Most progressive liberals are aware of the dangers of borrowing from racially marginalized communities. My students are no exception. They are quick to identify and condemn forms of cultural appropriation when white folks adopt styles of communities of color for financial benefit or to increase their coolness quotient. Which is all to say we are in a very important cultural moment of awareness to systemic racial injustice. We are primed to see racial borrowing as likely ethically fraught. And this is a good thing.
But few seem to be concerned or even notice when religious borrowing causes harm. In fact, quite the opposite. Religious combining is not only common, but also encouraged as a way to engage religious practice without having to submit to religious institutions, hierarchies, and doctrines. It is a method to get the spiritual benefits of religions without losing individual autonomy. What is spiritual but not religious if not a commitment to borrow religious practices while remaining an outsider to religious communities, a situation ripe for appropriation?
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