Guns, ammunition, bootlegged liquor, illegal drugs, counterfeit cash—these are the most common objects that generations of smugglers have carried across the US-Mexico border. Historians of the borderlands, as well as residents of the area, know that government agents on both sides of the line have never been able to gain complete control over this type of trafficking, despite their best efforts. And so, from the late nineteenth century to the present day, the borderlands have been portrayed in popular culture as a site of sin and dissolution, contraband and illicit trade.
Are Christians persecuted in America? For most of us this seems like a preposterous question; a question that could only be asked by someone ginning up anger with ulterior motives. No doubt some leaders do intentionally foster this persecution narrative for their own purposes, and it’s easy to dismiss the rhetoric as hyperbole or demagoguery, yet there are conservative Christians all across the country who genuinely believe they experience such persecution.
Election Day is more than a year away, yet already the presidential campaigns have begun. Given previous contests, we should most likely expect a good deal of disingenuous diatribes and debates—some of it from the candidates, and even more of it from their supporters. In anticipation of the coming ugliness, it seems as good a time as any to learn something about civil disagreement and the possibilities of persuasion from an unlikely source: the Puritans.
In my 22 years of teaching and writing about Arabic and Islamic Studies, I have probably heard every kind of naive and uninformed comment that can possibly be made in the West about Islam and Muslims. Such remarks are not necessarily all due to ill will; most of the time, they express bewilderment and stem from an inability to find accessible, informed sources that might begin to address such widespread public incomprehension. Add that to the almost daily barrage of news and media commentary concerning violence in the Middle East and South Asia, two regions viscerally connected with Islam and Muslims.
In the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, a few media outlets reinforced the public perception that Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) were mostly white. Jimmy Kimmel asked on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, “Are there black Mormons? I find that hard to believe.”
Since the promulgation of the revised missal, popularly known as the Novus Ordo by Pope Paul VI, with the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanun in 1969, a growing call for either a return to the Tridentine Mass or recognition of the legitimate place of such a rite alongside the Novus Ordo has gained an international status.
Every day during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan observers spend their daylight hours fasting. During Ramadan, a sense of belonging, social cohesion, and togetherness is reinforced among community members. There is no eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. Observers also abstain from sexual activity. At the end of the fast, delicious meals are shared with family and friends. Eid al-Fitr, a three-day festival, awaits observers at the end of Ramadan.
Many, perhaps most people listen to music with the hope that it permits them to step outside of the world as it usually is, the demands it places on us and the ugliness that so obviously mars it. People gravitate to music’s bright melodies, infectious rhythms, and perhaps especially to lyrics that, whether Beethoven’s or Beyoncé’s, give us some kind of life-raft or a phrase that clarifies our condition.
In the mid-twentieth century Dalit migration from the villages of southern princely State of Travancore to the villages in the Western Ghats hills in the north was reminiscent of Exodus, although we are yet to have substantial narratives of the difficult journeys they undertook.
Despite Bin Laden’s death in 2011, the extremist group Al Qaeda has since survived and, some argue, continued to thrive. The effort and resources Bin Laden invested into Al Qaeda fortified its foundation, making it difficult, if not impossible, to disband or weaken the group after his death. But how did the terrorist group come to be what it is today?
On the Fourth of July, Americans will celebrate Independence Day at picnics, concerts, fireworks displays, and gatherings of many kinds, and they almost always sing. “America the Beautiful” will be popular, and so will “Our County, ’Tis of Thee” and of course the national anthem, “Star-Spangled Banner” (despite its notoriously unsingable tune). The words are so familiar that, really, no one pays attention to their meaning. But read them closely and be surprised how the lyrics describe the meaning of America in three very different ways.
What truly awaits us on the ‘other side?’ From heaven to hell (and everything in between), our conceptions of the afterlife are more likely to be shaped by shows like The Walking Dead than biblical scripture. Speculation about death, it seems, has permeated every aspect of our everyday experience, manifesting itself in lyrics, paintings, and works of literature.
On 17 June, the new moon signaled the start of Ramadan (or Ramzan as it’s called throughout South Asia), the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar in which observant Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sex during daylight hours. Increased religious devotion sets the tone for the month as Muslims gather for special prayers, acts of charity, and Qur’anic recitations in gratitude and devotion to God.
Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si, will be surrounded for some time by intense debate among and between journalists, columnists, Catholic journals, political leaders, and environmentally-focused scientists and NGOs. In other words, the fight over how it’s received is well underway. In the 125 years or so that papal social encyclicals have been written, their reception has been hotly debated, with the most infamous such episode occurring in the pages of the National Review.
Ramadan is an important time for Muslims, whether they live in New York City, Tehran, Cairo, or Jakarta. While there is great diversity in Islam, for most Muslims this month reflects an intensification of the religious devotion and contemplation that characterizes many Islamic traditions from prayer (salat) to pilgrimage (hajj/ziyarat). Ramadan is structured around food, a lack of food, and prayer—the early meal before dawn, the fasting during daylight, the meal at the end of the day, and the daily prayers.
Religion has played an increasingly significant part in Season 5 of the HBO series Game of Thrones, with the ‘Faith Militant’ taking over the reins of power at King’s Landing, mostly unopposed. Yet internet discussions indicate that some viewers have found this storyline unsatisfying, as the Sparrows are depicted as crazed religious fanatics, piously obsessed with driving out vice and immorality from the city.