Who Are You? I’m a Religious Studies Scholar

Religious Studies

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.

The inevitable moment when people I meet for the first time ask what I do tends to be a bit of an awkward one.  It goes something a little like this:

“So, what do you do, Merinda?”
“I’m a religious studies professor at the University of Alabama.”
“What sort of stuff do you work on?”
“I’m interested in how and why people make authenticity claims… I focus mostly on these claims in relation to gender, race, and the South.”
“…wait, but didn’t you say you’re in a religion department?”
“Yeah.”
“So that’s the kind of stuff you can study in a Ph.D. program in religion?”
“Well, sure! My Ph.D. is in English though.”

It’s at this point that most people change the subject. But for those who act interested in how it happens that someone with an English degree is doing her teaching and research in a religious studies context, I try to explain the following.… Continue reading “Who Are You? I’m a Religious Studies Scholar”

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”

Who Are You? I’m a Feminist

Jesus Was a FeministPhoto credit: stoptalk.wordpress.com

  “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.

I received a touching note from one of my graduating seniors this past week, who said, among other things, that I taught her that she didn’t have to fear calling herself a feminist.   Every time I have a student tell me this, I consider the irony of my own response when, as an undergraduate, one of my Religious Studies professors handed me a photocopied article entitled something like “Jesus Was a Feminist.” I don’t really remember the details of what the author said, except for the basic thesis (now considered quite tame) that the Bible depicts Jesus as a person who cared about gender equity in a society that didn’t. I freely admit that, at the time, I had no academic exposure to gender theory, and even though I was acutely aware of sexism, I had never heard the term “feminist” used in a positive light. In short, I remember being appalled at the article. Continue reading “Who Are You? I’m a Feminist”

Who Are You? I’m a Miser

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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.

Well, I prefer the adjectives thrifty or sensible, actually, but not everyone agrees. When people observe my spending habits, such as infrequently eating at restaurants and preferring to shop at thrift stores, some may decide that the negative connotation of the classic images of Ebeneezer Scrooge and labels like tightwad and penny-pincher are appropriate. Even with an agreed-upon characteristic, the tension between self-selected labels and ascribed identities remains, with various normative values embedded within those selections. Continue reading “Who Are You? I’m a Miser”

Who Are You? I’m Vaia and Touna

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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.

Who we are comes with a name and mine is Vaia, or better said, Vaia Touna. It’s interesting that the name that we come to think that is so much part of who we are was chosen and given to us by others, most likely by our parents. Who we are and how we perceive ourselves is certainly socially constructed, that is, there is nothing inherent in the name we are given, for think about how much teaching and training was involved until we learned to respond to this specific name. Continue reading “Who Are You? I’m Vaia and Touna”

Who Are You? I’m an Alabamian

Picture 2Who 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.

When, back in early 2001, I got the job as Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama I was working at what was then called Southwest Missouri State University, in Springfield, MO, and I recall sending out an email to my friends and colleagues in North America and Europe, to let them know that I’d soon be moving. Many wrote back their congratulations, of course, but I noticed a curious thing: unlike my Canadian and European friends, many of my U.S. colleagues’ congratulations came with what I read as subtle qualifications, equivocations, maybe even an unwritten sigh or two. For, sooner or later, they’d write something like, “Alabama? Really?” or “Wow. Well, good luck.”

It seemed that while others had read the part about becoming a department chair or moving to a major state university, others couldn’t get past the part about moving to Alabama. Continue reading “Who Are You? I’m an Alabamian”

“Who Are You?”

who-are-you1“Coz I really wanna know…”

“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, professional, etc.), theorizing at the same time the self-identification that they each chose to discuss. Continue reading ““Who Are You?””

Who Are You? I’m A Nervous Flyer

Airplane

Who Are You?” 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.

Preparing for Departure: I Knew I Knew You!

I’m am extremely nervous flyer. Walking onto a plane – and preparing for the anxiety of the flight – I enact rituals of certainty. Such practices don’t begin on the plane. They commence in the airport once I’ve arrived at my gate. I might call them rituals of identification for in turning myself into data as often as I do when I’m enacting such practices, I am clear that such things rely on the strategies I enact in reading other people (for my own purposes) – i.e., ones that often involve strategies such as authenticity and strategic essentialism as I scan the crowd trying to take stock of the “who” I might be in company with on the plane. In being a nervous flyer and by reflexively examining my practices, I seemingly learn more about this thing we call identity – how I catalogue others for my own social interests (i.e., protection and safety) and thus, how others read me back. Continue reading “Who Are You? I’m A Nervous Flyer”

Who Are You? I’m a Leg Crosser

madmensittingWho Are You?” 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.

Sometimes when students are in my office and I’m trying to draw their attention to the sometimes subtle ways in which we act ourselves into certain sorts of identities I’ll ask them to take a quick look at how we’re both sitting. There’s a good chance that I’m behind my desk, reclining a bit in my office chair, and seated like those guys above, and there’s an equally good chance that the student I’m talking to is not seated like this. And so drawing attention to how we’re both sitting — something that we’ve each done quite unselfconsciously, I’m sure — gives us a chance to think through identity as an empirically observable thing, as something we persuade ourselves and others that we have by repeatedly acting ourselves into it. Continue reading “Who Are You? I’m a Leg Crosser”

Who Are You? I’m a New Mom

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Who Are You?” 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.

Being a mother was never part of my general life plan.  In fact, where babies are concerned, I’m the unsophisticated rube who tends to think all infants look, sound, and smell the same.  So, when my partner and I learned we were going to be parents in just forty short weeks (that’s another thing—even now, the week count might as well be military time, as far as I’m concerned), we traded blank stares regarding what that means or how to go about thinking toward how our lives would change once the squirmy, cartilage-laden fellow joined us. Continue reading “Who Are You? I’m a New Mom”