"New World Blood Libel" By Spencer Drew

July 20, 2006

Source: Martin Marty Center


On July 20, 2006 the Martin Marty Center published an essay by Spencer Drew, a Ph.D. candidate in Religion and Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School: "Last month in Tampa, Florida, a grave was robbed. The body of a six-year-old boy killed by a car in 1975 was stolen. Police immediately speculated, publicly, that this crime was 'more' than vandalism: 'We are just leaning toward it being cult related or involving Santeria or some voodoo because we don't have any other reasonable explanation.' This is a loaded statement, one worth considering carefully. It offers an example of how religion in America can be defined starkly along lines of who is and who is not accepted as part of the cultural mainstream. Throughout history, religion has frequently acted as a locus of fear of the other, and thus a motivation for crusades, pogroms, and the like. One recent manifestation of such fear is the designation 'cult crime,' which entered everyday parlance as part of the culture-wide focus on crime and drugs in the Reagan era. This term is questionable both in terms of pragmatic value for detective work, as well as its legal connotations in a country that supposedly guarantees freedom of religion."