Asking us to reconsider the origins of American multiculturalism, Kevin M. Schultz’s essay argues that modern multiculturalism’s history extends back before the rise of demands from the holy trinity of class, race, and gender that emerged so forcefully in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Schultz finds an early articulation of the multicultural ideal in post-World War II America being made by groups rarely associated with multiculturalism today: Catholics and Jews. As one example of the emergence of the ideal, Schultz tells the story of what happened when the Gideons of the postwar era tried to bring the Bible to all of America’s public school children. Catholics and Jews came together to challenge the Gideons’ action, and, in doing so, demanded at least one key facet of multicultural America: state neutrality. In the words of the court, “favoritism cannot be tolerated,” even if it was granted to a group within the dominant majority. In the case, Catholics and Jews made clear their desire for a public recognition of their identities, free choice as to when those unique identities mattered, and the removal of any punishments for maintaining social and cultural differences. Today’s critics who see the rise of neutral “proceduralism” as something that deprives America of a robust and unifying vision of the common good miss the fact that the demand for state neutrality and group recognition was made out of an effort to force Americans to acknowledge the fact of their pluralism. Giving us a thicker description of the origins of American multiculturalism, Schultz shows us that multiculturalism, properly understood, is actually a key part of a vision of America’s common good.
This essay explores how nonprofit advertising participated in refiguring an imagined American community in relation to Islam after 9/11. Examining how Muslim identities were packaged, marketed, and sold through nonprofit advertising, the essay compares three campaigns: the Ad Council’s “I am an American,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ “I am an American Muslim,” and the U.S. Department of State’s “Shared Values Initiative.” It demonstrates how these entities – a nonprofit organization, a civil rights group, and the U.S. government - sought to deconstruct the binary opposition between American citizen and Arab Muslim terrorist that emerged after 9/11 and produce a diverse imagined American community. Nonetheless, the essay argues that these PSAs participated in the formation of a particular exclusionary version of diversity that reveals the content and limits to American cultural citizenship after 9/11.
This article examines the role of the Mormon Church in the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s. While the historiography of the ERA has largely concentrated on the role of Phyllis Schlafly and Southern fundamentalists in defeating the proposed constitutional amendment, this article argues that the Mormon Church played a critical role in stopping the ERA in states as diverse as Utah, Nevada and Virginia. In doing so, the Mormon Church proved itself a formidable, if overlooked, player in the emerging New Right coalition. This article also highlights the critical role that Mormon women played in the church’s political efforts against the ERA. In seeking to defeat a gain for women’s equality, the Mormon Church activated its women through their church service organization to work against the amendment’s ratification. This work was often presented as a religious calling, and Mormon women opposed the ERA out of service to their church as much as from political conviction. At the same time, the Mormon Church increased its emphasis on women’s proper role, stressing wifely submission and domestic duties—a marked change from the church’s historic encouragement of women as public figures. In light of the growing constrictions, Mormon women found that the ERA battle provided an opportunity to challenge subtly the limited role their church advocated for them. Mormon women worked to defeat the ERA, this article maintains, in part because of the chance it provided them to show the church they still had a useful public role. By opposing women’s equality, LDS women showed the church and themselves that they could be more than housewives. In defending women’s place in the home, Mormon women used the battle over the ERA as an opportunity to step out of their homes and take their place on the national political stage.
As climate change shapes up to be the defining environmental issue of the twenty-first century, an unlikely group—evangelical Christians that have broken rank with the faith’s politically conservative leadership—perhaps represents one of the United States’ greatest hopes for instituting meaningful legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Potentially commanding an audience of more than 100 million fellow believers, these liberal evangelical environmentalists advocate immediate legislative action which, for them, is inspired by a biblical foundation in principles of environmental stewardship and a commitment to caring for the world’s poor who will bear the brunt of climate change’s environmental impacts. But not only are they faced with the political inertia on climate change, they must contend with their conservative evangelical environmentalist counterparts who argue that, whether or not climate change is occurring, such legislation would harm the very people evangelicals intend to care for—the world’s poor—by imposing what they believe to be unnecessary economic hardship. For a faith that has found political coherence and influence in the past quarter-century on personal moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage, the result is a potential wedge within evangelicalism surrounding rhetorical, theological, and ideological battles over biblically-founded responsibilities to the environment and to humankind. Ultimately, then, evangelicals may prove to be just as important for climate change—carrying the ability to mobilize millions of Americans on the issue—as climate change proves to be for evangelicals—catalyzing a re-examination of political and theological priorities.
The development of Islam as a twentieth-century African American religious tradition and political discourse has been shaped by the interaction of black Americans with immigrants and visitors from Muslim-majority lands. After the Second World War, during the era of decolonization and the "rising tide of color," African American identifications with Muslims from overseas only increased as black Americans viewed Muslims as potential allies in the struggle against European neocolonialism and white supremacy. But little is known about the actual contact between African American Muslims and Muslims from historically Islamic lands and the impact of Middle East politics on the practice of Islam among African Americans. This essay begins to fill that void by uncovering African American Muslim reactions to Islamism, the twentieth-century transnational ideology that sees Islam as both a political system and a religion. It analyzes the contact, exchange, and competition that resulted as African American Muslims participated in a global Islamist missionary culture spawned by the ideological participants of the Arab cold war. As foreign and immigrant Muslim missionaries reached out to African American Muslims in the 1960s, they claimed the authority to interpret what constituted legitimate Islamic practice, encouraged African American Muslims to join their missionary organizations, and in some cases, challenged the Islamic authenticity of indigenous African American Muslim groups and leaders. This essay examines the differing responses to such missionary activity, showing how Shaikh Daoud Ahmed Faisal, the founder of the State Street Mosque in Brooklyn, New York, aligned his community of believers with Islamist ideologies; how Malcolm X became the student and ally of these new foreign and immigrant missionaries, though he resisted their politicized interpretation of Islam; and finally, how members of Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam rejected the missionaries' claims to ultimate religious authority and instead defended Elijah Muhammad's prophetic voice. The essay also explores the shared repercussions of these exchanges. As a result of the increased contact with Islamic missionaries and Muslim immigrants, African American Muslims altered their religious practices and political identities, increasingly read and studied canonical Islamic texts, and created new visual art and poetry signaling their identification with the rest of the Muslim world and the heritage of Islam.
In 2006, the Save Darfur Coalition held rallies in two major cities to call for U.S., and then U.N., military intervention in the Darfur region of Sudan. In this article, we analyze how participants in Washington, D.C., and New York City defined the ethnic and religious contours of "genocide" and chart the ways that calls for humanitarian intervention were intertwined with issues of representation and collective narratives of national identity. Specifically, we draw attention to how different participants enacted ideas about their own religions and ethnicities, their parameters for engaging with other ethno-religious groups, and their power to "save" as Americans.
This article examines how black religious leaders – especially women Pentecostal preachers – in the decades before World War II sought a new basis for (religious) community beyond old “man-made” (and white-made) divisions of region, race and nations. They drew on black Holiness traditions, which began in the 1880s and 90s, and were remade in the context of the Pentecostal revivals at the beginning of the twentieth century as they attempted to embrace a broader world than the one they had inhabited before. At the same time, by forging an exilic rhetoric that extended beyond the Hebrew exodus narrative that had come to define black Protestantism since the Civil War, these religious leaders helped their followers remake their sense of collective identity as they migrated from the South and their religious institutions began to span regional divides. Years before the terms diaspora and transnationalism entered into the scholarly analyses of the possibilities for black global culture, Pentecostals understood that the communal fragmentation cities helped create also produced the possibilities for human connection beyond regional boundaries and fostered in the collective imagination an internationalism that extended beyond national boundaries.
Born in South Carolina in 1894 to tenant farmer parents, Benjamin Mays made the improbable rise to a distinguished career spent at the administrative helm of two black educational institutions, first, the School of Religion at Howard University during the 1930s, and then, from 1940 to 1967, at Morehouse College. From both positions, Mays became one of the most prominent and influential black theologians, educators, and public intellectuals of the twentieth century. Memories of Mays’ stature have been eclipsed by the outpouring of attention to his Morehouse student Martin Luther King Jr. who claimed him as his mentor and whom Mays would later eulogize in 1968. Unlike his student, Mays was blessed with a long life that stretched from Jim Crow to black power.
Mays lived out the complexities of being a southern black liberal Protestant who believed that black and white churches should function as progressive political agents, resting on the moral foundation of global Christian universalism and an enduring faith in the institution of American democracy. Mays advocated a church universal that could build a worldwide movement for social justice. At the same time, he understood the innately local nature of religious and racial policy and practice. He argued that Christianity ought to be color-blind and desegregated while at the same time he adhered to a belief in the political necessity of black controlled institutions, especially churches and colleges. Still, Mays did not believe only in the power of the sacred or of private institutions; he coupled that with a faith in an interventionist egalitarian state believing that both church and state were essential to achieving racial equality.
Mays’ early and eager engagement with global religious organizations provided him with opportunities to travel the world. Many other prominent politically engaged African American religious intellectuals in the pre-civil rights era came to a concept of global politics in just this way, through travels to and participation in ecumenical world gatherings. In this way, Mays’ life is more emblematic than it is unusual. For that reason, our understandings of African Americans and international politics also must make way for religious universalism as one route to a compelling critique of colonialism and of the oppression of people of color around the globe.
Toward the end of his life, Mays came to understand better that local churches, black and white, served not only as religious sanctuaries but as racial and political ones as well. As a whole, neither blacks nor whites wanted to sacrifice institutions with distinctive cultural, theological, and political natures; born and bred in segregation, each group’s churches had grown its own separate way and neither group wanted them to be subsumed in a quest for liberal universalism or color-blind Christianity.
To remain marked as other even in the process of becoming citizens, of becoming incorporated into the nation, still haunts contemporary Jewish experience as well as efforts to explain Jewish difference. Although it may be said that the French and American revolutions brought Jews into the dominant cultures of the West, they also set limits on this very promise of inclusion. In this essay I am interested in these limits as they have been enacted and reenacted in the United States, especially after the mass migration of Eastern European Jews to this country at the turn of the last century. I am concerned about the ways tolerance works to both regulate and maintain a deep ambivalence around Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism in U.S. society, even in the present.
By retracing the legacy of Jewish emancipation in the West alongside a legacy of Jewish enlightenment and modernity as experienced in Eastern Europe, and then seeing what happened as these two distinct visions of Jewish modernity came into conflict in the United States in the early twentieth century under the umbrella of the liberal inclusion, I show how this vision of inclusion had no place for Eastern European Jewish secularism, the legacy of Yiddish secularism that characterized the Jewishness of so many of these immigrant Jews. Turning to the archive, I offer a reading of some the arguments of the last generation of these secular Yiddishists as presented in the pages of Judaism: A Quarterly of Jewish Life and Thought, a journal founded in 1952 in the U.S. with the explicit goal of reviving Jewish religious thought. Noting the irony of these discussions in the pages of this explicitly religious journal, I make a case for revisiting the ways these Yiddish thinkers struggled to make their Jewish cultural stance make sense in the context of American religious pluralism. In this way, I reconsider the legacy of liberal inclusion for Jews and what it might mean for there to be a place for not only secular Jews, but a whole range of Jewish positions in the contemporary United States.
This essay addresses the issue of religion and foreign politics in the United States and interrogates the presumed congruency between conservative Protestant religion and American exceptionalism. By examining Reinhold Niebuhr’s approach to U.S. foreign policy around the critical period of World War II and the early cold war, it will seek to demonstrate that Niebuhr’s “prophetic” theology acted as a critical lever against the cultural prism of cold war nationalism, even while his politics were consistent with the dominant view. It firstly traces the development of Niebuhr’s prophetic approach to nations and nationalism in the 1930s. Niebuhr argued that nation-states make “religious” claims in the sense that they claim absolute status for what is partial and finite; the prophetic church had to resist and criticize all such idolatry. While the context of fascist Europe and Nazi Germany was obvious in the 1930s, Niebuhr’s critique of nationalism continued in the 1940s and 1950s: only now it was focused on the United States. Niebuhr is well known for his advocacy of U.S. intervention in World War II, and his call for a “tough” foreign policy toward the USSR in the late 1940s. It is tempting, therefore, to see him as simply another complicit cold warrior, tangled in the sticky web of American exceptionalism. Indeed, his call for American responsibility in the postwar world was premised on a belief in the relative superiority of “western civilization” over Nazism and communism. And yet Niebuhr’s prophetic stance meant that while he was calling for American responsibility he was at the same time chiding American self-idolatry. In countless essays and editorials Niebuhr is found criticizing the notion that American values such as democracy, free-market capitalism, and liberalism were absolute. According to Niebuhr, U.S. foreign policy ought not presume the universal validity of American political values and thus impose these values and structures on peoples with whom they do not hold legitimacy. This meant, for example, not escalating cold war conflict in Asia. The prophetic stance on the one hand called for defense of certain “goods” in western civilization, and yet relativized those same goods against the claim of a transcendent God who judges all pretensions. Finally, the essay suggests that a “more theological” public discourse, not less, may lead to a transcendence of the prism of American exceptionalism in approaching foreign policy in the twenty-first century.
This essay is a précis of some of the main arguments of my book in progress on Chavez. Like the essay, the larger research project re-examines primary sources mostly, but excavates also the numerous biographies and media sources dedicated to him. This research adduces that, despite the canonical teachings on Chavez to the contrary, the late social crusader was an organic intellectual who developed deft tactics and strategies for affecting social change. Key among them was his public role as prophet of a national faith, or a distinctly North American religious politics—an identity he consciously modeled after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., though he adjusted the prophetic form to meet his specific contexts. Hence, he looked to Gandhi’s teachings on non-violence, or ahimsa. He also drew from his own Catholic background—especially traditions of social justice and worker’s rights. However, his was not an exclusively Catholic movement. Like the religion of the nation state, it was broadly ecumenical but adhered mostly to a classically liberal Judeo-Catholic hybrid. My thesis is that his public faith was an adept expression of his political work. In making this argument I take issue with many of the teachings on Chavez—particularly the notion that he was a simple and ignorant man. I eschew the academic mandate to engage in gratuitous criticism of him in order to gain academic capital; I do, however, address the main critiques of him. Certainly he was not perfect, and I encourage more focused critical scholarship on this complicated man, his movement, and his moment in space and time. However, the focus of this project is his religious strategies for political change. This in mind, the conclusion waxes more broadly on the confluence of religion and politics in our own space and times. Responding to the adept insights of W.E.B Du Bois on the problem of the twentieth century color line, I propose that the problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of what I call the spiritual line.
Every October, hundreds of evangelical churches across the United States mount Hell Houses, Christian riffs on the haunted houses that dot the landscape of U.S. secular culture each Halloween season. Where haunted houses seek to scare you for fun, Hell Houses aim to scare you to Jesus. In a typical Hell House, actors playing demon tour guides take the audience though a series of bloody staged tableaux depicting sinners whose bad choices—homosexuality, abortion, suicide, and, above all, rejection of Christ's saving grace—lead them straight to hell. My essay discusses Hell Houses's use of, and confidence in, theatre as a medium of evangelization, a confidence that nonetheless evinces considerable anxiety around how to represent sexuality, especially homosexuality. I focus my analysis on the Hell House staged by the New Destiny Christian Center in the Denver suburb of Thornton, Colorado, in October 2006. This church also distributes Hell House kits through a sophisticated online ministry effort. I supplement this discussion with reference to the 2001 documentary Hell House and by a comparison to a Hell House staged by a "secular" theatre group in Brooklyn, New York, in October 2006. My examination is in service of a larger set of questions about how religious feelings are lived, experienced, and communicated in the contemporary United States.
This article examines the development of a Japanese American civil religion that intimately links Japanese Americans to public life. Historical trials, especially that of internment, has forged a strong sense of racial-ethnic identity, cultural memory, and social justice that have been carried forward in institutions, such as the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians hearings, the Japanese American National Museum, and the annual pilgrimage to Manzanar. In significant fashion, these texts, projects, and modern-day rituals have become a “sacred” part of the community, bind it together, and give it a specific sense of meaning and mission. Japanese American civil religion is distinctive in terms of not only the particular history from which it emerges, but also the religious patterns or "spiritual culture" that underwrites its political commitments and forms of civic engagement. Analyzing the contours of a Nikkei "critical faith" offers insights into the group's continuing struggles for justice and provides a rubric for understanding similar ways that religion and politics merge for other marginalized groups in relation to U.S. national culture.
Since 2000, many American journalists have had a “come to Jesus” experience. Spurred by the rise of politicized religion and religious politics, they have rediscovered the role of religion in public life. But this current fascination is only the latest two-step in a longstanding dance. When New England’s earliest colonists began cataloguing and circulating news of important events, they framed their stories with a religious perspective: divine providence played a decisive role in covering and interpreting everyday occurrences. In subsequent centuries, religion continued to play an important role in the both the news mix and in the news narratives that helped shape Americans’ self-understanding. This essay examines the religious tropes of the “beloved community” and the “promised land” that continue to narrativize media coverage of American politics. Focusing on the twentieth century, it explores (1) how the mainstream media’s hostility to religious conservatism changed to support for rightwing frames and (2) why progressive religious politics are rarely covered.
This article examines how Christian Right organizations such as Prison Fellowship Ministry, the ex-gay movement, and Focus on the Family utilize evangelical testimonies of conversion to argue against same-sex marriage and for a mode of prisoner rehabilitation based on transformation as a born-again Christian. The premise is that belief in Jesus will transform a person: from homosexual to married ex-gay Christian, from prisoner to upstanding Christian citizen. Advocates for heterosexual-only marriages and the evangelical prison programs consider their mandate as the imposition of Christian laws and values onto laws and policies about same-sex marriage, crime and rehabilitation.
Testimonial politics emphasize how the experience of becoming a born-again Christian transforms individuals, eliminating the need for social programs focused on structural economic issues. Testimonial politics bolster a vision of social welfare in which social services are privatized rather than funded by the federal government. The rationale behind the federal office of faith-based initiatives created by President Bush is that faith-based organizations can provide services more efficiently than social service organizations. Testimonial politics support the faith-based policies of economic privatization that place the onus for solving social problems on the individual and on Christian faith in the power of God to transform lives. The testimonies of individuals provide an explanation or cause for both homosexuality and criminality. Through testifying, individuals express remorse and an explanation for who they were before they became born-again as Christians. Their answer to imprisonment, homosexuality, drug addiction, and poverty is conversion to evangelical Christianity.
Christian Right activism against gay rights, same-sex marriage and for evangelical prison programs stress that their movements are local and grassroots. However, they are part of a larger network and tied to major organizations of the Christian Right. Testimonial politics enable issues to appear to be about individual transformation, even if they are highly coordinated national political campaigns in which Christian Right organizations dictate policy stances and provide political resources.