Another Journal Group

MA Students and faculty met the other day to discuss the article chosen for this meeting of our regular journal group – which just so happened to be an article Prof. Steven Ramey and I coauthored. The article, titled Sourcing Stereotypes: Constructing and Challenging Simplified Knowledge, is made up of two main parts: a critique of a chart (and its corresponding citations) from a textbook in the nursing field concerned with what we took to be stereotypes (some of which religiously-based) in how different populations tolerate or respond to pain, and a second, a similar, though perhaps less obvious, part which was a critique of textbook presentations of groups in the field of religious studies. While having both authors in the room certainly played a role in how the article was examined, the enthusiasm of the group of people present for the discussion played the most vital role in the development of a robust, engaging and productive dialogue about the article itself. For, without conversation partners that help you explore the critical questions you yourself are working to answer, your writing process and the claims you make in your writing will not be able to grow and address new issues.

The discussion opened by highlighting how various components of the writing and publishing process have become integrated into the rest of my work, such as seeing writing (even single-author writing) as far more collaborative than it might at first appear. For instance, in co-writing, I never once felt there was a time where you could say this article was a product of either of us independently. From Family Guy references to generous critical commentary, the authorial voice of the paper did not require us to adopt a homogenous tone because its overarching goal was to investigate the value of organized heterogeneity. That is not to say that we were perfectly happy with the final version that we submitted for peer review and, then, publication. In fact writing, as well as co-writing (at least in my limited experience in terms of this one article’s production), is an ongoing process in which there are many moments where authors are dissatisfied with what we write. In the case of this project, this disagreement, though, was where we were able to tease out exactly what we were discussing and how we thought it might be discussed in lieu of other audiences. For there is no way to write to all readers’ sensibilities and you must agree to present your work in certain ways in order to communicate it beyond your own imagination.

Keeping this idea of an engaged writer in mind, some of those attending were interested in what readers we had imagined for the article and how we went about writing to those audiences. For example, Richard Newton asked about my methods for evaluating a source’s validity while Emily Crews invited me to consider what practical functions simplified knowledge can serve in venues where a detailed, nuanced explanation is not permitted. The questions seemed to be suggesting that through transparent conversations about our own limits, we, as writers, could retain nuance in a way that it is accessible for various audiences. Thus, the limits imposed on our writing, by us as the authors or by the audiences that consume it are, for pragmatic reasons, not necessarily working against our larger objective. In fact, such limits seem to serve as an example of how knowledge can be simplified without compromising nuance.

Publication News

We just got word that a paper co-written by Sierra Lawson (entering the second year of her M.A. in our Department) and Prof. Steven Ramey has been accepted to be published in the coming year in UK peer review journal Culture & Religion.

What’s it on?

Sourcing Stereotypes: Constructing and Challenging Simplified Knowledge


The social media uproar in Fall 2017 over a nursing textbook chart that presented generalized characterizations of minority groups generated an assumption that medical training needs more Religious Studies expertise. Analyzing the sources that the chart cited, we trace the authors’ assertions to studies of varying quality and identify several specific processes involved in simplifying knowledge for dissemination, as the authors disregarded the limits of each specific study and ignored counter-evidence or otherwise evaded critical scrutiny. Comparing this example to examples from world religions discourse illustrates both differences and similarities in the process of constructing simplified presentations. While both presumably developed out of good intentions, they generate significant problems in their effort to shape material to support larger arguments. Thus, scholars across disciplines should critique and complicate their own processes for generating simplified knowledge.


Generating Pain

Oct 18 2017 tweet with photo of cultural diversity chartA Pearson textbook Nursing: A Context Based Approach to Learning (reportedly published in 2014) has become a point of controversy after an outpouring of outrage over the culturally stereotyped discussion of “Cultural Differences in Response to Pain.” The publisher has apologized, is studying how this chart passed editorial review, and has “removed the material in question from current versions of the book.” Noting how essentialized descriptions in a 2014 textbook only comes to attention now makes one wonder how many people, particularly educators and editors, viewed this chart and thought nothing of it. Though many of us continue to hope that people would be more aware of the problem of stereotypes and generalized assertions, much of what we teach in Religious Studies about critical thinking, categorization, and the problems of essentialization remains vitally important, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves of the dangers of generalizing, too. Continue reading

Stereotyping Gender: I’m 100% Masculine

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 4.24.18 PMBy Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She is completing her M.A. in Religious Studies at CU Boulder. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.

Some weeks back, I saw several of my friends posting their results of this Gender Role Test on Facebook. I usually tend to keep scrolling, but after seeing several of these results, I just couldn’t resist what I knew would make for a fun blog post. The test itself is 36 questions to which you answer in varying degrees of agreement or disagreement. The test description reads:

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 7.32.54 PMWhile I’m not familiar with Bem’s work, I do find it somewhat telling that despite the acknowledgement of stereotyping, this test proceeds to do just that. As I went through the questions, it became quite clear to me that I was going to be labeled as “masculine” — not because these traits are inherently masculine, but rather because that is what we have come to take for granted as a masculine traits (e.g., assertive, dominant, ambitious, to name but a few listed in the test) — as opposed to “feminine” (e.g., polite, mild, soothing). Of course, it is worth noting that there are only two gender identifications with which one can identify. And while one can easily push back and say that these traits are gender fluid, etc., etc., what I find most compelling is the way in which these quiz questions reify gender norms broadly speaking. I suspect most people might nod and agree with their results, unless of course, they get something as drastically “different” as mine.  Continue reading

When Classification Becomes Deadly


Sarah Griswold graduated from UA’s Department of
Religious Studies in 2016. She will begin work on her
M.A. in Religion at Florida State University in August.

We do not yet know the motives of those who shot and killed five police officers in Dallas last night. We do not know why Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed. We do not know if the man found in Piedmont Park in Atlanta committed suicide or was lynched by the KKK. We do not know if homophobia or allegiance to IS was the primary cause that led to the recent massacre in an Orlando nightclub.

I could go on, but we may never know. Continue reading

A Tired Old Joke

 New Girl cece and mom

The following is cross-posted from RELephantUA, the class blog for the REL Captsone Seminar. Be sure to check their blog for more great posts studying religion in culture.

By Liz Long

In TV, the same jokes have a habit of popping up over and over again in different shows. Someone falls in love with their work partner. Someone has two dates to the same event. Everyone’s family is dysfunctional. They’re tiring, boring plots that we’ve seen several times before on several different shows.

New Girl recently employed what I find to be the most frustrating and un-funny recurring joke: white guy picks up the wrong non-white woman.

liz blog

Nick picks up the wrong South Asian woman on Fox’s New Girl.

In the season 5 premiere, Nick is tasked with picking up Cece’s mom from the airport. But-shocker!-he picks up the wrong person. Fans of the show will recall that this should not be the first time Nick has met Cece’s mom-ostensibly, he met her at Cece’s wedding in season 2. Despite this, and despite the fact that Cece’s mom speaks perfect English (and the woman he picks up doesn’t speak English at all), Nick manages to basically kidnap another South Asian woman and take her to Cece’s engagement party.

As I’ve said before, this is hardly the first time this joke has been employed. The other scene that sticks out most to me is from Arrested Development, when Michael thinks he’s giving Lupe (also a woman he’s met several times before) a ride to work, but actually picks up a different Latina woman.

Arrested Development Liz Blog Post

Michael picks up a woman who is not actually his mother’s housekeeper on Arrested Development.

Why do we see this joke over and over again? And why are the men in these shows able to completely ignore the fact that the woman in their car is terrified of them?

Racial minorities are frequently made the butt of jokes on television. This joke is yet another example of it. The minority character’s pain is translated into a joke, rather than taken seriously (much like we see in reality!).

New Girl seems to have somewhat of an issue with its portrayal of immigrants. Tran, Nick’s silent, old, Southeast Asian friend, is a perfect example of Jane Iwamura’s “Oriental Monk” trope (a topic which I have blogged about in the past). This is somewhat surprising, given the show’s complex and well-rounded portrayals of several other minority characters (particularly Winston and Coach, two black men, and Cece, an Indian woman). These characters, however, are natural-born citizens. Often, the show uses humor to address the stereotypes assigned to these characters. For instance, in season 2, Winston reminds Schmidt that he is black, regardless of whether or not he fits into stereotypes about black men. Given the show’s history with characters of color, it is possible that this joke is intended as social commentary on the idea that all South Asian/Latino/insert-minority-group-here people look the same. However, in the context of the episode and the show as a whole, it doesn’t appear that this is so. In previous episodes, social commentary was clearly made. By the end of the episode, the joke is flipped back onto the non-minority character. In a sense, it is the non-minority character’s insensitive actions which become the joke, rather than the minority character. In this instance, the joke reversal doesn’t really happen. Nick realizes that he’s picked up the wrong woman, but that’s about all that happens. We never see an apology from Nick to this woman.

To me, this joke represents a trend seen too often in reality. We as Americans fail to listen to minority voices. We don’t even ask for their names. We laugh at our mistakes, but don’t do anything to correct them. But as long as jokes like these remain pervasive in the media, the problem won’t go away. Our treatment of minorities will continue to just be a funny joke.