Professor Fareen Parvez and Mariam Awaisi conducted an interview with Juliane Hammer, Associate Professor and Kenan Rifai Scholar of Islamic Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. Professor Hammer specializes in the study of American Muslims, contemporary Muslim thought, women and gender in Islam, and Sufism. She reflects here on the topic of woman-led ritual prayers in Islam and the debate surrounding them. Click here to read the interview.
The Perpetuation of Prejudice: The Chapel Hill Shootings
Lauren Sutton, a Senior Religious Studies major at UNC, shares her thoughtful and eloquent reflections on the tragic murders of three students in Chapel Hill as well as the value of her Religious Studies education as she grapples with their meaning.
In March 1997, thirty-nine people in Rancho Santa Fe, California, ritually terminated their lives. To outsiders, it was a mass suicide. To insiders, it was a graduation. This act was the culmination of over two decades of spiritual and social development for the members of Heaven’s Gate, a religious group focused on transcending humanity and the Earth, and seeking salvation in the literal heavens on board a UFO.
In this fascinating overview, Benjamin Zeller (PhD ’07) not only explores the question of why the members of Heaven’s Gate committed ritual suicides, but interrogates the origin and evolution of the religion, its appeal, and its practices. By tracking the development of the history, social structure, and worldview of Heaven’s Gate, Zeller draws out the ways in which the movement was both a reflection and a microcosm of larger American culture.The group emerged out of engagement with Evangelical Christianity, the New Age movement, science fiction and UFOs, and conspiracy theories, and it evolved in response to the religious quests of baby boomers, new religions of the counterculture, and the narcissistic pessimism of the 1990s. Thus, Heaven’s Gate not only reflects the context of its environment, but also reveals how those forces interacted in the form of a single religious body.
In the only book-length study of Heaven’s Gate, Zeller traces the roots of the movement, examines its beliefs and practices, and tells the captivating story of the people of Heaven’s Gate.
You can find out more at Amazon. Congrats Benjamin!
Brantley Gasaway (PhD ’08) is an assistant professor of religion at Bucknell University. His new book, Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice is a compelling history of progressive evangelicalism. Gasaway examines a dynamic though often overlooked movement within American Christianity today. Gasaway focuses on left-leaning groups, such as Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action, that emerged in the early 1970s, prior to the rise of the more visible Religious Right. He identifies the distinctive “public theology”–a set of biblical interpretations regarding the responsibility of Christians to promote social justice–that has animated progressive evangelicals’ activism and bound together their unusual combination of political positions.
The book analyzes how prominent leaders, including Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo, responded to key political and social issues over the past four decades. Progressive evangelicals combated racial inequalities, endorsed feminism, promoted economic justice, and denounced American nationalism and militarism. At the same time, most leaders opposed abortion and refused to affirm homosexual behavior, even as they defended gay civil rights. Gasaway demonstrates that, while progressive evangelicals have been caught in the crossfire of partisan conflicts and public debates over the role of religion in politics, they have offered a significant alternative to both the Religious Right and the political left.
“I see this as the “go-to” book on this subject. This is not a story of a final victory, but one with a kind of suspense.” –Martin E. Marty, The University of Chicago Divinity School
“A significant contribution to our understanding of progressive evangelicalism … Gasaway’s analysis demonstrates with skill and understanding the vitality and relevance of progressive evangelicalism.” –Randall Balmer, Dartmouth College
For more information and to read an excerpt, visit UNC Press or Amazon.
Annie Blazer (PhD ’09) is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the College of William and Mary. Her new book, Playing for God: Evangelical Women and the Unintended Consequences of Sports Ministry (New York University Press, 2015), offers an exploration of the history and religious lives of Christian athletes, showing that evangelical engagement with popular culture can carry unintended consequences.
When sport became an avenue for embodied worship, it forced a reckoning with evangelical teachings about the body. Female Christian athletes increasingly turned to their own bodies to understand their religious identity, and in so doing, came to question evangelical mainstays on gender and sexuality. What was once a male-dominated masculinist project of sports engagement became a female-dominated movement that challenged evangelical ideas on femininity, marriage hierarchy, and the sinfulness of homosexuality. Though evangelicalism has not changed sporting culture, for those involved in sports ministry, sport has changed evangelicalism.
You can find out more about Playing for God by checking out NYU Press or Amazon.