The Sacred is the Profane

The other day I was looking at UVA’s podcast, now with several episodes (give it a listen), and couldn’t help but notice a nice example of a theoretical and methodological fracture point in the field, one which likely prompts people to pick a side when doing their work.

For although I agree that “the sacred is the profane,” Bill Arnal and I didn’t quite have this sense of the phrase in mind when picking a title for a set of essays that we collected together and published a few years ago. Continue reading

“You don’t know what that means!”

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By Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She is now working on her Ph.D. in American Religious Cultures at Emory University. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.

Several weeks back, I came across College Humor’s “If Gandhi Took A Yoga Class” video. In the clip, they have Gandhi challenging “western” yoga practices and understandings. Take a look… (Warning, there is some foul language)

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Studying the Shifting Tides

Picture 2There’s an interesting study to be written on the shifting tides, over the past fifteen years, in the representation of Islam in North America.

Case in point: take the above article, posted just days ago. It deviates in significant ways from the rhetoric that was mobilized immediately after the 9-11 attacks, in which the legitimacy of the attackers’ religion was quickly called into question, thereby creating a zone of peaceful and tolerant Muslims who were seen as safe and who were thus differentiated from those who were quickly turned into enemies and thus targets. Continue reading

Excuse Me, You Have Something on Your Forehead

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Sarah Griswold is a junior double majoring in Mathematics and Religious Studies. She spends her “free time” analyzing her favorite shows on Netflix, which of course winds up ruining them.

To get you started for some Ash Wednesday talk, enjoy some GloZell:

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten Season – the days leading up to Easter, meant to symbolize Jesus’s 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. By now, you probably have seen people with ashes on their foreheads and at least one or two articles linked on Facebook or other social media about what Ash Wednesday is, what it means, and what the ashes are for. What I find interesting is how the ashes operate as an intentional mode of identification.

As individuals who regularly interact with others and insert ourselves into society, we are constantly and consistently subject to classification by others and our own ideas of who we are. This manifests itself most commonly in race and gender, but it also appears based on observation of interactions with others. For example, you may see a woman (you have already classified her gender) holding a baby and conclude that she is a mother. Many aspects of the way we choose to present ourselves and therefore categorize ourselves are subconscious.

There are, however, many choices we make that are intentional. On campus here at UA, many individuals will wear the letters of an organization to associate themselves with a particular group of people and set of ideals. I, for one, am a part of a music fraternity called Sigma Alpha Iota and on every Wednesday we wear something with our letters on it. This is intentional in the strictest sense of the word.

So what does this have to do with Ash Wednesday? Today, I have ashes on my forehead and the letters ΣAI on my sweatshirt. If you see me walking down the street today, you will first say that I am a white female. Next, you will see my letters and either associate me with ΣAI or, not knowing what that is, some sort of Greek organization. As you walk closer, you will see the ashes on my forehead and, depending on your familiarity with Ash Wednesday, say that I am observing Lent or say something like, “Excuse me. You have something on your forehead.” My identity, then, is defined by you, but controlled by me.

I have no immediate control over my race and gender, yet it’s the first thing about myself that you classify. I chose to wear letters, but had I not, you would know nothing about that aspect of my life. The ashes are special to today.

For those observing Lent this year, Ash Wednesday is the time to show the world. They get to wear their ashes, which results only in lingering gazes and a couple of questions from those unfamiliar with the day. It is a piece of their identity that they now have a nonverbal way of communicating to others. For those observing those with ashes, they either learn something new about Christianity or about those they see with the ashes.

Of course, to those with the ashes, it is not just about identifying oneself for the world to see. There are many more reasons for it and you can read it about those in the articles you see linked on Facebook. For now, I leave you with a couple of questions: What ways do you intentional manipulate your identity and how others perceive you? What do you see others do to identify themselves?

Photo credit: George Fox Evangelical Seminary on Flickr CC BY 2.0

Whence Mother Earth?

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John D. James is a senior at the University of Alabama majoring in Religious Studies and minoring in General Business. This book review was written for Dr. Michael J. Altman’s REL 370: Empire and the Construction of Religion course.

In Mother Earth: An American Story, Sam D. Gill begins to articulate and explain with physical evidence that the term “Mother Earth” is commonly misused and presented to audiences as some common knowledge involving Native American thought and belief. Gill takes an interesting approach when trying to carefully argue that Mother Earth is not an ancient central Native American figure. This book’s message is a radical rethinking of how the figure Mother Earth came to be used and ultimately misused by so many who failed to ask questions concerning Mother Earth’s origin.

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The Authentic Dream Cafe

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

A few months ago I wrote a post relating an episode of Seinfeld to issues of identity that are commonly discussed in our classes. After letting the initial fame and grandeur of my first post wear off, I decided that more connections could be made from the sitcom and the academic study of religion, particularly with regards to authenticity.

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Authenticity and the Nation-State, Or Why Thai Food is a Lot Like ISIS

 

tumblr_mdls46sPdt1qawtgfo1_1280We love Thai food around here. But how do you know the food on your plate is actually Thai? What makes it Thai? The sign in the restaurant window? The “Thai tea?” What is “authentic Thai food?”

Well, the government of Thailand is sick and tired of your sad excuses for Thai food and they have a plan to ensure you never settle for fake Thai food again. It’s not just a plan, it’s a robot. Continue reading

Meet the Press

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Our own Dr. Merinda Simmons recently published a book, titled Changing the Subject: Writing Women Across the African Diaspora. In this post, she sat down for an interview to discuss the book, her work, and its relations to the academic study of religion.

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On Not Knowing Where to Look

galleryThose who sustain this idealized image of culture do so … by mistaking the dominant fraction … of a given group for the group or “culture” itself.  At the same time, they mistake the ideological positions favored and propagated by the dominant fraction for those of the group as a whole…. Scholarly misrecognitions of this sort replicate the misrecognitions and misrepresentations of those the scholars privilege as their informants. (Bruce Lincoln, “Theses on Method,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 8/3 [1996]: 226)

Living out one such misrecognition, my Durban roommate [when we attended the 2000 meeting of the International Association for the History of Religions world congress], Willi Braun, and I took a cab one day from the Congress hotel to the tourist bureau in downtown Durban to see a much discussed African art exhibition — art, like religion, thought by many to symbolize the authentic, aesthetic sense (an analogy used by Rudolf Otto in the opening pages of The Idea of the Holy) and struggle of a people.  But, unbeknownst to us, it happened to be National Women’s Day in South Africa and the bureau was closed when we got there.  Much like Gertrude Stein’s comment (often paraphrased by the late-Ninian Smart, or so I’m told), when we got there, there was no “there” there — a fitting example of what Žižek calls the illusion of traditional realism: Continue reading