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In the world of Rock and Theology, my interests have hovered around the relationship of underground music cultures, social movements, and religion. In particular, I’ve been interested in the relationship of DIY punk music cultures (broadly defined) and spirituality/religion and have done some writing on this, most recently in an essay in the new Rock and Theology book, Secular Music and Sacred Theology. In my essay on “staying punk” as a theologian, I spend a good deal of time discussing one of the “patron saints” of punk rock, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi and Minor Threat, whose distinct voice within the many discussions of “punk ethics” has made me think not only about my own musical practices but about the practice of theology.

In December of last year, MacKaye and his wife Amy Farina released their third album as The Evens. The album, The Odds, is another great batch of MacKaye and Farina’s “quiet,” but still uncompromisingly political, punk rock. As I was preparing final edits to the chapter I submitted for the book, I was also reading the press’ discussion of MacKaye and The Evens, and I realized that, had I had more space, I could have discussed The Evens as great example of the traditioning of punk, of the way punk evolves — “grows up,” even — but stays true to its commitments.

The Evens’ recent string of interviews contain some discussion that might help to push forward some of the ideas I’ve been tossing about on theology and punk rock. (more…)

I was extremely disappointed to read Margaret O’Brien Steinfels’ dismissal of the Pussy Riot “brouhaha” over at dotCommonweal, but perhaps not very surprised. (Tom wrote about PR’s “punk prayer” protest here back in April. This past Friday, PR was sentenced to two years in prison.)

I have very little to add to the critique offered by Bridget, a Ph.D. candidate at Notre Dame, in “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Become a Feminist” at Women in Theology. While acknowledging the legitimacy of critiquing Pussy Riot’s protest on tactical grounds, Bridget rightly flags O’Brien Steinfels’ language as “not merely critical […] but dismissive and gendered”: (more…)

Interview with Kathleen Hanna, patron saint of feminist punk

Posted in: Interviews by Michael Iafrate on June 8, 2011

As Tom mentioned yesterday, this weekend I’ll be presenting a paper at the annual convention of the CTSA entitled “‘I’m a Human, Not a Statue’: Saints and Saintliness in the Church of Punk Rock.” (I’m pretty sure this will be the first time in the history of the CTSA that participants will be rocking out to a bit of Fugazi.) I hope to post excerpts or a summary from that paper here at R&T in the coming weeks.

On that same note of punk rock saints, yesterday CNN posted an interview with one of the patron saints of feminist punk, or Riot Grrrl, Kathleen Hanna who is known primarily for her role in the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Among other things, she discusses the emergence of Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, a new Le Tigre documentary, the state of feminist punk today, and how she coined the title of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Michael Iafrate
Parkersburg, WV; on the way to San Jose, CA
USA

The Taqwacores film

Posted in: General by Michael Iafrate on April 27, 2011

Some time ago, Tom Beaudoin mentioned the cult “punk Islam” novel The Taqwacores here on the blog, and it’s been on my to-read list for some time now.

Although it’s not getting the same positive reviews as the novel, the Not About Religion blog features a short write up of the recent film based on the book.

The reviewer faults the film for its stereotypical portrayals of punk rock(ers), a fault not present, he says, in the novel. Regardless, and probably more importantly, the film appears useful in problematizing the all too common assumptions about Islam held by many U.S. Americans. As one of the film’s characters has it, “Allah is too big and too open for my Islam to be so closed.”

Perhaps a review of the novel and film will appear here at Rock and Theology? Until then, here is the trailer:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt36AzQ6INU

Michael J. Iafrate
Parkersburg, WV

Anarchy, evolution, faith, and punk rock

Posted in: General,Rock and Theology Project by Michael Iafrate on October 25, 2010

Yet another collision of punk rock and religion of possible interest for Rock and Theology readers is the recent publication of a book by Greg Graffin (and co-author Steve Olson), Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God. Graffin is most well known as the lead singer of the L.A. punk band Bad Religion (who celebrate their 30th anniversary this year), but fewer people are aware that he received a Ph.D. in zoology from Cornell and now teaches evolution at UCLA.

Although he is outspoken in his disbelief in God, Graffin describes himself as a “naturalist” rather than as an atheist and maintains a critical distance from the “New Atheism.” He discusses his semi-autobiographical book — which includes talk of science, punk rock, religion, and more — here and here.

Aside from the surely very interesting reflections on religion, science, and punk rock, Graffin interestingly notes in the interviews that the book is an attempt to synthesize two seemingly unrelated parts of himself — his life as a science-minded academic and his life as a punk rock musician. As Paste put it in its endorsement of the book, “Graffin is one of those rare people who seem to have combined two lives into one.” Such an expression should be of interest to those who feel the creative, “anarchic” tensions of a life lived simultaneously within the two worlds of rock music and academic theology, or of rock culture(s) and the culture(s) of the church.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12kcpP-8jfM

Michael Iafrate
Parkersburg, West Virginia

There is another world.  There is a better world. Well, there must be. There must be.

– Morrissey, “Asleep”

from The Smiths’ The World Won’t Listen

I was recently catching up on reading back issues of Commonweal (one of the pleasant perks of being a professor of Catholic studies is that this activity counts as work time), and I was stopped short by an offhand remark made in John Connelly’s “The Price of Freedom: What Came Down with the Berlin Wall” .  Connelly, a history professor from UC Berkeley, makes the case that the small East German town of Plauen, site of the largest anti-GDR demonstration prior to the events of November 1989, was instrumental in helping to bring down the Berlin Wall and open the borders.  It’s a pretty remarkable story, and Connelly, as part of a Harvard fact-finding group that went to East Germany in the first days of the dissolution of Soviet control, is uniquely situated to tell it.  He has maintained a relationship to the city ever since, and his Commonweal article is written in the wake of his most recent visit, where he was greeted as something of a celebrity for his recognition of Plauen’s otherwise overlooked role in German politics.

In relaying the chain of events that, in the months prior to that November in 1989, began to build momentum toward the shift in power, Connelly lists a number of locations that played significant roles.  “One such place,” he writes, “was St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, where in the spring of 1989 young people who had previously shown interest in little beyond rock music became politically active.”

(more…)