“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.
1. When people ask what you study, what do you tell them?
The answer I provide to this question is often contingent on the context in which I’m asked. Is the question being asked at an academic conference, with family or friends, or perhaps while doing fieldwork? My general response — I used to simply say that I studied religion (religious studies). Partly because it was a nice quick sentence that bundled everything up into a simple box. But it was also an exercise, as I was curious about what responses and questions people would come up with for me. How did they envision something called religion? Some would ask if I was in training to be a clergy or priest, while others would begin to talk highly about all the good deeds that religions were doing in the world. Some might ask me a question about a very specific recent news story that a so called religion had been mentioned in, or they might ask what I hope to do with a degree in something like this, and others might start talking about the need for the separation of religion and the state (or politics). It provided an opportunity to engage them on their views of the topic of religion and then explain how my own study of “religion” addresses what they were talking or asking about — hopefully extending the conversation into a variety of directions that challenged us both. This can be a longer exchange and so other times I say that I study religion from a social scientific or anthropological perspective. It’s interesting that when I answer this way, I get a lot less of the responses and questions I just mentioned. Instead, since I added the word “science” it seems to justify my study as somehow more legitimate. The question may arise on what I hope to do after I finish my PhD, or they may offer a critique against “religion” in the world — but either way my description usually satisfies them more quickly.
Continue reading “On the Spot with Jason Ellsworth”
Social Justice for Sale (Part I of Selling Diversity, Unity & Social Justice) addressed how recent advertisements from companies like Coca-Cola, Nike and Gillette promote varying aspects of social responsibility via campaigns of unity, diversity, and social justice. Is this the dawn of the ethical corporation? Is this about changing minds and perceptions to create unity? Do these campaigns challenge the system or is this just about maintaining a status quo?
(To read the first half of the series click here for Part I)
Selling Diversity, Unity & Social Justice Part II:
The Hidden Costs of Super Commercials of Unity & Social Justice
Since that Coca-Cola hilltop commercial first played 50 years ago, the image of inclusivity the brand portrays today is salient as ever. Yet, the company is accused of dehydrating communities around the world of one of the most vital resources: water ( In Town With Little Water, Coca-Cola Is Everywhere. So Is Diabetes). Greenpeace notes that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé were found to be the worst plastic polluters worldwide in global cleanups and brand audits. The company is also charged with violating workers’ rights in a number of countries such as Columbia, Turkey, Guatemala and Russia (Coca-Cola: Drinking the World Dry). Who are they really including in their messages of “unity and positivity?”
Continue reading “Selling Diversity, Unity & Social Justice – Part II”
Just before the Star-Spangled Banner ceremonially started Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, a minute long commercial with a message of “unity and positivity” kicked off one of the most commercialized events on the planet. No, the NFL did not welcome back Colin Kaepernick. And PETA did not join forces with Tom Brady to promote veganism (is Tom Brady even vegan?). Rather, Atlanta hometown sweetheart Coca-Cola was promoting diversity and inclusion in their Warhol inspired advert “A Coke is A Coke.” The company is purported to be rolling out the red carpet for everyone, including rival Pepsi. As other companies like Nike and Gillette join the social justice crusade with their own campaigns, is this the dawn of the ethical corporation? But, is this really about changing minds and perceptions to create unity?
Selling Diversity, Unity & Social Justice Part I:
Social Justice For Sale
Continue reading “Selling Diversity, Unity & Social Justice – Part I”
As I drive through my home city looking for a place to eat lunch, I feel overwhelmed by advertising that offers what seems to be an endless array of food options. Do I want fresh and healthy or fast and fried? How about vegetarian, seafood, gluten free, halal, burgers, pub food, buffet, Chinese, fine dining, Indian, local, or organic? While my options seem endless, there is one type of food that seems to be available on every street ‑ “authentic.” And with so many selling it, how does one differentiate between the inauthentic and the authentic? Continue reading “Marketing the Authentic Taco”
(Photo: The North American Association for the Study of Religion)
Some of us here at Culture on the Edge are prepping for The North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) annual meeting that kicks off tomorrow. Part of the meeting is dedicated to “The Things We Study When We Study Religion.” Three sets of panels address what counts as data and how that data is handled — specifically tackling the objects, subjects, and the role scholars in our scholarship (find more info on the NAASR site). At the same time, here on the blog we’ve been reading Rogers Brubaker’s trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities. In light of the topics being addressed at NAASR, there’s a quote from Brubaker that I find to be relevant and worth mulling over:
“Yet recourse to objectivist language is not simply strategic; it also reflects the deep appeal of essentialist understandings of identity outside the academy. Objectivism is further nourished by the cultural authority of biomedical science.”
While Brubaker goes on to discuss biological research in the study of transgender identity, the above quote is rather apt and quite useful in the broader scope of identity studies as well. Though, there may also be a need to address the essentialist notions of identity that are taken for granted within the academy itself and how authority itself is constituted. In recognizing how authority is constructed it can help remind us to be cognizant of the power that resides in making identity claims to begin with, essentialist claims that nourish objectivism, often taking on a life of their own adding to a broader objectivist language, both inside and outside the academy.
Photo of Animated Triceratops at Universal’s Island of Adventures, Orlando, FL
What do the dinosaurs of the past have to do with us today?
The first time I remember thinking about what really makes a dinosaur, was watching Steven Spielberg’s academy award-winning picture Jurassic Park (1993), where dinosaurs are brought back to life through the magic of DNA cloning. In the film, the small island of Isla Nublar is the home to a theme park built from the imagination of John Hammond, a billionaire philanthropist who spares no expense.
Adapted from Michael Crichton’s novel, Jurassic Park is a wildlife park of cloned dinosaurs that escape their enclosures and start hunting the humans. In one of the film’s most iconic scenes we find siblings Lex and Tim trapped in a kitchen by two raptors. As can be seen in the picture below the raptors tower over the children seeking out the siblings in a terrifying game of hide and seek.
Photo Copyright Universal Studios, Film Stills: Jurassic Park (1993)
But according to Jurassic World’s palaeontology consultant, Jack Horner, the horse-sized beasts with fangs and claws that dawn the screen as raptors, have not been portrayed accurately as discussed Continue reading “Articulating Dinosaurs & Religions (The Story of Us)”
By Jason W. M. Ellsworth
First it was the Mayo Wars, and now we have the Milk Wars!
“If milk comes from a plant, can you still call it milk?” It’s the opening line of a New York Times article in which the dairy industry’s answer is an unequivocal no. The US dairy industry is pressuring congress and the F.D.A. to ban plant-based products such almondmilk or soymilk from using the label “milk.” For many of us, whether or not the carton says “milk” may seem arbitrary. However there is much to be lost, and learned, in this classification war. Examining the surrounding discourse reveals what is at stake for each side and how these types of delegitimizing tactics can have significant consequences in the real world.
So what exactly is “milk” and who decides? In the US, the decision rests largely with the FDA who currently states milk is “obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows”. The new definition proposed by lobbyists will now include milk from other hooved animals such as sheep and goats, yet exclude anything from plants. Continue reading “Got Legit Milk?”
By Jason W. M. Ellsworth
Who founded McDonalds? The film, The Founder, tells the history of Ray Kroc as the founder of McDonald’s. It even opens, like many other Hollywood biographical films, with a simple set of words written in white letters set to a black backdrop — “based on a true story.” But, not everyone agrees that the credit should go to Kroc. The film’s title and focus on him gives the impression of a simple enough story, but, as the study of religion demonstrates, origins and founder narratives are usually highly contested with much at stake.
The Founder stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, a traveling milkshake appliance salesman in the 1950s. Unsuccessfully pedaling machines one at a time to various drive up diners, Kroc is curious about one restaurant in California requesting eight of the appliances. When Kroc arrives, he finds a well-oiled diner that runs like a Ford assembly line, one where every burger is consistently of the highest-quality and served lightning quick — “orders ready in 30 seconds, not 30 minutes.” Mac and Dick McDonald are the architects of this highly stream-lined kitchen where no stone is left unturned in the name of efficiency. They originally opened their first McDonald’s BBQ in 1940, and then reopened their newly improved McDonald’s in 1948. Continue reading “Manufacturing Fast Food Founders”
By Jason W. M. Ellsworth
After the New England Patriots’ astonishing comeback win last Sunday in Super Bowl LI, one question remains- how does Tom Brady do it? Despite being the oldest starting quarterback in the game, he continues to stay at the top of the league. His practice regime was summed up in a recent article “In Better Shape Than Ever at Age 39: Here’s How Tom Brady Does It.” It details Brady’s predominately plant-based diet and has sparked strident debates over how to label him and his eating habits:
For most of the year, Brady is a vegan. In the cold winter months, he adds some lean meat to his diet. A typical day’s menu this time of year might include a breakfast smoothie—made with almond milk, a scoop of protein, seeds, nuts and a banana—a midmorning homemade protein bar, sliced up chicken breast on a salad with whole grains and legumes for lunch, a second smoothie as a snack and a dinner of quinoa with greens.
Prominent animal rights activist, author, and the President of Farm Sanctuary Gene Baur shared this in a post on Facebook:
Continue reading “Is Tom Brady Vegan, Vegetarian, or Just Another Ominvore?”