Another one of my videos, built off a couple of conference papers, in which I present and analyze the problematic rhetoric of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ religion in the academic study of ‘non-/religion’… and why this matters. I also couldn’t resist getting some Bad Religion in there…
The conference in October was ‘Research in Religion’ in Edinburgh, 20 October 2018, https://researchinreligion2018.wordpress.com/
The original conference in Bonn was “Hijacked! A Critical Treatment of the Public Rhetoric of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Religion” from 7-11 June 2017, https://www.fiw.uni-bonn.de/religionsforschung/forschungsprojekte/konferenz-hijacked
The abstract from October reads as follows:
The Good, The Bad, and the Non-Religion: The Public Rhetoric of Good/Bad ‘Religion’ in Academic ‘Non-/Religious’ Studies
The first decades of the twenty-first century have seen a rise in what Aaron Hughes has dubbed the ‘rhetoric of authenticity’ in public discourse about religion, whereby ‘good religion’ which is ‘egalitarian, progressive, pluralistic, democratic, and so on’ is constructed as ‘the real or authentic version’ and set against its dichotomous opposite, ‘bad religion’ (2015, xiv–xv). This dubious rhetoric – particularly popularized in the political sphere by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair – constructs ‘good religion’ as something that ‘conforms to, and does not challenge, liberal secular principles. Good religion stays out of “politics.” Bad religion takes a critical stand against liberal categories and is, therefore, fanatical.’ (Fitzgerald 2015, 206) Deciding what counts as ‘good’/bad’ (or ‘moderate’/’radical’) is a question of power and, in current UK discourse, involves a reification of tolerance as a ‘British value’ in official and media discourse (cf. UK Government’s Prevent strategy), a fantasized Islamic world of pure intolerance’ (Brown 2015, 161).
The same decades have seen a marked rise in the number of individuals choosing to not identify as religious across the globe, a related rise in academic studies of what it might mean to be other than religious, and a burgeoning body of substantive studies mapping and theorizing the beliefs, practices, identifications, values and social contexts of ‘non-religious’ populations. In this paper, I place this area of research into conversation with a body of work which critiques much of the academic study of ‘religion’ for perpetuating the ‘rhetoric of authenticity’, and I demonstrate that in many cases, the rhetoric is the same in studies of ‘non-religion’, despite the added ‘non-‘. Thus, the academic study of non-religion also ‘inadvertently maintains a host of Christian assumptions that reflect the all too Christian heritage of the term “religion”’ (Hughes 2015, 120).
I forgot to repost this here… please see this post from back in September for my manifesto for critical study of non-religion, which I am currently developing into a monograph.
In this post, NSRN Co-Director Chris Cotter places contemporary non-religion studies into conversation with the critical study of religion, assessing two dominant approaches in the field before extolling the virtues of a discursive approach as one way in which rigorous empirical work can be conducted ostensibly under the religion/non-religion binary and contribute to the critical project.
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Over the summer, I was approached by Isaac Alderman of Sinai & Synapses and asked if I would participate in an interview on the interaction between ‘science’ and ‘religion’ from my perspective within critical Religious Studies, as co-founder of the Religious Studies Project, and from a UK perspective. Although I pointed out that this is not my area, I was happy to have the conversation and I am quite pleased with the results. The conversation flows through my impression of the UK context, to what I see as my approach to this ‘debate’, i.e. to view it as a social phenomenon, and to ask critical questions of context, power, definition, ideology, and so on…
You can have a watch of the video below or on the S&S website, where you can also read a full transcription. I hadn’t quite realised that there would be video recording as well as audio, so please excuse my attire, summer beard (blame the Edinburgh Festival Fringe), location, and inattention to the camera. Furthermore, as Yvonne Aburrow pointed out on Twitter, throughout this conversation I have a tendency to lazily conflate ‘religion’ with ‘Christianity’ in the main. This is an important point, as it demonstrates that being consistently ‘critical’ is not easy, and serves as a further example of the points I make in the interview about context. My discourse is often affected by the hegemonic norm of my context, despite best intentions. This is why scholarship is best as a collaborative enterprise. Enjoy!
A few months back, I wrote a post for Culture on the Edge, this time prompted by a Diet Coke advert. I’m not sure I got the title ‘right’ at the time, but the point of the post was to challenge notions of individual autonomy, free will and agency, and to point to the important function that certain discourses serve in helping us maintain a sense of self as we make our way in the world. Along the way, I discuss Mad Men, invoke Handel’s Messiah, and even get in a cheeky reference to Love Island…
Below you’ll find the first paragraph of the post, and if it stimulates your interest I hope you will read more.
I recently walked past a bus shelter displaying an advert for new flavours of Diet Coke — Feisty Cherry and Exotic Mango — bearing the exhortation “because you’re an early adopter.”
This tickled my inner Marxist. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Mad Men of late, but I couldn’t help thinking what brilliant advertising this was. Setting aside the fact that Cherry Coke was introduced in 1985 – and what exactly it is that makes this variant “feisty” – who cares what the product is? YOU should purchase it, because YOU are a trend-setter! YOUR patterns of consumption are so much more on point than others, who admire YOU so much they’ll want to emulate YOU. We, YOUR friends at Coca Cola, want YOU to be a key element in the dissemination of this product. Because YOU are special. Because YOU have a valuable ability to recognize what will be popular before it’s popular. Because YOU are an early adopter.
This week’s Religious Studies Project podcast features a conversation I recorded a couple of months ago on some of the pervasive cliches surrounding ‘religion’ in popular (and scholarly discourse). You can download the podcast from the RSP site, along with our entire archive of 250+ podcasts. The description, YouTube link, and link to the transcript, have been pasted below.
“Religions are belief systems”, “Religions are intrinsically violent”, “Religion is Bullshit”… these are just some of the pervasive cliches that we might hear from time to time in the English-speaking world about our central topic of discussion on the RSP, ‘religion’. In this podcast, Chris is joined by Brad Stoddard and Craig Martin, the editors of the recently published Stereotyping Religion: Critiquing Cliches (Bloomsbury, 2017) to discuss these cliches, the ideological work that they do, how scholars could and should approach them, the construction of the book, and more.
Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for making this recording possible. The other cliches addressed in the book and/or covered in the podcast include:
* “Religion Makes People Moral”
* “Religion Concerns the Transcendent”
* “Religion is a Private Matter”
* “Religions are Mutually Exclusive”
* “I’m Spiritual but Not Religious”
* “Learning about Religion Leads to Tolerance”
* “Everyone has a Faith”
You can find a full list of contributors, and more about the book, on the publisher’s website: HERE.
A transcription of this interview is also available here: Stoddard and Martin – Stereotyping Religion 1.1
Those of you in the UK might have seen images like this one in your travels around the internet or around London. I don’t know much about the campaign, but you can find out more about it here. Essentially, it is has emerged in the context of a highly toxic public debate in the UK on the issue of immigration, and aims to ‘humanise’ the debate, showing that immigrants are real people who make ‘real contributions’ to the UK.
What follows is a version of some thoughts that I posted to Facebook this morning, and I feel comfortable making them publicly.
First off, this is definitely a good first step. Hurrah! Those of you who know me, and have read my previous posts (particularly on why I voted YES in the Scottish Independence referendum) will know that I am pro-immigration through and through. But two thoughts have crossed my mind upon learning of this campaign, and I say this having only been able to find images of about 2/3 of the posters.
The first is that ‘this type of immigrant’ is exactly the ‘type of immigrant’ that UKIP wants. No political party is saying it doesn’t want ‘hardworking immigrants’ with great cultural capital who will bring ‘economic’ and other benefits to the country. I really worry about turning immigrants into a ‘positive economic investment’. Even my own party, the Scottish Green Party, have had to bow somewhat to this dominant societal discourse and frame their progressive and compassionate views on immigration in their manifesto largely in terms of economic and cultural benefit:
We believe Scotland should be a welcoming country where immigrants are celebrated as an asset to our economy and enriching for our culture. Immigration is a great benefit to Scotland, just as Scots have benefited over the generations through migration to other countries. We will consistently challenge the toxic rhetoric used by too many politicians which turns people against their neighbours. We will reinstate the post-study work visa to allow students who study at UK universities to stay and use their education in Britain. We will reform the dysfunctional approach of the UK Visas and immigration agency to meet Scottish immigration needs. We will create an asylum system which treats people with dignity.
In my view, ‘we’ have so much and ‘need’ to be welcoming to many other immigrants, including those who may ultimately be a ‘drain’ on ‘our’ economy. ‘We’ have space and money. Let’s give it to those who need it, not just those who can help ‘us’ out.
Secondly… and not specifically related to this campaign…what are the thoughts of those parties who adopt a pro-‘hardworking, highly-skilled immigrant’ stance on the long-term impact of such a stance? For example, what happens in a hypothetical world, 20 years from now, when a ‘visible’ change has happened in the top jobs in UK society, when ‘indigenous’ people feel that ‘the government’ has let them down by targeting folk from overseas, rather than prioritizing training ‘people who are already here’, and when the top performers in ‘our’ schools are increasingly 1.5 and second generation immigrants, the children of these highly-successful and driven people, etc? Personally, I don’t have a problem with that admittedly hypothetical future, and I would hope that others would be able to have the historical consciousness to trace such a situation in part to early-21st century tougher ‘controls on immigration’. Another possibility, is that the current xenophobia towards those who don’t fall in to the ‘highly-skilled’ and/or ‘hardworking’ category will simply be extended or transferred to those who do.
Anyway, as I say I think this campaign is a great first step, and hope to see much more of this kind of positivity in the future. I realise that there are likely a lot of generalizations and over-simplifications in this rant. I also appreciate the need for the country to not simply open its borders, but would always urge policy makers to remember that immigrants are people and not merely a potential economic gain/drain, and that we should perhaps be a bit more generous with the resources at our disposal.
I was recently asked to submit a short, interdisciplinary research brief for an event that I am attending on Urban Super-Diversity next month. In the interests of updating you all on what I am up to – particularly given that this blog has not been updated in a horrendously long time – I have posted this information below as an image. You can also download it as a PDF.
I hope to get back to blogging more regularly at some point in the future…
Taking a leaf out of my pal David’s blogging book, I guess I should update you all on what’s been happening.
Academically, among other things…
- I’ve recently had a book chapter published, in Atheist Identities: Spaces and Social Contexts
- I’ve recently been appointed a director at the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network.
- The Religious Studies Project continues to go from strength to strength. Now into our fourth year, I’ve been doing a bit more interviewing recently, including interviews on Bricolage, the Post-Secular, African Christianity in the West, The Emerging Church, Religion and Memory, and Geographies of Religion and the Secular in Ireland.
In my ‘real life’…
- The wonderful Lindsey and I got married in November!! Here are some photos…
- I continue to sing regularly in Edinburgh with the St Andrew Camerata, who are going from strength-to-strength lately. Check here for details of our next concert (21 March). And please follow us on Twitter!
- And probably much more…
Ciao for now.
What he said…
In this post Ethan Quillen explores a discursive approach to atheism (and nonreligion) following the theoretical work of von Stuckrad (2003). Quillen suggests that researchers in this area move away from definitions and wrangling over the the meaning of words, and concentrate instead on the way in which these words are used; how these words are made meaningful and allowing research participants to ‘speak for themselves’. Here, Quillen proposes that this discursive approach has methodological implications for research in this field.
While admittedly my initial intentions for this post were a bit more malicious—repeating my old standard of arguing against the use of ‘nonreligion’  —I soon felt that to be a bit tedious and wasteful. That is, where in the past I have spent a good amount of time offering a critical perspective on the use of the term, such as was the content of my presentation at the NSRN conference in 2012, for this post…
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“Our object of study is the way religion is organized, discussed, and discursively materialized in cultural and social contexts. “Religion,” in this approach, is an empty signifier that can be filled with many different meanings, depending on the use of the word in a given society and context. It is this use of “religion”—including the generic definitions of academics—that is the responsibility of scholars to explain. Making the discourse on religion the main focus of our work also acknowledges the fact that we as scholars are ourselves actors on the fields of discourse.”
Von Stuckrad, Kocku. “Reflections on the Limits of Reflection: An Invitation to the Discursive Study of Religion.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 22, no. 2 (October 1, 2010): 156–169, p. 166.
I do apologise for all of the activity lately… I can’t help finding ‘gold’ :)