The Middle East Studies Association Imagines Its Future

The large room at the Marriott Wardman Park was filled to overflowing on Sunday afternoon for a special session billed as “Thinking Palestine Intersectionally.” The seats were occupied and scores of others stood along the walls, sat on the floor in front of the stage, and spilled out into the hallway. For many it was clearly the highlight of The Middle East Studies Association’s November 2017 annual meeting of faculty and graduate students, held in Washington, DC. Perhaps 500 people were present to hear Noura Erakat, Judith Butler, Samera Esmeir, and Angela Davis be hailed as symbolic conquerors of the Jewish state. “The peace process is over,” Erakat began, and then affirmed “the entwinement of our liberation,” offering her own take on intersectionality. The real reason the United States blocked the “Zionism is racism” framework, she declared was “to prevent itself from having to pay reparations for slavery,” a claim that would have surprised the very people who fought against the 1975 UN resolution. The days of progressive advocacy “except for Palestine are over,” she concluded. It is time “to bar supporters of Israel from feminist movements.” Even this last agenda item, a call to cast out the female devils in our midst, met with loud applause.

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#BlackLivesMatter as a Secular Black Political Theology: Ethical and Practical Implications of the first New Black Social Movement of the 21st Century

Kenneth D. Johnson is affiliated with the William J. Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies, in Boston. The following paper was presented at the 2016 Telos Conference, held on January 16–17, 2016, in New York City. For news about upcoming conferences and events, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

Introduction

The spate of killings of unarmed African American males by police and vigilante residents has continued to roil public opinion in the black community, leading to various forms of social protest, in particular by varied groups of young adult African Americans.

Preeminent among these groups is #BlackLivesMatter, which now aspires to become a national movement, sometimes in coalition with other contemporary groups formed near the same time, and displacing older Civil Rights groups and the Black Church’s ethical and protest traditions.

While #BlackLivesMatter has partly instrumentalized Black Church social protest tradition, it has done so in the service of a fundamentally secular set of ethical commitments. In the process, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has discarded the internal resources of self-critique that Black Church ethical praxis provides.

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