Review: American Veda by Philip Goldberg

While I was traveling over the last few days, Religion Dispatches published a review I wrote of Philp Goldberg’s American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West. Here’s a bit of it:

A Methodist church near my house advertises for “Gentle Yoga Classes” on one of those church signs usually reserved for witty and redemptive one-liners like “Jesus: Your Get Out of Hell Free Card.” Meanwhile, a local pizza place lists a “Kosmic Karma” pie on its menu. Indian spiritual language has crept into American vernacular culture. But where did it come from? Is there some connection between karmic pizza and yoga in church?

In American Veda, Philip Goldberg tells the story of a new American tradition, derived from both the practices of yoga, and the philosophy of Vedanta. He names this “Vedanta-yoga,” as distinguished from other aspects of Hindu religious culture (such as the worship of multi-limbed deities) that might be less meaningful for Americans.

For Goldberg, it all adds up to the slow “Vedicization” of American spirituality. By this he means that Americans have become more comfortable with a view of the world ultimately found in the ancient literature of India—the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. First, there is the idea that the self and the ground of Being (or the Divine, God, Brahman, Consciousness, etc.) are one. The full realization of this truth leads to liberation and the cessation of suffering. Second, there are a number of paths toward this realization and no single path works for everyone. Third, it follows then that, at bottom, all religious and spiritual traditions, while looking different, share the same goal of divine realization. Vedanta-Yoga is thus a monist, pluralist, and perennialist tradition of American spirituality built from Indian religious sources.

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I Got a (Kinda) New Blogging Gig

I’m taking a small step up as a blogger. I’ve been blogging as a guest blogger over at Religion Dispatches for a while now. I’ve been writing a weekly review of religion in the news and I’ve also done some other posts here and there. I usually post a portion of these peices here and a link to the full text at RD. Anyways, now the fine folks over at RD have asked me to come on as regular blogger and write a few blog posts a week.  So, that means I’ll be doing a lot more writing there and a lot less here–not that I’ve been doing much here lately. I won’t be posting everything I write over at RD on this blog. Instead, there’s a nifty new RSS feed from my RD blog on the right hand sidebar here.

I will still use this blog to write about academic stuff, my research, history, and other things but please read my blog at RD to find great stuff on religion, culture, and politics. I’m really excited to take this chance to  branch out and find ways to relate my academic training to news and opinions going on everyday. I’m a big fan of public scholarship and our role in the academy as public intellectuals. This a chance to begin learning how to write for a general audience as a young scholar.

If you read this blog in an RSS reader, please add the RD Blog RSS feed or the RSS feed for my RD blog. Its going to be some great content, I promise.

 

Tim Pawlenty, Bad Fundamentalist

After producing a truly epic book advertisement, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty sat down for an interview with Christianity Today. Two of his answers early in the interview jumped out at me:

 

Your book encourages Christians to be involved in public issues. At what point might Christians rely too much on political solutions to current problems?

I started with the perspective of someone who says that faith is separate from public law and public service; it really isn’t. We have, as a country, a founding perspective that we’re founded under God; our founding documents reference and acknowledge God, and acknowledge that our rights and privileges come from our Creator.

For those who have an interest in or passion about an issue, being involved in the political process is important. It isn’t for everybody; there are other ways to serve, including the family, neighborhood, faith-based organizations, charitable organizations, and also reaching out and helping somebody on a one-on-one basis.

Recently, Alabama governor Robert Bentley spoke at a Baptist church about accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior, and then said, “I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister and I want to be your brother.” How does someone balance being evangelistic while also having the obligation of a governor representing a religiously diverse state?

I’m not familiar with the Alabama situation, so I can’t comment on it. Beyond that, when I go into the public square and speak about faith matters, first of all, I try to not inject my own personal editorial comments. If I make a faith-related comment, I usually quote from the Bible, often from the Old Testament. I remind people that our country is founded under God, and the founders thought that was an important perspective. I watch my tone so I don’t get judgmental or angry about issues. I try to express myself in ways that are measured and appropriate and hopefully civil and positive. Lastly, I try not to say that God is on my side, but I strive to be on God’s side.

There is a parallelism in Pawlenty’s logic here. First, he argues that our founders and our founding documents show that our country was “founded under God,” though he never explains what that phrase means or what its repercussions are; nor does he even discuss who this God we’re founded under is. But that’s beside the point. He also incorrectly implies that God or a Creator is mentioned in our Constitution when only “Nature’s God” is mentioned, and then only in the Declaration of Independence. Yet that’s also beside the point.

The point is that, for Pawlenty, there is evidential proof of America’s founding “under God” in the Founders and their documents. Then, he makes the point that when he speaks in public about matters of faith he tries “not to inject my own personal editorial comments.” Rather, he quotes from the Bible. Pawlenty’s use of scripture and his use of the Founders share a similar precision. In both cases he believes he is not injecting his own editorial comments, but instead, that he is relating what is plainly obvious. Just read the founders. Just read the documents. Just read the Bible. It’s all there, clear as day.

Continue reading at Religion Dispatches>>>

Pawlenty stars in American Civil Religion: The Movie

Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota and an unofficial candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, has released one heck of a political ad that masquerades as a book ad that looks like a movie trailer. The ad runs only a minute and fifteen seconds but it packs in a flurry of American religious and civic mythology around the themes of freedom, security, and prosperity. With a thrilling musical score of vague but impending danger that could have been lifted from the season finale of 24, Pawlenty’s voiceover reminds us that these three goals won’t be easy but that we can accomplish them because “we are the American People.” He also cites that we’ve done it before at Valley Forge, on the moon, and settling the West. If we just roll up our shirt sleeves we can get it done.

Pawlenty’s message draws on three myths in American culture.

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GOP Hopeful Herman Cain: Jesus was “The Perfect Conservative”

There’s now officially a hat in the ring—or is it a pizza? Herman Cain, the man who saved Godfather’s Pizza and argued against Bill Clinton’s attempt at health care reform, has started a presidential exploratory committee. In a profile on Cain at Slate, David Weigel describes Cain’s popularity among the Tea Party folk:

When Cain speaks at conservative conferences and Tea Party rallies, he gets bigger crowds than members of Congress, and only slightly smaller crowds than Fox News hosts. He was invited to join the board of Tea Party Patriots, declining in part because he was thinking about this presidential bid, and he was a spokesman for Ginni Thomas’ “Liberty Central.” At the October 2010 Virginia Tea Party Patriots Convention in Richmond, I saw football-jersey-style T-shirts displaying names of those who might run for president this year: Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, and Herman Cain. When no other Republican wanted to talk about 2012, Cain would walk into speeches introduced by a heavily produced video, a highlight reel of his other speeches.

Weigel also notes Cain’s radio show on WSB in Atlanta where he rails against President Obama, “socialism,” and the Democrats abuse of individual rights while mixing in some “Dale Carnegie-esque leadership talk.”

When it comes to his credentials as a Christian conservative, well, Cain is working on those. Sarah has already pointed out religious right connections and he’s continued to step those up. Last month he wrote a Christmas column for World Net Daily titled “An Example for America: The Perfect Conservative” in which he turned the carpenter from Nazareth into Ronald Reagan:

He helped the poor without one government program. He healed the sick without a government health-care system. He fed the hungry without food stamps. And everywhere He went, it turned into a rally, attracting large crowds and giving people hope, encouragement and inspiration.

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Religion Dispatches: Zeitgeist A Blend Of Skepticism, Metaphysical Spirituality, and Conspiracy

As Sarah notedGood Morning America reported last week that Jared Loughner had been influenced by the documentary Zeitgeist, a film that depicts Christianity, 9/11, and federal banking as conspiracies meant for social control. Since that report, the internet has been abuzz with attempts to locate Zeitgeist—and Loughner—on either the right or the left. Much of the analysis of Zeitgeist and Loughner has focused on its ideas about an international banking conspiracy that uses currency to foster debt slavery with the goal of instituting a one world government. But such analysis only accounts for part of what is going on in the film.

As Jesse Walker points out, in the case of Zeitgeist the labels “left” and “right” are pretty useless descriptors. Rather than placing the film, and by proxy Loughner, on the political spectrum, the religious elements of Zeitgeist provide another set of insights into the themes and theories that may have appealed to him. Although Walker calls it, for lack of a better label, “New Age paranoia,” the film defies easy categorization, but mixes anti-Christian polemic with metaphysical spirituality in its narrative of conspiracy, manipulation, and social control. And while it draws on different American strands of skeptical thought, from the founders through the present, and attempts to present a utopian vision of shared humanity that would overcome the dark conspiratorial world it depicts, ultimately that dark world is the film’s predominant theme.

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Religion Dispatches: TV’s 9 Best Christmas (and 1 Festivus) Clips

Christmas is a time for television—at least it has been my whole life. Television is a cherished part of America’s Christmas celebrations.

A couple of weeks ago I confessed that everything I knew about Hanukkah I learned on TV. Now, with Christmas drawing near it is time to take a look at the odd genre of the Christmas television episode. Most shows, at some point, decide to take a crack at an uplifting Christmas message. Here’s a look at the best, the funniest, and the cheesiest of those episodes.

See the list at Religion Dispatches>>>