“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?
I tell them that I study religious people. I say this instead of “religion” because I want to emphasize that there is no religion without people behind the enterprise. That may seem a truism, to some, but since our field still engages so readily with talking about all sorts of disembodied religious traditions — i.e., differentiating between “Christianity” and the “Christians” who practice it — I think this is a really important distinction that places the emphasis back on human behavior. This explanation also helps with the task of clarifying that I’m not involved in some sort of ministry or theological pursuit, which is a presumption that most of us get when asked this question.
2. How do questions of identity manifest in your research?
My research up to this point in time has dealt largely with how various American conservative Christian entities re-negotiate their identities within a religious framework in order to secure certain social outcomes. More specifically, I’ve been looking at how evangelicals use religious ideas for particular ends within the American political system. I think the most important takeaway from this research has been that the identities and other types of portrayals that evangelicals make for themselves and others shift substantially as the political winds dictate, all while claiming no such shifting at all (in the name of eternality or god’s will). Instead of calling this hypocrisy or some sort of failure to live out “authentic values,” as is often the rhetoric from those on the left, I just see this as the normal mechanics of a social group. Everyone does it, in other words, because social groups are always looking to secure their own legitimacy, and when the social conditions change dramatically, so will, at times, their own identities. Continue reading “On the Spot with Leslie Dorrough Smith”
A few weeks ago, after being dismayed at finding my rain gauge broken after a particularly bad snowstorm, my teenaged daughter asked me when I became interested in stuff like rainfall amounts. The question was not snarky; it was a genuine interest in what happens to certain adults who do not grow their own food that they begin to have conversations about the amount of moisture falling from the sky. And I get it. I can remember as a teen hearing adults talk about absolutely boring things (Insurance! Advanced dentistry! Mortgages! Their joints!) and wondering why everyone seemed so intrigued. Was adulthood, after all, merely an extended stage of pain, weather-watching, and paper-shuffling? (I’ll leave it to you to answer that). Continue reading “Am I Middle-Aged?”
On the eve of the Women’s March in Washington last year (the first one, for those counting), I found myself in the very conundrum that the picture below depicts. As a knitter, I just assumed that I could go to my local yarn shop a couple of days in advance of my city’s march and pick up some pink yarn to make my pussy hat. This didn’t seem like an unrealistic expectation, since, after all, there’s usually plenty of pink yarn sitting around when I’m there buying the more neutral shades that usually populate my closet. But on this particular weekend, it seemed that many others in the city had the same idea — there was virtually no pink yarn in sight.
Indeed, from all appearances, the Women’s March was an important kickoff moment in a renewed wave of advocacy in the United States addressing many issues, gender bias among them, and it was motivated by the concerns of large groups of American women who have grown increasingly fearful about their social and legal standing in a Trump presidency. As we know, the march was followed by a series of other activist moments; most recently, the #metoo phenomenon has led to the widespread toppling of many powerful American men whose power and success was at least partially built on misogyny (presidents notwithstanding). Continue reading “It’s the End of the World As We Know It…”
This past summer, as they have many times before, my kids asked if they could hold a lemonade stand. I’ll admit having mixed feelings about the whole enterprise. My less enthusiastic side tends to perseverate on my own lost work time and the endless number of supplies and chores that accompany that task, for no matter how much they insist they can and will do it independently, that never comes to pass.
When I’m at my most enthusiastic, though, I get tickled at their excitement, not to mention how effectively they convince strangers to drink their warm and questionably tasty beverages. After all, it was my children who, several summers ago, informed a customer at their kool-aid stand that the only reason why we had kool-aid in our house was because it was left over from their mom’s yarn-dyeing experiment. Since their mom would never ever let them drink the stuff, they added, they were (naturally) selling it to strangers.
The conference’s aim was to consider the rhetorical strategies that various social groups use to evaluate the role of religion in public life. In particular, a group of international scholars focused on four different themes (the classroom, the media, the university, and politics, respectively) considered how rhetorics of good/authentic/”real” religion have been juxtaposed with concepts of bad/illegitimate/”fake” religion, and the sorts of political work such rhetorics have made possible. Continue reading “Hijacked! Conference in Bonn, Germany”
About six weeks ago, I did something that I’ve been thinking about for a solid fifteen years: I got my nose pierced. I can’t tell you that there’s one particular reason why it took me so long to do it; instead, it would be more accurate to describe a million minor discouragements along the way. But when I recently found myself admiring a friend’s piercing (framing the compliment within the narrative of my own unfulfilled intentions), it didn’t take much for her to convince me to go for it. Continue reading “The Nose-Piercing of Destiny”
Through a series of interesting circumstances, I recently had the occasion to visit Lansing Correctional Facility, the oldest and largest prison in the state of Kansas. The purpose of my visit was multifaceted, but my part in the process was to bring a group of my own university students to participate in a college-level philosophy class taken by inmate students. The explicit goal was to provide both groups the chance to see how their different experiences might provide more nuanced perspectives on some introductory-level philosophical issues.
Although we did not intend to talk about the criminal justice system as one of our topics, the fact that that was the setting of our engagement was an undeniable part of our time together. Like several others in the group, I was aware of the literature on mass incarceration and the “school to pipeline” process that currently feeds the American prison system. While these models of incarceration are complex, what the evidence demonstrates is that factors largely outside of one’s control play a significant role in whether and how one experiences the corrections system. For instance, things such as race, gender, educational quality, and poverty are all determinants in the likelihood of arrest, the quality of one’s legal representation, whether one will be convicted, the length of one’s sentence, and recidivism rates. Continue reading “Hope and the Politics of Belief: Some Thoughts on a Trip to Prison”
When word broke this past week that Vice President Mike Pence has a longstanding practice of refusing to dine alone with any woman not his wife in order to ensure that he is not tempted by an illicit relationship, the reactions from all sides of the aisle were intriguing but pretty predictable. On the left, the claim was that this behavior was not only sexist and completely diminishing of women, but that such a move would prevent many women politicos from (literally) getting a seat at the table in an atmosphere where never-ending work schedules make working meals a prerequisite for employment. On the right, a general rejection of the sexism thesis was followed by praise for Pence and his commitment to his marriage. Continue reading “Dinner Dates: Mike Pence, Family Values, and Washington Masculinity”
As those of us who have been witnessing the roller-coaster politics of the United States these past few months can attest, there’s a lot riding on the idea of the president. This may seem truistic, for we all know that presidents are very powerful in great part because they are the megaphone through which a series of legislative platforms is broadcast.
But even more than this, presidents are, for many, the image of the nation-state distilled into a single person. When certain Americans thus claim that Donald Trump is “not my president,” what they are indicating in a very straightforward sense is their rejection of this representative identity even as they wish to retain national ties, for presumably they find inconsistencies between the ways they align their own identities with the nation-state and the president as the national symbol. Of course, we’ve seen that before, most recently in this image: