Who Won the Civil War?

Confederate memorial carving on Stone Mountain

“The winners write the history” is an easy way to highlight that those who have power are the ones who control how history is told. But this adage needs a bit more nuance, as sometimes those who lose end up on the winning side anyway. In the case of the American Civil War, the accounts that we tell in the United States too often legitimize the Confederacy. While some descriptions receive significant critique, such as Secretary Ben Carson describing slaves as “immigrants”, typical accounts are more subtle, hardly noticed by many. For example, narratives seldom refer to the actions of the Confederacy as treasonous, even though Andrew Johnson’s 1868 pardon given to those who fought for the Confederacy describes the rebellion as an act of treason. Continue reading “Who Won the Civil War?”

Reply: Reasons and Objectivity in the Study of Religion

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By Stephen S. Bush
Stephen S. Bush is an associate professor of religious studies at Brown University. He is the author of Visions of Religion: Experience, Meaning, and Power, and he is presently working on a book on William James’s political philosophy and philosophy of religion.

This guest blog is a response to Craig Martin’s recent post.

In Visions of Religion, I critically engage the three most prominent theoretical approaches to the study of religion in the past hundred or so years, which prioritize respectively experience, meaning, and power. I embrace key insights from all three schools of thought, but I correct them all on important points. I integrate the valuable contributions of each into a theory of religion according to which religion is a matter of social practices.

According to Craig Martin, in my book, I frequently leave off reasoned argumentation. He says I make undefended assertions that have no other basis than how I “feel.” Or perhaps, he says, the problem is not with my personal preferences, it’s with him. He is, he tells us, an outsider to religious studies. I can afford to make undefended assertions, because the rest of the field unquestioningly buys into my assumptions, which are those of the “status quo.” From his vantage point, he can see them as the unexamined prejudices they are. Continue reading “Reply: Reasons and Objectivity in the Study of Religion”

Wax On, Wax Off

saladbarI was having lunch the other day, facing a salad bar, and it occurred to me that here we have a wonderful example of what it means to study signification. Continue reading “Wax On, Wax Off”

The Reality of the Civil War

3715221018_907932a4cd_zSitting in a hotel meeting room in downtown Atlanta the weekend before Thanksgiving, I watched a professor ask one of my colleagues if the Civil War really happened. This question reflected an effort to challenge the approach that sees scholars and language creating the world. (For an example of this approach to history, see Vaia Touna’s posts here and here.) The questioner here also emphasized a distinction between history (stuff that really happened in the past) and historiography (the writing about the stuff that happened), suggesting that a focus on analyzing historiography ignores the reality of the events themselves. Continue reading “The Reality of the Civil War”

Opening Gambit

chessmovesAnother semester is drawing to an end and, as a result, I’ve been having some meetings with students who wish to go over the course material so that they can better prepare for the final. Not long ago a student came by and, as the meeting was starting, I asked a question that I often pose to students who stop by to talk, those who might be having some difficulties in the course.

So I say:

What did you think of the course?

Continue reading “Opening Gambit”

The Situational Self

businessmeetingThere was an interesting story on the radio the other day — looking at language (the so-called function or filler words (e.g., pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, auxiliary verbs, etc.) in distinction from content words, i.e., the vs. school) as a way to understand identity. Continue reading “The Situational Self”

Spelling Identity

Picture 1I recently found a copy of Noah Webster’s Elementary Spelling book, a version apparently published in the 1840’s, that includes an intriguing discussion of spelling. A primary motivation that informed Webster’s work on the spelling book was generating national unity through consistent pronunciation and spelling. Webster’s work included differentiating American English from British English, as his book appears to be the source for the absence of a “u” in words such as color and favor and spelling “center” with an “er” instead of an “re”. Continue reading “Spelling Identity”

Beyond Words

notbeingsoldThere’s an interesting, understated commercial playing here these days, advertizing a smartphone by not saying anything about it. Continue reading “Beyond Words”

“What We’re Trying to Say Is…”

identityJust saw this video making the rounds on social media — seems pretty relevant for what we’re addressing here at Culture on the Edge: looks may be deceiving, yes, but also that identity is a public, collaborative affair.