Sacred & Profane

The Breath of Our Neighbor

Season 2 / E9

Sacred & Profane, Season 2, Episode 9 "The Breath of Our Neighbors"

[00:00:00] Martien Halvorson-Taylor I'm Martien Halvorson-Taylor

[00:00:01] Kurtis Schaeffer and I'm Kurtis Schaeffer.

[00:00:04] Martien Halvorson-Taylor And this is Sacred & Profane, a show about how religions shape us and how we shape religions. Tonight will mark the 13th night of protests around the country. They began in Minneapolis after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer as three other officers looked on. His death was both shocking and ordinary. One more name in a list of black and brown men and women and children killed by police in this country as a result of the violence that people of color have faced for over 400 years.

[00:00:49] Kurtis Schaeffer In academia, we can lapse into talking about systemic racism and white privilege abstractly, many of us study the larger patterns of racism and injustice. Universities condemn police killings and reaffirm commitments to equality on paper. But there's not often concrete steps that lead to tangible change. In other words, a lot of talk, but not a lot of walk. And that's what struck our colleague, Larycia Hawkins, when she was teaching politics at an evangelical Christian college outside Chicago.

[00:01:24] Larycia Hawkins I remember being on the Green Line in Chicago one afternoon, it was April.

[00:01:34] Everyone's hopeful in Chicago that it's going to stay warm. It never does. And I see a woman. She's on her laptop. I'm thinking, well, that's unwise because there had been a rash of robberies of iPhones and other kinds of things. And so I was judging her internally.

[00:01:54] And she is working away on her laptop.

[00:01:57] And a young man, a young black man is standing next to her and she looks up. She said, How you doing? And he said, I'm good. And she said, Where's your jacket? And he said, I don't have one.

[00:02:14] And she immediately puts her laptop down. Takes off her jacket.

[00:02:23] And gives it to him as he's about to get off. She says, you stay safe out there.

[00:02:31] And I see this. And.

[00:02:35] It takes everything within me not to cry because I'm thinking what I'm literally thinking is. I just saw Jesus on the Green Line.

[00:02:56] In the Sermon on the Mount, what Jesus says is if your neighbor asks for your cloak, give him your coat. And it's a very small act, but it's the most significant act to take the clothing off of your body and give it to a stranger to care for the most uncared for, the most feared body in all of Chicago. And in all of this country: a young black man. And that's it. That's embodied solidarity and it's as insignificant as that. And like I said, that is the most significant thing we can do. That's all embodied solidarity is. But it requires the seeing. She saw him.

[00:03:44] She saw. A human worthy of respect and dignity. The least respected and dignified human in this country. A young black male. He's probably 18, 17, and every other person on the train was probably afraid of him.

[00:04:10] I was always thinking about how disconnected in the academy we are from our bodies. And I'm trying to get away from emphasizing only the mind.

[00:04:21] And as a Christian, there's an overemphasis in many Christian denominations, whether fundamentalist or evangelical or even Catholic, on the spiritual to the detriment of the physical, again, to the detriment of em body meant, even though we believe that Jesus embodied the highest form of solidarity, which is death on the cross.

[00:04:45] I was thinking about how do I bridge theory and practice and as a political scientist, my task is to teach students about the role of government in the world. The role of politics and the overarching purpose of government is to do justice in the public realm.

[00:05:08] Since George Floyd died, two both attended and witnessed the protests.

[00:05:17] I feel quite torn. I'm on the one hand quite grateful for the ways that bodies pour into the street in what I believe is a form of embodied solidarity.

[00:05:34] Absolutely.

[00:05:36] I think protest is one form. But I'll also say that embodies solidarity is costly and it's less costly for certain kinds of people to show up and march than others.

[00:06:04] Protest is also sexy. It's something that people can do to assuage their guilt, to absolve themselves of history's painful, continual porking of the body of black, indigenous and other people of color.

[00:06:28] And so I'm.

[00:06:33] Grateful.

[00:06:34] And I'm also dubious. I think distrust is a Democratic value. We talk about social capital and trust and reciprocity being core to social capital. I don't trust white people to do it.

[00:06:51] I don't. I wish I did and I wish I could.

[00:06:59] When I say that for some folk in the streets, this is not costly, what I mean is it's low hanging fruit.

[00:07:07] It's low hanging fruit for people who don't work three shifts on four jobs a week.

[00:07:16] Voting is low hanging fruit for my college students who will graduate and already have jobs lined up. The price of embodied solidarity is higher for them, and that's what I teach them.

[00:07:29] The scripture that I grew up learning says that we will know the righteous by their fruit, the righteous of whatever religion or non religion or ilk.

[00:07:43] I take that to mean that humans have within them the swell of humanity and we can suppress it.

[00:07:56] What Christianity has bequeathed to me, or I should say, being a Jesus follower, is also a sense of hope that that life and death are always commingled, that we're united in life and suffering and death. Which I also know is very Buddhist. That there's also a beauty in that unity. What I think embodied solidarity provides us is a prism. It's a prism. We have to have that perspective.

[00:08:31] May this death turn us towards life and being in embodied solidarity with the breath of our neighbors.

Monday marks the thirteenth day of nationwide protests after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. His death was both shocking, and ordinary. His is one more name in a list of black and brown men—and women, and children—killed by police in this country.  Now, across the country, protestors are putting their bodies at risk from police violence, and from the COVID pandemic, with the hope of creating radical change. We spoke with our colleague Larycia Hawkins about the power—and the price—of embodied solidarity.

How to cite this episode:

Halvorson-Taylor, M., Schaeffer K. (Presenters), Hawkins, L. (Guest), & Gadek, E. (Producer), “The Breath of Our Neighbor.” Sacred & Profane (2020, June 8).

Additional Reading

Graham, Ruth. The Professor Wore a Hijab in Solidarity – Then Lost Her Job. 13 Oct. 2016,

Lebron, Christopher J. The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea. Oxford University Press, 2019.

Ore, Ersula J. Lynching: Violence, Rhetoric, and American Identity. University Press of Mississippi, 2019.

Shin, Sun Yung, editor. A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2016.

Stevenson, Bryan. Why American Prisons Owe Their Cruelty to Slavery. 14 Aug. 2019,

TEDxTalks. “The Gospel and the Meaning of Embodied Solidarity | Larycia Hawkins | TEDxWilmingtonSalon.” YouTube, 29 June. 2016,

Episode Contributors

Larycia Hawkins

Larycia Hawkins

Assistant Professor, Politics and Religious Studies

Larycia Hawkins, PhD., is a scholar, a political science professor, and an activist. Professor Hawkins teaches and researches at the University of Virginia, where she is jointly appointed in the departments of Politics and Religious Studies. She also serves as a Faculty Fellow at the University's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, is a contributor to the Project on Lived Theology; and co-convenes the Henry Luce Foundation project, Religion and Its Publics. In a December 10, 2015, Facebook post, Hawkins declared her intent to don a hijab in embodied solidarity with Muslim sisters throughout the Christian season of Advent. The post ignited an international firestorm that initiated conversations about the nature of God and the possibilities for multi-faith solidarity at a time when Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, and hate crimes motivated by religious differences were, and continue to be, more prolific than at any time in recent history. At the time of her activism, Hawkins was an Associate Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College (IL), a Christian university founded in 1860 by abolitionists. Hawkins was the first black woman to be granted tenure in the history of the university. Within five days of her Facebook post, and after repeatedly affirming her commitment to the college’s Statement of Faith, Hawkins was placed on administrative leave. On February 6, 2016, almost two months following her act of embodied solidarity with Muslim women, she and Wheaton College agreed to part ways. Her story is documented in A New York Times Magazine feature, “The Professor Wore a Hijab in Solidarity—Then Lost Her Job”, and in a recent Washington Post article, Hawkins was recognized as “one of 12 major religious newsmakers — and stories — from the past decade who stood out, in part or in full, because of their beliefs or religious traditions.” Dr. Hawkins is the subject of a film, Same God by Midgett Productions. The documentary premiered at the LA Film Festival, won the Best Documentary Award at the Bentonville Film Festival, was a finalist for a jury award at the Cork Film Festival in Ireland, and aired nationally on local PBS World affiliates in December. In a review published in Rolling Stone, Alex Morris wrote, “Same God exposes the hypocrisy of the church and the power of faith. Backed up by interviews with biblical scholars from none other than Wheaton itself, Same God pointedly reveals the flaws in dogmatic Christianity, the cost of speaking truth to power, and the amazing strength of a woman standing by her convictions. It’s a tale of David and Goliath, a testament to the power of faith.”

Kurtis Schaeffer

Kurtis Schaeffer

Co-Director and Frances Myers Ball Professor, Religious Studies

An expert in the cultural history of Buddhism in Tibet and the author or editor of nine books, Schaeffer is interested more generally in the workings of religion in social life. He is especially interested in the ways religion moves people to action through art, literature, history, and ritual. He has directed multiple NEH summer institutes on the academic study of religion, and manages multiple collaborative digital projects. Schaeffer routinely conducts research in Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. He served as Department Chair of Religious Studies, the largest such department at a public university in the US, for eight years.

Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor

Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor

Co-Director and Associate Professor, Religious Studies

A scholar of the Hebrew Bible, Halvorson-Taylor focuses on the interpretation of the Babylonian exile, diaspora literature, the book of Job, and the reception of the Bible. An award-winning teacher, she offers large enrollment classes on the Hebrew Bible, as well as specialized courses on the books of Job, Genesis, and the Song of Songs. She currently serves as the Director of UVA’s Pavilion Seminars, which are focused on big topics with enduring relevance across disciplines and are aimed at advanced third- and fourth-years. Her recently published short course with Audible Books, called "Writing the Bible," explores the question, “Who wrote the Bible?” Learn more here.

Emily Gadek

Emily Gadek

Senior Producer

These days, Gadek spends her time producing Sacred & Profane, the Lab’s podcast exploring the many ways religion shapes our daily lives. Previously, she was a producer for Virginia Humanities’ popular American history show, BackStory, and worked on WBEZ Chicago’s morning news show Eight Forty-Eight. In other lives, she’s been an ESL teacher, a freelance audio producer and videographer, and ran a website for a midcentury modern house museum in the deep desert of Southern California.

Additional Credits

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“A southbound Green Line train nears 43rd St. Station, Chicago. December 20, 2018.” by: Pi.1415926535 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.