Document Type

Faculty Essay


In lieu of an abstract, below is the essay's first paragraph.

"As Mark Taylor suggests in the epigram grafted above, the impossibility of grasping what religion is about may be the condition of religion’s im/possibility, which thereby engenders a contested site for those attempting to define and classify religion. When this contested site is also the site of a strategic deployment of a rhetorical discourse with axiological pretentions, then, with Barbara Herrnstein Smith, one might suspect an event of self-privileging at the expense of some devalued other (including mass media and popular culture). When such a deployment is conducted by means of a religious rhetoric (or rhetoric about religion) with the purpose of intervening in the context of a mass-mediated presidential campaign, one’s suspicions may be further extended to encompass questions of political strategy toward some desired end. If one were to juxtapose these ostensibly disparate areas, a narrative begins to unfold in which religion, politics, and popular culture come together in a taxonomic and axiological relationship that is anything but neutral. What may be at stake in this event is the possibility and potentiality of a pathologization by means of classification and, concomitantly, the utilization of a rhetoric of othering of individuals and by implication and extension the various religious, ethnic, gender, racial, sexual, in sum, cultural identities with which the individual is associated and through which the individual is subjected and classified,7 regardless of the primary target of pathologization (i.e., the individual or the group). While alterity has long been a matter of interest in critical theory, post structuralism, postcolonial and subaltern studies, lately the notion of the other has been made explicit in popular culture via the opinion news industry and online social media. Indeed, the disparaging tonality and classificatory force of rhetoric of “othering” has been recognized as a strategic attempt to devalue and exclude some undesirable or devalued other. For instance, the protests instigated in a number of Middle Eastern countries surrounding the release of an anti-Islamic film posted on YouTube coupled with this strategy of othering have raised questions related to religion and free speech with geo-political implications and consequences. At the heart of these complex issues are questions related to First Amendment rights in the United States and their “proper” place in contemporary American culture."

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