What We Can Learn from America’s Other Muslim Ban (Back in 1918)

President Trump’s January 27th Executive Order attempted to ban the entry of nationals from seven Middle Eastern countries and suspended the resettlement of refugees unless they are “persecuted religious minorities,” a terminology that is itself selectively deployed to refer to Middle Eastern non-Muslims in general, and Christians in particular. This policy has correctly been understood as part of Trump’s campaign promise to create a ban on Muslim travel to the United States; the order is currently facing legal challenge in 9th District Federal Court. As a scholar of Middle Eastern migration, I am stunned by this administration’s unwillingness to engage the expertise of refugee resettlement … [Read more...]

How Los Angeles Helped Make the U.S. an Evangelical Nation

Carey McWilliams once called Louis Adamic Los Angeles’ greatest “prophet, sociologist and historian” of the 1920s. Adamic loved California not so much because of the famed climate, though that certainly didn’t hurt, but more because he found it a source of endless entertainment and absorption, and not always toward the good. “Actually, and in spite of all the healthful sunshine and ocean breezes, it is a bad place ... full of curious and wild and poisonous growths.” For the skeptical Adamic, “decadent religions and cults” served as warning of such perils. “Hardly a day passed … that I was not stopped in the street and handed a religious tract,” he noted. L.A. might be “the essence of … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: John Brooke on Joseph Smith, Alchemy, & the Longue Durée

I entered my first semester of graduate school with supreme overconfidence. It was August 2001, three weeks before the terrorist attacks of September 11. I had just graduated from a tiny liberal arts college in central Illinois in May. The school was initially founded by self-exiled Kentucky abolitionists around 1848, at a time of antebellum experimentation. At this little campus with historic red-brick buildings dating back to the 1850s, I had gotten used to being a big fish in a little pond: out of fewer than 500 students, I was one of three honors graduates that year. I worked in the college archives. I knew a lot of history. I thought I was good. Grad school changed all that. All of a … [Read more...]

10911 Michael Hunt Drive

After my home, Epiphany is the place that looms largest in my South El Monte life. It was where I attended elementary school, walking home with my sisters after school in our saddle shoes and plaid jumpers, me carrying my backpack over just one shoulder so as not to look like a nerd. It was the church where we went to Mass every Sunday and where I received my first Holy Communion and my first Reconciliation in a tiny room with shaggy carpet on the walls.  It was where I went to Confirmation classes for two years during my freshman and sophomore years, before being confirmed by Cardinal Roger Mahoney and choosing an obscure saint’s name because I needed to be different from all the Agnes’s … [Read more...]

The Rebellion against the Mission of the Saintly Prince the Archangel, San Gabriel of the Temblors, 1785

Standing on the western edge of the city of South El Monte, where the shoe factories and shipping centers, and warehouses of Rush Street dead end at the Whittier Narrows Rec Area, one is roughly midway between the two sites of Mission San Gabriel. To the north is the better-known location on the Camino Real de California, the royal road that is today Highway 101 and more than one city’s “Mission Road.” The well-preserved stone and adobe mission, its famous capped buttresses and tall, narrow windows evincing the impression Moorish architecture had left in the minds of its architects. To the south, at the intersection of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue near the Bosque del Rio Hondo, a … [Read more...]

The Process of Belief?: Evolution, Creationism, and “Truth”

I didn’t watch the debate about evolution and creationism between science educator Bill Nye and creationist Ken Ham this past Monday, but I have had a few general thoughts about this topic lately as this seems to have stirred up a necessary conversation about the nature of science. Science is not a belief system.  People mistakenly say that they believe in evolution but that is not an appropriate way to phrase it.  We think that evolution provides the best explanation for the data we currently have on the diversity of life. It is an intellectual process that should be based entirely on what we can observe or measure.  Of course, scientists are people too so they make mistakes in … [Read more...]

Toypurina: A Legend Etched in the Landscape

Nestled within communities on either side of El Monte, two vibrant works of public art commemorate the life and the legend of Toypurina. In East Los Angeles, a 60-by-20-foot mural in the neighborhood of Boyle Heights adorns the main wall of Ramona Gardens; a large and well-known public housing complex historically tenanted by Latino families. At the center of the mural, the striking face of a youthful indigenous woman commands all attention. Around her, in technicolor, all the vitality of the Ramona Gardens community is depicted; from its children enjoying the recently established library, to the lively sporting activities of the community’s many young residents. Toypurina, the woman holding … [Read more...]

3 Poems by Zinaïda Gippius

Zinaïda Gippius (1869–1945) was a leading and founding figure of Russian Symbolism, the dominant literary and cultural movement in the country from around 1890 to 1910. She was a prolific poet, playwright, and critic who also played an important organizational role in the religious, philosophical, and literary societies of St. Petersburg. She and her husband, the Symbolist writer and theorist Dmitry Merezhkovsky (1866–1941), are sometimes described as the most important and powerful tandem in Russian literature. Personal spiritual experience informs much of Gippius’s work, and the general Symbolist preoccupation with religious philosophy and mysticism was one she certainly shared and helped … [Read more...]

Fracturing Catholics: Big Idea Books, Daniel Rodgers, and the Fragmenting Catholic Church

Rooney (Kevin Dillon): [Standing in line for confession] Hey, Williams, you got your list? Williams (Stephen Geoffreys): Oh, yeah. Rooney: Let's have a look. [Reading Williams' list] Rooney: Jesus! You got here you jerked off 168 times? And it's been one month since your last confession? That's an average of... Williams: 5.6 times a day. Rooney: Oh, my God, you can't tell him that. He'll cut your balls off. - From the 1985 movie Heaven Help Us For anyone who did time in Catholic school, speeches on the peril of wayward adolescent sexuality probably echo in the subconscious even as some of us move rapidly toward our late thirties.  “There is a beast living in each and everyone of you,” … [Read more...]

Intimate Citizenship: The Influence of Marriage, Sexuality, and Transience on National Membership

In Spike Lee’s 2006 crime drama, Inside Man, a mysterious group of robbers with an apparent political agenda hijack a downtown NYC bank holding dozens of employees and customers hostage. Though the movie focuses primarily on the travails of embattled NYPD police detective Keith Frazer (Denzel Washington), Lee delivers a movie that encapsulates the stunning diversity of New York.  Even minor characters with small moments provide useful insights into the various racial, ethnic, and religious conflicts and tensions that embody twenty first century urban life. In particular, Lee’s treatment of Sikh American cab driver, Vikram Walia (Waris Ahluwalia) illuminates the ambivalent place of South … [Read more...]