Religious Outsiders & the Air Force Academy

In this weekend’s Los Angeles Times, we learned that earlier this year, the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado “dedicated an $80,000 outdoor worship center [the Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle worship center] — a small Stonehenge-like circle of boulders with propane fire pit — high on a hill for the handful of current or future cadets whose religions fall under the broad category of ‘Earth-based’… pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of Native American faiths.”

“We’re here to accommodate all religions, period,” reports Chaplain Maj. Darren Duncan…. This “is no different from the past conversion of chapel rooms into worship spaces that serve this year’s 11 Muslim, 16 Buddhist and 10 Hindu cadets. There are also 43 self-identified atheist cadets whose beliefs, or lack of them, Duncan says are also to be respected.” Interestingly, such developments are explicitly not grounded in philosophies of religious pluralism, “a phrase Duncan, a Christian, rejects as implying that the majority religion is simply putting up with the minority. He calls it a 1st Amendment issue. If the military is to defend the Constitution, it should also be upholding its guarantee of religious freedom. We think we are setting the standard.” Likely they are, as other cadet training centers (West Point and Annapolis) have expressed interest in some of the programs at Colorado Springs, for instance, a requirement that “all cadets take courses in understanding the religions of those who may someday fall under their command.”

Such developments are of course good news to those who practice minority traditions and aspire to military careers. Still, they seem also to provide a paradigm example of a kind of communal privatization: in opening up a space for the “free exercise”of minority traditions, they in fact delimit dissenting views and practices to privatized margins of public life, and thus reinforce a central tenet of contemporary American ideology, part of the “price of admission to the camp fire we call modernity,” as Russell T. McCutcheon aptly puts it (62).

In thinking about the largely celebratory tone this article takes (save for noting that complaints of religious indoctrination continue to emerge from military personnel), I am left with the following query: Is there a way in which journalists might include reference to such larger conceptual contexts (i.e., the larger ideological work with which such developments would seem to be involved) without giving up journalism for scholarship?






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4 Responses to Religious Outsiders & the Air Force Academy

  1. Pingback: Magickal Media Blog » Blog Archive » News for Pagans, Monday, 11-28-11

  2. Andrew Irvine says:

    “in opening up a space for the “free exercise”of minority traditions, [the reported developments] in fact delimit dissenting views and practices to privatized margins of public life” It’s not apparent how this is so. Would you mind explaining?

  3. Kenny Paul Smith says:

    Thanks for your comment! I’m drawing upon Russell T. McCutcheon’s work, and so ultimately I suggest going back to the link in the article and reading the book cited there. Essentially, I’m suggesting that what seems like merely a “freeing” of a religious minority is instead, or perhaps also, a consignment of it to a carefully separated out space.

  4. Philip L. Tite says:

    I’m not convinced that there is a minority/majority rhetoric at play here, but rather a recognition (perhaps rhetorical construction?) of cultural diversity – both within the military structure and in society/societies in which such military structures function. One thing that did strike me, however, is the discursive shift from “pluralism” to “a 1st Amendment issue” by Maj. Duncan. This seems to me to move the discussion from one of “religion” (which does evoke minority/majority tolerance issues) to that of “civil rights” (thus evoking political equality). I’d love to hear more on this type of discursive shifting as a motif in American “civil religion” etc.

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