The Sympathetic Magic of Advertising

There was a time, a hundred or more years ago, when scholars regularly used this term “sympathetic magic” to name the process by which one thing was thought to affect something else — but doing so not by means of the cause/effect relationships we usually take for granted. If, for example, I rub this stone in just this way then something will happen over there to that mountain, or if I treat this lock of hair in some fashion then the person from whom it came will be similarly effected. That this term was associated with efforts to talk about what was once called magic, in distinction from what was then known as religion, should be obvious. Continue reading

A Return to the Nacirema

Ryland Hunstad, a student in Prof. Simmons’s REL 100 this past semester, is a sophomore from Denver, Colorado majoring in finance & management information systems, with interests in politics, philosophy, & religion.

In the following post he offers some further reflections on a group of people who were originally studied, in the mid-1950s, by the anthropologist, Horace Miner.

Since the last expedition to the land of the Nacirema, anthropologists have had several more opportunities to visit these people and observe their customs and social practices, in an attempt to decode the seemingly cryptic meaning behind their traditions and religious practices as it relates to their society. Those outsiders studying the Nacirema, by learning the language and acquainting themselves in general with the members of the Nacirema tribe, have begun to understand these customs in more depth, especially as they relate to the class system present among the Nacirema. Our hope in this piece is to relay their findings so that these social practices may be studied and analyzed in greater detail. Continue reading

Jim and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

In the close to Fabricating Origins — a recent collection of short essays, by a wide array of scholars, on the problem of origins — I used the example of Jim and Pam, from the U.S. adaptation of the British series, “The Office,” to illustrate how malleable, and thus useful, the archive of the past can be in our efforts to make sense of where we happen to find ourselves today.

For all I know I’ve blogged about it before (I looked but, if I did, I couldn’t find it; so here goes…), but given yesterday’s post on the #Dear2016 hashtag, it seemed reasonable to revisit a point made in the afterword to the above-mentioned volume, to illustrate just what I think is going on in the current laments over how cruel 2016 has been. Continue reading

On Not Knowing Where to Look

galleryThose who sustain this idealized image of culture do so … by mistaking the dominant fraction … of a given group for the group or “culture” itself.  At the same time, they mistake the ideological positions favored and propagated by the dominant fraction for those of the group as a whole…. Scholarly misrecognitions of this sort replicate the misrecognitions and misrepresentations of those the scholars privilege as their informants. (Bruce Lincoln, “Theses on Method,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 8/3 [1996]: 226)

Living out one such misrecognition, my Durban roommate [when we attended the 2000 meeting of the International Association for the History of Religions world congress], Willi Braun, and I took a cab one day from the Congress hotel to the tourist bureau in downtown Durban to see a much discussed African art exhibition — art, like religion, thought by many to symbolize the authentic, aesthetic sense (an analogy used by Rudolf Otto in the opening pages of The Idea of the Holy) and struggle of a people.  But, unbeknownst to us, it happened to be National Women’s Day in South Africa and the bureau was closed when we got there.  Much like Gertrude Stein’s comment (often paraphrased by the late-Ninian Smart, or so I’m told), when we got there, there was no “there” there — a fitting example of what Žižek calls the illusion of traditional realism: Continue reading

The Politics of Misconceptions

meditationIn a recent blog post, my colleague, Mike Altman, makes a crucial point; after quoting a site that describes early European scholarship on Buddhism as being based on earlier “misconceptions, he writes: Continue reading

Working, Not Wonking

morgan2There’s an interesting moment near the end of a new online interview with the Duke University’s David Morgan, Chair of his Department, when he reveals far more than he might imagine. Continue reading