It’s pretty safe to say President Obama gets most things he does scrutinized and what he buys at Christmas time would be no exception. Indeed, among many an article analyzing whether it was Obama’s worst year ever or just worst year as president, what he bought at a bookstore seems like a rather modest topic to do some commentary. As happens when many people do their daily rounds of the news, one article caught my eye: “In Obama’s Book List, Glimpses of his Journey.” It happens that I instantly thought of Roland Barthes. I had the thought of how I should write a blogpost concerning the relationship of how this article is an example of what Barthes had written on what we should not do when discussing the “author.” What I wrote went from one page, to two, and then it hit me, “Lord have mercy,” I said to myself, “You are writing an academic paper! Not a blog post!”
You see, having graduated last May from our beloved Religious Studies department, I seem unable to stop what I was doing there. I even had some time to frolic afree, you know, unfettered by the “academic” world and did a little stint of travel post-graduation (though no trip to India of course!). Among many places, I ended up staying with my father, who happens to own a couple of Subway stores in Huntsville, Alabama (my childhood home and a nice road trip from Tuscaloosa), and learned a bit of the tricks of the trade of what “owning a business” actually entails. You’d think that it’d be something different, distinct, anew from all that “academic” stuff I had been learning about social identity, classification, and so forth. But no, alas, I couldn’t help but be reminded of what I learned when looking at questions of who owns what, a particularly adorable distinction between “fees,” which aren’t “taxes,” and on and on.
So it seems that I find myself a bit like Walter from “The Big Lebowski” when The Dude tells him he isn’t Jewish, but Polish Catholic, what he was before he got divorced — “So what are you saying?,” Walter exclaims, “When you get divorced you turn in your library card? You get a new license? You stop being Jewish?” Having gone through what one could call a pretty nasty graduating bout with the university — writing that thesis, when I exclusively drank Monsters for weeks was certainly a beating…– one would think I wouldn’t want to read another book or write another essay ever again, or, heaven help me, have a conversation that involved the word “religion” (or the classification “terrorism,” my other scholarly focus). One would think that after that liberating piece of paper called a diploma came in the mail, I’d magically be free from any thought ever again!
But, no indeed — that ridiculous thing called “Religious Studies” is something that sticks with you — in something as simple as a news article on what Obama must have been thinking when he choose what books to read or a conversation reminding you of a particular author, a particular theory, particular professor, particular friend–Religious Studies is just one card I just can’t turn in–though really, one I wouldn’t really want to.