On the Spot with Vaia Touna

“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?

It all depends on, of course, to whom I’m talking. I admit that in the early years I was feeling quite frustrated explaining that what I was doing is not theology, that I’m not searching whether god exists or not, whether there is paradise, and that finishing my studies I would not become a priest or a nun. Yes, these were/are some of the standards questions I will get and I assume many of my colleagues do. Now, knowing full well that this is the reality and that people in general are likely not to have any knowledge of the Religious Studies discipline, I get less disappointed and in fact sometimes I wonder why should they even know. I certainly don’t know a lot about many disciplines and in fact even though I guard myself against my own misconceptions, it is likely that my own experiences or what ever knowledge I have of a particular discipline inform how I understand them or even misjudge them, so I welcome those misconceptions people have of my own discipline as a challenge. So back to the question, although I don’t have a standard answer that I give to everyone, in general in my reply I would explain that Religious Studies is a discipline within the human sciences and therefore interested in people and their behaviors, with a focus on how people use, talk, define, and understand religion and the consequences those usages, definitions, etc. have for them and the world around them. Then I would go into the more specifics, that is, how my data (the things I’m studying) relate to ancient and modern Greece and that in my research I’m interested in the way both scholars and people define religion (that is, how they understand religion) and how those definitions inform understandings of both the ancient and modern world (I might even give an example or two). If I see interest then I would explain that definitions whether of religion or any other term are one among many acts by which people come to identify themselves and understand, even construct, the world around them. Hashtag REL100. Continue reading “On the Spot with Vaia Touna”

And Our 12 Points Go To…

eurovisionvotingLike Wimbledon, I watch the Eurovision finals each year — we started doing it a few years ago. I was in Greece during the finals back in 2009 (“This is our night!”) and, since then, have gotten a kick out of the finals, especially the hour long voting ritual once all the songs have been performed, when local hosts, presumably from each country’s own telecast, “call” into the host city to reveal who their country voted for. That the awkward time delays in almost all of these reports makes it seem like a 1970s interview from halfway around the world, coupled with the fact that each country’s local host presumably wants to get as much as they can from their 30 seconds on air with the estimated 180 million viewers worldwide, while the event’s hosts back at the venue squirm on-air because they just want to hear their votes so they can speed things along, makes it all the better. Continue reading “And Our 12 Points Go To…”

Subtle Strategies

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.48.44 AMWhile I was searching the web for tradition-related articles, I came across this news story written by John Laughland (a British civil engineer) who submitted an article to a Greek e-newspaper—“protothemanews.com”—entitled “Kayakoy: Death by Restoration.” The title immediately caught my attention, given my own interest in how we use the term tradition, restorations, and the like. He and his German wife Beatrice have lived in Turkey for the last 26 years near an abandoned village known as Kayakoy, located at the south side of Asia Minor, and it is said that its Greek residents abandoned it after the 1920s population exchange between the two countries (i.e., Turkey and Greece). Continue reading “Subtle Strategies”

The Mighty Hercules

herculesSeeing Vaia Touna‘s recent post, on the creation of her own Greek identity, made me think about my own knowledge of Greece.

I was born in 1961, the youngest of four (the oldest of whom was born immediately after the end of Word War II), so that puts me at the tail end of the so-called baby boom. Television predated me, of course, but I was a member of the first generation weaned on it; so there’s a good chance that it was on television, and specifically in cartoons, where people like me came across the things that later turned out to be so much more complicated. Continue reading “The Mighty Hercules”

Who Are You? I’m Greek

VWho Are You?” asks members of Culture on the Edge to reflect
on one of their own many identities (whether national, gendered,
racial, familial, etc.), theorizing at the same time the self-
identification that they each chose to discuss.

Although we all have many identities my national identity is what comes first in mind especially now that I’m away from Greece. I suppose when you are asked to remember the first time you realized you were of a certain nationality is not that easy. I’m Greek! I was born in Athens and grew up in Thessaloniki and it sure fills me with pride when I’m asked to show around and talk about my ancient Greek heritage, which I see is of great interest to my North American friends and not only. Of course this pride has its ups and downs, especially when I’m asked about the current politico-economic situation in Greece…. Anyways! Continue reading “Who Are You? I’m Greek”

Open Secret

secretOn the way back from walking my dog this morning I caught the end of a radio story on the new documentary, “Open Secret”, which premiers tonight on Al Jazeera America. Seen the trailer?

Everyone but him seems to have known who his real mother was… So it got me thinking once again about how secrets work as identification practices — something that considerably presses the folk understanding of privacy as being, well, private. Continue reading “Open Secret”

Using Four-Lettered Words: Part One

davinci

“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”