But I’m Not Religious: Goldman Sachs, Oprah’s Favorite Things and Other Resistant Subjects

A lecture by Dr. Kathryn Lofton, Professor of Religious Studies and Divinity, Yale University

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 5:30 pm in the McBride Room, Numen Lumen Pavilion

Dr. Kathryn Lofton.On Tuesday, April 14 Elon University’s Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society hosted a lecture by Dr. Kathryn Lofton, Yale University Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, History and Divinity. Lofton’s 2011 book, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon has been named on several lists of the most important recent books in American religious history. Lofton’s lecture drew from that book as well as revealed her latest religious interest: the multinational investment banking firm, Goldman Sachs.

Why is a historian of American religious history writing about Oprah, Goldman Sachs, or any of her other pet interests, including the office cubicle, early Protestant fundamentalism, and the music of Bob Dylan? Lofton has focused on the public emotions, intimate desires, and corporate entities that she argues have influenced – and in turn are influenced by – religious activity.

CSRCS director, Dr. Brian Pennington, said that Lofton detects a very specific kind of spirituality in the everyday elements of American religious life: “For Lofton, America has not abandoned religion, it has pursued the satisfaction of religious desires through popular culture and other not-so-obviously-religious means.” Religions are all about transforming oneself or one’s society, confronting mortality, and seeking belonging, said Pennington. “Oprah, for example, urges us to create our better selves—by reading certain books, buying certain products, and even, in the case of Barack Obama, voting for certain candidates. These may look like secular pursuits, but Lofton helps us see how they meet classically religious needs.”

Oprah has been praised by reviewers for its surprising revelations as well as for its excellent writing. It has been called an “artful,” “satirical,” “tantalizing,” and “vitally important” book. Chair of Elon’s Department of History and Geography, Professor Charles Irons, calls Lofton a “peerless intellect,” who, in addition to being a great scholar and writer, is a celebrated teacher. In 2013 Lofton won one of Yale’s top teaching awards in 2013. “Lofton is both brilliant, funny, and brilliantly funny,” Pennington says. “You won’t want to miss this.”

Waiting for Moonrise: Fasting, Storytelling and Marriage in Provincial Rajasthan

A lecture by Ann Grodzins Gold, the Thomas J. Watson professor of Religion and Professor of Anthropology at Syracuse University and National Humanities Center and Guggenheim Fellow 2014-15

March 31, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. in the LaRose Digital Theater

Two popular Hindu women’s rituals in Rajasthan, North India, involve fasting until visible moonrise: Bari Tij (Grand Third) and Karva Chauth (Pitcher Fourth). Women vow to undertake these fasts in order to ensure their own auspicious married states by protecting their husbands’ longevity. On these occasions groups of women, often neighbors, worship collectively. Their rituals include devotional storytelling.

Ann Grodzins Gold. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in different regions of Rajasthan over the last 30 years, Ann Grodzins Gold discussed ritual narratives and performative contexts comparatively, paying attention to rural/urban as well as generational and social differences. Tentative conclusions suggest that the appeal of fasts and accompanying rituals could lie in part in their ability to sustain an illusion of stability and continuity even while incorporating processes of change.

Such rituals may offer a comforting contrast to upheavals in social realities, while simultaneously reflecting and even normalizing altered expectations of gender roles and coupledom.

Gold’s research and teaching are rooted in over 30 years of ethnographic engagement with religion and culture in provincial North India. Located in a single region, her fieldwork and writings concern diverse topics: pilgrimage, gender, expressive traditions, environmental history, and most recently landscape and identity in a small market town.

Gold has received fellowships from the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Fulbright Foundation, Fulbright-Hays, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council and the Spencer Foundation. Her publications include numerous articles and four books: “Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrims” (1988); “A Carnival of Parting: The Tales of King Bharthari and King Gopi Chand” (1992); “Listen to the Heron’s Words: Reimagining Gender and Kinship in North India” (1994, co-authored with Gloria Raheja); and “In the Time of Trees and Sorrows: Nature, Power and Memory in Rajasthan” (2002, co-authored with Bhoju Ram Gujar), which in 2004 was awarded the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize from the Association for Asian Studies.

The Binding of Isaac in the Three “Abrahamic” Traditions: The Jewish-Christian-Muslim Debate

A lecture by Jon Levenson, the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard University Divinity School

March 17, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. in the LaRose Digital Theater

Jon Levenson.Jon Levenson, the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard University Divinity School, explored parallel texts from Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions and demonstrated both the strengths and the limitations of the claim that these three religious traditions constitute varieties of one “Abrahamic Religion.”

Sponsored by the Fund for Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, the Lori and Eric Sklut Emerging Scholar in Jewish Studies Program, the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society, the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, and the Department of Religious Studies.

The Islamic State in Syria: A Foreign Invasion

Two representatives of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces will deliver a briefing on the civil war in Syria

Feb. 25, 2015 at 5:30 in the McKinnon Lecture Hall

Oubab Khalil.OUBAB KHALIL, Chief of Staff

Oubab Khalil is the Chief of Staff for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces’ Representative Office in Washington, D.C. A Syrian attorney and businessman, Khalil has a degree in law and business administration from the Beirut Arabic University. He was active in the Day After Project, a cooperative movement by members of the Syrian opposition to outline a plan to rebuild the country and end the Syrian conflict once Bashar al-Assad is ousted from power. Khalil was elected and served on the boards of the Syrian Expatriates Organization and the Syrian Support Group. He recently participated in the “We Are All Syrians” Conference in Cairo and Geneva peace conference on Syria.

Bassel Korkor. BASSEL KORKOR, Legal Director

Bassel Korkor is a Syrian-American attorney and serves as U.S. Counsel to the Syrian Coalition’s Washington and United Nations offices. He advises the Coalition on various legal and policy issues, including sanctions compliance, economic development and diplomatic matters. Korkor has been advising Syrian opposition groups, businesses, and humanitarian aid organizations throughout the course of the revolution. He is a partner at ZKT Law in Washington, D.C., and previously practiced in the National Security and Political Law group at Arnold & Porter and Corporate Litigation at Jones Day. He majored in international studies with a focus on Middle East at Northwestern University, and he studied lLaw and Arabic at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, where he served as an editor on the law review and graduated cum laude.

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French Muslims in contemporary France

A lecture by Michel Bondurand, assistant director of the North Carolina Consortium Paris program and professor at the Université Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle

Feb. 19, 2015 at 6 p.m. in the Global Commons

Michel Bondurand.France holds the largest Muslim population in Europe, and yet French Muslims are often labeled as “immigrants” by both local and international observers. Although these French citizens have been integral to mainstream culture in France for more than four generations, Islam is generally considered “foreign.” Despite this marginalization, French Muslims play a key role in contemporary culture. This lecture, given by Professor Michel Bondurand, not only illuminated Islam’s religious aspects but also, and more importantly, its cultural value via the regeneration of French art, film and literature.

Indian Filmmaker Recounts Struggle with Gods

A film screening of “In God’s Land” and Q&A with filmmaker Pankaj Rishi Kumar

Nov. 17, 2014 at 7 p.m. in the LaRose Digital Theater

A screening of the film, “In God’s Land,” followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Pankaj Rishi Kumar was held on Nov. 17 in LaRose Theater at 7 p.m. Set in India, the film recounts the mythical birth of a local village God, Sudalai Swami, and his role in the village’s unique journey to fight oppression of the large and wealthy Vanamamalai Temple. When temple officials appropriate Sudalai Swami’s land, the settlers are reduced to being tenant farmers and must make way for redevelopment after the land is sold off for a Special Economic Zone. A dispute over ‘god’s land’ begins. Using animation to recount the history of the land, the film satirizes the exploitation perpetrated by religion and class distinction and looks at land within the larger issue of development.

In God’s Land has won several awards such as the Best Eco Documentary Feature Runner up Award at the Tinai Ecofilm Festival in 2014. Pankaj Rishi Kumar graduated from the Film and Television Institute in India and began his career as the assistant editor on Sekhar Kupur’s Bandit Queen. After editing numerous documentaries and TV serials, he began making his own films which have been screened at festivals all over the world.

Connecting the Dots: Religion and Conflict in the Middle East

A lecture by Avi Melamed, former Israeli Senior Official on Arab Affairs and current Fellow of Middle East and Intelligence at the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College

Oct. 28, 2014 at 4:15 p.m. in the McBride Room, Numen Lumen Pavilion

Avi Melamed. As part ongoing efforts to promote awareness about rapidly shifting events in the Middle East and to provide background and context for interpreting the headlines, Elon University’s Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society (CSRCS), Middle Eastern Studies, Jewish Studies, and the Council for Civic Engagement hosted renowned analyst Avi Melamed, a former Israeli Senior Official on Arab Affairs and current Fellow of Middle East and Intelligence at the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College.

Melamed is an independent Middle East strategic intelligence analyst for industry and the media. His talk emphasized the connections between events such as the rise of the Islamic State and the conflict in Gaza, and underscored the role of religion in a troubled Middle East. He is a former Israeli senior official on Arab Affairs and current Fellow of Middle East and Intelligence at the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College.

“This is a great opportunity to hear from an official with many years experience in strategic analysis in the region,” said Professor Brian Pennington, director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society.

Melamed’s analysis, tours and briefings – based on Arab sources, decades of field experience, policy design and intimate connections throughout the Arab world – offer an insider’s view of the constantly changing Middle East landscape and future regional implications. He is also the founder and creator of “Feenjan – Israel speaks Arabic,” a nonprofit initiative which presents contemporary Israeli society and culture to the Arab world in Arabic, and serves as an online platform for Israelis and Arabs to discover and discuss issues of common interest.

In the private sector Melamed facilitates relationships between Israeli and international firms and potential partners in the Arab world.

Fluent in Arabic and with a unique understanding of Arab society and culture, Melamed spent almost 30 years living in Arab cities and communities throughout the region, often in high-risk positions at sensitive times. His unique experience, outstanding analytical abilities, profound understanding of the Arab world and the Arabic language – coupled with direct access to sources, resources and networks throughout the Arab world and intimate connections with local and regional intelligence resources – has allowed him to keep his finger on the pulse on the Arab world that has resulted in a proven record of foreseeing the evolution of events as well as their impact on a local and regional level.

Melamed coauthored “Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Rule in East Jerusalem” in 1999, and he wrote “Ubrusi: The Novel” in 2010.