Taco Insights on Faculty Service

With the start of another school year right around the corner I’m thinking about service — one of those three main areas into which scholars usually divide up their work (the others being research and teaching, of course — and the order in which they’re written is not insignificant). It’s not hard to find faculty posting on social media bemoaning committee work, as if it gets in the way of a professor’s real work, but I’m here to say how important it is to the long term well-being of a Department — the primary unit that helps to make possible those individual careers. Continue reading

Publication News

We just got word that a paper co-written by Sierra Lawson (entering the second year of her M.A. in our Department) and Prof. Steven Ramey has been accepted to be published in the coming year in UK peer review journal Culture & Religion.

What’s it on?

Sourcing Stereotypes: Constructing and Challenging Simplified Knowledge

Abstract

The social media uproar in Fall 2017 over a nursing textbook chart that presented generalized characterizations of minority groups generated an assumption that medical training needs more Religious Studies expertise. Analyzing the sources that the chart cited, we trace the authors’ assertions to studies of varying quality and identify several specific processes involved in simplifying knowledge for dissemination, as the authors disregarded the limits of each specific study and ignored counter-evidence or otherwise evaded critical scrutiny. Comparing this example to examples from world religions discourse illustrates both differences and similarities in the process of constructing simplified presentations. While both presumably developed out of good intentions, they generate significant problems in their effort to shape material to support larger arguments. Thus, scholars across disciplines should critique and complicate their own processes for generating simplified knowledge.

 

“A confidential informant is not a spy…”

The title of this post is a quotation from US Senator Lindsey Graham, during a recent radio interview — find more details here, in a recent Washington Post report, along with a transcript of that portion of his interview. It concerns the President characterizing someone who is now much in the news as being a “spy” planted in his campaign by the FBI. That others understand this person as an informant — someone who, of their own volition, apparently decided authorities needed to know something he himself knew — is one among many current examples in US politics where it ought to be profoundly obvious that, yes, classification matters. Continue reading

An Experimental Case Study

There’s a timely project — happening now, right before our eyes — that someone in the study of religion could (should?) tackle, concerning the strategic use of origins tales in the present — not just that, but the self-beneficial way in which groups choose to use and sanction them (or simply ignore them). Continue reading

“Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?”

Yes, this year’s Manly Cup will be students vs. faculty in Jeopardy!

Which brings to mind that Cheers episode from so long ago, when Cliff, the know-it-all postal carrier, appeared on the show…

Let’s hope everyone does a little better than he did…

See you at 6 pm in Manly 207, n Thurs April 19

Dissertation Ideas, #47

In the same spirit in which I welcome the study of the totalizing mythic endeavors, the univers imaginaires, of an Ogotemmêli or an Antonio Guzmán, I would hope, someday, to read a consonant treatment of the analogous enterprise of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics….*

So wrote Jonathan Z. Smith, in his essay “Are Theological and Religious Studies Compatible?” (originally published in The CSSR Bulletin 26 [1997]: 60-61 and then reprinted in Chris Lehrich’s edited collection On Teaching Religion [2013: 75]).

I quote it here as an intellectual provocation, to challenge us as to how we generally privilege the familiar. For whether one identifies as Christian or not, such widely-known insider technical terms as grace, sin, and salvation, along with such proper nouns as the Holy Spirit, God, or Jesus, are more than likely so familiar to most scholars of religion that they would be hard pressed to study, let’s just say, Karl Barth’s magnum opus as a work of epic mythmaking, akin to the oral or written products of cultures with which we are not so familiar.

So it’s rather improbable that we would approach Barth’s text by historicizing it, understanding it as highly coded commentary on the world of its author’s day, perhaps as practical charter for how he thought his world ought to be…. You know, the way we’d surely read comparable texts from other groups. (That some would’t see his text as comparable to those others is part of the problem, by the way….)

It would therefore be a challenge — one well worth the effort, I think — to take Smith’s brief line, above, seriously, and approach the massive Church Dogmatics as nothing more or less than a myth and to then read it accordingly.

It would be a great dissertation project.

* Ogotemmêli, an elder of the Dogon group in Mali/west Africa, provided Marcel Griaule with esoteric insider teachings for the latter’s Conversations With Ogotemmêli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas (Oxford Univ. Press, 1965); Antonio Guzmán was an enculturated Desana Indian, from the Amazon, who Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff met in the city of Bogota, Colombia; see the latter’s book, Amazonian Cosmos (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971).

When Are Religious Studies and Theology Different?

I know a lot of people who don’t sanction the old religious studies vs. theology distinction anymore — to them, the once distinguishable pursuits are better understood to bleed into one another, are mutually informing, are close cousins, or maybe even the very same thing and so to try to differentiate them is a sad testament to the authenticity of the people and the experiences under study. Scholarship, in this mode, is akin to dialogue, a mutually beneficial conversation, an exploration of our common humanity. Continue reading