“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 you what you study, what do you tell them?
When asked, I usually say I study the ways in which people talk about something called “religion.” (No, I don’t whip out the scare-quotes…) I frame it this way to shift the conversation away from “Oh, so you want to work in the church?” and (hopefully) to get them to consider what I’m doing when I make that move. Usually, my response prompts them to ask for an explanation. I tell them that my work examines the varying ways in which the category religion is defined and classified and how those definitions are linked to notions of national identity within the U.S. I’m interested in how different understandings of religion are employed, specifically with immigrant groups, in a way to standardize conceptions of religion, or put differently, as a way to Americanize marginalized immigrant groups in the U.S. So rather than studying religion, as one might commonly think, I study how the category of religion is implemented and adapted by scholars of religion and more systemic effects and consequences for both hegemonic understandings of religion and forced assimilation of immigrant groups.
While this is certainly a longer conversation than simplifying our work to “I study history,” I think it’s worthwhile to do. On the one hand, history is no less complicated of a discipline than religious studies, and on the other, our own attempt to set our field apart from more commonly accepted or understood areas of study not only reinforces the idea of religion being set apart and special — i.e., not intertwined with the social, political, etc. — , but also perpetuates the idea that religion is too complex to easily discuss. Thinking about religion through systems of classification and discourse instead of a stable thing that exists in the world, we can approach the study of religion rather differently. Of course, one cannot always get into such an in-depth discussion, but when time allows, it certainly makes for an interesting conversation and helps to get folks thinking about the category of religion in different ways. Continue reading “On the Spot with Andie Alexander”
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”
By Andie Alexander
I came across this article on the The Independent on the ruling of European Court of Justice which allows for businesses to ban employees from wearing hijab in the workplace. Here’s the video of Koen Lenaerts, President of the ECJ, discussing the ruling:
Continue reading “Language Games: On Neutrality and the Hijab”
Interreligious dialogue and notions of tolerance, while suggesting inclusivity, often employ exclusions that identify insiders and outsiders, although these insiders and outsiders are different than the boundaries commonly employed in communities. An interesting example of this paradox is Webelieve2, a board game advertised as encouraging discussion among people with different religious commitments. The game is designed to create an opportunity to “learn about others” and “to connect with others.” While targeted marketing to Religious Studies professorsassumes certain interests inform the study of religion (several of my colleagues and I recently received emails advertising this game), the game also reflects particular assumptions about religion that create a variety of exclusions that seem to counter the instructions’ interest in creating an environment where “people feel ‘safe’ when sharing.”
Continue reading “Inclusivity as a Strategy of Exclusion”
Sometimes social media is a great source for learning things, and sometimes it is not. Since my friends on Facebook range across a wide ideological spectrum, sometimes the references to the same event are so contradictory that I have no clue what “really” happened. Last month, when Joni Ernst presented one of the Republican rebuttals to Obama’s State of the Union, the disparity in responses was fascinating. Some friends made comments and posted articles that lampooned her performance, especially making light of her story about wearing bread bags to keep her shoes dry as a child. Posts from other friends described her exceptional performance, with links to articles that emphasized her success in giving a “fresh face” to the GOP. Continue reading “The Social in Social Media”
I was struck last week by this article from the New York Times, which (serendipitiously) corresponds to a classroom experience that I often have. In the article, author Maria Konnikova describes the role that facts play in belief formation. Konnikova is documenting what many other psychologists have also noted: many of our strongly-held beliefs are formed not because they are particularly logical or backed with hard data, but emerge only to the degree that they reinforce ideas that we already hold. What this means is that we tend to gravitate towards the familiar rather than the factual.
There are many reasons why people reject sound data, and Konnikova mentions briefly that mistrust of authority is a predominant reason. But I think there might be something even more fundamental going on here, something I often witness in my own students’ responses when I have them do a very simple exercise. Continue reading “When Choirs Preach to Themselves”
In yet another entry from the annals of my parenting adventures, a particularly memorable event has always served me well as a reminder of Durkheim’s claim that the beliefs that we often perceive to be so central to our identities are often arrived at only after sufficient (and usually physical) conditioning creates them. Continue reading “Why Durkheim Was Right: On the Perils of Being a Young, Cute Shoplifter”
This year in Baltimore, at the Annual Meeting for the American Academy of Religion, Culture on the Edge members Monica Miller and Steven Ramey — along with Chip Callahan (University of Missouri), Sean McCloud (UNC Charlotte), and Patricia O’Connell Killen (Gonzaga University) — were panelists in a roundtable discussion, “Discussing the ‘Nones’: What They Say about the Category of Religion and American Society” where part of their thoughts on the Nones stemmed from the ideas and conversations around their co-authored Huffington Post article. Continue reading “Discussing the “Nones””
The rationale motivating and grounding the panel, “Discussing the ‘Nones’: What They Say about the Category of Religion and American Society”, which was part of the Religion and Popular Culture Group in the American Academy of Religion meeting in Baltimore in November 2013, was to initiate a conversation over and about what the construction of the category “Nones” says (or doesn’t say) about the category of religion and religion in American society.
The label “Nones” typically refers to those who report “no religious affiliation” on surveys, with recent reports emphasizing a growing number of those counted as “None,”—1 in 5 by an October 2012 Pew Forum Report. Here, the Edge‘s own Monica Miller and Steven Ramey reflect on their participation in this panel, which also included Sean McCloud (UNC Charlotte), Chip Callahan (Missouri) and Patricia O’Connell Killen (Gonzaga). Continue reading “Notes from the Field: Nones and the AAR”