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”

Hijacked! Conference in Bonn, Germany

Hijacked!: A Critical Treatment of the Public Rhetoric of “Good” and “Bad” Religion was a conference held from June 8-10 in Bonn, Germany, at the Forum Internationale Wissenschaft (FIW) at the University of Bonn.  Three members of Culture on the Edge (Merinda Simmons, Vaia Touna, and Leslie Dorrough Smith) attended as participants.

The conference’s aim was to consider the rhetorical strategies that various social groups use to evaluate the role of religion in public life.  In particular, a group of international scholars focused on four different themes (the classroom, the media, the university, and politics, respectively) considered how rhetorics of good/authentic/”real” religion have been juxtaposed with concepts of bad/illegitimate/”fake” religion, and the sorts of political work such rhetorics have made possible. Continue reading “Hijacked! Conference in Bonn, Germany”

What Are You Doing Saturday?

buttonsfromtheedge2The Culture on the Edge collective frequently addresses the relevance of various questions about origins, identifications, and discourse that reflect issues in Religious Studies, but we apply those questions to aspects of society not typically identified as religious. These ideas are a part of a Culture on the Edge panel at the Southeast Regional AAR/SECSOR meeting this coming weekend in Atlanta. Vaia Touna and Steven Ramey will participate in a panel on Saturday March 5 entitled “Culture on the Edge Grounded and Applied: The Wider Relevance of the Study of Religion”. If you are planning to attend the conference or happen to be close enough to show up on Saturday, we would love to chat with you and hear your thoughts on applying issues in Religious Studies more broadly. Continue reading “What Are You Doing Saturday?”

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”

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!

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”

Open Secret

secretOn the way back from walking my dog this morning I caught the end of a radio story on the new documentary, “Open Secret”, which premiers tonight on Al Jazeera America. Seen the trailer?

Everyone but him seems to have known who his real mother was… So it got me thinking once again about how secrets work as identification practices — something that considerably presses the folk understanding of privacy as being, well, private. Continue reading “Open Secret”

Using Four-Lettered Words: Part One

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“What Justice Kennedy has undertaken in this initial statement of fact, or more properly, of data, that is to say, facts accepted for purposes of the argument…”

–  Jonathan Z. Smith, “God Save This Honourable Court” (Relating Religion, p. 382)

While she was on our campus a few weeks ago, I noticed Monica Miller using the word “data” to refer to the things that she studied — things such as African American religion, scholars of African American religion, rap lyrics, and rap artists — and so I asked her a question or two about what she thought was entailed in that word and why she seemingly opted for it rather purposefully in both her public lecture, the evening before, and then during an informal lunchtime discussion with our students the next day. And then, just the other day, Leslie Smith posted on this site, using this four-lettered word in her post’s title — a use that did not go unnoticed by some on Facebook who soon were debating what was termed the dehumanizing effects of such objectifying terminology. Continue reading “Using Four-Lettered Words: Part One”

Forging a Fake

fakeIn honor of one of Culture on the Edge‘s members being in Greece, to do some fieldwork and visit archives, I thought it would be fitting to offer this weekend, public service announcement concerning how to make a fake McDonald’s frappé — which, of course, rivals ouzo as the national drink of Greece. (A frappé, I mean, not a McDonald‘s frappé.) Continue reading “Forging a Fake”