On the Spot with Andie Alexander

“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”

“…, built walls out of chain-link fences.”

Anyone following US news over the past weeks surely knows about the effects (intended or not) of the Trump administration’s recently instituted zero tolerance policy on unauthorized border crossings — now, even those claiming asylum status, if not entering at an authorized point of entry, risk having accompanying minors taken away form them, inasmuch as the adults are now being charged with a crime and, once in the criminal justice system, are disallowed from carrying out normal parenting duties.

That these now unaccompanied children are being held in various locales around the US (including tent cities and in what certainly seems to be hastily created facilities in what were once so-called big box stores), with no indication when they will (or even if they will) be reunited with their parents, has caused outrage in the past days among some while, for others, has prompted strong defenses of the policy (which has been described by supporters of the administration as not being a policy at all but, instead, the sad effect forced on them by what they term “a broken immigration system”). Continue reading ““…, built walls out of chain-link fences.””

The Politics of Activism: On Rhetoric and Power

By Andie Alexander

“So are you a political activist now?”

I’m not the kind of person who often posts on Facebook about politics. After all, I’m still a grad student hoping to get a job one day, and there’s no telling what sorts of ideas people could formulate about me based solely on my Facebook posts. With that always in the back of my mind, I tend to keep my posts mostly about the academic study of religion (well, that, and pictures of my dogs, obviously, because they’re adorable). However, over the past few weeks, I have been sharing significantly more news articles and reports on my Facebook page. In the wake of this exponential increase in the number of political articles and photos from the Denver Women’s March (see above) on my page, folks were somewhat surprised with my seemingly sudden interest in politics. So much so that some have even called me a political activist.

When others heard these comments about my newfound activism, some agreed in a positive way, while others maintained that I was not a political activist and that I was just sharing information. However, what struck me about these comments was not whether I really am/am not a political activist — to me that misses the point. Rather, I am more interested in this label or designation of “political activist.” For the more I thought about it, I realized that this identifier rarely has a positive connotation. Continue reading “The Politics of Activism: On Rhetoric and Power”

Immigration and Two Forms of Identification

Recognizing identifications as narrative constructs or fixed identities organizes the world in particular ways that inform the debate over the immigration order that Trump issued last Friday, shutting down admission of refugees for 120 days and banning citizens of 7 predominately Muslim countries from entering the US for 90 days. Certainly, one aspect of the debate hinges on a person’s willingness to generalize an entire nationality as a threat, as some have asserted that everyone from those countries hates the United States, but these two models of identification also serve different functions in different settings.

Continue reading “Immigration and Two Forms of Identification”

We’re All From Someplace Else

10ways

Have you been following the ongoing debate about whether Britain should stay in the European Union? There’s a referendum coming up (on June 23) and discussions of economic impact, should it leave or stay, are often cited.

But there’s also arguments based on immigration — whether pro or con. Continue reading “We’re All From Someplace Else”

Just a few Notes

aristocatsKnow that image? It’s from the once popular Disney movie “The AristoCats” (1970) — take a look at the scene: Continue reading “Just a few Notes”

Your Turn: Are they “illegals” or “post-fetal persons”?

Mexican children

For the past several days this image has circulated around Facebook in response to the recent flood of Central American children reaching the southern borders of the U.S. in hopes of gaining safe passage, many of them escaping violent home countries. If you’re unfamiliar with the dynamics of what’s gone on, you can read more about it here.

Clearly, this situation has given many political groups ample opportunity to engage in the manufacture of various identities as they take sides on the issue. What identity strategies have you seen at play in this conflict? How have they operated? In what political/social/cultural contexts do they appear to be effective? It’s your turn.

Code Switching in the Funny Papers

Picture 6This morning on National Public Radio, there was a story on a cross-cultural comic book superhero…. Continue reading “Code Switching in the Funny Papers”