How Your Phone Defines Religion

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As the Faculty Technology Liaison to the College of Arts and Sciences at UA, I am part of a Mac Administrators forum. I was surprised to notice the exclusion of deities from emoji eligibility while glancing over an update notice. After some investigation, I was surprised to learn about the selection factors of the Unicode Consortium.

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In fact, the Unicode Consortium has produced a very detailed report, “Emoji and Symbol Additions – Religious Symbols and Structures,” for which “The objective has been to have symbols and structures of major belief systems worldwide represented with an emphasis on filling up existing gaps in the encoded symbol repertoire.”

The report is an excellent “common sense inventory” for what ready-to-hand assumptions exist for thinking about the study of religion. For example, the emoji for “place of worship”  is that of a person kneeling in prayer under a roof. What does this representation include or exclude from considerations about religion?place-of-worship

Explaining Nags, Witches, and Evil Stepmothers

Picture 1Did you hear the radio story this morning on folklorists attempting to explain why, all across culture, old women so often appear as evil characters in fairy tales and myths…? Continue reading

Sita Sings the Universal Blues

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by Jared Powell
Jared Powell is  a senior from Canton, Mississippi
majoring in English and Religious Studies. This post
was originally written for Steven Ramey’s REL 419 class.

Any college student would agree that the last thing we need is another Netflix suggestion to distract us from our studies… but that is exactly what I’m going to offer. Put down your English readings, forget about that MathLab assignment, and–dare I say it–skip the football game and watch Sita Sings the Blues. Nina Paley’s animated retelling of the Ramayana is humorous, charming, visually captivating, and–as will be explained after the preview below–incredibly insightful for thinking about narrative formation. Continue reading

It is Borders that Divide Us, as well as Our Ability to Recognize Them

Last week’s conclusion of the Canadian federal election marks another milestone in the exercise of democracy. Ballots were cast. A new party obtained a majority (of seats). The election is now over.

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I did not take part in that election. Despite being a Canadian citizen, I live outside the borders of the country, and I do not plan on moving back at a definite time in the future. Therefore, at least according to my reading, I am ineligible to participate in that democratic process.

My situation brings into relief Étienne Balibar’s observation about the undemocratic constitutive element of democratic nations: borders.

“They are, in sum, the point where, even in the most democratic of states, the status of a citizen returns to the condition of a “subject,” where political participation gives way to the rule of police. They are the absolutely nondemocratic, or “discretionary,” condition of democratic institutions. And it is as such that they are, most often, accepted, sanctified, and interiorized.” (author’s emphasis; We, the People of Europe: Relfections on a Transnational Citizenship. 2004, 109)

canadian-border-quebec-city-canada+1152_12866659878-tpfil02aw-29940One of the hot-button issues of the election, that of policing “barbaric cultural practices,” also brings Balibar’s observation into acute focus. Every now and then, democratic societies express the wish to recognize their borders more clearly. They ask that border-control practices circulate among themselves in order to secure their perception that their society is sacrosanct.

At such points in time, the absolutely nondemocratic condition of democracy comes into full view. And then, oftentimes in the denouement of a democracy’s crisis – the acceptance speech after an election in this case – the conditions of democracy slip into the shadows.

The Sociology of Individuals

capitalizingreligionMy REL 245 course presses on and now we’re about to tackle Craig Martin’s Capitalizing Religion: Ideology and the Opiate of the Bourgeoisie.

So I’ve got some weekend reading to do.

The course is asking whether the study of religion ought to be founded on the assumption that the public, observable, material elements of religious life are but secondary manifestations of prior immaterial things — usually called beliefs, experiences, feelings, meanings, etc. Calling this common assumption into question is a way to further complicate how scholars (especially Americanists studying the pluralism of the US) often talk about religious change, such as the supposed decisions that so-called individual, rational actors are said to make when they convert or “shop for” a religion. Continue reading

“It’s Absolutely Essential That You Continue, Teacher…”

obedienceThe other day, my REL 245 class, concerned with investigating some of the background assumptions that make it possible for many scholars today to study religion in America in terms of choice — as if religious consumers are shopping in a competitive spiritual marketplace — took a look at Stanley Milgram’s famous series of psychology experiments; dating from the early 1906s, this series of experiments examined the role authority plays in human action and decision-making. Continue reading

The Tremendous Irony of it All

vpelectionLast week there was some chatter online about the nominations put forward for the leadership of our field’s main professional association. (Question: why does the nominating committee exercise a monopoly on determining the organization’s leadership?) Apart from a variety of posts on Facebook and Twitter, the blogs I saw were those by Mike Altman, Aaron Hughes, Finbarr Curtis, and Elesha Coffman.

They’re all well worth reading.

The issue, for some, seems to be that the VP nominees are both Christian theologians of a particular stripe (maybe also their gender and race are relevant to some — just what criteria does this nominating committee even use?), leaving little difference between them and thus making a bit of a mockery out of the thought of choosing one over the other.

Sure, Coke and Pepsi are different in some regards, but…

Continue reading

Weaving the Thread of Oregon’s Origins

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By Jared Powell
Jared Powell is a senior from Canton, Mississippi
majoring in English and Religious Studies

If you follow college football, like most folks around here do, then you’ve surely heard a thing or two about the Oregon Ducks. Oregon has carved their place as one of the most successful college teams of the past five years with an imagined rivalry with the Tide (“We want Bama” anyone?), but they also make waves week in and week out with their jersey designs. The Ducks have been known to sport bright neon green and yellow getups in games past, but the designs for the October 10th matchup against Washington State branch off in a new direction—the overt creation of an origins narrative.

Continue reading

Why Good Looks Matter

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Veikko Anttonen is Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religion at the University of Turku, Finland. He was elected Vice-President of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) for the period 2015-2020 at the conference in Erfurt last August.
He was the Professor and Chair of Comparative Religion at the University of Turku between 1997-2015.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, stated in an interview that a successor to his post can be a woman if she is good looking, otherwise she would not be of much use. The statement is overtly sexist, and as expected, has met severe criticism. But what else the interview statement implies! The Tibetan institution of finding “a reincarnated” Dalai Lama, the supreme religious leader representing continuous genealogy of Buddhas, is a religio-cultural construct. It is obvious that there are specific culture-dependent criteria which become operative as integral elements in official Tibetan Buddhist theology in the search for a “right” successor. From the point of view of the study of religion, we do not only need to understand how a politically correct choice is being made, but also to theorize the overall religio-cultural construct called reincarnation. According to my category-theoretical approach to the issue of sacrality, there are specific criteria, such as perception of an anomaly and category-boundary that become operative in classifying and attributing sacredness as property of a thing and an appropriate member in the class of “sacred things”.

Over the history, things have acquired their sacred status in diverse ways in different cultures and category systems. The Dalai Lama’s remark was not a slip of the tongue, but a comment indicative of sacred-making characteristics among Tibetan Buddhist monks. Qua scholars of religion, we need to ask what cultural, ethnic-territorial, socio-economic and person-specific characteristics are implied in setting apart an appropriate candidate for the post of Dalai Lama. Since good looks seem to matter in the case of a female candidate, it needs to be explained how culture- and theology-dependent notions of sacrality are appropriated in order to meet requirements regarding the expectations of a candidate’s political role, his/her media and public appeal, etc. I am not hereby implying any kind of sui generis theories of the sacred á la Eliade, but a methodological strategy that can be operationalized in order to explain the institution of finding a new, reincarnated religio-political leader for Buddhist monks after the passing of Dalai Lama.

The statement by the Dalai Lama is therefore revealing since it clearly expresses that there is a system of classification according to which certain traits of personality and appearance are perceived as elemental in the re-embodiment of a dead monk.

 

3 Things You Should Do During #RELWeek

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The College of Arts and Sciences is all about REL this week. That’s right, it’s #RELWeek. What does that mean? It means that A&S will be featuring REL on its social media accounts all week as part of its All About A&S campaign. So, here are three things you can do to celebrate #RELWeek

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1. Follow us on Instagram.

Just think about it. #RELWeek #AllAboutAS

A photo posted by UA Dept. of Religious Studies (@studyreligion) on

2. Tweet about why you love your REL class or what’s great about being an REL major with the hashtag #RELWeek.

 

3. Follow the College of Arts and Sciences on Instagram and Facebook so you can win free stuff!

We could also add that you should find us on Facebook and Twitter but you already knew that, right?

Happy #RELweek!

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