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.

Graceland Graffiti: Elvis Fans as Place-Makers and Memory Agents

Derek H. Alderman, Hannah Gunderman and Donna G’Segner Alderman

In describing Elvis Presley in Wilson and Ferris’ 1989 Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Stephen Tucker wrote: “Presley is probably the most famous Southerner of the 20th century.” Elvis occupies third place on John Sheldon Reed’s list of the twenty most influential Southerners of the past century, eclipsed by only Martin Luther King, Jr. and William Faulkner.

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. 

Tongue in Cheek, Just in Case

Jolyon Baraka Thomas Few people would think that the essence of Japanese religion could be encapsulated in an advertisement for antivirus software, but then again few people outside of Japan have seen this video.

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. 

Funereal Choices

Gary Laderman  “What do you want done with your body when you die?” This is a question I never fail to get from undergraduates in my college Death and Dying course. I’ve taught the class at Emory for roughly twenty years, and after a semester spent exploring attitudes toward death and mortuary practices over time and around the globe, students are most curious about this: the ultimate questions—not in theory, but in real life. My real life.

Religion is Dead; Long Live . . . the Sacred

Gary Laderman I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s the end of Religion as we know it.  And I do feel fine.  Bring on the “nones,” the SBNRs (Spiritual But Not Religious for those of you not up to speed), the so-called atheists, freethinkers, humanists, secularists, and the anything goes Unitarians.  Religion as we thought we knew it, is dead, or at least gasping its final breaths. Without going into a long, drawn out historical elaboration of the etymology of “Religion” (though I highly recommend the reader pursue in the relevant literature), I would like to point out that the […]

Why Do Americans Seem So Religious?

By E. Brooks Holifield Many Western Europeans think of Americans as hopelessly, bafflingly, and dangerously religious. Many Americans think of Western Europeans as distressingly, inexplicably, and unrelentingly secular. In 2009, the German sociologist Hans Joas observed that “it is widely accepted that the United States is far more religious than practically any comparable European state.” And he noted Western European puzzlement: “The more secularized large parts of Europe became, the more exotic the religiosity of the United States seemed to European observers.” So why are Americans, compared with Western Europeans, seemingly so religious? And are we as religious as we […]