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NYU Professor Explores How Biblical and Prophetic Language May Serve Progressive Agenda in New Book

July 7, 2008
N-502, 2007-08

Since the early 1980s, prophetic discourse in American politics has primarily been a rhetorical tool of the New Right-for instance, the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s assertion that God, through the Sept. 11 attacks, was punishing America for tolerating abortion and homosexuality. But, historically, progressives such as Frederick Douglass and Toni Morrison have also employed prophetic language.

In American Prophecy: Race and Redemption in American Political Culture (University of Minnesota, August), George Shulman, a professor at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, examines how biblical or prophetic discourse influences American politics and considers whether it can be re-worked for progressive purposes. In this analysis, he focuses on the creative use of prophetic idioms by Douglass and Morrison as well as Henry Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Baldwin.

“Whereas many theorists respond to neo-liberal and post-9/11 politics by reaffirming constitutional liberalism, investing in deliberative democracy, or imagining an ethos of pluralization or cosmopolitanism,” Shulman contends, “"I have concluded that we lose too much if we simply renounce prophetic language. The political challenge is to fashion political counter-prophecy, democratic forms of prophetic speech.”"

“Prophecy can elevate people’s ‘expectations and requirements,’ Thoreau says, by animating values they imagine as static, dramatizing commitments they reify by forgetting, and energizing democratic solidarities they invoke in name only,” Shulman adds. “In these and other ways, prophetic visions, questions, claims, demands, and energy-provoking, recalcitrant, and haunting, passionate, and poetic-may be especially needful now.”

To receive a review copy of the book, contact Jillian Clements, University of Minnesota Press, at skinn077@umn.edu.

Reporters interested in speaking with Shulman should contact James Devitt, NYU’s Office of Public Affairs, at 212.998.6808 or james.devitt@nyu.edu.

$25 paper,/ISBN: 978-0-8166-3075-2; $75 cloth,/ISBN: 978-0-8166-3074-5,/ 328 pages

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Gallatin School of Individualized Study

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