In today’s Sightings column, religion scholar Martin Marty talks about the “natural inclusion” of religion in public discourse, education and writing. Read on at the jump.
Natural Inclusion of Religion
– Martin E. Marty
“Natural inclusion” is the mantra some scholars have used in efforts to locate a proper place and time for religion in public school curricula and textbooks. It is the opposite of “unnatural exclusion” of religion in the same locales. It is also different from “unnatural inclusion,” which is what came to the fore again in the recent and ongoing bizarreries exhibited in the case of the Texas School Board. The American Academy of Religion, and scholars like Warren Nord and Charles Haynes, promote “natural inclusion.”
Such a phrase does not resolve all the controversies. There still remain valid debates over the definition of “religion,” the tonalities of the “natural,” and the strategies of “inclusion.” Its use is intended to counter those who, like the Texas board majority, try to privilege one religion – a fictitious invention proposed as “biblical religion” inherited from the “Founding Fathers,” who would likely find offensive the cause to which their words are being put to use. “Natural inclusion” enterprises are equally intended to counter the secular omissions of religion in public arenas, be these omissions the result of unwitting or witting patterns of neglect of faith-connected topics by educators.
This is not the place to reargue the case(s), but to demonstrate what “natural inclusion” can look like. This week we attended a lecture in Chicago, sponsored by ‘Facing History,’ delivered by New York Times columnist and author of the really important bestseller Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Nicholas Kristof. After his talk, a companion attendee asked, “Did you notice that three times when he spoke of positive things that people were doing the reference was to religion?” Thus he had told of an 18-year-old who suffered an obstetric fistula and was shunned and left in a hut with an open door, so hyenas could kill and devour her. She beat them off and literally dragged herself 32 miles to safety. Where? To whom? To a missionary known to this girl as an agent of compassion. Nuns were heroines in another story as well. The references were so “naturally” told that I had not even marked them for Sightings, perhaps because they were “hearings” and I was not recording the provocative talk.
While reflecting on this I brought back up a column from the February 28th New York Times in which Kristof set out to discuss people who transcend the “save-the-world” talk and action of Democrats and liberals versus the denunciation of all governmental, and thus “rat hole,” aid programs by Republicans and religious conservatives. How? Kristof, characteristically for him and surprisingly to the camps just mentioned, reached into his vast global experience – his reading, interviewing, studying, looking, and drawing on his own reservoirs of decency and fairness. Thereupon he pointed favorably to those Evangelicals who “have become the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria” and attacking human traffickers.
He went even further and named names. “A pop quiz: What’s the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization?” No, not Save the Children. It’s the evangelical World Vision, with its 40,000 staff people in 100 countries. He quoted repentant and visionary evangelical leaders who suffer from images of “preening television blowhards and hypocrites” and even from the Vatican, for its lethal policies of opposing the distribution of condoms in the poor world. The column, a good example of “natural inclusion,” was a judgment on “snooty” secular liberals and “sanctimonious” evangelical militants. Many hope that the “natural includers” tribe will increase
Read Kristof’s February 28th column.
Martin E. Marty’s biography, current projects, publications and contact information.
In this month’s edition of the Religion and Culture Web Forum, Laura Lindenberger Wellen considers how illustrations in various editions of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) have contributed to a sense of that novel’s place as what one scholar calls “the Summa Theologica of nineteenth-century America’s religion of domesticity.” Specifically she focuses on Miguel Covarrubias, who immigrated from Mexico during the 1920s and was active during the rich artistic and political era known as the Harlem Renaissance. Wellen argues that Covarrubias’s visual representations in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which rely on a sensibility at play in Harlem of the 1930s, in effect “reanimate the religious and political tensions which made Stowe’s text such a popular and controversial text in the 1850s.” With invited responses forthcoming from John Howell (University of Chicago Divinity School), Amy Mooney (Columbia College Chicago), and Jo-Ann Morgan (Western Illinois University).
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Sightings welcomes submissions of 500 to 750 words in length that seek to illuminate and interpret the forces of faith in a pluralist society. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. The editor also encourages new approaches to issues related to religion and public life.
Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Sightings, and the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.