Muslim women are an integral part of North American society. However, these women face challenges as they expand on their identities independent from the ones delineated by Western and Muslim communities. Muslim women across North America face multiple tiers of discrimination rooted in patriarchy, Orientalism, and challenges associated with migration. On the one hand, they are confronted with neo-Orientalist portrayals of Muslim women that reduce their identities to submissive subjects and their religion to violence and extremism. On the other hand, these women encounter different intersections of oppression, including sexism and racism, both within and outside of their religious communities. Muslim women have responded to these challenges by actively participating in North American civic and religious discourses. It is crucial to acknowledge that Muslim women’s civic participation is not merely a reaction to the challenges posed by Orientalism, sexism, or racism, but it is also driven by their religious beliefs and values. Muslim women actively participate in civic affairs as a means of fulfilling their faith commitments, and they are active agents of change, motivated by their faith commitments to create a more just and equitable society. The current article examines women-led Islamic organizations in North America that provide services and support Muslim women in the region in different capacities. These women face unique challenges that are not adequately addressed by Muslim and non-Muslim civil rights advocacy groups and women’s rights organizations in North America. By establishing such organizations, women-led Islamic organizations are attempting to fill this gap and offer interventions in support of Muslim women that disrupt the popular discourse of representation and interpretation of Islam in North America. The services offered by these female-led organizations range from battling sexism in their communities to supporting domestic and sexual abuse survivors to offering Islamic education to Muslim women regarding their rights with the aim of advancing gender justice. The rise in Muslim women’s activism is redefining and paving the way for the emergence of new identities that bring aspects of these women’s Western and Muslim identities into conversation. While women have contributed to their communities in a myriad of ways without necessarily adopting a reformist agenda, there is a visible increase in activism and involvement in civil society organization that can be interpreted as an emerging impetus for reform in traditionally male-dominated spaces of leadership. Considering that Islamic scholarship and leadership has traditionally been governed by men, women’s activism unsettles normative assumptions about gender hierarchy and marginalization of women in Islamic organizations and communities. By actively engaging in the formation and restructuring of these organizations, Muslim women advance gender justice, both intentionally and inadvertently, in the Islamic tradition and their communities. In a departure from the approach adopted by secular organizations that support women, Islamic women’s organizations regard religion as a means to empower women and an alternative frame of reference for understanding and addressing their unique needs. By addressing women’s issues within an Islamic framework and tackling the central causes of women’s disempowerment and grievances, women’s organizations informed by Islamic principles empower Muslim women to actively participate in constructing their identities and meaningfully contributing to society. Muslim women’s activism and their exercise of authority as leaders of organizations and interpreters of religious knowledge have left a mark on the civic, religious, and political landscape of North America. A steady surge in women’s involvement in Islamic organizations is taking place organically, and women’s contributions to Islamic knowledge carry important implications for societal development and gender relations.
Samaneh Oladi Ghadikolaei
Anne W. Stewart
Do humans have a will capable of choosing the good, doing the good, and evaluating the good? These are the central questions of moral agency, the notion that humans can be morally responsible for their actions, that is, that they are capable of deliberately exercising agency for good or ill. The Hebrew Bible offers multiple perspectives on these questions, and at least three different models of moral agency can be discerned. Some traditions indicate that humans are fundamentally flawed moral creatures who are incapable of choosing the good apart from divine intervention. For example, the psalmist confesses: “I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5) and prays for a divine change in the human condition: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (51:10). Other traditions, however, frequently take the more optimistic view that humans are capable of choosing and acting in accord with the good, though they may not always exercise their inherent capacity to do so. The Deuteronomic law, for example, is based on the notion that humans have the ability to distinguish obedience from disobedience and to act accordingly. Thus humans will reap the consequences of their actions, for God “maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and [God] repays in their own person those who reject him … Therefore observe diligently the commandment” (Deut. 7:9–11). In other words, humans are held responsible for their moral choice. A third view, found especially in the book of Proverbs, takes a middle view that moral agency involves a combination of internal and external factors: while most, though not all, humans are inherently capable of choosing the good, their capacity for moral agency requires cultivation by external forces. That is, humans are capable of moral choice, yet their ability to choose according to the good depends upon both an innate receptivity and training by others. The Hebrew Bible thus reflects a diverse set of viewpoints about the status of human moral agency, the extent of human accountability, and the factors that influence human action.
The study of the material culture of religion represents a long-established interest in material artifacts as sources of information about religious cultures. But it also has featured a turn since the 1990s toward recognizing that the dominant dependence on texts tends to dematerialize religion by turning it into a system of ideas, a body of creeds or teachings, a worldview, or a discourse. Religions are more than ideas or dogmas, because they are about things, bodies, animals, places, and natural events and forces. These are not mere signifiers of value but the very medium in which religions take shape. The emphasis on texts and ideas reflects the strong influence of classical humanism and Christianity, both of which privilege human agency as sovereign and unparalleled in nature. Since the late 20th century, scholars in the social sciences and humanities have been rethinking received conceptions of matter, causality, and sociality. As a result, what has come to be called the “new materialism” amounts to a broad effort to reconceive the place of human beings in the natural world by recognizing ecologies as the basic unit of relation in nature: nothing exists in isolation but participates in networks of interdependent interactions. This realization urges that things are not dead matter waiting for the thinking substance of mind to endow them with purpose but rather are indeterminate and emergent actors exhibiting agency in their effect upon other things. Such an approach offers a stimulating framework for the study of religions, because it stresses the importance of materiality. By training attention on things and their environments, scholars of religion can scrutinize how the material conditions and artifacts of religious practice and belief exert agency, how they change over time, and how they interact with discourse and thought. Things are not stable or unitary. They exist within ecologies of time as well as space. So, the material study of religion is always also the historical study of religion. Artifacts are produced with histories behind them and used within specifiable contexts. But artifacts are never only what their producers intended them for. They are passed down, modified, repurposed, or destroyed. This means that objects exhibit a cultural biography, or even a series of lives. It also means that waste is a category of materiality that is important to recognize. The idea of “material culture” will seem at odds with the new materialism’s scope to scrutinize materiality far beyond human culture. But the deeper recognition at stake is realizing that human beings are incomplete without things, without their ecological connections to objects, places, animals, and people. Culture is all manner of ways in which human beings produce and are produced by these connections. The materiality of culture consists of the embodied, emplaced, and interactive nature of the connections. The emphasis on things has allowed the recognition of their repressed or overlooked agencies. That is because thingness resists lasting objectification. Human beings and other animals craft objects and places, but they do not last. They change over time, are appropriated by others or repurposed, and they decay and are destroyed. In its capacity to be different kinds of objects, a thing is always more than an object.
Peter J. Thuesen
In the free marketplace of religious ideas that is the United States, Americans have disagreed over many things. The form of church government, the proper way to worship, the extent of the scriptural canon, and the limits of racial and gender inclusion are but a few of the questions on which the nation’s majority Christians have erected boundaries among themselves, to say nothing of their differences with non-Christians. Yet an equally important source of denominational divisions has been the nexus of issues surrounding agency (humans’ freedom to act as they choose), voluntarism (defined here as the quest for salvation through this-worldly action), and predestination (the otherworldly question of whether God predetermines each person’s eternal destiny). Particularly contentious has been the question of predestination, especially the problem of whether God elects persons for salvation conditionally (based on their foreseen faith or merit) or unconditionally (based solely on his inscrutable wisdom). In the 16th and 17th centuries, this debate cut across the Reformation divide, with each position represented among both Catholic and Protestant scholastics. The New England Puritan clergy were the first major bearers of this scholastic tradition, which abounded with paradox and logical distinctions. The intensity of Puritanism’s predestinarian psychology generated a widespread anti-Calvinist backlash in the 19th century and contributed to the growth of a number of upstart denominations, including Methodists, Universalists, Restoration Movement “Christians,” Mormons, Adventists, and Christian Scientists. Debates over free will and predestination also bred factionalism and even threatened schism in several denominations, including the Congregationalists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists. Less frequently, non-Christians weighed in, occasionally embracing the trope of anti-Calvinism as a way to demonstrate their own traditions’ compatibility with American freedom. By the early 21st century, though the rise of nondenominational megachurches and an increase in “nones” (people with no religious identification) had weakened the hold of traditional doctrines on many Americans, the tension between voluntarism and predestination remained basic to theism as it has been for millennia.
Caitlín E. Barrett
Archaeology is essential to the cross-cultural study of religion. Archaeologists’ focus on material evidence enables them to investigate groups not represented or underrepresented in textual traditions, including non-literate societies and non-elite members of literate societies. Accordingly, archaeology provides a broad comparative lens and longue durée perspective, as well as a means to study the practices of individuals across the social spectrum. Additionally, a disciplinary emphasis on material culture and human-thing relationships enables archaeologists to investigate the materiality of ancient religious traditions—the entanglement of ancient beliefs and practices within the material world. Because every stage of the archaeological process involves interpretation and theorization, archaeologists’ theoretical stances and methodological choices shape the data they obtain. For example, any discussion of the “archaeology of religion” will be shaped by the author’s (explicit or implicit) operational definition of “religion” itself (see Part I, “Considering ‘Religion’ and ‘Ritual’”). Modern Western constructions of “religion” involve culturally specific concepts that developed within particular historical contexts, and ancient people’s understandings of their beliefs, rituals, and objects may often have employed quite different analytical categories. Additionally, archaeological approaches to ancient religions have undergone significant transformation over the 20th and early 21st centuries (see Part II, “History of the Field”). In contrast to the “New Archaeology” of the 1960s–1970s, which portrayed religion as epiphenomenal and downplayed its significance as a primary generator of social change, late-20th-century movements brought renewed attention to ancient symbolism, ideology, and religion and encouraged scholars to seek methodologically rigorous ways to study ancient religion and ritual. The third section of the article (“Current Perspectives and Developments”) examines contemporary research on the archaeology of religion and analyzes the field’s intersections with, and importance to, broader interdisciplinary debates. Today, a proliferation of new scholarship on the archaeology of ancient religions explores the complex interactions between people, objects, and ideas in antiquity. Within the resulting range of new and ongoing developments, this article emphasizes (1) a productive engagement with the broader “material turn” in the humanities and social sciences; (2) a renewed emphasis on religion as a causal force for social change; and (3) an increasing focus on religion’s embeddedness within daily life, entailing the reconsideration of analytical categories such as “domestic cult,” “personal religion,” and “magic.” The contemporary archaeological study of ancient religions is a deeply multidisciplinary endeavor, frequently requiring archaeologists to engage with theories, methods, and specialists from fields that may include anthropology, religious studies, archaeometry, art history, philology, and more. Archaeologists not only generate empirical data about specific sites or cultures, but also investigate broader intellectual questions concerning the role of religion in society, the importance of material culture to religious experience, and the forms of agency wielded by both humans and objects. The archaeology of religion thus has important contributions to make to numerous subjects and debates throughout the humanities and social sciences.
“Lived ancient religion” offers a new perspective on ancient religion. It shares the priority on ritual of many studies from the late 19th century onward but reconstructs ancient religion not as a set of rules or coherent system but a dynamic field of change and tradition. The central notion is taken from contemporary religious studies. The concept of “lived religion” was developed in the late 1990s and has gained a growing reception ever since. Rather than analyzing expert theologies, dogma, or the institutional setting and history of organized religion, the focus of lived religion is on what people actually do: the everyday experience, practices, expressions, and interactions that are related to and constitute religion. In this way, religion is understood as a spectrum of experiences, actions, beliefs, and communications hinging on human interaction with super-human or even transcendent agent(s), usually conceptualized by the ancient Mediterraneans as gods. Material symbols, elaborate forms of representation, and ritualization are called upon for the success of communication with these addressees. The concept of lived religion has only recently been applied to the analysis of ancient religion. With a view to the dynamics of religion in the making, research based on this new concept critically engages with the notions of civic religion and (elective) cults as clearly defined rule- or belief-based systems. It stresses the similarity of practices and techniques of creating meaning and knowledge across a whole range of addressees of religious communication and in light of a high degree of local innovation. The emphasis is not on competing religions or cults but on symbols that are assuming ever-new configurations within a broad cultural space. The central notion of religious agency offers extended possibilities of imagination and intervention—of imagined, invoked, and even experienced divine support in real situations. In this way, the attribution of agency to divine actors provides appropriately creative strategies for the human agents (and sometimes even their audiences) to transcend the situation in question, whether by leading a ritual, casting a person as possessed, invoking means not yet available (as through a vow), or bolstering one’s own party with the favor of divine members. Religions, as seen from below, are the attempt—often by just a few individuals—to at least occasionally create order and boundaries through means other than a normative system imperfectly reproduced by humans. Such boundaries would include the notions of sacred and profane, pure and impure, public and private, as well as gendered conceptions of deities. Institutions such as professional priesthoods and the reformulation of religion as knowledge that is kept and elaborated by such professionals could constitute further features of crucial importance for sketching a history of such systems. This is religion in the making, though it casts itself as religion made forever. Acknowledging the individual appropriation and the production of meaning at play in these situations excludes the employment of only cultural interpretations, drawing on other parts of a dense and coherent web of meaning.
Ronald Williams Jr.
On January 17, 1893, Her Majesty Queen Liliʻuokalani, sovereign of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was overthrown in a coup de main led by a faction of business leaders comprised largely of descendants of the 1820 American Protestant mission to the “Sandwich Islands.” Rev. Charles Hyde, an officer of the ecclesiastic Papa Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian Board) declared, “Hawaii is the first Country in which the American missionaries have labored, whose political relations to the United States have been changed as a result of missionary labors.” The actions of these “Sons of the Mission” were enabled by U.S. naval forces landed from the USS Boston the evening prior. Despite blatant and significant connections between early Christian missionaries to Hawaiʻi and their entrepreneurial progeny, the 1893 usurpation of native rule was not the result of a teleological seventy-year presence in the Hawaiian Kingdom by the American Protestant Church. An 1863 transfer of authority over the Hawaiian mission from the Boston-based American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to the local ʻAhahui ʻEuanelio o Hawaiʻi (AEH) (Hawaiian Evangelical Association) served as a pivotal inflection point that decidedly altered the original mission, driving a political and economic agenda masked only by the professed goals of the ecclesiastic institution. Christianity, conveyed to the Hawaiian Islands initially by representatives of the ABCFM, became a contested tool of religio-political significance amidst competing foreign and native claims on leadership in both church and state. In the immediate aftermath of the January 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government, this introduced religion became a central tool of the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) struggle for a return of their queen and the continued independence of their nation. Native Christian patriots organized and conducted a broad array of political actions from within the churches of the AEH using claims on Ke Akua (God) and Christianity as a foundation for their vision of continued native rule. These efforts were instrumental in the defeat of two proposed treaties of annexation of their country—1893 and 1897—before the United States, declaring control of the archipelago a strategic necessity in fighting the Spanish/Filipino–American War, took possession of Hawaiʻi in late 1898. Widespread Americanization efforts in the islands during the early 20th century filtered into Hawaiʻi’s Christian churches, transforming many of these previous focal points of relative radicalism into conservative defenders of the American way. A late-20th-century resurgence of cultural and political activism among Kanaka Maoli, fostered by a “Hawaiian Renaissance” begun in the 1970s, has driven a public and academic reexamination of the past and present role of Christianity in this current-day American outpost in the center of the Pacific.
Kocku von Stuckrad
The academic concept of “animism” has a long and complicated history. Born from a colonial setting around 1900, it was used to identify premodern or “primitive” understandings of certain nonhuman entities or objects as being alive, ensouled, and agentic. Because of its European depiction as a “failed ontology,” and the heavy colonial baggage this depiction entails, the concept was criticized and went almost out of use in mainstream anthropology and the academic study of religion. Around the turn of the 21st century, however, a different interpretation of animism was (re)introduced, which focused on animism as a relational approach to the world rather than as ontological claims about nonhuman entities. Many scholars in the emerging field of “new animism” base their considerations on spiritual practices in Europe and North America that use the concept of animism in a positive way. This is true for many forms of paganism, nature-based spiritualities, and environmental activism. In a parallel, and in fact intertwined, movement, academic theories have been developed across disciplines and intellectual traditions that conceptualize relationality, nonhuman agency, and entanglements of life forms in a way that strives to overcome influential binaries such as subject–object, nature–culture, mind–matter, or human–nonhuman. These theories, in turn, materialize in literature and art, and they influence political and spiritual practice in many ways. In what can be called animism’s double-bind, new animism is a mode of critique of exactly those binary constructions that originate in European hegemonic thinking. While the idea of animism, due to its colonial legacy, should no longer be applied as a generic concept to a particular “type” of religion, its revival in Euro-American discourse at the turn of the 21st century can, ironically, be interpreted as a subversive attempt to decolonize the hegemonic tradition that constructed European (white, male) humans as detached from the rest of planetary life and as the pinnacle of evolution and creation.