The Hegemony of Normalcy and the Academic Study of Religion

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Daniel Jones is a graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies at Missouri State University. His research focuses on critical discourse analysis of the intersections of religion, nature, science, and humanity.  His research interests also pertain to theories of religion, culture, communication, and anthropology.

“The hegemony of normalcy is, like other hegemonic practices, so effective because of its invisibility.”-Lennard Davis

“We must… take account of the persistence of a model of interpretation and the inversion of its sense, if we wish to engage in a genuine critique of critique.”- Jacques Rancière

For those of us involved in the critical study of religion, we often find ourselves embroiled in debates about what the object of our study actually is. For we are a tribe of diverse scholars with diverse methods. I, for one, cherish Bruce Lincoln’s “anti-disciplinary” sensibilities, and nomadic approaches to scholarly inquiry (think Braidotti, Deleuze/Guattari).

How we each “find” data depends on the relationship between what we see and the discourse that precedes (and thereby makes possible) our observation. It shapes our view of “religion” as observational data—what it is, does, or where it might be absent or found. Continue reading

What is Cool?

White_Matter_Connections_Obtained_with_MRI_TractographyReading about Steve Quartz, who studies what happens when people experience something “cool,” made me think of our department, not because we are cool (although that is a reasonable connection), but because the label “cool” has no set definition, much like the category “religion”. People assume that they know it when they see it, but no consistent definition is possible. Continue reading

Survey Says…?

Picture 2Have you seen this new Pew Foundation survey on being Jewish in America?

Like all surveys it raises some interesting questions, such as whether it simply describes an already existing object of study (one that nicely divides into a variety of easily and clearly distinguishable sub-types) or whether the questions, categories, and sub-divisions actively constitute an object of study.

What’s more, who is doing that constitution: group members themselves or the people who study them? For a survey such as this is likely aimed at simply documenting how members of a group think about themselves — it’s an opinion survey, after all. But what’s a scholar to do with its results? What do we do with any group members’ own self-representations and claims (sifted through the demographer’s questions and assumptions, of course) about themselves and the world around them?

So, as a scholar, what do you do with a survey that says…?