Response to the American Academy of Religion’s Statement on Academic Freedom, Part 5

academicfreedomstatement

Recently, the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Religion released a draft update to its 2006 statement on Academic Freedom and the Teaching of Religion and solicited feedback from members. Given that the members of Culture on the Edge are all scholars of religion, some have opted to offer their feedback to the AAR via this short series of posts on our site. (An index to all the posts in this series can be found here)

Monica Miller

As a scholar on the “critical” side of many debates in the study of religion, I have a general frustration with the impact of religious institutional footprints, affiliations and ethical assumptions on the American Academy of Religion. The language of “…within and outside of communities of belief and practice” and talk of “…religious traditions, issues, questions, and values” in the recent proposed revisions on the AAR Statement on Academic Freedom comes as no surprise. Continue reading

Almost Black?

vijay5.jpg

Almost Black, the forthcoming story and book by “Jojo,” err, Vijay, an “Indian American who got into medical school pretending to be an African American” has the internet abuzz and many in a rage. After shaving his head and trimming his “long Indian eyelashes,” 17 years ago Vijay Chokal-Ingam, the “Indian-American frat boy” with a 3.1 GPA, transmuted into “Jojo,” the African American affirmative action (which he refers to as state sponsored racism) applicant to medical school.

“Why now?,” many have asked, to this Vijay responds that “…he’s revealing his race ruse now because he heard that UCLA is considering strengthening its affirmative-action admissions policies,” arguing that, “…it’s a myth that affirmative action benefits the underprivileged.” Also, and perhaps most pressing, he has begun promotion for a memoir he is working on, Almost Black, which chronicles his “social experiment.” To add humor to the explicitly politically problematic, Vijay pats himself on his own back by affirming the public benefit of him not becoming a doctor. Continue reading

Manufacturing Booty: On How We Stake Our Claims

CoverAs I’m sure we’ve all heard by now, Kim Kardashian’s backside, displayed for the world’s consumption and viewing pleasure (or not) on the front cover of Paper Magazine, “broke the Internet” just a short while ago and has since caused a flurry of debate, shock, praise, and disbelief. Add to that a big-booty praise of “#allday” from her beloved husband, Kanye West which received thousands of Retweets. I’ll leave it for those entering into the debate with interests and intentions of conflict management and moral maintenance to weigh in on what Kim’s big ‘ole butt plastered on the Internet for the world to view and deconstruct means for progress, freedom, justice, feminism, America, motherhood, identity politics, women, sexuality, Kanye, blackness, and much, much more. Amazing how a bare ass on a magazine can speak to and says something about such a *****wide***** variety of topics!
Something more interesting — and fascinating (in my opinion) has caught my attention about the unfolding conversation and ensuing public debate and discourse — that has seemingly little to do with the perceived “object” of study here. I’m more curious about how all of these emerging grand claims to truth (seen in what follows below) sparked by Kim K’s naked badonkadonk are helping it to break the Internet and make possible the Sui Generis booty she (and the world) thinks is so NOT-unique, or, not unique enough to warrant all of the hype. One is not born a big booty, rather, one becomes a big booty, so it seems. We have manufactured the Kardashian booty that we so love to hate and hate to love. Continue reading

What Gang Do You Claim?

gang sign mayorIn December of 2013, Russell McCutcheon penned a blog piece about the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service who was caught signing what many regarded as gibberish. McCutcheon’s post made two principle points: First, all signs are arbitrary and rely on agreed upon codes, policing and assumptions between those doing the communicating for any communication or “meaning” to be enacted. Second, the backlash faced by the interpreter demonstrates that “just because something is made up… does not mean that it doesn’t have consequences, doesn’t have effect.”

If you haven’t heard, a few days ago Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges claimed her allegiance to a local area gang. Or so an intensely politically problematic and pedagogically potent news report from KSTP 5 Eyewitness News (out of Saint Paul, MN) declared. Continue reading

Handcuffed to Authority

Residents of Eastern Pennsylvania can sleep a bit easier now that Eric Matthew Frein was apprehended. Frein is accused of murdering Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Bryon K. Dickson and the attempted murder of another officer, Alex Douglass. Authorities scoured the Pocono Mountains looking for this self-professed survivalist for forty-eight days. On October 30, U. S. Marshalls found Frein near an abandoned airfield, handcuffed him, and placed him in a police cruiser. The man with a hatred for authority had been captured.

mon

(Photo: AP/Jason Farmer, The Scranton Times & Tribune) USA Today

As it turns out, the handcuffs placed on the fugitive once belonged to Corporal Dickson, as did the cruiser used to transport Frein. According to Commissioner Frank Noonan, authorities “agreed that if we had the opportunity, then it would be fitting to use Corporal Dickson’s handcuffs…when we caught him.” At first glance, placing Dickson’s handcuffs on Frein is, indeed, a fitting response to the fear that has gripped the area. Symbolically, it represents the restoration of justice and safety seemingly safeguarded by the authority of law enforcement – with an added symbolic retribution forced upon the criminal. Perhaps, this handcuff story evokes a retributive sort of solidarity enacted as Dickson lives on in the form of his handcuffs now binding the hands of his alleged killer. But the story might also reveal our particular bondage to a certain vision of authority and justice as natural. Continue reading

The Myth of Origins

Toolbox

Picture 4– Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference (1978), p. 285

“New Books on the Edge” with K. Merinda Simmons

Simmons-Changing

New Books on the Edge” is an ongoing blog series, which engages forthcoming manuscripts by Edge collective members.

Changing the Subject: Writing Women Across the African Diaspora

From diaspora to class, gender, subjectivity, migration, labor and much more – take us behind the scenes of Changing the Subject — how it came to be, what sorts of questions are raised in this project, and what data is being engaged?

My disciplinary training is in literary theory, and I have long been puzzled by a tendencyI see working in that domain of scholarship. Namely, while so much of the field has been influenced by what many—myself included—see as important poststructuralist intellectual moves, I nonetheless keep coming across analyses by prominent scholars that focus on “authenticity” in one manner or other. This seems an especially noticeable phenomenon within scholarship on texts deemed marginalized—and, as my data set when I began the work that would ultimately become this book was comprised of narratives by women of various African diasporas, I decided to delve into how and why the emphasis on something called authenticity appears in the criticism surrounding these texts. Continue reading

Your Turn: Is the Beach Really Better?

Beach

Your Turn” is a new, ongoing feature at Culture on the Edge, in which we just plant the seed by picking a ripe e.g. and then soliciting and responding to your analysis.

Maybe the beach really is better?

Recently, as I sat down on a beach near Nice, France, I took notice of two women in front of me. One was wearing the tiniest of French bikinis, the other, a full burka. Other than the sand — Nice’s beaches are quite pebbly — the scene looked a lot like the photo above and sent my mind spinning, a growing clarity or distillation of oh so many discussions and debates I’ve had here in the academy about women’s rights, liberation and the like began to emerge. The juxtaposing bodies, each “oppressed” or “subjugated” in their own ways via the burka or bikini (of course, depending on the social interests at stake), collided in front of me in the south of France, a country that has recently banned face-covering burkas from public altogether and the more basic headscarf from schools and other civic institutions and establishments back in 2004. Continue reading

Yes, You ARE My Data!

Data Pic 2

Anytime “data” can answer this question, the stakes increase. “Yes” or “No,” the question is posed rhetorically, for in receiving an answer, the trouble of the “human sciences”—that is, the human in human sciences—sounds off in a chorus composed of intentionality, strategies of identification, and politically-charged and charred epistemological appeals and ethical slights-of-hand. In other words, when we take this question (and its implications) seriously, shit stands to “get real.”

About a year ago, historian, religious studies scholar and public intellectual Anthea Butler wrote a powerful essay for Religion Dispatches titled “The Zimmerman Acquittal: America’s Racist God.” If you have the time, it’s worth another read. She ended up the target of a series of online attacks from people angry at the post. Dr. Butler cataloged the hate mail here. Continue reading

“New Books on the Edge” with Russell T. McCutcheon

9781781790779 (1)Entanglements: Marking Place in the Field of Religion

You’ve contributed much to the discourse on theory and method in the academic study of religion over the years – can you take us behind the scenes with “why” this book now, and to what sorts of questions and/or critiques in the field you’re responding to in your push to show the manner in which the “academic” study of religion rightfully constitutes primary research on “real” religions?

For whatever reason, over the years some of my work has prompted replies from other scholars—sometimes substantive, sometimes dismissive or, on occasion, even angry. So I’ve had the luxury of writing responses or rejoinders on a number of occasions, but I’ve never done anything with these pieces—not that I ought to, but they tend to represent a part of the field that, I think, often goes unnoticed. For a variety of reasons I’ve turned into an essayist and I tend to gather up pieces periodically and then publish them as a collection—a genre I certainly didn’t invent and one that is not so distinct from a monograph as some might wish to think—and so the idea of collecting these responses, and then writing new introductions to each, contextualizing the occasion etc., seeing it all as an example of scholarly discourse at work, rather than a finished product, occurred to me about a year or so ago. Continue reading