On the Spot with Merinda Simmons

“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?

Well, if they’re asking what I study, they’re probably academics. Because how it typically goes is:

“What do you do?”

“I teach at the University of Alabama.”

“What do you teach?”

If the question doesn’t emphasize what most folx see as the more immediate/visible work of the profession, it’s usually coming from someone inside that same profession. Teaching and research are interconnected, of course (or should be, anyway), but “study” is kinda insider-speak… ain’t it the way? So among my community of insiders, I tell them I study and write about authenticity rhetoric — specifically how/why it appears in theories of gender and race. Even more specifically, my work tends to have a geospatial focus on the Caribbean and the American South as circum-Atlantic regions.

My Ph.D. is in English, so I bring a literary theory background to religious studies and try to put some proverbial money where my interdisciplinary mouth is. What does that mean in practical terms? Well, I write and teach about a lot of different things, but they tend to involve my interest in when and why ideas about authenticity or realness seem to appeal and have traction and when they don’t. Along the way, I apply identity theory outside the field to my own academic study of religion. Continue reading “On the Spot with Merinda Simmons”

Real Cheese and the Eucharist: On the Rhetoric of Dietary Restrictions

The other day, I went to a local coffeehouse for breakfast. The restaurant is an entirely gluten-free facility that also caters to other dietary restrictions. The restaurant is somewhat of a hot-spot for those of us with food allergies or dietary restrictions because it accommodates most all of them. While the entire facility is gluten-free (not to be confused with wheat-free), they also have vegan breads and cheeses, so anyone can order most anything on the menu. Continue reading “Real Cheese and the Eucharist: On the Rhetoric of Dietary Restrictions”

On Kings and Trump Cards

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

During the Super Bowl, RAM Trucks debuted a controversial truck commercial splicing images of Americana with a sermon excerpt from slain Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After outrage gave way to discourse, cultural critics were quick to point to the irony of Dodge’s signification. In the originating sermon, “The Drum Major’s Instinct,” King critiques self-interested pursuits that hinder people’s ability to see the value in others. He literally calls out Americans who ride in expensive “Chrysler” vehicles for the ego trip. NB: FiatChrysler Automobiles is the parent company of RAM.

To make the point,  the left-leaning magazine Current Affairs re-edited the commercial with an audio excerpt from the same sermon that they believe to be more indicative of King’s message. Continue reading “On Kings and Trump Cards”

The Utility of the Familiar and the Strange

I assume you’ve heard the news of the two major hurricanes (and the damage they caused) that recently came ashore in the US — the first hitting the shores of southern Texas and then the other (this past weekend, just over a week after Texas was hit), going up the full length of Florida.

During the commentaries on these two events — whether by the media, politicians, or people who lived through them — I found it interesting how comparative analysis was deployed to make sense of the events.

Or, better put, to figure out what to do in the face of them. Continue reading “The Utility of the Familiar and the Strange”

E Pluribus Pluribus

On Friday, May 19, 2017, the mayor of New Orleans delivered a speech on US Civil War monuments that many on the political left have are heralding — a speech that happened the same day that the above statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee was removed. Continue reading “E Pluribus Pluribus”

Language Games: On Neutrality and the Hijab

By Andie Alexander

I came across this article on the The Independent on the ruling of  European Court of Justice which allows for businesses to ban employees from wearing hijab in the workplace.  Here’s the video of Koen Lenaerts, President of the ECJ, discussing the ruling:

Continue reading “Language Games: On Neutrality and the Hijab”

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”

Critical Thinking Applications #47

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There’s a new commercial playing in these parts, in which a toothpaste company tangentially links their product to enhanced school performance.

Take a look. Continue reading “Critical Thinking Applications #47”

On Science


“From this point of view, science…is rhetoric, a series of efforts to donna harawaypersuade relevant social actors that one’s manufactured knowledge is a route to a desired form of very objective power.”

Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” in Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives (2013)

 

Is it Terrorism or Not?

Picture 35I find that a very interesting tweet. (Click it to go to the author‘s Twitter account.) For ever since the inauguration of the War on Terror people on the left have critiqued this notion of terrorism, seeing it as an empty rhetorical term that does significant political work by heightening anxiety among a population (like increasing the terror level warning, as we used to see periodically in the US); for it creates the impression that there’s some acts of violence that are somehow worse than others, more nefarious, their perpetrators are not being good sports and playing by the rules of war (but, really, who does?).

In fact, rather ironically, use of the very word terrorism to name just some violence could constitute but one instance of what we commonly take terrorism to be, for choices of what to call terrorism could be read as having the effect of intimidating a population in service of the interests that motivate (and benefit from) that very choice. Continue reading “Is it Terrorism or Not?”