Dyson to explore cross-section of religion, culture, violence



Michael Eric Dyson has been called the “hip-hop intellectual,” and according to Maureen Rovegno, he’s bringing that perspective to the week’s interfaith conversation.

“We wanted to put a different spin on the week and to give closure [to the discussion],” said Rovegno, associate director of the Department of Religion. “Dyson brings in the realities of our culture through hip-hop, which is experienced through its devotees as religion.”

Dyson will give a lecture titled, “The Terror that Religion Battles, The Terror that Religion Brings,” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.

Rovegno said Dyson’s expertise will give a new angle of vision on the week’s theme.

“To the uninitiated, hip-hop seems to use excessive imagery of violence,” she said.

Dyson is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and is the author or editor of 18 books, including Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster, Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture and April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King’s Death and How it Changed America. His most recent work is Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic.

In addition to his work on hip-hop and rap, Dyson has spoken and written on the importance of productive conversation about religion.

“We have to be open-minded beyond our religious blinders and our cultural beliefs,” Dyson said at the Knoxville Area Urban League. “We have to talk about these things, talk through them — not talk around them, not talk past each other, but to engage in a conversation that opens us to difference and forces us to grapple with the ways of life we’re not used to.”

Dyson has also encouraged these kinds of conversations in regard to the recent violence against black churches.

“Some critics see black church leaders as curators of moral quiet in the face of withering assault,” Dyson wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times. “Religious people are accused of being passive in the wake of social injustice, of seeking heavenly reward rather than earthly action. In truth, the church at its best has nurtured theological and political resistance to white supremacy and the forces of black hatred.”