Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Everything comes together

"Theorizing Religion" rocked today. A pairing of readings I first tried last year, which didn't quite work then, did everything I hoped it would and more. The readings are Yang Fenggang's influential essay on the sociology of Chinese religion "The Red, Black, and Gray Markets of Religion in China" and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan's reflection on the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College decisions, "The Impossibility of Religious Freedom." Last year I started with the latter and couldn't get anyone to engage seriously with the former. Today we spent time with Yang first - I can tell some pretty interesting stories about the Chinese religious situation - in order to have a comparative framework for thinking about Sullivan: ours isn't the only constitution claiming to protect "freedom of religion." But even before that, we spent a few minutes reviewing issues from last week's readings, Diana Eck on religious exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism and an excerpt of "exclusivist" Karl Barth's "The Revelation of God as the Abolition of Religion."

A lot to cover in 100 minutes - don't worry, I won't try to recreate it here! - and possible only because we're in the final stretch of a course and I was able to describe and link things through references to earlier readings, from Jonathan Z. Smith, Saba Mahmood and Meredith McGuire to Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Marx and Mircea Eliade. (It's something of a specialty of mine, this relentless relating and recapitulating.) If you're familiar with all these, you might be able to guess how they all came together. If not, I'll just tell you that by the end the "real world" relevance of old and new theories of religion was palpably clear, and the bankruptcy of the Enlightenment idea of liberal religion as an assurance of "nice" religious pluralism. Just in time for the return with a vengeance of "religious freedom" attacks on civil rights, and, perhaps, Barth-like religious responses to them.

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