1-20 of 96 Results

  • Keywords: religion x
Clear all

Article

Overview of Religious Art and Architecture: Native American  

Karla Cavarra Britton

The rich intertwining of art, architecture, and religion in Native North American worldviews represents an expansive field of exploration that cumulatively addresses patterns of generational continuity, a sense of place, and the continued vitality of ceremonial and oral traditions for the more than 600 recognized tribes of North America. To engage in an overview of such a broad topic, which necessarily includes ethnographic, religious, anthropological and other perspectives, requires a selective rather than comprehensive choice of material evidence. Moreover, the topic challenges perceived understandings of art and religion, such as the familiar separation between the sacred and the profane in representations of religious life. The subject of religious art and architecture in Native North America also immediately calls attention to the ways in which this field of exploration has often been overlooked in the standard canonical histories of religion and the arts. It is rare that in-depth scholarly writing outside of Native studies addresses the implications of religious building and art on tribal lands, especially since many Native building forms are more metaphorical in their manifestation of the spiritual, often blurring the distinction between landscape and building. Furthermore, the contemporary vitality of North American Native art—and one might add its religious expression—is also evidence of an extraordinary cultural resilience among Native peoples. Until recently, it was popularly assumed that Native culture was destined to disappear, yet a resurgence of both interest in and production of Native art has helped to revitalize the tradition from within. A variety of factors have contributed to this revitalization, among them greater economic stability, population recovery, and an increased interest from non-Native peoples in Indigenous artistic production. This interest has recognized that the visual arts as well as spatial concepts (understood in terms of both buildings and the landscape) have long been carriers of cultural value and meaning within Native American cultures. These material expressions remain among the most powerful articulations of contemporary understandings of identity and the continuity of patterns of belief, and as such have much to reveal and teach a wide and curious audience.

Article

Race and Protestantism in America  

Lauren Frances Turek

The history of Protestantism in America is deeply intertwined with the histories of race and religious pluralism. Protestantism grew out of Martin Luther’s remonstrations against the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, and swiftly divided into a multiplicity of denominations and sects that spread across Europe, the Americas, and eventually the rest of the world. Luther believed that individuals gained salvation through God’s grace rather than through good works and that saved individuals belonged to the “priesthood of believers” and thus enjoyed direct access to God through their faith in Jesus Christ. Despite the significant differences that existed between Protestant denominations and sects, they shared these basic beliefs that salvation came through faith in Jesus Christ, that believers had an individual relationship with God, and that the Bible rather than a priest was the highest earthly authority. The Protestants who made their way from Europe to the Americas during the early 17th century derived from different denominational branches, including Puritans, Anglicans, Huguenots, Quakers, Lutherans, Anabaptists, and others, and came for diverse reasons, with some seeking an escape from religious persecution and others eager to reap a profit in the New World. They arrived to a vast continent that already boasted a multiplicity of peoples and religions, including indigenous Americans, French and Spanish Catholics, Jews, and Africans. Through their interactions with non-Protestant and non-European peoples, Protestants drew on their religious beliefs to make sense of the differences they perceived between themselves and those they encountered, defining and redefining the relatively new concept of “race” in the process. As Protestants established their faith as the dominant cultural, religious, and ideological force in North America, they used their religiously inflected definitions of race to create racial and religious hierarchies, enshrining white Protestantism at the apogee of these invented categories. These hierarchies influenced American law, politics, and culture from the colonial era onward. They delineated which peoples counted as “American” and who could and should possess the full rights granted to U.S. citizens in the decades and centuries after the American Revolution. These hierarchies, coupled with religious ideas such as the Protestant commitment to spreading the gospel, also shaped the transcontinental and international expansion of the nation, providing the impetus and justification for exerting hegemonic control over indigenous populations within and outside of the United States. At the same time, Protestant beliefs about freedom and the inherent dignity of the individual provided an ideological basis for African Americans, Latinx Americans, indigenous Americans, and a range of immigrant populations to resist subjugation. Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and the separation of church and state created the opening for true religious pluralism. The diversity and evolution of American Protestantism and Protestant thought, as well as the role that Protestantism played in shaping and contesting American ideas about race and religion, influenced the development of American society and politics profoundly.

Article

Materiality and the Study of Indigenous Religions  

Amy R. Whitehead

Academic attention to Indigenous religions has grown steadily since the 1990s in parallel with increasing attention to the lived, material dimensions of religions. The global emergence of the subfield of material religion in the late 1990s began to highlight the often taken-for-granted and marginalized material aspects of religions by placing religious “things” front and center within cutting-edge debates. Paying scholarly attention to geographical sites, temples, ritual tools, texts, clothing, language, the body, and the things that people use to live their religions with and through began to unmask a scholarly heritage that privileges mind over matter, subjects over objects, culture over nature, the sacred over the profane, and metaphysics over the tangible. Simultaneously, the 1990s saw the re-emergence of Indigenous religions as an area of interest for the study of religions. These two trajectories, while at first seemingly unrelated, are both responding to a transformative and decolonizing shift in the study of religions, where researcher positionality, institutional structures, power relations, and processes are being critically and practically reassessed. Features of this shift include a series of moves in scholarship that problematize the discipline’s modern, Enlightenment, colonial legacy; emphasis on metaphysics, texts, and beliefs in the academic study of religions; and the world religions paradigm. Combining the fields of lived and material religion with the study of Indigenous religions, beginning with their related historical trajectories, offers rich and complex possibilities for the future innovative development of theories and methods. These theories and methods extend beyond established, anthropomorphic positions about material cultures, offering relational theories (such as the new animism and the new materialism) that allow Indigenous religious materialities to reveal new understandings about the ontological and other potentialities of so-called “things.”

Article

Religion and Native American Assimilation, Resistance, and Survival  

Tammy Heise

Since the early 19th century, the expansion of American empire has constrained Native American autonomy and cultural expression. Native American history simply cannot be told apart from accounts of violent dispossession of land, languages, and lifeways. The pressures exerted on Native Americans by U.S. colonialism were intense and far-reaching: U.S. officials sought no less than the complete eradication of Native cultures through the assimilation policies they devised in the 19th century and beyond. Their efforts, however, never went uncontested. Despite significant asymmetries in political power and material resources, Native Americans developed a range of strategies to ensure the survival of their communities in the complicated colonial context created by American expansion. Their activism meant that U.S. colonialism operated as a dynamic process that facilitated various forms of cultural innovation. With survival as their goal, Native American responses to U.S. colonialism can be mapped on a continuum of resistance in which accommodation and militancy exist as related impulses. Native Americans selectively deployed various expressions of resistance according to the particular political circumstances they faced. This strategy allowed them to facilitate an array of cultural changes intended to preserve their own cultural integrity by mitigating the most damaging effects of white rule. Because religion provided the language and logic of U.S. colonial expansion and Native American resistance, it functioned as a powerful medium for cross-cultural communication and exchange in the American colonial context. Religion facilitated engagement with white (mostly Protestant) Christian missionaries and allowed Native Americans to embrace some aspects of white American culture while rejecting others (even within the context of Native conversion to Christianity). It also allowed for flexible responses to U.S. consolidation policies intended to constrain Native autonomy still further by extending the reservation system, missionary oversight of indigenous communities, and land use in the late 19th century. Tribes that fought consolidation through the armed rebellions of the 1870s could find reasons to accept reservation life once continued military action became untenable. Once settled on reservations, these same tribes could deploy new strategies of resistance to make reservation life more tolerable. In this environment of religious innovation and resistance, new religious movements like the Ghost Dance and peyote religion arose to challenge the legitimacy of U.S. colonialism more directly through their revolutionary combinations of Native and Christian forms.

Article

The Prosperity Gospel in America  

Kate Bowler

“Prosperity gospel” is a term used mostly by critics to describe a theology and movement based on the belief that God wants to reward believers with health and wealth. The prosperity gospel, known alternatively as the Word of Faith or Health and Wealth gospel, maintains a distinctive view of how faith operates. Built on the theology of Essek William Kenyon, an early 20th-century radio evangelist, faith came to be seen as a spiritual law that guaranteed that believers who spoke positive truths aloud would lay claim to the divine blessings of health and happiness. Kenyon had absorbed a metaphysical vision of the power of the mind that had been developed by the New Thought movement and popularized in the burgeoning genre of self-help. Kenyon’s theology of faith-filled words was spread through healing revivalists in the young Pentecostal movement—most famously F. F. Bosworth—as one of many tools for achieving divine healing. Other variations of New Thought–inflected Christianity appeared in self-help prophets of the 1920s and 1930s, like Father Divine’s (1877/82?–1965) Peace Mission Movement and Sweet Daddy Grace’s (1881–1960) United House of Prayer. In the 1940s and 1950s, many Pentecostal pastors left their denominations and stirred up healing revivals across North America. Many of the most famous healing evangelists—Oral Roberts, William Branham, T. L. Osborn, A. A. Allen, Gordon Lindsay, and others—were influenced by Bosworth’s teachings on the law of faith (borrowed, of course, from Kenyon) to explain why some people were healed in their nightly revivals and others were not. Positive words, prayed aloud, possessed the power to make blessings materialize. By the early 1950s, they began to preach that wealth was also a divine right. New theological terms like “seed faith,” coined by Oral Roberts, sprang up to explain how gifts to the church were guaranteed to be returned to the believer with an added bonus. By the 1960s, the healing revivals had dried up, but the prosperity gospel continued to grow in the charismatic revivals washing through Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. In the charismatic movement, the prosperity gained middle-class audiences, greater respectability, and wider audiences beyond the Pentecostal nest. During this time, many prosperity-preaching evangelists began to build churches, educational centers, and radio and television ministries to spread their message. The airwaves were soon dominated by celebrity prosperity preachers like Rex Humbard, Robert Schuller, Jim and Tammy Bakker, and others. In the late 1980s, the movement faced a major crisis when several famous televangelists were accused of financial and sexual misconduct. However, new celebrities arose to replace them with a gentler message and a more professional image. The message was always a variation on the same theme: God wants to bless you. Stars like Joel Osteen, T. D. Jakes, or Joyce Meyer promised Christians the power to claim financial and physical well-being through right thought and speech. Though planted in Pentecostalism, the 21st-century prosperity movement attracted believers from diverse ethnic, denominational, racial, and economic backgrounds.

Article

Film Regulation and the Church in America  

William D. Romanowski

Since the dawn of the cinema at the turn of the 20th century, the church and its vicissitudes have been an essential part of the Hollywood story. There is a basic affinity between film and religion; both propagate values and offer visions of life that can—and often do—rival one another. For that reason, religious leaders have always been wary of Hollywood’s effect on the moral and religious character of the nation and its influence around the world. The film industry evolved in tandem with the church and other social institutions as it became integrated into society as a legitimate art. Negotiations with Hollywood were complex as church leaders sought to resolve enduring tensions between profits and the public welfare, freedom and control, art and entertainment, morality and marketing. Approaches to the cinema embody deeply held religious principles held in some tension. The one stresses freedom of expression and individual conscience; the other a concern with protecting the church and the moral and religious character of American society. Various perspectives that are rooted in different theological-cultural traditions exist along a spectrum. At one end is an emphasis on the individual as the genesis of social change; at the other is a concern with transforming institutions that influence and govern people’s lives. These two tendencies, which are not mutually exclusive, find expression both within religious groups and between them. In the history of Hollywood-church relations, Protestants favored industry reforms to protect individual liberty and the common good based on a shared recognition of the need for self-restraint and public responsibility. While Protestants stressed the individual conscience in movie matters, Catholics emphasized ecclesiastical authority. Proscribed film viewing and production oversight were deemed necessary to develop the individual conscience and protect parishioners from false ideas and immorality. Evangelicals, in turn, utilized film to evangelize and expected to restrain film production with highly publicized protests and a demonstrable consumer demand for family-friendly movies. Though motivated by different goals and perspectives, these strategies are all in some measure attempts to fuse moral and religious principles with democratic values and market realities: persistent dynamics traceable from the origins of the cinema to contemporary debates.

Article

Ancestral Cults in Ancient Egypt  

Juan Carlos Moreno García

The ancestor cult was a common feature of pharaonic society, aiming to provide social cohesion to extended families as well as close intermediaries with the netherworld. As active members of their respective households, ancestors were objects of veneration and care but were also subject to social obligations toward their kin. However, the continuity of such cults was not exempt from threats, from gradual oblivion to destruction of tombs. Furthermore, tensions between individual strategies and customary duties toward one’s kin were another source of instability, especially when officials sought to create their own funerary services and to transfer them to their direct descendants. Such tensions are particularly visible in social sectors close to the king. The assertion of royal authority depended on the elimination of potential sources of political counterweight, and also on the weakening of kin solidarity among members of the elite. As such, the promotion of the cult of royal ancestors, granting individual rewards to selected members of the court and developing personal contact with gods, was part of this strategy. In other cases, “cultural ancestors” provided prestigious links with golden ages of the past, for instance when authorship of sapiential texts was attributed to famous officials of the past or when scribes wrote graffiti in their tombs. Finally, ancestors and ancestral memories were also invented and manipulated for ideological purposes, such as providing legitimacy in periods of political division or prestigious links with the royal palace and the values it promoted. Ancestor worship thus appears as an active, multifaceted social activity, operating at different levels (individual, domestic/family, community, palace), whose distinctive idiosyncrasies depended on the context in which it operated. Tensions but also mutual influences permeated all these spheres, thus making ancestor cults a dynamic manifestation of social values, political practices, and religious beliefs in pharaonic Egypt.

Article

Buddhism and Globalization  

Jørn Borup

“Global Buddhism” can be broadly understood as the transnational and transcultural network of circulating Buddhists and dynamic flows of Buddhist ideas and practices. It is characterized by ideals of universally applicable values and individually accessible experiences transgressing historical and cultural particularities. Global Buddhism is one kind of globalized religion, being itself a specific domain within the general context of globalization. Globalization encompasses transnational processes of interchanging values, services, and products, typically related to the modern, capitalist world. However, globalization has also been understood as a framework constituting cultural and religious dynamics and centripetal forces involving circulating ideas, practices, and institutions in an open and interacting world. A broader spatial and temporal perspective on globalization situates it in broader historical contexts, but typically linking it to an affinity with postmodernity and with a historical focus on the time since the breakdown of the communist world. Proto-global elements of religion can likewise be found throughout history, especially in axial religions and in contexts of accelerated circulation and hybridization. Throughout Buddhist history, such elements have been characteristic of the religion’s evolution and dissemination. Mission and trade along the Silk Route and in southeast Asia created proto-global ramifications just like the advent of Western colonialism co-created reform movements and networks of people with international scope and impact on “Buddhist modernity.” Global aspects are thus inherently part of much of Buddhist history, but a more restricted use of the concept would place global Buddhism in the aftermath of modernity, typically pronounced in urban centres and de-territorialized (online) social networks. Resistance and relativization are potentially always part of global transfigurations has also been influential in Buddhist contexts. One specific kind of “glocal” Buddhism, (yet) mainly restricted to a North American context, concentrates on reactions towards the transfigurations of globalization. What constitutes this kind of “post-global Buddhism” is twofold: an unveiling of universalized, global Buddhism as basically particularized “white” Buddhism, and an ideological shift beyond such disguised hegemony envisioning itself with new practices, values, identities, and communities based on (gender and) ethnic/racial differentiation.

Article

Indigenous Religion of Hawaiʻi  

Marie Alohalani Brown

Hawaiian religion is a nature religion in that the island environment is the matrix of traditional Hawaiian beliefs and belief-related practices. For this reason, nature as a whole is considered sacred. Creation chants in the form of genealogies establish the Hawaiian people as the younger relatives of these other-than-human entities termed “akua” that comprise and populate this island world. There are countless akua, thus making it impossible to know all their names and functions. To address this issue, a prayer acknowledges and honors these innumerable akua and the existence and vastness of the potentially significantly unknown. Hawaiian religion is practice driven. While a great number of deities are recognized and honored, not all of them are actively worshipped. Practitioners focus their attention on the akua who are in one way or another relevant to their occupation or craft. In addition to the belief in nature deities, Hawaiian religion is informed by other foundational concepts such as kino lau (the forms a deity may assume or the forms with which a deity is symbolically associated), ʻaumākua (ancestral deities), mana (a complex concept broadly related to “power”), and kapu (prohibition) related to the sacred. These concepts are inextricably intertwined in Hawaiian religion. In an earlier time in Hawaiʻi’s history, this religion regulated nearly every aspect of life—familial, societal, political, and economic. Thus, Hawaiian religion and Hawaiian culture are nearly indistinguishable.

Article

Sports and Religion in America  

Arthur Remillard

Athletic events occur in discrete locations, played by individuals following a prescribed set of rules, leaving behind metrics like wins and losses, final scores, and overall records. So on the surface, the empirical facts of sports are rather mundane. And yet, for devoted participants and observers, physical movements and calculated numbers feed into carefully constructed worlds of mythic stories, potent symbols, and exuberant rituals. The story of religion and sports in America, then, starts with bodies in motion. It continues as these bodies become inscribed with sacred meaning, each mark bearing the traces of a given population’s most cherished values. Institutional religions have been part of this story. From the “muscular Christians” of the Progressive Era to a contemporary Muslim football team observing the Ramadan fast during a playoff run, Americans have habitually turned playing fields into praying fields. Sports have also figured into the making of America’s civil religious discourse, as athletic expressions of national identity. In these instances, bodies in motion have reinforced or disrupted the boundaries that separate “real” Americans from those perceived to threaten social stability. Beyond institutional and civil religions, though, religious themes and ideas continue to attach themselves to sports in new and innovative ways. Understanding this process requires an unbraiding of the category of “religion” from notions of “God” and “belief.” Instead, we profit from an understanding of religion that starts with embodied movements, and continues into the material production of the sacred. From here, sports become locations to experiment with, and experience, what it means to be human. And this is where the attraction to sports originates, both in the past and in the present.

Article

Buddhism and Media  

Scott A. Mitchell

Many approaches to the study of Buddhism and media overlap with traditional Buddhist studies methods such as textual analysis, art theory, ethnography, and ritual studies, as well as studies of material culture. Media studies may concern itself with contemporary media messages and forms, but it need not be limited to the realms of mass media and popular culture. In foregrounding media and material cultural, scholars can trace the development and flow of Buddhism as a global religion and cultural phenomenon. Such studies also invariably draw attention to the lived aspects of the religion: How do Buddhists enact or perform Buddhism? How do Buddhists communicate ideas about Buddhism both to other Buddhists as well as to outsiders? And how do these communicative acts change one’s understanding of Buddhism? Such questions go beyond the merely textual, historical, or philosophical and call us to answer deeper questions about the nature of Buddhism in the contemporary, global age.

Article

Indigenous Religions in West Africa  

Katharina Wilkens and Mariam Goshadze

Reaching from the Sahara Desert and the savanna in the north to the densely wooded areas of the Atlantic coast, West Africa is a region marked by a history of long-distance trade, large empires, European colonialism, and postcolonial nationalism. Indigenous religions here consist of a number of functionally differentiated institutions, societies, and ritual performances that vary considerably across the region. These may include lineage rituals of ancestor veneration, professional praise singers and narrators, mask societies, burial rituals, healing, puberty rites and marriage, societies dedicated to various divinities, witchcraft, annual festivals, and divination. With concepts like “fetishism” and “animism,” Western scholarship on African religions has left a deep epistemological imprint on how it has been understood. The current usage of both terms “indigenous” and “traditional” in reference to African religions reflects the variety of approaches toward decolonizing Western theories of religion and culture that emphasize different aspects of empirical research, discursive identity, and the relationship to Christianity (and to a lesser extent to Islam). Precolonial sources on the subject are rare, but some do exist, including Islamic textual sources, oral (mostly epic) literature, and archaeological data. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the changing perceptions of Indigenous religions in the face of Christian missionization and European colonialism are marked by a shift from the importance of ancestral rituals in public offices to nationalistic idealization of traditions as a means of ethnic integration. During the course of the 20th century, the neglect of, or even antagonism toward Indigenous religious expressions has led to a culturalization of ritual performances and narratives, on the one hand, and to the reactive formation of neotraditional religious groups, on the other hand. Confronted with attacks launched by Pentecostalism and Salafism, traditional religions remain relevant as actors, and observers point out their contribution to modern, decolonial societies entangled in diasporic and world history.

Article

Race, Culture, and Religion in the American South  

Paul Harvey

The South still commonly appears as the land of the Bible Belt, of evangelical Protestant hegemony. Despite the rapidly increasing immigration from all parts of the world to the region, there is still justification for such a view. To study religion in the South, then, is to examine the influence of a dominant evangelical culture that has shaped the region’s social mores, religious minorities (including Catholicism, Judaism, and non-Christian immigrant religions), cultural forms, charged racial interactions, and political practices. In no other widely dispersed region, save for the Mormon regions of the Rocky Mountain West, does one family of religious belief and expression hold such sway over so many people and throughout such a large area. The biracial nature of evangelicalism in the South, as well, lends it a distinctive history and culture that alternately puzzles, repulses, and fascinates outsiders. The South may be the Bible Belt, but, like Joseph’s coat, it is a belt of many colors, embroidered with a rich stitching together of words, sounds, and images from the inexhaustible resource of the scriptures. The rigid Bible Belt conservatism associated with the common understanding of religion in the South contrasts dramatically with the sheer creative explosiveness of southern religious cultural expression. Indeed, southern religious influences lay at the heart of much of 20th-century American popular culture. And it contrasts with a rapidly changing contemporary South in which Buddhist retreat centers and Ganesha temples are taking their place alongside Baptist and Methodist churches.

Article

Native American Religions  

Sarah E. Dees

Native American religious traditions encompass a diverse array of beliefs, practices, and features of material culture and society that reflect and shape individual experiences and communal life among Indigenous communities in what is today the United States. While Native American religious traditions have long been the subject of scholarly inquiry, a field of study dedicated specifically to this topic only emerged in the mid-20th century. Because historical sources describing Native religions often wove ethnocentric biases or anti-Indian sentiments into descriptions of Native beliefs and practices, present-day inquiry requires critically reflexive interpretation of primary sources and attention to insiders’ perspectives. Today, scholarship on Native American religions draws on numerous methodological approaches to explore key features of these traditions, including ceremonies, stories, philosophies, art, and social institutions. While these features vary greatly by religious community, practitioners of Native religions often emphasize the significance of land and the environment, their cultural heritage, and relationships between humans and non-human entities, spirits, and ancestors. Many practitioners of Native American religions would resist the notion that a “religious” or “spiritual” realm can be separated from “secular” aspects of society or culture; thus, in addition to focusing on constitutive features of the religious beliefs and practices themselves, an understanding of Native American religions requires attention to broader social and cultural issues, including politics, law, health, and education. Furthermore, just as Native traditions were dynamic prior to the 15th century, they have been shaped by contact with non-Native religions and cultures since the first instances of European colonization. The historical conditions of European and Euro-American settler colonialism and encounter between Native and non-Native communities necessitate attention to issues such as Christian missionization and the ensuing Indigenous responses to Christianity, U.S. federal Indian policy, legal battles over Native American religious freedom and self-determination, and the place of Native religions in mainstream U.S. culture. While these themes and issues illuminate some shared features of Native American religions, the unique histories and characteristics of specific communities necessarily subvert efforts to articulate a simple, comprehensive definition of “Native American religion.” And, while knowledge of the past is essential for understanding Native American religions, a historical focus in itself is insufficient if it ignores the ongoing presence of Native American religious expression. Practitioners of Native American religions today emphasize religious continuity as well as creativity and change, blending long-standing historical traditions with more recently established religious innovations.

Article

American Religious Empire and the Caribbean  

Andrew R. McKee

America has been closely linked to the Caribbean since at least the Age of Revolutions. Across the Atlantic World, revolutions in France, Santo Domingo, and the eastern United States drastically changed interlocked understandings of citizenship, religion, and freedom. From the 19th century onward, imperial views and laws about religions developed from prerevolutionary era roots. The dominant understandings of Caribbean religious history are those of migration, diaspora, syncretism, and diversity. Studying how the American religious empire worked to regulate and control the religious practices in the Caribbean shows how the distinct religions associated with the region—Obeah, Santeria, and Vodou, for example—developed. It is impossible to study the Caribbean without centering on the processes of Anglo-European colonization and the forced migration of enslaved peoples predominantly, but not only, from Africa. Labor and economic concerns underline nearly every Caribbean religious culture that exploded in the region from the colonial period onward.

Article

Race and Religion in U.S. Public Life  

Khyati Y. Joshi

Religion is front and center in the early 21st century. The United States not only has experienced an explosion of religious diversity on its own shores in the past five decades, but also is functioning in a world where the 20th century’s duel of political theories has given way to political and social movements driven by or making use of expressly religious identities and themes. All the while, the United States is trying the perfect the experiment in religious pluralism started by the framers of the US Constitution more than two centuries ago. Today, most people would say we have “freedom of religion,” guaranteed by the First Amendment. In reality, religious freedom and religious pluralism are something we have been struggling with since the inception of this country for a variety of reasons, including the presence of white and Christian normativity that is enshrined in our laws and policies and extends religious liberties haltingly, belatedly, and incompletely. The experiences of three immigrant cohorts that are both racial and religious minorities in the United States (South Asian American Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus) illustrate the dynamic nature of religion in public life, and the unfulfilled promise of complete equality. By illustrating the complexities of how racial status and religious background have impacted the perception and reception of these immigrant communities, it offers untold stories and discusses the lessons they offer for those who aspire to a genuinely equal and pluralistic America.

Article

Race and Catholicism in American History  

Justin D. Poché

Catholicism, as both an institution and a culture of popular beliefs, rituals, and values, has played an important role in the formation of racial boundaries in American society. The logic of race and its inherent function as a mechanism of social power, in turn, profoundly shaped Catholic thought and practice throughout the church’s own 400-year formation in America. Beginning with colonization of the New World, Catholicism defined and institutionalized racial difference in ways that both adhered to and challenged the dominant Anglo-American conceptions of whiteness as a critical measure of social belonging. Early Catholic missions abetted European colonialism by codifying Africans and Native Americans as cultural and moral “others.” Following a “national parish” system, institutional growth from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century sorted various European “races” and created spaces for resisting Anglo-American discrimination. The creation of a separate and singular mission for all “non-white” communities nonetheless reflected Catholic acquiescence to an American racial binary. Intra-Catholic challenges to racialist organization struggled to gain traction until the mid-20th century. As second- and third-generation European immigrants began asserting white status in American society, Catholic understandings of sacred space, which infused white resistance to neighborhood integration with religious urgency, and hierarchical ordering of moral authority within an institution that historically excluded non-whites from positions of influence created significant barriers to Catholic interracialism. The influence of the civil rights movement and the structural transformation of both Catholic life and urban communities where non-whites lived nonetheless prompted new efforts to enlist Catholic teaching and community resources into ongoing struggles against racial oppression. Debates over the meaning of race and American society and social policy continue to draw upon competing histories of the American Catholic experience.

Article

Alternative Religious Movements and Race in America  

Emily Suzanne Clark

Alternative religious movements have played a significant role in American history. There is no easy definition for these types of groups; their ideas and practices vary. One clear commonality, though, is their development on the sociocultural margins. Thus, inherent in alternative religious movements is a critique of dominant culture, and this offers a powerful means of engaging issues of race in America. Other groups, however, choose to echo prevailing racial ideas as a means of making themselves mainstream. The typical narrative of American religious history is white and Protestant, and alternative religious movements have provided both criticism and approval of that story. While a close look at every alternative religious movement would be impossible, even an abbreviated exploration is revealing. During the antebellum period the question of slavery and the white supremacy that supported it prompted alternative religious movements to ask questions about equality. While many Shakers and Spiritualists recognized value in all, other groups, like the Mormons, encoded contemporary racial assumptions in their early theology. Throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, African Americans and Native Americans criticized white supremacy by offering alternative explanations of humanity’s history and destiny. The 1890s Ghost Dance movement envisioned an Indian paradise devoid of whites, and in the early 20th century black alternative movements in northern cities emphasized the religious significance of their blackness. Though these groups criticized the white supremacy surrounding them, others continued to emphasize the superiority of whiteness. In the latter part of the 20th century, many Americans associated racialized alternative religious movements, such as the Nation of Islam, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, and the Peoples Temple, with fear or brainwashing. In examining how alternative religious movements engage racial assumptions, articulate racial discourse, or create religio-racial identities, a study of these movements illuminates the interplay between religion and culture in American history.

Article

Lived Ancient Religions  

Jörg Rüpke

“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.

Article

Buddhist Wizards (Vidyādhara/Weizzā/Weikza): Contemporary Burma/Myanmar  

Thomas Patton

Supernatural wizards with magical powers to heal the sick and who inhabit the minds and bodies of men, women, and children, as well as defend religion from the forces of evil: this is not the popular vision of Buddhism. But this is exactly what one finds in the Buddhist country of Myanmar, where the majority of people abide by Theravāda Buddhism—a form of Buddhism generally perceived as staid, lacking religious devotion and elements of the supernatural. Known as “weizzā,” the beliefs and practices associated with this religion have received little scholarly attention, especially when compared with research done on other aspects of Buddhism in Myanmar. Reasons for this are varied, but two stand out. Firstly, because such phenomena have been labeled by scholars and Buddhists alike as “popular” and “syncretic” forms of religion, scholars of Buddhism in Myanmar have tended to focus their research on aspects of Buddhism considered orthodox and normative, such as vipassana and abhidhamma. Secondly, the academic study of religion has been slow to develop new interpretive strategies for studying religious phenomena that do not readily fit existing categories of what constitutes “religion.” These two dilemmas will be confronted by introducing and employing the framework of “lived religion” to examine the religious lives of those who engage the world of Buddhist wizards, as well as the experiences these individuals consider central to their lives—along with the varied rituals that make up their personal religious expressions. The reader is invited to think of religion dynamically, reconsidering the landscape of Myanmar religion in terms of practices linked to specific social contexts. After delineating a genealogy of scholarly approaches to the study of Buddhism-as-lived and the ways in which scholars have constituted the subject of their studies, the article will examine aspects of Myanmar religious life from the perspectives of those whose experiences are often misrepresented or ignored entirely, not only in Western academic works on religion but also in Myanmar historical monographs and other written, oral, and pictorial sources. In addition to increasing our understanding of the lived religious experiences and practices of the weizzā and their devotees, this approach to religious studies also enriches our investigation of the complex interrelationship between these experiences and practices and the wider social world they are enacted in. Acknowledging that any lens we study religion through offers only a partial truth, an improved religious studies approach to the weizzā and similar phenomena can get closer to the truths that people make in their own lives: thus, moving further from the contested boundaries that scholars and practitioners of religion place on religious worlds.