Recently on Twitter, I was reflecting about the everyday encounters where the study of religion (and really “religion” as identity formation) becomes a topic of conversation.
In case it’s TL;DR, the long and short is that I’m convinced that there’s plenty of opportunity for scholars to contribute to public discourse if we hold vigilant in our commitment to observation and intelligibility. To me, the minute that we insist upon our expertise at the expense of our willingness to explain our point is when we’ve shifted a potential exchange with someone into an effort to change the other.
And while I prefer to see change as a social fact rather than an intrinsically bad thing, there is something disturbing about clearly veiled efforts at affecting change. They are all well and good when they go unnoticed, like the way I hand my kids a sealed salt shaker when they want to add more seasoning to their food. But when we know how this works, we label these acts differently–manipulation, lying, bait-and-switch, etc.
I brought my car to the dealership recently to have some work done. While the service department — interesting they’re called “service” and not “mechanics,” signaling (or suggesting?) perhaps a higher level of expertise — was working on my car, I started checking out some of the cars in the showroom. As I started eyeing the car I hope to get in a few years, I expected to be interrupted by a salesperson who would come running over to try and sell me on the car. Continue reading “When You Don’t Look the Part”
As you likely know, Friday last was St. Patrick’s Day, so, of course, many people were donning green apparel, drinking green beer, etc. As St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays, I’ve never put much thought into the whole “green thing.” Growing up, I remember my elementary school teachers encouraging us to wear green every March 17th so that we didn’t get pinched! (And yes, you were fair game for a pinching if you weren’t wearing green — grade school kids can get a little too into the free-license to pinch, i.e., sanctioned violence one day a year.)
While jokingly discussing the necessity of wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, I began to wonder why we were wearing green and decorating with shamrocks. Having assumed it had to do with the rich emerald green landscape of Ireland, I had never thought twice about it. But now, insisting that green must be worn, I decided to “go to Google” to find out what was up with all the green. Continue reading “Green, St. Patrick’s Day, and the Politics of Identity”
In a recent interview, the creator and primary writer of the British anthology series, Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker, offered the following commentary on selves and social media.
Social media has made it…, and the internet and technology in general, has sharpened all of those things — I guess they’ve always been there, that performative nature of life, has always been there, that you sort of perform your personality, I guess, to everyone, on some level. I remember…, my theory is that we’ve got…, that we used to have several personalities and now we’re encouraged to have one, online. By which I mean…, I remember once having a birthday party and people from different aspects of my life showed up…, and I behaved differently with all of these people, in the real world, but once they were all together in one space, and they were all mingled in, in one group, if I walked over to them I suddenly didn’t know how to speak. Do you know what I mean? Because like, with some of them I’d try to be all intellectual and erudite and with others I’d just swear and curse and be an idiot. And suddenly when they’re all in one space I don’t know who I am. And I kind’a feel like one sort of thing is that online you’re encouraged to perform one personality for everyone. And I wonder if that’s one of the things that’s feeding into the kind of polarization that seems to be going on…. I think that lends itself to group-think, in some way… I wonder if we’re better equipped to deal with having slightly different personas…, that come out when you interact with different types of people.
For the full interview, see 28:46 onward from this episode of Fresh Air.
Watch the trailer for the newly released third season:
Some of you may have heard the recent hubbub surrounding urology clinics that are running March Madness specials. The idea is that men might be more likely to have the procedure done if their recovery can be timed to coincide with a period of sports-related TV watching that might otherwise be considered indulgent. As Time magazine tells it, the practice of advertising vasectomies with March Madness isn’t particularly new, but simply makes public a scheduling trend that had already long been in place, one initiated by men themselves. Time also reports that for those who like their sports with pizza, there is also at least one urology clinic that will throw in a pie with one’s procedure to accompany that bag of frozen peas.
This might strike many as somewhat laughable, but for me it reveals a rather ordinary (if often interesting) practice by which we socially negotiate the demise of a critical symbol. If one’s virility — the marker of manhood across the millennia — is now gone thanks to a vasectomy, then that masculinity can be rebuilt simply by symbolically interjecting a masculinized sporting event (and presumably being pampered by one’s wife, as these adds often imply) on the procedure’s other side. Continue reading “The Manly Vasectomy: When a Symbol Gets Snipped”
As the frenzy of folks dumping ice water on their heads in the name of ALS research has now begun to fade, with them have gone the voices who were questioning the whole process. Those of you following most forms of social media know that the controversy surrounding the icy act was multifaceted, indeed.
There was debate on whether those who successfully completed the ritual were obligated to give money to the ALS foundation at all (for, at certain points, the challenge was portrayed by some as the “other” option to a monetary donation). There was also concern over whether such a flagrant waste of water actually created its own problem in the midst of one of the worst droughts that certain parts of the US (and indeed, the world) have ever seen. Countless others also asked what it means about the state of humanity when the way that a worthwhile organization manages to succeed in raising funds is by challenging people to do something so comparatively senseless. The following meme sums up many of these concerns: Continue reading “Now That The Ice Has Melted: Some Thoughts on the ALS Challenge”
A year ago, a member of the Greek Parliament, Mrs. Repousi, who belongs to the leftish political party of DEMAR (Democratic Left) provoked a series of reactions in the media with two statements (each set apart by a couple of days) that she made during discussions concerning changes in the educational system. Continue reading “Cultural Sensibilities”
I often muse about what it would be like to have relocated to a city without a strong and divisive college rivalry. Don’t get me wrong – I like living in Kansas City (quite a lot, actually). But when I moved here, I was unaware of how significantly one’s alma mater could be translated into a marker of one’s social worth. For those unaware, Kansas City is an urban hub in the Midwest that, despite the name, straddles two states: Kansas and Missouri. While there are a number of colleges and universities within the city itself, Kansas City is populated by very large numbers of people who been schooled at either the University of Missouri, Columbia (“Mizzou” or “MU”), or the University of Kansas (better known as “KU”) in the nearby town of Lawrence. Continue reading “Border Wars: The Fight for Nothing at All”
Recently, news sites and social media frequently discussed a February 2014 Public Religion Research Institute survey on LGBT issues (see Huffington Post, CNN). Some commentators have highlighted the assertion that some Millennials who identified as unaffiliated with a religion (sometimes described as Nones) reported that they left religious institutions, at least in part, because of the institutional opposition to LGBT equality. In essence, these commentators constructed these respondents as unified groups (according to arbitrary generations like Millennials and their response to one question as unaffiliated) in order to wield them as a weapon in an ideological battle. What particularly intrigued me, though, was how these constructed groups were objects peripheral, in a sense, to the ideological disputes in which they were being wielded as weapons. The central disputes were among people affiliating with religious institutions; those who identified as unaffiliated were, by being unaffiliated, marginal to the arguments. This example, then, becomes another case where constructed groups reflect the interests of those constructing the group identification rather than something inherent in the constructed group. Continue reading “Weapons in Ideological Battles”