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”

Weapons in Ideological Battles

512px-Many_WeaponsRecently, 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”