Charlie and Us: Religious Violence and the History of Religions

Picture 3The following guest post is an English translation of the editorial from the current issue of Asdiwal (vol. 9 [2014]), reproduced here with the kind permission of the journal.  It is currently among the very few systematic statements on this topic from within our field and therefore deserves to be read and discussed more widely in North America.

Learn more about this academic periodical in the study of religion, published in Geneva, Switzerland, here.

As we were preparing this edition of Asdiwal (9/2014), the Paris events of January 2015 took place. Journalists of Charlie Hebdo were assassinated by two masked individuals armed with assault rifles because they had insulted the prophet Muhammad, several police officers were killed, and finally, women and men were taken hostages and murdered, because they were Jews, in a Kosher super market near Paris. There is no doubt that these events will have consequences, but these are still difficult to anticipate clearly. For some, war has been declared. But a war against whom, and against what? Faced with violence, many citizens drew together, at first without political or religious aim, to reassert their right to freedom of speech. Soon, we heard other voices, opposing civilization and barbarity, and invoking the necessity to defend the legacy of the Enlightenment against the rise of “Islamo-fascism”; others, no less shocked by these events, emphasized Europe’s apparent incapacity to understand the suffering of the “Other,” and posed the question: “Can we laugh about everything?” Is there not, behind this laughter, a form of condescension, that of a Europe trapped in a vision of the world where she is the center laughing at savages, both within and without, who remain incapable of laughing with her? Continue reading

The Category Religion — Twenty Years Later

Picture 8I’ve got a review essay coming out in 2015 in Numen (issue 62/1) that I just proofed. It’s on recent works concerned with the category religion. It was interesting to write, since it’s been twenty years since I wrote a similar essay on the category religion in scholarship. Continue reading

Create Your Own Identity

welcome-to-queens-2 On Oct. 23, a “hatchet-wielding” man attacked and wounded several police officers in New York City (Queens). Naturally, media outlets immediately started speculating about what could have prompted this man to carry out such a horrific attack. According to several accounts, the man was a recent convert to Islam who had “self-radicalized.” The New York Times headline reads: Capture The article goes on to paint a portrait of this lone wolf who was “self-directed in his activities”: Continue reading

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

What is the Academic Study of Religion?: A Graduate’s Perspective

gradtalestdavisTim Davis earned his B.A. in Religious Studies and Spanish in 2006. He went on to earn his J.D. at UA’s School of Law. He is now practices law, with an emphasis in civil litigation, in St. Clair County, AL. Tim wrote this piece for new REL students shortly before graduating.

As an entering freshman at The University of Alabama I knew that my older sister, a junior at the time, was a Religious Studies major but I had no clue as to what she studied. Because she told me that she had taken courses in Tibetan Buddhism and the Hebrew Bible, I assumed that Religious Studies majors did all of their coursework studying descriptive information about the different religions that are found throughout the world. Continue reading

“Are You Irish?”

kim

By Kim Davis
Kim Davis (pictured on the right) earned her B.A. in French and Religious Studies from the University of Alabama in 2003. She went on to get her Masters in French Linguistics and Literature in 2007 and a Masters in Secondary Language Pedagogy in 2010, both from UA. Kim now teaches French and Mythology at Tuscaloosa County High School.

It’s a question I have heard a lot in the ten years I have been a performer and teacher of Irish step dancing, and it’s always the first question people ask as if the reason I am dancing is to celebrate my long lost Irish heritage. You can probably imagine their cognitive dissonance when I tell them that I don’t know if I have any Irish heritage, I’m not interested in finding out, and I dance because I simply enjoy dancing. (I should also note that if the person is particularly prickly about my response, I work in the fact that I would go back to France before Ireland. That really befuddles them.) Continue reading

Curios and Classrooms

20109932_BG1By Kim Davis
Kim Davis earned her B.A. in French and Religious Studies from the University of Alabama in 2003. She went on to get her Masters in French Linguistics and Literature in 2007 and a Masters in Secondary Language Pedagogy in 2010, both from UA. Kim now teaches French and Mythology at Tuscaloosa County High School.

I’m a collector. The picture above is of Kenner Star Wars action figures that I have kept until I had a house to display them in a small curio cabinet. I suppose you wonder what that has to do with my degree in Religious Studies. Much like I now display these figures, I would like to tell you how I now display the knowledge gained in the Department of Religious Studies. Continue reading