Critical Thinking with Izzy, Episode 1: Structure and Agency

IzzyAnyone who is a virtual or actual friend of mine knows that we have a dog, Izzy — a 7 year old boxer that we’ve had for 6 years. (Ok, let’s just be honest: she has us.) Why? Coz I’ve posted a pick or two of her over the years.

She’s cute, what can I say?

Last night, seated in the living room, it occurred to me what a great illustration she provides of how we can talk about structure — as in social structure — and agency, and doing so in a way that doesn’t emphasize the one to the exclusion of the other, as if we are all mindlessly determined by forces larger than ourselves, on the one hand, or, on the other, as if we are all following our bliss and freely inventing ourselves every moment of the day. For it is surely somewhere in the middle, no? As I’ve said on plenty of other occasions, none of us invented the grammar that was pounded into us as children but, in the midst of using it, we can tweak it too — ain’t that right? And if we’re successful in the tweaking, then those who come after us will think that’s just one more of the rules they ought to be following.

But back to Izzy…

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Backstory: Prof. Russell McCutcheon

russell3

Backstory” is a series that asks the REL Faculty to tell us a little bit about themselves, to explore how they became interested in the academic study of religion and their own specialty, elaborating on their current work both within and outside the University.

Where are you from?

I was born in Port Colborne, Ontario, in Canada, not far from Buffalo, NY, actually, in a region that is called southern Ontario. It’s both an industrial and a farming region—lots of grapes for wines being grown along the shore of Lake Ontario, about 45 minutes north of where I was from, which was on the north shore of Lake Erie—I could see Pennsylvania on the other side. And lots of heavy industry, like car manufacturing and steel mills, though not as much as when I was a kid. Now, tourism is probably as big as the manufacturing industry once was. There was a canal cutting through my town, which lakers took so they didn’t have to go over Niagara Falls when going to and from the ocean—good thinking. Continue reading