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Prophetic Activism

Progressive Religious Justice Movements in Contemporary America

Helene Slessarev-Jamir

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

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The Prophetic Law

Essays in Judaism, Girardianism, Literary Studies, and the Ethical

To read literature is to read the way literature reads. René Girard’s immense body of work supports this thesis bountifully. Whether engaging the European novel, ancient Greek tragedy, Shakespeare’s plays, or Jewish and Christian scripture, Girard teaches us to read prophetically, not by offering a method he has developed, but by presenting the methodologies they have developed, the interpretative readings already available within (and constitutive of) such bodies of classical writing. In The Prophetic Law, literary scholar, theorist, and critic Sandor Goodhart divides his essays on René Girard since 1983 into four groupings. In three, he addresses Girardian concerns with Biblical scripture (Genesis and Exodus), literature (the European novel and Shakespeare), and philosophy and religious studies issues (especially ethical and Jewish subject matters). In a fourth section, he reproduces some of the polemical exchanges in which he has participated with others—including René Girard himself—as part of what could justly be deemed Jewish-Christian dialogue. The twelve texts that make up the heart of this captivating volume constitute the bulk of the author’s writings to date on Girard outside of his three previous books on Girardian topics. Taken together, they offer a comprehensive engagement with Girard’s sharpest and most original literary, anthropological, and scriptural insights.

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Protestant Voice in American Pluralism

Martin E. Marty

For 350 years, Protestantism was the dominant religion in America--and its influence spilled over in many directions into the wider culture. Religious historian Martin E. Marty looks at the factors behind both the long period of Protestant ascendancy in America and the comparatively recent diffusion and diminution of its authority. Marty ranges across time, covering such things as the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in 1607, the 1955 publication of Will Herberg's landmark book Protestant-Catholic-Jew, and the current period of American ethnic and religious pluralism.

For centuries, American Protestantism dominated in three main ways, says Marty: in the sheer numbers of its committed practitioners (spread across some two hundred denominations), in the Protestant leanings of nonadherents, and in the influence of the Protestant ethic in activities as diverse as business and art. To discover what is particularly “American” about Protestantism in this country, Marty looks at Protestant creencias, or beliefs, that complement or supplement pure doctrine. These include the notion of God as an agent of America’s destiny and the impact of the biblical credos of mission, stewardship, and vocation on innumerable nonreligious matters of daily life. Marty also discusses the vigencias, or binding (though unwritten) customs, of Protestantism. They include the tendencies to interpret matters of faith in market terms and to conflate biblical and enlightenment ideology into “civic faith.”

Challenges to Protestant hegemony came and went over the centuries, says Marty, but never in such force and to such effect as in the twentieth century. Among other factors contributing to the rise of pluralism and to schisms between mainstreamers and Fundamentalists, Marty lists changes in immigration laws, U.S. Supreme Court decisions on school prayer, the women's movement, and Vatican II.

Today, our Protean spirituality is the topic of everything from sermons to bumper stickers. All in all, this is good, reassures Marty, for to debate our spirituality is to sustain the life of a functioning, thinking, believing republic. Those who pine for some golden age of Protestantism are misled by nostalgia or resentment. The real work to be done by Protestants now is to serve, partner, and cooperate where they once managed, controlled, and directed.

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A Public Charity

Religion and Social Welfare in Indianapolis, 1929-2002

Mary L. Mapes

Using Indianapolis as its focus, this book explores the relationship between religion and social welfare. Arising out of the Indianapolis Polis Center's Lilly-sponsored study of religion and urban culture, the book looks at three issues: the role of religious social services within Indianapolis's larger social welfare support system, both public and private; the evolution of the relationship between public and private welfare sectors; and how ideas about citizenship mediated the delivery of social services. Noting that religious nonprofits do not figure prominently in most studies of welfare, Mapes explores the historical roots of the relationship between religiously affiliated social welfare and public agencies. Her approach recognizes that local variation has been a defining feature of American social welfare. A Public Charity aims to illuminate local trends and to relate the situation in Indianapolis to national trends and events.

Polis Center Series on Religion and Urban Culture -- David J. Bodenhamer and Arthur E. Farnsley II, editors

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Public Sphere in Muslim Societies, The

Challenging conventional assumptions, the contributors to this interdisciplinary volume argue that premodern Muslim societies had diverse and changing varieties of public spheres, constructed according to premises different from those of Western societies. The public sphere, conceptualized as a separate and autonomous sphere between the official and private, is used to shed new light on familiar topics in Islamic history, such as the role of the shari`a (Islamic religious law), the `ulama' (Islamic scholars), schools of law, Sufi brotherhoods, the Islamic endowment institution, and the relationship between power and culture, rulers and community, from the ninth to twentieth centuries.

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Queer Women and Religious Individualism

Melissa M. Wilcox

Melissa M. Wilcox explores the complex spiritual lives of queer women in the Los Angeles area. She takes the reader on a tour of a colorful array of religious and secular groups that serve as spiritual resources for these women -- from the well-known Metropolitan Community Churches to Wiccan covens, from the Gay and Lesbian Sierrans to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Arguing that these women's stories are exemplary cases of postmodern patterns of religious identity, belief, and practice, Wilcox offers a nuanced analysis of contemporary Western spirituality and selfhood, and a detailed exploration of the history of queer religious organizing in Los Angeles. Queer Women and Religious Individualism is important reading for scholars in religious studies, sociology, women's studies, and LGBT studies.

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Reclaiming Adat

Contemporary Malaysian Film and Literature

Gaik Cheng Khoo

In the early 1990s, the animist and Hindu traces in adat, or Malay custom, became contentious for resurgent Islam in Malaysia. Reclaiming Adat focuses on the filmmakers, intellectuals, and writers who reclaimed adat to counter the homogenizing aspects of both Islamic discourse and globalization in this period. They practised their project of recuperation with an emphasis on sexuality and a return to archaic forms such as magic and traditional healing. Using close textual readings of literature and film, Khoo Gaik Cheng reveals the tensions between gender, modernity, and nation. Khoo weaves a wealth of cultural theory into a rare analysis of Malay cinema and the work of new Malaysian anglophone writers. Reclaiming Adat makes an essential contribution to our knowledge of the complexities embedded in modern Malaysian culture, politics, and identity.

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Redeeming Time

Protestantism and Chicago's Eight-Hour Movement, 1866-1912

William A. Mirola

During the struggle for the eight-hour workday and a shorter workweek, Chicago emerged as an important battleground for workers in "the entire civilized world" to redeem time from the workplace in order to devote it to education, civic duty, health, family, and leisure. William A. Mirola explores how the city's eight-hour movement intersected with a Protestant religious culture that supported long hours to keep workers from idleness, intemperance, and secular leisure activities. Analyzing how both workers and clergy rewove working-class religious cultures and ideologies into strategic and rhetorical frames, Mirola shows how every faith-based appeal contested whose religious meanings would define labor conditions and conflicts. As he notes, the ongoing worker-employer tension transformed both how clergy spoke about the eight-hour movement and what they were willing to do, until intensified worker protest and employer intransigence spurred Protestant clergy to support the eight-hour movement even as political and economic arguments eclipsed religious framing. A revealing study of an era and a movement, Redeeming Time illustrates the potential--and the limitations--of religious culture and religious leaders as forces in industrial reform.

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Religion and Family in a Changing Society

Penny Edgell

The 1950s religious boom was organized around the male-breadwinner lifestyle in the burgeoning postwar suburbs. But since the 1950s, family life has been fundamentally reconfigured in the United States. How do religion and family fit together today?

This book examines how religious congregations in America have responded to changes in family structure, and how families participate in local religious life. Based on a study of congregations and community residents in upstate New York, sociologist Penny Edgell argues that while some religious groups may be nostalgic for the Ozzie and Harriet days, others are changing, knowing that fewer and fewer families fit this traditional pattern. In order to keep members with nontraditional family arrangements within the congregation, these innovators have sought to emphasize individual freedom and personal spirituality and actively to welcome single adults and those from nontraditional families.

Edgell shows that mothers and fathers seek involvement in congregations for different reasons. Men tend to think of congregations as social support structures, and to get involved as a means of participating in the lives of their children. Women, by contrast, are more often motivated by the quest for religious experience, and can adapt more readily to pluralist ideas about family structure. This, Edgell concludes, may explain the attraction of men to more conservative congregations, and women to nontraditional religious groups.

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