On the Spot with Vaia Touna

“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?

It all depends on, of course, to whom I’m talking. I admit that in the early years I was feeling quite frustrated explaining that what I was doing is not theology, that I’m not searching whether god exists or not, whether there is paradise, and that finishing my studies I would not become a priest or a nun. Yes, these were/are some of the standards questions I will get and I assume many of my colleagues do. Now, knowing full well that this is the reality and that people in general are likely not to have any knowledge of the Religious Studies discipline, I get less disappointed and in fact sometimes I wonder why should they even know. I certainly don’t know a lot about many disciplines and in fact even though I guard myself against my own misconceptions, it is likely that my own experiences or what ever knowledge I have of a particular discipline inform how I understand them or even misjudge them, so I welcome those misconceptions people have of my own discipline as a challenge. So back to the question, although I don’t have a standard answer that I give to everyone, in general in my reply I would explain that Religious Studies is a discipline within the human sciences and therefore interested in people and their behaviors, with a focus on how people use, talk, define, and understand religion and the consequences those usages, definitions, etc. have for them and the world around them. Then I would go into the more specifics, that is, how my data (the things I’m studying) relate to ancient and modern Greece and that in my research I’m interested in the way both scholars and people define religion (that is, how they understand religion) and how those definitions inform understandings of both the ancient and modern world (I might even give an example or two). If I see interest then I would explain that definitions whether of religion or any other term are one among many acts by which people come to identify themselves and understand, even construct, the world around them. Hashtag REL100. Continue reading “On the Spot with Vaia Touna”

Long-Haired History

My department has a new website, with updated faculty photos. If you have known me for awhile, you might notice that my hair is a bit longer, now past my shoulders. By comparing photos of me as a faculty member, or even as a teenager, anyone can demonstrate that my hair is longer now than it has ever been in my life. That is a demonstrable fact about the past.

Of course, the length of my hair is not particularly interesting. As with most narratives (which is what histories present), the more intriguing issue is the explanation why. Why, at this point in my life, have I allowed my hair to grow? A friend who had not seen me for over a year commented on my hair last week, giving me the opportunity to create a narrative about my hair. My explanation was that I have not gotten my hair cut since becoming a full professor this past August. But, my own explanation is not necessarily complete. In fact, any of us tell stories, like our identifications, strategically. Perhaps (to create a narrative about my narrative), my response was a way to emphasize my recent promotion. The length of the hair was just the opportune time to insert that personal tidbit into the conversation, or perhaps that explanation was said in jest. Continue reading “Long-Haired History”

At the Painting’s Edge

ua campus painting

Our campus has a new painting, hanging in the lobby of our main library, depicting the University of Alabama prior to the Civil War — near the end of which most of the campus was burned down by northern troops passing through the city. But here, in this roughly 6 by 14 foot vibrant painting, we see the Rotunda brought back to life, as well as several other now missing buildings (only the remains exist today, such as a pile of debris that was once Franklin Hall that has come to be known as “the Mound“). Continue reading “At the Painting’s Edge”

Maps, Interpretations, and “The Territory”

Screen Shot of a library

Over a year ago I wrote a post, which has haunted me ever since I wrote it; starting with the idea that “every present justifies its presence by clinging onto a past not considered previously,” I looked at two different readings of a fresco in the catacombs of Priscilla, in Rome, and concluded that these two readings of the past each authorize different interests in the present.

Continue reading “Maps, Interpretations, and “The Territory””

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.

CONFERENCE 1

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!

Whose (and Who) Rules?

preservingthepastGains in Iraq, over the past several weeks, made by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have resulted in some news stories concerning their desecration and/or destruction of a variety of historic artifacts (click the above graphic for one example or here or even here and here for the latest). These stories bring to mind the outrage in the media in Europe and North America over the Taliban destroying the large statues of the Buddha carved into the mountains of the Bamiyan province of central Afghanistan, back in March of 2001 (see the below before/after photo, or click the image below for more information).

Bamiyan_before_and_after Continue reading “Whose (and Who) Rules?”

It Makes a World of Difference

moundsignWe’ve got a well-known sacred spot at the University of Alabama. No, not our famed football stadium but, instead, where relics are buried from an earlier version of campus, the time of origins when the ancestors walked the earth — back when it was burned down by Union troops coming through Tuscaloosa, on April 4, 1865, within just days of the Confederacy’s famed General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to the Union’s equally famed General Ulysses S. Grant, at the Appomattox county court house, in central Virgina. Continue reading “It Makes a World of Difference”

Sally is a Girl

Picture 4Back in 1961, in the first season of the once popular “Dick Van Dyke Show,” an episode aired (#14, to be exact) entitled “Sally is a Girl,” in which Rob’s wife, Laura, scolds her husband because he and Buddy don’t treat Sally — with whom they work as comedy writers for a TV variety show — properly. And by “proper” she means they fail to treat her like a lady.

“Just remember,” Laura tells Rob — after they’d hosted a small dinner party where, for the umpteenth time, they unsuccessfully tried to set Sally up with a date (the recurring theme of Sally’s single life), during which Buddy and Rob kept bragging that she could tell jokes as good as a man — “that Sally is a girl!” Continue reading “Sally is a Girl”

The Mighty Hercules

herculesSeeing Vaia Touna‘s recent post, on the creation of her own Greek identity, made me think about my own knowledge of Greece.

I was born in 1961, the youngest of four (the oldest of whom was born immediately after the end of Word War II), so that puts me at the tail end of the so-called baby boom. Television predated me, of course, but I was a member of the first generation weaned on it; so there’s a good chance that it was on television, and specifically in cartoons, where people like me came across the things that later turned out to be so much more complicated. Continue reading “The Mighty Hercules”