The Culture on the Edge collective frequently addresses the relevance of various questions about origins, identifications, and discourse that reflect issues in Religious Studies, but we apply those questions to aspects of society not typically identified as religious. These ideas are a part of a Culture on the Edge panel at the Southeast Regional AAR/SECSOR meeting this coming weekend in Atlanta. Vaia Touna and Steven Ramey will participate in a panel on Saturday March 5 entitled “Culture on the Edge Grounded and Applied: The Wider Relevance of the Study of Religion”. If you are planning to attend the conference or happen to be close enough to show up on Saturday, we would love to chat with you and hear your thoughts on applying issues in Religious Studies more broadly.
For a little more on our panel, here are brief descriptions of what Vaia and Steven plan to present, but the panel is designed to allow significant time for discussion with others present.
There’s Data Everywhere – Vaia Touna
“Working with Culture on the Edge” is a series that invites early career scholars to respond to blogs written by members of the CotE group, that is, to apply in their work a theoretical point made in the blog to which they are invited to respond. I often find myself saying to my students that religious studies classes (at least in the department in which I’m now working) will help them develop critical skills such that they can apply it to other courses they are taking within the humanities, and not only. I have every confidence for this to be the case, mainly because I see it already at work with Culture on the Edge members, in particular within the above-mentioned book series. That is, although in terms of the data each one of my colleagues is working on there is little to no relevance to my own work, or, so it seems (to give an example I’m working on Greco-Roman material, Monica Miller works on Hip Hop, Merinda Simmons on the South, etc.), yet, there is an overlap and communication on a theoretical level amongst us that renders our work at Culture on the Edge relevant both to those who have an interest in religious studies but also to a wider audience.
The Power of the General: Applying Critical Questions from Religious Studies Broadly – Steven Ramey
Critical analysis encourages people to question generalizations and identifications, highlighting their reliance on selected examples to represent a larger community and complex of ideas and practices. Moves in the academic study of religion that question what gets identified as religion, how people employ that category, and what gets included in groupings identified as distinct religions raise questions that have a general relevance. Not only can we ask why a Washington Post headline identifies the actions of Shahjahan ordering others to build the Taj Mahal as proving Islam is love, as opposed to Indian society, Mongol ethnicity, or the Mughal Empire as love, but also we can consider how the definition of various groups in polling, from evangelicals and Nones to soccer moms and Millennials construct the world in particular ways and reinforce certain notions of difference, far beyond what is commonly understood as religion. Helping students recognize the broader relevance of theoretical questions in religious studies by applying them to topics outside of religious studies clarifies those issues of theory in the field and highlights the ways critical skills in religious studies are applicable in a much more general way. To illustrate these ideas, this presentation will focus on various sets of exit polls and other polling data from the current primaries that reveal the ways such information constructs particular groupings, and through that categorization shapes our view of the world rather than simply describes the world.