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Religion, Lately: Christmas, Hanukkah,Yule, and Kwanzaa

Religion, Lately: Christmas, Hanukkah,Yule, and Kwanzaa

By Kenny Smith and Heather Abraham….
In Loudon, Virginia, nativity wars seem to have given way to Star Wars. In Loudon’s public space, where “traditional Christian symbols have been joined by displays of symbols from the Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths,” this holiday season ten different displays are on view: “a Christmas tree, a manger scene, five atheist displays, and a mannequin arrangement featuring ‘the chosen one,’ Luke Skywalker, from the Star Wars films.

The Ambiguities of  “Rising Up,” and the Blending of Football, Religion, and Political Mythmaking

The Ambiguities of “Rising Up,” and the Blending of Football, Religion, and Political Mythmaking

By Kenny Smith….
Thus for Falcon’s players “rising up” points to the team’s continued success on the grid-iron. As linebacker Curtis Lofton attests, “We have something special going on here right now… Everyone knows it. We feel like we’re about to rise up to the occasion and hopefully make it to the Super Bowl.’’(2)
But what else might “Rise Up!” signify, especially when we factor in the various contexts in which it is embedded? The TV commercial offers some initial clues. Jackson appears in the role of a Southern preacher, leading a nicely racially integrated church choir. “Can you feel it?,” he asks.

Gold’s Gym & Scientology in an Age of Authenticity

Gold’s Gym & Scientology in an Age of Authenticity

By Kenny Smith….
Gold’s Gym and the Church of Scientology have recently featured some very interesting commercial videos on their websites, videos that have also (to some degree) ventured out into the broader culture. This leads to a rather intriguing question: why does Gold’s Gym employ precisely the sort of language that Scientology avoids?

So, Is Wal-Mart A Religion? A Review of Bethany Moreton’s, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise

So, Is Wal-Mart A Religion? A Review of Bethany Moreton’s, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise

By Kenny Smith……
But Wal-Mart also offered its customers “full fledged identity politics,” a sense that it was “preserving a version of America that its constituents felt was endangered.” (41) Through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, Wal-Mart stores increasingly instantiated mainstays of rural, white, evangelical culture, such as country music, a patriarchal family structure, the “purging” of morally objectionable cultural media (e.g., music and magazines with sexually explicit content), and the “blending” and “intermingling” of evangelical worship and retail sales, for instance, hosting live in-store performances of Christmas devotional music to promote increased holiday sales.

The Good News of Star Visitors, Part I

The Good News of Star Visitors, Part I

By Kenny Smith….
The Star Visitor races who have commented on the concept of God… uniformly affirm that they, too accept the reality of what Earthlings call God. However, the God they affirm is not the anthropomorphic or patriarchal figure of many Earth religions, but more of a Supreme Source – a transcendent matrix of Consciousness, which underlies everything, and is that which gives essence and specificity to everything, which in turn is a partial manifestation of the Supreme Source. In more experiential terms, the Star Visitors have taken experiencers [those with have had first-hand contact with ETs] and shown them God. The experiencers typically described being in the presence of intense, overwhelmingly brilliant light from which emanates incredibly intense love, such that the experiencer feels lost in the infinite love.

Jesus in Disneyland, the Church of Body Modifications, and Postmodern Religion in America

Jesus in Disneyland, the Church of Body Modifications, and Postmodern Religion in America

More recently, the blending of religious and cultural resources within the American landscaped overflows the merging of Disney and Evangelism. The suspension of Ariana Iacono, a North Carolina high school student who wore a nose-piercing to school, for instance, brought to light the Church of Bodily Modification (COBM), to which she and her mother apparently belong.(2) As the Washington Post reports,(3) within the COBM community, spiritual experience and growth are understood as occurring through bodily piercings, scarifications, and modifications, that is, changing the physical appearance of the body in subtle and sometimes even profound ways, ways that might seem quite disturbing to outsiders.(4)

Stories and Signals - My Morning with Robert Jensen’s All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice

Stories and Signals – My Morning with Robert Jensen’s All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice

Recently, I sat down with Jensen’s newest book, All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice (Soft Skull Press, 2009). This is truly an ambitious work, one that hopes to integrate two often antagonistic perspectives not only within Jensen’s intellectual life and lived experience, but contemporary American society: the secular, even atheistic, social critic who has no interest in religion (and who may see religion as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution); and the visionary, prophetic voice deeply grounded in religious community.

The Arrival of Extraterrestrials on the American Religious Landscape

The Arrival of Extraterrestrials on the American Religious Landscape

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By Kenny Smith
Writing for Beliefnet.com in an essay enticingly entitled, “Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?,” Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno argues that, although it is commonly assumed that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would signal “the death of religion, most religious people don’t see it that way at all… God created the whole universe. There’s nothing that makes one place more special than another….

Slot Machines as Spiritual Teachers and Supernatural Investment Strategies: When Religion Waxes Magical

Slot Machines as Spiritual Teachers and Supernatural Investment Strategies: When Religion Waxes Magical

This kind of religious language raises some interesting questions about the relationship between religion and what has typically been referred to as “magic.” In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scholars believed that religion and magic represented two quite different forms of human behavior. For George James Frazier, author of The Golden Bough (1890) and still today one of the most familiar names in comparative mythology, religion involved the supplication of divine forces, magic was their compulsion.

Home Shrines for American War Dead: Are They Just About Remembering?

Home Shrines for American War Dead: Are They Just About Remembering?

Borrowing from both Cartwright and Orsi, what do we see in home war shrines that we did not see previously? To begin with, these carefully preserved bedroom offer far more than an aid for remembering. They offer a sacred space in which family members may experience heightened physical intimacy with those “who will never return” in any tangible manner. Relationships sundered by violent and untimely death may be at least partially and fleetingly re-constituted and re-experienced.

Slot Machines as Spiritual Teachers and Supernatural Investment Strategies: When Religion Waxes Magical

Slot Machines as Spiritual Teachers and Supernatural Investment Strategies: When Religion Waxes Magical

Though contemporary scholars tend to be suspicious of such sweeping generalizations, magical beliefs and practices continue to be perceived as set apart from mainstream religion and culture. But might it be the case that magical beliefs and practices are intimately interwoven within mainstream religion and culture? In exploring this possibility, I look beyond church advertisements to two quite popular religious/spiritual teachers, Tolly Burkan (the founder of the American firewalking movement), and Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and its most popular and long-running daily television show, The 700 Club.

Beltane in the Context of American Religious History

Beltane in the Context of American Religious History

Scholars who study American religion have also wondered why, exactly, American history played out in ways that have emphasized a philosophy of personal religious liberty. Typically these traditions go by names such as Wicca, Paganism, Druidism, Heathenism, often grouped together under the label Neo-Pagan. Taken together, they constitute one of the fastest growing religious communities in America over the past two decades, conservatively estimated as representing at least 1% of the American population.

Home Shrines for American War Dead

Home Shrines for American War Dead

As “[y]ou walk into these rooms… and you feel like these are the kids you used to hang out with…. It’s powerful to look at where these kids lived, to see who they were as living, breathing human beings.” The authors interpret these actions as attempts on the part of family members to “resist” and “wrestle with” what has happened; this is “how they will cope and how they will remember.”

“Christian Militias” and the Unpredictable Nature of Religious Diversity

“Christian Militias” and the Unpredictable Nature of Religious Diversity

Religions are also constantly changing, developing, becoming something new, and, to some degree, one can never step twice into the same church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, or religious tradition. Meanwhile, the Hutaree (pronounced Hu-TAR-ay)… was going in the other direction, with increasing talk of violence.”