3) It was a course with an explicitly Southern emphasis, designed to explore the intersection of religion and race in and around Atlanta, GA.

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Me with Julia, Mona, Tanner, Kristen, and Iman at the Center for Civil and Human Rights

And for all those reasons, plus (read: most importantly) an incredible group of com/passionate and hilarious students, this class was and undoubtedly will remain one of the best teaching experiences of my life.  Continue reading

In the beginning, there were no Indians, Africans, or Europeans…

Or, What African American Studies Teaches Me About Religion in America

(Re-posted from Religion in American History)

Where to begin, where to begin… This semester I am teaching Religion in America (RELS 250 here at CofC) for the first time, if you can believe it. Up to this point it was the class I’d thought most about how to teach but had never actually taught. No longer! Now I’m wrestling in realtime with the dilemmas many of us share on the daily. What must I include? What can I cut? Where (oh, where!) do I begin?

Unsurprising to most (who read this blog), I began with requisite hand-wringing. What is the “religion” in American religion? What, where, and who is the “America” in religion in America? These questions are crucial for me. In a sense, these questions are what my course is about. I like opening all my classes on this meta-level, challenging students to challenge themselves (and the world around them) about what they assume they already know. Whether its a 101 intro or a 200-level African American religions survey, one of my universal objectives is for us to wrestle with the fraught history of words that might appear, at first glance, to be neutral, even innocuous: “religion,” “nation,” “race,” “America.”

The trick is how to get this to stick. Continue reading

Star Wars as American Religion

My last blog of the year is a joint one, posted at both Religion in American History and Sowing the Seed (an online scholar-student collaborative). Enjoy, happy New Year, and May the Force be with You.


Fear not, no spoilers….but seriously, you need to go see the movie already! 
Star Wars Meme 1

So I’ve been (over)thinking Star Wars for the better part of a month now. If you know me, you know I’m quite the nerd. For the past few weeks, though, it’s been turned all the way up to 11. Not only have I been obsessing over Star Wars, I’ve been thinking about Star Wars as American religion.
Why? Well, I’ve known for some time that I’m due for an end-of-the-year RiAH post. In the throes of syllabusing (like Charles McCrary and so many of us this time of year), my initial instinct was to blog on course construction. Then Richard Newton, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College and fellow Star Wars overthinker, solicited essays on religion, religious studies, and Star Wars forSowing the Seed (a student-scholar digital collaborative that hosts conversations on religion, culture, and teaching). Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted, I settled on the following topic: What would it mean to think about Star Wars as American religion?

What does that even mean, you might ask? Well, to restate the question, I’ve been wondering under what circumstances (by what parameters, for what purposes) Star Wars might be considered American religion. To put it yet another way, could I include Star Wars in my Religion in America (RELS 250) course this spring? These are the kinds of questions that awaken – I know, I know, that pun was a little Forced – when you rewatch the (original) Star Wars trilogy and see The Force Awakens(twice), all while writing your Religion in America syllabus……. See what I mean? The nerd is notched up to Ludicrous Speed.

My nerdiness notwithstanding, it strikes me that how one answers these questions could tell us quite a bit. Whether a teacher is willing to consider Star Wars as American religion has the potential to tell us how they define “religion” and how they conceptualize the purpose of a “religion in America” course. Continue reading