Culture on the Edge: An Origin Story

Last week, Professors Steven Ramey and Vaia Touna sat down to discuss their involvement with the Culture on the Edge research group and blog, along with their two book series. Though the discussion was intended to focus on Prof. Touna’s recent addition to the published series, it naturally led to a conversation on the implications of fabricating origins and identity.

After asking them how Culture on the Edge started, we were quickly reminded of the intentional choices individuals make when telling their story. Though both professors were involved in the early stages of the group, they each established different origin “points.” Similarly, the prefaces in their respective book series gave different dates for the start of the group. Although each origin was factually correct, the variations amongst them demonstrate the messiness of identifying beginnings.

In 2011, Prof. Ramey and two other professors from the University of Alabama formed what many would consider an academic book club. After striking up a conversation around Manly Hall, the trio (Professors Ramey, Simmons, and McCutcheon) found a shared interest in how individuals form their own identity. Despite their varied focuses in the field of Religious Studies, they realized that by casually elaborating on various real-life examples they could make their efforts to complicate constructions of the past more relatable. Before long, scholars at other institutions expressed similar interests, including Prof. Vaia Touna who was completing her Ph.D. at the University of Alberta in Canada at the time.

Prof. Vaia Touna’s Who Are You? response on the Culture on the Edge blog.

In 2013, the group created a blog where these geographically separate scholars could share ideas. The posts were initially eclectic, but in the next year, the Culture on the Edge group decided to introduce themselves under a common theme: Who Are You? Through this blog series, the scholars could explore the constructions of origin points and true identities by reexamining their own experiences.

The goal of the Culture on the Edge blog is to make the complications of social theory applicable in undergraduate courses and to academics early in their career. The everyday examples used in the posts make theories more tangible and often clarify these typically abstract concepts for students and scholars alike.

Eventually, the book-club-turned-blog evolved further into a series of published works which dove deeper into the academic exploration of identity formation. Many of these books present particular essays or chapters previously written by scholars of religion accompanied by the presentation of a different scholar’s examples and questions.

The Culture on the Edge research group sponsors two book series published by Equinox Publishers; one edited by Dr. Ramey and the other by Dr. Touna. Beyond their role as editors, both scholars have also contributed responses and other written pieces to the series.

As the group expands, they hope to illustrate alternate techniques for talking about and problematizing identity. Though origins are more complex than they appear, the Culture on the Edge blog and book series demonstrate how far a conversation over coffee and shared interests can go.