Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: The Islamophobia Industry

My latest review was published today, a consideration of The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims by Nathan Lean (Pluto Press, 2012). Here is an excerpt:
Human beings are wired to be aware of difference. It is natural part of human nature to forge various social alliances that foster senses of “us,” the insiders, in distinction to “them,” the outsiders. Problems arise when the outsiders become the enemy, and they further function in such a way that one’s individual and collective identity is created by way of opposition to the other. In the United States, this dynamic is all too frequently found in the post-9/11 environment in regards to Islam, where a cottage industry portrays Islam as a monstrous entity, wholly a religion of violence, pursuing terrorism and the overthrow of the US Constitution to be replaced with “sharia law.” The result of this narrative is a frighteningly large number of people adopting “Islamophobia,” an irrational fear of Muslims and the Islamic religion.

Nathan Lean discusses the phenomenon of right-wing construction of Islamic monstrosity in his volume The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims. The book reveals the astonishing success this industry has had in shaping negative public opinions about Islam. While one might expect that anti-Muslim sentiments was high among Americans shortly after the attacks of 9/11, Lean shares Pew Research Center polling data wherein “59 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Muslims just two months after the collapse of the Twin Towers.” Further, a few months later, “45 percent of Americans” held “views of Muslims that were generally positive.” However, through the prolific distribution of its message through various forms of media, the right-wing Islamophobia industry was influential in shaping strongly negative opinions of Islam. In 2002, hate crimes against Muslims increased by 1600 percent, and in 2004, 46 percent of Americans “believed that Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence.”

How did this industry begin? Who and what make up some of its major elements? How have the media, and especially the Internet, helped carry the message of Islamic monstrosity? And perhaps most disturbingly from an Evangelical perspective, why have Evangelicals been a segment of the population all too eager to receive and perpetuate this message? Lean’s Islamophobia provides answers to these and many other important questions, which represents one of the most significant political, cultural, religious, and theological challenges of the 21st century.
The review can be read at this link.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Intersecting Convictions Conference Video Available

In a previous post I mentioned the interreligious dialogue conference at Utah Valley University on March 1 of this year. The event brought together representatives from Mormonism, Judaism, Atheism, and Evangelicalism for conversations. You can learn more about the conference here. The video for the entire conference is now online. It is worthwhile, with almost five hours of material.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Guest Contribution at Sermons from the Mound

I recently participated in a podcast at New Wine, New Wineskins, which involved two Pagans and two Evangelicals. The discussion went very well, and covered difficult but important issues related to our two religious communities. After the podcast was published, the participants began to promote it in various places. This then led to comments by Pagans and Evangelicals. Last weekend I read these comments with great concern, and felt compelled to write a heart-felt response primarily to Pagans, but also to Evangelicals with ears to hear. After writing the essay I submitted it for publication consideration, and Christine Hoff Kraemer was kind enough to allow me to publish the work as a guest writer on her blog Sermons from the Mound at the Pagan Channel of Patheos. Christine is a scholar who does great work as a scholar in the areas of Paganism, theology, film, and other elements in popular culture. Here is her gracious introduction to my guest essay:
Today, we welcome John W. Morehead, a researcher, writer, and speaker and advocate for positive Pagan-Christian interfaith dialogue. Recently I wrote to you all about the importance of intrafaith work in the Pagan movement to bring more understanding and better communication between traditions. But my wider inspiration for that is the kind of interfaith work that John speaks of so passionately here. Think Pagans and Evangelicals have nothing to say to each other? (Confused about what the difference is between an Evangelical and a fundamentalist Christian?) Read on…
I encourage the thoughtful, informed, civil, and critical comments and interactions by Pagans and Christians.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Pagan-Christian Podcast at New Wine, New Wineskins

A new podcast is available at New Wine, New Wineskins that brings together two Pagans (Mike Stygal and Jason Pitzl-Waters), and two Evangelicals (Paul Louis Metzger and John Morehead). The hour-long discussion tackles a number of questions, including Why should Pagans and Christians be involved in dialogue?, What keeps us from dialogue?, What about the issue of evangelism for Christians as a barrier to dialogue?, and Where do we go from here? I've touched on some of these issues previously in an interview for the Alternative Religion Educational Network. (The interview starts on page 17.)

Listen to the podcast discussion here. Jason Pitzl-Waters discussion of this within the broader stream of Pagan dialogue participants at The Wild Hunt is helpful too.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The 'anti-cult" movement and self-construction

The International Journal for the Study of New Religions had an interesting essay in Volume 3, No. 2 from 2012 that touched on the place of anti-cult movements in the process of disaffiliation from new religions. This essay dovetails with my own reflections on the efficacy of Evangelical counter-cult apologetic approaches and allegations of "effectiveness" in strategy. Here is the title and abstract:

"The Significance and Purpose of the 'Anti-Cult Movement' in Facilitating Disaffiliation From a New Religious Movement: Resources for Self-construction or a Justificatory Account" by Dominiek Coates 
The current study investigates the experiences of 23 former members of New Religious Movements (NRMs) or cults with anti-cult practices and discourses in Australia. All the participants in this study report some involvement with anti-cult practices and/or engagement with brainwashing explanations of NRM affiliations; however, they describe the significance of these anti-cult resources for their sense of self in different ways. The findings suggests that for some former members anti-cult resources, in particular the brainwashing discourses, merely served as a convenient account through which to explain or justify their former NRM affiliation and manage embarrassment or possible stigmatisation, while for others these resources served an important identity function at a time of loss and uncertainty. These participants describe their involvement with anti-cult practices as a much needed identity resource in which they could anchor their sense of self following the dramatic loss of identity associated with NRM disaffiliation. To make sense of the variations in the way in which anti-cult practices and discourses informed the participants” sense of self Symbolic Interactionist understandings of the self are applied. 
Translation: Anti-cult organizations provide a secular means by which the individual disaffiliating from a new religion can reduce their cognitive dissonance and construct a new sense of identity. In application to the Evangelical counter-cult an approach is used wherein brainwashing is eschewed (for the most part) in favor of theological narratives of false teaching and demonic ensnarement, whereby the rejection of former identity and teachings in a new religion, coupled with an embrace of new doctrines in an alternative religious community helps provide the formative elements of ongoing identity (re)construction.