'Sacred Matters' designed with 'nones' in mind

Spirited Thinking | Feb. 10, 2014

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Church on Mainstreet by Don O’Brien via Flickr.

At last, there’s a magazine aimed at reaching the fastest growing religious group in the United States. "SacredMatters," a new online venture, is dedicated to public scholarship that delves deep into the phenomenon of the so-called "nones," those who claim to be spiritual but not affiliated with any established faith group.

Hosted by Emory University, "Sacred Matters" is co-edited by Gary Laderman of Emory and Michael Altman of the University of Alabama, two scholars who aim to go against the current flow.

"The project emerged out of discussions Gary and I had about religion and culture over the past few years," says Altman. "We both kept coming back to the ways people find the sacred outside of traditional religious traditions in things like music, art, popular culture and sports."

More recently, the “rise of the nones,” the 20 percent of Americans who claim no religious affiliation, pushed them to think about how the sacred functions outside of traditional religions and "in places we usually think of as 'culture,'" says Altman.

And in unlikely places as well. "We're looking at religion in the cracks and crevices of culture," Laderman says.

The magazine's premiere articles range widely across the cultural landscape: Eminent American church historian and Emory emeritus professor Brooks Holifield gives his take on "Why do Americans seem so religious?" Duke Middle Eastern studies expert Shalom Goldman contrasts American and Israeli attitudes toward medical marijuana—of course it's titled "Holy Smoke." Rounding out the offerings is Emory religion graduate student Alexis Wells' discussion of singer Beyonce as a model of liberative praxis.

In a world of ever-faster output of digital offerings tied to the subject du jour, "Sacred Matters" is dedicated to "slowing down a lot of the output around religion," says Laderman.

Both editors acknowledge this change in style and focus means the magazine won't be following the news cycle of religion and politics stories.

"We want to get off the well-worn topics and find new currents in religion and culture," says Altman. "We hope to bring interesting stories that you wouldn't expect from scholars, who nevertheless are committed to writing for a more general audience."