Jason C. BivinsOct 21, 2023
The Rise of Anti-Politics and America's Obsession with Religion
Oxford University Press 2022
Histories of political religion since the 1960s often center on the rise of the powerful conservative evangelical voting bloc since the 1970s. One of the beliefs that has united these citizens is the idea that they are treated unfairly or are marginalized, despite their significant influence on public life. From the ascent of Reagan to the "Contract with America," from 9/11 to Obama to Trump--these claims have moved steadily to the center of conservative activism. Scholars of religion have approached these phenomena with great caution, generally focusing on institutional history, or relying on journalistic conveniences like "populism," or embracing the self-understandings of evangelicals themselves. None of these approaches is sufficiently calibrated to decoding the fierce convergence of online conspiracy theory, public violence, white supremacy, and religious authoritarianism. Accepting the narrative of Embattlement on its own terms, or examining it as mere turbulence on the path of American pluralism, overlooks how such deeper structural or atmospheric conditions work through this discourse to undermine the actual practice of democratic politics.
Exploring the impact of these claims through case studies ranging from the Tea Party to Birthers to anti-sharia laws, Embattled America: The Rise of Anti-Politics and America's Obsession with Religion (Oxford UP, 2022) digs deeper into the debates between Martyrs (those who profess persecution) and Whistleblowers (those who sanctimoniously refute such claims). Hidden beneath each of these episodes is a series of ambivalences about democracy that require attention. Jason Bivins argues that the claims of Martyrs and Whistleblowers are symptoms of America's larger failings to strengthen the conditions for democratic life, and thus that rather than engaging their claims on the merits, concerned citizens should reassess fundamental democratic norms as part of a broader challenge to embolden American citizenship and institutions.
Jason C. Bivins is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at North Carolina State University. He is the author of three previous books including, most recently, Spirits Rejoice!: Jazz and American Religion. He has written widely for popular and academic media, has taught for The Great Courses, and has recorded multiple albums of improvised music on guitar.
This episode’s host, Jacob Barrett, is currently a PhD student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Religion and Culture track. For more information, visit his website thereluctantamericanist.com