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

Please (Don’t) Take One

tokyomissionaryIn 2005 I had the good fortune to attend a conference in Japan. Out exploring a little corner of the city one afternoon, I crossed one of those stereotypically busy Tokyo intersections that you sometimes see in the movies — me, my friend Willi, and hundreds of other people — and, on the side we were all heading toward, I spied two clean-cut, blond-haired young white guys in white shirts, black pants, and conservative ties, standing side-by-side and handing out something to everyone who walked by.

You guessed it: American Mormon missionaries. Continue reading