For the past few months, as I make the fifteen-minute walk between my residence and my office in Edinburgh, I have interacted with a particular pedestrian crossing. You know the kind with a button which we are supposed to dutifully press and then wait until the signal (here in the form of a somewhat generic, slim, green, male stick figure) gives us permission to cross the road? Some enterprising individual has taken this ubiquitous element of the Edinburgh cityscape and added their social commentary, in the form of a sticker reading ‘press the button to experience sense of agency.’ And this got me thinking…
Many of the buttons that we are routinely invited to press as we go about our lives — from door close buttons in elevators to office thermostats — don’t actually work, but are artifices serving only to provide that experience of a sense of agency. Indeed, according to the BBC, ‘Edinburgh has roughly 300 traffic junctions of which about 50–60 are junctions where the green man comes on automatically.’ And this is the case in many other cities across the world. These buttons sometimes work, sometimes don’t, never work, work at varying intervals at different times, and so on. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the buttons aren’t ‘working’, but that they are doing a different sort of ‘work’ than what we might first expect. They provide a sense of agency. This is not unlike the ‘work’ done by social surveys. Continue reading “Answer this question to experience sense of agency”
Responding to census questions is not simply reporting already self-evident identifications. The process of asking the questions creates those identifications and the groupings that organize the census data. The current census effort in Australia, scheduled for today, illustrates this point quite clearly. Due to the increasing number of respondents reporting “No religion” on the voluntary religion question, census officials have shifted that response to be first on the list of possible responses, which has generated competing campaigns to influence how people identify themselves, and thus the results of the 2016 Census. Continue reading “The Stakes are High, in Australia”
Lots of scholars of religion are focused these days on studying such things as implicit religion, the Nones, or almost any other so-called worldview that people might be said to work with or inhabit (e.g., many are hot on the trail of secularism). What I find interesting about all this is the way in which a professional identity is being recreated, by those who work in this field, in the face of twenty year’s worth of critiques of the category religion itself (pretty obviously the field’s primary organizing concept); for it seems that the more the term is criticized (as being a Latin-based signifier that was exported in the age of colonial contact, making it hardly the universal designator that it was once thought to be — see here for a good primer on this argument) the more data these scholars seem to have to study. Consider the so-called Nones — those who answer a few questions on a survey, about belief in God or attendance at church, and who are now thought by many to comprise a cohesive social, political force: scholars of religion are intent on studying them despite their adamant denial that they’re religious. What’s curious is that while many such scholars criticize those of peers who fail to take the insider’s viewpoint seriously, as they might say, yet here, in the case of the Nones, people’s refusal to identify as religious is hardly a barrier to eager scholars of religion. Continue reading “The Sun Never Sets on the Study of Religion”
Recently, 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”
When the Huffington Post included “The ‘Nones’ Get Organized” in its list of the of Top Ten Religion Stories for 2013, the description illustrates further the problems with much of our discourse. Not only does the account switch too easily from “Nones” to the organizers of the “Sunday Assembly,” a congregational gathering focusing on nontheists, but the account also illustrates the absence of commonality, even among a subset of the “Nones,” while still discussing the “Nones” as if they form a group to be organized. Continue reading “Group Fiction”
The Religious Studies Project re-posted our link to the recent panel on the Nones — have you seen it?
This year in Baltimore, at the Annual Meeting for the American Academy of Religion, Culture on the Edge members Monica Miller and Steven Ramey — along with Chip Callahan (University of Missouri), Sean McCloud (UNC Charlotte), and Patricia O’Connell Killen (Gonzaga University) — were panelists in a roundtable discussion, “Discussing the ‘Nones’: What They Say about the Category of Religion and American Society” where part of their thoughts on the Nones stemmed from the ideas and conversations around their co-authored Huffington Post article. Continue reading “Discussing the “Nones””
Our Curator, Andie Alexander, was in Baltimore recently, at a conference, and she filmed a panel on “the Nones” featuring a couple members of Culture on the Edge.
The full panel, posted in several parts, will soon be online. In the meantime, did you see the report from this panel that we posted not long ago?
So stay tuned….
The rationale motivating and grounding the panel, “Discussing the ‘Nones’: What They Say about the Category of Religion and American Society”, which was part of the Religion and Popular Culture Group in the American Academy of Religion meeting in Baltimore in November 2013, was to initiate a conversation over and about what the construction of the category “Nones” says (or doesn’t say) about the category of religion and religion in American society.
The label “Nones” typically refers to those who report “no religious affiliation” on surveys, with recent reports emphasizing a growing number of those counted as “None,”—1 in 5 by an October 2012 Pew Forum Report. Here, the Edge‘s own Monica Miller and Steven Ramey reflect on their participation in this panel, which also included Sean McCloud (UNC Charlotte), Chip Callahan (Missouri) and Patricia O’Connell Killen (Gonzaga). Continue reading “Notes from the Field: Nones and the AAR”
Culture on the Edge’s Monica Miller and Steven Ramey co-authored the following post,
published originally at the Huffington Post on November 7, 2013.
People unaffiliated with a religion, commonly grouped as the ‘Nones’, are all the rage right now and have beckoned responses from faith leaders to philosophers and scholars of religion. Common among such responses is an unwavering and uncritical belief in the statistical reality of this group; very few, in our opinion, have questioned how this group came to exist in the laboratory of statistical analysis and myopic survey questions. Most recently, a series on the New York Times Room for Debate page featured references to the Nones and the similar Pew report on the status of Judaism in America. However, the methodological basis for all of this excitement is actually quite thin. Continue reading “Meaningless Surveys: The Faulty Mathematics of the Nones”