The 6th Annual Day Lecture

The Department of Religious Studies hosted its 6th annual Day Lecture. The series (established, by his family, in the memory of REL grad Zachary Day) focuses on religion and popular culture, attracting students from across campus.
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Is this “Rising” or even Equal?

Ana Schuber is a graduate student in our Religion in Culture MA program. This post was originally published on our Religious Studies & Social Theory: Foundations course blog.

So, here in the middle, actually right up on the final run toward the mid-term 2018 elections, it was amazing to see a political advertisement that turned the standard dialogue about women running for office on its head. Paid for by the Serve America PAC, a democratic effort, this ad features eight first time congressional female candidates running across the United States for elected office. You should watch it here:

I have a long and varied path from my early identification as a feminist in the 1960s to the present Pussy Hat wearing throng of women with political ambition or political desire. This ad was new.

Seeing the ad for the first time on Facebook, my old feminist heart leapt at the visual of these women, all having served America either through military service (Marines, Navy or Air Force) or governmental service (CIA). They spoke of their service in combat, as leaders, in high-powered jobs and their desire to continue to serve their country through political service.

First impressions being what they are and quite frankly after forty years of the old dialogue about the “little ladies” running for office, I was blown away and amazed at this political advertisement. I smiled and re-posted it to several feminist friends and colleagues and planned to show the ad to my undergraduate students in triumph of a new wave of possible women candidates who could win with such a message.

But then, the scholar in me woke up and shoved aside the feminist and I started wondering what I would say to my students. The language of this ad was different than any other “woman’s” political ad that I had ever seen. They were using the language that is usually associated with male power. They were talking about flying combat planes, leading men and women into battle, leading men and women on a huge ship, working in a male-dominated investigation unit. The linguistic images were those of men. Hold on a minute.  Feminists have been fighting the image of nature versus nurture for hundreds of years and endless reams of scholarship attempting to level the playing field for both men and women.  Scholars like Sherry B Ortner (see her article “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture”) associate women’s lack of social or cultural power to the fact that women are considered closer to nature due to their ability to give birth and nurture children. Men are typically identified with the power associated with the protection of weaker women and children through aggression and battle. This political ad was using what many would consider male language. Rather than considering women equal to men, was this not a usurpation of “male” language just to get females elected?

As women have been afforded secondary status historically, this ad leaves us with an incredible predicament because women are not unilaterally one thing across the globe and when it comes to the concept of power there are even more complexities. It seems that we have finally begun to un-separate the “duties” of men and women in culture and un-tangle the gendered language used to understand what power is acceptable within culture. More importantly, what does it say if these women win in the mid-term election of 2018? Do women have to usurp the heretofore language of male “power” in order to win? What does this say about a woman who occupies a “traditional” woman’s job in culture such as school teacher, non-profit worker or librarian? Is female “power” now only afforded to those women who have “made it” in traditional male jobs such as combat or the CIA? That seems to be the message of this political ad.

When all these ideas came rushing into my head, I was suddenly mad. Minutes before, I was ready to run out and vote and champion this moment and minutes later I was grumpy and back to my typical “HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?” mood. In the long run, what happens if women win using what is considered male language, and what are the consequences?

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Book cover the the Keywords volume

A new book appeared in the Department the other day (it’s the second edition). Well, not new — the first edition came out in 2007 and this edition came out in 2014. So, having not seen it before, maybe I should just say that it’s new to me. Continue reading

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 Craziest Thing I’ve Ever Seen”

Over on social media the other day, I came across the following tweet, posted at NPR’s site.

My comment, used above as this post’s opening pic, wasn’t completely sarcastic. Continue reading

Words and Things: One or Two Things That I Know About Religion

Anders Klostergaard Petersen is a Professor in the School of Culture and Society in the Department for the Study of Religion at Aarhus University, Denmark. He works in the areas of second Temple Judaism and early Christianity as well as studying cultural evolution. This post leads off a series of invited posts on the topic of words and things in the study of religion (introduced here).

During the last three years two important books have been published highlighting the absence of a concept of religion in the ancient world, namely Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (Yale, 2013) and Carlin Barton’s and Daniel Boyarin’s Imagine no Religion. How Modern Abstractions Hide Ancient Realities (Fordham, 2016). Strictly speaking these studies are more narrow than their titles imply, since they focus on the ancient Graeco-Roman and Jewish worlds only. Yet, I think their argument pertains to any other pre-modern world as well, but needless to say that will have to be explored further in future studies. Continue reading

It May Be Simpler Than You Think

I saw the above tweet yesterday, which prompted me to mull over why we generally think that the role of religion is such a complicated thing to study. It occurred to me that it is complicated (i) if you fail to recognize that there’s been trained scholars of religion out there for well over 100 years who have lots to say on these matters but also (ii) if we buy local accounts of it being some ethereal thing that mysteriously informs the practical aspects of people’s lives.

But if we instead assume it’s no less practical than any other sphere — and, what’s more, if we assume that privileging some features of life by calling them religious is also mundane and highly practical — well, we’d likely approach these topics rather differently.

So a series of tweets resulted. Continue reading

When Considering a Career in the Humanities, Think Globally

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Tenzan Eaghll received his Ph.D. from the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, in 2016. He is currently an English Instructor at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Bangkok. For his publication and contact information see https://utoronto.academia.edu/TenzanEaghll

Ecclesiastes 11 states, “Cast out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back.” Like all biblical passages, this sentence can obviously be interpreted in many ways, but for me it contains a special insight about how to succeed in our contemporary global market: it suggests that it is best to scatter your talents and skills as far as possible, and to allow the winds of opportunity to take you where they may. Now, as a bit of a nihilist, I am not usually one to quote bible passages, but given the current economic situation of academia in the West this one seems helpful because it encourages you not to put all your proverbial eggs in one basket. In an odd way, it provides a glimmer of hope to the dire situation that Humanities graduates like myself find themselves in after completing their B.A.s, M.A.s, and Ph.D.s, and offers a simple piece of advice: when considering a career in the humanities, think globally.

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The 4th Annual Day Lecture, Episode 1

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Dr. Ted Trost introduced the fourth annual Day Lecturer. Dr. Trost  teaches courses in American Religious History, Religion and Popular Culture, Bible, and Religious Rhetoric in Literature and Film. This semester Prof. Trost is the Interim Director of New College.  

The Day Lecture was generously established by friends and family of the late Zach Day, a graduate of our Department, to honor his memory, and is now an annual event thanks to the memorial fund named in his honor. The topics of these lectures are based around Zach’s interest in religion and its relation to popular culture through music, art, videos, gaming, and literature.

This year’s Day Lecture was given by Dr. Jason Bivins in a lecture entitled “Smoke, Sweat, and Panic: Language and Improvisation in Jazz and Religion.” We will be releasing his lecture in five different episodes over the coming weeks. This first episode introduces the “smoky associations” between religion and jazz and Dr. Bivins’ scholarly quest to “get into the smoke.” Continue reading

The Hegemony of Normalcy and the Academic Study of Religion

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Daniel Jones is a graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies at Missouri State University. His research focuses on critical discourse analysis of the intersections of religion, nature, science, and humanity.  His research interests also pertain to theories of religion, culture, communication, and anthropology.

“The hegemony of normalcy is, like other hegemonic practices, so effective because of its invisibility.”-Lennard Davis

“We must… take account of the persistence of a model of interpretation and the inversion of its sense, if we wish to engage in a genuine critique of critique.”- Jacques Rancière

For those of us involved in the critical study of religion, we often find ourselves embroiled in debates about what the object of our study actually is. For we are a tribe of diverse scholars with diverse methods. I, for one, cherish Bruce Lincoln’s “anti-disciplinary” sensibilities, and nomadic approaches to scholarly inquiry (think Braidotti, Deleuze/Guattari).

How we each “find” data depends on the relationship between what we see and the discourse that precedes (and thereby makes possible) our observation. It shapes our view of “religion” as observational data—what it is, does, or where it might be absent or found. Continue reading