December 01 2023

Interview with Kathryn Tanner

Kathryn Tanner joins Kristian Petersen to discuss her award-winning 2020 book, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism (Yale University Press, 2019). Through the book, Tanner suggests Christianity can challenge the culture of finance capitalism that permeates our lives by guiding us to reflect on social inequalities and identity-building—concepts which she argues are at the core of Christian faith and practice. In the interview, she discusses how "Christianity and specific forms of it could gum up the works of capitalism."

Tanner's book won AAR's 2020 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the constructive-reflective studies category. She is Frederick Marquand Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School.


American Academy of Religion · Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism with Kathryn Tanner

Evan Berry, Arizona State University

Headshot of Miguel De La Torre with text next to it that says "Miguel De La Torre 2021 Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion"

Each year since 1996, the American Academy of Religion has presented the Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion to an individual whose work has helped advance the public understanding of religion. To date, twenty-five persons have received this award, and their work reflects a broad spectrum of how and why religion expertise matters. Awardees include theologians, sociologists, documentary filmmakers, philosophers, and poets, all of whom demonstrably advanced the public understanding of religion.

Asma Afsaruddin, Indiana University, Bloomington

still from Rambo III. Sylvester Stallone in a black tank top leads a group of Afghan soldiers through a dusty landscape

Jihad is more often than not translated as “holy war” in the Western media. This translation immediately conveys the impression that jihad by definition is war waged for religious reasons, particularly to forcefully replace all other religions with Islam. The term also conveys the impression that it is a fundamental religious duty imposed on all Muslims till the end of time, or at least until they have brought about the conversion of all non-Muslims—whichever comes first! A few news outlets and journalists exercise greater responsibility: they take care to translate jihad as “struggle” or “effort” and occasionally mention the different ways in which this human struggle is carried out during one’s earthly existence.

One should be aware of the specific political and historical circumstances that determine whether the military jihad receives a favorable spin in the Western media or not. Between 1979 and 1989 under a program known as Operation Cyclone, the United States government actively supported the group known as the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan who were fighting against the Soviet occupation forces there. “Those who carry out jihad” (this is what Mujahedeen means in Arabic) were portrayed favorably in the American and European press at that time because they were assumed to be fighting on the right side—that is to say, against the dark forces of Communism and thus serving the interests of Western nations. One may recall a notable James Bond movie titled The Living Daylights that celebrated the heroic exploits of the Mujahedeen, led by an Oxford-educated swashbuckling Afghan, who fought shoulder-to-shoulder with British allies against the Communist invaders. The movie Rambo III similarly portrayed the Mujahedeen in a highly favorable light. “Jihad” carried out at the instigation of Western governments at that time was, therefore, considered to be a noble activity. The Western media (and the movie industry) accordingly played along.

Kin Cheung

All first year students at Moravian University take an online personality assessment during the summer and then meet with their career development strategist. This software, TypeFocus, uses the problematic Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment. Yet even more alarming is how it represents a cultural bias against the value of the humanities and religious studies.

Welcome page of TypeFocus program
Image note: Moravian transitioned from a College to a University in the summer of 2021, but the software has yet to reflect that change.

The software is also used by Briar Cliff University, Tennessee Tech University, University of Detroit Mercy, York Technical College, Eastern Kentucky University, Washtenaw Community College, and more. The first of three sections of the TypeFocus assessment is a modified version of the MBTI assessment, and asks students to respond to 62 prompts by selecting one of two choices. (Example items: Pick the option that best describes you: 1) tender or 2) objective?; Which option do you find more appealing: 1) by yourself or 2) with others?). The questions offer no context and limit respondents to dichotomous answer choices, meaning that there is no option for expressing that “it depends.”

Interview with Jolyon Baraka Thomas

Despite the Japanese constitution guaranteeing religious freedom since 1889, after World War II, the United States-occupiers deemed that guarantee flawed. In this conversation with, Jolyon Thomas, author of Faking Liberties: Religious Freedom in American-Occupied Japan shares how the US imposed a new framework of religious freedom onto the Japanese, one that favored some traditions more than others.

Thomas's "Faking Liberties" was co-winner of the AAR's 2020 Analytical-Descriptive Studies Award for the Excellence in the Study of Religion. He is associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Brian K. Pennington, Andrew Monteith, Anandi Silva-Knuppel, and Pamela D. Winfield

icon graphic of a stylized brain with digital spokes emerging from it

Many signs point to a growing interest in connecting religion scholars with audiences outside of academia. One recent indication of this development was the AAR’s 2016 revision of its mission statement to include the "public understanding of religion." Another is the new proliferation of grant funding for initiatives that seek to make the academic study of religion relevant to an American general public who is deeply influenced by religious commitments and discourse. Disinformation campaigns, extremism, and deficit of critical thought across online media make the work of public scholars of religion more important than ever before. In 2020, the Henry Luce Foundation, one of the major foundations supporting the development of public religion scholarship, awarded a team of researchers (including the authors of this article) a $50,000 grant to study public scholarship on religion.

Nathan C. Walker

Two newspaper are being printed on a modern press

The jury for the AAR's annual Journalism Awards recently announced the 2021 journalism award winners: Jaweed Kaleem, Jeff Sharlet, and Adelle Banks. Read more about the winners and their reporting.

“Come on. You’ve got to find your voice!,” erupted Dr. James Cone during one of my advisement sessions when I studied at Union Theological Seminary. Leaning over his desk, my professor’s physical presence was just as animated as his vision, challenging me to claim my uniqueness.

Who, me? I thought. The founder of Black liberation theology and author of God of the Oppressed is telling me—the effeminate, white, gay seminarian who used to live in a trailer on a desert farm in Fallon, Nevada—to find my voice? Where do I look?

Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Theological Seminary

At least twenty-seven states are now moving to restrict education on racism, often with bans and rhetoric against critical race theory (CRT). This is largely a drive by conservative politicians to exploit widespread ignorance and denial about race and racism, and then to drive a politics of defamation of CRT that enhances the position and power of largely white and wealthy strata in the United States.

At the same time, though, there are eleven states now expanding their education programs on racism. I propose that it is helpful to consider the current anti-CRT moves as attempts to block a rising “critical popular memory” of America’s past, that might transform the nation’s present and future.

Image that reads "Conversation with Justine Buck Quijada, 2020 Book Award Winner" with a cover of her book next to it

The fall of the Soviet Union provides the cultural space for a revival of the religious practices of the Buryat, an indigenous people of southern Siberia who live on the eastern shore of Lake Baikal, just north of the Mongolian border. Justine Buck Quijada, author of "Buddhists, Shamans, and Soviets: Rituals of History in Post-Soviet Buryatia" (Oxford University Press, 2019) joins Kristian Petersen to discuss her research into how the Buryat people recontextualize the rise and fall of the Soviet period into Buddhist and shamanic histories. Quijada's book won AAR's 2020 Best First Book in the History of Religions.

Alyssa N. Rockenbach, North Carolina State University

a group of yound adults sit on couches and around a table eating while celebrating Jummah. Flags with symbols of religious faiths are affixed to the ceiling

In a time of heightened polarization and discord—when those of different religious and political persuasions find reason to disagree on everything from the efficacy of masks in a global pandemic to the results of a contentious presidential election—pathways to cooperation seem elusive. Higher education has long been touted as a promising intervention for reducing prejudice and building bridges between people of different social identities and worldviews. Indeed, campuses today are rife with curricular, co-curricular, and social opportunities that hold great potential when it comes to disrupting the boundaries that divide us and inspiring newfound appreciation for others.