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2006 E. James Holland University Symposium on American Values

Religion and Political Extremism in American Society

No doubt many of us have been taught to avoid religion and politics as topics of conversation for fear of offending and alienating our friends. We are so emotional about our convictions that when they are challenged we become defensive and sometimes even hostile.

By joining the topics of religion and political extremism, this year's Symposium goes where, perhaps, even angels would fear to tread. But religion is so prominent in American politics today and so integral to the political extremism fueling terrorism that it would seem irresponsible not to explore the subject.

It is safe to say that religion is itself an American value. Since 1630 when John Winthrop referred to his Puritan colony in the New World as "a City upon a Hill," America has, to a large extent, envisioned its mission to the world in religious terms. Almost 400 years later, 86% of Americans still claim some religious identity, with only 14% claiming to have no religion (Statistical Abstracts of the United States, 2001).

But the role that religion plays and should play in civic life is more controversial. Many Americans question the appropriateness of get-out-the-vote sermons delivered from tax-exempt pulpits. While both major U.S. political parties now court believers, the so-called "culture wars" that divide the United States into red and blue states are often interpreted in religious terms, cast as a conflict between "traditional [Judeo-Christian] values" and secular modernism. Some mainstream religious denominations today face major crises of identity as they struggle with social issues like abortion and homosexuality. These crises expose fractures in the American identity itself.

A connection between religion and political extremism is undeniable. A few religious leaders declared the September 11 attacks to be a divine judgment on the nation for national "sins." While this assertion is hotly debated, experts on terrorism seem to agree that religious fervor fuels today's conflict.

Religion is seen by some as essential to America's political identity and survival, by others as a threat. Is religiously motivated politics a danger, or the means to purification and renaissance? Does fanaticism inherently produce conflict and violence? How can varying perceptions of religion's role in public policy be reconciled or clarified? As globalization impinges on American values, what role does and should religion play?

The 2006 E. James Holland University Symposium, "Religion and Political Extremism in American Society," brings two renowned speakers-Dr. Scott Appleby and Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan-to the ASU campus to address these and other questions.

Distinguished Speakers

Scott Appleby is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, where he also serves as the John M. Regan, Jr. Director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. From 1994 to 2002 Appleby directed Notre Dame's Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. Appleby is the author of Church and Age Unite! The Modernist Impulse in American Catholicism (Notre Dame, 1992) and The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence and Reconciliation (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000); and co-author, with Gabriel Almond and Emmanuel Sivan, of Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms Around the World ( Chicago, 2003). Appleby is also the editor of Spokesmen for the Despised: Fundamentalist Leaders of the Middle East (1997) and the co-editor, with Martin E. Marty, of the University of Chicago Press series on global fundamentalisms, which won the American Academy of Religion's Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion. A consultant for the PBS film and NPR radio series on the topic, Appleby co-authored the companion book, The Glory and the Power: The Fundamentalist Challenge to the Modern World.

Dr. Appleby's address to the 2006 ASU Symposium is entitled "Extremism: A Modern Mode of Religious Survival?" Dr. Appleby's address will offer definitions of religious extremism and consider aspects of modernity that "ignite" it. What do religious extremists want? How do they propose to get it? Who should worry about such extremism and why? How might policymakers respond to the expansion and threats posed by religious extremism?

Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan, author of Religious Resurgence and Political Violence ( Columbia, forthcoming 2006), has organized three international conferences and serves on the editorial board of Terrorism and Political Violence, a journal which explores the political meaning and religious motivation of terrorism. Dr. Kaplan, associate professor of religion at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, teaches courses in American Radicalism, Terrorism and Religious Violence in Global Perspective, and Radical Religion in America. Having lived in Bulgaria, Iran, Pakistan, Czechoslovakia, Sudan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and the West Bank, he brings a truly global experience and perspective to bear on the topic of religion and political violence. He has published dozens of articles and has written or edited eleven books, including Millennial Violence: Past, Present, and Future (Frank Cass & Co., 2002) and Radical Religion in America ( Syracuse, 1997)

Dr. Kaplan's address to the 2006 ASU Symposium, "Religious Extremists and Oppositional Subcultures in the Age of Globalization," will focus on the religious subcultures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and address a range of issues related to the religious motivations of political violence. Is there a profile of the religious extremist? Are extremists invariably violent? How has the internet spread religious extremism and fostered the growth of violent subcultures? How do public policies contribute to the growth of such groups? Can bridges be built between mainstream society and religious extremists?

E. James Holland and The History of The Symposium

By special action of the Board of Regents of the The Texas State University System in 2003, the ASU Symposium was renamed the E. James Holland University Symposium on American Values in honor of the retired Dean of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, who established the annual event in 1984.

During his 36 years at ASU, Holland served the university as Professor of Government and Head of the Government Department, Director of Curriculum Development, Associate VP for Academic Affairs, and Dean of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts. With degrees from Southwestern University, Yale Divinity School, and The American University in Washington, D.C., Holland was instrumental in developing the university's international student and faculty exchange program and in establishing new degree programs in international studies, communications, studio arts, and criminal justice.

Holland is an active member of the San Angelo community, serving as president of Adult Day Care, Concho Educators Federal Credit Union, and United Campus Ministries and as a member of the Ancillary Manpower Planning Board of the Concho Valley Council of Government. He is active in St. Luke's United Methodist Church, where he chaired the Administrative Board of the Finance Committee.

Since its inception, the Symposium has brought more than 50 nationally prominent scholars, academicians, and policy-makers to the ASU campus to provoke thought and discussion on a wide range of themes. A collaboration of students, faculty members, and administrators, the Symposium is dedicated to improving the overall academic environment of the University and committed to exploring the national character as expressed in issues related to American values.

The two-day Symposium, sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, is the central event in a broader program of related activities, including class visits by the featured presenters, a video production of the Symposium itself, and a creative contest with cash awards for students.

Presentation Schedule

October 30, 2006
1:45 p.m.
Dr. Scott Appleby - "Extremism: A Modern Mode of Religious Survival?"
C.J. Davidson Conference Center, [UC]

October 31, 2006
2:00 p.m.
Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan - "Religious Extremists and Oppositional Subcultures in the Age of Globalization"
C.J. Davidson Conference Center, [UC]

Panel Discussion

October 31, 2006
7:30 p.m.
Moderator: Dr. Jamal Husein
Panelists: Dr. Appleby and Dr. Kaplan
C.J. Davidson Conference Center, [UC]

All sessions are free.