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Workshop 11: Religious Rhetorics of Resistance

Primarily Synchronous (June 1-4)

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Workshop Leaders:

Andre E. Johnson, University of Memphis:
Kristy Maddux, University of Maryland:

Meeting at Syracuse University, not far from New York’s Burned Over District, this workshop will consider the longstanding relationship between religion and resistance. In nineteenth-century Western New York, spiritual fervor inspired new religious sects—Mormons, Millerites, Shakers, and others—as it also inspired resistance to dominant regimes. Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass organized alongside suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony, as well as thinkers who imagined new utopian realities.

The Burned Over District is one historic microcosm of religious revival fueling political resistance, and this workshop will look for other similar moments across contexts. Based on the interests of participants, we may look to religious leaders such as Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and William Sloane Coffin, who used their pulpits to organize and advocate for social change, as well as religious leaders, such as Jarena Lee, Phoebe Palmer, and Bishop Richard Allen, whose act of resistance was creating their own pulpit and platform. We may look to activists, such as Anna Julia Cooper and Frances Willard, who sought change within their religious institutions, alongside those, such as Beth Moore, who have tried to empower people for resistance within conservative religious structures. Based on the interests of our participants, we may examine religious resistance outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition and outside the United States—looking to, for instance, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan and others who have resisted white supremacy through Islam, and Catholic traditions of liberation theology in Central and South America. We will attend primarily to historic figures, movements, and contexts, but our work will be informed by the scholars who have illuminated these religious rhetorics of resistance.

As we consider these leaders and movements, we are interested in how they marshal religious language, ideas, values, and traditions in resistance to dominant regimes. We ask, which religious narratives have served as resources for marginalized people? How have religious rhetorics allowed activists to form coalitions for social change? How have religious rhetorics circulated from religious spaces, such as churches, mosques, and revivals, through social movements, and into institutional politics?

We will devote most of the workshop to reading and discussing common scholarship and primary texts, and in our final session, we will workshop projects in process and consider opportunities for future collaborations.

Andre E. JohnsonAndre E. Johnson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Film at the University of Memphis. His research focuses on the intersection of rhetoric, race, and religion. Grounded in an interdisciplinary understanding of scholarship, Dr. Johnson studies African American public address and rhetorical criticism, prophetic rhetoric, and rhetorical theology along with political rhetoric, homiletics, critical race theory, and religious and hip-hop studies. Dr. Johnson is the author of  The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition (Lexington Books, 2012) the co-author (with Amanda Nell Edgar, Ph.D.) of  The Struggle Over Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter (Lexington Books, 2018), and the author of No Future in this Country: The Prophetic Pessimism of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner (University Press of Mississippi, 2020).

Kristy MadduxKristy Maddux is associate professor of Communication at the University of Maryland. Her research centers on questions of citizenship and democratic theory as they intersect with religion, gender, and race. She is the author of two books, Practicing Citizenship: Women’s Rhetoric at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (Penn State UP, 2019) and The Faithful Citizen: Popular Christian Media and Gendered Civic Identities (Baylor UP, 2010). Her essays have appeared in Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Rhetoric & Public Affairs, and Philosophy and Rhetoric, among other outlets.

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