What Gets Labeled as Religion

Still not quite sure what scholars study when they say that they study the classification or the category religion itself…? Think that all scholars of religion need a definition of religion to get started with their work?

If so, why not give a listen to episode 21, that was just posted the other day. It’s a short podcast by Malory Nye, author of a widely used intro book in our field, and he elaborates on the simple fact that he’s

“a student of religion who doesn’t study religion…”

The Problem with the Primacy of Primary Sources

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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.

Over the past few weeks I have heard repeated talk of primary sources vs. secondary sources, privileging the former over the latter in every case. The argument that was made in these instances is premised on highlighting the legitimacy and groundedness of the primary sources, as if they focus on something “real,” (such as religion on the ground, or “real world” examples). These are then juxtaposed with the secondary sources, which are seen as subsequent discourses on primary sources, mostly concerned with meta-discourses — regarded mainly as “thinking about thinking” or “talking about talking” — which are given that secondary ranking because they aren’t talking about something “real” or answering the reader’s question (in fact, often they leave them with more questions than answers, whereas primary sources are all about answers). In some cases, these secondary sources are dismissed with a “So what?” I say “dismissed” not with a negative connotation, but with a sense of such indirect relation to the “real world religion” that the “meta-discourses” are seen as not worth the same time and engagement as their juxtaposed primary sources.

What strikes me as interesting about this distinction between primary and secondary sources is that the use of that very language largely relies on some essentialized notions of religion, as if it exists authentically, apart from subsequent claims about it. Continue reading

Religious Studies in the Time of Trumpism

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When I heard Donald Trump’s speech on Monday I realized that Trump’s rhetoric presents the scholar of religion with a crossroads. Scholars of religion have to make a decision about how to engage Trumpism.

Continue reading

The Devil Made Me Do It

devilmademedoitI assume that by now you’ve seen either the original video, or the subsequent apology of the principal of TNT Academy in Stone Mountain, Georgia — it concerns an incident at this past Friday’s graduation in which the principal mistakenly ended the ceremony before the valedictorian’s address. In her efforts to call the audience back, to hear his speech, she chastised the people who were standing and leaving, tried to get the venue’s doors closed, called a person a “little coward” and a “goober” and finally, now infamously, added:

Look who’s leaving: all the black people.

Continue reading

The Dialectics of Identification

manlyhallsignYes, our Department is housed on the second floor of Manly Hall. It’s named after the second president of the University of Alabama, Basil Manly Sr (who held the office between 1837 and 1855). In fact, the president’s office was once in this building, on the ground floor (before the Greek Revival-styled President’s Mansion was built in 1841 and then first occupied by Manly himself), as well as dorms for students.

And the other day the building got a new sign. Continue reading

“How Old is That?”

fossilAmong the assorted knick-knacks that line my office’s shelves—ranging from such relics as photos of friends and family or gifts I’ve accumulated over the years to a selection of tattered romance novels shelved long ago among my books by mischievous students—is a nicely matted and framed “fossil” of Knightia, a long extinct genus of small boney North American freshwater fish, dating to more than 35 million years ago (or what scientists know as the Eocene epoch), and which was recovered from the well-known (to fossil hunters, at least) Green River Formation in southwestern Wyoming.

I bought it one summer, heavy wooden frame and all, about ten years ago in a gift shop in downtown Iowa City, Iowa, at the same time that I purchased for my Department’s library a number of other so-called artifacts, such as the stereotypical dancing Shiva statue and the Thai-styled bust of Buddha, complete with its intricately carved curls. (What a disappointment when people learn I got these in Iowa City!) I never anticipated writing about my framed piece of sedimentary rock that, for whatever reason, has found a home among the Cs in my shelving taxonomy (yes, I shelve books by author’s surname, so?), though I have often used it in classes to illustrate a point or two about discourses on origins; I now realize that this rock might have some uses outside of the classroom. Continue reading

“I’ve Seen Things…”

Picture 3This semester I taught our senior seminar, required of all majors and minors before they graduate from the department. It was on the topic of tradition.

Well, not really.

It was on the topic of the discourse on tradition.

That’s a difference that matters, I think. Continue reading

Power/Knowledge in Real Time

HindusbookHave you been following the controversy over Wendy Doniger’s recent book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, published by Penguin? It is now being reported that the publisher has agreed to withdraw and pulp the book, in the near future, due to a 2011 court case in India, arguing it was insulting to Hinduism. Continue reading

Experience Is In the Eye of the Beholder

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By Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She currently works as a staff member in the Department as a Student Liaison and filmmaker. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.

The other day I came across a friend’s Facebook photo that advertised the upcoming 4th of July Color Run in Montgomery, AL. It reminded me of Russell McCutcheon’s post discussing the marketing strategies of the for-profit company The Color Run, LLC. I, like many others it seems, assumed it was a non-profit, cancer awareness type event. While it is marketed much the same as other charity events, their website does say on that they are a “for profit event management company.” So while the information isn’t widely advertised, it’s no secret, either. Continue reading