Many of you will have seen Steven Ramey’s recent post on how nacho cheese is a floating signifier: it lacks a legal definition and, as such, its use is recreated on an ongoing basis by different social actors, many of whom profit from peddling their wares as “nacho cheese.”
Steven’s post was picked up and commented on by Timothy Michael Law at Marginalia. While reading, I noticed a provocative juxtaposition between the nacho cheese comments and an advertisement for other Marginalia content:
“Israel,” like “nacho cheese,” is a floating signifier subjected to ongoing recreation and contestation. In fact, the quotation from Steven’s post would be just as true if we swapped the terms: Continue reading “Israel Is Nacho Cheese, Or Why You Should Study Religion”
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.
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!
For a new Culture on the Edge series “You Are What You Read” we’re asking each member to answer a series of questions about books—either academic or non-academic—that have been important or influential on us.
1. Name a book you read early on that shaped the trajectory of your career.
I’d have to say that is was The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade—in fact, I have my old 1959 Harcourt Brace & World softcover edition in front of me as I write this. I think I’ve written briefly on this somewhere before, but it was the book that was suggested to me by Neil McMullin, at the University of Toronto, and the person who became my doctoral supervisor, as a book I should go look at to see if I could make the case I wanted to make in what was then emerging as my dissertation topic. “Coz if you can’t make it there…,” I recall him saying, perhaps in some vague reference to Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” For by that point in my graduate studies I had moved from an early interest in the philosophy of religion (yes, I was taking courses on Kant’s first critique, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, courses on a several of Plato’s dialogues, etc.) to an interest not in religion but in how it was studied. It took me some time to eventually move on to being interested in the implications of using the category, however it was defined, so back then my interest was in the problems associated with defining it by reference to some special status held by the objects or sentiments so named. Like all of us, I eventually became so focused on that project, as it developed and then as it was rewritten and published as my first book, that it is difficult now to remember what I thought my project was back then—back in 1990 when I bought this edition in a used bookstore (or so my inscription in the front of the book tells me today); but in the marginalia I find in that book—such as my “Why?” scribbled beside his claim that “Religious man thirsts for the real” (p. 80) or “essence of religion,” circled with “Eliade” written beside it in the book’s concluding sentence:
The former seek to understand the essence of religion, the latter to discover and communicate its history.
—I see traces of an earlier self working out an idea, applied first to that specific book, that went in directions that writer surely couldn’t have imagined. But it‘s kind of fun now to page through it and see, beside Eliade’s claim that “The cosmic structure of these objects is obvious,” that younger hand having written: “nothing, when it comes to symbolism, is obvious!”
This month, I had the honor and privilege of delivering the endowed inaugural Day Lecture (in honor of Zachary Day who was a religious studies major at The University of Alabama before he passed) on religion in popular culture for the Department of Religion where scholar of religion Russell T. McCutcheon is currently Chair. I was struck by and in awe of the intellectual energy there among students who major and minor in religious studies. Not just that they were studying religion, but how they were thinking about the academic study of religion in their own specialties of interest. As someone who has spent the last three years teaching religion on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and very much interested in the ongoing conversations regarding the “crisis” in the humanities and “decreasing interest” in fields such as religion, it strikes me that getting students to see the utility in and broad possibilities of something like the academic study of religion might rely upon how we as scholars, or departments, for example, demonstrate not so much what religion is but how studying religion might assist in exploring a wide variety of data in the social world – such as claims to identity and difference. The latter, in part, relies upon how we both mark (and market) the academic study of religion, perhaps away from a static and self-evident “thing” (over there) towards a notion of religion as more of an “anthropological enterprise” – a social process – a human doing and making. Continue reading “Studying Religion by Not Studying Religion? Notes from the Field”