Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Religious Studies

First Advisor

Greg Johnson

Second Advisor

Sam Gill

Third Advisor

Danika Medak-Saltzman

Abstract

In August of 2008, Justice Bea writing the opinion for the 9th Circuit panel in Navajo Nation v. USFS explains that although “the district court found the Plaintiffs’ beliefs to be sincere,” the production of artificial snow on the San Francisco Peaks does not violate the Indian tribe’s right to religious freedom. In a remarkable and controversial justification for this ruling, Justice Bea decides that “the sole effect of the artificial snow is on the Plaintiff’s subjective spiritual experience. [...] Nevertheless, a government action that decreases the spirituality, the fervor, or the satisfaction with which a believer practices his religion is not what Congress has labeled a “substantial burden” ... on the free exercise of religion.” Underlying this opinion are profound claims of authority regarding how the body, and bodied movement, in this case located between Indigenous ritual practice and snow skiing, are imagined by the court, and in the larger sense, through American jurisprudence, as permissible or subject to regulation. Nested within this argument are centuries old paradigms of a civilized and enlightened society as imagined and enforced through the European and American colonial projects.

I wish to argue through this paper that these colonial projects have always been concerned with regulating and conforming the bodies and bodied movements of their subjects. Furthermore, I wish to demonstrate how the court’s understanding of the free exercise of religion represents a particular body/mind (practice/belief) ontology that also predominates within the academic study of religion. By rethinking our assumptions about the body’s relationship to religion and the study of religion I wish to create a space in which to critically examine the myths constructed in American legal and academic discourse regarding religious performativity as constitutive of the lived religious subject.

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