The Problem with “Conscience”

The last time a state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) made news, I argued that the law’s critics were letting the word “discrimination” distract them from the real issues at stake. Everything I said then bears repeating: not all discrimination is wrong, not all wrongful discrimination should be illegal, and sometimes religious freedom really does give people the right to discriminate.But it’s only fair to acknowledge now, with another RFRA controversy lining outrage-mongers’ pocket … [Read more...]

Review: “Selma”

Selma deserves a Best Picture win, because even with all of its imperfections, it is a story that engages with history honestly and insightfully. It highlights an important part of the civil rights movement, enlightens a common narrative of a historical figure, yet respectfully keeps the integrity of Dr. King’s legacy intact.It is good history as far as narrative filmmaking goes. Somehow I’ve managed to keep up with most of the Oscar nominees this year, and a disproportionate number of them a … [Read more...]

I Even Remain Alone?: Reflections on Eve Tushnet’s “Gay and Catholic”

About two years ago Ralph Hancock, a BYU professor of political philosophy, met with the Claremont Mormon Studies Student Association. As I reflected on the ensuing conversation, which had quickly veered into the troubled waters of Mormonism and same-sex marriage, I formulated two questions which I feel would have turned the discussion down less well-trodden—and hence potentially more productive—paths.First, I would have asked Hancock, “As non-heterosexuality poses existential questions categ … [Read more...]

Foodism?

I am excited to read the new collection of essays on food and religion in North America (Religion, Food, and Eating in North America), published by Columbia University Press and edited by Benjamin E. Zeller, Marie W. Dallam, Reid L. Neilson, and Nora L. Rubel. We don’t know nearly enough about the intersection of food and religious practices and religious identity. And this extends beyond institutionally based religious identity and to the intersection between food and what Catherine Albanese w … [Read more...]

Why Do Americans Love Pope Francis?

The other day, I was talking to my students about how the press has been giving Pope Francis very positive coverage. We hear often about phone calls he makes to a grieving, troubled people, or about his latest rejection of the costly privileges of the papacy. Facebook lights up with photos of the pope embracing disabled people, or indulging the antics of children. We’re still in the honeymoon phase with this pope and the press and average Americans, no doubt, will grow more critical of the c … [Read more...]

There’s So Much to Do, Outside the Ivory Tower!

I am an independent scholar. Not independently wealthy unfortunately – I have to earn my bread – but I am one of the growing number of people with PhDs who, for a wide variety of reasons, are not pursuing a traditional career track of teaching and scholarship, but rather have day jobs that variously engage our talents – academic and otherwise – while we continue to engage in the life of the mind on our own terms.  I’ve only been on this path for a little over two years, since earning my PhD i … [Read more...]

We Are Special!: Religion, Historical Memory, and Regional Identity

Over the last week I’ve been re-reading Carol F. Karlsen’s book on witchcraft in Puritan New England and, strangely, this has reminded me how deeply religious traditions have shaped regional cultures and identities in the U.S. I grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, one of the centers of the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. We’d visit Salem and all the historical (and tacky) commemorations of that event. I assumed everyone knew a lot about the Puritans and witchcraft. And the Pilgrims and how they settl … [Read more...]

There Will Be Blood

On Saturday President Obama took to the podium in the Rose Garden and announced that he had decided that in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, resulting in well over a thousand casualties including hundreds of children, he believed that the United States “should take military action against Syrian regime targets.”  Acknowledging paralysis at the level of the United Nations Security Council and a lack of will even among our closest allies, he assert … [Read more...]


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