Constructing the Religious Worlds of Others

4ed223401f732dreamcatcher_large_mediumBy Kenny Smith…As the noted scholar of American religious history, R. Laurence Moore, once wrote, “if you do not commodify your own religion” – that is, if you do not transform its teachings, practices, and material culture, into products to be bought and sold in the marketplace of culture – “don’t worry, someone will do it for you.” Examples abound, most especially when it comes to the religious goods of indigenous peoples, such as dream-catchers or the mystical self-help teachings of shaman. Such religious wares are commonly re-packaged and re-imagined in a strikingly generic form, nicely compatible with the varied preferences of shoppers in the spiritual marketplace.

A somewhat parallel mode of social production is suggested in a recent Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews: only 40% hold that “God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people,” whereas some 82% of American Protestants (white evangelicals specifically) believe this. Some question Pew’s comparison, though regardless of how such debates turn out, it is worth pausing to note what has transpired here: a majority of white evangelicals have constructed for themselves an imaginary version of Judaism, one in which the majority of American Jews are simply mistaken concerning their own religious worlds.

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