Finbarr Curtis, "The Production of American Religious Freedom" (NYU Press, 2016)


There is no such thing as religious freedom, or at least just one understanding of what that means. That's the crux of the argument in Finbarr Curtis' (Assistant Professor at Georgia Southern University), The Production of American Religious Freedom (NYU Press, 2016). Americans are fixated on freedom and saturated in religion but define the concepts in various ways. The production of religious freedom is only possible within this context of malleability, contestation, and disagreement. Curtis demonstrates this process through a number of related examples, including conflicting visions of Christianity, tensions between social dependence and independence, economic issues, questions of racial inclusion, and corporate rights. Through these cases we see how people respond when freedom makes them uncomfortable. Inequality was at the center of American history and the regular rearticulation of individual liberation from social constraints begins to plot the historical boundaries of religious freedom. In our conversation we discuss minister Charles Grandison Finney, author Louisa May Alcott, politician William Jennings Bryan, filmmaker D.W. Griffith, Catholic Governor of New York Al Smith, Malcolm X, arguments for Intelligent Design, and the exercise of religious liberty in the case of Hobby Lobby.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab (Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Cinematic Lives of Muslims, and is the editor of the forthcoming volumes Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (ILEX Foundation) and New Approaches to Islam in Film (Routledge). You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at

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Kristian Petersen

Kristian Petersen is an Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at

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