Security concerns since September 11, 2001 have raised new issues concerning relations between religious communities and government. Many of these involve the perception that religions (especially, at the moment, Islam) may engage in secret, illicit activities beyond the view of others, including the state. The new security environment requires an examination of the related concepts of secrecy and privacy as they apply to religion, as well as the historical record of earlier periods when some American religions such as Catholicism and Mormonism were considered dangerous. Of particular significance has been the 2002 change in Department of Justice guidelines that permits FBI surveillance of religious organizations, which, while presently impacting the Muslim community, presents potentially broad new problems in church-state interaction.
In 1993, having purchased 476 acres approximately ten miles outside of the town of Eatonton, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors (UNNM) moved from Brooklyn to Georgia. Since their arrival, the predominantly African-American community has been embroiled in controversy and tensions with the local authorities over zoning regulations. Through their defense of their beliefs and practices, the Nuwaubians sought at once public acceptance and protection of their sacred knowledge. Secrecy, although seemingly crucial to connecting and maintaining bonds within the fledgling tradition, raised the suspicions of the white residents of Eatonton. This article examines the history of the UNNM as one new religious movement (NRM) that has mediated its public perception in the press, while continually reworking its own "secret" and evolving communal identity. Although employing the survival strategies used by previous NRMs, in the information age of the twenty-first century, the ability to maintain secrecy was never completely under the control of the UNNM.
From Tom Cruise's wedding to South Park's scathing cartoon parody, the Church of Scientology has emerged as one of the wealthiest, most powerful but also most controversial new religious movements of the last fifty years. Remarkably, however, it has rarely been subjected to serious, critical study by historians of religions, in large part because of the intense secrecy that has surrounded the movement from its origins. This paper examines the role of secrecy in the early Church of Scientology, placing it in the historical and cultural context in which it emerged: Cold War America of the 1950s and 60s. Far from a strange aberration, Scientology in fact embodies many of the obsessive concerns with secrecy, information-control, and surveillance that ran throughout Cold War America. Indeed, with its policies of "security checks" and "fair game," Scientology developed an apparatus of secrecy and surveillance that rivaled and in fact mirrored that of the FBI. As such, Scientology raises profound questions for the study of religion today, particularly in a post-9/11 context, where the questions of religious privacy and government surveillance have re-emerged in ways that eerily echo the height of the Cold War.
Prayer breakfasts -- Political aspects -- United States.
Secrecy -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
One of the nation's most public annual events that bridge the religious and political realms is the National Prayer Breakfast. One of the most secretive religious groups among the country's elite is referred to as "the Fellowship." Many do not realize that the two are linked very closely, for the Fellowship administers the National Prayer Breakfast and supports the attendant prayer breakfast movement. I find this relationship is integral to both dimensions of the Fellowship, yet movement insiders demonstrate a clear preference for the private and secretive elements and minimize the role of public legitimation for the group and its activities. Data for this article are based on interviews with approximately 300 societal leaders and leaders of religious institutions as well as archival material and participant-observation surrounding the National Prayer Breakfast, the wider prayer breakfast movement, and its sponsoring organization, the International Foundation.
"Secretism" refers to the active invocation of secrecy as a source of a group's identity, the promotion of the reputation of special access to restricted knowledge, and the successful performance or staging of such access. This essay examines a case in which a secretist religion became a public force. The case is that of Haiti and the religion of Vodou, as it was merged with political objectives by François Duvalier during his tenure as "president-for-life" from 1957 to 1971. Duvalier represented himself in his discourse as being possessed of the historical spirit of the revolutionary hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and in his style impersonated the Vodou Gede spirit, Baron Samedi. Since his death he has by some reports himself become a spirit, Loa 22 Os. Whereas much previous work has endeavored to explain states' control of secret religions, this essay considers secretist religion's capacity for infiltrating procedures and esthetics of the State and its uses in totalitarian rule.
Kantian philosophy and revealed religion stand at odds over secrecy's normative status: philosophy condemns secrecy and religion approves of it. These rival evaluations of secrecy are explored in Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, with reference to Abraham's secret plan to sacrifice Isaac. Kierkegaard's dialectic shows that religion's commitment to the possibility of particular revelation—something I characterize as an "unsayable" secret—is the source both of secrecy's condemnation on the universalistic grounds of Kantian ethics and of its approval on particularist religious grounds. For Kierkegaard, the site of Abraham's call is the very inwardness that enables Abraham to violate ethics by keeping a secret from Isaac. This unsayable secret, however, also opens up the possibility for Abraham and other religious individuals to take on a radical responsibility for the other, which Kantianism would not permit. If Kierkegaard's claim that acknowledging revelation necessarily entails acknowledging inwardness is correct, then attention to secrecy is imperative for the study of revealed religion.
The events of the early twenty-first century have led to a resurgence of interest in the public and private expression of religion and the role of secrecy in religious traditions. In modern incarnations and throughout history, claims to secret knowledge, the limitations of knowledge of the divine, and private or secrete religious activities have existed in all types of religious traditions. From long-standing mystical traditions in Abrahamic faiths to smaller groups such as Theosophists, secrecy touches on many aspects of religious experience. Sociologists, anthropologists, political theorists, historians, and theologians have undertaken studies of religion and secrecy in general and in reference to particular traditions and localities. What follows is an attempt to highlight major themes of religion and secrecy in history and theory, as well as the implications of September 11, 2001, the "War on Terror" and the Patriot Act for religious practice and privacy in the United States of America and beyond.
Debates about "religious studies vs. theology" may be irresolvable because they are symptoms of a crisis of a different order: the academy's still-colonialist relation to our civilization(s)' folk-or-wisdom traditions, "religious" traditions in particular. Scholars of religious studies or theology practice a kind of "colonialism writ-small" when they remove their subject matter from its lived, societal contexts and re-situate it in conceptual worlds of their own devising. If endless debates follow, they concern these worlds we have constructed rather than the religions and theologies that we study.
Ochs, Peter, 1950- Revised: comparative religious traditions.
Religion -- Study and teaching (Higher)
If Peter Ochs' objections to what Levinas calls "the logic of the same" are to categorizations (binarism) or generalizations (over-generalizations) that do not fit the cases to which they are applied, then he is arguing against a straw man. If, alternatively, he is objecting to binarism or to generalization even when either does fit the cases to which it is applied, he needs to explain why. The quest for unifying principles is laudable, not lamentable. The way to detect categorizations and generalizations that do not fit is by trying to make them fit. Not soul searching but testing is the proper means. And testing is continually conducted by theorists and followers themselves, if also by rivals. One need not depend on critics of binarism or generalizations for tough-mindedness.