October 23 2018

Interview with Kristian Petersen

Bhrigupati Singh, assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University, speaks about how his examination of the Sahariyas, a tribe living in extreme poverty in Northwest India, stretches and blurs the boundaries of religion and secularity in studying how the tribespeople reflect on questions of ethics, happiness, and quality of life. His work encourages scholars of religion—particularly those engaging with nonwestern traditions—to develop a comparative vocabulary that goes beyond Eurocentrism and Postcolonialism alike.

Singh is the author of Poverty and the Quest for Life: Spiritual and Material Striving in Rural India (University of Chicago Press, 2016), which won the AAR's 2016 Book Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of analytical-descriptive studies.

by Morgan Shipley, Michigan State University

Shot from behind him, Trump walking out from the capitol building to being inaugurated as president on Jan 20, 2017.

Drawing from Max Weber’s distinction in The Sociology of Religion between the prophet and the priest, this short article explores how Trump’s application of American civil religion (a public faith that inculcates political values) operates to routinize a discourse and politics governed by intolerance. Addressing a dire need to resuscitate what he views as a decrepit American project resulting from decades of progressive agendas, Trump assumes a dual position as savior of a sullied America (exemplified in his emphasis on building a barrier—physical and rhetorical—to protect American interests, and repeated promises to return jobs to America) and enforcer of traditional values (demonstrated in his defense budget or “America First” maxim).

Yet the shift from Trump’s candidacy, where he functioned as the charismatic prophet, to his presidency, where he assumes the position of status quo priest, illustrates the incongruity of these dual roles, highlighting the ability for Trump to offer an outsider’s vision to save the American project while failing to account for the structural and routine constraints that temper such an agenda (the courts, Congress, media, and citizen protests have all hampered Trump’s agenda). Such incongruity not only helps explain the challenges Trump and America faces, but also more significantly, unveils how Trump, in the name of his prophetic vision, subverts traditional ideals when it comes to American civil religion and the place of pluralism. In other words, Trump’s shift from candidate to president allows us to trace the means by which prophetic promises, in order to find priestly delivery, often necessitate a return the status quo modeled through marginalization. Trump’s role as prophet thus reintroduces—in order to legitimate—a historic trend within America that predicates the inclusivity of civil religion through practices of exclusion.1 That is, in turning to the sacred symbols of the United States, Trump returns to an exceptionalist construction of civil religion: a project established through God’s will, expressed through division, and delineated by a characteristic American identity—white and Christian.

by Anonymous

Interior of Budapest train station

A new chapter of my life started a few weeks ago with sudden changes—loss of an important romantic relationship and the death of a beloved friend. It was indeed quite a lot to digest all at the same time. I’m still digesting with much less indigestion than before, but nevertheless chewing at the changes.

I’ve travelled… a lot. I just turned fifty this year, and during this glorious lifetime I’ve had the good fortune to visit over 60 countries on all the continents (except for the polar ones). I’ve spent the past couple of years trying to settle down in one spot. And I’ve made some decisions about where to stay and work that didn't go so well. So I moved some more. In fact, since the 2000, I’ve moved fifteen times between seven countries.

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