James Bennett

James Bennett, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies, reflects on immersion trips and Bannan lectures and how the Ignatian Center creates new space for scholarship and connects communities near and far to SCU.

James Bennett hadn’t been to New Orleans since he finished his book, Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans in 2005. When he returned in the fall of 2012 on an immersion trip with SCU students he saw just how much Hurricane Katrina had reshaped the city, and the experience is adding to his earlier scholarship.

“Next winter I’ll be teaching a class I haven’t taught since 2005, Religion and Race in the United States,” Bennett says. “Traveling to New Orleans reminded me how intertwined religion and race in the American experience are—it will very much inform in broad contours how I think about this course.”

The immersion also reinforced Bennett’s perception of SCU students’ passion for “issues of social justice and concern for inequity.”

If the immersion trip allowed Bennett to revisit an area he had researched and knew well, then his experience joining the Bannan Institute’s Sacred Text in Politics lecture series sent the professor into new academic territory.

“I don’t do religion and politics,” Bennett admits. But the 2012 election pulled him into this field when it turned out to feature two candidates who operated in the realms of his studies: Mormonism and African-American Christianity.
Bennett was working through some of his ideas on this subject in a seminar he was teaching on religion and the presidency, when he was invited to speak at the Bannan Institute’s lecture series. In the seminar, his students’ response to the theme only encouraged him more. “They gave me some of my best lines,” he says.

In preparation for his lecture, “Scriptural Politics of the American Presidency: Religion in the 2012 Presidential Election,” Bennett also spoke at church congregations in a series of talks that further honed his message.

The end result traced religion’s roots in American elections dating back to Jefferson and Adams, through Kennedy and Carter, up to Romney and Obama. In order to measure the impact on the 2012 election, Bennett drew from surveys and demographic studies. For anyone who had been steeped in the caricatures of religion presented throughout election season on cable news, Bennett provided some much needed perspective.

Reflecting on the experience, Bennett sees the Ignatian Center providing “a meaningful sense of dialogue and drawing in the larger community on issues that matter.”

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