I remarked over on Twitter the other day that there’s a curious correspondence between two shows that are now streaming online. For both “Happy” and “American Gods” are about non-obvious beings who exist solely because people believe in them — cease believing in them, whether a child’s imaginary friend or a god, and they are no more.
While the former is about a fallen police detective who discovers he not only has a daughter who has been kidnapped but that she has an imaginary friend — a flying blue unicorn — who has come to find him to help her out, the latter is about a man named Shadow Moon, newly released from prison, who is drawn into the middle of an impending battle between the old gods (e.g., Mr. Wednesday, Mr. Ibis, and Bilquis, etc.) and the new gods (e.g., Mr. World, Technical Boy, and Media, etc.). And in both cases the existence of the immortals hinges on the beliefs of the mortals. After all, when the child grows up, Happy fades away… Continue reading →
In this episode we think about the ways we categorize things as religion. The show begins with the ritual life of turkeys and what that tells us about the category “religion.” Then a few REL majors show us how the category “sacrifice” is all around us. Finally, host Michael Altman talks with Dr. Megan Goodwin (@mpgphd) about the new CNN show Believer and how religious studies can find a broader public audience.
I’ve got some plants in my office that William Doty gave me back in 2001.
I was thinking about that yesterday, during a memorial service for William (who passed away on January 2, 2017, at the age of 77), at which people said some kind words and told a few stories — some of which were about his passion for cooking and, yes, gardening.
When I moved into my new office, here in historic Manly Hall (once belonging to the late-Leon Weinberger), just a few doors down from the office William occupied for many years, he gave me some plants to spruce up the place. Continue reading →
Travis Cooper is a PhD candidate in anthropology and religious studies at Indiana University. His research interests include method and theory in the study of religion, discourse analysis, social media, critical ethnography, digital anthropology, and social theory. He’s currently dissertating on the boundary maintenance strategies of emerging evangelical communities after the New Media turn.
I recently read and re-read Connor Wood’s post, “Social Media is Toxic. Religious Studies Tells Us Why,” and found my initially troubled impressions confirmed. Wood’s account of social media, by my reading, is fourfold. According to Wood, (1) The Internet is largely free of filters, barriers, or standards for etiquette. The second argument gives rise to the first: (2) The Internet is absent rituals. Wood suggests that (3) unfiltered, toxic communications online are leading toward societal chaos. Lastly, the blogger uses the discussion of the Internet’s ritual lack to (4) argue for the necessity of the interdisciplinary field of religious studies.
I’d like to commend the author for plugging for both of my own disciplines of training—anthropology and religious studies—as well as for contributing a short and provocative think piece that makes some bold claims and ultimately fueling productive conversations on the study of new media. Although I emphatically endorse Wood’s fourth point, that social science-informed religious studies has the tools to theorize such changes, theses one through three are less than compelling. What follows is a bit of rationale on why the claims are problematic. Continue reading →
One night during my fieldwork among Brazilian migrant communities in Japan, I was invited to a dinner at Daniel’s apartment. He and his girlfriend frequented a local Brazilian evangelical church that I was studying. After the dinner, they started talking about the “strange festival” in Komaki, a city one-hour drive away from where they lived. The festival took place the previous week (on March 15 2014) and they came across its footage online. The Hōnen Festival at Tagata Shrine is best known for its 280 kg (620 pound), 2.5 meter (96 inch)-long wooden phallus, which is carried around on the streets during the celebration. The object is supposedly the embodiment of prosperity, bountiful harvest, and fertility. The youtube video above can give you some idea of what Daniel and Sachi saw.
“Nossa (Wow)! These women flock to the phallus and try real hard to touch it! They think they can get pregnant that way!” They exclaimed in a critical tone. Laughing hard at the whole comicalness of this festival, I responded, “Ah, c’mon, it’s just fun, that’s why most people try to touch it! Do you really think these Japanese women believe in it?”
I’m a regular customer at Starbucks. Several times a week, I walk into one, order a drink, wait for it, say thank you, and walk out. I’m sure many of you do the same thing pretty often, if not every day, without even thinking about it.
But I once failed miserably at this banal procedure. It was my first year in the US and I had just arrived from Japan, so many things were still new to me. But Starbucks was definitely not new. I had spent so many hours there studying as an undergraduate student in Japan that it felt like my habitat, even though I was now in Boston. I walked into one store and everything looked familiar – the menu, employees’ uniform, and interior.
“What would you like, ma’am?” It was my turn to order. “Café misto, please?” I answered (or something of the sort). Then the employee – a nice young woman – said something that I had never heard before: “holetoopercetskimhaffanhafforsoy.” Continue reading →
A Facebook friend just posted the above — while it’s a good idea (think about it: those so-called walks of shame [or walks of resistance and triumph?] that protestors are forced to do at his rallies…, they serve a purpose, no?), I think he’s already done enough analysis to explain it.
And if you don’t know what he’s talking about, then here’s something that took place at a rally in Kentucky from just a couple days ago.