Spirituality, Morality, and Eco-Activism

By Sarah M. Pike, author of For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17


For the Wild came about because I wanted to understand the lives and motivations behind “ecoterrorist” stereotypes that were current in the news media during the 1990s. During interviews I discovered that memories and emotions may play an important role in shaping activists’ commitments. Love for other-than-human species, compassion for their suffering, anger about the impact of contemporary human lifestyles on the lives of nonhumans, grief over the degradation of ecosystems and the suffering of other animals: these emotions are expressed through and emerge out of what I describe in the book as protest rites.

My book is also concerned with fundamental questions about human identity construction in relation to others, human and nonhuman, expressed through and at the same time created by ritualized actions. I argue that these activists are the radical wing of a broader cultural shift in understanding humans’ place in a multispecies world and a planet in peril. Their actions express trends in contemporary American spiritual expression and moral duties to the nonhuman at the turn of the millennium. Their beliefs and practices reflect a way of being in the world that decenters the human and calls for rethinking our appropriate place in the world. Their stories further our understanding of how younger Americans, in particular, situate the needs of human beings within a world of other species that they see themselves as closely related to and responsible for. The following excerpt is from the introduction:

In July 2000, federal agents raided an environmental action camp in Mt. Hood National Forest that was established to protect old-growth forests and their inhabitants, including endangered species, from logging. High above the forest floor, activists had constructed a platform made of rope and plywood where several of them swung from hammocks. Seventeen-year-old Emma Murphy-Ellis held off law enforcement teams for almost eight hours by placing a noose around her neck and threatening to hang herself if they came too close. Murphy-Ellis, going by her forest name Usnea, explained her motivation in the following way: “I state without fear—but with the hope of rallying our collective courage—that I support radical actions. I support tools like industrial sabotage, monkey-wrenching machinery and strategic arson. The Earth’s situation is dire. If other methods are not enough, we must not allow concerns about property rights to stop us from protecting the land, sea and air.” Murphy-Ellis speaks for most radical activists who are ready to put their bodies on the line to defend trees or animals, other lives that they value as much as their own.

For the Wild is a study of radical environmental and animal rights activism in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century America. I set out to explore how teenagers like Murphy-Ellis become committed to forests and animals as worthy of protection and personal sacrifice. I wanted to find out how nature becomes sacred to them, how animals, trees, and mountains come to be what is important and worth sacrificing for. This work is about the paths young activists find themselves following, in tree-sits and road blockades to protect old-growth forests and endangered bird species, or breaking into fur farms at night to release hundreds of mink from cages. These young people join loosely organized, leaderless groups like Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), coming to protests from contexts as different as significant childhood experiences in nature and the hardcore punk rock music scene. Various other experiences also spark their commitments, such as viewing a documentary about baby seal hunts or witnessing a grove of woods they loved being turned into a parking lot. What their paths to activism have in common is the growing recognition of a world shared with other, equally valuable beings, and a determined certainty that they have a duty to these others.


Sarah M. Pike is Professor of Comparative Religion at California State University, Chico, and, in addition to For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism, is the author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community and New Age and Neopagan Religions in America.


Must-Read Issues for the 2017 AAR & SBL Annual Meetings

This week, the joint meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) are convening in Boston, MA from November 18-21. Whether or not you are attending #AARSBL17, we invite you read the following free sample issues from two of our journals in these disciplines, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions and Studies in Late Antiquity

Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions
Special Issue: New Religions in Eastern Europe
Vol. 20, No. 3

READ THE FULL ISSUE

Introduction: New Religions in Eastern Europe: New Forms, Recent Developments
Milda Ališauskienė
Baltic Paganis

Baltic Paganism in Lithuanian Neoshamanic Communities: Neoshamanic Interpretations of a Local Indo-European Religious Tradition
Eglė Aleknaitė

A Catholic Pyramid? Locating the Pyramid of Merkinė within the Religious Landscape of Lithuania
Milda Ališauskienė

Survival Strategies of New Religions in a Secular Consumer Society: A Case Study from Estonia
Ringo Ringvee

“What if it is actually true?” Vissarion’s Followers from Eastern Europe and their Path to the Last Testament Church Community in Siberia
Joanna Urbańczyk

Hit Gyülekezete: A Sectarian State Megachurch in Hungary
Holly Folk


Studies in Late Antiquity
Vol. 1, No. 1

READ THE FULL ISSUE

Why Does the World Need a New Journal on Late Antiquity?
The Editor and Associate Editors

Community Matters
Elizabeth DePalma Digeser

Late Antiquity and World History: Challenging Conventional Narratives and Analyses
Chengpang Lee, Ling Han

How Perilous was it to Write Political History in Late Antiquity?
Anthony Kaldellis

From a Classical to a Christian City: Civic Evergetism and Charity in Fifth Century Rome
Michele Salzman


Sacrifices, Flesh, and Blood

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. #AARSBL17


By Mira Balberg, author of Blood for Thought: The Reinvention of Sacrifice in Early Rabbinic Literature

Evenings are still rather chilly in Jerusalem during the month of April. The priests, standing on a raised platform, were all shivering in their thin white linen clothes, especially after they had to remove their shoes and socks and purify their feet in water. Several hundreds of people were watching as the priests struggled to light a fire on the altar and to get a wooden spit to pierce through the sacrificial lamb. This somewhat clunky ritual event, titled “Practice Passover Sacrifice,” took place on April 18, 2017.

Several different organizations that strive to build a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and to establish a sacrificial cult therein have been working together to produce and promote “Practice Passover Sacrifice” events for over ten years. These events have become increasingly mainstream in Israeli religious-Zionist circles in the last couple of years, and are now endorsed by leading rabbinic figures as well as by political and municipal authorities. The events are framed as “practice sacrifice” since Jews are not allowed to perform actual sacrifices anywhere except for the Temple Mount, a space so contested and explosive that it is currently off limits for any form of Jewish worship. The organizers, however, encourage Jews descended from priestly families to learn and master the procedure, so that once government permission is given a sacrificial cult can be restored on a moment’s notice.

The Temple lobbyists are usually viewed through a political lens, as extreme right-wingers whose main goal is to secure Jewish/Israeli control over all of Jerusalem. What is often overlooked, however, is the centrality of animal sacrifice in their religious vision, almost 2000 years after Jewish sacrifice ceased to be practiced. This emphasis on animal sacrifice is not esoteric or arcane: it is a manifestation of what supporters of these organizations view as the only authentic, original, and scripturally-committed way of being Jewish.

Indeed, like members of most other ancient Mediterranean religions, ancient Jews equated piety, worship of God, and communal identity with rituals involving the slaughter and burning of sheep, bulls, and rams accompanied by libations of oil and wine. The common story, however, is that once the Jerusalem temple was burned in 70 C.E., Jews had to figure out a new way of being Jewish, which could no longer be connected to the Temple and to the sacrificial cult. The rabbis of late antiquity are the heroes of that story: they are often thought to have positioned the study of texts as the most important dimension of Jewish life, and to have instituted prayer and charity as viable and even superior substitutes for the sacrifice.

Judaism today, whose texts and practices rely heavily on the rabbinic corpora of late antiquity, is accordingly understood as stemming from the efforts of the rabbis of the first centuries C.E. to turn Judaism from a sacrificial religion into a book religion. These efforts were ostensibly so successful that today, most Jews in the world never associate Jewish life or faith with animal sacrifice, and they are often surprised (if not mortified) that there are still Jews out there who think that sacrifice is something to value and hope for. But the truth is that throughout centuries of Jewish thought and practice, sacrifice never truly went away: it remained a ghost of the past, a “repressed” that keeps returning, and a possibility that is always on the horizon, even if only to be dismissed and abhorred. In my book Blood for Thought I argue that sacrifice was never substituted by the rabbis, but rather reinvented. A process of sacrificial reinvention, both fascinating and troubling, is happening again in our own times.


Mira Balberg is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University. Her first book, Purity, Body, and Self in Early Rabbinic Literature, examines how ancient Near Eastern ideas and practices of bodily purity were reconfigured by Palestinian rabbis of the 2nd and 3rd centuries through the influence of Greek and Roman medical and philosophical doctrines. Her new book, Blood for Thought: The Reinvention of Sacrifice in Early Rabbinic Literature engages with the process known as “the end of sacrifice,” the rapid decline and ultimately demise of sacrificial modes of worship in the Mediterranean region in the first half of the first Millennium C.E.


Heretics and Ethnographic Investigation in Late Antiquity

This guest post is part of our AARSBL blog series published in conjunction with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston Nov. 18-21. This post originally appeared on the blog in August 2016 and is reposted in advance of the author’s review panel Saturday, Nov. 18. Program details below. #AARSBL17


By Todd S. Berzon, author of Classifying Christians: Ethnography, Heresiology, and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity

We are always organizing knowledge. We are always aggregating data in order to arrive at a clearer, more coherent, and more systematic understanding of the world around us. But what happens when there is simply too much information to be collected? What happens when efforts to organize vast amounts of material fall short or fail completely? What happens when the knowledge we meticulously collect simply overwhelms the system or model designed to make sense of it? What are the epistemological implications and challenges that emerge in the production of ethnography—the process of writing about the customs and habits of peoples and communities? Classifying Christians: Ethnography, Heresiology, and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity investigates these questions within the context of late antique Christianity (ca. 150–500 C.E.). It provides an analysis of the ways in which early Christian authors not only produced ethnography (literally “wrote people”) but they also how they openly negotiated the very possibility and desire of undertaking such a task. Focusing on late antique heresiological literature (orthodox catalogues about heretics), I outline the techniques Christian writers used to collect, organize, and polemicize ethnographic knowledge about their Christian world. I show how the rituals, doctrinal beliefs, customs, and historical origins of the heretics functioned to map and delimit not only the composition of the Christian world but also the world at large. It is the epistemological challenges produced by such classificatory efforts that I explore throughout the book.

9780520284265_Berzon

In the late antique world defined by remarkable religious and political change, heresiology illustrates the simultaneous attraction and repulsion of discovery and exploration. But just as Christians wrote their movement into the history of the world as the organizing principle of human difference through models of heretical growth and diffusion, they also codified a deep ambivalence about the literary or representative capacity of heresiological ethnography. I argue that heretics were highly unstable theoretical scaffolding through which Christian authors sought to make sense of the diverse and diversifying world around them. Knowledge about the heretics was necessary to assert orthodox theological dominance, but it was also highly dangerous. Heretical knowledge not only contaminated the ethnographer, but it also confused and in some sense overpowered the compiler because such knowledge was seemingly without limit. There was simply no end to the process of collecting knowledge about the heretics.

Indeed, Christian ethnography reveals not totalizing aspirations of authority—a projected ideology of total epistemological mastery—but a far less secure knowledge about the heretics specifically and the world generally: writing and knowing were endeavors fraught with conceptual fears and uncertainties. In fact, Christian authors explicitly contemplated the danger of investigating the natural and supernatural worlds. It is not simply that they struggle to classify the world around them, but that they openly discuss their failures to do just that. The heresiologists explicitly pondered the epistemological limits of ethnographic investigation, the representative capacity of language, and the unmanageability of ethnographic knowledge in texts. They know that there are limitations to what they can know about the heretics and that their efforts to produce a literary model to contain them is and always will be incomplete.

Discovery, travel, and expansion were not singularly triumphant endeavors, but rather highly perilous and disruptive efforts. The discoveries of new peoples (heretics, nations, islands, etc.) cemented intellectual unease and ethnographic fear. Precisely because the heresiologists gave ethnography into a distinctly theological texture, Classifying Christians points toward the enduring and potent legacy of Christianity in shaping the discourse of centuries of ethnographic investigation. By investigating the role ethnography played in mapping the theological landscape of the late antique world, my aim has been to refine discussions of emergent Christian discourses about heresy and human difference more broadly.


Todd S. Berzon is Assistant Professor of Religion at Bowdoin College.

Join author Todd Berzon at SBL for a review panel of Classifying Christians
SBL Religious World of Late Antiquity Section
Saturday, Nov. 18
9:00 AM–11:30 AM
Hilton Boston Back Bay – Maverick A


Heading to AAR & SBL? Save 40% on These Religion Titles

If you’re headed to the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion & the Society of Biblical Literature this week in Boston (Nov. 18-21), be sure to visit UC Press at booth #2800 for a 40% discount on our religion titles. During the conference, follow along on our blog as we share guest posts from our authors, and share on social media with #AARSBL17.

Want to get a headstart on the conference? Take 40% off today on these new and notable titles, a selection of just some of the books you’ll find at the conference. Get your promo code here.

Take Note of the Following Panels:

The FBI and Religion Scholars: Reflecting on the Past 25 Years—What Lessons Might Be Drawn?
Friday, November 17, 1:00-4:00PM
Sperry Room, Harvard Divinity School
Ahead of the AAR / SBL conference, join co-editor of The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security before and after 9/11 Steven Weitzman as he discusses liberty in the age of terror along with David T. Resch, Assistant FBI Director and head of the FBI Academy

Review Panel of Todd Berzon, Classifying Christians: Ethnography, Heresiology, and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity
Saturday November, 18, 9:00 AM–11:30 AM
Maverick A (Second Level) – Hilton Boston Back Bay (HBB)

Religion and Popular Culture in America: A Critical Analysis
Saturday November, 18, 4:00 PM–6:30 PM
Sheraton Boston-Back Bay C (Second Level)

Browse more UC Press Religion titles.


3 Must-Read Journals at #SBLAAR16

To celebrate the 2016 joint meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, commencing in San Antonio, TX from November 19-22, we’re offering free access to special content from our religion and ancient history journals. For those attending #sblaar16 in person, don’t forget to visit UC Press at booth #710 to see our wide selection of books and journals in religious studies!


Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 3.18.30 PMMulti-discilpnary and international in scope, Nova Religio is a premier source of scholarship on alternative and emergent religions, religous groups, and religious movements. The journal is pleased offer a free sample issue that includes original research, literature reviews, and conference updates.

#sblaar16 attendees: Don’t miss a special reception hosted by the New Religious Movements Group and Nova Religio on Saturday, November 19, 7:00-9:00pm (Marriott Rivercenter, Conference Room 11, Level 3).

 

 

Religion & American Culture

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 3.17.52 PMReligion & American Culture is devoted to promoting the ongoing scholarly discussion of the nature, terms, and dynamics of religion in America. Understanding religious and social dynamics in American life has never been so important, especially in light of the 2016 presidential election. To contribute to undertsandings of a particular facet of American history and contemporary life—immigration—RAC offers free access to a virtual issue on Religion & Immigration in America

#sblaar16 attendees: The editors of RAC invite you join them at reception on Sunday, November 20, 8:00-10:00pm (Hyatt Regency-Rio Grande East, Ballroom Level).

 

Studies in Late Antiquity – Launching in February 2017!

unnamedStudies in Late Antiquity is the latest online, quarterly journal from UC Press launching in February 2017. The journal will publish scholarship on a wide range of topics pertaining to the world of Late Antiquity (150 – 750 CE), and a defining focus of the journal will be fostering multi- and interdisciplinary research that emphasizes the interconnectedness of the Mediterranean with other parts of the late ancient world.

Read Q&A’s with SLA‘s strong team of editors (and keep your eye out for them at the conference!):

Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, Editor, UC Santa Barbara
Emily Albu, Associate Editor, UC Davis
Ra’anan Boustan, Associate Editor, UC Los Angeles
Susanna Elm, Associate Editor, UC Berkeley
Michele Salzman, Associate Editor, UC Riverside
Edward Watts, Associate Editor, UC San Diego
Ryan Abrecht, Book Reviews Editor, University of San Diego


Join UC Press at the AAR/SBL Annual Joint Meeting

University of California Press is exhibiting at to the 2014 American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature Annual Joint Meeting. The meeting convenes November 22-25 in San Diego.

Please visit us at booths 640 and 642 in the San Diego Convention Center to purchase our latest publications and take advantage of the following offers:

  • 30% off conference discount + free worldwide shipping
  • Request exam copy requests for course adoption for your upcoming classes
  • Win $100 worth of books! Sign up for our monthly eNews in the booth for a chance to win

Our latest titles address topics in fields ranging from ancient religion, Christianity, Jewish studies, and Islam, to modern movements and world religious issues.

Please see our conference program ad and attendee tote bag flier for our latest releases. Acquisitions and marketing staff will be available for your publishing questions.

Stay tuned to our blog and social media channels as eight of our authors with recent and forthcoming titles on a range of topics share the motivations and stories behind their research. We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Find a new post every M/W/F between now and November 21st.

Use tag #AARSBL on Twitter and Facebook to follow current meeting news.