Hope and the Politics of Belief: Some Thoughts on a Trip to Prison

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”

Inaugural Online Seminar

practicumTwo members of Culture on the Edge — Craig Martin and Russell McCutcheon — are among the participants in Practicum‘s inaugural online seminar for undergraduate students in the academic study of religion.

There is no fee, though a proposal is required; it will take place Friday, Feb 6, 2015 from 1-3 pm EST.

Learn more here.

When Choirs Preach to Themselves

Belief

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”

Using Four-Lettered Words: Part One

edgedavinci1

“What Justice Kennedy has undertaken in this initial statement of fact, or more properly, of data, that is to say, facts accepted for purposes of the argument…”

–  Jonathan Z. Smith, “God Save This Honourable Court” (Relating Religion, p. 382)

While she was on our campus a few weeks ago, I noticed Monica Miller using the word “data” to refer to the things that she studied — things such as African American religion, scholars of African American religion, rap lyrics, and rap artists — and so I asked her a question or two about what she thought was entailed in that word and why she seemingly opted for it rather purposefully in both her public lecture, the evening before, and then during an informal lunchtime discussion with our students the next day. And then, just the other day, Leslie Smith posted on this site, using this four-lettered word in her post’s title — a use that did not go unnoticed by some on Facebook who soon were debating what was termed the dehumanizing effects of such objectifying terminology. Continue reading “Using Four-Lettered Words: Part One”

“And You Shall Call His Name Jesus”

MessiahWhat’s in a name? Well apparently a whole lot according to one judge in Eastern, Tennessee, Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew, who not too long ago, ruled (while the parents were in court for not being able to agree on the child’s last name) that a 7-month old baby boy named Messiah, name be changed to “Martin,” arguing that only one person is deserving of such a name and “that one person is Jesus Christ.” The mother of the child, Jaleesa Martin, is appealing the decision. Continue reading ““And You Shall Call His Name Jesus””

On the Spot with Craig Martin

“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.

craigguitarQ: Craig, the shift that we’re all making at Culture on the Edge – from describing identities that either do or do not complement each other to studying the historically situated identification practices that make it possible to claim an identity – is not all that typical for scholars of religion. Do you agree? And if so, then what did you do your early work on and when (and why) did you start to make this theoretical shift?

A: I find that a lot of scholars claim that there is, of course, no essence to any religious or cultural tradition, but who then go on to talk as if there was. Continue reading “On the Spot with Craig Martin”

When the Labels Don’t Fit

square peg round holeDiscourse sorts our world, as Craig Martin illustrated nicely in a post last week. Identity labels are an aspect of discourse, but they also operate in another way, beyond organizing people. Labels also push people to conform by presenting a normative sense of who they are/should be. Continue reading “When the Labels Don’t Fit”