Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Cooling Embers of Embattlement

Jason Bivins offers an excellent analysis and reflection upon the role of the Religious Right in recent U.S. electoral politics and culture in his essay "Religion and American Politics: The Cooling Embers,"at The Immanent Frame. I recommend reading it in its entirety, but here is an excerpt, reflecting considerable caution and some measured hope for more civil and enlightened discourse:
...While Sarah Palin’s or Samuel Wurzelbacher’s articulations thereof may not have yielded electoral votes, part of the power of these claims—and those like them, issued by different constituencies—is that they are nurtured in a context shaped by the absence of reasoned discourse and historical vision. Something about the surrealism of this unreason is captured in Jodi Dean’s writings about alien abductee claims: “Their efforts to defend themselves become further manifestations of the virtuality of contemporary reality.” Similarly, no corrections to accusations of palling around with terrorists or socialism can really be effective, since they are always announcing themselves in a context which defeats them, which contextualizes them as yet more chatter, and where to chatter is to be guilty of protesting too much. It seems, at times, that one can only add to the din. Political power is achieved through volume and repetition rather than suasion.

So while we may see a shift in representative figures, a recalibration of strategies, and so forth, the larger political context will likely prove far more intransigent, unless and until the quality of public discourse and participation changes. I expect that the rhetorics of embattlement and violence will remain powerful, and their clangor lively in the resonance chambers of American public life. And yet this moment may also become what Robert Orsi calls an “abundant event,” “characterized by aspects of the human imagination that cannot be completely accounted for by social and cultural codes.” It is possible that, despite how overdetermined Obama as signifier has already become, his presence in American public life may yet become some kind of countersign to the drab, cranky tendencies that have flourished these last decades, like embers rekindled from earlier moments in American demonology. Perhaps just the further cooling of these embers might be enough to restore lost faiths.
Jason C. Bivins is an Associate Professor and is Associate Head of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at North Carolina State University. He is the author of Religion of Fear: The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, 2008) and The Fracture of Good Order: Christian Antiliberalism and the Challenge to American Politics (University of North Carolina Press, 2003). He is currently working on two monographs. The first is "Spirits Rejoice!": Jazz and American Religion, and the second is Embattled Majority, a genealogy of the rhetoric of "religious bigotry" in conservative Christian politics since the 1960s. [Bio from The Immanent Frame].

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