For the recent ISS Book Review Forum on October 24, scholars from the area were invited to review and discuss the latest of ISS publications, MisReading America: Scriptures and Difference (2013). Edited by Vincent L. Wimbush, MisReading America is a collection of essays emerging from a three-year research project sponsored by the ISS; original research reports were presented at a conference in 2009.
Cheryl Walker (Scripps College) chaired the forum. Invited respondents included Jennifer S. Hughes (UC Riverside), David K. Yoo (UCLA), Love Sechrest (Fuller Theological Seminary), and Amanda J. Lucia (UC Riverside). The text of the formal reviews presented at the forum will be published in the Spring 2014 edition of the ISS newsletter. To watch video, click here
Some ISS assistants reflect on the discussion that MisReading America generated.
What would it look like to think of the United States as a "scriptural" formation? What if we tabled, for a moment, the various analytic categories we equip ourselves with? How might we go about studying the larger cultural formations of nation, creed, race and gender? In other words, how do we, as scholars, get out of our own way in our analysis of these problematic terms: "religion," "America," "fundamentalism"? There is, to put it lightly, no easy way. The thematics and politics of our fully vested intellectual interests make these questions problematic, if not actually dangerous to our various careerist aspirations.
MisReading America is an attempt to flank these interests, to find the loose ends, and let them speak for themselves. In one way or another, each of the scholars invited to the Forum did just that; they signaled their own readings--their own politics of the book--positioning themselves in a larger disciplinary formation, sometimes on the fringe, and sometimes in the middle. Whether it was Professor Amanda Lucia's troubling over the work's apparently Protestant preoccupations, or Professor Love Sechrest's very personal engagement with the work's wider political implications, MisReading America invited its own readings and misreadings. The exchange was lively, and at times provocative and contentious, which is what one hopes to find at an academic round table--something of import being grappled.
It was a privilege and a pleasure for me to attend this past book review forum. Interestingly, Professor Hughes connected the theme with what is happening in the “pueblo” in Latin America, but the audience questioned her proofreading of the text at hand. Dr. Yoo as a cultural scientist critiqued the vocabulary used in the work while laying out some remarks related to ethnicity and religion to which the author(s) has/have to pay attention. Professor Sechrest invited the editor to reconsider the subtitle of the book: “Scriptures and Difference,” because “Scriptures” here could be too broad or too narrow at the same time. Dr. Wimbush clarifies what he meant by “scriptures,” and who we are: fundamentalists, but that a firm handle on the meaning of “Signifying Scriptures” and “Scripturalization” remains to be grappled with. Professor Hughes supported a lot of the claims that were made by those who spoke before her. It was striking to hear Mrs. Walker remark that her students at Scripps College do not really know the Bible. I think that orality is still powerful in our culture; it would not leave those kids exempt of the phenomenon (knowledge gained through oral sayings). Even if they don’t talk about it, they have heard some of the biblical stories in one way or the other. I would recommend this book to any lover of the academia.
Dr. Lucia's insights regarding the prevalence of essays on Christian scripturalizing practices within the text coalesced with Dr. Sechrest’s insights relative to the diverse ideologies of scriptural authority within “fundamental” Evangelical traditions. Together they provoked a reconsideration of my identity both as a new scholar and as a person of faith in the Academy. It requires a re-orientation as I stand in the margins of the secularized Academy to consider myself “fundamentalist” in any way— though arguably the secularized Academy remains “fundamental” in its programs and curriculum, particularly in the study of religion. The book and the forum discussion provided an opportunity to critically reconsider the socio-political implications of my own scripturalizing practices, and to appreciate both identity and marginalization as relative. Immigrants who convert to Christianity (or become hyper-religious) in order to be seen as good Americans, might reasonably view me as member of a fundamentalist America. Faith identities, it seems, are inevitably structured and restructured, oriented and re-oriented in order to negotiate belonging and navigate success within dominant regimes be they nations, religious traditions, or academic institutions.
The forum could easily have spiraled into a showcase of expertise or contests of erudition. Instead the discussion centered around the asking of better questions about reading scriptures and difference. Each respondent shared a visceral concern for how to interrogate the human effectively and ethically. And all were invested in learning from the exchange. This last point should not be overlooked, for it speaks volumes about the discourse spurred by the ethnology's contributions and contributors.