Religion

New Books in April

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Curling up on the couch with a great book is an excellent way to practice social distancing this month. All these titles will deliver before our sale ends on May 1, so check our website regularly. You can save 50% on all in-stock titles with coupon SPRING50

Tyler Bickford traces the dramatic rise of the “tween” pop music industry in Tween Pop, showing how it marshaled childishness as a key element in legitimizing children’s participation in public culture.

The contributors to Playing for Keeps examine the ways in which musical improvisation can serve as a way to negotiate violence, trauma, systemic inequality, and the aftermaths of war and colonialism. This volume is edited by Daniel Fischlin and Eric Porter.

John F. Szwed’s Space is the Place is the definitive biography of Sun Ra—composer, keyboardist, bandleader, philosopher, entrepreneur, poet, self-proclaimed extraterrestrial from Saturn, and a founder of Afrofuturism. We are pleased to be bringing this classic back into print with a new preface.

In Vital Decomposition, Kristina M. Lyons presents an ethnography of human-soil relations in which she follows state soil scientists and peasant farmers in Colombia’s Putumayo region, showing how their relationship with soil is key to caring for the forest and growing non-illicit crops in the face of violence, militarism, and environmental destruction.

Micha Rahder explores how multiple ways of knowing the forest of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve shape conservation practice, local livelihoods, and landscapes in An Ecology of Knowledges.

In Relations, Marilyn Strathern provides a critical account of anthropology’s key concept of relation and its usage and significance in the English-speaking world, showing how its evolving use over the last three centuries reflects changing thinking about knowledge-making and kin-making.

In Virtual Pedophilia, Gillian Harkins traces the genealogy of the transformation of cultural construction of the pedophile as a social outcast into the image of normative white masculinity from the 1980s to the present, showing how his “normalcy” makes him hard to identify and stop.

In A People’s History of Detroit, Mark Jay and Philip Conklin use a Marxist framework to tell a sweeping story of Detroit from 1913 to the present, outlining the complex socio-political dynamics underlying major events in Detroit’s past, from the rise of Fordism and the formation of labor unions to deindustrialization and the city’s recent bankruptcy.

In Revolution and Disenchantment, Fadi A. Bardawil explores the hopes for and disenchantments with Marxism-Leninism in the writings and actions of revolutionary intellectuals within the 1960s Arab New Left.

In Tehrangeles Dreaming, Farzaneh Hemmasi draws on ethnographic fieldwork in Los Angeles and musical and textual analysis to examine how the pop music, music videos, and television made by Iranian expatriates express modes of Iranianness not possible in Iran.

The Lonely Letters is an epistolary blackqueer critique of the normative world in which Ashon T. Crawley meditates on the interrelation of blackqueer life, sounds of the black church, theology, mysticism, and the potential for platonic and erotic connection in a world that conspires against blackqueer life.

Drawing on Whitman and Adorno, Morton Schoolman proposes aesthetic education through film as a way to redress the political violence inflicted on difference society constructs as its racialized, gendered, Semitic, and sexualized other in A Democratic Enlightenment.

In Kwaito Bodies, Xavier Livermon examines the cultural politics of the youthful black body in South Africa through the performance, representation, and consumption of Kwaito—a style of electronic dance music that emerged following the end of apartheid.

Reflecting on the experience, philosophy, and practice of Latin American indigenous and Afro-descendant activist-intellectuals who mobilize to defend their territories from large-scale extraction, Arturo Escobar shows in Pluriversal Politics how the key to addressing planetary crises is the creation of the pluriverse—a world of many epistemological and ontological worlds.

The contributors to AIDS and the Distribution of Crises outline the myriad ways that the AIDS pandemic exists within a network of varied historical, overlapping, and ongoing crises borne of global capitalism and colonial, racialized, and gendered violence. This collection is edited by Jih-Fei Cheng, Alexandra Juhasz, and Nishant Shahani. It is currently available to read free online as part of our Navigating the Threat of Pandemic syllabus.

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The Plague, A Guest Post by Amy Laura Hall

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Amy Laura Hall is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke University Divinity School. She is the author of Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich.

I am writing from Texas. It is Lent, and I am surrounded by Christmas decorations that need to be sorted. My mom, the amazing Carol Hall, teacher of generations of West Texas teens, had her heart cut open and her brain rudely interrupted as the great plague of 2020 began. She suffered a heart-attack and stroke the last week of January.

My dad, the amazing Reverend Robert Hall, has been married to my mom for more decades than I’ve been alive. I do not understand them. Their love confuses me. They have developed a means of communicating that I imagine as a geriatric version of the cant that twins are rumored to have. I’ve been intruding on them regularly since the crisis. Today, I just wanted to go to the grocery store.

Cedar Park, Texas was a small town a half hour from Austin. Now it is Nordstrom Rack, Hobby Lobby, local barbecue, old-timers remembering before Lakeline Mall, and multi-generational families speaking another language. We all exist outside AUSTIN, TEXAS, travel destination of the stars. South by Southwest, now an international phenomenon, was cancelled this year, due to the plague of 2020, and people who were already working three jobs for a living are driving through Cedar Park trying to figure out how to make ends meet. And everyone is converging on their H.E.B.

If you are reading this from North Carolina, H.E.B. is the Piggly Wiggly of Texas. People are loyal to their local H.E.B., and, even if there are other spots to shop, I swear that Cedar Park people are going there for a sense of normalcy. Maybe that is projection. I have shopped there almost daily every visit. Back in North Carolina, I carry H.E.B. reusable shopping bags from each season as if they were Prada.

My mother’s car has a radio function that allows me to shift from the 1940s to the 1980s. I’ve been doing the Charleston to the Hustle between stop lights. Two refrains have stuck in my head. “The things we do for love.” And “Freak Out!”

Laughing at the Devil

I have rarely walked in the rain or the snow, but “the things we do for love” makes for good prayer. When dealing with depends and diapers and tampons and anything else that is “down there,” including all the dog poop I pick up when I am home with mutts, I sing, to myself, “The things we do for love . . .” Here in Cedar Park, this week, looking at all the people standing in line around the corner at the H.E.B., because the store management is doing their best, I thought, yes. The things we do for love.

Yesterday, facing the line around the corner, I gave up and went to buy barbecue at a place that shares the parking lot and has the name Moe. (I am afraid I will get the name wrong, but I recommend everything they serve.) I promised my dad I would not come within 4 feet of anyone. A man about my dad’s age saw me trying gently to avoid him and said “Don’t worry! I don’t have it!” No worries! I am also trying not to scare anyone by my mere presence! Then, over the radio, “Freak Out!”

The barbecue spot is small, and less than a dozen people were there. But we decided, awkwardly – from old Cedar Park and tattooed new Cedar Park, and with at least a few couples venturing to the Hill Country – that “Freak Out” could be a theme song for the great plague of 2020. At least a few of us danced. Mr. Moe, who I have never caught off-guard, cracked a smile.

Here is what I know for sure. It is Lent. I am trying to remember how to eat, not to fast. The birds in Cedar Park are singing their hearts out. The plague of 2020 reminds me that we matter, each of us. Every sparrow. Every mockingbird. Every grackle. Everyone. Each one of us matters. Call me what you will. I am clear that God’s omniamity (yes, I coined that word) does not fit within a primary or an election year or a nation. And . . . and, Julian of Norwich saw all of this. She was a visionary during what is indisputably known as the Great Plague. She lived through proclamations of God’s wrath. She saw people declared as mere peasants rise up together bravely. They were mowed down like mice. I have not forgotten. I will continue to see.

Save 50% on Amy Laura Hall’s Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich and all in-stock titles during our special sale using the coupon code SPRING50.

New Books in February

This month, we’re releasing an array of new reads in all of the subjects you love. Take a look at these new books coming this February!

The concluding volume in a poetic triptych, Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Dub: Finding Ceremony takes inspiration from theorist Sylvia Wynter, dub poetry, and ocean life to offer a catalog of possible methods for remembering, healing, listening, and living otherwise.

In Wild Blue Media, Melody Jue destabilizes terrestrial-based media theory frameworks and reorients the perception of the world by considering the ocean itself as a media environment—a place where the weight and opacity of seawater transforms how information is created, stored, transmitted, and perceived.

In The Ocean in the School, Rick Bonus tells the stories of Pacific Islander students at the University of Washington as they and their allies struggled to transform a university they believed did not value their presence into a space based on meaningfulness, respect, and multiple notions of student success.

In Orozco’s American Epic, Mary K. Coffey examines José Clemente Orozco’s mural cycle Epic of American Civilization, which indicts history as complicit in colonial violence and questions the claims of Manifest Destiny in the United States and the Mexican desire to mend the wounds of conquest in pursuit of a postcolonial national project.

Nandita Sharma traces the development of the categories of migrants and natives from the nineteenth century to the present in Home Rule to theorize how the idea of people’s rights being tied to geographical notions of belonging came to be.

In Unfixed, Jennifer Bajorek traces the relationship between photography and decolonial politics in Francophone west Africa in the years immediately leading up to and following independence from French colonial rule in 1960, showing how photography both reflected and actively contributed to social and political change.

In Are You Entertained?, a collection of essays, interviews, visual art, and artist statements on topics ranging from music and dance to Black Twitter and the NBA’s dress code, the contributors consider what culture and Blackness mean in the twenty-first century’s digital consumer economy. This volume is edited by Simone C. Drake and Dwan K. Henderson.

In Musicophilia in Mumbai, Tejaswini Niranjana traces the place of Hindustani classical music in Mumbai throughout the long twentieth century, showing how the widespread love of music throughout the city created a culture of collective listening and social subjects who embodied new forms of modernity.

Focusing on the work of a Marxist anticolonial literary group active in India between the 1930s and 1950s, Neetu Khanna rethinks the project of decolonization in The Visceral Logics of Decolonization by showing how embodied and affective responses to colonial subjugation provide the catalyst for developing revolutionary consciousness.

Contributors to Queer Korea, edited by Todd A. Henry, offer interdisciplinary analyses of non-normative sexuality and gender nonconformity in Korea, extending individualized notions of queer neoliberalism beyond those set in Western queer theory.

Drawing on Marxist phenomenology, geography, and aesthetics and film from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan made between the 1990s and the present, Erin Y. Huang theorizes the economic, cultural, and political conditions of neoliberal postsocialist China in Urban Horror.

The contributors to Affective Trajectories examine the mutual and highly complex entwinements between religion and affect in urban Africa in the early twenty-first century, tracing the myriad ways religious ideas, practices, and materialities interact with affect to configure life in urban African spaces. This collection is edited by Hansjörg Dilger, Astrid Bochow, Marian Burchardt, and Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon.

In Naked Agency, Naminata Diabate explores how the deployment of defiant nakedness by mature women in Africa challenges longstanding assumptions about women’s political agency.

From The Guiding Light to Passions, Elana Levine traces the history of daytime television soap operas as an innovative and highly gendered mass cultural form in Her Stories.

In Seeing by Electricity, Doron Galili traces television’s early history, from the fantastical devices initially imagined fifty years before the first television prototypes to the emergence of broadcast television in the 1930s, showing how television was always discussed and treated in relation to cinema.

Jeremy Packer and Joshua Reeves provide a critical account of the history and future of automation in warfare in Killer Apps by highlighting the threats posed by the latest advances in media technology and artificial intelligence.

Originally published in German in 1978 and appearing here in English for the first time, the second volume of Peter Weiss’s three-volume novel The Aesthetics of Resistance depicts anti-fascist resistance, radical proletarian political movements, and the relationship between art and resistance from the late 1930s to World War II.

Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop by Sarah Eckhardt accompanies the exhibition of the photography of Virginia artist Louis Draper and other members of the Kamoinge Workshop that opens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in February 2020. We are distributing it for the museum.

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Our Editors Pick Their Books of the Decade

As we come to the end of a decade, our editors look back at some of the most influential books we’ve published since 2010.

Ken Wissoker, Editorial Director

In the WakeI’m proud to have worked on a great number of field-changing and prize-winning books this decade, many of which had sway far beyond the academy. The one title that stands out for me is Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake. I’d worked with Christina on her exceptional first book Monstrous Intimacies so knew there was more brilliance to come. I can still picture the room at MLA in Vancouver where I first heard her present In the Wake’s powerful poetic text, compelling at so many layers at once. We were awed by her ability to move from the deeply familial and personal to the scale of world history without losing either the tone or the theory; by the stark realism of her account of Black death; and by the call to live on despite the weather. The book came out in November of 2016, by mid-March of the following year, artist Cauleen Smith had adopted the book’s title for her contribution to the 2017 Whitney Biennial.  I’ve since seen Sharpe’s work deeply engaged by Torkwase Dyson and other artists. Her narrating of the wake, the ship, the hold, and the weather — along with the idea of wakework itself — has been taken up by writers, critics, activists and readers, who felt Sharpe had named something for their lives. This quick recognition —the sense of being recognized, seen, or heard — is unusual and deeply special.  The book is an extraordinary gift to our ongoing political moment, one that will resonate for many years to come.

Courtney Berger, Executive Editor

Vibrant MatterIt’s been 10 years since we published Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (January 2010).  When I first read the manuscript, I knew it would be important. I knew that Bennett’s generous and reflective way of thinking and her engaging writing style would widen its audience beyond political theory (Bennett’s home discipline). But I had no idea how influential the book would be, setting the stage for a decade of conversation and debate about “thing-power” and the agential capacities of the nonhuman. Bennett’s plea to recognize the influence of nonhuman forces and things in the political realm and to decenter the human resonated with me and many others seeking new ways of thinking about our relationship to our environment. Influential books often provoke debate and this one certainly has done that. But, for me, the books that matter in the long run are the ones that invite me to think with them. Vibrant Matter is that kind of book. Bennett’s ideas have generated critique, disagreement, and reflection, all of which has pushed scholarship in new and important directions.  Notably, Mel Chen’s Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (2012) builds upon Bennett’s attention to the affective dimensions of the nonhuman material world, but shows us how race, sexuality, and disability have shaped our notions of liveliness and of who and what matters in this world.  In The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century (2017) Kyla Schuller extends this critique, illustrating how the 19th century sciences of “impressibility” and animacy helped to solidify ontologies of racial difference, ideas that have had an often unacknowledged afterlife in new materialist philosophies.  Moreover, Bennett’s work has helped to lay the ground work for innovative book series like ANIMA, edited by Mel Chen and Jasbir Puar, which brings queer, race, and disability theory to bear on our understanding of life and matter, and Elements, edited by Stacy Alaimo and Nicole Starosielski, which foregrounds the material elements as lively forces that shape politics and culture.

My task was to name one book of the decade, and as you see, instead I named one book, and two more, and then two book series. Maybe that’s my way of dodging the task. But it also speaks to the expansive and generative quality of books, as they travel, intersect, and influence one another, as well as the vibrancy of the scholarly conversations I’m so privileged to be a part of. I can’t wait to see which books make their mark in the coming decade. . . .

Gisela Fosado, Editor

Light in the DarkGloria Anzaldúa’s brilliant book Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro is a work that is decades ahead of its time.  Published in 2015, but written before Anzaldúa’s untimely death in 2004, the book engages feminist and queer aesthetics, ontologies, epistemologies, and ethics, offering a new decolonial vision for our world.  It’s a must-read for all feminist scholars.

Elizabeth Ault, Editor

My book of the decade is Kristin Peterson’s Speculative Markets. I arrived at Duke Press in 2012, mere weeks after Speculative Marketsdefending my dissertation in American studies (focused on Black-cast sitcoms of the 1970s). I was pretty burnt out after 6 years of grad school, and feeling a little distant and alienated from the political passion and the joy of intellectual inquiry that had put me on an academic path in the first place. Speculative Markets was one of the first books I got to work on at the Press. Peterson’s book, an ethnography of pharmaceuticals in Nigeria, wasn’t an obvious fit with my areas of expertise. But the book begins with a blistering account of structural adjustment in the global 1970s and 80s, providing African perspectives on the global rise of neoliberalism, which had loomed large in my previous work. Thinking neoliberalism, the durability of colonial forms, speculation, and global anti-Blackness from Nigeria with Peterson introduced me to what cultural and medical anthropology and African studies can do. The book reoriented my perspective, introduced me to new conversations, and reminded me of the power of scholarship. It’s helped me chart the course that has comprised my career here at the Press over the past 7 years, which is why it’s my book of the decade.

Miriam Angress, Associate Editor

RemnantsOne of the books I’m joyful to have worked on is Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism, and Mothering, written by Rosemarie Freeney Harding with her daughter Rachel Elizabeth Harding. The author—an influential civil-rights activist—believed in the unity of all great spiritual teachings, and practiced multiple religions herself; she looked for the compassionate underpinnings of these traditions, such as the link she saw between Tibetan Buddhist teachings and lessons she learned from her mother as they visited dying relatives. Remnants incorporates stories of her civil rights leadership, co-founding an early integrated community center in Atlanta with her husband Dr. Vincent Harding, and working with friends and colleagues including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Anne Braden, Dr. Howard Thurman and Sue Bailey Thurman, and Sweet Honey in the Rock singer Bernice Reagon.

Rachel Harding (Associate Professor of Indigenous Spiritual Traditions at University of Colorado) worked with her mother on the memoir for a decade before Freeney Harding’s death in 2004. After that, she excavated her mother’s voice from journals, previously published material, recordings, and her own memories.

Sandra Korn, Assistant Editor

Normal Life2011 was the year I realized that I was queer, and the year that I officially scrapped my parents’ dreams that I would become a scientist, when I switched my undergraduate major to Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies. It’s also the year that Dean Spade first published Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law with South End Press. Same-sex marriage legalization and hate crime laws covering gender identity were slowly sweeping the U.S. state by state. Yet Dean Spade taught me that waiting for the courts to grant legal equality (the model adopted by the gay and lesbian rights movement) would never be sufficient to address the root causes of violence against trans people across the planet. Instead, Spade argues that trans liberation requires a grassroots movement, led by trans people most impacted by criminalization, surveillance, and detention and deportation. Duke Press published the second edition of Normal Life in 2015, and this book feels just as necessary as we head into 2020.

 

 

New Books in December

‘Tis the season for brand new books! This month, we’re releasing a variety of compelling titles from a wide range of disciplines—art, history, music, theory and philosophy, cultural studies, and many more. Check out these great reads available in December.

Andrea Smith examines the racial reconciliation movement in Evangelical Christianity through a critical ethnic studies lens in Unreconciled, evaluating the varying degrees to which Evangelical communities that were founded on white supremacy have attempted to address racism and become more inclusive.

In Picasso’s Demoiselles, eminent art historian Suzanne Preston Blier uncovers a previously unknown history of the influences and creative process of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of the twentieth century’s most important, celebrated, and studied paintings.

In The Sonic Episteme Robin James examines how twenty-first-century conceptions of sound as acoustic resonance shape notions of the social world, personhood, and materiality in ways that support white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

In Listen But Don’t Ask Question Kevin Fellezs traces the ways in which slack key guitar—a traditional Hawaiian musical style played on an acoustic steel-string guitar—is a site for the articulation of the complex histories, affiliations, and connotations of Hawaiian belonging.

Militarization: A Reader, edited by Roberto J. González, Hugh Gusterson, and Gustaaf Houtman, offers an anthropological perspective on militarization’s origin and sustained presence as a cultural process in its full social, economic, political, cultural, environmental, and symbolic contexts throughout the world.

Originally published in French in 1997 and appearing here in English for the first time, David Lapoujade’s William James: Empiricism and Pragmatism is both an accessible and rigorous introduction to and a pioneering rereading of James’s thought.

With topics that span the sixteenth century to the present in Latin America, the United States, Australia, the Middle East, and West Africa, the contributors to Ethnopornography show how ethnopornography—the eroticized observation of the Other for supposedly scientific or academic purposes—is fundamental to the creation of race, colonialism, and archival and ethnographic knowledge. This volume is edited by Pete Sigal, Zeb Tortorici, and Neil L. Whitehead.

In Otaku and the Struggle for Imagination in Japan Patrick Galbraith examines Japanese “otaku,” their relationships with fictional girl characters, the Japanese public’s interpretations of them as excessive and perverse, and the Japanese government’s attempts to co-opt them into depictions of “Cool Japan” to an international audience.

In Mafalda: A Social and Political History of Latin America’s Global Comic—first published in Argentina in 2014 and appearing here in English for the first time—Isabella Cosse examines the history, political commentary, and influence of the world-famous comic character Mafalda from her Argentine origins in 1964 to her global reach in the 1990s.

In The Licit Life of Capitalism Hannah Appel uses a case study of U.S. oil industry in Equatorial Guinea to illustrate how inequality makes markets, not just in West Africa but globally.

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Black Sacred Music Archive Now Available

We are excited to announce the digitization of Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology, published semiannually from 1987 to 1995 and now available online for the first time.

Subscribe now for access, or ask your library to purchase the archive.

Black Sacred Music, under the editorship of Yahya Jontingaba (formerly known as Jon Michael Spencer), sought to establish theomusicology—a theologically informed musicology—as a distinct discipline, incorporating methods from anthropology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy to examine the full range of black sacred music. Topics included the theology of American pop, the early days of rap, the African church, spirituals, gospel music, civil rights songs, and much more.

The journal consisted of scholarly articles, essays, hymns and folk songs, sermons, historical reprints, and reviews of books, hymn books, and recordings. It also published volumes of archival writings by R. Nathaniel Dett, William Grant Still, and Willis Laurence James.

Notable contributors include Philip V. Bohlman, Michael Eric Dyson, Andrew Greeley, Mark Sumner Harvey, Willie James Jennings, D. Soyini Madison, Sonja Peterson-Lewis, Harold Dean Trulear, William C. Turner Jr., Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, Cornel West, and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

Q&A with Brenda R. Weber, Author of Latter-day Screens

weberBrenda R. Weber is Professor of Gender Studies at Indiana University, editor of Reality Gendervision: Sexuality and Gender on Transatlantic Reality Television, and author of Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity, both also published by Duke University Press. Her newest book, Latter-day Screens: Gender, Sexuality, and Mediated Mormonism examines how mediation of Mormonism through film, TV, blogs, YouTube videos, and memoirs functions as a means to understand conversations surrounding gender, sexuality, spirituality, capitalism, justice, and individualism in the United States.

You mention in the acknowledgements that two of your close friends—fellow non-Mormons who also grew up surrounded by Mormon culture—thought writing the book was a mistake. What was it that allowed you to move beyond their fears (and perhaps your own) and continue on with the project? 

One of the things I try to capture in the memoir section of the book (coming at the end) is the way that Mormonism influenced practically every aspect of my growing up in Mesa, Arizona, because the religion has such a strong set of beliefs practices, and behaviors—through things like what one can eat or drink but also about your use of time and your perceived friendliness. It also set limits on how hard I could think (and still be considered nice) and what exactly I could aspire to become professionally and personally, and it absolutely forbade the legitimacy of LGBT loves or lives. So for me and my other non-Mormon friends, we lived with a constant sense of a very powerful presence that could be felt and could judge us but couldn’t really be detected or blocked, like the air we breathe. It had a way of seeping into us and taking up residence in our bodies. I think my friends and I dealt with this largely by not dealing with it—we left town, moved on, grew up. Writing the book meant dismantling a coping mechanism I had used for nearly 30 years, and my friends were concerned about no longer having this capacity for separation.

As with most of my projects, it was my fascination with learning that made me move beyond those fears. Instead of turning my back and mind on those people and beliefs that had governed my childhood, I became truly interested in understanding the history, culture, and media representations of Mormons, both mainstream and fundamentalist. It was a wonderful way to purge a lot of childhood ghosts, but I do still have anxieties that I can never again go to a high school reunion and I’ve pretty much been de-friended by all of my LDS friends from childhood. And I want to emphasize, this is not something I could have done as a child or a teenager. I needed to be an adult with enough certainty about me that taking a part a necessary scaffolding wouldn’t undo a broader sense of my self.

Images and ideas of Mormonism, or what you call “mediated Mormonism,” are quite powerful cultural tools: You describe mediated Mormonism as a “lens” through which we can see the inner workings and mechanics of American culture. What do you see as particular to the Church of Latter-Day Saints that allows its representations to have this powerful clarifying effect? 

Latter-day ScreensAs an American religion born in the nineteenth century, Mormonism came alive as new possibilities in media were also born. Religion scholars have long talked about the advent of the printing press as presaging both the Protestant Revolution and a spread and diversification of Christianity. Mormonism nicely illustrates this story as well, fittingly in the New World of the Americas where the book is set. The Book of Mormon was first published in Palmyra, New York in 1830. Joseph Smith ordered a run of 5,000 copies (at a cost of $3,000), which is an astronomical number and cost for that time period. But the print run tells us a great deal about the rise of book culture in the United States, the zealous emergence of a number of new religions in this time period, the rise in literacy across more rural parts of the United States, and the general affordability of publishing in this period.

I had an opportunity while researching this book to visit E. B. Grandin, the print shop that made The Book of Mormon, now turned into a site staffed and run by the mainstream LDS Church. While there, I was astounded that if I stood on tippy toes at the back door, I could see the Erie Canal, which was like an information super highway in the nineteenth century, moving goods and in this case ideas across the country and into Canada. With the spread of the book soon went the spread of missionaries, because this has always been a very proselytizing religion.

This circulation of Mormon missionaries and ideas served to crystalize Mormonism as a recognizable “thing” in the culture, what in the book I call Mormonism as a meme. Broader American and even international culture has not always looked on Mormonism in a positive light, but it is often referenced to do a larger symbolic work. So, as we see in the case of Big Love or Sister Wives, fundamentalist Mormons are called upon to serve as “American everymen” who live their lives a little differently. They become proxy figures for asking if there are limits to the American experiment.

You argue that the struggles against norms taking place inside and around Latter-day screens actually become accelerants for social justice. For instance, you discuss how Utah’s dismissal of their case against the polygamous Brown family from Sister Wives coincided with the state’s issuing of licenses for same-sex marriages. What potential (and limitations) do you see in cultural media like reality television to become agents of change in broader legal and political spheres? 

978-0-8223-5682-0_prWell, culture has always been an agent in the legal and political sphere, so it’s not like this is a new thing. Fighting to eradicate slavery, for instance, brought forth a whole new set of protest literatures from slave narratives to sentimental novels.

But as I discuss in my 2014 book Reality Gendervision, people love to hate on TV, particularly reality TV. And don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to critique, but I don’t think it is the medium itself that is to blame. Perhaps I have convinced myself as a media scholar, but I think the issue is really about critical thinking skills and media literacy. The more people can think critically, the more all kinds of media can be used in beneficial ways.

In the book, you describe the kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart as a “cultural meme,” serving as a sign of the ultimate innocent victim who meets the affective demand to be “happy” after trauma. How do you see these same demands– for innocent victims who don’t “hold a grudge”—working in our own cultural and institutional logics surrounding sexual assault and violence? Is Smart as a meme a direct mirror for our larger culture, or an exaggeration that allows us to see ourselves more clearly?

I see the image of Elizabeth Smart as absolutely an outlying representation, particularly in an era of #MeToo that asks survivors of sexual assault to claim their stories and to be willing to share their feelings of anger about them. Also, I want to be clear that I don’t fault Elizabeth Smart for her affect. I have no idea what her actual feelings are inside, and she may well have a different emotional experience that she, rightfully, does not divulge as part of her public persona. Or maybe she doesn’t. I wouldn’t want to be understood as saying that Smart is wrong in being happy but that the effect of her affect (if you want to put it this way) is to suggest she will never attack. This, in turn, reinforces normative notions of heteronormative femininity that suggest a woman’s value is heightened through her willingness to put others before herself, including their emotional needs. I use a line in the book from Judith Freeman’s excellent memoir The Latter Days (2017) about receiving instructions on femininity as a young Mormon girl. Freeman and others were given an example of sitting in a church pew and not feeling well. If this happened, they were advised, it would be far better to throw up in your purse than to ask others to stand up so that you could get to the restroom. Better to barf in a handbag! That’s the kind of gender identity at the heart of the happy affect I examine in the book.

You close your book by discussing LGBT+ Mormons and their relationship with media as a space for self-recognition, working against patterns in the church where a denial of self-knowledge is often a condition of subjectivity, like in the show My Husband’s Not Gay. Do you think that twenty-first century social media can accomplish this self-representation in a new way that television cannot?

I wouldn’t say that it is mutually exclusive (either television can do it better or social media does) but cumulative. When I use the phrase Latter-day Screens, this is exactly what I’m getting at – that cultural ideas, impressions, and images are produced through a conversation between different media platforms (television, feature film, memoir) and through both high and low, professional and amateur production, all coming together in these relatively coherent symbols that are labeled “Mormon.”

Ideas change through continual and repeated exposure to an idea. Just this week, for example, a new television show popped onto my TIVO, called Trapped: The Alex Cooper Story (Lifetime, released September 28, 2019). It offers a made-for-television version of the 2016 memoir Saving Alex, written by Alex Cooper. Cooper writes about being raised LDS and coming out to her parents, who in desperation, forcibly put her in reparation therapy. It’s a brutal, sad story with a triumphant ending. But Saving Alex is not a singular story—there are many memoirs about LGBT+ lives and loves and the hardship of living as gay and Mormon, many of them self-published, many others serving as the backbone of film or television representation (as for instance in The Falls: Testament of Love or Latter Days).

Social media is critical to all of this because it is immediate and it is amateur, meaning one doesn’t require a ten-million dollar budget and backing from Hollywood before telling one’s truth, or testifying (a key tenet of Mormonism). Mediation, as we discussed in the first question, here serves as quintessentially Mormon, or, as many of the people who create media content around Mormonism say, “As out-Mormoning the Mormons.” Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons, says it most powerfully in the documentary Believer,

There’s one thing my Mormon values have taught me since I was young. It’s that no matter what the world says about who you are, what you believe, still do it. A hundred percent. That spirit was the spirit that carried me through my mission. I felt like I was baring my truth regardless what anyone thought about me. That’s all because of Mormonism and my parents, they all prepped me for this moment now. A determined Mormon is a scary thing, I will tell you that. Because they don’t stop. I knocked a hundred doors to get into one door. I knocked a thousand doors on my mission. If there’s one thing I can guarantee it’s that I will continue to knock this door until somebody answers.

That’s on page 21 of my book, if anyone wants to read more!

What is something you hope readers will take away from this in-depth account of the various ways in which Mormonism circulates in our media?

In terms of media, I hope that readers perceive the clarifying capacities of Mormonism, when we understand it as both a way of seeing and a way of thinking. Really, my book is not so much about Mormons as people or Mormon ideas. Instead, it’s about Mormonism as an idea. Decoding its many values is a bit like taking apart a complex engine, in that we really begin to see and understand how bits and pieces work together to create something far bigger than the sum of its parts.

In terms of the overall project, I hope that readers see that everyone has a story worth telling, and I hope they understand my regard toward actual Mormon people as being not judgmental but also not completely sympathetic. For me, my experience with the influence of Mormonism helped me understand the workings of hegemony, a critical term within gender studies that is often used and seldom defined. But basically, hegemony has to do with the invisible systems that compel people not only to act in ways opposite to their self-interest but also to believe those power relations are superior to other ways, so they champion their continuation. I had a hard time understanding how I could never have been formally schooled in the values of Mormonism yet knew the codes so well I had internalized them. Writing this book allowed me to understand that hegemonic process more and in so doing to be free of them in some ways.

Read the introduction to Latter-day Screens free online and save 30% on the paperback edition using coupon code E19WEBER.

 

 

New Books in September

Summer’s almost over, which means it’s time to start to replenishing your reading list! Celebrate the start of a new academic year with us by checking out this diverse array of books arriving in September.

Acknowledging the impending worldwide catastrophe of rising seas in the twenty-first century, Orrin H. Pilkey and Keith C. Pilkey outline the impacts on the United States’ shoreline and argue that the only feasible response along much of the U.S. shoreline is an immediate and managed retreat in Sea Level Rise.

Brenda R. Weber’s Latter-day Screens examines the ways in which the mediation of Mormonism through film, TV, blogs, YouTube videos, and memoirs functions as a means through which to understand conversations surrounding gender, sexuality, spirituality, capitalism, justice, and individualism in the United States.

Self-Devouring Growth by Julie Livingston shows how the global pursuit of economic and resource-driven growth comes at the expense of catastrophic destruction, thereby upending popular notions that economic growth and development is necessary for improving a community’s wellbeing.

In Under Construction, Daniel Mains explores the intersection of infrastructural development and governance in contemporary Ethiopia by examining the conflicts surrounding the construction of specific infrastructural technologies and how that construction impacts the daily lives of Ethiopians.

Elizabeth Freeman’s Beside You in Time expands bipolitical and queer theory by outlining a temporal view of the long nineteenth century and showing how time became a social and sensory means by which people resisted disciplinary regimes and assembled into groups in ways that created new forms of sociality.

Terry Smith—who is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading historians and theorists of contemporary art—traces the emergence of contemporary art and further develops his concept of contemporaneity in Art to Come through analyses of topics ranging from Chinese and Australian Indigenous art to architecture.

Henry Cow by Benjamin Piekut tells the story of the English experimental rock band Henry Cow and how it linked its improvisational musical aesthetic with a collectivist, progressive politics.

Davina Cooper’s Feeling Like a State explores the unexpected contribution a legal drama of withdrawal—as exemplified by some conservative Christians who deny people inclusion, goods, and services to LGBTQ individuals—might make to conceptualizing a more socially just, participative state.

In Making The Black Jacobins, Rachel Douglas traces the genesis, transformation, and afterlives of the different versions of C. L. R. James’s landmark The Black Jacobins across the decades from the 1930s onwards, showing how James revised it in light of his evolving politics.

William E. Connolly links climate change, fascism, and the nature of truth to demonstrate the profound implications of the deep imbrication between planetary nonhuman processes and cultural developments in Climate Machines, Fascist Drives, and Truth.

Cara New Daggett’s The Birth of Energy traces the genealogy of the idea of energy from the Industrial Revolution to the present, showing how it has informed fossil fuel imperialism, the governance of work, and our relationship to the Earth.

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New Books in March

Spring brings a fresh crop of new books. Check out what’s new in March.

The Politics of Operations, edited by Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, investigates how capital reshapes its relation with politics, showing how contemporary capitalism operates through the extraction of mineral resources, data, and cultures; the logistical organization of relations between people, property, and objects; and the penetration of financialization into all realms of economic life.

Zorach cover with border low resIn Art for People’s Sake Rebecca Zorach traces the little-told story of the Black Arts Movement in Chicago, showing how its artistic innovations, institution building, and community engagement helped the residents of Chicago’s South and West Sides respond to social, political, and economic marginalization.

Drawing on previously unexamined archives, the contributors to The Revolution from Within, edited by Michael Bustamante and Jessica Lambe, examine the Cuban Revolution from a Cuba-centric perspective by foregrounding the experience of everyday Cubans in analyses of topics ranging from agrarian reform and fashion to dance and the Mariel Boatlift.

978-1-4780-0380-9.jpgIn Hush Mack Hagood outlines how noise-cancelling headphones, tinnitus maskers, white noise machines, nature-sound mobile apps, and other forms of media give users the ability to create sonic safe spaces for themselves, showing how the desire to block certain sounds are informed by ideologies of race, gender, and class.

In Thought Crime Max Ward explores the Japanese state’s efforts to suppress political radicalism in the 1920s and 1930s through the enforcement of what it called thought crime, providing a window into understanding how modern states develop ideological apparatuses to subject their respective populations.

In Breaking Bad and Cinematic Television, Angelo Restivo uses the innovative show Breaking Bad as a point of departure for theorizing a new aesthetics of television in which the concept of the cinematic points to the ways in which television can change the ways viewers relate to and interact with the world.978-1-4780-0092-1.jpg

Examining the work of writers and artists including Carrie Mae Weems, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Allan deSouza, in The Difference Aesthetics Makes Kandice Chuh advocates for what she calls “illiberal humanism” as a way to counter the Eurocentric liberal humanism that perpetuates structures of social inequality.

In Surrogate Humanity Neda Atanasoski and Kalindi Vora trace the ways in which robots, artificial intelligence, and other technologies serve as surrogates for human workers within a labor system that is entrenched in and reinforces racial capitalism and patriarchy.

In The Afterlife of Reproductive Slavery Alys Eve Weinbaum investigates the continuing resonances of Atlantic slavery in the cultures and politics of human reproduction that characterize contemporary capitalism, showing how black feminist thought offers the best means through which to understand the myriad ways slavery continues to haunt the present.

Eliza Steinbock’s Shimmering Images traces how cinema offers alternative ways to understand gender transitions through a specific aesthetics of change, thereby opening up new means to understand transgender ontologies and epistemologies.

978-1-4780-0091-4.jpgGökçe Günel’s Spaceship in the Desert examines the development and construction of Masdar City, a zero-carbon city built by Abu Dhabi that houses a research institute for renewable energy which implemented a series of green technologies and infrastructures as a way to deal with climate change and prepare for a post-oil future.

In Developments in Russian Politics 9 an international team of experts provide a comprehensive and critical discussion of the country’s most recent developments, offering substantive coverage of the key areas in domestic and foreign Russian politics, perfect for courses on Russia today.

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American Academy of Religion, 2018

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, we enjoyed catching up with authors and editors and selling books and journals at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Denver.

Spiritual CitizenshipWe were thrilled to feature two recent award-winning titles in the booth: Spiritual Citizenship by N. Fadeke Castor, which won the 2018 Clifford Geertz Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of Religion; and Everyday Conversions by Attiya Ahmad, which won the 2018 Association for Middle East Women’s Studies (AMEWS) Book Award.

Last year’s winner of the CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography, Lauren Pond, displayed some of her photographs during the conference, and gave an artist’s talk about her book, Test of Faith.

Monique Moultrie, author of Passionate and Pious, and Laura Grillo, author of An Intimate Rebuke, both stopped by the booth to say hello.

If you weren’t able to attend the conference, or if your luggage was too heavy for more great books, you can still save 30% on all our great religion titles on our website using coupon code AAR18, through the end of the year.