There’s No Such Thing as “Cultural Memory”

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Matthew C. Baldwin is Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Mars Hill University, where he teaches ancient history, Biblical literature and classical Biblical languages, and method and theory for religious studies. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.
Read his earlier post on cultural memory here.

Que reste-t-il de nos amours
Que reste-t-il de ces beaux jours
Une photo, vieille photo
De ma jeunesse
Que reste-t-il des billets doux
Des mois d’ avril, des rendez-vous
Un souvenir qui me poursuit
Sans cesse…

However else it may be viewed, Christopher Nolan’s film “Memento” (2000) can be read as a brilliant parable, useful to theorists interested in thinking about memory and culture. Continue reading

On “Cultural Memory”

primitive_magnetic_memory

Matthew C. Baldwin is Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Mars Hill University, where he teaches ancient history, Biblical literature and classical Biblical languages, and method and theory for religious studies. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Have you noticed the recent explosion of interest the category of “memory” among scholars of history, culture, and “religion”?

A WorldCat search of books published since 2000 in “su:Religion” turns up 522 works with the word “memory” in a title. Looking at peer reviewed journals, a search of ATLA turns up 61 articles published since 2000 in “SU Religion” including the title word “memory.” Continue reading

Narrative Constructs Culture

in god we trust bank note
Micah Davis is a graduate of the University of Alabama who majored in Religious Studies and Philosophy. He is interested in ethics and social theory. The following was written for REL 360: Popular Culture/Public Humanities. REL 360 is the Department’s one-credit hour course that shows four films focusing on religion in pop culture throughout the semester.

What do the Jewish Bible, the stories of Jesus, and movies have in common? They are all story-driven. The stories found in these different sources (yes, even pop culture stories) construct the culture in which we live. Different stories contribute to different aspects of culture, e.g the construction of the timelessness of the “Judeo-Christian” foundational values through the printing of “In God We Trust” on paper and coin currency.

If we take this e.g. of the printing of “In God We Trust” on the nation’s currency, we see that the construction of the United States as a Christian country rests partially on this narrative, and upon many others which are projected onto the Constitution and Declaration of Independence as well as stories based on the Founding Fathers. However, America is not the only country whose culture has been influenced by narrative.

Confucianism is widely popular in China and has become so influential as to help shape the way in which China governs its people. The philosophy, principles, and social understandings of Confucius have constructed the culture which we know as “China” today (we could even say that my conception of China’s culture being influenced by Confucianism in this way is shaped by my subscription to the narrative that China is influenced in this way). These narratives have shaped not only one culture, but even the perceptions which one culture has about another.

Back in America, we see smaller subcultures created by pop culture. All of these subcultures are created and unified by the stories to which they subscribe. The “Hunger Games” fans subscribe to the trilogy of popular YA books while the “Captain America: Civil War” fans subscribe to the acclaimed movie as the basis for their culture. These different groups can even overlap, one person claiming both stories as good narratives and usually discussing these with friends who share these same experiences with these stories. Not only do stories construct the culture in a principle or philosophical sense, but they also literally construct the group through bringing together people with similar interests.

So, what does this all mean? Stories are important to cultures because stories create the culture. Telling a story creates something under which a group can be unified and motivated. The motivation of the current conservative movement which is attempting to move Christianity into the American government is driven by the words “In God We Trust” and “One Nation Under God” which were both added to the culture long after the creation of the nation. However, the inclusion of other narratives which place a timelessness to these words help to motivate and create the movement.

Stories construct culture. Cultures create movements. Movements choose stories to present as evidence to validate and authorize their groups.

“Who said names were supposed to be easy to say? What are you, a candy bar?”

Picture 2Students in REL 237 are watching Avalon this week, a 1990 film about the changes that take place within a family of early to mid-20th century Americans who, like so many of our ancestors, came to this continent from somewhere else.

“I came to America in 1914…, by way of Philadelphia. That’s where I got off the boat,” says Sam, one of the film’s protagonists, recollecting an epic past for the grandchildren.

One of the reasons that I like using the film is the chapter on it that Bruce Lincoln contributed to a 1996 collection of essays, Myth & Method. If we watch the movie then we also read the chapter afterward. Continue reading

Putting Us in Our Place

Picture 11There’s an interesting story now making the rounds of the internet, in which Congressman Jeff Duncan (Republican, South Carolina, pictured above) is quoted as saying the following about the Roman Catholic Church’s recent recognition of Palestine as a state:

Picture 10Of course the deep irony is the speed with which a variety of politicians in the US cite their own religious beliefs as evidence for their political positions or how frequently they decry the so-called separation of church and state — when it suits them.

That’s what makes this quote news. Continue reading

“Opie, it seems I made a mistake…”

IllgottengainWhen I first came to the US to work, back in 1993, I wasn’t aware of some of the subtle differences between the US and Canada (or at least where I grew up), but I soon discovered a bunch of them. I could talk about the blank stares I’d get if I said “zed” instead of “zee” for the last letter of the alphabet or, instead, I could tell you the story of, early on, asking a student, at the University of Tennessee, “to write a make-up test” only to be presented by her with an untaken, freshly made-up test a week later. Continue reading

Of Prepositions and Conjunctions

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The following is slightly adapted from the REL webpage’s
description of the Department motto.

Although it may seem to some to be a rather minor thing, and therefore something easily overlooked, our department’s motto — Studying Religion in Culture — italicizes the preposition “in” (not something we’re able to note here in the WordPress blog title, though). We’ve written it this way for close to 15 years, to draw attention to the fact that the conjunction in the more common version — Religion and Culture — carries with it a series of often undisclosed and, we think, troublesome assumptions that we hope our students will learn to scrutinize. Continue reading

The Places We Go: Deutschland

Photo Sep 15, 6 55 13 AMStudents occasionally ask me what I do other than teaching. “Research” is a very boring answer to many of them. They are more excited to learn that traveling to conferences is a big part of the research component of my job. On Sept. 15-17, I attended a conference in Essen-Werden, Germany. Continue reading

It Was Just My Imagination

Picture 5I just saw this New York Times blog post, thanks to The Religious Studies Project’s post on its Facebook wall. The photographer, Jim Estrin, is quoted as follows:

“The challenge for me is capturing the essence of an invisible event”… Continue reading