Recent writings

Recent writings

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    The Erie Canal and the Birth of American Religion

    The first great social space in the United States was not Boston Common, William Penn’s Philadelphia squares or L’Enfant’s great avenues of Washington, D.C. It was an artificial river, 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide, cutting across New York state.

    Like the Silk Road in Asia, the Erie Canal not only established physical links across geographic regions, it also remade the social and religious lives of everyone it touched. Albany newspapers, Genesee flour, Syracuse salt and Western timber traveled on the canal alongside theater groups, former slaves, tourists, industrialists and religious revivalists.

    [Read the rest at Religion News Service]



    One Day at a Time and the many ways to be Latina

    A few minutes into the third episode of Netflix’s serial comedy One Day at a Time, a heated family discussion takes place on the importance of religion for the three generations of the Alvarez family. The central character, Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado), wants to go for a hike on Sunday and thinks it would be a good family bonding event. But that would mean skipping church. Her Cuban-born, fervently Catholic mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), insists they go to church. She underscores the importance of church by telling a story about her Great Uncle Recito, who once skipped church and on the same day was crushed by a runaway tractor.

    Meanwhile, 12-year-old Alex (Marcel Ruiz), the darling of his grandmother’s affections, likes church because there “I see my friends. I eat some donuts.” Fourteen-year-old Elena (Isabella Gomez) intellectually pokes at her grandmother’s faith, asking if she really believes she’s eating the flesh and blood of Jesus during communion. Lydia responds, “Ay! No, it’s a symbol. Don’t be gross!” When Penelope claims that that makes her a Protes­tant, Lydia retorts, “There is no need for name calling!”

    [Read the rest at The Christian Century]



    Getting Religion in the Museum


    There are over 850 million visits every year to museums in the United States, a count higher than that for sporting events and amusement parks combined. Hundreds of millions more visit collections online. Museums are go-to spaces for educational field trips, must-see destinations for tourists to new cities, sites for contemplation, for hands-on scientific exploration, and flint stones of socio-political controversy. They are also filled with religious objects.

    Among all the media and means through which a broad swath of the public comes to understand religious lives and traditions, museums have emerged as some of the most prominent social institutions influencing the popular conceptions and imaginaries of religion. From history to natural history, art to archaeology, local to national, museums actively shape how people come to know about beliefs and practices other than their own, just as they challenge conceptions of one’s own cultural, religious, and national histories.

    [Read the rest at Sacred Matters]



    Fascism and Art

    The bombing of Guernica, and Picasso’s response, 80 years on


    Today is the 80th anniversary of the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by fascist air forces from Spain, Italy, and Germany. It was a joint deal, with fascists sticking together across national lines. They bombed civilians, women, dogs, men, children, their churches and shops, their sheep and goats. Well over 1,000 people died. Many more lives and livelihoods were destroyed. Thousands of Basque children traveled to Britain as refugees.*

    The aftershocks were great, not least of which was the waking of Pablo Picasso from his interior slumbers, his fetishes of bowls, breasts, and bottles. He stirred and sketched and painted, and then stirred some more, ultimately culminating in perhaps one of the 20th century’s greatest works of art, the massive oil-on-canvas mural simply known as Guernica. It was finished just in time for the World’s Fair in Paris that July, after which it toured across northern Scandinavia, the UK, and then on to the U.S., not returning to Spain until 1981, after Franco died and the fascists had packed up their political shops.

    At 3.5 meters (10 feet) high, and nearly 8 meters (25 feet) in width, the work not only fills a room, it creates its own room. Rather, it creates its own world.

    [Read the rest at Killing the Buddha]



    What a Forgotten 19th Century Suffragist Can Teach Us About Women's Rights vs. the Religious Right


    If America is currently being “taken back” and made “great again” we seem to be landing somewhere in the late 19th century. It’s easy to say that great strides have been made toward racial and gender equality in the last 150 years, yet one can’t help being struck by the parallel discourse surrounding human rights between then and now. Nowhere is this more evident than in the battles between women’s rights and the religious right. And nowhere is it more clear than in reviewing the works of Matilda Joslyn Gage.

    From her first public speech, at age 26, in front of the 1852 National Woman’s Rights Convention in Syracuse, to her culminating thoughts in the 1893 book Woman, Church, and State, Gage used philosophy, theology, biblical studies, and science to rewrite the place of women in socio-political life throughout history. Today, her colleagues Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are better remembered—invoked in recent marches, and even a Saturday Night Live skit—but Gage offers helpful lessons for examining the gender inequalities of religion.

    [Read the rest at Religion Dispatches]



    Reports of the Death of Religious Art Have Been Greatly Exaggerated


    When written in the same sentence, the terms “religion” and “art” tend to turn the contemporary secularized gaze back in time to Renaissance imagery. Those old, redolent, often pious pictures of Christ Child and Madonna are pleasing to look at, but these days their principal function is to confirm how religious art existed in ages past. Present-day artists can’t possibly be interested in that anymore.

    To other eyes, religion and art co-exist just fine, as long as it’s a nebulous, personal “spirituality” that the artists are trying to express — nothing too public, political, or potentially threatening to anyone who looks at it. Others light on the scandals — Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly, John Latham’s God is Great — thinking the arts now only work against religion. And still others reduce “religious art” to some proselytizing message, like you might see in Thomas Kinkade’s kitschily-lit homes.

    Which is all quite remarkable, considering modern and contemporary art is flooded with religious symbols, strivings, conceptions, and, yes, controversies. 

    [Read the rest at the Los Angeles Review of Books]



    What a Father Learned from Captain Fantastic


    The other day, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” the classic rock song by Guns N’ Roses, popped up on my car radio and I started weeping. If you’ve seen Captain Fantastic, you might know why.

    The film has a longer emotional half-life than most as it taps not only into a stockpile of sentiments, but also triggers family ties that have kept its sounds and images bouncing about my life well after the houselights turned back on. For days following, every time I looked at my children I thought of the film. And an old hard rock song that I never much cared for now makes me cry.

    Captain Fantastic has nothing to do with superheroes, or anything “super” for that matter.... 

    [Read the rest at Sacred Matters]



    State of the Art: A Q&A with the Smithsonian's New Religion Curator


    (RNS) The place of religion in museums has a long, troubled, and often strange history.

    In the 1930s, the Soviet Union established a series of “anti-religion” museums. Several decades later, objects from the museums were transformed for use in the Museum of the History of Religion, now in St. Petersburg. And in response to ethnic and religious clashes across Scotland, the government there helped create the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, which is dedicated to “understanding and respect between people of different faiths and of none.”

    [Read the rest, plus a conversation with Peter Manseau at Religion News Service]