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.