Whence Mother Earth?

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John D. James is a senior at the University of Alabama majoring in Religious Studies and minoring in General Business. This book review was written for Dr. Michael J. Altman’s REL 370: Empire and the Construction of Religion course.

In Mother Earth: An American Story, Sam D. Gill begins to articulate and explain with physical evidence that the term “Mother Earth” is commonly misused and presented to audiences as some common knowledge involving Native American thought and belief. Gill takes an interesting approach when trying to carefully argue that Mother Earth is not an ancient central Native American figure. This book’s message is a radical rethinking of how the figure Mother Earth came to be used and ultimately misused by so many who failed to ask questions concerning Mother Earth’s origin.

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All Work and No Play…

livetweetsfromthelounge2We’re experimenting with a new feature in our Department this year: Live Tweets form the Lounge. For we’re now on Twitter, and it occurred to us that periodically inviting a different faculty member to just hang out in our Department lounge for an hour and tweet about what’s going on, what they’re teaching this semester, or what they’re working on in their own research might be a way to engage students or any other Twitter followers. It’s fun, sure, but it’s surprisingly informative; we’ve done two of these so far (some tweets from our most recent are below) and, if they’re any measure, it seems to be a real success — if you’re measuring success by a variety of people on a large campus feeling involved in the life of the Department and learning about/communicating with each other. (Search #loungetweets on Twitter to see more.)

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Authenticity and the Nation-State, Or Why Thai Food is a Lot Like ISIS

 

tumblr_mdls46sPdt1qawtgfo1_1280We love Thai food around here. But how do you know the food on your plate is actually Thai? What makes it Thai? The sign in the restaurant window? The “Thai tea?” What is “authentic Thai food?”

Well, the government of Thailand is sick and tired of your sad excuses for Thai food and they have a plan to ensure you never settle for fake Thai food again. It’s not just a plan, it’s a robot. Continue reading

Making the Familiar Strange

campdavidA theme I’ve written on a time or two before is the inability (or unwillingness) of many scholars to entertain that, being themselves members of a particular social group, they tend to draw upon folk concepts popular among their own group and then project them outward (in space and time), as if they are universals that name and describe stable self-evidencies in the world at large. While we probably have no choice but to know the new by means of the old (like the European colonialist arriving on distance shores, speaking slowly and loudly, asking, “What religion are you?”), we can also try to retool the known in light of that meeting, when gaps and contradictions start to become apparent, to eventually come to see it as itself local and situated, and thereby work toward developing a new set of tools capable of answering the different questions that a scholar likely asks.

It’s the old challenge of hearing the familiar as itself a little strange. It’s a question of theory. Continue reading

Owed to Murphy

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John Parrish graduated from the Department of Religious Studies in 2004. He went on to pursue graduate study in Christian Origins at the University of Alberta, the University of Toronto, and Brown University, while maintaining his interests in 19th & 20th C religious thought. In the following, John reflects on the role played in his own undergraduate education by the late Dr. Tim Murphy, pictured above as he looked when he arrived in the Department in the Fall of 2002.

What to say? What can I say? Many people speak about their mentors in this way: he taught me everything I know about such-and-such-a subject. In Tim’s case that would be a lie. He did not teach me everything I know about the subjects he taught. Not even close. Tim did something better: he taught me how to read those subjects that interest me, and that, in my view, is a far better gift. He showed me, first, that to read is a verb—an active process by which you make the text your own. That is interpretation, and he always said that interpretation is the main way that we, as human beings, deal with the world around us. Of course, Tim also taught me the basics: the main authors in the subject of 19th and 20th century Religious Thought. He taught me who they were. He contextualized them—even encouraged me to read some of them. But I never had his skill at grasping and elucidating the philosophical points behind them. For that, his lectures were indispensable. Continue reading

Praxising What We Preach: Kickball and the Communitas of an Academic Department

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Why do we teach our students social theory? Why teach them about collective effervescence, habitus, and discourse? I think we do it because we find these theories to be useful tools for analyzing and explaining the world around us. But often, I think, we academics are wont to apply these same theories to our more intimate surroundings. Theory is often a tool for explaining that stuff out there and rarely do we see it as a tool that we can put to use nearby. We don’t often praxis what we preach. Continue reading

What Does “Omaha!” Mean?

Photo: Craig Hawkins via Flickr

Peyton Manning loves Omaha. Or at least the Denver Broncos quarterback loves to yell “OMAHA!” just before the start of a play. Omaha is just one of the many words he and other quarterbacks yell just before the ball is snapped. Sometimes these words are audibles, quick changes of the play the team is about to run. Sometimes they are meaningless verbiage meant to confuse the other team. Continue reading

Theory in Practice

bellbookSeveral Facebook friends have recently re-posted this Guardian article, “Why Non-Believers Need Rituals Too.” Its argument is that humanists or atheists or agnostics — or whatever else we name this loosely (if at all) identified group, a group likely comprised by our very talking about it — need to give more attention to the aesthetics of their collective practices. Why?

… because it is through ritual that we remake and strengthen our social bonds. Continue reading