On Lists

russiahousecites3

By Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She is now working on her M.A. in Religious Studies at CU Boulder. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.

Keeping it Private — or Not

protestA recent development, reported here, nicely illustrates the socio-political function of privacy, e.g., the (once?) widespread notion that those claims on behavior that were said to be premised on religious belief are merely a private affair concerning faith, sentiment, etc. For now this once common presumption is being troubled — inasmuch as the U.S. Supreme Court seems to be gradually dismantling it, in favor of allowing (just some) such claims to warrant exemptions from federal law.

But once this notion is undermined, who can tell what else about the public domain will start to change, given how many interests are vying for a piece of that pie. Continue reading

How We Encouraged Iraqi Sectarianism

iraq regionsA graduate of the department recently highlighted an intriguing Washington Post blog discussing the turmoil in Iraq. Avoiding the simplistic notions of blame (the Bush administration’s invasion or the Obama administration’s withdrawal of troops) that often depend on one’s own ideological perspective, the post develops a more nuanced historical narrative. Continue reading

Critical Thinking with Izzy, Episode 1: Structure and Agency

IzzyAnyone who is a virtual or actual friend of mine knows that we have a dog, Izzy — a 7 year old boxer that we’ve had for 6 years. (Ok, let’s just be honest: she has us.) Why? Coz I’ve posted a pick or two of her over the years.

She’s cute, what can I say?

Last night, seated in the living room, it occurred to me what a great illustration she provides of how we can talk about structure — as in social structure — and agency, and doing so in a way that doesn’t emphasize the one to the exclusion of the other, as if we are all mindlessly determined by forces larger than ourselves, on the one hand, or, on the other, as if we are all following our bliss and freely inventing ourselves every moment of the day. For it is surely somewhere in the middle, no? As I’ve said on plenty of other occasions, none of us invented the grammar that was pounded into us as children but, in the midst of using it, we can tweak it too — ain’t that right? And if we’re successful in the tweaking, then those who come after us will think that’s just one more of the rules they ought to be following.

But back to Izzy…

Continue reading

Situated Description

Picture 3The other day I was at the Field Museum of Natural History, in Chicago, and noticed that on the descriptions of a number of the bird specimens there was printed the following simple message:

Sexes look alike

Continue reading

The Difficult Art

Picture 4“What we labor at together in college is the production of individuals who know not only that the world is far more complex than it first appears, but also that, therefore, interpretative decisions must be made, decisions of judgment which entail real consequences for which one must take responsibility, from which one may not flee by the dodge of disclaiming expertise. This ultimately political quest for paradigms, for the acquisition of the powers and skills of informed judgment, for the dual capacities of appreciation and criticism, might well stand as the explicit goal of every level of the college curriculum. The difficult art of making interpretative decisions and facing up to their full consequences ought to inform each and every course, each and every object of study. This is the work of education, it is also the work of the world and of life. Let students and the public and, above all, the faculty be told this clearly. This is the only sort of work for which college trains. It is more than enough.”

– from Jonathan Z. Smith’s “Puzzlement” (1986), republished in On Teaching Religion (2013: 127; edited by Christopher Lehrich)

 

How Do You Define “Minister”?

CatholicSchoolIn light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, in which “closely held,” for-profit corporations now seem to have religious rights, it raises some questions about the extent to which employers can determine elements of their employees’ behavior — whether on the job or not. Continue reading

Big R and Little r

upperandlowercaseI recently wrote a review essay on the current state of scholarship on the category “religion” for the European history of religions journal, Numen (which comes out in 2015, I gather). It was fun to write, since its been 20 years since I first wrote a review essay on the same topic — “just how far have we come?” now becomes the question. Continue reading

Words Matter

Picture 27This news story reminded me of teaching long ago, and trying to persuade students that “God” was not necessarily a generic, cross-cultural, trans-historical term but, instead, usually carried with it (as do all words) a specific baggage (e.g., the Christian doctrine of trinity, the role of Jesus, specific ideas of heaven and salvation, the bible, etc.) — an argument not that different from trying to persuade students that “man” is not necessarily a universal designator for all human beings (i.e., introducing them to the issue of gender inclusive language). Continue reading

Out of Bounds

red-cardThe blokes (that’s the right word, no?) over at The Religious Studies Project posted a link earlier today to an article entitled “The Case Against Mix-and-Match Spirituality” — an article, summarizing a recent session at The Aspen Ideas Festival, that nicely demonstrates how easily (and often) scholars adopt a stance from within the groups they happen to study, thereby taking sides in what are, in fact, local disputes, instead of studying how group members themselves make judgment calls on who is or who is not out of bounds. Continue reading