Tactical Religiosity

In the previous post I featured a picture of a woman brandishing a crucifix during resistance to the eviction of the travellers site at Dale Farm in Essex.  The protestor has subsequently been villified in right wing tabloids like the Daily Mail with the claim that, among other things, she is actually a Muslim convert rather than a Christian. Leaving aside the specifics of this individual, this is arguably part of a wider phenomenon which I term ‘tactical religiosity’.

We could define ‘tactical religiosity’ as something like ‘The use of religious symbols, language and/or ritual elements within social movements for political purposes, by people who are not necessarily religious believers themselves’.  Waving a crucifix at police and bailiffs might be one example, another would be the ‘What would Jesus Do?’  banner/meme at the current Occupy London protest by St Pauls Cathedral in London. Sure there are radical Christians involved in the camp, but a lot of people who wouldn’t define themselves as religious have been using arguments derived from the gospels, talking about Christ driving the moneylenders from the temple and so on.

I have used the term ‘tactical’ rather than ‘cynical’ because it’s actually quite complex – for instance there is a large fuzzy zone between ‘belief” and ‘disbelief’.  I don’t think it heralds a revival of old time religion in its socially reactionary forms, but perhaps a wider recognition that it might be possible to strip away some of the oppressive baggage of traditional belief systems and find things of value to an emancipatory politics.

‘Tactical religiosity’ could also be considered as an activist version of the ‘theological turn’ in critical theory.



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