They Were Right to Boo


Did you see Ted Cruz’s speech last night at the Republican National Convention? Maybe you heard about this morning — if you’re following the US Presidential race, that is.

He had a prime spot and ended his speech with a few words that caused him to get resoundingly booed. Continue reading

We Are the Beneficiaries


As I sit here making the Spring 2017 class schedule for our department I recall the many times that I’ve heard academics lament being involved in administration. (That they equally complain about no longer being much involved in the governance of their institutions is an irony too rich to overlook.) “My condolences” is the witty reply many offer when learning that a colleague has fallen on the dagger (yes, that’s how it is portrayed) of becoming a department chair, coupled with such profuse congratulations at news of one stepping down as to make you think that it was equivalent to having your wrongful conviction overturned. Continue reading

To God Be The Glory Brake Bands and Clutch

Signs Blog Post

Anastasiya Titarenko is a rising Junior pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Religious Studies and minoring in Educational Studies. She is currently living in Accra, Ghana, and will be spending the next six months traveling to Ukraine, Italy, and New Zealand.

On my first day in Ghana, I passed by In Jesus Name Amen Look Good Shop. I could not hold back a little laugh, because this seemed to be such a strange name for a business. Even more peculiar was that signs like this – signs with a (what I initially perceived as) religious element of advertising – stood on every street. To give you a taste, here are some of my favorites:

His Grace Fast Food

God Bless Me Store

Anointing Finger of God Fashion Decoration

Jesus is Alive Motors

Your God is Mightier Taxi Service

Jesus Cares Enterprises

With God All Things Are Possible Eating Joint

God’s Favor Store

Abundant Blessings Electrical Store

God Is Able Beauty Salon

The Overflowing Grace Pharmacy

Ask and It Will Be Given Bookshop

I saw signs like this in many cities throughout various regions of Ghana, and they never failed to “stick out” to me. Whenever I asked my Ghanaian friends about the signs, they almost always responded with pause and a bit of confusion: “What do you mean? That’s just how the signs are.” It was almost as if they didn’t notice the “religious” aspect of them until I asked about it.

It was after a few of these awkward conversations that I realized the interesting thing going on was not the signs themselves, but my reaction to them.

Why did I find these signs so odd? And why did the locals find them so not odd? Perhaps it is because these signs did not align with my dominant way of thinking — my way of classifying the world around me.

I thought these signs were weird because I immediately and unthinkingly separated the world into specific categories such as “religion” and “business.” In my mind, these categories tend to be mutually exclusive. This mutual exclusivity is not the only way of doing things, and it is not the “right” way of doing things. A clear picture of what is “normal” (and what is not) had been manufactured for me, and it was through that lens of constructed normalcy that I comprehended these signs. I was looking through that metaphorical lens when I laughed at Clap For Jesus Barber Shop, and I didn’t even realize it.

This is a perfect example of two things: that systems of classification strongly impact how we process the world, and that we rarely notice systems of classification until they stop working. Sometimes the consequences of this are harmless, like my grin while driving past God is Good Aluminum Company. Consequences do, however, have the potential to be much greater, in the study of religion and other fields.

Take, for example, the classification of gender in the United States. The system of binary gender (male/female) has been dominant for a long time. This system, previously considered normal and irrefutable (and still considered this way by many), is being called into question because it does not work for everyone. Laws are changing, language is changing, television show characters are changing…the list goes on.

Culture is changing as a result of constant actions and reactions that either reinforce or act against existing systems of classification. If we allow ourselves to be more critical of why we think the way we do – if we become more aware of the lenses of constructed normalcy through which we view the world – we can grow stronger as scholars and agents of culture.

When Classification Becomes Deadly


Sarah Griswold graduated from UA’s Department of
Religious Studies in 2016. She will begin work on her
M.A. in Religion at Florida State University in August.

We do not yet know the motives of those who shot and killed five police officers in Dallas last night. We do not know why Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed. We do not know if the man found in Piedmont Park in Atlanta committed suicide or was lynched by the KKK. We do not know if homophobia or allegiance to IS was the primary cause that led to the recent massacre in an Orlando nightclub.

I could go on, but we may never know. Continue reading

What’s in a Name?

Micah Blogpost

Micah Davis graduated from the Department of Religious Studies in 2016. He is currently working for a health screening company in Alabama.

Dihydrogen monoxide (later referred to as DHMO) is a toxic chemical compound that is not recognized as such by the CDC or the U.S. Government. Thousands have died after inhaling DHMO and it is a major component of acid rain. It can cause blood poisoning and it is also found in tumors which have been removed from cancer patients. And it is found everywhere you turn. It is found in all of our lakes, streams, and rivers. This deadly chemical compound is absolutely inescapable in everyday life.

What makes DHMO so interesting is that it is actually H2O, more commonly called “water.” “Dihydrogen monoxide” is a fancy way of signifying a compound made of two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule. And that is where the importance of naming enters the field of science.

In 2013, some radio station DJs got themselves in hot water with management by pulling a prank on their listeners, warning them that DHMO was pouring out of their taps. Of course, they also included little facts about DHMO that would show their listeners that the chemical was definitely unsafe. Soon, residents in Lee County were calling the utilities department and complained that they had heard their water was unsafe to use for drinking or bathing. Of course, the utility had to respond by issuing an email to media outlets stating that there were no problems with the water supply.

It seems that at least some people believed the DHMO hoax in Florida and that leads to the question, “What’s in a name?” Of course, names signify things. For instance, I can talk about Florida, and anyone who knows the geography of the United States can point at a map of the country or the world and point out the place to which I am referring. But what is it about names that can confuse people and cause water (something which is essential to life for human beings and something which we are composed of) to be confused with something that is so toxic that it must be banned?

This leads to an important statement used by the department many times while I was there and I’m sure it’s legacy will live on: Classification is a political act. In this case, naming is a political act. The construction of the compound “dihydrogen monoxide” is no different from the construction of the compound “water.” It was named and has certain characteristics of itself which we would easily list when faced with the question “what is water?” or, “what is DHMO?” The only difference is the list itself. If someone asks me what water is, I would probably respond with the benefits which water provides living things on earth and maybe a few characteristics such as its clarity or its fluidity. However, when asked what DHMO is (if I was informed by the website, I would probably respond with a list of things which make DHMO sound dangerous.

Even though water and DHMO are simply two ways to signify the same thing, the context in which the name is used (and the name we choose to use) can cause a shift in the perspective from which we analyze the raw material. The names we decide to use to signify a signified subject can create a vastly different perception between thinkers even if the different names refer to a single subject.

So, what’s in a name? Well, I guess it all depends on what name is used in which context.

Prof. Ikeuchi to Screen Her Research

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 11.39.28 AM

Our newest addition to the REL faculty, Prof. Suma Ikeuchi will screen her ethnographic film “In Leila’s Room” at the 2016 Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Media Festival. Here’s a brief description of the film:

A young Brazilian migrant woman, Leila, runs a small make-up salon in her apartment in Toyota City, Japan. Most of her clients are, like herself, Brazilians of Japanese descent who have return migrated to the land of their ancestors. Her small salon is also a social hub of evangelical women in the local Brazilian migrant community who come in for good make-up and conversations. In this intimate space, Leila, her fellow migrants, and the filmmaker speak about and act out their complex identities.
Shot almost entirely in one room, the film captures migrants’ sense of identity and belonging by witnessing the interactions between Leila, the filmmaker, her family and friends, and the clients. What defines being Japanese, Brazilian, or Japanese-Brazilian? How does generational identity shape transnational belonging? How can one rely on God in the face of ethnic discrimination and social alienation? The scenes and dialogues speak to these issues that migrants constantly grapple with.

The film will be screened at the festival in Minneapolis, MN this November. Congratulations, Prof. Ikeuchi!