The Wisdom of Umberto Eco

Ed Simon If the loss of Eco is both a loss of a genuine public intellectual who saw no shame in celebrating complexities, then it is also the loss of a scholar who transcended the boring culture war debates that bifurcate all experience into the religious and the secular. He understood the undeniably sacred nature of the written word, where all interpretation must in some sense be exegetical.

Religion Around Michael Bolton: A Modest Proposal

Mark Hulsether To the Editors of the Religion Around Series: It has come to my attention that your press has initiated a series of short books about how religious or quasi-religious themes relate “around” creative artists. But it seems that, in practice, most such “prominence” could be translated into an idiom of highbrow tastemakers valorizing artists who enjoy universal acclaim—or even a language of reproducing elite hegemonic cultural capital. Herewith, I submit a modest proposal for a book more attuned to making the series pluralistic and representative of the everyday lived tastes of subaltern listeners: the manifold religious dimensions of Michael Bolton.

Under-the-Radar Religion for Nones: Björk’s ‘Vulnicura’

Mark Hulsether If there is any part of our culture where the (typically noxious) idea of trickle-down influence actually makes sense, Björk is a good place to look. She ranks amid an extremely select handful of musician’s musicians whose creative innovations especially matter. This year her superb record, Vulnicura, flew less under the popular radar than some of her earlier work, since it was coordinated with an exhibit showcasing her fashion innovations at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and features in the New Yorker and New York Times Magazine

Training The Religious Memory

Jolyon Baraka Thomas There is nothing quite so touching (or quite so irritating) as having a total stranger slump against you in a deep sleep on a Tokyo train. Like the Internet, Tokyo trains are equally intimate and anonymous. They are spaces where one encounters fellow Tokyoites in all their wacky fashion, their frenetic mobile phone gaming, their inane conversations, their drunken abandon. Tokyo trains are raucous in the evenings and eerily silent during the day. They are often uncomfortably crowded, but they are nevertheless a place to temporarily let down one’s guard. I’ve actually boarded the Yamanote circle line and ridden it all the way around the city just so I could sneak in an hour-long nap.

American Religion: Less is More

Gary Laderman What do you think? Is religious life fully captured by survey questions, graphs and bar charts? Or do these methods of collecting and displaying data fall short as indicators of the spiritual lives of Americans? Is it time to panic about the supposed decline of religion, or should we look to other metrics and methods to delve into what is really happening on the American religious landscape?

Confusing Religion in a Nutshell

Gary Laderman When I was a young, idealistic, newly-minted PhD, moving from the University of California, Santa Barbara, to my first and only job at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, I had one primary, driving goal in teaching: to clarify for students the role of religion in society. Now that I’m older, wiser, and tenured, a different motivation is driving my pedagogy: my ultimate goal these days is to confuse the hell out of undergrads.

Friends of the Devil?: Deadheads, Religion and Spirituality

Scott Muir In a recent Sacred Matters post, Gary Laderman suggested that the recent widespread celebration of the Grateful Dead represents both a plentiful harvest of the seeds sown in the countercultural upheaval of the 1960s and a harbinger of the future of religious life in a country increasingly disaffiliated from major religious traditions. Earlier this month, I surveyed 147 Deadheads. 

An American Reformation

Amy Kittelstrom Somehow the word “godless” got hitched to the word “liberal.” The story of this coupling has something to do with the Cold War against communism, but behind this unholy union lies a much more interesting history of how some American elites led a very different fight against—well, elitism. Seven liberals, whose lives interconnected across two centuries through shared readings, relationships, and concerns, were so far from godlessness that the pursuit of truth and virtue dominated their lives.