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Article

Matthew Avery Sutton

Apocalypticism has had a powerful impact on American life. It has fostered among adherents a strong sense of purpose and personal identity, it has helped them interpret the challenges they face all around them, and it has provided them with a triumphant vision of the future. Although there are many kinds of apocalypticism, in the United States, Christian forms have dominated. The Bible’s focus on a coming millennium has offered Americans the promise of transformation and redemption in a world that sometimes seems void of both. When Christians have emphasized the Bible’s apocalyptic and millennial visions, they have acted in new and important ways. Apocalyptic visions, rather than fostering a sense of indifference to the coming of the end of days, have served as a call to battle. God, millennialists insist, has given them much to do and very little time in which to do it. Positive that Jesus is coming soon, they have preached revival and engaged directly and aggressively with their culture. Sometimes their actions have served to reinforce the status quo, and at other times they have sparked revolutions. The uses of apocalypticism and millennialism are almost as diverse as their adherents.

Article

As a subfield of the study of religion, the study of religion and war has access to but has not yet applied the methodological and theoretical tools of a diverse and vibrant discipline. For sound evidentiary reasons as well as out of force of habit, scholars writing about religion and war in American history have drawn heavily on explicitly theologically engaged textual sources, for example, sermons, diaries, and letters. Less common are studies that examine the stuff of popular culture and the military-industrial complex, for example, material culture, film, novels, weapons programs, and military training manuals, for their religious and moral investments. If the study of religion and war in American history is to remain vital and in touch with the changing relationship between the nation, its faiths, and its wars, scholars must assimilate broader definitions of religion and build their studies using a more diverse archive. The words of chaplains and soldiers remain important, to be sure, but consideration of the tools of war, how they are used, and what Americans believe about soldiers, leads to a fuller and more textured understanding of the many influences that religion and war have exerted and continue to exert on each other.

Article

From at least the 18th century to the present, religious revivals have been a defining feature of American Protestantism. Though the size, scale, and formatting of revivals have varied over time, their basic function has not: to refresh the faithful, to reclaim the backslidden, and to secure the conversion of the uninitiated. A revival, in any age, was a mass phenomenon, a collective experiential encounter with the divine, whether held within a single congregation or conducted as a regional or even national campaign. As a result, significant numbers of Americans have traced their own conversion experiences to participation in a revival service, and the rhythms of revivalism have given crucial shape to American Protestant church life and history. From colonial Presbyterians to contemporary Pentecostals, the religious lives of a large and diverse swath of the American people have been formed by the vocabulary and ritual technologies of the revival tradition. Beyond its evident importance to the religious lives of practitioners, however, much about the revival tradition has been disputed. Historians and theologians have variously interpreted revivalism as either democratizing or socially conservative, as enabling radical politics or reinforcing the status quo, as genuine outpourings of the Holy Spirit or enthusiastic delusion. The meaning of “conversion,” particularly in regard to Native American and African populations in the colonial and early American periods, has been subject to widespread criticism as an oversimplified term implying a linear movement from one identity to another. Even the broad historical narrative of American revivalism has been subject to debate, including the reality, cohesiveness, and long-term effects of the First and Second Great Awakenings as well as the Pentecostal and healing revivals of the mid-20th century. To survey the history and literature of American revivalism is therefore to confront a wide array of characterizations and conclusions, defying easy assessment.

Article

Sin and salvation, as an interconnected pair of ideas, imply that human life as it is ordinarily lived has been diverted from its true good or distorted from its proper form. Taken together, these paired ideas thus imply a narrative of human transformation, a redemptive process that recovers human life from erroneous ways and reorients it toward an ultimate goal or a transcendent power through which life is fulfilled. Narratives of redemption from sin have taken many forms in the course of American history, but in considering any specific example it is useful to recognize its relationship to two especially common patterns. In some cases, the redemptive narrative is organized around a decisive personal experience, and autobiographical accounts of “conversion” that describe such transformative events are common in American religious literature. In other cases, the redemptive narrative accentuates the gradual process of shaping a way of life that incorporates an individual into the ongoing social practice of a community, through spiritual disciplines ranging from meditation and prayer to acts of public witness and compassion. In either of these versions, redemptive narratives frequently hinge on the reconciling work of a transcendent power, in which salvation represents the event or process that incorporates individual persons into a society or a natural order of existence that is itself the subject of a larger, even cosmic history of redemption. In all of these variations, American narratives of redemption have interacted with broader cultural ideas of human nature and the possibilities for human psychological and societal change.

Article

Cambodians entered the United States as refugees after a group of Cambodian Communists named Khmer Rouge, led by the French-educated Pol Pot, won a civil war that had raged from March 1970 to April 1975 and proceeded to rule the country with extraordinary brutality. In power from April 17, 1975, to January 7, 1979, they destroyed all the major institutions in the country. An estimated 1.7 million people out of an estimated total population of 7.9 million died from executions, hunger, disease, injuries, coerced labor, and exposure to the elements. The refuge-seekers came in three waves: (1) just before the Khmer Rouge takeover, (2) during the regime’s existence, and (3) after the regime was overthrown. Some former Khmer Rouge personnel, who had escaped to Vietnam because they opposed Pol Pot’s extremist ideology and savage practices, returned in late December 1978, accompanied by 120,000 Vietnamese troops, to topple the government of their former comrades. A second civil war then erupted along the Thai-Cambodian border pitting the rump Khmer Rouge against two groups of non-communist combatants. Though fighting among themselves, all three groups opposed the new Cambodian government that was supported and controlled by Vietnam. When hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, along with Laotians and Vietnamese, showed up at the Thai-Cambodian border to seek refuge in Thailand, the Thai government and military did not welcome them. Thailand treated the Cambodians especially harshly for reasons related to the Thai officials’ concerns about the internal security of their country. Almost 158,000 Cambodians gained entry into the United States between 1975 and 1994, mainly as refugees but with a smaller number as immigrants and “humanitarian parolees.” Cambodian ethnic communities sprang up on American soil, many of them in locations chosen by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. By the time the 1990 U.S. census was taken, Cambodians could be found in all fifty states. The refugees encountered enormous difficulties adapting to life in the United States. Only about 5 percent of them, mostly educated people from the first wave of refugees who came in 1975 and who, therefore, did not experience the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge era, managed to find white-collar jobs, often serving as intermediaries between their compatriots and the larger American society. About 40 to 50 percent of the Cambodian newcomers who arrived in the second and third waves found employment in blue-collar occupations. The rest of the population has relied on welfare and other forms of public assistance. A significant portion of this last group is composed of households headed by women whose fathers, husbands, or sons the Khmer Rouge had killed. It is they who have had to struggle the hardest to keep themselves and their children alive. Many women had to learn to become the main bread winners in their families even though they had never engaged in wage labor in their homeland. Large numbers of refugees have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but have received very little help to deal with the symptoms. Some children, lacking role models, have not done well academically and dropped out of school. Others have joined gangs. Despite myriad difficulties, Cambodians in the United States are determined to resuscitate their social institutions and culture that the Khmer Rouge had tried to destroy during their reign of terror. By reviving Cambodian classical dance, music, and other performing and visual arts, and by rebuilding institutions, particularly Buddhist temples, they are trying valiantly to transcend the tragedies that befell them in order to survive as a people and a culture.

Article

American propaganda cast the Cold War as one of history’s great religious wars, between the godless and the God-fearing, between good and evil. It was a simplistic depiction that was supported and promoted in the highest echelons of government and by the leaders of America’s key institutions. During the course of the presidencies of Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, U.S.-Soviet rivalry was transformed from a traditional great power struggle into a morality play that drew on firmly entrenched notions rooted in the American past, above all American exceptionalism and its sense of mission. Truman made religion America’s ideological justification for abandoning America’s wartime cooperation with the Soviet Union. Eisenhower used religion to persuade the world that America was a force for good in the international arena. The resulting anti-communist crusade was to have profound consequences for Christian America, contributing to both religious revival and religious repression in the early Cold War period. Over time it caused irrevocable alterations to America’s religious landscape. The anti-communist dynamic unleashed embraced anti-liberalism and was a factor in the rise of the Christian Right and the decline in America’s mainstream churches. In addition, the image of a godless and evil enemy dictated an irreconcilable conflict that precluded the very modes of diplomacy and discourse that might have helped avoid the worst excesses, costs, and consequences of the Cold War.

Article

Religions are fundamentally spatial, as they require space in which to assemble, to engage in ritual practices, and to form community. Every religious group that has existed in the United States has made a spatial imprint on the country, and that spatiality—that physical character—is also a constitutive component of religious experience. Spaces not only host religious practices but also contribute to their meaning and salience. Thus, understanding religious life in America includes understanding the spaces in which it occurs. The diversity of religious life in America is apparent from the countless religious spaces and buildings that have occupied the national landscape, including Native American earthworks and burial mounds, Catholic and Protestant missions and churches, Jewish synagogues, Islamic mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples, and Sikh gurdwaras. But how are we to understand these diverse buildings and spaces? The location of built spaces and the totality of the landscape in which they exist constitute a religioscape, within which they provide information about their religious communities through their size, location, and architectural style. The internal organization and spatial plans of these built spaces also provide information on liturgical and congregational functions and efforts to facilitate religious experiences and establish and maintain authority or power. Considering both these aspects of religious space and architecture provides insight into how religious diversity functions in the United States and how groups have expressed their religious beliefs and interests and interacted with others to cooperate and compete within the American landscape.

Article

The Arabic literary tradition is a long one, stretching back to undocumented beginnings in the Arabian Peninsula in the pre-Islamic (pre-7th century) era. The study of that heritage in Western academe began as a subset of the philological traditions of biblical and ancient Near Eastern scholarship, with their primary focus on the preparation of textual editions, compendia, dictionaries, and translations into European languages. In the specific context of studies devoted to the Arabic literary tradition, the study of the Qurʾān set the stage for the emergence of similar philological approaches to the variety of literary generic categories created within the increasingly widespread Arabic-speaking Islamic communities. The shift from the more philological approach to that of a more theoretically founded discipline of Arabic literature studies is a gradual one. Terry Eagleton notes (Literary Theory, 1983) that the discipline of literature studies—involving the interpretation of literary materials and their theorization—traces its beginnings to the early decades of the 20th century. In the case of the Arabic literary tradition, the shift can be traced to the second half of the same century, and as the result of a number of factors. In the Arabic-speaking regions themselves (in President Jamāl ʿAbd al-Nāṣir [Gamal Abdel Nasser] of Egypt’s terms, “from the [Atlantic] Ocean to the [Persian / Arabian] Gulf), changes in regimes led to the emergence of new political and social configurations, duly reflected in literary production. In the anglophone Western academic context, a consideration of the consequences of World War II led the governments of both the United States and Britain to establish commissions that led to the fostering of new approaches to the study of the regions of West Asia and North Africa and to the provision of funding for the creation of new centers and programs devoted to the modern period (however that was to be defined). Among the consequences of these new emphases was the need to offer instruction in the modern Arabic language and its dialects, thus providing students with skills that enabled them to avail themselves of opportunities to study at institutions in the Arabic-speaking world and to engage with Arab littérateurs and critics. The results of these various trends in Arabic literature studies during the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st, including the development of increasingly close affiliations with comparative literature studies, have shown themselves in a number of ways. As new centers of literary activity have emerged in different parts of the Arabic-speaking region (with the Gulf States as a primary example) and as Arab littérateurs have explored fresh genres and modes of expression (including media of a wide variety often expressed in colloquial dialect), so has literature scholarship set itself to apply new theoretical and critical approaches to the rapidly expanding publication sector. With the theorization of the discipline has come the need for a greater focus on individual genres, regions, and critical approaches and a concomitant move away from attempts to subsume “Arabic literature” under a single rubric. Such studies are not only opening up new avenues of inquiry, but are also demanding a re-examination of some of the principles and parameters governing the composition of Arabic literary history, both modern and premodern.

Article

Raquel G. Paraíso

Among the many musical traditions of Mexico, the son is one of the most representative of the richness and diversity of Mexican culture. Son (or sones) is a generic term that describes both a complex of genres and the various regional subgenres that make up that complex. Son is a type of traditional music performed by small ensembles, with or without singing, and danced. It serves to entertain, but is also performed at celebratory occasions and festivals as well as in rituals. Although sones appear throughout Mexico marked by regional differences in both instrumentation and performance styles, they share common characteristics that define the genre as a whole, musically (i.e., their rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic structures), lyrically, and choreographically. Because of the particular cultural traits and sociocultural contexts that each son subgenre encompasses, it can be argued that regional sones are a powerful expression of Mexican regional musics, cultures, and social identities. Born as a hybrid genre out of the intermixing of European, American Indian, African, and Afro-Caribbean musical elements and contexts, Mexican sones have moved through time defined by many as a symbol of Mexican identity, even if the very concept of that “Mexican identity” has changed over time. What might be called the son’s “Golden Age” lasted from the 1890s until the middle of the 20th century. By the 1960s, sones were in serious decline all around Mexico: they had lost the favor of their audiences, old performers had passed away, and new generations did not engage with these musical traditions. Cultural politics contributed to selective processes through which some son subgenres faded away. Sociopolitical processes from the 1930s to the 1980s contributed to the re-contextualization of the Mexican son through modified versions of sones staged and broadcast in theatres, radio stations, and film productions. Post-revolutionary nationalism, the music industry, and folkloric ballets created these new versions and exercised an ideological control that both affected popular musical expressions and shaped musical tastes. Changes in urbanization and life conditions transformed social relationships and furthered this intense transformation. With fewer performance occasions and little support from either the government or private patrons, several regional son subgenres became thin and isolated, with minimal projection outside their regions. In the 1980s, some of the son subgenres underwent a renaissance owing to various private and official initiatives that infused new life to the music. This article provides an overview of the son, past and present, connecting the relevance of this musical style with the social history of the country.

Article

Throughout the history of the British colonies and the United States, Americans from different religious traditions have performed a wide variety of religious rituals in public spaces and forums. Many of these public ceremonies stood in the long tradition of civil religion in the United States, which combined national symbols with nonsectarian references to God, the Bible, and the like, and helped to unify a religiously diverse American populace. In addition to such expressions of religious nationalism, many Americans have not hesitated to perform religious rituals in the public square that reflected much more particularistic religious commitments and identities. A significant majority of these religious ceremonies in American public life demonstrated—even as they reinforced—the social and political dominance of Protestantism. Such was especially the case with the numerous revival meetings held in very public places that repeatedly attracted crowds by the thousands, and the seemingly ubiquitous Christmas and Easter celebrations in much of American society. At the same time, the ever-expanding religious diversity in the United States ensured a corresponding increase in the variety of religious performances that reached the wider public. Religious ceremonies in American public life functioned as important sites of religious cooperation, contestation, and protest; and served as key features of the various counterpublics that minority religious groups created as they challenged the status quo. The emergence of new mass communication technologies during the 20th century made it evermore difficult to draw sharp lines of distinction separating public and private expressions of religion. And despite the fact that an increasing number of Americans disaffiliated from established forms of religion after the turn of the 21st century, public expressions of religiosity showed few signs of abating. Religious Americans of all stripes continued to perform religious ceremonies in public spaces as a means to proselytize, agitate on behalf of specific causes, defend religious values that they perceived to be under threat, and raise awareness regarding the plight of marginalized groups.