Civic Forum next: Norway massacre affords lens to examine anti-Islamism

Jeff Sharlet

Jeff Sharlet, journalist and professor of English at Dartmouth College.

A best-selling author whose writing has explored Americans’ relationships to faith, Jeff Sharlet examines anti-Islamism through the lens of this year’s tragic massacre in Norway at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, in Chase Lounge, 56 Campus Ave.

Part of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships’ Civic Forum Series, the event is open to the public at no cost. Supporting the lecture are the anthropology, English, politics, religious studies and rhetoric departments; the American cultural studies program; the humanities division; and the Office of Intercultural Education at Bates.

For more information, please contact 207-786-6202.

Sharlet’s talk, titled The Killer in Me: Reading the Oslo Manifesto’s Sources, reflects on the growing virulence of anti-Islamic activism and rhetoric through his analysis of a text issued by Anders Behring Breivik, whose bombing and shooting spree in Norway in July left more than 90 dead. The manifesto combines and amplifies “respectable” anti-Islamic rhetoric.

Sharlet has written or co-written several books examining the role of faith in Americans’ lives. The most recent is the essay collection Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country in Between, released in August by W. W. Norton & Company.

“The characters in Sweet Heaven . . . are rough, unfulfilled, often doomed,” wrote a Kansas City Star reviewer. “We always suspect that by the end, they will be betrayed by their beliefs, will be disillusioned or destroyed.

“But failure doesn’t make belief meaningless. It may be the only thing that gives faith meaning at all.”

Mellon Assistant Professor of English at Dartmouth University, Sharlet is the author of the nationally best-selling The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Harper, 2009), which exposes the workings of the underground evangelical group “The Family,” whose ranks include members of Congress and other powerful individuals.

“Sharlet’s book is one of the most compelling and brilliantly researched exposés you’ll ever read,” says author and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich — “just don’t read it alone at night!”

In 2000 Sharlet and novelist Peter Manseau created Killing the Buddah, an online literary magazine described as “an electronic Tower of Babel, a Talmudic cathedral of stories about faith lost and found.” (The phrase “Killing the Buddha” comes from a Buddhist sage who said, “The Buddha you meet is not the true Buddha, but an expression of your longing.”)

Success with Killing the Buddah inspired Sharlet and Manseau to spend a year investigating the American religious experience. This adventure showed them a cowboy church in Texas, witches in Kansas, a Pentecostal exorcism for a terrorist in North Carolina and an electric chair gospel choir in Florida.

Free Press published their findings in 2004 in a book with the same title as their website. Publishers Weekly describes Killing the Buddha as “perhaps the most original and insightful spiritual writing to come out of America since Jack Kerouac first hit the road.”

Sharlet has written for Mother Jones, New York, The Nation, The New Republic, The Washington Post, Salon, The Daily Beast and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He has been a frequent guest on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” and NPR’s “Fresh Air,” and has appeared on HBO’s “Bill Maher Show,” Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” NBC Nightly News and other broadcasts. He is a contributing editor to Harper’s and Rolling Stone.

He is working on a new book called Hammer Song, which he describes as “a short book about pop, folk, punk, sex, riots and the Cold War.”

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