Irreality in Solitary Confinement

Every day, we do some version of this:

“Hey, what’s up? How are you doing?”

“Oh, nothing much. What about you?”

This is a ritual.

Despite its apparent triviality, rituals serve an important purpose. Sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966) suggest that these daily ritualistic conversations work as vehicles of “reality maintenance.” Through our interactions with other people, we confirm that the present, everyday reality is our primary, paramount reality (compared to other realities, like dreams). We legitimize and maintain our understanding of our experiences and coexistence with people in shared cultures (Berger, 1967).

So, what happens when we no longer have other people or our usual rituals to confirm our reality? What happens when we’re in forced solitude, such as inmates in solitary confinement?

According to sociologist Peter Berger (1967), without continuous confirmation, people lose sight of the reality of everyday life and fall into irreality, a place of chaos and madness. To some, this may seem overly dramatic. However, in experiencing isolation from others without typical rituals and interaction, this terrifying phenomenon is what happens to individuals in solitary confinement.

Inmates in isolated, high security cells do not have another person to confirm their reality. One study on the psychological effects of solitary confinement (Arrigo & Bullock, 2007) found that people in solitary confinement have higher rates of self-mutilation, attempted suicide, and recidivism compared to inmates not in solitary confinement. Although solitary confinement can psychologically damage healthy individuals, it is even worse for people who already have a mental illness because it may trigger symptoms. Yet, people with mental illness are more likely to end up in solitary confinement than healthy people (Arrigo & Bullock, 2007).


(Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

Based upon a Quaker religious ritual, solitary confinement began as a social experiment. Isolated prisoners were given the Bible in a small, naturally lit room (Roberts, 1985). There was a belief that solitude would lead to repentance and rehabilitation. This aligns with the Quaker value that silence makes room for worship and reflection. However, this experiment was quickly abandoned when prisoners went into psychosis and committed suicide (Roberts, 1985).  In a statement regarding solitary confinement, on behalf of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Ruth Flower declared, “It’s a 185-year-old experiment. It failed… This society knows how to require each other to be accountable for our actions, without destroying the people inside our prisons” (Flower, 2014).

Although once believed to be rehabilitative, solitary confinement is now mostly used as a technique of punishment or control (Arrigo et. al, 2007). This decision is not subject to judicial review nor is it a part of the inmate’s legal sentence. Instead, the use of solitary confinement is entirely in the hands of the prison administration (Eisenman, 2009). Therefore, it may be subject to bias or discrimination.

The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects people from “cruel and unusual punishments.” Is it cruel and unusual punishment to strip people of necessary resources to maintain their reality? A congressional hearing in 2012 declared it is not (States News Service). However, based off of sociological theory and psychological evidence, I strongly disagree.  


Arrigo, Bruce A.; Bullock, Jennifer Leslie (19 November 2007). “The Psychological Effects

Solitary Confinement on Prisoners in Supermax Units”. International Journal of Offender Therapy & Comparative Criminology. 52 (6): 622–640. doi:10.1177/0306624X07309720. Retrieved 17 March 2014.

Berger, Peter L., Luckmann, Thomas. 1967. The social construction of reality: a treatise in the sociology of knowledge. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Available: /z-wcorg/

Berger, Peter L., 1929-2017. (1967). The sacred canopy; elements of a sociological theory of religion. Garden City, N.Y. :Doubleday

“Durbin Chairs First-Ever Congressional Hearing on Solitary Confinement.” 2012. States News

Service, Available: Academic OneFile; Gale

Eisenman, Stephen F. 2009. “The Resistible Rise and Predictable Fall of the U.S. Supermax.”

Monthly Review 61(6):31-45 (

Roberts, Leonard H. 1985. “The Historic Roots of American Prison Reform: A Story of Progress and Failure.” Journal of Correctional Education 36(3):106-109

Flower, Ruth. 2014. “Solitary Confinement and Quakers.” (


Charismatic Leadership Through the Lens of a “Rap God”

Kanye West is extraordinary in many ways. As a producer, rapper, and fashion designer, Ye is worshipped for his innovative thinking and ingenious products. However, there’s no need to explain why Kanye is so great when he will tell you himself. People have always been quick to judge Kanye and his boisterous attitude. Then again, it is not often when someone describes themselves as a god. Before labelling Kanye as an egotistical maniac, it is important to analysis why Ye gives himself such high praise, and more importantly, why people believe it.

giphyYe receives a lot of attention for his outrageous commentary on society and himself, such as the time he boldly stated “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live” (Jedeikin, 2012). In alignment with social theorist Max Weber’s definition of charismatic leaders, Kanye does not speak to please the majority, or “does not derive his claims from the wills of his followers” (Economy and Society, 1978: 1113). Rather, Kanye is akin to charismatic leaders in that he is quick to criticize and share his unique ideas, putting the “duty [on his followers] to recognize his charisma” (Economy and Society, 1978: 1113). In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Ye addresses his critics, saying, “they call me ‘Wacko Kanye.’ Isn’t that so funny? That people point fingers at the people who have influenced us the most. They talk the most shit about the people who cared the most” (Weiss, 2016). Kanye is unapologetically himself in all that he does and lets his success speak for itself.

Another key characteristic of Weber’s charismatic leadership includes “specific gifts of body and mind that [are] considered ‘supernatural’” (Economy and Society, 1978: 1112). Ye admittedly has a list of credentials to back up his larger than life persona. Kanye’s feature in Time magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People is just one of the many awards he has received acknowledging him for his groundbreaking influence in pop culture (Musk 2015). As a producer, Kanye is considered a trailblazer for modern hip-hop and rap. Top music moguls, such as Russell Simmons, praise Ye for “his genius, his tenacity, his creativity, his relentlessness and his madness” within the music industry (Boardman, 2013). Furthermore, as a sneaker designer, Kanye has been deemed the “King of Shoes” (Bell 2015). His shoes, Yeezy Boosts, are so insanely popular that although they are originally priced at $200, they often resell for thousands of dollars a pair. Kanye West’s success is not the same as Drake’s or Justin Bieber’s; Ye transcends the mainstream form of popularity and captures audiences with his extraordinary and innovative creativity.


Kanye’s unconventional stage design for his Saint Pablo Tour 

Sociologist, Marlene Fiol’s (1999) investigates how charismatic leadership initiates social change, specifically noting the deconstruction of social norms with the reconstruction of new ideas. As a producer, Kanye epitomizes Fiol’s observations in that he rejects standard recording processes and uses inventive techniques to create music that are then replicated by other artists. A Vox Media video (2016) analyzes Kanye and his unique ability to digitally manipulate the human voice to fill “every nook and cranny in his music”, which is just one of the ways Kanye continues to transform hip-hop music.

Although celebrity worship is a popular modern phenomenon, few fans worship celebrities like Kanye’s fans worship him. Yeezianity, or The Church of Yeezus, wasunavngiven.gif created by a loyal Kanye West fan in the wake of the rapper’s seventh album, Yeezus. The group claims to believe in Yeezus, as the “highest living human being… (who) will help to usher in a New Age of humanity.” The creator of the Church of Yeezus, Ben Liebman, relates Kanye to Jesus in that “the idea of becoming like Jesus is intimidating; it is blinding, his perfection is so unbelievable – like looking at the sun… [Kanye] is a stepping stone to Jesus…a realistic current day model of Jesus” (Dodge, 2014). Yeezianity may be extreme, but Kanye’s immense success and super-human persona presents the perfect icon for young audiences to idolize, especially in a society that places so much power on celebrity figures.

The fact is, Kanye West is a genius and he knows it. His boundless creativity in music and in fashion never goes unrecognized, and his ability to capture audiences and have them believe that he is, indeed, superhuman is a skill that few possess. Kanye will always be remembered for his ingenious music-making ability. However, like many other charismatic leaders, Ye’s legacy will include his passionate speeches and memorable quotes. I, for one, can sympathize with Kanye’s greatest pain in life (to never be able to see himself perform live), for a charismatic performer as captivating as Kanye truly only comes once in a lifetime.

Work Cited

Bell, J. (2015, October 22). FN Crowns Kanye West ‘King Of Shoes’ For Yeezy Boost. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from

Boardman, M. (2013, December 02). Russell Simmons: Kanye West Is A ‘Genius’ Retrieved May 13, 2017, from

Dodge, S. (2014, January 24). EXCLUSIVE: Meet the unemployed middle class boy from New York behind the religion that reveres Kanye West. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from

Fiol, C. M., Drew Harris and Robert House. 1999. “Charismatic Leadership: Strategies for Effecting Social Change.” The Leadership Quarterly 10(3):449-482 (

Jedeikin, D. (2013). 15 Most Ridiculous Kanye West Quotes. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from

Musk, E. (2015, April 15). Kanye West. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from

Weber, M. (1968). Economy and Society (Vol. 2) (G. Roth & C. Wittich, Eds.). Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Weiss, S. (2016, October 20). Kanye West Went on a Passionate Rant About Changing the World on ‘Ellen’ Retrieved May 13, 2017, from

(2016, September 01). Retrieved May 13, 2017, from

Protecting Sacred Land

For over a year, national media sources have covered the controversial Dakota Pipeline project, representing perspectives ranging from concerned environmental activists to corporate capitalists. Despite this buzz, media sources have failed to give sufficient attention to the Sioux Tribe’s perspective on the Pipeline, which, if acknowledged, poses a significant challenge to the pipeline. The Sioux’s perspective can be understood through the concept of lived religion which explains that the sacred is intertwined with everyday life (Orsi, 2003). If this concept were applied to the Sioux, people would understand and appreciate that the land the pipeline crosses is sacred and intertwined with the Sioux’s everyday life. As such, building on that land threatens the Sioux’s way of life.

Why does the Sioux regard this land as sacred?

Monuments on this land hold religious and historical value to the Sioux. For example, a stone statue that stands in the area that the pipeline is set to destroy represents an area visited by members of the tribe during spiritual prayer (Bailey, 2016). Canon Ball River Drainage holds sacred status as well. As Peter Nabokov, a UCLA professor of American Indian Students, has  noted, “warring bands of enemies never created conflict with each other as a spiritual presence was there (Bailey, 2016).” The land, itself, is also viewed as intrinsically sacred. Stephen Pevar, an attorney with the ACLU, has explained that land is “critical…to Native spirituality” and that Native Americans cultivate a sacred bond with the land.

The sacred value that Sioux subscribe to the land is not a distant and obscure concept. In addition to valuing the land for being sacred, the Sioux value the land for its everyday uses. The Sioux use the land for hunting and fishing and as a burial ground and water supply (Healy, 2016). This use and value of the land reflects the concept of lived religion which suggests religion and the sacred are part of, “the way human do other necessary and important things (Orsi, 2003).” Lived religion reveals that this land simultaneously has sacred qualities and is crucial to the Sioux’s everyday life.

The Sioux’s claim to the land

The Sioux place importance on this land because they believe that the land belongs to the tribe. In 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty established the Great Sioux Reservation. In 1877, Congress removed major areas of land from the reservation without the required consent of three fourths of the tribe. By removing this land, Congress separated Standing Rock Reservation from the Great Sioux Reservation. The proposed pipeline would cross this same area of land that Congress removed from the reservation.


Map of the land that the Dakota Pipeline is proposed to cross.

The Proposed Dakota Pipeline

Once it’s completed, the Dakota Pipeline will cross 1,172 miles, cost 3.7 billion dollars to build, and transport 570,000 barrels of crude oil each day (Monet, 2016). Energy Transfer Partners LLC owns the pipeline, and on March 11, 2016, the Iowa Utilities board unanimously approved the plans to build it (Miller, 2016). Pipeline supporters — who include corporate capitalists— see the pipeline as profitable. They argue that the pipeline will aid in transportation of crude oil, create thousands of construction jobs, and boost the American steel industry (Bailey, 2016).

Pipeline opponents – who include vocal and well-publicized environmental activists — counter these claims with arguments that the pipeline will contaminate drinking water, promote fossil fuels, and infringe on Native American sacred land (Bailey, 2016). Environmental activists have gathered in camps surrounding the pipeline since April 1, 2016 (Bailey, 2016). Protestors, chant, “Mni Wiconi”– Water is Life – claiming that the pipeline has detrimental consequences to the clean water in the area (Monet, 2016).


Environmental activists and Sioux protesting to “protect” water.

The Sioux’s perspective of the pipeline, seen through the context of lived religion, is woefully under-appreciated. The arguments of the corporate capitalists and environmental activists have overshadowed the Sioux perspective. The pipeline would cause harm to the Sioux – by disturbing land that is sacred and critical to their everyday life.  No one would think about building a pipeline through the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. or St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. This pipeline, through lived religion, is just as sacred and should be just as untouchable. 

Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced : Religion on the Secular Stage

Disgraced Program

The Disgraced program at Syracuse Stage

Theatre has a history of raising necessary community dialogue about social issues that are difficult to discuss.  For example, in 1994, the musical Rent by Jonathan Larson premiered and brought HIV/AIDS awareness to a mainstream audience.  Not only did it start a dialogue, but the show became a leader in fundraising for those affected by the diseases (Cocovinis, 2011).  Rent is not unique; research suggests that audience members who witness performances that deal with social problems tend to want to talk about them afterwards (Kelaher et. al. 2012).  Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a production of Disgraced at Syracuse Stage in Syracuse, NY, which promoted community dialogue about one of the most infamous off-limits subjects of polite conversation: religion.

Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, with its eighteen professional performances, was the most-produced play in the United States in 2015.  This season it was still in the top three (Tran).  Popular since its premiere in Chicago in 2012, Disgraced has had Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, and has been produced in many other major cities. 

Disgraced tells the story of Amir, a present day, non-religious man who was raised Muslim.  It explores how Amir’s Muslim background affects his treatment at work and his relationship with his nephew, Abe, who does not understand why Amir feels compelled to distance himself from his Muslim family and community.  It also takes a look how Amir’s Muslim background affects his relationships with his friends and wife.  The main conflict occurs in a dinner party scene in which Amir and his friends of different religious and ethnic backgrounds get into a heated argument over their perceptions of their own religions and those of each other.  This scene struck a chord with many audience members.

By showing different characters’ perspectives, the play skillfully presents its characters’ unique and personal relationships with faith.  What are Amir’s personal feelings about his Muslim background?  How do they come up in his day to day life?  Amir’s experiences, and those of his friends, shed light on American lived religion, which according to Religious Studies scholar Robert A. Orsi (2003), examines how religion manifests itself in people’s daily lives and practices, rather than reducing a religion simply to the tenets it proclaims and the texts it follows.  This can help us understand the intricacies of religion and also brings the human being into the picture.   

“This way of approaching religious worlds eliminates the comfort of academic distance and undermines the confidence and authority of the claims “we are not them” and “they are not us.” We may not condone or celebrate the religious practices of others but we cannot dismiss them as inhuman, so alien from us that they cannot be understood or approached, only contained or obliterated” (Orsi 174).

In alignment with Orsi, Akhtar, who has written a few other plays that center on the Muslim identity and experience in the United States, is quoted in the Syracuse Stage Disgraced program saying, “I’m not writing from theory…I’m just observing people in my life and my family and I’m also observing myself and I’m sort of creating narrative out of these observations. Being Muslim. Being American.” (Syracuse Stage).  So the stories presented onstage are actually based on Akhtar’s own experience and his observations of real people’s individual interpretations of their religions.  And through this kind of work, Akhtar creates characters with whom audience members are able to empathize.  This, in turn, promotes social awareness. 

According to an actor in the production, Syracuse Stage scheduled a talkback after each performance of the show, which is a rarity for a regional theatre.  A talkback is an informal conversation between actors and audience.  Audience members are encouraged to react to the show and ask questions of the actors.  Often talkbacks are special occasions.  The inclusion of talkbacks shows the weight Syracuse Stage puts on importance of community discourse, especially on the themes of religion and identity highlighted in this production.  Also surprising to me was the fact that most of the audience stayed, as I have been to shows at which only fifteen out of two hundred people stay for the talkback.  The questions asked went far beyond the typical, “How long did it take you to memorize those lines?”  This audience wanted to know the actors’ opinions of the perspectives they represented onstage.  The audience asked questions about the play’s title in relation to the events they saw unfold, and wanted to discuss religious identity- their own and their connections to those they saw depicted onstage.

Disgraced is the perfect example of theatre’s ability to promote necessary community dialogue about important social problems.  In a country that recently barred the entrance of citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries (Diamond, 2017), it is fitting that one of the most-produced plays at professional theaters is one by a Muslim American playwright that tells the stories of two Muslim American men and their different experiences with Islam.  The message that these theaters are sending is: the Muslim American identity is important and nuanced.  It’s worth exploring onstage and discussing afterwards.

Christmas in Copenhagen

On November 1st in Copenhagen, Christmas markets open their doors. Holiday lights are hung, trees are decorated, and the limited time “Julebryg” beer is released. From this day forward, the entire city of Copenhagen relishes in holiday spirit in anticipation of Christmas Day. The street lamps are covered with decorative wreaths while central squares house dozens of markets, ornate Christmas trees and Ferris wheels. Friends begin to schedule weekly Christmas lunches, called “julefrokost”, and begin baking traditional “abelskiver” donuts. This holiday countdown brings warmth, spirit, and excitement to the cold, dark months of winter.


Christmas market filled with traditional Christmas food, drink, and gifts.

Last fall, I spent four months in this city and was struck by how the Danes celebrated Christmas. Having spent the holiday season in cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York, and Prague, I am confident that no city celebrates with the ubiquitous spirit that Copenhagen does. After visiting Denmark’s next two largest cities, Aarhus and Aalborg, it became clear this spirit was not unique to Copenhagen, but permeating throughout the entire country. I began to wonder why this was, and looked to religion as the obvious explanation. I quickly realized how wrong I was.

Despite Denmark’s near obsession with Christmas, it is one of the least religious countries in the world. While nearly three quarters of the population identifies as Christian, only 19% of the population finds religion important in their everyday lives (Gallup 2015). Sociologist Phil Zuckerman, having spent two years researching religion in Scandinavia, found that most Danes are either skeptical about the existence of a God or have rarely even thought about it (Zuckerman 2008). Only 28% of Danes believe in a God, and only 2% of church members people attend services weekly (Gallup 2015). Most Danes don’t worship Jesus, pray, or read religious texts. Why, then, is this Christian holiday so important to such a secular country?

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Tivoli, Copenhagen’s renowned amusement park, opens for a limited three weeks during the holiday season.

Being religious is not a prerequisite to celebrating Christmas in Denmark. Many Danes don’t believe in the religious origin of the holiday and still celebrate it fervently (Zuckerman 2008). While the majority of Danes do attend religious services on Christmas Day, few attend for its religious content. Instead, Danes engage in this Christian ritual because it’s just what people do. Christmas is not unique in this way – most Danes marry in churches, celebrate Easter, and baptize their children because they are national rituals and important means of community involvement. Danes, rather than being traditionally religious, are culturally religious. Danes may not believe in the tenets of Christianity, but engage in these religious rituals to have fun, connect with family, and take part in their national cultural identity. Jan Lindhart, a bishop in Denmark, describes, “The Danes don’t need to go to church on Sundays because they can do their Danishness every day of the week” (Zuckerman 2008: 171). Danes don’t need church to feel Danish, because being Danish doesn’t mean being Christian. Being Danish means celebrating Christmas in its cultural context – and not its religious context.

The question then becomes, why this ritual of Christmas celebration and not other religious traditions? Baptisms, confirmations, or Easter don’t foster half as much spirit or excitement as Christmas does. This two-month extravagant celebration of Christmas means something different to the Danes. There, Christmas is not just an established communal tradition – it is a manifestation of Denmark’s value system.

If asked to describe Danish culture with one word, it would be “hygge.” This word has no direct English translation and is exclusive to Danish culture. Hygge is a feeling embedded within all aspects of life in Denmark. Hygge is comfort, coziness, and connection with others. It is the experience of enjoying family’s company or sharing dinner in a candlelit apartment. Hygge is moderation and modesty, and being hyggelit means never seeking attention or exuding wealth. Anthropologist Jeppe Linnett argues that hygge is the implicit cultural value of balance and moderation that is rooted in the nation’s cultural identity of social, economic, and political equality (Linnett 2011). This particular value may explain why Christmas, more than any other religious or cultural event, brings such thrill and excitement.


Holiday market in Nytorv, one of Copenhagen’s busiest squares.

The concept of hygge carries symbolic meaning about this culture and provides residents with norms to live by. Linnett describes hygge as “a cultural reference point that all Danes relate to…and is the structuring principle of a fundamental moral order for everyday Scandinavian life” (Linett 2011: 38). Being Danish means being hyggelit, and there is nothing more hyggelit than Christmas. The lights, candles, and fireplaces are provide warmth and comfort during the dark, cold months. Families put work aside to spend time with loved ones. Friends shop at street markets for handmade gifts, never purchasing anything too extravagant and always thinking of friends before themselves. The hyggelit nature of this holiday explains why its celebration is so widespread and unique. To this secular nation Christmas is more than a holiday; it is a celebration of hygge and the great values the small word represents.

Since my semester in Copenhagen, friends have asked for advice on which months to travel there. My answer is obvious: the holiday season. To miss Christmas in Copenhagen would be to miss a true understanding of Danish culture and its intersection with secularity.


One of the many Copenhagen streets decorated with Christmas lights from November to January.

The Hijab: A Symbol of Unity in a Divided Nation

“This is the time when the patience of Muslims is being tested. We’re not supposed to react how we want to. I got stared down by a cop, I’ve never been stared down… I was very scared, embarrassed, ashamed” (Sara, college student, from Peek 2010: 309).*

Today’s American Muslim community shares Sara’s feelings of fear and confusion. Although Sara gave this account following the events of 9/11, frighteningly, these stories could be easily misinterpreted as reactions to America’s current political climate. After a xenophobic and misogynistic presidential campaign fueled by public opposition towards Islam, Donald Trump’s election in November 2016 sparked uncertainty and fear amongst the Muslim community in the United States (Trump 2015).

Muslim woman wearing a red hijab, a scarf the covers a woman’s hair and neck.

Woman in a red hijab, photo courtesy Riza/Flickr

Many Muslim women in particular fear for their safety (Sakuma 2016). The hijab, a simple scarf wrapped around a woman’s head and neck, which is one of the most visual symbols of the Islamic faith, has made Muslim women a target for xenophobic attacks (Sakuma 2016; Shelbayah 2016). Immediately after Donald Trump’s election, Muslim women, including Blair Imani and Marie (@shutterpsyco), took to social media to publicly express their fear in wearing hijab.

Tweet by Blair Imani (@BlairImani) on November 9, 2016, 4:22 p.m: “I stopped wearing hijab today and turned to hats instead for fear of violence. @monaeltahawy.”

Image via Twitter

Tweet by Marie (@ShutterPsyco) on November 9, 2016, 7:16 a.m: “My friend just texted me saying she’d stopped wearing her hijab out of fear. Fear, for her safety. This isn’t right, everyone.”

Image via Twitter

These women decided that wearing the hijab made them too vulnerable to an attack; they stopped wearing their scarves. No one should have to remove a physical representation of their faith in order to comply with others’ opinions.

Remarkably, despite immense societal pressure for women to remove their headscarves, the hijab has become a powerful representation of inclusion, piety, and resistance against Islamophobia (Shelbayah 2016; Abassi 2017). Fara Arefi knows first-hand how a headscarf can put a target on your back. A few years ago Fara, who started wearing a hijab at 17 years old, got in a bad car accident because her car tires had been slashed. She admits that “it was the scariest moment of my life.” Afterwards, she felt an even stronger desire to wear the hijab (Náñez 2017). Today, her hijab is a symbol of defiance against hatred. She refuses to give into societal pressures to sacrifice her commitment to her religion. Fara’s motivations are not unique to her situation. Sociologist Lori Peek found many Muslim youth gained a strengthened religious identity post-9/11 in the face of increased discrimination (2010). The pattern still exists among many Muslims today in Trump’s America (Náñez 2017).

A sign held at a protest march with the drawing of a Muslim woman in an American flag hijab, a scarf the covers a woman’s hair and neck. The bottom of on the poster says We the People are Greater than Fear. This poster is a part of street artist Shepard Fairey’s We the People series designed to protest the election of Donald Trump as the American president in 2016.

Photo courtesy of Puro/Flickr

Professor at the College of Business and Mass Communication at Brenau University, CNN producer, and self-identified Muslim Slma Shelhayah admits that following Donald Trump’s election she wondered if it was safer to take off her hijab in order to look less Muslim (Shelbayah 2016). Non-Muslims in American society often forget that hijab is a personal choice among Muslim women in the United States, and there are various reasons why women choose to wear it (Read 2000). Whether women wear it for social reasons or to showcase their commitment to Islam, the hijab represents a woman’s self-identity as a Muslim and fights societal uniformity in America (Read 2000). Islam helped Slma realize her hijab was a powerful tool: “My faith whispers to keep it on in defiance of fear — and in my conviction that diversity is a right and a strength in this country” (Shelbayah 2016). While the hijab symbolizes diversity, it is also a reminder that religious beliefs and what one chooses to wear should not divide people.

Contemporary America is beginning to realize that discrimination against Muslim women occurs regularly. Realizing the inclusive symbolism of the hijab and its messages of unity and respect, numerous non-Muslim women have begun to wear the hijab in solidarity with other Muslim woman (Abassi 2016). The hijab, and the women who wear it, are challenging Americans to accept cultural differences and find the similarities amongst our diverse population.

*Interview conducted by Lori Peek between September 2001 and 2003.

Why Trump Wants Our Kids to Pledge Allegiance

 The American public education system is a battlefield between passionate politicians and activists of differing political views. Religious advocates and religious skeptics alike have vehemently fought court battles on the boundaries of religion and education such as the teaching of evolution, the expansion of sexual education to include contraception, and the constitutionality of school prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. I have seen these issues first hand in my experience tutoring and student teaching in schools and I know I will continue to encounter them in my career as an educator. In the current state of heightened tension between racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and political groups wherein “America First” rhetoric is common, rituals such as the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance are being used to instill certain views of Americanism and patriotism in the most malleable citizens of the country: the children.


Photo courtesy of Newsmax

Many children in public, charter and private schools begin their morning by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in unison with their classmates as they face the American flag with their right hand over their heart. Numerous parents however have taken issue with the prominent line in the Pledge “one nation, under God.”

Quite a few citizens have brought it to court to test the constitutionality of the recitation of the Pledge in public schools on the grounds that it entangles church and state, going against the Establishment Clause by favoring one religion over another. They argue that the recitation of the phrase “under God” imposes certain beliefs which contrast with views of non-religious and non-monotheistic students.  Despite this, others maintain that the Pledge is not a Christian ritual but an example of civil religion. Sociologist Robert Bellah defines civil religion as “a set of beliefs, symbols, and rituals” which has implicitly instilled religiosity in all aspects of American life, including politics, since the country was founded (171).

The inclusion of a religious reference in the pledge dates back to President Eisenhower’s in the 1950’s. Eisenhower used the Pledge to unify the country during the Cold War in 1954 by adding the controversial line “under God” which was not originally in the Pledge.


Photo courtesy of the New York Times

President Donald Trump acts as an outspoken proponent of ‘protecting the right’ to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school. President George W. Bush also spoke out in support of the Pledge following 9/11 when he and First Lady Laura Bush led nationwide recitations throughout public schools in 2001 and 2002. Bush’s push for the Pledge arose at a time when the nation scrambled for meaning and unity. The Pledge was used as a tool to pull together a fractured America through shared values.

Trump uses this heated debate between the courts upholding the constitutionality of the Pledge and liberal activists who speak out against it as fuel to feed his fiery, specific brand of patriotism. This brand is tied to attitudes of discrimination toward racial, religious, ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities. At the Cincinnati stop on Trump’s victory rally tour, for example, he stated:

There is no global anthem. No global currency. No certificate of global citizenship. We pledge allegiance to one flag and that flag is the American flag.

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Watch the video here.

At a Cleveland campaign stop during Trump’s candidacy (shortly after the incident when Colin Kaepernick refused to rise for the national anthem at a 2016 NFL game in order to protest the flag of a country “that oppresses black people and people of color”), Trump similarly said:

We will be united by our common culture, values and principles, becoming one American nation, one country under one Constitution saluting one American flag – and always saluting it – the flag all of you helped to protect and preserve, that flag deserves respect…We want young Americans to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Trump does not directly mention Colin Kaepernick during his speech, but his meaning is clear: in Trump’s America, children should be taught to respect and value the flag and American patriotism above all else. A demonstration of discontent with the government by opting out of patriotic rituals is, from this perspective, not acceptable.

In pledging allegiance to the flag, one pledges allegiance to their country and acknowledges its rule under God. Today, many secular people or people of other faiths do not feel comfortable doing so as they are unsure about the current and future state of the nation. In a political climate in which electing not to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem makes national news and contains multiple political meanings and social values on race, ethnicity and inclusion, the mandating or banning of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools could serve as a telling litmus test of the attitude of the country concerning the place of religion in everyday life.