In the introduction to this special section of Religion and Society, we discuss existing and potentially new intersections of border theories and religious studies in relation to two contested regions—US-Mexico and Israel-Palestine (as part of the history of the Levant)—respectively. We argue for a recentering of borderland studies through an analysis of political theologies, affective labor, and differing configurations of religious heritage, traces, and materiality. We thus define 'borderlands' as translocal phenomena that emerge due to situated political/economic and affective junctures and that amplify not only translocal but also transnational prisms. To explore these issues, we put into dialogue studies on religion, borderlands, walls, and historical/contemporary conditions in the context of US-Mexico and Israel-Palestine borders. In particular, we argue for recentering analyses in light of intensifications of state control and growing militarization in contested areas.
Materialities, Histories, and the Spatialization of State Sovereignty
Valentina Napolitano, Nimrod Luz, and Nurit Stadler
“Ashgate Studies in Pilgrimage” Series
New Book Series: “Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics”
Website for New Books in Religion
Following Ann Stoler's analysis of 'imperial debris' and Gastón Gordillo's notion of the 'void', this article examines how, in the context of the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848, imperial and religious impulses have endured from the mid-nineteenth century to the present at the US-Mexico border. Using photographs taken at different 'sites of memory' located along the 60-mile corridor that connects Las Cruces, New Mexico, with El Paso, Texas, this analysis demonstrates that the continuing American occupation of Mexican lands has contributed to the oblique inclusion and parallel exclusion or erasure of the historical presence of the Mexican community, as well as its political, cultural, and historical legitimacy in the region. However, the essay argues that ultimately the 'voidable' status of the American presence in the US-Mexico border region continues to reproduce itself. The article closes with a series of photographs of churches that capture religious landscapes that manifest, challenge, and transcend the occupied borderlands through the materiality of their presence.
Archaeology, Ritual, and Religion
This article is an introduction to the emerging sub-discipline of the archaeology of ritual and religion. It addresses the question of how archaeologists can approach these fields: what are the challenges and opportunities? Using theory and methodology, ritual and religion are explored in the archaeological record by means of so-called framing, and an interpretation is attempted through analogy and 'ethos'. Selected Neolithic sites from the Near East that have yielded rich and important data regarding ritual and religion serve as examples.
Gustavo Benavides, Thomas J. Coleman III, Ralph W. Hood Jr., Richard Sosis, and Ann Taves
As the first invitee to this portrait section trained as a scholar of religion and situated in a department of religious studies, I was interested to see how previous scholars trained in anthropology and sociology positioned themselves in relation to ‘religion’ as an object of study. It seems we all do so gingerly. Although my graduate work was in the history of Christianity with a focus on American religious history, since the early 1990s I have self-consciously positioned my historical research in an interdisciplinary space between psychiatry, anthropology, and religious studies in order to explore the contestations surrounding unusual experiences. During the last decade, I have been identifying myself less as a historian and more as an interdisciplinary scholar attempting to bring both humanistic and cognitive social scientific methods to the study of historical experiences and events. From this vantage point, I would argue, as Maurice Bloch (2010) did in the first volume of this journal, that ‘religion’ is not a natural kind but a complex cultural concept and that a theory of religion per se is impossible.
Religious Leaders and Secular Borders in the Colonial Levant
Alexander D. M. Henley
The colonial view of Levantine society as a mosaic of religions established lasting precedents for communal self-governance and power sharing in modern states. Yet it ironically disguises the extent to which the region's religious geography was reimagined by colonial rule. Principles of religious freedom and minority rights combined with a perception of 'oriental religions' to create a unique and powerful place for religious leaders to govern. The borders that would define national societies in Palestine-Israel, Lebanon, and Syria also remade the boundaries by which the religious mosaic was structured. This article will highlight institutional change in the Maronite Christian and Sunni Muslim communities, showing how each reformulated its religious leadership in response to the creation and enforcement of Lebanon's borders with Palestine and Syria from 1920 to 1948. The 'traditional' religious leaderships of today are in no small part products of the same colonial 'lines in the sand' within which nations were formed.
Religious Pluralism in the City of Tijuana
Alberto Hernández and Amalia Campos-Delgado
A double referent connoting both movement and immobility, the border region has been, for more than a century, the setting for those who come to stay, those who try to cross over into the United States, and, more recently, those who are deported from the US. Accordingly, the religious practices in this area flow along with the shifting populations and are transformed by them. From a socio-anthropological perspective, this article examines the main religious figures venerated in the city of Tijuana, located just south of the US-Mexico border, and the social contexts of their devotees, who have come from other parts of Mexico. This religious panorama does not display a homogeneous group of creeds, but rather reflects a variety of regional traditions in which religion is practiced and divine figures are revered.
Iconic Spaces, Territoriality, and Borders in Israel-Palestine
Nurit Stadler and Nimrod Luz
This article explores the role of sacred places and pilgrimage centers in the context of contemporary geopolitical strife and border disputes. Following and expanding on the growing body of literature engaged with the contested nature of the sacred, this article argues that sacred sites are becoming more influential in processes of determining physical borders. We scrutinize this phenomenon through the prism of a small parcel of land on the two sides of the Separation Wall that is being constructed between Israel and Palestine. Our analysis focuses on two holy shrines that are dedicated to devotional mothers: the traditional Tomb of Rachel the Matriarch on the way to Bethlehem and Our Lady of the Wall, an emergent Christian site constructed as a reaction to the Wall. We examine the architectural (and material) phenomenology, the experience, and the implications that characterize these two adjacent spatialities, showing how these sites are being used as political tools by various actors to challenge the political, social, and geographical order.
Olive Pickers in Palestine
This article focuses on the way in which olive-picking volunteers in Palestine become transformed into 'accidental pilgrims', and unconventional ones at that, by virtue of their participation in the olive harvest. Undergoing the difficulties of mobility that constrain the Palestinians and witnessing holy sites through the eyes and narratives of Palestinian guides, they are exposed to an alternative knowledge and affect regarding the Holy Land, unlike the experience offered by more conventional religious pilgrimage. Several vignettes reflect the diverse backgrounds of olive-picking pilgrims, who come from many different religions, class positions, and nationalities. Drawn together in a communitas of sorts through their shared commitment to learning about Palestine, they try to do what they can to further the Palestinian cause on their return home. Instead of a 'moral geography', they perceive a profoundly 'immoral geography' of occupation and oppression, which has a powerful transformative effect.
The articles in this special section focus on diverse groups of pilgrims, with each group expressing a different perspective on the Holy Land. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to state that each of these groups, together with their guides, constructs a different Holy Land, resulting in multiple Holy Lands. What exactly is it that makes a land holy? I suggest that we view religion as a social and individual endeavor to interpret experience in ways that are perceived to be meaningful, and as an effort to overcome the isolation of the self through connections with persons, values, and communities that are perceived to elevate, empower, and transcend the individual. From this perspective, places—lands—become holy through their associations with such overarching ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson 1983). Conflict has the potential to arise when the same geographic space is symbolically central for more than one such community. The articles in this section evoke the contestation of meanings as Christians—both Catholic and Protestant—as well as Jews and Muslims visit and dwell within the same territorial space, considered by all, for different reasons, to be ‘holy’.