Making the Familiar a Little Stranger

Picture 8

Have you seen the reactions online to the release of a video of kids performing a warm-up number at a Trump rally held at Pensacola, FL, a couple days ago?

If not, then I’ve seen a lot of social media jabs that insinuate that this bizarre routine is more akin to what we’d expect from modern-day North Korea or Nazi Germany in the late 1930s — after all, using kids in that way… Sheesh. And the lyrics…?!

Freedom’s on our shoulders, USA!
Enemies of freedom face the music, c’mon boys, take them down
President Donald Trump knows how to make America great
Deal from strength or get crushed every time

Continue reading

Excuse Me, You Have Something on Your Forehead

5538004197_5ec32a0024_b

Sarah Griswold is a junior 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.

To get you started for some Ash Wednesday talk, enjoy some GloZell:

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten Season – the days leading up to Easter, meant to symbolize Jesus’s 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. By now, you probably have seen people with ashes on their foreheads and at least one or two articles linked on Facebook or other social media about what Ash Wednesday is, what it means, and what the ashes are for. What I find interesting is how the ashes operate as an intentional mode of identification.

As individuals who regularly interact with others and insert ourselves into society, we are constantly and consistently subject to classification by others and our own ideas of who we are. This manifests itself most commonly in race and gender, but it also appears based on observation of interactions with others. For example, you may see a woman (you have already classified her gender) holding a baby and conclude that she is a mother. Many aspects of the way we choose to present ourselves and therefore categorize ourselves are subconscious.

There are, however, many choices we make that are intentional. On campus here at UA, many individuals will wear the letters of an organization to associate themselves with a particular group of people and set of ideals. I, for one, am a part of a music fraternity called Sigma Alpha Iota and on every Wednesday we wear something with our letters on it. This is intentional in the strictest sense of the word.

http://instagram.com/p/zQOvfgO48X/

So what does this have to do with Ash Wednesday? Today, I have ashes on my forehead and the letters ΣAI on my sweatshirt. If you see me walking down the street today, you will first say that I am a white female. Next, you will see my letters and either associate me with ΣAI or, not knowing what that is, some sort of Greek organization. As you walk closer, you will see the ashes on my forehead and, depending on your familiarity with Ash Wednesday, say that I am observing Lent or say something like, “Excuse me. You have something on your forehead.” My identity, then, is defined by you, but controlled by me.

I have no immediate control over my race and gender, yet it’s the first thing about myself that you classify. I chose to wear letters, but had I not, you would know nothing about that aspect of my life. The ashes are special to today.

For those observing Lent this year, Ash Wednesday is the time to show the world. They get to wear their ashes, which results only in lingering gazes and a couple of questions from those unfamiliar with the day. It is a piece of their identity that they now have a nonverbal way of communicating to others. For those observing those with ashes, they either learn something new about Christianity or about those they see with the ashes.

Of course, to those with the ashes, it is not just about identifying oneself for the world to see. There are many more reasons for it and you can read it about those in the articles you see linked on Facebook. For now, I leave you with a couple of questions: What ways do you intentional manipulate your identity and how others perceive you? What do you see others do to identify themselves?

Photo credit: George Fox Evangelical Seminary on Flickr CC BY 2.0

A Good Book: Durkheim Time with Prof. Finnegan

durkheim bookThe first episode in our newest series, A Good Book, is up and running! This video features Prof. Finnegan and her discussion of Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life.

A Good Book with Prof. Finnegan from UA Religious Studies.

“It Doesn’t Matter What I Say”

On p. 3, near the opening of the late Frits Staal’s classic essay, “The Meaningless of Ritual” (Numen [1979] 26: 2-22), he wrote:

Picture 2Contrary to how most of us see it, for Staal, ritual was not referential, i.e., it’s not that one does this because it means this or represents that. While the meaning surely comes later, in hindsight, often taught to us by others, when one is doing ritual one is instead obsessed with sheer form, not content; one simply works to follow the rules because, well…, they are the rules. Continue reading

Extra, Exatra: Idol Worshipers Make the News

bhutan

THIMPHU, Bhutan (RNS) For centuries, Buddhists in this tiny landlocked Himalayan kingdom have had a special devotion to the most unusual of objects: the phallus. Painted on the walls of their homes, hanging from the eaves of their houses and seen in vehicles and on rooftops, images of the phallus are an essential part of Bhutan’s traditional ceremonies….

So opens a recent Huffington Post article, ripped straight from the 19th century’s headlines. For if you want to see how very little has changed over the past 150 years in the public discourse on “the Other,” then just read this article. Continue reading