What’s Your Definition of Religion?

definitiontweetI had the good fortune the other week to do a virtual class visit, via Skype, with Brad Stoddard’s students at McDaniel College. To get things going, one of his students asked me a question; given that they’d read a little of an intro book I wrote, that’s concerned with issues surrounding defining religion, it concerned how I define religion. Continue reading “What’s Your Definition of Religion?”

Maps, Interpretations, and “The Territory”

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 5.42.31 PM

Over a year ago I wrote a post, which has haunted me ever since I wrote it; starting with the idea that “every present justifies its presence by clinging onto a past not considered previously,” I looked at two different readings of a fresco in the catacombs of Priscilla, in Rome, and concluded that these two readings of the past each authorize different interests in the present.

Continue reading “Maps, Interpretations, and “The Territory””

Is It a Review Essay? Strategies of Classification

Card_Catalog_(3638658173)Katie Lofton’s recent review essay of On Teaching Religion in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion has generated significant feedback on social media, both favorable and not. One point of debate is the appropriate classification for the essay. While the journal editor labeled it a Review Essay, others have described it as a tribute to J. Z. Smith’s scholarship, a teaching evaluation, a memoir essay, etc. Other terms describing the essay (a different manner of classification) ranged from narcissistic and Oedipal to a great read.  Continue reading “Is It a Review Essay? Strategies of Classification”

WWDS?

atheistssignPerhaps you’ve caught the news about a recent Supreme court decision in the U.S. in which (by a slim, but sufficient, 5-4 majority) local town meetings that begin with prayer were held to be constitutional — so long as religions were not actively excluded from the opportunity. The majority (read the decision, and various commentaries, for yourself here, linked under “Opinion”) concluded:

All that the Court does today is to allow a town to follow a practice that we have previously held is permissible for Congress and state legislatures.

Continue reading “WWDS?”

On Playing it Straight

mugatuI’ve long known why I like Will Ferrell movies — he always plays it straight. No matter what character he adopts, he rides it as far as it’ll take him, never feeling the need that he has to wink to the audience, to let us in on the secret that he really isn’t that way himself, that he’s just playing a character.

That is, he never breaks the fourth wall. Continue reading “On Playing it Straight”

What’s Really Happening

edgehistorian

In a recent post I mentioned an upcoming paper I was presenting at a panel in Baltimore on explaining the causes of early Christianity’s origins. My concern in that paper, which I delivered a few days ago, was to draw attention to problems with attempts to account for the origins and development of any social movement — a critique that, for some in this one field, has already invalidated such things as quests for the historical Jesus. However, serious scholars yet persist in trying to account for the originary conditions of this thing we call Christianity.

The goal, of course, is to find out “what really happened,” as phrased by one person during the Q&A. Isn’t it? Continue reading “What’s Really Happening”

“Hoi Polloi”

Hoi PolloiAs a native Greek speaker, the words in English that give me most trouble—especially when I find myself at various conferences or lectures in North America that involve, in some way or another, the use of Ancient Greek—is the pronunciation of those words. I admit that I can’t resist the temptation of correction for example whenever I hear Thucydides (pronounced: Thu-si-di-dees) instead of Θουκυδίδης (pronounced: Thu-ky-theē-thees). But once I found myself in an awkward position where context made the text if not unrecognizable but certainly irrelevant. Continue reading ““Hoi Polloi””

No There There

fingerprintsSometime ago I realized that there was important theoretical work signaled by gerunds—verbs that masquerade as nouns; for instance, as I once phrased it, the advantage for a social theorist of the concept “social formation,” as opposed to, say, “social forces,” “society,” “group” or even “institution,” was that it “nicely represents not only the ongoing work of bringing an imagined social group into existence but also the sleight of hand in making it appear always to have existed.” So “social formation” could name a thing, of course, prefaced by an indefinite article, for example, but, simultaneously, it can also name the ongoing process whereby the supposed thing comes into being, repeatedly and continually. Singing a national anthem is therefore an event in the day and life of members of a social formation, yes, but at the same time it is a socially formative act, i.e., a repetitive act constitutive of the formation of a particular, shared idea of citizenship—one element of a never ending process of identifications we might awkwardly term citizenizing. Continue reading “No There There”

“The Same…, But Different”

aristotleIn 2008 I took a small group of undergraduate students from our Department at the University of Alabama to Thessaloniki, Greece (that’s us above, with a famous philosopher, who has a shiny toe, likely from tourists rubbing it), where I had been for a conference a couple years before, and at which I first met my Culture on the Edge colleague, Vaia Touna. I’ve returned several times since that first trip, sometimes with other students and sometimes to help further my own school’s initiative to establish a long term relationship with Aristotle University — a school whose namesake was from a village about an hour’s drive east of the city. Continue reading ““The Same…, But Different””