Star Wars as American Religion

Matthew J. Cressler

Author's Note: Have no fear, there are no spoilers here....but seriously, you need to go see the movie already! 

So I've been (over)thinking Star Wars for the better part of a month now. If you know me, you know I'm quite the nerd. For the past few weeks, though, it's been turned all the way up to 11. Not only have I been obsessing over Star Wars, I've been thinking about Star Wars as American religion.

Why? Well, I've known for some time that I'm due for an end-of-the-year RiAH post. In the throes of syllabusing (like Charles McCrary and so many of us this time of year), my initial instinct was to blog on course construction. Then Richard Newton, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College and fellow Star Wars overthinker, solicited essays on religion, religious studies, and Star Wars for Sowing the Seed (a student-scholar digital collaborative that hosts conversations on religion, culture, and teaching). Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted, I settled on the following topic: What would it mean to think about Star Wars as American religion?

What does that even mean, you might ask? Well, to restate the question, I've been wondering under what circumstances (by what parameters, for what purposes) Star Wars might be considered American religion. To put it yet another way, could I include Star Wars in my Religion in America (RELS 250) course this spring? These are the kinds of questions that awaken - I know, I know, that pun was a little Forced - when you rewatch the (original) Star Wars trilogy and see The Force Awakens (twice), all while writing your Religion in America syllabus....... See what I mean? The nerd is notched up to Ludicrous Speed.

My nerdiness notwithstanding, it strikes me that how one answers these questions could tell us quite a bit. Whether a teacher is willing to consider Star Wars as American religion has the potential to tell us how they define "religion" and how they conceptualize the purpose of a "religion in America" course.

Religion in American History at #AHA16: Panels of Interest as the AHA Approaches

Lauren Turek

We are a mere ten days away from the start of the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, which is taking place from January 7-10 in Atlanta, Georgia. This year's theme is "Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors," and scholars of religion in American history as well as world history have put together a wide range of exciting panels. A number of this blog's contributors are presenting and there are many American Society of Church History and American Catholic Historical Association panels on the program. As always, I lament that I can't be in two (or more!) places at once, as I have combed through the program and found lots of panels and roundtables I would love to attend. I have compiled a list of panels that may be of interest to readers—hopefully someone will be live tweeting them during the conference (click the panel title to read the abstract):

Teaching American Religious Freedom

Charles McCrary

’Tis the season for syllabus-writing. Next semester I will be teaching an upper-level course on American law and religion. I co-taught a version of it a few semesters ago with Mike Graziano (we blogged about it here and here.) That course focused on pluralism and free exercise, and we spent a lot of time giving a historical account of the Hobby Lobby case and decision. This time, I’m going to try something a little more abstract, by focusing somewhat less on law itself and more so on “freedom.” The topics aren’t fully nailed down, though, so this is post, while it offers some ideas, is just as much a request for suggestions.

The Liberal Protestant Origins of Family Values?

Mark Edwards

This season, give the gift of family values.  Seth Dowland’s Family Values and the Rise of the Christian Right (Penn, 2015), that is.  Dowland’s long-awaited book is a masterful survey of contemporary evangelical conservative politics of the family.  Not only does Dowland show how and why, following challenges to white male authority during the 1960s, evangelicals exalted the heterosexual nuclear family as the center of American Christianity and culture—a maneuver which has culminated in protestations by the President of Oklahoma Wesleyan that “marriage is at the heart of the gospel.”  Dowland also explores the racialized nature of the family values lobby.  His study will prove a great compliment to recent works by Andrew Hartman, Steven Miller, and others on the culture wars.  I know I’m looking forward to using it in survey classes.

Family Values also reminded me of my own brief forays into liberal and ecumenical Protestant concern for the family while I was working on my dissertation.  Robert Self, Heather White, and more have been uncovering the foundations of new conservative thought about the family among the work of professing liberals during the 1920s and 1930s.  Indeed, Dowland relies heavily upon Self’s All in the Family (2013) while framing his own work.  Taking a broad view of family values, it appears that liberal Protestants once again beat their evangelical rivals to the punch.  It was the nineteenth-century liberal theologian Horace Bushnell, for instance, who first prioritized family religion over revivalism in his landmark studies on Christian nurture.  Liberal concern for the well-ordered family—as an oasis among the disenchanting forces of urbanization and industrialization—continued unabated well into the twentieth century.  Following World War I, liberal Victorian faith in the family coincided with liberal Protestant investment in the social sciences.  Much of that work has been explored in Margaret Bendroth’s Growing up Protestant (2002)—I’m sure there are other similar works I’m not familiar with.  However, much more might be done to unearth the family values work of religious educators and ecumenical flagships like the Federal, National, and World Council of Churches.    

Here’s a brief unpublished passage I wrote years ago that points to liberal interests in the family.  Regina Scott Wieman was the wife of Henry Nelson Wieman, a prominent scientific theologian of the interwar years:

Evident confusion among their liberal Protestant fellowships concerning what constituted "liberated personalities" had debatable cultural consequences, all the same.  Since the early 1930s, the FCC's Committee on Marriage and the Home, in partnership with religious and federally supported educators, had headed a movement to ensure improved child care in the United States. The FCC wedded equalitarian family management and scientific parenting campaigns to its defense of monogamy and criticisms of trial marriage and easy divorce laws. Having worked out her own ideas through interaction with secular parenting agencies and the California public school system, Henry Wieman's wife Regina foresaw a new generation of expert parents cooperating with pastors, professional educators, and community organizations in an effort to instill in their children enlightened concern for public welfare. She upheld earlier liberal religious ideals of children serving as equal partners in the democracy of family. Wieman and other religious educators wanted to avoid home lives characterized by "coercing conformity" and, in that way, to halt totalitarian "regimentation" of the United States. But could freeing up children to "build [their] own Bible"—in effect, to discover their religion, morality, and identity for themselves—also nurture a quest for self-realization opposed to tradition and community? Could such a project produce the sense of responsibility for public life that these same educators believed necessary for a free society?

The quotations are from Wieman’s 1937 book, The Modern Family and the Church.  I doubt Jerry Falwell and Phyllis Schafly were reading Wieman or Bushnell when they began positing their family-as-gospel positions.  I don’t think we can establish direct lines of influence.  At best, as Self and White have taught us, we might simply appreciate the irony of conservatives now defending once liberal tenets.  Or, one of us might get busy writing writing the history of both conservative and liberal family values. 

December 31 is Watch Night

Watch Night church services originated within Moravian communities. During these gatherings, the pastor would begin a sermon just before midnight, never intending to finish. Instead, when the church bells rang in the new day, congregants would interrupt the sermon, either by singing or walking out of the church. This practice was meant to remind participants that Jesus could return at any moment and that the faithful must be ever ready for his arrival. These midnight services gained popularity outside of Moravian churches when John Wesley adopted them. The first Methodist Watch Night services were held in England during the full moon, when attendees would be sure to have enough light for their late-night walk home, and they became popular in the American colonies shortly after the first were celebrated in Philadelphia and New York in November of 1770. Though they began as monthly celebrations, by the nineteenth century, these regular meetings declined in popularity among Methodists, while the New Year’s Eve services became particularly popular as an alternative to the rowdy celebrations that had come to characterize this secular holiday.

Although the Watch Night ceremony began within Moravian and Methodist churches, it is perhaps most popular today within evangelical Protestant churches, especially African American denominations and congregations. This is because the Watch Night service has an additional significance within many African American religious communities. Sometimes referred to as Freedom’s Eve ceremonies, church services in many black churches not only mark the beginning of a new year and a fresh start, but also commemorate the end of American slavery.

40 Years of American Catholic Studies at Notre Dame


(In this month's Cushwa post, communications director Heather Gary summarizes some history of the Center on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, and also links to information on new and longstanding grant programs offered by the center.)

Heather Grennan Gary

We’re breaking out the party hats and birthday candles this year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame.

Since its founding in 1975, Cushwa’s aim has been to promote and support the field of American Catholic studies. To date, the Center has convened hundreds of events, including conferences, lectures, seminars, film screenings, and exhibits. It has awarded 210 Research Travel Grants, 51 Hibernian Research Awards, and three Peter R. D’Agostino Research Travel Grants. (The deadline for the 2016 grants is December 31—have you sent in your application yet?!) The Center has produced two book series, 123 working papers, a handful of occasional papers, and 81 issues of the American Catholic Studies Newsletter.

Interpreting American Evangelicalism: A Reading List from George Marsden

Paul Putz

Next spring George Marsden will be a visiting professor at Baylor, teaching a grad course titled "Interpreting American Evangelicalism." After I retweeted the announcement from the Baylor graduate history twitter account, blogmeister Cara Burnidge asked if we could get the syllabus for the class posted here at the blog. Marsden recently sent out a reading list for the course, and I asked him if he would share the list with RiAH readers. He graciously agreed.

Along with the readings and class discussions, the main component of the class is "a historiographical paper dealing with how a topic in American evangelical history (or a related area) has been interpreted over the years and offering analysis of how and why the interpretations have changed. The paper could also be a comparison of how two somewhat similar topics have been interpreted."

As for the readings, here are the assigned books, listed in the order in which they will be read:

A Pre-History of Christian Environmentalism

Elesha Coffman

The Director of the Landscaping & Grounds Department at my university is also the mayor of Dubuque, and he recently represented river-basin mayors at the climate conference in Paris. Sitting next to him at a campus sustainability task force meeting this week, I was reminded that environmental awareness isn't limited to the usual suspects (professors at R-1 universities, activists) performing the usual roles. Nor was environmental awareness summoned ex nihilo by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Kevin M. Lowe unearthed (sorry, couldn't help it) aspects of this longer, broader history in his new book Baptized with the Soil: Christian Agrarians and the Crusade for Rural America (Oxford, 2015). He focused on the Protestants who would later be called "mainline" and their efforts from roughly 1900 to 1970 to preserve farmland and farming communities. Their motivations were both practical and spiritual. Misuse of the land meant that rural churches would not survive, and it also indicated a serious failure to cultivate the Kingdom of God. Lowe wrote, "Though they have been overlooked, Protestant agrarians were some of the nation's loudest champions of agricultural conservation. Even after the government's interest waned, soil conservation's religious resources enabled the movement to persist for decades. Protestant agrarians constructed a stewardship ethic that helped contribute to the contemporary language of creation care. In doing so, they helped bring countless Americans into the environmental movement" (141).

Of course, the environmental awareness of Lowe's 20th-century Protestants was often quite different from that upheld in Paris this month. For example, Lowe's book pointed me to a quirky little primary source, Christ of the Countryside (Cokesbury, 1937), by Malcolm Dana, director of rural work for the Congregational Church. "Country people have a special ownership of Holy Writ," Dana began the book. "The Bible is essentially a rural book; and within the Gospels themselves can be found what might be termed a rural gospel" (5). Dana proceeded, in the mode of other devotional literature and lives of Jesus (especially Giovanni Papini, Life of Christ), to breeze through the gospels with an eye to their rural context. Chapter titles included "In a Stable," "A Village Lad," "Soil and the Seed," and "Good Neighborship."

Wheaton College and Islam


Karen Johnson
In recent days, Wheaton College has received a firestorm of media attention over the college administration's decision to suspend with pay (not fire) associate professor of political science Larycia Hawkins for a Facebook comment she made saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  The administration is concerned that Dr. Hawkins's statement indicates a conflict with the College's statement of faith and says it placed Dr. Hawkins on paid leave to have time to explore the theological implications of Dr. Hawkins's beliefs.

I'm troubled by much of the public conversation about the issue.

It's a Wonderful Life: What Hollywood Can Teach Us about History

Karen Johnson.

We live in a very visual culture.  One of the most important things we can teach our students is to take in the images they see daily with wise and critical eyes.  Doing history can help students (and all of us) move in that direction.

Today I want to point you to a blog post from colleague, Tracy McKenzie, on how the movie It's a Wonderful Life illustrates the importance of context for understanding people.  Check out the post here.  Tracy's insights might be a helpful bridge to talk about history with all the non-historians in your life at holiday parties.

And, if you like what you read, Tracy's most recent book The First Thanksgiving does a masterful job illuminating the process of historical thinking as it uncovers the myths about Thanksgiving and their histories.

It's Time for the 2015 AJS Conference!

Laura Arnold Leibman

December isn't just for Chanukah, it is also time for the Association of Jewish Studies (AJS) Conference!  This year's 47th Annual Conference met December 13-15, 2015 at the Sheraton Boston in Boston, Massachusetts.

American Studies has increased its presence this year.  In addition to Adam Mendelsohn who was a Jordan Schnitzer book award finalist in the field of "Modern Jewish History—Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania" for his book The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire, over eighty panels this year cover American subject matters, up from sixty eight last year.  As another sign of the strength of the Americanist presence in the society, both the out-going President (Jonathan Sarna) and the in-coming President (Pam Nadell) are major figures in the field of American Jewish history.

Here is a quick list of the conference highlights in American studies, broken down by subject area, with a huge kudos to the planning committee for making the schedule more shareable and social-media friendly.  (Note if you click on the panel titles below and then on the individual presenters, you will get to detailed abstracts of the papers on each panel.)

African American Religious History at the Library Company: An Interview with Krystal Appiah

Sonia Hazard

SH: Krystal Appiah is the Curator of African American History and a Reference Librarian here at the Library Company of Philadelphia, a major research library in the heart of Center City Philadelphia that focuses on American history in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. She has been generous enough to sit down with me today and share her knowledge of the African American history collections and programs at LCP that may interest scholars of religion. Krystal, welcome. Can you tell me a little bit about the African American history collections that you curate?

KA: First of all thank you for letting me talk about things in the collection, which is always a lot of fun. The African American history collections at the library consist of 13,000 text-based materials—books, pamphlets, newspapers, broadsides, and that type of thing. We have another 1,200 or so materials that are graphic, including prints, photographs, engravings, which are kept in a separate department. We were founded in 1731. Over the course of our history, we accumulated many materials related to people of African descent, with strong holdings documenting anti-slavery efforts in the United States, the Caribbean, and England. We have literature on slave narratives as well as autobiographies of people of African descent.

Within the African American history collection, there is quite a bit of material that documents religious life, and especially the intersections between religion and black political life in the United States.

SH: You’ve brought some of these interesting materials with you today. This first thing is wonderful—I’ve never seen anything like it.

KA: Exactly, we’re excited about this. This is a ribbon that we date to the 1830s. It’s an image of the Reverend Edward Johnson who was a minister in the First Wesley Methodist Church in Philadelphia. That church broke off in 1820 from Bethel A.M.E. (The African Methodist Episcopal church was the first independent black domination in the United States.) There were administrative and doctrinal differences. While we have a lot of material about the A.M.E. church, I decided to show some things from parts of African American religious history that might not be on the radar as much.

SH: The ribbon mentions the Union Sons of Johnson. Who were the Union Sons?

KA: I have not been able to find out too much about them. We do have a census of the African American community that was conducted by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1838. They conducted surveys of schools and churches and benevolent societies, and the Union Sons of Johnson is one of the organizations they listed. It must be a society named in honor of Edward Johnson. From the census information we do know that they dispensed $550 of funds to people in need the previous year. 

Christmas Wars: Stirring Scenes from the Frontlines

Adam Park (words)
Wendy Robinson (most photographs)

Our transport picked up on some troubling radio messages from Bott Radio Network. The "Bible Answer Man" with Hank Hanegraaff, "Love Worth Finding" with Adrian Rogers, "Renewing Your Mind" with R.C. Sproul, "Eagle Forum Live" with Phyllis Schlafly, and many others. Among them was a concerted concern. You may have heard about it. We are in the midst of a mighty battle. Suppressing my cowardly inclination to flee, sometimes, I thought, academics are called forth to go above and beyond. Sometimes, academics are obliged to scholarly duties regardless of life and limb. Sometimes, the War on Christmas is best seen from the frontlines.

Within the data-rich jungles of Branson, Missouri, our party happened upon a political rally/dinner show at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. Magic, animals, God, country, redneck humor--it was an intel cornucopia. Horses whizzed around the dirt floors as talk of forthcoming contests between the "North Pole" and the "South Pole" energized the gathered legions. I quietly sipped my ranch dressing soup (which, I was later told, was actually a "cream of vegetable"). O' Holy Night played as the manger-stage descended from on high. A Don LaFontaine-esque voice thundered down Bible verses as three kings entered stage right on camels. Sheep followed. As the dear 8 pound, 6 ounce newborn plastic infant Jesus was raised for all to see, a white dove flew from behind the manger to eat the seeds out of a suspended angel's hand in the metal rafters. Reminding us "of the true spirit of the season!" the pamphlet exclaimed. It was marvelous. And there was so, so much more. Through various confrontations in the form of pig races, chicken corrallings, wagon races, and toilet seat tossings, the "South Pole" rose again, and eventually emerged the victor. Among the side of the victorious, I imbibed my iced tea and ate my apple pie, happy to have witnessed this War for Christmas unscathed.

Key Terms in Material Religion: An Interview with S. Brent Plate

Samira K. Mehta

S. Brent Plate, editor. Key Terms in Material Religion. (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015)

On December 17 (ten days from today), Bloomsbury Academic will be releasing Key Terms in Material Religion, edited by S. Brent Plate. The title is currently available for pre-order at your local independent bookseller!

SKM: Professor Brent Plate, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed here on Religion in American History (and thank you for commenting on some of my other posts.) It is great to get this chance to get to know you and your work. This is the first time that I, in this interview series, have spoken with the editor of an edited volume and so I wanted to concentrate on that process for some of the interview. Let me start with what seems like the most basic question: what led you to see a need for a “key terms” book for the study of material religion?

SBP: Thanks for agreeing to discuss an edited volume. I’ve spent a sizable amount of my professional life editing, and I continue to find it a rewarding experience. It really allows for some great collegial connections, something that I miss often when I’m writing my own work.

As for the specifics of this volume, the initial answer is that after several years of editing the journal Material Religion my fellow editors (Crispin Paine, David Morgan, and Birgit Meyer) and I realized that this field of study has really congealed into something strong and influential. Without setting too strict limits on what “material religion” means, we wanted to supply students and teachers with a range of inroads to this way of research.

Key Terms in Material Religion really began in an editors’ meeting at Duke University several years ago. Crispin, David, Birgit, and I were thinking about potential special issues for the journal and hit on the idea of doing a special issue as a “key terms” issue. So we commissioned 19 short articles on key terms, and published that as our March, 2011 issue. The response to the issue was great, and it warranted further work. With the agreement of my co-editors, I took the initial articles, asked authors to rewrite a little (some did, some didn’t), and then I doubled the size, commissioning another 18 articles for the book, and writing up an introduction. The result is a 37 entry volume (it’s quite an editing challenge to wrangle three dozen academics!).

SKM: When you sat down to draft a list of key terms, what served as your guiding principle?

Taco Truck, East Los Angeles. 
From the entry "Race" by Roberto Lint-Sagarena. 
Photo by Lint-Sagarena.
SBP: There was no single principle, but rather a set of interrelated principles. On one hand, I wanted to review much of the literature in material religion (through the journal and elsewhere) and see what terms came to the surface. So, the body, the senses, memory, things/objects, media, and icons were all fairly obvious choices. On the other hand, I applied my editorial prerogative and included some terms that haven’t had as much attention in the past but by including them I hope they might promote future work in the field. Here I would include key terms like gender and race which unfortunately haven’t had as much prominence in material religion studies, even though I’d say it’s impossible to discuss these crucial areas of identity without their materiality. Also, the sense of vision has dominated much of the academic research in material religion (including my own), but many of us have been seeing how taste, smell, sound, and touch are vital to religious life, so it was essential to include these. Finally, there is another set of terms that are deep in the history of the academic study of religion, but are here rethought through the lens of material religion. Those include magic, belief, sacred, fetish, aesthetics, and spirit.

With that said, my aim was also one of diversity. I tried to get a diversity of examples from around the world, a diversity of religious traditions represented, written by scholars working in various fields and various places. (Unfortunately, this only includes scholars working in the English language.) There’s no perfect balance, but contributors come from fields of museum studies, art history, cultural anthropology, sociology, media studies, as well as religions in the Americas, Asian religions, African religions, and European religions.

Just War Concepts and the American Revolution

Jonathan Den Hartog

I was appreciative to see Guy Aiken's report last week from the Peace History Society. His post made an initial point I would have made--that discussion of the connections of war, peace, and religion are worth investigating. These were the same themes that emerged at a mini conference I had the pleasure to participate in last month, which asked "Was the American Revolution a Just War?" Organized by Glenn Moots (Northwood University), the conference featured some of the best conversations I've had in awhile.

Conference presenters quickly showed that the question could be interpreted in several ways. Some participants opted for a historical, contextualized definition of just wars, inquiring how the concepts were understood in the late eighteenth century. Other commentators opted for more universal definitions from the just war tradition, positing trans-historical, normative standards for war and justice. Both approaches brought valuable insights, even as my historian's sense appreciated the 18th-century perspective.

Following the traditional break-down of justice in going to war (jus ad bellum), justice in war (jus in bello), and just settlements after the war (jus post bellum), panels considered the Revolution from multiple angles. Theo Christov emphasized the thinking of Emer de Vattel for understanding sovereignty and the American Revolution. Vattel, along with Hugo Grotius and Samuel von Pufendorf featured prominently in discussions of the Revolution in regard to the law of nations in the 18th century.
Independence Hall
Independence Hall provided a great backdrop for conference discussions. (NPS)
Several papers discussed the ideals of conducting war and contrasted them with the horrors of the war as it developed. Phillip Hamilton demonstrated how Henry Knox's social and military ideals strongly guided his military conduct. By contrast, James Kirby Martin and Mark Lender illustrated that once the war became an existential war--one where the options were victory or enslavement and death--that limits quickly fell away. Papers by Benjamin Carp on the destruction of property and Cole Jones on the treatment of prisoners of war after Yorktown served to underline the destructive character of the war.

Benjamin Lyons helpfully applied ideas of the law of nations (as built on a concept of natural law) in tracing the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris.

Keynote speaker Jack Greene and presenter William Anthony Hay provided another helpful lens, as they considered the just war question from the British perspective. This Atlantic, comparative approach added complexity and balance to visions of the British imperial conflict.

For RiAH readers, I can observe there was some religious history discussion present. Grotius, Pufendorf, and Vattel were all, in different ways, influenced by their religious backgrounds and positions. Valerie Morkevicius considered Protestant and Reformed ideas of resistance to unjust authority, although even that survey left Morkevicius suspicious of the American usage of those ideas. In my paper, I traced John Jay's defense of the American Revolution. In addition to having political right on his side, he believed the Americans had divine support. Jay believed the American Revolution was defending true faith in America, and as evidence he pointed to the British disregard and misuse of churches. If this was the case, then the cause could be justified with biblical and language and religious rhetoric.

Gun Worship and Hipster Evangelicalism in Colorado Springs

Paul Harvey

Some of you may have noticed that my home for twenty + years now -- Colorado Springs, CO --  has been in the news a lot lately. First there was a mass shooting on Halloween morning, taking the lives of an Iraq war vet and two young women living in a recovery facility. The assailant in this case was reported before his murders, openly and legally brandishing his weaponry as he walked on a street near to downtown Colorado Springs.  I wrote about this incident here, suggesting that "we will all have another chance to pay obesiance to the God that we are all compelled, willingly or not, to worship."

And so we were, just one month later, when another gunman stormed into a local Planned Parenthood facility, shot two who were there (including another Iraq war veteran there to support a friend), and also  killed Garret Swasey, a much beloved campus police officer from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where I have taught since 1996. Swasey, a former Olympic ice dancer, was also a volunteer pastor at Hope Chapel, a local conservative evangelical congregation. (And a few days later, of course, was the horror of San Bernardino, where, once again, toxic religious fantasies combined with de facto unrestricted access to high-powered weaponry led to unimaginable carnage).

Given the two local incidents, I should have been less surprised that media outlets such as The Guardian described Colorado Springs as "a playground for pro-gun, pro-life Christians." In the process, the paper checked off every box on the "cliches about the American west" list.

For that reason, and also because it hit on some observations of local religious culture I've been ruminating about for a while now, I was grateful when the local public radio station, KRCC, aired an hour-long program "After the Evangelical Vatican," as a segment of a locally produced program entitled Wish We Were Here (if you click on the link, you can stream the program). The producers explore local evangelical culture, focusing especially on hipster evangelicalism, a phenomenon that has taken hold here in some fascinating ways, and one that could only be captured with careful local reporting that relied on empathetic observation rather than the standard cliches. (Pictured is a lovely establishment in downtown COS featured in the program, the Wild Goose Meeting House, a place established by some local hipster evangelicals who wanted "a place where people just want to be"). 

I hope some of you will give this thoughtful and reflective program a listen. It says much about how religion evolves quietly, and people engage their own journeys in ways that don't capture public attention but ultimately make history in surprising ways. It gave me some small measure of comfort after this week of violence produced by a toxic brew of gun worship and violent religious fantasies.

Universal Values and Muslim-Free Zones


Michael Graziano

Earlier this year, a Florida man made headlines by declaring his gun store a “Muslim Free Zone.” In the wake of the Chattanooga shootings and the murder of five service members, Andy Hallinan, owner of Florida Gun Supply in Inverness, Florida, stood in front of a Confederate flag and announced his decision in a YouTube video which has now garnered a quarter of a million views. Hallinan explained:
Effective immediately, I am declaring Florida Gun Supply a Muslim free zone. I will not arm and train those who wish to do harm to my fellow patriots.
Hallinan sells “Muslim Free Zone” bumper stickers and "Mohammed targets." The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) sued Hallinan in July 2015, arguing that his blanket ban on Muslim customers was exclusionary on the basis of religion and violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Andy Hallinan (via YouTube)
In what at first appears to be something from The Onion, but I assure you is not, Andy Hallinan teamed up with George Zimmermanyes, that George Zimmermanto sell a series of Zimmerman’s Confederate flag paintings to raise money for Hallinan’s legal defense. The paintings featured the phrase “The 2nd protects our 1st,” which the Washington Post reports Zimmerman describing as a “double entendre.” Copies of Zimmerman's painting Confederate Flag in Andy Hallinan’s Honor remain available for purchase at Florida Gun Supply’s website.

Last week, US District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed CAIR’s lawsuit. In her motion, Bloom wrote that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case because CAIR failed to demonstrate that potential injury to Muslim customers was “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” She continued:
the general desire of Plaintiff in this case to have Muslims able to access Defendant’s shooting range someday in the future is insufficient as well. There are simply no facts grounding the assertion that Plaintiff and/or one of its constituents will be harmed – Plaintiff has failed to allege 'when and in what manner the alleged injuries are going to occur.'
CAIR responded by noting that they lost only on technicalities of legal standing, and would appeal. And Judge Bloom’s motion does note that the “Muslim Free Zone” issue seems to be the “very type” of discrimination identified by Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In other words, this story is far from over.

There is much to say about this case (including what might constitute "imminent harm"). But as I thought about this and other Muslim Free Zones, I was reminded of Charlie’s recent post about John Kasich’s proposed new government agency on “Judeo-Christian values.” Charlie argues, convincingly to my mind, that Kasich’s proposal is attention-grabbing not because it contains anything new but rather because it nakedly acknowledges the peculiarities of American “secularism.” He asks:
Are Kasich’s “Judeo-Christian values” substantively different from Obama’s “universal values” and “timeless values of human progress”?
The response to Hallinan's case is one good example of the mercurial nature of “universal” values. Consider how the American Freedom Law Center (which represented Hallinan) summarized the lawsuit in its press release: “In the lawsuit, CAIR alleged that Florida Gun Supply’s refusal to equip Islamic terrorists is religious discrimination,” and that CAIR is engaged in “civilizational jihad.” Their courtroom victory was thus a blow to CAIR’s “jihadi lawfare against patriotic Americans across the country.”

Thus a Muslim-free zone is a terrorist-free zone, the AFLC (and Hallinan) seem to suggest. The logic behind Muslim-free zones depends upon a civilizational warfare thesis that views American Muslims as in, but not of, the United States, and so they must be combated accordingly. Consider Hallinan's explanation of how the court case led him to view Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of CAIR-Florida, as a "very worthy adversary. Picture the medieval days where kings gather on a battlefield and they respect each others honor, but still have to fight.” And it’s not just Andy Hallinan’s gun shop: Donald Trump is openly discussing a “database” for Muslims in the United States. Senator Ted Cruz would like to filter Syrian refugees by religion, accepting only Christians since “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” And in the five days between mass shootings in Colorado Springs and San Bernardino, we again saw how media coverage of a shooter’s motives is contingent upon information about the shooter’s presumed ethnic and religious identities.

Even Hallinan, presumably in his own concession to the legal realities of religious pluralism in the United States, recognizes that religious identity is not entirely deterministic. After the initial media uproar, Hallinan clarified that he would be willing to sell guns to select Muslims who he determines do not adhere to a “literal interpretation” of the Quran. One wonders how Florida Gun Supply would make such a determination. Presumably they would first ensure those Muslims held "universal" values.

A Dozen Questions with David Mislin

David Mislin is on the faculty  of the Intellectual Heritage program at Temple University and received his Ph.D. from Boston University. I interviewed David about his new book, Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of the Secular Age.

PC: You identify a sea-change of sorts from Protestant ascendancy to Protestants’ acceptance of religious pluralism, over the period 1870 to 1930. Tell us a bit – if you don’t mind – about the main contributions of Saving Faith?

DM: The book’s main argument is that there’s a history going back to late 19th century, of mainline Protestant leaders accepting and embracing religious pluralism, and this embrace grew primarily out of deeply felt anxieties about increasing secularism. The second argument is that because of the enormous cultural and political influence of these Protestant leaders they were able to create institutions and a national rhetoric into their ideas about pluralism.

PC: So the Protestants are still generally “running the show,” but in the late 19th century some other religious groups are on the scene, and accepted?

DM: Exactly. There’s a sense that they are running the show less-and-less. There’s a growing fear among these Protestants that they’re no longer going to be able to exert the authority that they had before. They start thinking about what that means and how they should respond to that.

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