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Religion as a Social and Spiritual Force

Jan van Henten

Publication Year: 2010

This book, the first themed volume in the series The Future of the Religious Past, elaborates the manifold and fascinating interconnections between power and religion. It carries forward the work of the series in bringing together scholars from many disciplines and countries to research forms of religion in a way unfettered by the idea that religion is solely or even primarily a matter of belief in specific tenets or intellectual systems-it is also a matter of multiple particulars in individual and social life, such as powers, things, gestures, and words.Dealing with the nexus of religion and power, the present volume radically undermines the idea that the political relevance of religion is a thing of the past. Its essays treat power as a central aspect of religion on many levels, from that of macro-politics through the links between religion and nationhood to the level of personal empowerment or its obverse, disempowerment.Power and religion are both omnipresent in human action and interaction. There is no human act that does not include some kind of faith in a positive outcome and no deed in which power does not play some role. People obviously can attempt to use religion as an instrument to enhance their power or improve their status, whether personally or at the level of the nationstate. Yet religion is in principle ambiguous in relation to power: It can disempower as well as empower, and it can even function as a critique of existing power relations. Moreover,there is the consolatory function of religion, offering ways of compensation, of healing, and of enduring feelings of powerlessness.Like the first volume in the series, Religion: Beyond a Concept, the essays in this volume strike a balance between broad analyses of the nature of religion and power in their modes of emergence today and specific case studies from anthropology, sociology, and the arts. It is noteworthy for the breadth of the material it treats and its reach outside the Christian West, while not taking anything in that Western tradition for granted, given the astonishing changes of supposedly familiar religious phenomena we are viewing in the contemporary world.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Frontispiece

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This volume radically undermines the idea that the political relevance of religion is something of the past. It deals with the nexus of religion and power. Power is now seen as a central aspect of religion, not only because of the ingrained conviction of many...

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pp. 1-19

Several scenes in the Hollywood comedy Bruce Almighty, about a human person who temporarily takes over God’s job, illustrate how religion is inextricably bound up with power.1 The movie’s main theme concerns the unsuccessful performance of a local...

Part I: Macropolitics

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pp. 21-77

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The Recovery of Perverted Religion: Internal Power Processes and the Vicissitudes of Religious Experience

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pp. 23-38

In Gabriel García Márquez’s story ‘‘The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,’’1 the children of a fishermen’s village on a desertlike cape find the body of a drowned man, a man of abnormal size, washed up on the beach. The children don’t know...

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Symbolic Violence: Religion and Empowerment

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pp. 39-50

From Bali to New York City and from Mumbai to Madrid, images of religion have become fused with scenes of violent protests against the political order. Islamic activists in the Middle East, Christian militia in the United States, Jewish zealots...

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Political Theology: The Authority of God

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pp. 51-62

Two theses that are intimately related to the idea of authority are political theology, associated with the name of Carl Schmitt, and moral theology, associated with Elizabeth Anscombe (though she never used the expression). Political theology is the claim...

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Explaining the Global Religious Revival: The Egyptian Case

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pp. 63-77

It is a truism that global forces have greatly heightened social instability, economic distress, and cultural uncertainty in the contemporary world. The widespread phenomenon of religious revival is said to be part of the picture. How should one explain...

Part II: The Nation

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pp. 79-177

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Seeing Nationhood: Images of American Identity

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pp. 81-102

Since the early days of the British colonies, the Anglo inhabitants of North America have been fond of claiming for themselves a sense of uniqueness. Whether a ‘‘city on a hill’’ or making the world ‘‘safe for democracy,’’ this sense has often been expressed...

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The Visible and the Invisible in South Asia

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pp. 103-115

You may not have noticed it yet, but, according to some observers, democracy has arrived in the Middle East. It came as part of the shock and awe of the American invasion in Iraq and resulted in elections there that were declared a success. Now it is spreading...

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The Power of Mary in Secessionist Warfare: Catholicism and Political Crisis in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea

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pp. 116-133

From 1988 until the late 1990s, people on Bougainville Island were immersed in a vicious war that destroyed nearly all infrastructure and social services. Foreign reports almost unanimously analyzed the crisis as a sociopolitical conflict. However...

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The Mourid Brotherhood at the Center of Senegalese Political Life: A Dialectic of State and Religious Power

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pp. 134-148

The complexity of ongoing political moves and a strong overlap between religious and political powers in Senegal, a country where democracy and secularism are being reinvented from day to day by various actors, is an excellent example of the dynamic...

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Sharia and State in the Sudan: From Late Colonialism to Late Islamism

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pp. 149-166

Sharia has been a complex and powerful symbol throughout the modern history of the Sudan. Centered on the place of Islamic law, or sharia, in the legal system are a series of issues concerning the complex relations between religion and politics.1 Sharia has disrupted...

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‘‘Bolivarian’’ Anti-Semitism

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pp. 167-177

On January 30, 2009, fifteen heavily armed individuals stormed the Tiferet Israel Synagogue in the Mariperez neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela. They held down the two guards, robbed the premises, and proceeded to desecrate the temple, throwing...

Part III: The Individual: Between Powerlessness and Empowerment

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pp. 179-239

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The Power of the Less Powerful: Making Memory on a Pilgrimage to Lourdes

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pp. 181-193

The small town of Lourdes, nestling among the lovely foothills of the French Pyrenees, is the site of the world’s most famous Marian sanctuary, receiving an estimated six million visitors every year. Bernadette’s visions of Mary in 1858 are formally given...

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‘‘Without my headscarf I feel naked’’: ‘‘Veiling,’’ Laıcité, Politics, and Islamist Discourse in North Cameroon

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pp. 194-208

Discourse about the Muslim ‘‘veil’’ and the wearing of headscarves in public places in Western countries has made its way into the heart of contemporary Western history and identity. However, as Markha Valenta argues, the arguments are hardly about the...

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Religion and Powerlessness: Elena in Nothing Is Missing

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pp. 209-239

‘‘Elena’’ is an episode from my video work Nothing Is Missing, a multiple-screen video installation (2006–7). Briefly, visitors are invited to sit in armchairs or on sofas...

Part IV: Religion and Power: Artistic Representations

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pp. 241-291

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Music, Religion, and Power: Qawwali as Empowering Disempowerment

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pp. 243-264

What happens to a musical genre when it moves from local Pakistani and Indian Sufi shrines to global venues and media? What happens to the notions of surrender and powerlessness that are connected with this genre in its original Sufi context...

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John Cage and the Mystification of Musical Silence

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pp. 265-274

Artistic silence has always been entangled with various forms of power. Silence has often been imposed on artists in all major religious traditions in both the Orient and the Occident. Mystical traditions seem especially disaffected with speech...

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Maternal Martyrdom: Alien3 and the Power of the Female Martyr

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pp. 275-291

One of the key Hollywood action heroines of the 1980s and 1990s is Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) of the science fiction film series Alien. More than any other genre, the science fiction film has served to reinforce stereotypical notions...


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pp. 293-324


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pp. 325-328


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pp. 329-334

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248384
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823231560
Print-ISBN-10: 0823231569

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2010