Previous Events, 2005

“Fanaticism: Changing Grounds, Expressions, and Dynamics”
March 31, 2005

* Rhetoric and the Political Unconscious: Democracy and Fundamentalism in the Berlin Republic — Volker Kaiser, Department of German
* Fanaticism and the Rhetorics of Evil — Jennifer L. Geddes, Department of Religious Studies
* The Image of the Fanatic in Hollywood Cinema — Daniel Lefkowitz, Department of Anthropology
* Fanaticism, Political Violence, and Democracy in the KashmirValley — Gerald Meyerle, Graduate Student, Department of Politics
* Intersections of Religious Tolerance, Fanaticism and Civil Society in India — R. S. Khare, Department of Anthropology and Moderator

Rhetoric and the Political Unconscious:
Democracy and Fundamentalism in the BerlinRepublic
Volker Kaiser, German Department

I will look at the symbolism employed by the political establishment of the so-called BerlinRepublic in its attempt to redefine and reconstitute its raison d’ětre after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The vicissitudes of the reconstruction of its political culture, the search for a new role, a new identity and the redefinition of sovereignty, are prominently displayed in the arena of “Ausländerpolitik”, i.e. the fiercely contested treatment of foreigners, immigrants, and asylum seekers. It is here that the dynamics and politics of cultural differentiation (with its different facets reaching from integration via assimilation and acculturation to exclusion and expulsion) are unleashed within a democratic framework. Special attention will be given to the most recent German reaction to the “global war on terror” and the democratic opposition to “fundamentalism” and “fanaticism” as it shifts from the arena of foreign policy to the domestic scene of “Ausländerpolitik”. A close reading of the documents (mainly from the conservative Christian Democratic Union) will reveal the linkage between the usage of a particular rhetoric, the mobilization of affects and the generation of the political and ideological effects of integration and exclusion. Here the figure of the “fanatic” plays a pivotal role.

Fanaticism and the Rhetorics of Evil
Jennifer L. Geddes, Department of Religious Studies

While fanatics are often identified by their actions, I would like to argue that they can also be identified by the particular ways in which they represent their actions in language. Fanatics use specific rhetorical strategies to represent their actions in a meaningful, transcendent framework that justifies extreme behavior, including the use of violence and the infliction of suffering on others. I will ground my argument about the relationship between fanaticism and rhetoric by focusing on some speeches by Nazi perpetrators that serve as examples of ways in which fanatics represent (or misrepresent) their actions in language.
This presentation is part of a larger research project that focuses on the rhetorics of evil. While the word “evil” has undergone a resurrection of sorts in public discourse recently, little attention has been paid either to what is meant by the term or to the ways that language is shaped by, participates in, or resists the evil that it seeks to narrate. An understanding of the complex relations between evil and language will deepen the theoretical and empirical studies of fanaticism that now exist by giving scholars tools to recognize how fanatics use language in achieving their ends and in shaping perceptions of their actions both by others and themselves.

The Image of the Fanatic in Hollywood Cinema
Daniel Lefkowitz, Department of Anthropology

This paper looks at changing representations of the fanatic (and therefore of fanaticism) in mainstream Hollywood movies. A close examination of representative films involving fanatical characters playing central roles will highlight the changing images Hollywood has made of the relationship of society’s outcasts to society’s stalwarts. Taking recent depictions of Arab and Muslim fanaticism, as well as much older depictions of East-Oriental fanatical antagonists, as comparative points of departure, I will look at the depictions of fanatical characters in an American setting and their posited roles vis-a-vis mainstream society. One thread will focus on images of charismatic leadership from the 1950s to the 1980s. A second thread will focus on the embedding of the fanatical plot element within the broader film, with special attention to the role of the newspaper reporter in American cinema as objective arbiter of rationality-and, therefore, quintessential foil for the fanatic.
Fanaticism, Political Violence, and Democracy in the KashmirValley

Gerald Meyerle, Graduate Student, Department of Politics
What commentators today call Islamic fundamentalism was once a grand ideal that brought together Islamist militants from around the world to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The fanatical jihadis of today were the freedom fighters of the 1980s who brought down the ‘evil empire’ and ended the Cold War. They fought a great cause, defending Muslims against a brutal occupation by a totalitarian, atheistic army. The stories of this epic battle and the culture of jihad to which it gave rise continue to enthrall young people across Southwest Asia and elsewhere in the Islamic world. Yet today it is associated with sectarianism and terrorism. What happened? How did the freedom fighters of the 1980s become the fanatics of today? The aim of this talk is to point out how a changing political context affected the rise and transformation of this movement in the 1980s and 90s. A brief look at this fascinating history may yield some insights into the complex relationship between violence and fanaticism, rebellion and extremism.

Intersections of Religious Tolerance, Fanaticism and Civil Society in India
R. S. Khare, Department of Anthropology and Moderator

In independent India, religious tolerance has come under increasing social scrutiny and political debate. No influential sector of the society remains untouched any longer. The two main (most numerous) religions, Hinduism and Indian Islam, have adopted attitude of religious rigidity toward each other, and while conversing within their own communities. Major Indian grounds, expressions and consequences of fanaticism lie in this crucial change. Equally important, the change has been so far quite uneven demographically, socially and politically. Not all Muslims everywhere in India are equally attuned to messages of religious rigidity or religious intolerance; the same is true of the much larger Hindu population. Yet Hindus, the Indian majority, very often feel more vulnerable and defensive in both religious and cultural terms. The roots of Hindu fanaticism (kattarta) lie here. In such a picture, Indian civil society and its institutions try to play a mediating ‘fanaticism limiting’ role in this ongoing contest, but only with limited success. Indian civil society is still weak, sometimes an ambivalent and tardy mediator.
As the major upheavals have shown, however, fanaticism in India is hardly of garden variety. The four major instances are: the 1947 Partition; the 1984 anti-Sikh riots; the 1992 temple-mosque conflict; and the 2002 Godhara (Gujarat) communal killings. These events well illustrate both the depths as well as the range of religious fanaticism reached in the Subcontinent. Equally importantly, on the other hand, the deeper currents of religious tolerance and cultural sharing have bounced back, often with the help of Indian civil society, to encage fanaticism. Religious fanaticism in Indian popular conception implicates disproportionate, unjust violence and killings of the innocent. It is always narrated as evil, sinister and unjust by the opposing side.

Branding Gods and Consuming Goods: The Commodification of Religion and Culture
April 27, 2005
Kaleidoscope Center for Cultural Fluency on the Third Floor of Newcomb Hall

* Cool Drink and Tin Lizards: Consuming Southern Africa Through Study Abroad – Clare Terni, Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology
* Crafting and Commodification in the Maya Homeland – Kamaren
* Jesus: Homeboy or Savior? – Makeda Lulseged
* The Commodification of Hinduism – Esha Pandya
* ‘Necessities’ for the Ancestors: Burnt Offerings in the Macau, Southern China – James Roane

Cool Drink and Tin Lizards: Consuming Southern Africa Through Study Abroad
Clare Terni, Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology

For the past three years, University of Virginia undergraduates have traveled to southern Africa through a for-credit summer program run by the University. Each year, the students and staff of the program purchase a variety of handcrafts and mass-produced items in some way emblematic of South Africa and Mozambique. They also purchase access to various cultural events: township tours, elementary school performances, visits to traditional healers, and other experiences available only in southern Africa. The purchases say something about how tourists from the United States view South Africans, and also something about how South Africans view visitors from the United States. I will discuss which objects travel from South Africa, and which objects do not, while reflecting on the mutual imaginings of South Africa and the States as evidenced in student and staff purchases.

Crafting and Commodification in the Maya Homeland
Kamaren Suwijn

My presentation will focus on the commodification of textile and handicraft production in contemporary Mayan markets. Throughout centuries of oppression in Latin America, the Maya have striven to maintain their cultural identity through a profoundly resilient maintenance of tradition. They are peoples who have withstood tremendous political and social change in their historic homeland, particularly over the last century. One fundamental change that has altered the cultural lifestyle of the Mayan peoples is an influx of tourism in the nations of Guatemala, Mexico and Belize within the last two to three decades. Today, European and American tourists seek to purchase traditional Maya handicrafts in these regions as a form of tourist commodity – as a result, the fundamental methods of production surrounding these traditional items has changed, and, debatably, so has the identity for the contemporary Mayan person. Through my presentation, I will principally show how economic and tourist pressures have changed traditional crafts of the Mayan people. I will raise questions of whether or not the essential traditions of these peoples have been uprooted as a result of the commodification of their native goods.

Jesus: Homeboy or Savior?
Makeda Lulseged

“It used to be that Jesus helped to only enable shady evangelists and pastors get rich, but this is no longer the case. The entertainment industry has turned Him into, of all things, a brand.”
- Vibe Magazine Online
Christianity in the United States has become a means of economic gain. The most prevalent argument against the sale of Christian-based products is grounded in the idea that the production of T-shirts, hats, and bracelets bearing humorous puns on/of Jesus Christ takes away from the deep spirituality of Christianity. Reflecting on commodities that advertise Christian religious principles, figures, and symbols, it becomes apparent that Christianity as a religious institution undergoes a level of exploitation and manipulation. American culture, expressed in its various forms, presents differing levels of such exploitation. Whether presented by popular music figures, cartoons, clothing or even house wares, all such productions firmly direct Christian symbols towards the economic market rather than towards religious growth. Regardless of the mode of expression, the result is of viewers and consumers emulating this ‘cool’ and ‘popular’ culture through purchase of packaged Christian religion. It is the fear of popular culture taking over Christianity that can be summed up in a simple question: Is Jesus my homeboy or savior?

The Commodification of Hinduism
Esha Pandya

Icons of Hindu gods and goddesses, symbols, mythology, sacred texts, rituals, sacred chants and devotional songs have become commodities among Hindus in India and abroad. During this discussion I will explore several questions: when did this trend of commodification become entrenched and what are its economic implications? What response has this commodification generated among Hindu activists? Finally, I will discuss whether the commodification of gods, goddesses, mythology, sacred texts, rituals, etc., has diminished their significance and sanctity in the eyes of common Hindus.

‘Necessities’ for the Ancestors: Burnt Offerings in Macau, Southern China
James Roane

Buddhists in Macau, Southern China, believe that when a person dies, he or she goes to an afterlife not unlike Christian visions of hell. In order to be rescued from this uncomfortable situation, the dead must be sent offerings from their descendants on earth. These burnt offerings include paper money and other paper sculptures made to resemble everyday “necessities” of modern life, including watches, cell phones, and cars. In addition, people send their ancestors burnt offerings of incense to make their daily lives in the other world more pleasurable.
In Southern China, businesses have developed that devote themselves entirely to the manufacture of these paper goods and incense. Because these items are quite often expensive, the owners of these businesses can become quite wealthy, as can fortune- tellers who specialize in predicting the future and communicating with dead ancestors. Both demonstrate the commodification of religion in Macau.

Conversations on the Field and Fieldwork
December 9, 2005

Chris Colvin recently completed his Ph.D. at UVA and a post-doctoral fellowship at Columbia University . Chris conducted his dissertation fieldwork in South Africa with a support group for victims of political violence. He will talk about the methodological and ethical challenges of negotiating and carrying out research on the storytelling practices of the members of this group.

Vicki Brennan is a Predoctoral Research Fellow at UVA’s Carter Woodson Institute for African & African American studies. She is currently completing her dissertation, entitled, “Singing the Same Song: Music, Migration and Translocality in Yoruba Churches,” which is based on 18 months of fieldwork in Lagos and Ibadan, Nigeria. Vicki will discuss the challenges involved in doing fieldwork in a large urban area, as well as ethical and methodological issues concerning research on religion.

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