From the very formation of this nation, religious freedom has been a fundamental aspect of the growth and prosperity of the United States and the people who make it up. All the different denominations and religions as a whole are something that I personally think makes the American Identity so special. Dr. Spencer McBride seemed to share the same sentiments through his most recent lecture at Chautauqua. Dr. McBride brought up Western New York specifically in regard to its vast religious diversity. He traced this back all the way to the 2nd Great Awakening in the 19th century when there was a dramatic migration to Western New York and rates of conversion skyrocketed, this is coined as the “Burned-over district.” As young people began to migrate to Western New York and its surrounding areas their families worried about the possibility of their faith being left behind as well. Thus, many missionaries of all different denominations were sent to this area in order to remind people of their faith. As Dr. McBride covered much more information, this is something that struck me. During my stay at Chautauqua, it has become obvious to me that the people here are very diverse religiously, given all of the different denominational houses throughout the institution. However, I have never once felt unwelcomed here which to me shows that diversity makes a community stronger as well as the American Identity in a much larger picture.
Sunday, July 8, 2018
After attending the first lecture Jalani Cobb’s gave at Chautauqua, I knew that I needed more. An amazing opportunity arose as Chautauqua offers what’s called a “Master’s Class” where a group of individuals are lucky enough to have a more intimate discussion with different speakers. Attending Cobb’s Master Class was a must, and I’m very happy with that decision.
In this smaller setting, Cobb turned the floor to a Q&A style discussion, being asked a question that led to a very intriguing response that I’m still thinking about days after. An individual asked Cobb, “What do you think of the fight to remove statues of confederate leaders such as Robert E. Lee?” to which Cobb answered with a story about a time he spent in Russia. You may be confused as to what Russia has to do with what’s going on with the United States of America regarding this topic, but the story that Cobb told was eye opening. Cobb told us about how in a museum in Russia, there were statues, monuments and portraits tossed on their side or purposely destroyed on the floor. Why? It was the purpose of those in charge of said museum to not completely erase the dark moments in their past, but to show that they occurred but were frowned upon by the people and the country. I thought that this response was interesting when bringing it back to Confederate statues that we hear so much about in media today. Why, as Cobb stated in his talk, “sanitize history?” We should acknowledge the mistakes from our past, we should show that we’ve learned from those actions and refuse to ever go down that road again. After this, I say, knock Robert E. Lee’s statue over, destroy it and leave the remains for all to see with a plaque that says something along the lines of “this is who we were, but not who we are nor who we will ever be again.”
The multiple times I got to hear Cobb speak were incredible. He is a man of respect of all sides, dignity and character. These traits show through not only in the lectures that he gave, but in his work as well. I thank Dr. Payne, St. Bonaventure University and the Chautauqua Institution for the opportunity to meet and learn from such an amazing person.
Jalani Cobb, a Professor at Columbia University and a staff writer at The New Yorker, came to Chautauqua to give one of the most informative and captivating lectures I’ve had the pleasure of attending. Cobb’s lecture focused on the surrounding theme of ‘American Identity’ and what that really means in today’s society.
Opening the lecture with the statement that our identity has leaned towards being about what we are as opposed to who we are, a distinction Cobb’s made well known to those in attendance was crucial in correcting the identity crisis our nation is has been and continues to go through. The individual “who,” according to Cobb’s, is imperative in understanding the larger “we”, referencing the first word of the Constitution.
One of the stories that Cobb’s shared that really resonated with me and I believe connected with the overarching theme of American Identity really well was one about a Muslim man on a plane. This occurrence happened shortly after 9/11 where tensions were at an all-time high regarding the Islamic community. Cobb’s stated that an olive-skinned man wearing cultural garments walked down the aisle of the plane receiving angry looks from those on board. Cobb shared that he also gave the man a few extra looks, but not for the same reasons that you may think. Cobb’s said that he looked at the man time and time again not because he was afraid as a result of the narrative that was being spread through the media, but because he recognized the man as one of the “best break dancers Queens, New York had ever seen” when he was a teenager. Although this statement drew some laughs from the audience, it really made me reflect on the larger picture. We mustn’t assume someone is a certain type of person based on what we hear, whether that be from our families or from society, we must take the time to appreciate each individual especially if they don’t look the same as us because that is what the American Identity, truly is. It is, as Cobb’s stated who we are that matters, not what we are.
Cobb’s overall message in understanding who we are as a means to achieve the end goal of what we are currently and what we are to become as a nation really made a lot of sense when looking at today’s politics. In order to achieve the American identity of not only one specific race, religion, economic class or social class but of a collective unit, we must acknowledge the differences in who we are and how those differences alter what we are to be as one of the greatest nations to ever be.
On July 3rd in Chautauqua Institution’s Hall of Philosophy, Colin Woodard described several settlement regions in American history, and how those settlement patterns still impact the heartbeat of America today.
Woodard argued that politics can be understood through looking at the historic regions, and that today there are two superpowers that have stood out: Yankeedom and the Deep South. The two struggles with the balance between individual liberty and the common good, and Woodard maintains that straying too far in either direction is a detriment to society. Although, as Woodard says, we are becoming more polarized as a nation due to people moving to live with like-minded people, we can potentially find a middle ground by recognizing that at the base of American politics, what we really want is to let the best idea win, ensure taxpayers are not being cheated, that wealth not be based on birth, but on merit, and that everyone has the chance to achieve their potential. So, then, our American identity can be about our unalienable rights given to us with the very document that declares we are American in the first place.
Rev. David Gushee gave his final sermon here at Chautauqua, titled “On Community.” The theme directly tied into other lectures we have heard throughout the week, in which tribalistic conflicts in America were front and center. Gushee reminded those attending of Paul’s letter to the Romans in Romans 14, which culminated in Paul stating that we should not judge others, because judgment can only be passed by God. Gushee commented that “it is our tendency to judge others negatively who see things differently than we do,” and that we should look past this and “pursue what makes for peace.” Reiterating what prior speakers this week have stated and some words of Amy Chua, who immediately followed Gushee’s sermon, America is a place of many cultures, religions, ethnicities and so on, but we should look to create a community of mutual respect despite our differences and remember that America is special because of our national bond in conjunction with our tribal identities. As Chua said, “being an American is not a matter of blood.”
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
Dr. Taina Caragol's Catalonia to Chautauqua: The National Portrait Gallery as an Inclusive Vessel for National Identity reaction by Theresa Rabbia
The National Portrait Gallery as an Inclusive Vessel for National Identity
The American identity is constantly shifting and being shaped by every experience Americans have encountered from the very formation of this nation. Speaker, Dr. Taina Caragol had much to share regarding how Latinos and the Latino identity are not only under represented in the National Portrait Gallery, but also in the formation of what we call our American Identity. Dr. Caragol gave a few examples of Latinos throughout American history that are often forgotten about and not given the proper credit that they deserve. These examples include Jose Marti who documented the African diaspora and became a voice for people of color. Also, Dolores Huerta, a prominent figure in the 60s and 70s due to her dedicated activism for civil, human, and labor rights. These two people are only just a few from a vast group of Latinos who helped shape America today and who’s influence still remains strong. After listening to Dr. Caragol, I was able to get a better grasp on the concept of what the term “American Identity” truly means. Our identity as Americans is not complete without crediting people of all different cultures and races who played a large part of the evolution of America. The American Identity is a mix of all different cultures, religions, races, etc. As Tania Caragol said to conclude her lecture, “identity IS, but it also evolves, molded by our everyday.”
Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Gathered in Chautauqua Institution’s Hall of Philosophy, the St. Bonaventure scholars (#chqscholars) had the opportunity to listen to a lecture given by the founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, Robert P. Jones, titled “The New Challenge of Pluralism After the End of White Christian America.”
As a white Christian myself, Jones’ final thoughts particularly resonated with me. Despite Chautauqua’s primarily white audience, he stated that white Protestant propriety is an issue and that the commitment to a democratic society should trump those feelings.
Oftentimes it can be easy to not speak up in order to keep the peace, but Jones challenges this notion and says that Americans need to stand up for one another.
In fact, Jones was followed by a Muslim American, who praised America for allowing Muslims to be more complex. That act in and of itself was an example of the type of pluralism Jones stands for, and that we should all strive to achieve.