Tag Archive for Religion

Rev. Billy Warns of the Coming “Shop-Ocalypse” in April 23 Lecture

Anti-consumerism activist Reverend Billy stages revival-style “services” in public squares, theaters, art museums and parking lots, seeking to make people and institutions mindful of the consequences of their spending.

On Monday, April 23, Wesleyan will receive a visit from Reverend Billy (Bill Talen), the anti-consumerism activist and performance artist, who has tried to “exorcise” so many Starbucks cash registers, he’s been banned from the coffee shop chain. He will speak at 7 p.m. in Memorial Chapel. The event is free and open to the public.

Talen is best known as the subject of the 2007 documentary, What Would Jesus Buy?, produced by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlok and directed by Sundance Film Festival Award-winner Rob VanAlkemade.

In his performance art, Talen takes on the persona of an evangelical preacher to protest the excesses of corporate commercialism.  He and his choir, “The Church of Stop Shopping,” preach a broad message of economic justice, environmental advocacy, and anti-militarism. He stages revival-style “services” in public squares, theaters, art museums and parking lots, seeking to make people and institutions mindful of the consequences of their spending. Talen also implores audiences to confront abusive labor practices, exploitative resource extraction, the demise of small businesses and the ecological costs of excessive consumerism. He chants things like “change-aluia” and warns of the coming “shop-ocalypse” to try to get his audience to imagine a world free from consumerism.

“Products, logos, and labels have become our gods; the beings for which we will give up everything we have. Shopping malls are our temples and churches,” says Mary-Jane Rubenstein, associate professor of religion, describing Talen’s message. “In the style of a revivalist preacher, he calls his audiences to turn away from their self-destructive investment in false gods and turn back toward ‘reality,’ which is to say to make things rather than buy them; to support small businesses rather than transnational corporations; and to stop the endless, unconscious consumption that’s destroying the earth, our bodies, and our civil life together.”

Rubenstein is teaching Talen’s work in her Introduction to the Study of Religion course, as part of a unit on capitalism and some of its counter-movements as late-modern religious expressions.

The event is sponsored by the Baldwin University Lectures, the Center for the Arts, the Ethics and Society Project, the Office of Institutional Partnerships, the Religion Department, Sociology Department (Hoy Endowment) and Government Department.

Rinzler ’05 Writes About Buddhist Teachings for New Generation

Lodro Rinzler '05

In his book The Buddha Walks Into a Bar …: A Guide to Life for a New Generation (Shambhala), Lodro Rinzler ’05 shows how Buddhist teachings can have a positive impact on every little nook and cranny of your life—whether you’re interested in being a Buddhist or not. These teachings can help inspire individuals to make a difference in themselves and in the world. The book explores the four dignities of Shambhala (the tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon) and the three yanas, or vehicles, of traditional Tibetan Buddhism.

Rinzler writes in his book’s introduction that the volume is “about taking these traditional teachings that have been tried and tested over thousands of years and saying, ‘I am going to try to live my day with a little more compassion,’ or, ‘I’m going to slow down a bit and enjoy my life.’ You don’t have to change you. You are great. This book is just about how to live your life to the fullest.”

In a recent profile of Rinzler at The Daily Beast, Allison Yarrow writes:
“The tactic that’s earned him an audience outside the practicing Shambhala Buddhist community is that he applies meditation techniques to modern temptations often perfected on college campuses—drinking in bars and one-night-stands. While the benefits of meditation have crept into the scientific mainstream in recent years, Rinzler believes ancient teachings continue to be misunderstood by outsiders who see them as “hippie stuff.” Hence the slick wardrobe of bow ties and fitted jeans. He’s rebranding the practice for a new millennium, starting with himself.”

Justin Whitaker’s review of the book at American Buddhist Perspective says: “Rinzler does a good job of weaving ancient wisdom with the kinds of situations many young people will find themselves in today: from relationship break-ups to experimenting with alcohol. His use of pop culture: cartoons, comic books, rap music and the Rocky movie, help ground Buddhist practice in the real life experiences of his intended audience.”

In a recent essay “Becoming Who You Want to Be (When You Grow Up)” at the Huffington Post, Rinzler writes:

Book by Lodro Rinzler '05

“… I call upon members of my generation to look not just for a profession which might make you happy but also contemplate who you want to be as you get older. What are the core values you care about, as opposed to a profession you think might be suitable?

“If my generation, Generation O, took on this simple question we would not squander years trying to find the ‘perfect job’ or the ‘perfect position’ within a company. We would discern what is important to us and live all aspects of our life in line with that core intention. We wouldn’t all be astronauts or athletes but we would be who we want to be, and by doing that we would ultimately create that Change with a capital C.”

Rinzler is a meditation practitioner and teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. Over the last decade he has taught numerous workshops at meditation centers and college campuses across the United States.

Cameron Edits Book on Paul and the Corinthians

Book edited by Ron Cameron and Merrill Miller.

Ron Cameron, professor of religion, is the co-editor of the book Redescribing Paul and the Corinthians. The 340-page book was published by the Society of Biblical Literature in 2011.

This second volume of studies by members of the SBL Seminar on Ancient Myths and Modern Theories of Christian Origins reassesses the agenda of modern scholarship on Paul and the Corinthians. The contributors challenge the theory of religion assumed in most New Testament scholarship and adopt a different set of theoretical and historical terms for redescribing the beginnings of the Christian religion. They propose explanations of the relationship between Paul and the recipients of 1 Corinthians; the place of Pauls Christ-myth for his gospel; the reasons for a disinterest in and rejection of Pauls gospel and/or for the reception and attraction of it; and the disjunction between Pauls collective representation of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians and the Corinthians own engagement with Paul in mythmaking and social formation, including mutual (mis)translation and (mis)appropriation of the others discourse and practices.

Cameron also contributes an essay to the book. More information is online here.


Gottschalk Edits Book on South Asian Religions, Indigenous Responses

Book edited by Peter Gottschalk.

Peter Gottschalk, chair and professor of religion, is the editor of the book, Engaging South Asian Religions: Boundaries, Appropriations, and Resistances, published by the State University of New York Press in May 2011. The book looks at Western understandings of South Asian religions and indigenous responses from precolonial to contemporary times.

Focusing on boundaries, appropriations, and resistances involved in Western engagements with South Asian religions, this volume considers both the pre- and postcolonial period in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It pays particular attention to contemporary controversies surrounding the study of South Asian religions, including several scholars’ reflections on the contentious reaction to their own work. Other issues explored include British colonial epistemologies, Hegel’s study of South Asia, Hindu-Christian interactions in charismatic Catholicism and the canonization of Francis Xavier, feminist interpretations of the mother of the Buddha, and theological controversies among Muslims in Bangladesh and Pakistan. By using the themes of boundaries, appropriations, and resistances, this work offers insight into the dynamics and diversity of Western approaches to South Asian religions and the indigenous responses to, involvements with, and influences on them.

McAlister Speaks on Transnational Icon Wyclef Jean at Invited Conference

Liza McAlister

Liza McAlister, associate professor of religion, African American studies and American studies, joined an invited conference on “Global Oprah: Celebrity as Transnational Icon” Feb. 25-26 at Yale’s MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. The academic conference aimed to theorize neoliberalism, celebrity and humanitarianism, using Oprah Winfrey as a focusing lens.

The conference consisted of six panel discussions, which examined the way celebrities define America, and the role they play in international human rights and politics.

McAlister presented a paper on Wyclef Jean, a Haitian-born Hip-Hop superstar. She discussed his career trajectory beginning with the Fugees, to his founding a humanitarian foundation, serving as a roaming celebrity ambassador to the UN, to his bid to run for President of Haiti. She examined the ways his celebrity status has translated into political capital in the different yet interconnected contexts of the U.S. and Haiti under the current conditions of neoliberalism.

Attiya Ahmad Joins FGSS, Religion Department

Attiya Ahmad is teaching courses on Islam and Muslim Cultures and Feminist Theories.

Cultural Anthropologist Attiya Ahmad joined the Religion Department and Feminism, Gender and Sexuality Studies program as an assistant professor.

In the Religion Department, she is teaching a course titled Islam and Muslim Cultures, which familiarizes students with the basic teachings and practices of Islam and examines commonalties and diversity in how Islam has been and continues to be practiced by Muslims. In FGSS, she is teaching a class on Feminist Theories.

“Wes is a wonderfully collegial and dynamic intellectual milieu, one that emphasizes both scholarship and teaching,” she says. “This is my first teaching appointment,

McAlister Joins SSRC Working Group, Attends Conference

Elizabeth McAlister, associate professor of religion, associate professor of African American studies, associate professor of American studies, is a member of the Social Science Research Council’s working group on Spirituality, Political Engagement and Public Life.

Comprising both younger and well established scholars representing anthropology, political theory, religious studies, and sociology, the working group plans workshops to further elaborate and articulate the project’s overarching goals and key commitments.

In addition, McAlister participated in a  conference titled, “States of Devotion: Religion, Neoliberalism and the Politics of the Body in the Americas” conference Nov. 4-5  at The Hemispheric Institute of New York. McAlister examined “the changing role of religious discourses and practices in the wake of the transformations wrought by neoliberal globalization upon communities, societies, and polities across the Hemisphere.”

Rubenstein Guest Panelist at Global Politics of Sexuality Conference

Mary-Jane Rubenstein, assistant professor of religion, assistant professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, was a guest panelist at a conference titled “Christianity and the Global Politics of Sexuality” held Oct. 21 at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, New York University.

Focusing specifically on sexuality, Rubenstein and other panelists discussed the ways in which transnational and non-governmental Christian organizations have an impact on legal and social policies in different areas where Christians may comprise a small minority or a larger percentage of the population. In addition, sexuality continues to rankle and even divide Christian churches themselves, as evidenced by the recent tensions in the Anglican Communion over LGBT clergy members. This panel explored debates about sexuality within Christian churches and the global reach of Christian claims about sexuality.

Rubenstein is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, and of numerous articles and chapters on continental philosophy, negative theology, and the crisis over sex and gender in the global Anglican Communion.

5 Questions With . . . Religion’s Peter Gottschalk

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This issue we ask “5 Questions” of Peter Gottschalk, chair and professor of religion and co-author, with Gabriel Greenberg ’04, of the book Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy (Rowman & Littlefield).

Q. How did you become interested in studying Islam?

A: My interest arose entirely by serendipity. While in college, I hadn’t any interest in studying Islam but, because I was planning on visiting my parents who had just moved to Saudi Arabia, I took an introductory course on Islam. Fortunately, John Esposito, one of the few American specialists in Islam at the time, taught the class. From Saudi, I continued on to my first trip to India, where I lived in an area with a mixed Hindu, Muslim, and Christian population. I didn’t go to India for the sake of learning about the local religions, but the similarities and differences among the religious practices there, and between the forms of Islam practiced in Saudi and India, piqued my interest. After my return to the U.S., following other career pursuits, the lure of understanding more about both Islamic and Hindu traditions grew until it finally overtook me, and I shifted my attention.

Peter Gottschalk, chair and professor of religion, is the co-author of the book Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy. The book aims to better publicize the existence of an accepted – and corrosive – social prejudice. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Q: Much of your scholarly work has been focused on Islam in the Asian subcontinent, but your book Islamophobia is decidedly focused on the Western World. How did this come about? 


A: Following the tragedies of 9/11, it wasn’t hard to guess that the prejudice that Muslims historically had faced in the United States would heighten. Of course, the hijackers religiously justified the violence they unleashed against their victims, but this clearly resulted from an entirely marginal interpretation of Islam held by a fraction of Muslims so small that they would be insignificant,

Willis Delegate at Inaugural U.S.-Indonesian Conference

Janice Willis, professor of religion, was one of 20 American religious scholars and nonprofit leaders selected by the U.S. State Department to participate in the U.N.-sponsored, Indonesia-U.S. Interfaith Cooperation Forum, held in Indonesia, Jan. 25-27.

Jan Willis, professor of religion, was one of 20 American religious scholars and nonprofit leaders selected by the U.S. State Department to participate in an Indonesia-U.S. Interfaith Cooperation Forum, held in Indonesia, Jan. 25-27. She stands before a model is of the great stupa/mandala Borobudur in the courtyard of the Hotel Borobudur. The actual Borobudur is the largest Buddhist monument in the world.

Unexpected invitations come with the holidays every year, but one in particular received by Jan Willis, professor of religion, caught her attention. It was from the U.S. State Department, and was inspired by President Barack Obama.

The invitation asked Willis to serve as just one of 20 American religious scholars and nonprofit leaders selected by the U.S. State Department to participate in the inaugural Indonesia-U.S. Interfaith Cooperation Forum that was being held in Jakarta, Indonesia, Jan. 25-27 under the auspices of Religions for Peace.

“As soon as I read it, I knew I had to attend this,” Willis says. “It was a unique opportunity, and one I knew could not miss.”

The consultation was a follow-up to President Obama’s “New Beginning” speech in Cairo, Egypt where he called for interfaith cooperation, especially between Muslims and other faiths. Indonesia was chosen as the location for the first meeting by virtue of it being the largest Muslim nation in the world.

Willis, a Buddhist and renowned Buddhist scholar, was the only Buddhist from The United States invited and one of only two at the gathering; the other:

Jewish Community Donates Roman Coin to Special Collections

Jewish Chaplain Rabbi David Leipziger Teva holds a silver coin minted in 70 C.E.

Jewish Chaplain Rabbi David Leipziger Teva holds a silver coin minted in 70 C.E.

In 70 C.E., Roman Emperor Vespasian and his son, Titus, sacked the city of Jerusalem, destroying the Jewish temple.

To commemorate the success of quelling the Jewish Revolt, the Romans minted a series of nearly 50 “Judea Capta” (Captured Judaea) coins in gold, bronze and silver to remind the Roman Empire of its victory. Most of these coins depict a Roman soldier or leader, outfitted in military attire, and a mourning female Jewish woman, seated under a palm tree or trophy.

On Jan. 14, Jewish Chaplain Rabbi David Teva Leipziger Teva, director of religious and spiritual life, donated a silver coin, known as a denarius, to Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives. The silver denarius, featuring an embossed profile of Emperor Vespasian and the words “Caesar Vespasianus Avg(ustus),” was struck in 69-70 A.D.

The coin shows a mourning female Jewish woman, seated under a palm tree or trophy.

The coin shows a mourning female Jewish woman, seated under a palm tree or trophy.

“The coin was probably minted at a time when the teaching of Judaism and outward expressions of biblical, temple cult-based Judaism were made impossible by a dominating power,” Rabbi Leipziger Teva says. “Fast forward to 2010 at Wesleyan. Today we have multiple creative pathways for students to express and explore their Judaism and their Jewish identities. This coin talked about the complete opposite of all of this.”

Suzy Taraba, university archivist and head of Special Collections and Archives, says the denarius is the first coin donated to Wesleyan in at least 12 years. The coin will be housed with another Roman coin of the 15th century, which is embossed with the first, regularly used printer’s mark.

Taraba encourages faculty teaching courses on religion or history to use the coins as teaching tools. Jewish history

WesSukkah Dedicated Oct. 3

WesSukkah, designed and built by Wesleyan’s Architecture II research-design-build studio, was dedicated Oct. 3 on Foss Hill. The sukkah is used by Wesleyan’s Jewish community during the festival of Sukkot. For eight days, students studied, socialized, mediated, ate, and occasionally slept in the religious structure.

WesSukkah was honored with a 2009 “Faith and Form” Award for art and architecture from the American Institute of Architects.







(Photos by Olivia Bartlett Drake and Steve Rowland P’11. Rowland travelled from Seattle, Wa. for the dedication Oct. 3. His son, Cameron Rowland ’11, is one of the architecture students who designed WesSukkah)