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Archive for the 'Sociology' Category

Friday, June 10th, 2016

A Media Roundup for “Black Gods of the Asphalt”

Black Gods of the Asphalt

“Black men’s bodies are overdetermined by racism and poverty on the court, but to stop there is to strip ballplayers of agency and to overlook their lived experiences of the games. In a twist of irony that rivals the sleight of hand of a crossover dribble, social scientists have attempted to explain black basketball by setting aside the subjective experiences the players have of it. In their desire to remain objective and to adhere to disciplinary boundaries, scholars have reduced basketball to a set of rules predetermined by external conditions.” — Onaje X. O. Woodbine

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. For our final post of the week, we’ve collected a number of the best articles and interviews on and with Onaje X. O. Woodbine looking at his new book.

First, at Killing the Buddha, read an excerpt on the 2013 Fathers Are Champions Too basketball tournament and other streetball tournaments from Black Gods of the Asphalt:

Black men’s bodies are overdetermined by racism and poverty on the court, but to stop there is to strip ballplayers of agency and to overlook their lived experiences of the games. In a twist of irony that rivals the sleight of hand of a crossover dribble, social scientists have attempted to explain black basketball by setting aside the subjective experiences the players have of it. In their desire to remain objective and to adhere to disciplinary boundaries, scholars have reduced basketball to a set of rules predetermined by external conditions. The powerful socioeconomic forces of poverty, racism, and mascu­line role constrain black male bodies, push­ing them toward limited definitions of self as ballplayers, gang­sters, and hustlers. This “symbolic violence,” as Bourdieu refers to it, is often embodied and internalized by the players. But to stop there is to leave us with only a thin sense for the human and lived dimensions of these games. The experience of the court as a vehicle of self-emancipation is stripped away. The living dimension of this urban religion is lost.

Woodbine was interviewed twice at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station. First, listen to Woodbine discuss how his desire to tell the stories that come up in his book led him to take Black Gods of the Asphalt to the stage.

“It was storytelling,” Woodbine says. “This was inner-city, street-level storytelling. And I thought, ‘Why not actually, consciously, do this on the stage and create a conscious, ritual space in the theater? And so, I wrote a script with my father and my wife to try to tell these stories in a way that can impact audience beyond the streets.”

(more…)

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

The Creation of “Black Gods of the Asphalt”

Black Gods of the Asphalt

“I want the book to elevate the conversation on black masculinity and sports…. I want people to recognize that you can find religion in strange places, that this community has its own innate healers, its own innate capacity to heal, that these young men have agency, and that there is freedom within this community in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find it.” — Onaje X. O. Woodbine

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. Today, we have excerpted part of an interview with Onaje X. O. Woodbine, conducted by Matthew Reed Baker, that originally appeared in Boston Magazine, in which Woodbine discusses his creative process and what he hopes the book will achieve.

At any point did you think that nobody could’ve written this book but you? It seems like the perfect match of author and book.

Howard Thurman, one of my favorite scholars and thinkers, has this phrase that we all have a “working paper.” The best scholarship is autobiographical. I’ve always viewed scholarship as a deeply personal project. In some ways, I do agree with you that only I could have written this particular project, but in other ways, part of the insight I learned from writing the book is that my self is made up of other selves. And so, if you dig deep enough within, you come out on the other side, you recognize the social world. Some of the best scholarship recognizes that society and the person are not mutually exclusive.

I think the experiences that are happening in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan are happening across other cities because the social context is very similar. There may be some changes in style and variation in the way that it is expressed, but they’re dealing with societal challenges and poverty, and these basketball courts are spaces of refuge, especially for young black men who don’t have access to traditional buffers against structural violence. They don’t go to church as much anymore, they don’t have access to quality therapy, and as you can see in the book, the family is largely fragmented.

Black men have always been linked to the physical, so the myth has been that black men are bound in body but not in mind. Sports dramatize that myth in such a powerful way that many black men in inner cities are attracted to it. They may be attracted to it because they’re pushed by race or poverty or social narrative, but when they get on the court, the lived experience of running up and down the court, rubbing your body next to your brother, and expressing your pain…it transcends the reasons why you got there in the first place. It’s deeply personal and deeply social at the same time.

There’s such a weaving of style and form in this book. What was your approach?

I wanted to mirror the culture in my scholarship, but I didn’t want to strip the community of its language. In the history of African American culture, different genres of self-expression have always been complementary. During the Harlem Renaissance, jazz and basketball often were performed on the same stage on the same night. In the hip-hop generation, it was b-boy/b-girl dancing and rap music, while basketball was performed in the same park at the same time, and you’d have the boombox out there. So it was a confluence of different forms of African American self expression.

It was a labor of love, and I wanted it to be in a language that the academy and general public could understand, but also that the community would recognize as authentic. That required an interdisciplinary approach. On one hand I had to use social theory, the theory of masculinity and race to recognize the objectifications of the black male body. On the other hand I needed poetry. I needed religious studies. I needed the first-person account to call into question those things. You need all of those tools. That as the hardest obstacle I faced. It took a few years to really find the tools, understand how to apply them, and there was a lot of grappling in the dark.

When a book mixes ideas and genres well, it’s seamless. How do you do it?

When I read it for the first time in full after all those years of work, you know what was the metaphor I had in my head? A basketball. [Laughs] It really felt round. The book itself, it felt like there were no corners, nothing stuck out. It felt like a cohesive unit. I kept thinking of a ball, a basketball. I kid you not.

You mention in the book that you had to leave your community in order to write about it.

This book was also born out of personal trauma of experiencing the violence of the inner city. I myself embody the pain of living in a racialized and poverty-stricken community, and with growing up, I constantly felt as if my life was in danger. I’d walk out of my house, and there was a gang right on the corner in front of my door. I went through this. I was depressed for a while growing up. I had very low self-esteem. I wondered—because I was in the METCO program—why the students I went to school with out in the suburbs had nice homes and we didn’t. I also wondered about my past. I wondered if I really was just a slave or a descendent of a slave, if there was nothing prior to that.

When we’re born into that kind of world, you internalize it, you take it for granted, and often you turn the pain inward. You blame yourself or the people around you. And you can’t necessarily prove how the larger society, mainstream society, and dominant culture has created a society in which you are meant to feel that way. I needed to leave that environment to heal. I needed to see other people who looked like me, who weren’t angry all the time, or weren’t part of a gang, or weren’t depressed, or weren’t smoking drugs because something had happened in their life. I needed to see that I could be something else.

But at the same time, once I got to Yale and into university culture, I also didn’t fit in there. I realized there was a tremendous loss associated with being out there. On the one hand, I was safe, I wasn’t constantly worried about violence. But on the other hand, I had to leave all the people I cared for behind, and my culture. Living in two worlds and being in that middle space, in some ways, was a privilege. I see myself as a bridge and I’m very thankful. And yet you feel like you’re always an exile, you’re always homeless.

What do you want this book to achieve once it comes out?

I want the book to elevate the conversation on black masculinity and sports. I think that the old messages of trying to solve structural racism are important, but need to be expanded upon. Particularly unconscious bias, and the kind of racism and bias that lives in our bodies. My question is: How do you transform people’s consciousness, that both they and others are human beings? I think that requires getting into your body and recognizing the trauma and the history that lives within us. I want people to recognize that you can find religion in strange places, that this community has its own innate healers, its own innate capacity to heal, that these young men have agency, and that there is freedom within this community in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find it. The standard view in literature on sports and race is that these young men are determined by a desire for social mobility and socioeconomic status, and that’s why they’re on the court. Part of what I want to do is challenge that narrative and say, “No, there are deeper human reasons why they are on the court in predominant numbers.”

Read the interview and accompanying article at the Boston Magazine website.

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

Listen to Onaje X. O. Woodbine on All Things Considered

Black Gods of the Asphalt

“What [often] gets missed is the level of meaning and feeling that is experienced in the game itself. And the feeling of freedom and transcendence can’t be really captured in social scientific language. You need religious studies, you need poetry, you need music to really understand how these young men are creating meaning in this space.” — Onaje X. O. Woodbine

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. Today. we are happy to present a fantastic interview with Onaje X. O. Woodbine on NPR’s All Things Considered on the new book, Woodbine’s history, and why we need religious studies, poetry, and music to understand how young black men create meaning through basketball and other sports.

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Introducing Black Gods of the Asphalt

Black Gods of the Asphalt

“Everyone possessed a unique way of dancing on the blacktop, but there was no mistake that it was a beautifully choreographed dance. And in the flow of the game we could discover a feeling of worth that the larger society would not afford us.” — Onaje X. O. Woodbine

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to share an excerpt from the introduction.

Monday, June 6th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball

Black Gods of the Asphalt

“This narrative is more than academic prose; it is a deeply personal and poetic travel through the author’s own story of racial struggle and the survival tactics of the players he befriends…. In this majestic study of basketball as ritual, religion, and culture, Woodbine plunges into the courts of Boston with an insider’s savvy to catalogue the urban sport’s pulsating (and potentially transcendent) dialogue.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Black Gods of the Asphalt. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, June 10th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

Interview with Hyun Ok Park, author of The Capitalist Unconscious: From Korean Unification to Transnational Korea

The Capitalist Unconscious, Hyun Ok Park

The following is an interview with Hyun Ok Park, author of The Capitalist Unconscious: From Korean Unification to Transnational Korea

Question: The concept of “the capitalist unconscious” in the book indicates that you take the unification question out of the familiar box of the nation-state system. Can you explain what you mean by “the capitalist unconscious” and how it figures in your book?

Hyun Ok Park: “The capitalist unconscious” provides a conceptual framework for my approach. It places the global capitalist system at the center of historicizing the national question. The capitalist unconscious concerns the sociocultural symbolization of the capitalist system and the historical character of such representation. This book expands the understanding of the unconscious from Frederic Jameson’s political unconscious and its focus on narrative to incorporate corporeal, sensorial, affective, and mnemonic symbolizations. I bring the body, senses, involuntary memory, performative ethnicity, and longing for a stateless nation to understanding experiences of transnational migrants. In fact, the disjuncture among what migrants say, how they say it, what they remember, and what their bodies tell demonstrates their commodified subjectivity as anything but total.

The capitalist unconscious is the historical unconscious that involves the fidelity of the political and the historical. The book shows that one’s experience of capitalism, democracy, and their linkage is organized by the interpretation of crisis (e.g., crisis of industrialism, of socialism, and of migrants and refugees as epochal changes (e.g., the transition from socialism to capitalism, from dictatorship to democracy, and from industrial to financial capitalism). I juxtapose the transition theses of history harbored in democratic politics with migrants’ own flashbacks into history and my accounts of Cold War industrialism—both socialist and capitalist.

Q: How can the understanding of the capitalist unconscious explain your thesis, “Korea is already unified in a transnational form by capital”? This statement will come as a surprise or even a provocation to those for whom the routine questions about Korean unification are whether and when the two Koreas will be unified.

HP: This book proposes a paradigm change on North Korea and Korean unification. I explore the ways that the capitalist unconscious encapsulates the currently unfolding and yet unobserved form of Korean unification that I call transnational Korea. Bringing capitalism into the analysis of the nation-state formation illumines the largely forgotten original and utopian ideal of national unification. It also enables us to historicize ethic national sovereignty. Only when we bring capitalism into the analysis can we discern the otherwise hidden shift of the mode of Korean unification from territorial and familial integration to transnational Korea. The chiasmus in this book is, therefore, not so much between ethnic national sovereignty and territorial integration as between modern sovereignty and global capitalism.

Accordingly, I consider the national unification question a social question, which is irreducible to the return to an undivided Korea or the establishment of a single nation-state. From the beginning, nation and national unification concern social relations of the people. Koreans’ quest for resolving the Japanese colonial legacy and becoming independent from American rule was never separate from transformation of social relations of land, labor, and tenancy. Popular sovereignty, decolonization, and ethnic-national independence were one and the same. Although the rivalry of the two Korean states during the Cold War tethered the matter of Korean unification to the task of creating a single nation-state, the South Korean democracy struggle of the 1980s saw the critique of global capitalism as integral to realizing national unification. In the post-Cold War era, the politics of unification is, in an unexpected turn, articulated with the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism and the war on terrorism.

As a critique of the old and new modes of Korean unification, this book presents various border-crossing interactions among Koreans during and after the Cold War era, including family unions of divided families and diaspora’s experiences, which fall through the cracks of all modes of unification politics since the division. I historicize Korean unification so that we distinguish its current form and envisage a new political possibility. When Koreans in different moments and in various Korean communities state their wishes for Korean unification, they are not to be taken as habitual slips into a received ideology. Instead these statements are harbingers of a utopia desire whose meaning and effect are decipherable only in reference to concrete social relations.

(more…)

Friday, November 6th, 2015

Themes from The Con Men

The Con Men

“This book came about because both Terry and I are New Yorkers who came here from other places. There are the known mechanics of this city, and then its underground economy. We came to The Con Men as a way of making sense of this untaxed and unauthorized world.” — Trevor B. Milton

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. In today’s post, Trevor B. Milton looks back at the genesis of the book, and explains some of the key threads that tie the book’s many stories together.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Con Men!

Themes from The Con Men
By Trevor B. Milton

This book came about because both Terry and I are New Yorkers who came here from other places. There are the known mechanics of this city, and then its underground economy. We came to The Con Men as a way of making sense of this untaxed and unauthorized world. There is something in this book for everyone who has ever resided in this city, something familiar to all who walk its streets. New York City is the unit of analysis; con artists and hustlers are the bi-product.

New York City is rugged, aggressive, and competitive, yet it is also one of the most desirable cities in the world, with broad boulevards, tree-lined avenues, yellow and lime-green cabs darting hither and yon, and frantic crowds moving along busy streets. And though New Yorkers constantly complain about trash, traffic, trains, and any number of other hassles, most of them readily acknowledge that they live in one of the greatest cities in the world. Among its many finer points, New York offers access to the best museums and cultural institutions and an intelligentsia unmatched anywhere. New York, New York: a city so nice they named it twice… (more…)

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Cop Cons

The Con Men

“I asked Frank if he would volunteer any stories of police corruption. ‘So is there such a thing as a police con? Or a police hustle?’ Frank smiled so big that I couldn’t see his eyes. ‘Of course.’ He slouched in the bench and folded his arms, allowing some of the memories to come to him. ‘Well, the con is like, the con is the classic good guy/bad guy. That’s the con. That’s the biggest one.’” — Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. When most people think of con games, they tend to think of the kind of three-card monte that they’ve seen in movies. However, as this excerpt from The Con Men reveals, con games can happen in a wide variety of circumstances, and con artists can be people from all walks of life.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Con Men!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

The Con Game

The Con Men

“To be honest, I wanted to get some of the cash the man flashed. I had greed in my heart, and that’s what got me into trouble.” — Terry Williams

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. In today’s post, Terry Williams describes his first encounter with a con game in New York, how he was duped, and how this experience led him to study con games in his scholarly work.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Con Men!

The Con Game
By Terry Williams

I first got involved in a con game by chance: I happened to be strolling down the wrong street at the wrong time. However, stumbling into a con made it possible for me to better understand how the con game might be studied in an urban setting.

I was a young student at the time, with only five dollars in my pocket, trying to find my way around the city. On this particular day I became a modern version of Voltaire’s Candide, only instead of finding my fortune I found myself standing on an isolated city street explaining to two strangers why I could be trusted.

Let me go back to the beginning

I saw a man standing near 125th Street. He stopped me to say that he was not from New York (he had an accent), was lost, and needed my help. He showed me a piece of paper, which upon a brief inspection listed an address close to where we were standing, but as I tried to look more closely at the paper, he took it from me and handed it to another passerby with the same question. This time, however, he took out a wad of money and made a generous offer for help finding the address on the paper. He said he had been given $10,000 of insurance money after his brother lost his leg in an accident. He just wanted to “get some pussy before I leave the city.” I didn’t see exactly how much money he had, but it was a big bundle of bills and he said he would give some to both of us if we helped him. (more…)

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Con Artists and Hustlers

The Con Men

“The con artists and hustlers in this text possess a rare set of utilitarian values and have an unmatched knowledge of the city’s landscape and a sophisticated skill set that has taken years (or a lifetime) to acquire. We think of them as sage opportunists because they are able to match their abilities exactly to the opportunities presented by the city’s shifting economy.” — Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. To get the feature kicked off, we have an excerpt from the book’s introduction, in which Williams and Milton explain who con artists and hustlers are and begin to describe exactly what it is they do.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Con Men!

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Con Men: Hustling in New York City

The Con Men

“This terrific ethnography explains that cons and hustles are no longer the preserve of roguish proletarians in loud suits and painted ties. Everybody wants a bargain, and creative capitalism makes mugs of us all.” — Dick Hobbs, Times Higher Education

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Con Men. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, November 6th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Interview with Amrita Pande, author of Wombs in Labor

Wombs in LaborThe following is an interview with Amrita Pande, author of Wombs in Labor: Transnational Commercial Surrogacy in India:

What made a sociologist choose a topic like surrogacy?
Well, it started with a short newspaper article I read in 2006. Surrogacy was still at its infancy in India and the article – just about 400 words – described it as India’s new form of outsourcing. This newsarticle really unsettled me. Flashes of Canadian feminist Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale passed through my mind, where a class of women is valued merely as breeders of children of the privileged race and class. I was then a doctoral student at UMASS Amherst and I have to confess the idea that my country would now be stereotyped as a land of not just child laborers, and “slumdogs” but also baby farms made me very queasy! After some quick digging around, I realized that there was no research (academic or otherwise) on this rather critical issue. So began my ethnographic journey into the first country in the global south to have a flourishing industry in both national and transnational surrogacy. (more…)

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Pierre Bourdieu’s Photographs of Algeria

In today’s post, we are re-posting some of the photographs from Picturing Algeria (now available in paper). The extraordinary photographs were taken during the years of 1957-1960 when Bourdieu was working there as a university lecturer. Taken during the Algerian War, Bourdieu’s photography offer a sympathetic and insightful portrait of a country and a people, who were ostensibly the enemies of France.

For more on the book, you can read an interview with Pierre Bourdieu about his time in Algeria or read Craig Calhoun’s foreword to Picturing Algeria.

Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria

Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria

Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria

Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria

(more…)

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Announcing Three Goodreads Giveaways!

We are happy to announce that we are hosting not one, not two, but THREE book giveaways on Goodreads over the next couple weeks! For those looking to learn more about Einstein, we are giving away Jeffrey Bennett’s intuitive introduction to Einstein’s ideas, What Is Relativity?. Interested in the sociology of atheism in the United States? Atheists in America, edited by Melanie E. Brewster, is the book for you! If your interests run more towards history of capitalism and finance, you should check out The World’s First Stock Exchange, Lodewijk Petram’s account of the 17th century development of Amsterdam as a dominant financial center. Look below for details on entering!

What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter
Jeffrey Bennett

Goodreads Book Giveaway

What Is Relativity? by Jeffrey Bennett

What Is Relativity?

by Jeffrey Bennett

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Atheists in America
Edited by Melanie E. Brewster

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Atheists in America by Melanie E. Brewster

Atheists in America

by Melanie E. Brewster

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

The World’s First Stock Exchange
Lodewijk Petram

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The World's First Stock Exchange by Lodewijk Petram

The World’s First Stock Exchange

by Lodewijk Petram

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Friday, June 20th, 2014

A Contrarian Life Story

Atheists in America

“Dementia has destroyed his thinking over the seven years we have been here…. I still research, diagnose, and try to help my husband of fifty-eight years deal. Everyone prays for him. I guess that is all they have to offer. And that is fine with me. I accept their prayers as well intended.” — Elizabeth Malm Clemens

This week our featured book is Atheists in America, edited by Melanie E. Brewster. For our final day of the feature, we’ve excerpted a chapter from the final part of Atheists in America: “A Contrarian Life Story,” by Elizabeth Malm Clemens. In her chapter, Clemens describes the intertwining of religion and atheism throughout her long life, and describes in detail how she has chosen to deal with her husband’s dementia.

Enter our book giveaway by 1 PM TODAY for a chance to win a free copy of Atheists in America! Note: For readers in the Northeast, there will be a book release party for Atheists in America on June 25th at the Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan from 7pm-10pm. Authors from across the country will be flying in to read their works. Open to the public. Email Melanie Brewster for more details.

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Atheists in Love

Atheists in America

“My mother was right. It has been difficult for me to navigate my romantic relationships. I also believe that my father was right; I should not apologize for who I am and what I believe.” — Ethan Sahker

This week our featured book is Atheists in America, edited by Melanie E. Brewster. Today, we have an excerpt from Part 4 of Atheists in America: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: Navigating Romantic Relationships as an Atheist,” including chapters by Ethan Sahker and Kristen Rurouni. Sahker and Rurouni describe their experiences with the complexities involved when religion and atheism become important issues in romantic relationships.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Atheists in America! Note: For readers in the Northeast, there will be a book release party for Atheists in America on June 25th at the Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan from 7pm-10pm. Authors from across the country will be flying in to read their works. Open to the public. Email Melanie Brewster for more details.

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Musings on My Other Closet and Atheists in America, by Melanie E. Brewster

Atheists in America

“The suspicion that my atheism was “wrong” was only validated by pressure to keep my views a secret. Reflecting back, I don’t think that my mother’s explicit directions to remain closeted were intended to make me feel that I was broken or deviant; her response was just a reflection of broader cultural attitudes about atheism.” — Melanie E. Brewster

This week our featured book is Atheists in America, edited by Melanie E. Brewster. Today, we are happy to present a post by Melanie Brewster, in which she describes her experiences as an atheist growing up in the South.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Atheists in America! Note: For readers in the Northeast, there will be a book release party for Atheists in America on June 25th at the Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan from 7pm-10pm. Authors from across the country will be flying in to read their works. Open to the public. Email Melanie Brewster for more details.

Musings on My Other Closet and Atheists in America
Melanie E. Brewster

Surrounded by the smell of cheddar biscuits, dark wood, and stylized portraits of marine life, I officially “came out” as bisexual to my parents at a Red Lobster while home on spring break during my freshman year at the University of Florida. My father, who had often joined me in ogling celebrity women, knowingly shrugged, whereas my mother became tightlipped, teary, and whiter than the shrimp scampi on the dish in front of her. Her response, a refrain with which I was all too familiar, was “don’t tell Nanny.”

We did not openly discuss my sexual orientation again for over a decade.

Though painful and distancing, “don’t tell Nanny” served as a signifier for all things taboo in my family. Nanny, my kindhearted, very Methodist grandmother served as a beacon of virtue, unsullied by the less savory truths about her grandchildren.

As I picked at my food, slouched in the blue pleather booth and no longer enjoying my crabcakes, I yearned for a time when parts of my identity would not be excised from the whole. “Don’t tell Nanny” was a phrase that I’d heard repeatedly since childhood in direct response to my stubborn nonbelief in a god, gods, or anything supernatural.

Despite her best efforts to indoctrinate me into religion – vacation bible study, youth group, prayers before bed – my mother’s proselytizing never took root. Driving home from church on Sunday mornings regularly yielded tense fights, in which I questioned, critiqued, and belittled what was expressed in the sermon. Unlike many atheist individuals, who were engaged in a religious or spiritual life prior to deconverting from their beliefs, I did not “leave faith” – faith never found me. As a child, I remember wondering what it would feel like to believe that a god was watching over you. I imagined that the presence of a ubiquitous guardian would be both awkward (e.g., does god even watch you in the bathroom?!) and comforting, and I often questioned if there was something wrong with me for not being able to believe. The suspicion that my atheism was “wrong” was only validated by pressure to keep my views a secret. Reflecting back, I don’t think that my mother’s explicit directions to remain closeted were intended to make me feel that I was broken or deviant; her response was just a reflection of broader cultural attitudes about atheism. (more…)

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Michael Dumper on Reparation and Restitution

Jerusalem Unbound

This week our featured book is Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City, by Michael Dumper. Today, we are happy to present a 2013 lecture by Michael Dumper given at the First Palestinian Conference on Forced Population Transfer, hosted by BADIL. In his lecture, Dumper discusses the history and future of reparations, particularly as they apply to Palestinians.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Jerusalem Unbound!

Part 1:

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Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Introducing Jerusalem Unbound

Jerusalem Unbound

“Thus at the heart of the study of Jerusalem lays the peculiar conundrum of the city–it has little military or strategic value but, at the same time, it is sought after and contested by many.” — Michael Dumper

This week our featured book is Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City, by Michael Dumper. Today, we are happy to present Michael Dumper’s Introduction to Jerusalem Unbound, in which Dumper explains why he felt that he needed to write a third book on Jerusalem and lays out the themes that he intends to explore throughout his book.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Jerusalem Unbound!

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Jerusalem Unbound, by Michael Dumper

Jerusalem Unbound

This week our featured book is Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City, by Michael Dumper. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Jerusalem Unbound. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, June 13th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!