Announcing a CMRC Conference
Fire on the Mountain: Media, Religion, and Nationalism
The Center for Media, Religion, and Culture
University of Colorado Boulder
January 10-13, 2024
The title of this conference is not a mere play on words or a dramatic ploy to get your attention. Nor is a reference to the threat of fire looming far and near just a convenient metaphor to think with. There is indeed fire on the mountain and its billowing smoke is visible everywhere. Nationalism pervades our lived imaginaries. It is a fire kindled by the ambers of hardened racial identities, cultural fundamentalisms, religious extremism, and deep political polarization. Consider the nostalgic chorus of Trump’s Make America Great Again and its racial and religious overtones, the spectacular display of white Christian nationalism during the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the far-right messianism of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and its slogan to defend God, Country, and Family, the triumph of Christian nationalist parties in Poland and Hungary and their xenophobic campaigns against refugees, the increasing persecution of religious minorities by Hindu nationalists in India, the intimate marriage between Brazil’s Bolsonaro’s populism and evangelical Christians, the Ottoman nostalgia and Islamic nationalism of Turkey’s Erdogan, the religious politics of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the crackdown on Muslims by Buddhist nationalist monks in Myanmar, the persistent Jewish nationalism of Israel in occupied Palestine, and the alliance of Russia’s Orthodox Church with Putin’s dark plans in the ongoing assault against Ukraine.
Nationalism has a deep history rooted in empire, territory, capitalism, globalization, race, ethnicity, language, culture, and religion, but its disturbing resurgence today prompts us to ask old and new questions about its sources, the reasons behind its appeal, its rhetorical devices, its mythological foundations, its storytellers, its mediations, its affects, and its futures. There may be nothing inherently or inevitably religious about nationalism, but a growing convergence of religion, national pride, and exclusionary identity politics, while not new, is generating arguably distinct media cultures centered on fermenting nationalist passions and buoyed by the sophisticated aesthetics and communicative power of a different media apparatus. We wonder, as Mark Juergensmeyer asks, “why have limited loyalties and parochial new forms of ethno-religious nationalism surfaced in todays’ sea of post-nationality?”, that is in a so-called ‘global world’ marked by mass migrations, travel, transnational networks, and ease of communication.
Religious nationalism today emerges in the context of a new media ecology, and we will ask how we can trace the saliency, follow the reproduction, and perhaps reveal the invisibility of this enduring ideology and its narratives given the nature and affordances of our pervasive and complex media environment. Put simply, this conference probes the intimate nexus between media, religion, and nationalism. In doing so, it also hopes to locate other pathways for the expression of national consciousness that is unburdened by the dualism of us and them and the toxic delirium of fetishized identity. In Wretched of the Earth, the Martinican philosopher and activist Frantz Fanon warned against a nationalism too constrained by the colonial logic of the Enlightenment and rooted in a racialized script of exclusion and border thinking that is endemic to nation building. Instead, he understood national consciousness as an emergent and expiring liberatory project that is fully committed to both the local and the transnational and a persistent effort to find a collective future grounded in the relational fecundity of difference, not the weaponized nostalgia of sameness. That call against replacing one imperial supremacy with another form of anxious supremacy should be a resonant plea at the heart of our global crisis today.
This will be the tenth in a series of successful international conferences held by the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture in Boulder. The previous meetings have brought together an interdisciplinary community of scholars for focused conversations on emerging issues in media and religion. Each has proven to be an important landmark in the development of theory and method in its respective area and has resulted in important collaborations, publications, and resources for further research and dialogue.
The conference will feature keynote lectures and roundtable conversations, as well as thematic panels and artistic performances. We invite papers and panels from across disciplines, intellectual traditions, and geographic locations that engage with these questions and beyond. Possible topics could include but are not limited to the following:
- Coloniality, imperialism, and religious nationalism
- Nationalism, race, ethnicity, gender, and religious identity
- Religious nationalism, media, and political theology
- The global rise of right-wing populism, religion, and media
- Counter-discourses of sovereignty and self-determination
- Decolonial critiques in the study of religion, media, and nationalism
- Nation, nationalism, and globalization
- Secular nationalism “versus” religious nationalism
- Religion, nationalism, and social media
- Religious nationalism, journalism, conspiracy theories, and disinformation
- Religion, nationalism, and transnational networks
Abstracts of individual papers and panels of 300-350 words should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 10, 2023. Please include your email address and university affiliation in your submission.
For questions, email CMRC Director Nabil Echchaibi <email@example.com> or Associate Director Deborah Whitehead <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Conference as Glitch
Since the beginning of the pandemic, our Center has been focused through its weekly seminar on reading about crisis and urgency, repair and abolition, hope and resilience. We heard from scholars who asked, “why we write and for whom” and listened to artists and activists plead to slow things down, to renew with the bliss of coalition, and to challenge our habits of assembly. In the spirit of the call not only to notice the fire on the mountain and with the sensibility of generous fellowship, we would like to extend a similar invitation to the participants of this conference.
Do we just pretend like nothing happened and continue business as usual now that the ugliness has been covered again? Do we simply return to the safety and privilege of our isolated towers and pass up a unique opportunity to turn our gathering into a real occasion for transformative possibility? Do we resign to the intellectual gratification of our academic conversations and remain haunted by the inaudibility of our ideas beyond the walls of our extravagant hotels and convention centers?
We invite you to think with us, to rehearse together, how we can remedy the study space and scope of the Conference beyond the neoliberal jingles of speed, relevance, visibility, and publicity, how we can refuse the institutional tameness of our gatherings to air out the real gasps behind our intellectual commitments, and how we can defy the lure of the temporary fix in favor of remaking the world anew. What is the point of conferencing in the wake of catastrophe? We must dare to ask: what do we want from this conference? What do we want from us? The world screams for radical departures, for gatherings that match the chaos of the times.
This is not a nostalgic plea to return to some glorious past of the academic conference. This is a gentle chorus to find that elusive symphony of being ‘really’ and ‘deeply’ together for the sake of something that far exceeds our intellectual ecstasy and is radical enough to justify the environmental folly of our costly travels. “There is fire on the mountain” is not a pretty slogan. It is an invitation to go off script together.