Religion MLA-Style

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

When critiquing modern religion, two English professors prefer to characterize faith as a blight on society.

Linda S. Kauffman, speaking at a panel titled “Religion Today,” interpreted John DeLillo’s Falling Man novel as reinforcing messages of religious tolerance and pluralism in the face of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Describing one fictional character’s reaction to her grandmother’s cancer, Kauffman said at the 2008 Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention that “The only resolution Lianne eventually comes to is to conclude that ‘there was religion, then there was God.’”

“I take this to mean that the concept of God or spirituality is vaster than any single religion’s orthodoxy,” said Professor Kauffman. “That’s not a bad resolution.”

“In the days immediately following 9/11 DeLillo courageously tried to dismantle the dichotomy between us versus them” by publishing “In the Ruins of the Future,” commented the University of Maryland professor. She lamented that “Relativism has become one of those bad words like secular humanist or liberal or intellectual.”

“Absolute leaders who politicize religion create a single totalizing narrative of their destiny and their infallibility whether they’re Osama bin Laden, the Ayatollah, or the Pope,” she argued.

“What interests me is not how that applies to any stereotypical notion of poor backward zealots in the Middle East. Instead, when considering religion today we should remember how it applies to Christians, the 14 million Baptists who voted to endorse the literal interpretation of the Bible in 1987, the evangelicals who killed Proposition 8 here in California.”

Professor Kauffman is the author of Bad Girls and Sick Boys, which “turns the pornography debate on its head with this audacious analysis of recent taboo-shattering fiction, film, and performance art,” according to her website.

Meanwhile, her fellow panelist Teresa L. Ebert argued that Georg W. F. Hegel’s theory of “picture thinking” could be extended from religion to deconstructing women’s romantic fiction. “Like religion, popular texts such as women’s romances reorient the subject but leave intact the objective social conditions in which she lives,” she argued. “They do this by substituting love, intimacy and sentimentality for social justice and economic equality.”

The State University of New York (SUNY) Albany professor is the author of Ludic Feminism and After; she argues for “a ‘red feminism’ and a ‘red cultural studies’ in the context of academic professionalization and the corporatization of the university,” according to her faculty biography.

“Fantasy functions through picture-thinking and in similar ways to religion’s holy trinity and garden narratives,” Ebert argued. “It negates social totality and inverts the relationship of the self to the social, turning social relations which are historical and shaped by material conditions into asocial sensuous bonds of affect and rewrites love, which is a social relation among people, as in Marx’s words ‘a fantastic relation between things.’”

“However, by providing an illusory happiness through picture-thinking which represses the conceptual critique of the everyday, romances delay the struggles for real happiness,” she later argued.

A self-proclaimed Marxist, Ebert compared the violence of Abu Ghraib with romance novel plots during a previous MLA Convention. “The women’s romance novels that feature textuality, love and intimacy also, as part of the same structure, feature the aggression and violence we see at Abu Ghraib,” she said in 2006.

“The ideology critique of religion and popular texts is a contribution to ending the social relations that require illusion,” concluded Professor Ebert this year. She seems to think society would be better off without both.

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.


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