In the 1980s, the appearance of AIDS in urban centers of the United States unleashed a strong, and often condemnatory reaction from outspoken conservative Christians. With their digital and human networks, the fundamentalists used biblical and medieval rhetoric that stressed the intersection of sin and disease to enforce the idea that AIDS was a divine retribution for the behavior of gay men. Founded on premillennialism, biblical infallibility and the protestant sense of purpose, fundamentalists view America as sacred, susceptible and in rapid decline. In part because of these factors, fundamentalism has been inclined to create narratives of immanent demise to explain historical events. Their messages on AIDS were powerful and tapped into preexisting cultural anxieties around sex, illness and death. Unlike the trajectory of other diseases that had been interpreted as religion to promote the notion of sin, the fundamentalist construction of AIDS was countered by C. Everett Koop, the surgeon general of the United States, who followed his evangelical faith and used his position of power to change the course of the illness’ presence in America. By shifting the focus from asking why to saving lives, C. Everett Koop’s radical faith-based action began to re-write the cultural perception of AIDS. In this process, Koop stayed true to his two faiths, medicine and evangelical Christianity, and proceeded to discredit centuries of moralizing on illness as divine retribution. His disruption created the necessary foundation for serious action being taken to resolve the AIDS crisis. In providing factual information about the disease, allowed space for more moderate religious bodies and secular movements, such as ACT UP, to enter the public discourse, humanize the sick, and call America to action on finding a cure for AIDS.
The Bhagavad Gītā and Tenth Canto of the Bhāgavata Purāna as well as Śaṅkara’s commentaries on the Bhagavad Gītā and the Vedānta Sutras all attempt to reconcile the existence of the brahmanical hierarchy and the acceptance of a philosophy that posits the ultimate unity of everyone and everything. The texts all consider māyā, which refers to a supernatural power of creation and a state of delusion, to be the cause of our lived experience of difference and separateness. Despite this similarity, the texts differ in their theories regarding the soteriological role of māyā. For Śaṅkara, māyā is the primary obstacle in developing the necessary knowledge for liberation. In the soteriological path of devotion described in the narratives of the Gītā and the Bhāgavata by contrast, while māyā can be a hindrance it mostly supports the salvation of a devotee because māyā establishes the possibility for devotion to Kṛṣṇa, the supreme god of these two texts. Even with these differences, I find that the role of māyā in all of these texts promotes the submission of the individual seeking liberation. In my thesis, I will attempt to convey how the alleged pervasiveness of māyā engenders this submission as a result of the power imbalance it creates, and that this pattern, developing out of a brahmanical social order, further consolidates and extends brahmanical power.
Context, as a metaphor for our specific and embodied experiences, must be accounted for when discussing planetary challenges of environmental deterioration and social inequality. These issues have driven theological response to the need for a new cultural paradigm. My thesis compares Ivone Gebara’s theological ecofeminism to Paul F. Knitter’s pluralism through an analysis of panentheist theology and postcolonial critiques of liberation hermeneutics. While Knitter’s theology focuses on the urgency of cross-cultural communication, Gebara highlights the intrinsic worth of every living organism as a motivation for grassroots social change. Through this study, it is clear that although practical strategies for dialogical action are needed, the theological basis of ecofeminist panentheism more adequately nurtures an environmental ethic than the pluralist approach. These perspectives explore practical solutions to pressing social and environmental concerns. A shift in cultural values must occur if we are to address ecological challenges, and this can be guided in part through alternative understandings of God.
Sītā, the heroine of the Rāmāyaṇa, is a remarkably prominent figure in Hinduism. She has made an impact on women of all different types in India. From young girls to older women; from women in rural regions to those in urban centers; from women of the lower class to those of the upper class, Sītā’s presence in India has no boundaries. Sītā as a model has been interpreted variously. On one side, Sītā is held as the ideal Hindu wife and woman. She is always loyal to her husband, Rāma, and sacrifices her own needs for his; she is the pativratā (ideal wife) in this way. However, despite her label as the ideal wife, numerous feminists have viewed Sītā as a destructive model for women to look up to. Sītā is devoted to Rāma always, even when he treats her cruelly. By using Sītā as a model, women can be subjected to mistreatment from their husbands, and lose their own sense of self-identities. However, whether one accepts or rejects Sītā, the fact that she holds such a large presence today shows that Sītā has something valuable to offer contemporary women. Shown through interviews with contemporary Hindu women and folk songs, it is clear that Sītā is highly revered for her self-sacrificing nature. She undergoes repeated suffering due to Rāma, yet maintains her dignity and continues living with devotion. For contemporary Hindu women, Sītā is a powerful example. Many of these women are also defined by their husbands, and undergo suffering and mistreatment due to them. For these women who identify with the suffering and hardship that Sītā undergoes, by channeling her example of living with fidelity, devotion, and self-sacrifice, they can find meaning and self-respect in their own difficult lives.
Many general connections have been made between apocalyptic language and the rhetoric of crisis in climate change discourse. However, this study aims to thoroughly examine the rhetorical and narrative elements shared by both the historically religious apocalyptic genre and contemporary climate literature. These elements are generally grouped within the temporal structure and narrative of human destiny, the claims to authoritative knowledge and power, and the identification of evil opposed to the righteous cause. When employed, these themes of apocalyptic discourse individually and collectively convey a sense of crisis of the certain impending catastrophe of authoritative power over the cause of evil in the world. Therefore, this paper argues that through the apocalyptic topoi of time, authority, and evil, the books An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore, Eaarth by Bill McKibben, and the novel Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood exemplify the employment of apocalyptic rhetoric in climate literature, which works to both reflect and intensify a perceived sense of crisis surrounding the issue of climate change.
Focus on the Family describes itself as a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive. The Colorado Springs-based nonprofit was founded by James Dobson in 1977 and has since passed on leadership to Jim Daly as of 2005. The organization claims to promote morals and values that are grounded in timeless, biblical principles. Yet, as Focus has continued to respond to new cultural needs, their discourse has had to adjust to stay relevant. I contend that Dobson’s discourse, which invented and defended an ideal “traditional” family, has become largely irrelevant to Focus’s constituents and Americans at large, but that in continuing the Focus legacy, Daly has had to creatively reinterpret both Focus’s and Dobson’s missions in his efforts to validate his own. I draw on Eliade’s theory of universal patterns to describe Dobson’s mission and Jonathan Z. Smith’s ideas about canon and exegetical ingenuity to show how Daly has to reinterpret his predecessors in order to simultaneously follow tradition and be innovative. Finally, I draw on the ideas of Talal Asad to show that the fluidity of Focus does not deny that it is a cultural unity, but rather that Focus’s struggle to balance contradictions presupposes a unity that, while imperfect, is uniquely Focus’s. Focus, like all cultural entities, is working to adapt tradition to modern condition, a process without an end in sight.
This thesis will consider the work and actions of Egyptian and American Muslim women in order to inform a conversation regarding the scope of Western Feminist discourse. These two case studies will serve as examples of distinct Muslim feminist actors who engage with their unique cultures and values in order to reshape gender norms. Using the theoretical framework supplied by Foucault, I will demonstrate how conceptions of power and agency employed in the Western feminist discourse are not adequate for representing all manifestations of Islamic feminism. It will become evident that understanding the forms of Islamic feminism represented in this study is a crucial step for reframing the terms and values which comprise feminist thought.
Midrash is a body of homiletic stories in the Jewish tradition told by Rabbinic sages to comment on the Old Testament. Written down in the second century, existing scholarship has explored many aspects of how midrash was used by these communities. However, by expanding and reimagining how midrash can be studied, we can argue there exists a midrash genre in film adaptation that is a part of this genre of commentary that extends through secular literature to the original writing of the Hebrew Bible. This can be proven by breaking down the functional structure of the homiletic midrash and mapping it through the work of Flannery O’Connor, specifically looking at how her first novel, Wise Blood and John Huston’s film adaptation of the same novel act within this extended midrash genre to comment on Southern Protestant Christianity from O’Connor’s vexed Catholic worldview. If film could be studied as an extension of religious creative exegesis, especially one consistent with the internal tradition found within the writing of sacred texts, then this reimagining of midrash could have many implications for how we understand and study religious reimagination and reinterpretation in the modern world, as well as opening the door to studying the creative exegesis happening right in front of us.
Michael A. Sells, in his book, Mystical Languages of Unsaying, claims that apophasis, defined formally, can be applied to Eastern texts. He distinguishes between apophatic theory and apophatic discourse, and focuses on the latter in his study of five Western mystics. This paper is an attempt to confirm his claim; I identify places in Vedic period literature, mostly in the early Upaniṣads, where there are either movements of implicit or explicit apophatic theory as well as movements of apophatic discourse. I also attempt to situate apophasis in the context of the Vedic cultural understanding of speech and preoccupation with open space. Speech was understood to consist of four parts, three parts hidden, and one part manifest. The manifest speech of human beings was considered the lowest part of speech, and the Kapiṣṭhala Saṃhitā goes so far as to say that it is the untruthful part of speech. There is also a continual search for open space in Vedic culture that can be traced from the Ṛg Veda through the early Upaniṣads. During the Ṛgvedic period, open space was needed for a nomadic lifestyle built on animal husbandry and forceful expansion. The early Upaniṣads were composed during a time of increased urbanization, and while the value of open space was retained, it was reimagined in accordance with the changed environment. I suggest that apophasis, studied in conjunction with the Vedic understanding of space and speech, shows that it may have been one way for Vedic people to search for open space and open themselves up to, what they believed, was a more extensive, unlimited, and spacious language beyond the confines of the sounded word.
Santa Muerte is a contradictory, transgressive, immoral saint that is venerated and beloved by millions. Her cult following has mushroomed over the course of the past decade or so. She is unsanctioned by the Catholic Church as well as by the Mexican government. What causes people who claim to be practicing Catholics to continue to venerate her despite the official condemnation of her cult, and what is the cause of her immense popularity? I seek to interpret the cult of Santa Muerte through Georges Bataille’s Theory of Religion. In Bataille’s Theory of Religion, he explains how people are searching for lost intimacy with the sacred. By “the sacred,” he is referring to a state of consciousness in which humans experience a continuity in which they do not distinguish themselves as separate from everything else. People are only able to obtain momentary states of continuous consciousness through sacrifice, ritual, and subverting morality. Although Bataille wrote a complex and fascinating theory of religion, he does not test his theory on any specific real-life religious phenomenon. Through interpreting the cult of Santa Muerte using Bataille’s Theory of Religion, I seek to test his theory on a real-life religious phenomenon in order to explore the utility and limitations of his transgressive theory of religion.
This paper looks at the ritual theory behind the “last sacrifice” funerary rites in Vārānasī, India. The purpose of this investigation is to understand what motivates people to perform the cremation ceremonies and what the implications are for society. There are a number of different elements of the ritual that I stress, including the perspectives on dharma (duty) and mokșa (liberation), the holiness of the Ganga River and Vārānasī, the significance of sacrifice in Hindu tradition, and the intentional steps of ritual that create order in the worldly “chaos.” I examine the attempt to reconcile the gap between what is known and unknown in the world and what can be controlled and what cannot be physically controlled– in this case death. I look at a number of different ritual theorists in an attempt to apply each theory and method to the funerary rites in Vārānasī and in the end offer my own ritual theory that best explains the “last sacrifice.” Through ritual, I argue that those who perform the “last sacrifice” can claim a form of control and self-empowerment. Specifically, I contend that the driving force of the ritual sacrifice is the moment of control, which stems from the attention to detail in ritual, over the looming gap between the living world and what is believed to occur through mokșa.
Recently the issue of homosexuality has come to represent a majorly divisive factor within American Christianity as more and more churches are defining their boundaries, or lack thereof, at homosexuality: many congregations believe that practicing homosexuality is not an acceptable aspect of one’s life that will allow passage into God’s Kingdom or salvation. Within megachurches, Protestant churches having at least 2,000 attendees per week, homosexuality often presents itself as a divisive and controversial issue. Megachurches tend to be situated on the more conservative and evangelical end of the spectrum of Protestant Christianity and, therefore, many of their congregations have expressed disapproval of homosexuality; they preach doctrines providing content for rhetoric following the guidelines of sexual purity as follows from divine law within their congregations. These doctrines include the biblical literalist approach to abiding by divine law, the presence of sin in today’s world, and the conscious choice to continue living a life in sin. Megachurches are also using rhetoric of love and acceptance regardless of sexuality. They preach their doors are open to all and everyone is welcome into the church, because everyone is welcome in God’s eyes. However, megachurches preach that all humans must repent for all of their sin if there is to be any redemption and entrance into Heaven. Therefore, those practicing homosexuality must acknowledge the sin and begin repentance in order to be accepted into the Kingdom of God. The contradiction comes when homosexuals do not repent for their “sin” but choose to live acting in their love. The churches are forced to accept their own belief that homosexuals not repenting will be condemned to Hell, therefore, going against their firm belief in love, hope, encouragement, and acceptance. Therefore, my thesis argues that the first stream of rhetoric, which combines the three doctrines, as the willful violation of divine law by homosexuals, in partnership with the rhetoric of an all-encompassing love, represents a fundamental inconsistency within megachurch theology concerning homosexuality.