Before detailing some of my disagreements with this essay, I should say that I was happy to see this article in print as it signals the relevance of what some have called Critical Religion (CR) in our discipline and offers an important opportunity for clarification and further debate. Too often, I feel, we forget that the ultimate aim of scholarship is to advance knowledge and not simply ‘win’ an argument, whatever that may mean in the short term. As someone interested in the idea of Critical Religion and who is trained in Critical Theory (of the Frankfurt School and post-structuralist varieties), I approach this essay as a chance to think more carefully about the aims, influences, and effects of these debates. Continue reading “Critical Religion and the Critical Study of Religion: A Response to Galen Watts and Sharday Mosurinjohn, Part 1”
This volume is not only co-edited by our own Leslie Dorrough Smith, but also features contributions from Edge members Christopher R. Cotter, Russell T. McCutcheon, Martha Smith Roberts, Matt Sheedy, Merinda Simmons, and Vaia Touna. Be sure to check it out!!
“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?
I tell them that I study religious people. I say this instead of “religion” because I want to emphasize that there is no religion without people behind the enterprise. That may seem a truism, to some, but since our field still engages so readily with talking about all sorts of disembodied religious traditions — i.e., differentiating between “Christianity” and the “Christians” who practice it — I think this is a really important distinction that places the emphasis back on human behavior. This explanation also helps with the task of clarifying that I’m not involved in some sort of ministry or theological pursuit, which is a presumption that most of us get when asked this question.
2. How do questions of identity manifest in your research?
My research up to this point in time has dealt largely with how various American conservative Christian entities re-negotiate their identities within a religious framework in order to secure certain social outcomes. More specifically, I’ve been looking at how evangelicals use religious ideas for particular ends within the American political system. I think the most important takeaway from this research has been that the identities and other types of portrayals that evangelicals make for themselves and others shift substantially as the political winds dictate, all while claiming no such shifting at all (in the name of eternality or god’s will). Instead of calling this hypocrisy or some sort of failure to live out “authentic values,” as is often the rhetoric from those on the left, I just see this as the normal mechanics of a social group. Everyone does it, in other words, because social groups are always looking to secure their own legitimacy, and when the social conditions change dramatically, so will, at times, their own identities. Continue reading “On the Spot with Leslie Dorrough Smith”
There’s been a series of commentaries online recently on the topic of using the term “data” when naming the (what shall we call “it”?) …, stuff that we, as scholars, study — commentaries driven by worries, in many cases, that this word erases the inherent worth and humanity of the people so named. The members of Culture on the Edge tackled this topic both here and here, all in favor of an informed/specific use of this technical term, and a more diverse group of responses also appeared at the Bulletin blog (here and then also here). Continue reading “Erased”