I have a new guest post up at Sacred Matters:
Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Heart: Learning About the New Age from After School Cartoons
Take a looksie 🙂
I have a new guest post up at Sacred Matters:
Take a looksie 🙂
There was a really good piece on Inform that appeared in the Daily Telegraph the other day, written by Damien Thompson (@holysmoke). It mentions their 25th Anniversary conference at which I will be giving a paper: “No Leader, No Followers: The Internet and the End of Charisma?” (plug, plug, plug)
So far it has received around 270 comments…. some of which are along the dismissive lines of ‘new religious movements are silly/dangerous/irrational… but no more silly/dangerous/irrational than established religions’:
“All religions are equally valid” (Fred Scuttle)
“All religions are equally invalid” (Tohellwithit)
“Religion or cults, sorry I do not want to know. Boring!” (applepicker)
“All religions are cults – some are just bigger than others. There are no gods. It there were, they’d be evidence… proof of some sort. Maybe even a sighting. After all, if god loves us he come down and tell us all to stop messing around. But he hasn’t – so much for your loving god!” (King Womble)
“It seems to me that there are very few of these wretched things that won’t bring out the worst from one or more of the others.
Show me one cult/religion that does not attract violence to itself or give violence to at least one other, somewhere on the planet.
Scoundrels the lot of them.” (sosraboc)
I often get asked why I am based in the Faculty of Divinity in Cambridge when I study NRMs. The first time I was asked this I had a moment of surprise, because I had never actually considered NOT being based in the Faculty of Divinity – that’s where religions are studied isnt it? Well… yes and no. The undergraduate course we offer is in Theology and Religious Studies but for a very long time it was just in Theology (argh, Wikipedia link!), and before that it was just Theology for those (men) who were going into the ministry/Church. The move to calling our degree TRS is as much about shifts in pedagogical trends and the evolving desires of incoming students as (or perhaps more so) than changes in the facultys’ attitudes towards developing subject areas like mine (Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism etc took a while to bed down but are well established now…). An interesting paper here hosted by the Religious Studies Project goes into these naming trends a little further than I can.
To return me (its all about me, me, me, me…), I am a social anthropologist studying New Religious Movements. I write about New Agers, Jedi, Scientologists, Wiccans, pagans, and online subcultures online that look like religions and that call themselves religious (whatever anyone else might think about them…). I am asked why I am based in the Faculty of Divinity because I take these groups seriously but very often the people asking the question just…. don’t. By keeping myself in the Faculty of Divinity I am, in my very small way, maintaining the presence of NRMs amidst the ‘serious’ academic conversation. If I was in the Social Anthropology department I’m really not sure my work would have the same impact.
So when people ask me why I am based in the Faculty of Divinity I generally say something like the posters on the Damien Thompson piece, but with a twist. All religions, including NRMs, ARE equally valid (n.b. Fred Scuttle’s other posts are a lot more cynical e.g.: “Hilarious, if a little tragic. Dr Who is as real as Jesus.”, so I’ve included his comment in the dismissive list). In my view the rational mind we are so pleased with in the ‘West’ that we think was born during the Enlightenment is just as active in the human narratives formation that we might call ‘beliefs’ and has been way back into the beginnings of the established religions and all the way through time till now… and tomorrow. Some people, especially those with more mainstream beliefs, don’t like that answer. Please don’t be upset, I’m calling you rational…
Which must make a nice change from hearing Richard Dawkins at least 🙂
I’ve been experimenting with hosting some of my teaching papers and my essays on Academia.edu, here.
I’m curious to see what sort of numbers I will get and what papers are more interesting to viewers.
I’m not posting anything that I am currently working on or about to turn into a more formal paper, but some of the ideas in these papers will certainly find their way into my thesis.
I’ve been very busy lately, so this is a very short post, but hopefully more soon… 🙂
Today I attended a workshop on Digital Methods Development: Researching Social Movements in Online Environments at CRASSH.
I’m going to reproduce my very limited notes here and try and expand on them before it all goes out of my head (in about ten minutes):
I think I’ll leave my notes there and pick up on some of the other themes we discussed in my next post.
I’ve been thinking a little about writing style lately, as a paper I presented at the BASR conference has been getting some attention and I’m working it into a publishable piece. My supervisor hasnt read the expanded version yet, but he read the conference paper (as rough as it was) and his position is that it isnt scholarly enough – that its more like an after dinner discussion point (ouch!).
This of course challenges me to rework it into something suitably scholarly, but it may well be that the argument itself is just not scholarly enough. And my supervisor, knowing that I will be applying for fellowshios and postdocs, is warning me against publishing for publishing’s sake and not getting quality work out there that committees can judge me on. I understand his concern, but there is also something very nice about being ‘popular’.
What I do, the areas I research, almost always make people say ‘Oooh, how interesting’. Last night we had a welcome back returning grads dinner in my college and I spent a fair bit of time explaining to other grads what an Indigo Child is, how many Jedi there actually ARE, and debating the merits and demerits of the Church of Scientology (I did also find out more about nano-bots, the current trends of thought in the study of Classics, and admired rather some lovely artwork, so it wasnt just me rabbiting on!
I also think however, that working on a popular subject is a little like having your religious beliefs inspired by pop-culture. However serious you are, and how ever seriously you take the subject, the nature of the origins of what you do can trivilise what you are doing to other more serious academics (not including my supervisor in that comment, and he may well be right!). So maybe I need to x amount more serious and scholarly than the average academic Joe to counter balance that. But my natural inclination is towards public accessibility and communicating what is going on in these fields in an appealing way. My presentations often have visual jokes in them, the titles to my papers are often attention grabbing or pun-ish (e.g. my new paper is called, “See Mom it is Real”: The UK Census, Jediism and the Problem of Really ‘Real’ Religion”…).
I may have a problem…
In a moment of serendipitous coincidence I had just decided to write something about hashtags and Twitter when my cousin posted this video on Facebook of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake showing us how dumb we sound when we use hashtags.
To some extent I agree with my good friends J and J, using too many hashtags is perhaps a sign of including one’s self in a peer led trend of hashtagging rather than actually using a hashtag to join in with a conversation. By which I mean a hashtag that is so unique that you are the only one using it means that you are in a community of one. But the reverse does apply, using a hashtag can be a means of community affiliation.
Take this example from my own social media use. And I use social media… a lot. My favourite hashtag is #PhDchat where other PhDs in numerous fields post their queries, thoughts, links to blogs and statements about how their day has been. When I talk to non-Twitter users about Twitter the most common reason they give for not using it is that they dont care what Joe Public had for his lunch. Fine, I say, dont follow Joe Public, follow Joe *insert your interest here* and find out what he’s being doing lately that is relevant to YOUR interests. So when a PhD posts on #PhDchat about having a crappy writing day I know that there are others in the same boat. Or even better when a PhD posts about how they managed to work their way out of a crappy writing day I have some tips and tricks to try for myself.
And of course, I use social media for research on New Religious Movements online. And its important to note that hashtagging a post with a religion’s name can be a way of affiliating to that community and the conversation around it.
I obviously keep track of anything #indigochildren. But I also follow #jediism, #scientology, and search for others as and when. By doing this I have come across several interesting trends I would not have noticed otherwise, one of which is informing a paper and the other will most likely have to take up most of a chapter in my thesis. By following the worldwide conversation I am getting to hear what people think about these topics. I am also noticing HOW they use the social media form. For example, Twitter allows space for 140 characters, but I have noticed a large number of people JUST posting “Indigo Children” (only 14 characters). Why is this? Is it a form of shout out, a way of getting attention for the idea that they are exploring? Is it a way of identifying themselves publically as Indigos? Is it a way of starting a conversation? I am contacting people who have done this to see what they say, and this will be an interesting area of social media use to explore further.
So J and J, yes I enjoyed your video, but there is more to hastagging than just following a trend. But it was #lol. #sofunny. #andIlikedhowyoumadethehashtagswithyourhands.
I attended another Mind Body ‘Soul’ Fair this weekend in Peterborough and did the same freelisting exercise as in my last fieldwork post. Here are some of my thoughts and initial findings from this work:
1. This event was held in a conference hall on a showground and was a good ten to fifteen minutes taxi ride from the station, unlike the Kings Lynn event where the Corn Exchange was in the centre of town. This was bound to mean that less casual footfall could be expected, but that the people who made their way to this event were much more intentional and interested in the topic than casual shoppers or gawkers. Talking to the stall holders the previous day, the Saturday, had been quieter, but the day I went, Sunday, did not seem as busy as the one day Fayre in Kings Lynn.
Interestingly the marketing called it a Mind Body Soul Event, and I am more used to seeing Mind Body and Spirit. As Spiritual is one of my terms on my freelisting leaflet I was particularly interested to see what words came out of that section. One person I spoke to said that they were considering taking Spiritual off of their branding for their therapies. That’s just one anecdote and hardly indicative of a general change in attitude but something of interest.
2. Again at this fair there was a mix of stalls, both those selling items and those selling treatments or readings. There was very little privacy for the latter, and I had to make sure I wasnt interupting a client when I approached the stall holder with my freelisting leaflet. Only one reader, a tarot reader, had an enclosed curtained off space. I chose stallholders again as they were relatively stationary and I prefered leaving the leaflet with them to fill out rather than standing over them. There were about 40 stalls and some of those I recognised from Kings Lynn. In total I got 19 returned leaflets, slightly less than at Kings Lynn. But my method of approach was quite chatty and time consuming so I didnt expect to hand out many. Doing this also meant that I had a chance to make new contacts and I have two possible interviewees lined up.
3. Like Kings Lynn the stallholders and visitors were primarily white. There was one black stallholder selling Egyptian items such as Ankhs, bookmarks, statues and oils, two Indian stallholders jointly representing the Brahma Kumaris and another Asian looking gentleman offering massage and reiki treatments.
4. As for my word results… I got more words in response to the words “Indigo Children” this time round, though again some were not specific to the category and might have been guesses, e.g. Blue, Purple, Heart, Soul. Several people asked me what they were. Some answers made it clear that the writer HAD heard of them before: autism, disabled, pioneers, or the very specific “More evolved children coming into incarnation to deal with the new age”. When it came to the words “New Age”, there were some very negative responses again: losers, slackers, misfits, hippies, needy, sloppy and fluffy. The worst being “smells”. The most popular response was again Hippy/Hippies. The 1960s and travellers popped up again. It is definitely worth bearing in mind this reaction to the term New Age as I will still probably have to use it in my descriptions of the milieu I am looking at.
Under Parenting, the word Love stormed home with by far the most responses. But interestingly, again, words around hard work and duty appeared frequently as well as teaching and guiding.
Under Spiritual the word ‘Higher’ appeared in conjunction with other words, as in Higher Good, Higher Consciousness, Higher Power, Higher Self, suggesting a location for the spiritual at least in a metaphorical sense. My favourite response to Spiritual was “Me ;)”
5. Someone suggested I look at the order in which the words were written down, but I cant guarantee that people followed the numbering I put on my leaflets. But, assuming that people write left to right, I might collate all the words in the first position as they should be people most immediate responses to the terms.
This was another very useful exercise even if my sampling is quite small. I hope to run it another couple of times depending on what fairs I can get to.
Oh I do love me a conference. Interesting people, papers and the chance to catch up with/meet for the first time my favourite academics.
Next week I am at the BASR/EASR 2013 conference where I’ll be presenting on the 2011 Census and the ‘Other’ category in the religion question, and on bio-medical conspiracy theories and the Indigo Children, (the latter is my PhD topic).
I’m also going to be horribly forward and talk to some publishers about my work. I’m still a very far way off from finishing but I really think that my thesis could be the basis of an interesting and accessible book. To be fair, there probably arent that many PhDs out there who dont think that they should turn their thesis into a book, and hopefully a best selling one at that…
But this plan to ‘network’ intentionally at the conference raises a couple of problems for me. One, I’ve only networked for work intentionally in the film industry, and the methods there are a little more pushy and aggressive. So I really dont want to come off like that. I thought I might make up some one page CVs to hand out… or is that too keen/prepared?
Academia is an interesting world to me, and I’ve tried before to talk to my supervisor who has far more experience of it about the etiquette and norms I should be observing. I do have some other good mentors who have offered to introduce me to people and give me some tips on talking to publishers – and I’m always happy to receive more tips from any readers here (*hint, hint*).
I suppose the best documents for networking might actually be the papers I am presenting. One is completely finished (bar last minute rereading and panicking) and the other needs some finessing on two sections. So off I trot…
Yes, this is an actual picture from one of my presentations – in this case a 3rd year Undergraduate paper on understanding contemporary religion… the drawing is all my own work!
My lovely childminder is taking the next couple of weeks off and heading to the crazily hot climes of Turkey. I really dont resent her having this time off. I’ve looked after my son. I cant imagine looking after him and four toddler clones at the same time, with the same demands, nappy changes and tantrums x 5.
But this does mean my days are about be all about the mum part of being a PhD mum. And the PhD? Well, I’m going to try and work in the evenings. No seriously, dont laugh.
Anyone who knows me knows that my evenings since Henry was born have mostly involved sitting down with an exhausted sigh and falling asleep in front of the Mentalist or Game of Thrones. I’ve tried working in the evenings, I really have. For one week before a conference when Henry was 7 months old I was writing in half hour blocks between cries as he REALLY slowly learnt how to stay asleep. (By the way, why are human babies the only creatures who need to learn how to go, and stay, to sleep!?!).
I will have to start drinking red bull again, just like I did during exam term as an undergraduate.
But the biggest problem I have (apart from trying to stay awake) is all the paragons of work ethic I have as examples to beat myself up with. First there’s my mother. Three kids, on her own, part time job, then a full time one, and a clean and tidy house. My mother in law, two kids and a husband, factory job working 18 hours a day, exceptionally clean and tidy house (not sure if I entirely believe this one, or the denials from my husband that she had family help. 18 hours! Really?!?!). My aunt and uncle, two masters/one PhD, two children WHILE renovating a house. When my single/no kids cousin complains about working for an MBA he gets reminded of this. When I cant work out when I can possibly do a PhD, look after Henry around his childcare, AND be the kind of mother who makes fresh organic meals in an immaculate kitchen while wearing full make up and lovely hair. I have examples to measure myself up against and find myself wanting.
I read this article recently, which resonated for me:
‘We live in a culture with a strong sense of scarcity. “We wake up in the morning and we say, ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ And we hit the pillow saying, ‘I didn’t get enough done.'” We’re never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough – until we decide that we are. “For me,” says Brown, “the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It’s enough. I’m enough. My kids are enough.”
The Imposter Syndrome that seems endemic amongst PhDs is really a part of a wider feeling of Not Good Enough that society has been sucked into. People have argued that social media compounds this problem. We’re never doing as much as our online friends, we are never having as good experiences, our hobbies arent as alternative or quirky, our social life as active. Maybe, but I’ve also found a lot of honesty online as mothers (mostly its the mothers) admit that its not EASY, they do struggle to be everything to everyone. I particularly like this blog by a friend of mine taking on motherhood and its issues from a religious angle.
I just want to keep on top of everything. Which might mean a few less naps on the couch in the evening and a bit more of the old tappity-tap on the laptop! Though this seems more likely:
I spent a good few years working in the film industry as a screenwriter and script editor with only a mere modicum of success. Occasionally I would get a good commission only to be disappointed by the unprofessionalism of the person hiring me (a moan for another day…). But it would be all too easy to blame them for me never reaching the stellar heights of the industry. Instead I try to bear in mind the phrase I often heard at networking events: “You’re only as good as your last script”, and maybe mine werent as amazing as I hoped.
In academic writing I think that phrase holds true to a certain degree, in terms of publications at least. But in terms of day to day writing I find that having a good day yesterday and producing something workable if not refined can actually be a hinderence to getting started the following day. There’s an element of laurels resting, but also academic writing can be so draining that getting going again, for me at least, can be hard.
Yesterday was a good day. I finished off a rough draft of one of my conference papers. It still needs a lot of work, as I was mostly freewriting it and forcing myself not to edit as I went. But its there, on ‘paper’, so to speak. And today I need to tackle the second conference paper almost from scratch. I have some rather random slides, but the structure’s not working, my argument’s not clear, and I have to start walking up that mountain AGAIN after just ‘finishing’ one paper.
So, I dont actually feel like I am AS good as my last piece of work. My ‘goodness’ comes from determinadly taking those Sisyphean steps back up the writing mountain. Here we go then…