“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?
Typically, I respond with the straightforward “Religions of India, like Hinduism and Islam” or “Religions of Asia.” While the answer prompts some people to talk about whomever they know who is from India or has visited India, the perceived exotic nature of India, Hinduism, and Islam means that fewer people are confident to start a lengthy discourse about India, as some people do if I simply answer “religion.”
2) How do questions of identity manifest in your research?
My initial intention was to study the difference between strict religious identifications and the fluidity of practice, as many in India participate in practices that we commonly identify with competing religions. Self-identified Hindus not only celebrate festivals with their co-workers and friends who identify as Muslim, but they also often pray for healing or assistance at Sufi shrines. Similarly, self-identified Muslims have cooperated with Hindus in both ritual and non-ritual practices, even serving as sponsors and performers in particular festivals. And the same dynamics play out among people who identify as Sikh, Jain, or Christian in many parts of India. Continue reading “On the Spot with Steven Ramey”
The northern end of Elizabethtown College sits at the meeting of East College Ave and Campus Rd. The vertex is more of a bend than an actual edge, justifying the placement of a conditional stop sign. Drivers can do the otherwise illegal so long as they are rounding the curve, but those moving away from the school must heed the sign conventionally.
Maybe you have similar intersections where you live, but signs like these appear to be rare in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. If anything, we make a habit of yielding the right of way to pedestrians, other automobiles, and yes, Amish buggies. Thus the rare conditional stop sign becomes a license to throw caution to the wind. Continue reading “I Saw the Sign, or Did I?”
So, you heard the news? Culture on the Edge has expanded the core group and gone back to basics; the peer review guest blog (what we call Chapter 2, up on the main menu) is still here and looking for interesting posts, of course, but just as our focus on a common book helped to get this initiative off the ground (as you may recall, it was a book by J-F Bayart) we’ve decided that we’re going to read a couple books each semester, together. Continue reading “”
At Culture on the Edge, we’d like to think that one of our strengths is our academic diversity. While many from our original group have come from some area of the study of religion, we have a variety of areas of specialization — from Greece, to India, to the United States, from ancient history, academic discourse, and gender, to religious identifications, music, and literature. These many areas of specialization have prompted challenging and constructive conversations as we have grappled with issues in the study of identification. As we welcomed guest bloggers aboard (in what we’ve called “Chapter 2” of the blog), we’ve seen even more new perspectives added to this ongoing and ever-evolving study. Continue reading “The Next Chapter of Culture on the Edge: New Collaborations”
My department has a new website, with updated faculty photos. If you have known me for awhile, you might notice that my hair is a bit longer, now past my shoulders. By comparing photos of me as a faculty member, or even as a teenager, anyone can demonstrate that my hair is longer now than it has ever been in my life. That is a demonstrable fact about the past.
Of course, the length of my hair is not particularly interesting. As with most narratives (which is what histories present), the more intriguing issue is the explanation why. Why, at this point in my life, have I allowed my hair to grow? A friend who had not seen me for over a year commented on my hair last week, giving me the opportunity to create a narrative about my hair. My explanation was that I have not gotten my hair cut since becoming a full professor this past August. But, my own explanation is not necessarily complete. In fact, any of us tell stories, like our identifications, strategically. Perhaps (to create a narrative about my narrative), my response was a way to emphasize my recent promotion. The length of the hair was just the opportune time to insert that personal tidbit into the conversation, or perhaps that explanation was said in jest. Continue reading “Long-Haired History”
Gun fights, political intrigue, and a race against time. Reading fiction is one activity that provides a little excitement. While I enjoy a range of authors and styles, my favorites are the pulp espionage and legal thrillers from authors like David Baldacci, John Grisham, and Steven Martini. The exciting plot keeps me highly engaged and turning the pages to see how the hero or (sometimes) heroine fight off or outwit the dangerous, enigmatic threat. Like many people, I appreciate a good narrative, and that desire for a manageable, linear plot is not limited to reading novels.
Reading in Hayden White’s Tropics of Discourse (yes, I also read some academic works during the summer) has prompted me to reflect on these preferences and their connection to my own writing. White argues that the construction of a historical narrative has important similarities to fiction writing, as the historian selects data from the range of sources she peruses and pieces them together into a narrative, choosing particular “modes of emplotment” (such as romance, comedy, or tragedy) that generally correspond to particular explanatory approaches in the field of history. Continue reading “The Narratives We Like”
I’m headed to California tomorrow for a few weeks and, while there, will be doing a little archival work. As a theorist, my relationship to archives has always been something of an ambivalent one. On one hand, I am a trivia geek and a total sucker for troves of old things. I like thumbing through letters and thinking about changes in penmanship and syntax over the years. I really dig the time capsule aspect of the process that creates enough distance for everything to appear strange and special to me. On the other hand, I am wary of the temptation to identify a clear or linear narrative about (and, in so doing, romanticize) the past. The archival project that I often assign to students in my Religion in the American South seminar, for example, asks them to focus on the rhetoric and contextual politics of the archival sources they examine in UA’s special collections library. In that sense, my students are looking reading historical texts from a perspective akin to what Hayden White outlines in his now-classic Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1973), keeping in mind the manifold narrative devices present in the presentation of an artifact. Continue reading “Catching Archive Fever”