So what’s your theory of religion?

ammonbundy

If you’ve been following what’s going on in Oregon over the past few days then you know about the armed stand-off that involves members of the Bundy family, among other ranchers, occupying the headquarters of a federal wildlife refuge, as their stand against the federal government’s land-use policies (maybe even the federal government’s legitimacy). Continue reading

The Sociology of Individuals

capitalizingreligionMy REL 245 course presses on and now we’re about to tackle Craig Martin’s Capitalizing Religion: Ideology and the Opiate of the Bourgeoisie.

So I’ve got some weekend reading to do.

The course is asking whether the study of religion ought to be founded on the assumption that the public, observable, material elements of religious life are but secondary manifestations of prior immaterial things — usually called beliefs, experiences, feelings, meanings, etc. Calling this common assumption into question is a way to further complicate how scholars (especially Americanists studying the pluralism of the US) often talk about religious change, such as the supposed decisions that so-called individual, rational actors are said to make when they convert or “shop for” a religion. Continue reading

Beyond “Belief”

Picture 5There was a time when I preferred to say “beliefs, behaviors, and institutions” as my way of complicating the philosophically idealist presumptions that drive our use of the word “belief” in the study of religion — a word we often use to make sense of what people, like those pictured above, are doing.

But I try not to say that anymore. Continue reading

The Effects of “Bad Religion”

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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 M.A. in Religious Studies at CU Boulder. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.

Many of you may be following, or at least aware of, Rowan, KY county clerk Kim Davis denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the recent Supreme Court ruling (on June 26, 2015) that legalized same-sex marriage across the United States. In the days following Davis’s refusal to cooperate, I have seen a lot of “bad religion” claims being made on social media and news media sites — i.e., claims by some that she exhibits an improper or inauthentically religious position. It has also since come out in the press that Davis has been married four times and had an affair with one man whom she eventually married. So what strikes me as interesting are the types of reactions and articles I have seen while scrolling through Facebook, seeking to invalidate her: she’s a hypocrite, she’s playing fast and loose with the Bible, her “personal beliefs” are infringing on others’, as a divorcée and adulterer she has no moral high ground — the list goes on. Continue reading

“If I tell you I believe Elvis is still alive…”

Picture 3Do you know about the sometimes outspoken Sam Harris, the American neuroscientist much associated with the so-called “new atheist” movement?

Well, he’s got a new book out, published last Fall. Continue reading

Changing Minds by Changing Situations

You surely can’t have missed news on the current (and worsening) outbreak of measles in the US. Apart from providing us with an opportunity to mull over the self-interested inconsistencies in our coverage of, and responses to, various health crises that affect others throughout the world (as so nicely evidenced by the Tweet above) and while also allowing us an insight into how individualism can function (whereby it is made clear by some that their right to protect their own kids trumps any interest they might be expected to have in protecting your child’s health; see this news story as an example, notably the Arizona Dr. who is interviewed a little later), it also affords us a chance to think again about what that word “belief” designates and how those things we call beliefs originate and change. Continue reading

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

Making the Familiar Strange

campdavidA theme I’ve written on a time or two before is the inability (or unwillingness) of many scholars to entertain that, being themselves members of a particular social group, they tend to draw upon folk concepts popular among their own group and then project them outward (in space and time), as if they are universals that name and describe stable self-evidencies in the world at large. While we probably have no choice but to know the new by means of the old (like the European colonialist arriving on distance shores, speaking slowly and loudly, asking, “What religion are you?”), we can also try to retool the known in light of that meeting, when gaps and contradictions start to become apparent, to eventually come to see it as itself local and situated, and thereby work toward developing a new set of tools capable of answering the different questions that a scholar likely asks.

It’s the old challenge of hearing the familiar as itself a little strange. It’s a question of theory. Continue reading

Big R and Little r

upperandlowercaseI recently wrote a review essay on the current state of scholarship on the category “religion” for the European history of religions journal, Numen (which comes out in 2015, I gather). It was fun to write, since its been 20 years since I first wrote a review essay on the same topic — “just how far have we come?” now becomes the question. Continue reading