New Media (and) Ritual

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 anthropologyand 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

Whose Loss is it Anyway?

Rebekka King is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Middle Tennessee State University. Her research focuses on the negotiation of boundaries within North American Christianity. She teaches course on Method and Theory, Anthropology of Religion, and Contemporary Christianity.

2016 was the year of the loser. The more you lost, the better you were, especially if you shared it on Facebook.

“I have all of David Bowie’s albums in vinyl. I’m going to post a picture of my collection.”

“I have friends in the UK. Brexit is everything that is wrong with the world. We won’t make the same mistake in America!”

“Leonard Cohen is dead and everyone is posting ‘Hallelujah’ but I’m going to post ‘Democracy.’ See what I did there? I’m not only expressing my grief, I’m also making a political statement.”

“I can’t believe I have to spend Thanksgiving with my Republican uncle, I’m going to ask my friends if we can do Friendsgiving instead.”

Continue reading

Another Annus Horribilis

As the year comes to a close, and while we await the usual roll call of those famous people who died during the past year, I find it curious how 2016 seems to stand out for so many as being a particularly bad year — hence the #Dear2016 hastag. Continue reading

The End is Here and Brings Big Things

relephanttextcitedThe semester is complete, and our seniors have walked across that stage. All semester I have had the privilege of working with the Capstone Senior Seminar, applying questions and ideas from our work to a broad range of topics and presenting them through various social media, from Twitter to Tumblr. Their final Digital Projects are now published, so you should take a look at the range of their creative approaches to expressing the significance of critical questions to many topics, from war to food to Yik Yak. Continue reading

Showing Our Stuff

relephanttextcitedWhat do you get from a degree in Religious Studies? Throughout this semester, our students in the Capstone Senior Seminar have been applying questions that develop in the academic study of religion to a variety of issues, using social media from Twitter to Tumblr to illustrates the issues to a broad audience. Now it is time for posts to our class blog to roll out, starting later today and throughout next week. So, look for those posts at the class blog, and check back over the class’s social media activity on Twitter (@RelephantUA), Continue reading

Scholars or Colleagues?

craftI had the good fortune the other day to go up to the University of Chicago to lead a workshop in their Divinity School’s The Craft of Teaching series. While there I met with some old friends, schemed on a project tor two, and presented a paper and participated in a discussion with about 25 people on teaching the introductory course (almost all of whom were current MA or PhD students). Of course I had to eat too and so I went out to some nice dinners with a couple different groups of people and it was there that some of the really interesting conversations took place.

Among the questions that I was asked one evening was one concerning whether early career scholars, who are about the go onto the job market, should have an active social media presence, whether that means being on Twitter or blogging…?

I’ve been a Department chair for 10 years now and have been in on the hiring of many people, so I’ve seen lots of C.V.s over the years, and — like a lot of topics — I’ve got an opinion on that one. Continue reading

Rigor on the Line

8540717756_396867dbab_z
The other day, Jesse Stommel tweeted about public work not being counted for tenure, and that the qualifications for awarding tenure should be changed.

The conversation of tweets that followed included an elaboration, stating that we need to “think more broadly about the locations of scholarship. Public, open-access should be seen as rigorous.” Continue reading

Baby Steps

honorsday2012If you’re reading this blog then you may know that we’re a small undergraduate degree-granting Department that has a number of things going on — from a couple of longstanding lecture series to a newly invented annual undergrad research symposium, from an active student association and Facebook page, to some faculty who actively collaborate with one another on their own research. We bring grads back to talk about their post-B.A. lives and careers, we have this blog with posts from faculty, students, and alumni, and we try to take what leadership we can on campus-wide initiatives. We teach our share of students each semester, of course (in some large lectures and also in small seminars), but, as a group, we also understand that running a thing called a Department is about more than teaching students or just having offices next door to each other, where we each pursue our individual scholarly interests.

In this day of calls for the Humanities to justify themselves, increasing emphases on university degrees as preparation for practical careers, and parents and students shopping carefully for degrees and majors, I can’t imagine how a faculty member mindful of the precarious position of any institution — including the university or their own department — would approach it any differently.

But many do, of course. To their own detriment, I think. Continue reading