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Prophetic Activism

Progressive Religious Justice Movements in Contemporary America

Helene Slessarev-Jamir

Publication Year: 2011

While the links between conservative Christians and politics have been drawn strongly in recent years, coming to embody what many think of as religious activism, the profoundly religious nature of community organizing and other more left-leaning justice work has been largely overlooked. Prophetic Activism is the first broad comparative examination of progressive religious activism in the United States. Set up as a counter-narrative to religious conservatism, the book offers readers a deeper understanding of the richness and diversity of contemporary religious activism.

Helene Slessarev-Jamir offers five case studies of major progressive religious justice movements that have their roots in liberative interpretations of Scripture: congregational community organizing; worker justice; immigrant rights work; peace-making and reconciliation; and global anti-poverty and debt relief. Drawing on intensive interviews with activists at all levels of this work—from pastors and congregational leaders to local organizers and the executive directors of the national networks—she uncovers the ways in which they construct an ethical framework for their work. In addition to looking at predominantly Christian organizations, the book also highlights the growth of progressive activism among Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists who are engaged in reinterpreting their religious texts to support new forms of activism.

Religion and Social Transformation series

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. v


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pp. vii-viii

Acronyms and Abbreviations

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pp. ix-x

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1. An Introduction to Prophetic Activism

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pp. 1-34

All religious traditions have certain sacred holidays that embody their core narratives. Within Judaism, Passover commemorates the Israelites’ flight from bondage into freedom, while within Christianity, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. The weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday...

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2. Identifying the Qualities of Prophetic Activism

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pp. 35-66

In everyday parlance, “prophetic” is often defined as “telling the future,” which in some translations of the Hebrew Bible takes on the meaning of a fortune-teller.1 Within the Abrahamic religious traditions, prophets were messengers from God. There is no commonly agreed-upon meaning...

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3. Organizing in Borderlands Communities

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pp. 67-96

Today congregation-based community organizing is one of the most powerful forms of prophetic “insurgent citizenship” within borderlands communities. It is estimated that congregation-based organizing now exists in at least 180 cities in the United States and involves more than four thousand...

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4. Religious Organizing for Worker Justice

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pp. 97-130

Workers’ basic rights are flagrantly violated on a daily basis in the United States. For example, a 2008 union campaign to organize car-wash workers in Los Angeles revealed that a group of laborers familiar to most Angelenos were working under horrible conditions. They were being paid...

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5. Immigrant Rights Activism

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pp. 131-166

During a meeting of a small group of religious activists in attendance at a national conference on immigrant rights sponsored by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) the discussion centered on the emerging “New Sanctuary Movement.” During the gathering...

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6. Peacemaking

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pp. 167-198

In the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, a resurgent Christian triumphalism successfully reframed the U.S.’ policy options in the context of a civilizational battle between good and evil. In its most polemical form, the situation was portrayed as a battle between morality and immorality...

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7. Global Justice Organizing

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pp. 199-230

On January 12, 2010, a powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, leveling the metropolitan capital city of Port-au-Prince and burying an estimated 250,000 people under the rubble. In the days and weeks afterwards, all the issues related to globalization, foreign debt, and free trade were laid...

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8. Conclusions

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pp. 231-236

By taking a broad comparative approach to the study of religious activism, this book greatly expands our understanding beyond earlier research that either focused on individual movements or was situated in specific social locations. It provides readers with a fuller sense of the richness...


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pp. 237-260


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pp. 261-276

About the Author

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pp. 277

E-ISBN-13: 9780814708705
E-ISBN-10: 0814708706
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814741238
Print-ISBN-10: 0814741231

Page Count: 287
Publication Year: 2011