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…”

On Immigration, Identity, and White Privilege

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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.

Hi, I’m Andie, and I’m an immigrant. But we’ll get to that. As I wrote this on Election Day in the U.S., I, like many of you I suspect, got very little work done. Instead, I was tuning in on social media to see the latest buzz on the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. As I was scrolling through facebook, I came across an article that a friend posted which featured this tweet from Ann Coulter.

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-1-12-41-pm Continue reading

Elmer Gantry and A Little About Race

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By Sarah Griswold

Sarah Griswold is a senior double majoring in Mathematics and Religious Studies. She spends her “free time” analyzing her favorite shows on Netflix, which of course winds up ruining them.  The following was written for REL 360: Popular Culture/Public Humanities.

“Elmer Gantry was drunk,” begins Sinclair Lewis’s 1927 novel. That’s how the movie Elmer Gantry begins too. The story is of Elmer Gantry who loves women and whiskey more than just about anything else. A fast-talking salesman, Gantry has an incredibly charismatic personality that convinces people to give him money for anything from helping out a nun to selling vacuum cleaners. After being drawn to Sister Sharon Falconer’s travelling revival tent, he finds himself immediately attracted to her and finds a way to convince her to allow him to join her in the show. The story goes on to follow Gantry and Falconer as the travel around the country selling their religion to any and everyone who will listen.

Watching the film, you are immersed in two and a half hours of 1960s humor and absurdity beyond the absurdity of the story itself. The protagonist Gantry is quite the character. Fast-talking and clearly extroverted, Gantry seems to be able to weasel his way into just about anything he wants. However, one of the many questions we are left with at the end of the film is whether Gantry ever actually knows what he wants. He seems to change throughout the film to become more genuine in his actions. While definitely interesting and meriting further discussion, I’d like to turn my focus to something else entirely. What I truly found fascinating about the film was the race politics. During the 1960s, overt racism was widespread and generally considered to be normal. While the film didn’t contain plot lines that were overtly racist, there were two particular images that stood out to me as indicative of the way the film’s director and producers imagined the world.

The first image that stood out to me was this scene in which Gantry wanders into a black church. During the scene, the congregation sings a gospel hymn when Gantry comes in. As they begin to realize that an outsider – a white man – is among them, they stop singing one by one and turn to stare. As the music dies, Gantry picks up where they left off and continues the hymn. The congregation slowly begins to join back in and Gantry begins to solo with the congregation acting as back up singers. The scene ends with the end of the hymn and a young girl who is still staring at Gantry. The solo serves the purpose of highlighting Gantry’s comprehensive familiarity with various types of hymns and church settings. But I cannot help but to think that the choice to include the solo carries an undertone of stereotypical 1960s racism. The young girl’s continued suspicion of Gantry coupled with the setting reflects an attitude (likely from the director and/or producers) of essential difference between black and white. To reinforce my suspicions, a comparable image appears towards the end of the film.

The other image that stood out to me was during the scene toward the end of the film when Sister Sharon’s church is burning down. Outside of the church is a large cross that is adorned with light bulbs. While brief, there is a shot of that cross going up in flames. In context and like the scene in the black church, it makes perfect sense for this cross to burn with the rest of the church. However, considering the context of the 1960s and the oppressive presence of the Ku Klux Klan at the time, it is near impossible to separate the image from association with the KKK. The image of a burning cross was (and arguably remains) a threat in and of itself. So while the image put into context makes perfect sense and the image carries no further explanation in the film, it is not devoid of the meaning associated in this particular way. Between this shot and the scene from the beginning of the film, Elmer Gantry carries undertones indicative of 1960s racism.

The film lacks any African Americans beyond the scene discussed earlier. This further highlights the racist undertones of the 1960s. Of course, these are only a couple of tiny pieces of the two and a half hour-long film, which as far as I could tell said nothing more about race. Instead, the film in its entirety produces an interesting exploration of revivalism and outrageous personalities, while providing intriguing entertainment. So one could read into these two particular aspects of the film as I have done, or one could choose to ignore them entirely and enjoy the film. Or just dissect a different part entirely.

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.

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Racial or Religious Humor as Means of Negotiation

By Zach Price

Zach Price is a Religious Studies major; a Black Belt in Isshin Ryu; a student of Shen Lung Kung Fu; and a guitar, banjo, and tin whistle enthusiast. This post originally appeared on the blog Monks and Nones, the class blog for REL 371.

So if you missed the “joke” that Rick Warren posted on Facebook and the proceeding backlash then you can catch up on all of it here. Basically Rick Warren, a famous mega-church pastor, posted an image of a Red Guard from the Chinese Cultural Revolution and made a joke about how his co-workers are like that on Mondays. Other pastors were upset that a religious leader like Warren would use a joke making light of the horrific acts committed during the Cultural Revolution. Continue reading

Race and Displacement

212-5687-Product_LargeToMediumImageRace and Displacement, co-edited by our own Prof. Simmons and Prof. Marouan (formerly of REL and now of Gender & Race Studies), has just been published. It is based on a conference held at UA several years ago.

As the University of Alabama Press’s site describes it: “it captures a timely set of discussions about the roles of race in displacement, forced migrations, nation and nationhood, and the way continuous movements of people challenge fixed racial definitions. The multifaceted approach of the essays in Race and Displacement allows for nuanced discussions of race and displacement in expansive ways, exploring those issues in transnational and global terms. The contributors not only raise questions about race and displacement as signifying tropes and lived experiences; they also offer compelling approaches to conversations about race, displacement, and migration both inside and outside the academy. Taken together, these essays become a case study in dialogues across disciplines, providing insight from scholars in diaspora studies, postcolonial studies, literary theory, race theory, gender studies, and migration studies.”