On the Spot with Russell McCutcheon

“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?

Depending who it is I might say “You” and then wink — if it’s a scholar of religion asking, that is. So although I was originally trained in what was called the philosophy of religion — taking doctoral courses on Plato, Kant, with a very early interest in what is commonly called the problem of evil, writing one of my three comprehensive exams on ancient Greek religion and philosophy, etc. — I soon moved to what our program at Toronto had just invented as method & theory, a bit of a catch-all category for some but which, at least for some of us, meant a particular approach to examining how scholars went about their work (not to mention an interest in developing naturalistic theories to explain the existence and function of religion). So although I had an early interest in theories of religion, I’ve come to be interested in theories of “religion” itself, so I study the history of my own field and the ways we go about our work, the tools we use and the larger institutional and social settings in which our work developed and is today carried out. So, really, I’m interested in the politics of classification, as exemplified in this one academic field but in a wide variety of other places as well, dipping into a tradition that owes much to, among others, the late Mary Douglas’s work in anthropology. Continue reading “On the Spot with Russell McCutcheon”

When the Question Matters More Than the Answer

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I often ask my students to consider what the world would be like if we asked a different set of questions about it. Usually that results in some puzzled looks, for it’s hard to think of different questions precisely because it’s hard to think about a different sort of world. This is, after all, what Pierre Bourdieu was getting at when he described our social lives as “habitus,” or the series of preferences, dispositions, perceptions, and other taken-for-granteds that we think are relatively unique to and comprise our individuality, but that really describe large swaths of our given culture that, bit by bit, shape us into who we are. Continue reading “When the Question Matters More Than the Answer”

The Social in Social Media

social mediaSometimes social media is a great source for learning things, and sometimes it is not. Since my friends on Facebook range across a wide ideological spectrum, sometimes the references to the same event are so contradictory that I have no clue what “really” happened. Last month, when Joni Ernst presented one of the Republican rebuttals to Obama’s State of the Union, the disparity in responses was fascinating. Some friends made comments and posted articles that lampooned her performance, especially making light of her story about wearing bread bags to keep her shoes dry as a child. Posts from other friends described her exceptional performance, with links to articles that emphasized her success in giving a “fresh face” to the GOP. Continue reading “The Social in Social Media”

Forthcoming from the Edge

Picture 6Culture on the Edge was founded in early 2012 as a small research group, comprised of scholars with very different specialties, aiming to produce original research that not only invited readers to rethink how to study identity but also demonstrated how scholars who understand religion to be an ordinary cultural element could also have interesting things to say about other aspects of culture and history. Because books take a little longer to produce than do blog posts, it is worth bearing in mind that this academic blog — begun a year after the group formed — is only one of several venues for publicizing the group’s research.

We’re therefore pleased to announce several volumes that are due out in the coming year, all from Equinox Publishers — an independent UK publisher known for works on theory.

Click the descriptions below to learn more about each volume. Continue reading “Forthcoming from the Edge”

Inaugural Online Seminar

practicumTwo members of Culture on the Edge — Craig Martin and Russell McCutcheon — are among the participants in Practicum‘s inaugural online seminar for undergraduate students in the academic study of religion.

There is no fee, though a proposal is required; it will take place Friday, Feb 6, 2015 from 1-3 pm EST.

Learn more here.

Prof. Russell McCutcheon at Lehigh University

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During the last week of October, Culture on the Edge‘s Russell McCutcheon, Monica Miller, and Vaia Touna presented at Lehigh University’s Collaborations: Directions in the Study of Religion. The Edge’s Russell McCutcheon delivered the Plenary address “And That’s Why No One Takes the Humanities Seriously.” The conference included panels on “Tradition,” with a presentation from the Edge’s Vaia Touna, “The Past,” “Identity,” and “Experience,” with a presentation from Monica Miller.

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Lehigh University published a few articles on the conference, which can be found here and here. Lehigh’s own De’Anna Monique Daniels (@DeAnnaMonique) made a Storify of the Plenary which can be found here.

While McCutcheon was there, Lehigh also interviewed him regarding his thoughts on the Humanities and the study of religion in the university. Take a look at what he had to say…

Dr. Russell McCutcheon from Lehigh IMRC.

Special thanks to Lehigh University for hosting this conference and passing this along!

What Gang Do You Claim?

gang sign mayorIn December of 2013, Russell McCutcheon penned a blog piece about the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service who was caught signing what many regarded as gibberish. McCutcheon’s post made two principle points: First, all signs are arbitrary and rely on agreed upon codes, policing and assumptions between those doing the communicating for any communication or “meaning” to be enacted. Second, the backlash faced by the interpreter demonstrates that “just because something is made up… does not mean that it doesn’t have consequences, doesn’t have effect.”

If you haven’t heard, a few days ago Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges claimed her allegiance to a local area gang. Or so an intensely politically problematic and pedagogically potent news report from KSTP 5 Eyewitness News (out of Saint Paul, MN) declared. Continue reading “What Gang Do You Claim?”

Who Are You? I am/am not a McCutcheonite

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Who Are You?” is an ongoing series that asks members of Culture on the Edge to reflect on one of their own many identities (whether national, gendered, racial, familial, etc.), theorizing at the same time the self-identification that they each chose to discuss.

What’s at stake in claiming an academic influence or identity, or in asserting another scholar’s influence or identity? I’ve been accused of being a McCutcheonite before. What precisely is at stake in such an accusation? Why is it, for instance, an accusation rather than a form of praise? With this alleged identity claim, what is being accomplished? Continue reading “Who Are You? I am/am not a McCutcheonite”

Trick or Trick?

photo (6) A recent occurrence of misrecognition reminded me of two Culture on the Edge blog posts written this past summer (see here and here) in which Russell McCutcheon wrote about what it might mean to see the ordinary as curious in one post and another on public conversations on the role of identity in the movie, The Lone Ranger. In the former post, McCutcheon asked a simple question underneath a picture of Baka people performing for Pope Benedict XVI as he departed for Angola, “who is wearing a costume?”

If we take seriously theories of performativity and the role of the discursive in processes of identification as forcefully articulated by thinkers such as Judith Butler, then we know that something like Halloween occurs every day where we un/consciously present who we are/aren’t/want to be to the social world in which we participate in. Continue reading “Trick or Trick?”

“Hoi Polloi”

Hoi PolloiAs a native Greek speaker, the words in English that give me most trouble—especially when I find myself at various conferences or lectures in North America that involve, in some way or another, the use of Ancient Greek—is the pronunciation of those words. I admit that I can’t resist the temptation of correction for example whenever I hear Thucydides (pronounced: Thu-si-di-dees) instead of Θουκυδίδης (pronounced: Thu-ky-theē-thees). But once I found myself in an awkward position where context made the text if not unrecognizable but certainly irrelevant. Continue reading ““Hoi Polloi””