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Universal Burdens : Stories of (Un)Freedom from the Unitarian Universalist Association, The MOVE Organization, and Taqwacore

Fiscella, Anthony LU (2015) In Lund Studies in History of Religion 36.
Abstract (Swedish)
Popular Abstract in English

Universal Burdens



There are Zen students who are in chains when they go to a teacher, and the teacher adds another chain. The students are delighted, unable to discern one thing from another. This is called 'a guest looking at a guest.'

-Linji



What do Zen master Linji, Muslim scholar ‘Abbād ibn Sulaymān, and Comanche thinker Parra-Wa-Samen have in common? Among many other things, they share the fact that they are all excluded from the reigning conversations within academia about what “freedom” is, how it can be understood, and how it ought to be applied in the world. They share that place of exclusion with the vast majority of the world. The sword... (More)
Popular Abstract in English

Universal Burdens



There are Zen students who are in chains when they go to a teacher, and the teacher adds another chain. The students are delighted, unable to discern one thing from another. This is called 'a guest looking at a guest.'

-Linji



What do Zen master Linji, Muslim scholar ‘Abbād ibn Sulaymān, and Comanche thinker Parra-Wa-Samen have in common? Among many other things, they share the fact that they are all excluded from the reigning conversations within academia about what “freedom” is, how it can be understood, and how it ought to be applied in the world. They share that place of exclusion with the vast majority of the world. The sword of colonialism continues to strike today from the oil fields of the Middle East to the literature on our shelves. This dissertation aims to begin a conversation about that exclusion and how we might begin to undo some of the massive violence that much of the world is subject to every day.

To these ends, this study examines some of the central texts and practices within three contemporary contexts in the United States (the Unitarian Universalist Association, the MOVE Organization, and taqwacore) and shares some ideas, concerns, and stories from those contexts in order to imagine what inclusive conversations about "freedom" might look like. Transcending the false binary between "freedom" and "unfreedom," the term (un)freedom is used to frame conversations that both clarify what is actually being discussed and also welcome voices from traditions and peoples that have previously been excluded.



The burdens will always be heavy,

The sunshine fade into night,

Till mercy and justice shall cement

The black, the brown and the white.

-Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (Less)
Abstract
Zen Buddhists have long given the following advice to attain liberation: “Eat when you’re hungry. Sleep when you’re tired.” In other words: “Freedom” is the “knowledge of necessity” (Hegel, Marx, and Engels). Early Islamic communities dealt with the challenge of internal warfare and tyranny and concluded that, “sixty years of tyranny is better than one day’s anarchy.” In other words, the worst-case scenario is a war “of every man against every man,” (Thomas Hobbes) and all theories of statecraft are built upon that premise. Ever since the dawn of colonialism, indigenous peoples have been struggling for self-determination. Many, such as Comanche thinker Parra-Wa-Samen, lived and died for the right to move across a land without state or... (More)
Zen Buddhists have long given the following advice to attain liberation: “Eat when you’re hungry. Sleep when you’re tired.” In other words: “Freedom” is the “knowledge of necessity” (Hegel, Marx, and Engels). Early Islamic communities dealt with the challenge of internal warfare and tyranny and concluded that, “sixty years of tyranny is better than one day’s anarchy.” In other words, the worst-case scenario is a war “of every man against every man,” (Thomas Hobbes) and all theories of statecraft are built upon that premise. Ever since the dawn of colonialism, indigenous peoples have been struggling for self-determination. Many, such as Comanche thinker Parra-Wa-Samen, lived and died for the right to move across a land without state or borders. In other words, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” (Patrick Henry).

How is it then that an English textbook could possibly focus on “freedom” as a universal value and simultaneously exclude all non-European traditions and perspectives? Why should conversations about “freedom” begin with Hegel, Hobbes, and Henry rather than the earlier examples of Zen, Islam, and indigenous peoples? If “freedom” concerns everybody then do not the conversations in academia about “freedom” by scholars (as well as rising economists, planners, and politicians) affect everybody? If democratic inclusivity entails the demand that all people affected by decisions are to be included in those very decision-making processes then contemporary academia has a problem when talking about “freedom.” In selling the term “freedom” as a universally applicable but uniquely European (and sacrosanct) idea most of the planet has been excluded from these conversations. This means that control over the idea and how it is interpreted has been determined by a very narrow range of persons, from the mid-1600s to mid-1900s: almost exclusively white, male, heterosexual, property-owning, able-bodied, and, not uncommonly, racist.

This thesis argues that the problem goes deeper than white supremacy and patriarchy and cannot be resolved with quota systems to ensure inclusion on the basis of race or gender. Instead, the problem is two-fold: (1) dominant conceptions of “freedom,” as the opposite of “slavery,” “tyranny,” or “constraint,” are seen here as bound to a mentality and language of domination, and (2) “freedom,” as a central value in social orders, perpetuates white supremacy and patriarchy. Focus on “freedom” contra “unfreedom” obscures, disguises, or denies those “unfreedoms” upon which “freedom” is necessarily bound. Once those “unfreedoms” are exposed or recognized (whether violence, obligation, responsibility, dependency and interdependency, equality and inequality, needs, justice, limitations, etc.) the conversations about “freedom” can be spoken in a language that all cultures can understand in order to participate as equal parties.

Toward these ends, this dissertation engages in stories from three contemporary empirical contexts in the U.S.: the Unitarian Universalist Association, the MOVE Organization, and taqwacore. Through a blend of text analysis, ethnography, storytelling, and personal experience, the purpose of this thesis is to imagine what more inclusive conversations might look like. Using the term (un)freedom to transcend the false binary of “freedom” and “unfreedom,” three potential types of (un)freedom are conceived to further the aim of democratic inclusivity: Negotiating the Limits of Language, Shouldering Incalculable Responsibility in Community, and Feeling an Obligation to Challenge Injustice. (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
supervisor
opponent
  • Professor Pinn, Anthony, Rice University, Houston, USA
organization
publishing date
type
Thesis
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Unitarian Universalist Association, Decolonialism, Inclusivity, Democracy, Human rights, (Un)Freedom, Unfreedom, Freedom, Liberation, Liberty, UUA, MOVE Organization, Philadelphia, Virginia, Taqwacore, Critical Religion Theory, History of religion, Islam, American Muslims, Anarchism, Anarchists, Punk rock, Hardcore, Social Movements, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Zen, Imperialism, Cognitive dissonance, Racism, Indigenous peoples, First Nations, Colonialism, Critical pedagogy, Critical race studies
in
Lund Studies in History of Religion
volume
36
pages
471 pages
publisher
Lund University
defense location
Sal C126, LUX, Helgonavägen 3, Lund
defense date
2015-12-11 13:15
ISSN
1103-4882
ISBN
978-91-87833-55-7
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
6b8a2d4e-410a-452a-8862-1d2b5ffe0c28 (old id 8147548)
date added to LUP
2015-11-03 16:15:57
date last changed
2016-09-19 08:44:51
@phdthesis{6b8a2d4e-410a-452a-8862-1d2b5ffe0c28,
  abstract     = {Zen Buddhists have long given the following advice to attain liberation: “Eat when you’re hungry. Sleep when you’re tired.” In other words: “Freedom” is the “knowledge of necessity” (Hegel, Marx, and Engels). Early Islamic communities dealt with the challenge of internal warfare and tyranny and concluded that, “sixty years of tyranny is better than one day’s anarchy.” In other words, the worst-case scenario is a war “of every man against every man,” (Thomas Hobbes) and all theories of statecraft are built upon that premise. Ever since the dawn of colonialism, indigenous peoples have been struggling for self-determination. Many, such as Comanche thinker Parra-Wa-Samen, lived and died for the right to move across a land without state or borders. In other words, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” (Patrick Henry).<br/><br>
How is it then that an English textbook could possibly focus on “freedom” as a universal value and simultaneously exclude all non-European traditions and perspectives? Why should conversations about “freedom” begin with Hegel, Hobbes, and Henry rather than the earlier examples of Zen, Islam, and indigenous peoples? If “freedom” concerns everybody then do not the conversations in academia about “freedom” by scholars (as well as rising economists, planners, and politicians) affect everybody? If democratic inclusivity entails the demand that all people affected by decisions are to be included in those very decision-making processes then contemporary academia has a problem when talking about “freedom.” In selling the term “freedom” as a universally applicable but uniquely European (and sacrosanct) idea most of the planet has been excluded from these conversations. This means that control over the idea and how it is interpreted has been determined by a very narrow range of persons, from the mid-1600s to mid-1900s: almost exclusively white, male, heterosexual, property-owning, able-bodied, and, not uncommonly, racist. <br/><br>
This thesis argues that the problem goes deeper than white supremacy and patriarchy and cannot be resolved with quota systems to ensure inclusion on the basis of race or gender. Instead, the problem is two-fold: (1) dominant conceptions of “freedom,” as the opposite of “slavery,” “tyranny,” or “constraint,” are seen here as bound to a mentality and language of domination, and (2) “freedom,” as a central value in social orders, perpetuates white supremacy and patriarchy. Focus on “freedom” contra “unfreedom” obscures, disguises, or denies those “unfreedoms” upon which “freedom” is necessarily bound. Once those “unfreedoms” are exposed or recognized (whether violence, obligation, responsibility, dependency and interdependency, equality and inequality, needs, justice, limitations, etc.) the conversations about “freedom” can be spoken in a language that all cultures can understand in order to participate as equal parties. <br/><br>
Toward these ends, this dissertation engages in stories from three contemporary empirical contexts in the U.S.: the Unitarian Universalist Association, the MOVE Organization, and taqwacore. Through a blend of text analysis, ethnography, storytelling, and personal experience, the purpose of this thesis is to imagine what more inclusive conversations might look like. Using the term (un)freedom to transcend the false binary of “freedom” and “unfreedom,” three potential types of (un)freedom are conceived to further the aim of democratic inclusivity: Negotiating the Limits of Language, Shouldering Incalculable Responsibility in Community, and Feeling an Obligation to Challenge Injustice.},
  author       = {Fiscella, Anthony},
  isbn         = {978-91-87833-55-7},
  issn         = {1103-4882},
  keyword      = {Unitarian Universalist Association,Decolonialism,Inclusivity,Democracy,Human rights,(Un)Freedom,Unfreedom,Freedom,Liberation,Liberty,UUA,MOVE Organization,Philadelphia,Virginia,Taqwacore,Critical Religion Theory,History of religion,Islam,American Muslims,Anarchism,Anarchists,Punk rock,Hardcore,Social Movements,Frances Ellen Watkins Harper,Jiddu Krishnamurti,Zen,Imperialism,Cognitive dissonance,Racism,Indigenous peoples,First Nations,Colonialism,Critical pedagogy,Critical race studies},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {471},
  publisher    = {Lund University},
  school       = {Lund University},
  series       = {Lund Studies in History of Religion},
  title        = {Universal Burdens : Stories of (Un)Freedom from the Unitarian Universalist Association, The MOVE Organization, and Taqwacore},
  volume       = {36},
  year         = {2015},
}