Nothing New Under the Sun

Note: The following is an essay originally written for Professor Michael Pasquier’s Reli 3010 (Religion in the Americas) class during the Spring 2010 semester. Date of creation: March 12, 2010. If referring to this essay academically, please remember to make the appropriate citations so as to avoid running afoul of your institution’s plagiarism policy.


Ecclesiastes 1:9 – “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”


There are many aspects of the folk religious tales of Southern, rural African Americans of the early 20th Century that are similar to the beliefs and preoccupations of the apocalypse-obsessed Puritans of the New World colonies in the 17th Century, while there are other aspects which are wholly different. What is most interesting about the ties between these two Christian but sharply dissimilar worldviews (for instance, the Puritans were highly concerned with meteorological issues and not only the bearing that they had on earthly affairs, but what was occurring on the invisible plane that caused such manifestations), however, is that both contain aspects of much older belief systems. While the layman’s conception of a Puritan is likely to invoke images of anti-mystic hysteria and lives of quiet solemnity, neither view is entirely true or untrue. In fact, there was often condemnation of the occult, while the same sources refer to “mystic forces emanating from the stars and planets” (Hackett 31) as inerrable founts of knowledge, and “no one viewed these systems as in contradiction with each other” (35). Inextricably linked to their understanding of the universe: the chaos of the outer world was a result of man’s sinfulness, and the movement of the cosmos was a reflection of that same imperfection, and the outer world as the manifestation of a (usually) invisible battle between good and evil. These beliefs are nominally linked to a Hellenic or Hellenic-derived worldview, particularly the parable of the Platonic Cave. Strangely lacking in these narratives, however, is the mortal link to the divine; while there were circulating stories of horrific creatures and monster births, the players in them are not the archetypical heroes of the Greco-Roman mythos, but merely reactors and faceless fodder for the projections of horrified Puritans. This absence is not found in the narratives of the descendants of slaves; if they are not of the mold of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So” stories, i.e., they explain why some natural, usually fauna related, phenomena exists, then they involve the interaction of an archetypical hero with, if not the divine, usually the supernatural or unusual. In this way, African American narratives reflect a very African origin, while inheriting from the Christian lens through which it is viewed the archetypical heroes exemplified by Mediterranean mythologies.

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All Saints

Brenda Marie Osbey. Photo Courtesy of www.osbey.com.
Brenda Marie Osbey. Photo Courtesy of http://www.osbey.com.

Note: The following is a reader’s response to Brenda Marie Osbey’s All Saints, written for Professor Michael Pasquier’s Reli 3010 (Religion in the Americas) class during the Spring 2010 semester. Date of creation: April 18, 2010. I was lucky enough to have taken a class with Osbey when she was a professor at LSU, while she was still the poet laureate of the state. I would be more than happy to answer any questions about her which I can in the comments section.

Brenda Marie Osbey’s book of poems, All Saints, paints an interesting picture of the spiritual life of the African Americans of New Orleans in the wake of the captivity and diaspora of the American Antebellum era, and how, even after the Civil War, their lot failed to improve significantly for some time, and the role of Christianity, and especially Catholicism, in the reconstruction of a psyche of a people imprisoned. Aspects of Protestantism are made apparent, particularly the widespread saturation of “Lost Cause” sympathies and ideologies, but fail to take root as strongly as the ritualism of Catholicism, which, concerned as it was with veneration, appealed to the spiritual and animistic beliefs of the African homeland. Catholicism was further ingrained because its saint-oriented worship allowed for Christ to become a secondary figure in his religion, allowing common spiritual focus to shift to a more ancestor-oriented worldview; the idea of a delivering messiah who has already come unsurprisingly fails to inspire those who are still captive. The openness of Catholicism also left the door open for the dominance of othopraxy over orthodoxy, as canonization becomes the purview of the common man, if only unofficially.

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Upon This Rockabilly

Poster for Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Courtesy of Shadow Distribution.
Poster for Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Courtesy of Shadow Distribution.

Note: The following is a response to the documentary film Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus, composed for Professor Michael Pasquier of the Louisiana State University’s Theology Department for his Reli 3010 class “Religion in the Americas,” during the 2010 Spring Semester.

What does Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus tell us about religion in the South? It is dominated by folk religion, as evidenced by the telling of “tall tales” and parables; it is inescapable; it is distrustful of the city; it permeates; and the sacred exists alongside the everyday, every day, in the smallest of moments. The South is a land where “every light pole is a cross, and every bridge has a little memorial,” and devotion appears innate.

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The Obsolescence of Nobility: An Insurmountable Obstacle in The Knight’s Tale

knight1Note: This post was originally created as an essay for Louisiana State University’s ENGL 4137 (Studies in Chaucer) course as taught by Professor Jesse Gellrich during the Fall 2009 semester. Use of all or part of any ideas contained herein should be cited per your institution’s guidelines, lest you face accusations of plagiarism.

“The medieval notion was… what choices [one] made in his will determined the character of every act. Hence the deepest reality of the pilgrimage was not at all a matter of horses or sights or places, but was in the heart of the individual pilgrim…. Seen this way, what the narrator of The Canterbury Tales remembers is central. He remembers the group itself, what each said, what tales each selected from the storehouse of his own memory” (Howard 162).

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The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (2029)

Note: This post was originally created as a mid-term paper for Religion 2029 as taught by Reem Meshal at Louisiana State University during the Fall 2009 semester. Use of all or part of any ideas contained herein should be cited per your institution’s guidelines, lest you face accusations of plagiarism.

The question being posited, “What role does man play in the creation of revelation?” is an important and vital one. How does one centralized piece of literature and mythology come into being, devoid of “extraneous” material (for instance, the removal of Lilith from the Talmud, or the deliberate excision of the Gospel of [the disciples of] Thomas from the Christian New Testament), ready for consumption by the masses? It has been said that the debate of the existance of a god is not a matter for academics, but for theologians, and while the logic of such a statement is highly debatable, that is not the topic of this essay; however, due to its relevance to the subject matter at hand, it must be discussed, albeit briefly.

Why Do People Worship? A response to Rebuilding the Temple: Cambodians in America

Note: The following is an essay originally written for Professor Michael Pasquier’s Reli 3010 (Religion in the Americas) class during the Spring 2010 semester. Date of creation: May 9, 2010. Published online July 12, 2010. If referring to this essay academically, please remember to make the appropriate citations so as to avoid running afoul of your institution’s plagiarism policy. I have misplaced my “works cited” information for this essay, and will edit this post with that data as soon as possible.

Why do people worship? To what aspect of human nature does it appeal? Ideologies and beliefs evolve and change over time; is this the hand of a god at work, or is this simply the manifestation of cultural drift, caught in a reciprocal relationship with the church? Questions arise when one closely studies religion and faith, but sometimes more importantly, it becomes apparent that inquiries such as these are irrelevant. What is relevant is interaction, not between man and his god, but between man and his church, and how this relationship informs his interactions with his church, his state, and his fellow man. “What is god?” is not important; “What does man perceive god to be?” is. Perhaps one of the most important things which religion has to offer is a shared culture. Christianity, in particular, has been praised for its inclusiveness and the manner in which it builds a new community, not based upon ethnicity or bloodline, but upon common ideals and beliefs; even denominationalism allows for smaller, more cohesive groups to form (it should be noted that, in the American South, this inclusiveness rarely extends to homosexuals, political liberals, or those who fail to conform to a social norm, although there is positive social change in this arena). What religion does is allow for communal groups to coalesce, allowing communities in diaspora to retain a unified culture which binds them together, even if their homeland is no longer extant, and new groups to form around new causes, when the old banners fall and humanity’s darker natures, warlust and enslavement, come to the fore.

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