I Smell Something Fishy

scentsYes, it’s time for college football; if you work at a US university with a football program and you’re not paying attention to the other cuess — like the pretty sparse attendance on Fridays if Saturday is an away game — then you’ll surely know this by the difficult-to-overlook influx of port-a-potties that arrive midweek, to handle the game day, shall we say, demand.

At least at my school they’re lined up like dutiful soldiers all around the heart of the old campus, where I happen to have my office. Continue reading

Whose Unity?

sctoland mapThe people of Scotland are voting today to determine whether they should be independent of the United Kingdom or remain within it. (Watch this Guardian video for background). Bill Clinton recently encouraged Scots to remain within the U.K., asserting

Unity with maximum self-determination sends a powerful message to a world torn by identity conflicts that it is possible to respect our differences while living and working together. This is the great challenge of our time. The Scots can show us how to meet it.

His sentiment here, calling for respect “while living and working together,” is something that many of us desire. His reference to “unity,” though, becomes another instance of naturalizing a historical construction, much like my post yesterday about attitudes towards texts. The “unity” that he advocates obviously references the current international boundaries of the U.K. and the notion that those within those boundaries form a singular community. Those boundaries, of course, have shifted time and time again. Treating them as sacrosanct where they are now suggests a timelessness that conveniently forgets past shifts. This sentiment is not unique to the U.K. but occurs frequently with references to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Iraq, Turkey, India, . . ., as if those boundaries were automatic.

I am not interested in entering the debate over the unity of any particular nation-state or undermining that unity. Both separation and unity require significant blood, sweat, and tears. But we should also be mindful of whose interests are served when “territorial integrity” of contemporary nation-states is treated as if it should never be questioned.

 

Map of Scotland within the United Kingdom” by Peeperman – This file was derived from: British Isles United Kingdom.svg . Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Residual Assumptions

6 Shiv havan cropped

In a recent email discussion among scholars about general issues of representations and Wendy Doniger’s controversial book (about which I have written on Culture on the Edge and Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog), P. Pratap Kumar, a colleague in South Africa, framed the issue through a clear, though contrived, contrast between the scholar and the devotee. He wrote,

Someone who is raised as a Hindu grows up listening to religious songs at Satsangs and even through Bollywood religious songs (there are plenty of Bollywood religious songs that Hindus listen to with utmost devotion) and never would have known that their Hindu texts contain many erotic statements and not just the singular term Linga. But on the other hand, scholars especially from the outside Hindu tradition (be they western or eastern) begin with Sanskrit language and then reading the highly specialised texts where they find statements that devout Hindus would have never heard of. From scholar’s reading, there are indeed very detailed erotic references in many Hindu texts, . . .
We as scholars have to talk about these things because these matters are there in the texts from the Rig Veda to the epics in plenty of places. It is hard to fault a western scholar or any non-Hindu scholar for pointing these out and translating them for what they are.

Continue reading

An Agonistic Affair

timIf identification is an agonistic affair — in which social actors continually define and redefine Self and Other while wrestling over competing interests, ranks, and domains — then negotiating what counts as a legitimate place for a date (especially when one party forgot it was Valentines Day and failed to make a reservation somewhere nice) might be as good a place as any other to try to see what’s going on when we try to ascribe an identity.

Are You Really Free to Read?

9004993292_58782594d3_kI have a book problem. Having built a whole wall of bookshelves recently, and filled much of that space with books we already owned, perhaps I should say that I have a bookshelf problem. My family and I enjoy collecting books, often searching at thrift stores for treasures that others have discarded. We have found a range of works, including works by nineteenth and early twentieth century authors whom we deeply appreciate but would never have found browsing at Barnes and Noble or perusing the suggestions on Amazon. These book-buying endeavors reinforced our experiences browsing bookstores in India and Singapore that also led us to gems not commonly available or even known in the United States. Continue reading

Now That The Ice Has Melted: Some Thoughts on the ALS Challenge

ALS challenge

As the frenzy of folks dumping ice water on their heads in the name of ALS research has now begun to fade, with them have gone the voices who were questioning the whole process. Those of you following most forms of social media know that the controversy surrounding the icy act was multifaceted, indeed.

There was debate on whether those who successfully completed the ritual were obligated to give money to the ALS foundation at all (for, at certain points, the challenge was portrayed by some as the “other” option to a monetary donation). There was also concern over whether such a flagrant waste of water actually created its own problem in the midst of one of the worst droughts that certain parts of the US (and indeed, the world) have ever seen. Countless others also asked what it means about the state of humanity when the way that a worthwhile organization manages to succeed in raising funds is by challenging people to do something so comparatively senseless. The following meme sums up many of these concerns: Continue reading

The Situational Self

businessmeetingThere was an interesting story on the radio the other day — looking at language (the so-called function or filler words (e.g., pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, auxiliary verbs, etc.) in distinction from content words, i.e., the vs. school) as a way to understand identity. Continue reading

We’re All Fans

Picture 5Are you a Doctor Who fan? The BBC show’s been on TV for fifty years, with a variety of actors playing the lead, so we now find ourselves at the point where the people involved in the show, the people who write the stories and play the parts, grew up on a steady diet of the Doctor’s time-traveling adventures. Continue reading

Restoring the Restorations

NikeTempleRestorations of monuments to their original form are not only a difficult task—as any archeologist or art restorer will certainly confirm you of—but also a point of dispute. Consider for example the following sign about the restorations of the temple of Athena Nike (pictured above) that caught my attention when I last visited the Acropolis last year. Continue reading