Indexing As Meaning-Making

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By Andie Alexander

I’m currently creating an index for an edited volume, and while I’ve repaginated an index before (for the new edition of a book), this is the first time that I have ever compiled an index from scratch. As I’ve been going through the book, I’ve been marking all of the important thoughts, people, theories, etc. Well, I say “important” not because those ideas and names are self-evidently interesting; after all, who would think that Ebenezer Scrooge or the recent Disney⋅Pixar film Inside Out would be among the indexed items for an edited volume in religious studies?

Much like the above etymological definition of “index” suggests, indices (or rather indexers — i.e., me), to be more precise, do “discover,” “point out,” and “disclose” information to their readers. That is to say that indices are neither self-evident nor neutral descriptors of a book’s contents. For what would a neutral descriptor even be? The number of times a word appeared? Well no, because apart from the word “the” making an extraordinary number of appearances, even doing such a word count seems to privilege quantity of word usage over the general argument those words are making. That said, indices are anything but neutral and are themselves, by nature of being a human production, very much situated and, yes, biased (they have a viewpoint). So for me, the indexer, to compile a list of what I and those editing the volume deem relevant for the work, I must have a certain understanding of the argument of the book to determine whether Ebenezer Scrooge is worth including in the index — worth offering to a reader as a hint of more to come. That is, in selecting people, places, and ideas for the index, I have to consider which ones I think best direct and support the arguments, theories, and e.g.s of the volume.   Continue reading “Indexing As Meaning-Making”

Got Legit Milk?

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?”

Inertia, Broken Windshields, and the Boundaries of “Religion”

By Craig R. Prentiss

A decade ago, I was driving with my family on a highway in Tennessee when our windshield was hit by a stone. My focus soon shifted from the fresh crack in the glass to the signs on the back of each vehicle in a convoy of gravel trucks reading: “Stay Back 300 Feet: Not Responsible for Broken Windshields.”

Furious, I wailed, “How is it possible that they’re not responsible?!” I searched the trucks for a telephone number as I passed, to no avail. Reaching for an (absurd) analogy, I yelled, “What’s next? Serial killers wearing t-shirts saying ‘not responsible for accumulating corpses’?” I was quite proud of the analogy, but my family was more concerned about my rage than the $200 it would eventually cost to replace the windshield.

I thought about that windshield this fall when a former student shared an invitation she received from the Governor of Missouri to “The Thirtieth Annual Governor’s Student Leadership Forum: Faith and Values in Leadership.” Only the top students in the state receive the invitation, so she was rightly honored to have been selected. A description of the three-day event in Jefferson City was enclosed. It explained: “Each January, student leaders across the state gather with leaders in politics and business to discuss the servant leadership philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth . . . . The forum is not religious. We seek participants of all faiths . . . .” The forum is subsidized by the annual Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. Selected students pay a fee of $350 to attend, and no tax dollars directly fund the forum. Continue reading “Inertia, Broken Windshields, and the Boundaries of “Religion””

Manufacturing Fast Food Founders

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”

The Politics of Activism: On Rhetoric and Power

By Andie Alexander

“So are you a political activist now?”

I’m not the kind of person who often posts on Facebook about politics. After all, I’m still a grad student hoping to get a job one day, and there’s no telling what sorts of ideas people could formulate about me based solely on my Facebook posts. With that always in the back of my mind, I tend to keep my posts mostly about the academic study of religion (well, that, and pictures of my dogs, obviously, because they’re adorable). However, over the past few weeks, I have been sharing significantly more news articles and reports on my Facebook page. In the wake of this exponential increase in the number of political articles and photos from the Denver Women’s March (see above) on my page, folks were somewhat surprised with my seemingly sudden interest in politics. So much so that some have even called me a political activist.

When others heard these comments about my newfound activism, some agreed in a positive way, while others maintained that I was not a political activist and that I was just sharing information. However, what struck me about these comments was not whether I really am/am not a political activist — to me that misses the point. Rather, I am more interested in this label or designation of “political activist.” For the more I thought about it, I realized that this identifier rarely has a positive connotation. Continue reading “The Politics of Activism: On Rhetoric and Power”

Effective Outrage

A whirlwind of political actions and responses has overwhelmed many of us over the past few months in the United States. Almost everyone seems to be outraged about something. Some are outraged at Trump’s attempt to ban people from entering the US, his cabinet and staff selections, and various other statements and actions he has made, while others express outrage at the responses to Trump, from filing lawsuits to protesting physically. What does all of the outrage accomplish, besides exhausting everyone involved?

Expressions of outrage often contribute to the construction of groups. When Bill Maher, to much applause from his audience, thanked Trump in November because Trump “exposed evangelicals, who are big Trump supporters, as the shameless hypocrites they’ve always been” (see clip below), Maher’s assertion of outrage identified evangelicals as the opposition to those who, like Maher, opposed Trump. By associating two issues, the outrage encouraged people who agreed with Maher’s politics to join his opposition to groups whom he identifies as religious. A similar correlation can be found in statements critiquing the marches and protests following Trump’s inauguration. People have expressed outrage that the signs and speeches were vulgar and hateful. For example, the Federalist website highlighted elements of the Women’s March that it deemed problematic, even warning that their description included “vulgar and sexually graphic content.” These expressions attempt to combine people uncomfortable with public discussions of sexuality with Trump supporters. Thus, expressions of outrage used emotional responses to unite people with some similar positions against a caricatured Other. Continue reading “Effective Outrage”

Politicizing Poutine

By Ian Alexander Cuthbertson

Poutine, a delicious mess of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy, has recently been described as Canada’s national dish. Given poutine’s origins in rural Québec, these claims shed light on the tensions at play in the ongoing construction of Canadian identity.

Poutine’s status as Canada’s national delicacy remains unofficial despite a recent campaign to give poutine the national recognition it deserves.

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Yet marketing campaigns aside, poutine is already widely recognized as being quintessentially Canadian. Continue reading “Politicizing Poutine”

Is Tom Brady Vegan, Vegetarian, or Just Another Ominvore?

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?”

Holocaust Statements and Identity in/of/for the World

by Martin Shuster

On January 27, 2017, the Trump White House issued, like many administrations before it, a statement on the Nazi genocide in remembrance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. What was striking about this statement, however, was that it failed to mention the Jews. Trump’s statement merely noted that: “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.” The problem is that this is exactly how those who deny or minimize the Nazi genocide talk about the event (as Senator Tim Kaine noted, Richard Spencer confirmed, and as a cursory glance at white supremacist forums will show). The White House, however, doubled down when the administration’s spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, claimed that the statement was intentional and that, “despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.” Similarly,  Chief of Staff Reince Priebus remarked that, “everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust” (adding, “obviously all of the Jewish people”).

There are a lot of questions here. As Josh Marshall suggests, wouldn’t it have been wiser—if indeed that was the goal—instead to mention all of the groups you had in mind? How will this affect the relationship between conservative Jews and Trump, especially when that relationship is often based on a shared support for Israel that seems, mistakenly, also to signal support for Jews? How will such Jews weigh the importance of Israel in relation to the importance of acknowledging the Nazi genocide? As Jordan Weissman points out, the White House seems to have “all lives mattered” the Nazi genocide. Continue reading “Holocaust Statements and Identity in/of/for the World”