“Both Sides”

I saw the above pic on a friend’s Facebook wall a few days ago — clearly lampooning President Trump’s recent comments following the violence a week ago at Charlottesville, VA, in which self-described white supremacists marched, protestors organized against them (one of whom, Heather Heyer, was killed when a car, driven by James Alex Fields, rammed into other cars and protestors). For as he said in two different statements, one on Saturday  (the day of Heyer’s death) and the other on Tuesday, both sides bore responsibility for the violence. Continue reading

A Lesson in Comparison

Yes, that’s the reaction Symone Sanders had to her fellow CNN commentator’s comments favorably comparing Donald Trump to Martin Luther King.

Didn’t catch this yesterday, or the fall out for much of the rest of the day? Continue reading

“And must it leave when you have gone away?”

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By Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She is completing her M.A. in Religious Studies at CU Boulder. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.

As I’m sitting here working and prepping for finals season, I have my Christmas music playlist on in the background. Eventually Trans-Siberian Orchestra‘s “This Christmas Day” started playing. Have a listen (if you aren’t familiar with TSO, I highly recommend them!):

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Too Hard, Too Soft, Just Right

courtdecisionI’ve seen some comments on social media about this recent court decision — click the image to read about it. (If you don’t know much about Pastafarianism then go here.) As a scholar of religion interested not so much in studying religion but, rather, in studying those who use the term to accomplish practical social work (by classifying this or that as religion [or not!]), I admit that I can be a little disappointed when I see other scholars of religion chime in about such decisions. For by failing to see the term “religion” as a rhetorical device, as a tool some people use to manage social life by naming,  distinguishing, and then ranking assorted items, scholars often unwittingly enter into debates over what religion really is (or isn’t).

And, in the process, they make themselves data for people like me. Continue reading

Are you American American?

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By Mary Read-Wahidi

 Dr. Read-Wahidi has been an instructor for REL 100 online course since 2013. She received her PhD in Biocultural Medical Anthropology from the University of Alabama in December 2014, and is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Social Science Research Center, Mississippi State University. She works extensively with Mexican immigrants in rural Mississippi on projects related to devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe and health-related disparities. Currently, she is involved in a USAID-funded research project aimed at empowering women smallholder farmers and improving household nutrition through improved soybean production in rural Ghana.

This blog is such a perfect forum for analyzing the “realness” of things. So, I pose my own question about realness. As the entire world seems to know by now, Republican Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, recently declared that all Muslims should be barred from entering the US. Among many other things, he seems to take for granted that all Muslims are others. He assumes Muslims are not already your neighbors, friends, or family members, but that they are all foreigners, outsiders who have to gain permission to enter the U.S.

Is it only Trump who assumes Muslims are not “real” Americans?

I spent last year living in Kuwait, a predominately Muslim country. While I was there, I wore the hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women that covers their hair. In Kuwait, plenty of women wear the hijab and plenty of women don’t. It’s really up to you.

When I was out and about, store clerks or other people I met in public would often ask me where I was from. I would say, “I’m American”. On at least three occasions, my response triggered the exact same question… “American American?”

Wow! As a cultural anthropologist and an Instructor of REL 100, this response really got the analytical wheels turning in my mind. What do they mean, “American American?” As far as I knew you either were an American or you were not. But what they were telling me is that this was not the case.

They were sort of telling me the same thing Donald Trump is telling me. They were telling me that someone who identifies as a Muslim can’t be a “Real” American.

And, by “Real” American, I’m going to take a wild guess that they meant I couldn’t possibly be a sixth-generation American of English descent who also happens to be Muslim. In their minds, I must have been a foreigner who had “gotten” the American citizenship (my blue eyes, light olive skin tone, and hijab often led people to guess I was Lebanese). And if I were a foreigner who had gotten the U.S. citizenship, then that would also mean that I was not a “Real” American.

Photo credit: “real” from Flickr user wallsdontlie CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Points of Contact

Picture 16Do you know that painting? It’s detail from Norman Rockwell’s 1951, “Saying Grace,” which sold for $46 million a couple years ago. It came to mind after an exchange that I had over on Twitter the other day, in which I wrote the following:

Picture 17The painting nicely illustrates the point — that classification is the trace of a social situation in which difference and similarity are being worked out. For, to break it down to it’s simplest, I’d argue that those two figures on the right are “saying grace” or “being religious” only inasmuch as the two on the left are watching them. Continue reading

Classifying Classification in the Study of Religion

dandelionsclassificationSo ends the late Charles J. Adams‘s classic entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica on the topic of “Classification of Religions.” Or consider the Encyclopedia of Religion‘s own entry on the same topic (not updated in the second edition), this time written by the late Harry B. Partin — which concludes as follows: Continue reading

Like Mice in a Maze

mazeI’ve written on the parable of the blind men and the elephant before, as far back as Manufacturing Religion (1997), where I argued:

The problem with the story of the blind men … is that the level of the narrative open to the listener is characterized by privileged access to the fact that there is indeed an elephant beyond the individual perceptions of the blind men…. [T]he story works only because, from the outset, we as listeners see the big picture; we know that the men are blind, deluded, partial, or whatever else the metaphor of blindness communicates to us. We know the secret and so we “get it”: “Aha, it’s really an elephant and they don’t know it!” (p. 110)

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Gotcha

ISRAEL-VATICAN-POPENote to self: if you’re going to spin tales of origin in the service of contemporary interests then be careful, for someone with different interests can always tweak what you’re trying to do, to suit their own purposes.

Case in point: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent effort to use an origins narrative to spin a tale of similarity quickly cut toward difference when the Pope corrected him on a detail, requiring some hasty fine tuning to get back to the original point…