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”

Speaking Strategically About Religion

Large_chess_setOver the last week, many have written about the labeling of ISIS as religious or not, as Islamic or not, both in response to last week’s summit on violent extremism and the recent Atlantic article on ISIS. Defending his administration’s refusal to label ISIS/ISIL as Islamic radicalism or extremism or a religious terrorist group, Obama asserted that he wanted to avoid connecting Islam with groups such as ISIS for strategic reasons, because he does not want to reinforce their self-descriptions that frame the conflict as religious and their ideology as true Islam. Rather than rehashing arguments about ISIS, the question that interests me is the role of strategic notions embedded in all discussions employing labels (really any words) to describe oneself or some other. In many respects, any description reflects particular moves in the chess game that is human society. Continue reading “Speaking Strategically About Religion”

Subtle Strategies

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.48.44 AMWhile I was searching the web for tradition-related articles, I came across this news story written by John Laughland (a British civil engineer) who submitted an article to a Greek e-newspaper—“protothemanews.com”—entitled “Kayakoy: Death by Restoration.” The title immediately caught my attention, given my own interest in how we use the term tradition, restorations, and the like. He and his German wife Beatrice have lived in Turkey for the last 26 years near an abandoned village known as Kayakoy, located at the south side of Asia Minor, and it is said that its Greek residents abandoned it after the 1920s population exchange between the two countries (i.e., Turkey and Greece). Continue reading “Subtle Strategies”

Is It a Review Essay? Strategies of Classification

Card_Catalog_(3638658173)Katie Lofton’s recent review essay of On Teaching Religion in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion has generated significant feedback on social media, both favorable and not. One point of debate is the appropriate classification for the essay. While the journal editor labeled it a Review Essay, others have described it as a tribute to J. Z. Smith’s scholarship, a teaching evaluation, a memoir essay, etc. Other terms describing the essay (a different manner of classification) ranged from narcissistic and Oedipal to a great read.  Continue reading “Is It a Review Essay? Strategies of Classification”

“New Books on the Edge” with Leslie Dorrough Smith

LS Book CoverRighteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America 

What sparked your initial interest in exploring what drives the “political power” of the New Christian Right (NCR) and Concerned Women for America (CWA)? How are such groups commonly approached and analyzed in scholarly discourse and the larger public imagination?

As with many scholars, I suppose, my interest in politically active conservative Christianity (a.k.a, the NCR) is at least somewhat autobiographical. I grew up in a social environment steeped in conservative evangelicalism, and so the claims made by these groups – namely, the valorization of the entire spectrum of conservative politics, including a religiously-rooted patriotism, traditional gender roles, and the superiority of the heterosexual, nuclear family – were not new to me.  In a very direct sense, then, my interest in these groups began when, as an undergraduate religious studies major, I was seeking to better understand the appeal of conservative evangelical ideas and their political impact. Continue reading ““New Books on the Edge” with Leslie Dorrough Smith”