“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?
My short answer to this question has actually changed a bit in recent encounters. I used to answer by referencing my sub-field and saying something like, “I study American religions.” However, I now try to answer with something more like “I study religions in the US” or “I study religion in American culture.” While in some ways these statements seem quite similar, there is actually an important distinction. Over the years I have found that the former answer is pretty meaningless and confusing to non-specialists — What is an American religion anyway? — while the latter can be a bit more helpful in designating both the geographical space and the plurality of things that I might be examining. Some assumed that “American religion” was synonymous with Protestant Christianity, and so after underwhelming many a flight companion with my lack of biblical expertise, I started shifting my language to more accurately reflect what I think I do. The longer answer is that my research interests revolve around questions of religious diversity in contemporary US culture, including the ways in which concepts and practices of race, ethnicity, gender, sex, and embodiment affect the classification of human behaviors (e.g., as religious, spiritual, or secular). Continue reading “On the Spot with Martha Smith Roberts”
By Andie Alexander
As you likely know, Friday last was St. Patrick’s Day, so, of course, many people were donning green apparel, drinking green beer, etc. As St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays, I’ve never put much thought into the whole “green thing.” Growing up, I remember my elementary school teachers encouraging us to wear green every March 17th so that we didn’t get pinched! (And yes, you were fair game for a pinching if you weren’t wearing green — grade school kids can get a little too into the free-license to pinch, i.e., sanctioned violence one day a year.)
While jokingly discussing the necessity of wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, I began to wonder why we were wearing green and decorating with shamrocks. Having assumed it had to do with the rich emerald green landscape of Ireland, I had never thought twice about it. But now, insisting that green must be worn, I decided to “go to Google” to find out what was up with all the green. Continue reading “Green, St. Patrick’s Day, and the Politics of Identity”
The people of Scotland are voting today to determine whether they should be independent of the United Kingdom or remain within it. (Watch this Guardian video for background). Bill Clinton recently encouraged Scots to remain within the U.K., asserting
Unity with maximum self-determination sends a powerful message to a world torn by identity conflicts that it is possible to respect our differences while living and working together. This is the great challenge of our time. The Scots can show us how to meet it.
His sentiment here, calling for respect “while living and working together,” is something that many of us desire. His reference to “unity,” though, becomes another instance of naturalizing a historical construction, much like my post yesterday about attitudes towards texts. The “unity” that he advocates obviously references the current international boundaries of the U.K. and the notion that those within those boundaries form a singular community. Those boundaries, of course, have shifted time and time again. Treating them as sacrosanct where they are now suggests a timelessness that conveniently forgets past shifts. This sentiment is not unique to the U.K. but occurs frequently with references to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Iraq, Turkey, India, . . ., as if those boundaries were automatic.
I am not interested in entering the debate over the unity of any particular nation-state or undermining that unity. Both separation and unity require significant blood, sweat, and tears. But we should also be mindful of whose interests are served when “territorial integrity” of contemporary nation-states is treated as if it should never be questioned.
“Map of Scotland within the United Kingdom” by Peeperman – This file was derived from: British Isles United Kingdom.svg . Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.