Irritating Questions for Scholars of Anything

21/04/2012 § Leave a comment

Yesterday, I attended a guest lecture in the communications department. The talk, given by Pushkala Prasad, entitled “Veiled Remarks: The Discourse of the Islamic Headscarf in the Scandinavian Workplace.” Prasad’s research, which took place in Denmark and Sweden in the late 90’s and early 00’s, examined the ways in which immigrants to Sweden and Denmark, especially dark-complected immigrants, were excluded from the workplace, and the headscarf, although worn by fewer than 5% of immigrant women, was consistently given as the reason why immigrant women were rejected from the workplace. The discourses surrounding this concerned immigrant women as too passive, lacking agency, unprofessional and so on. Further, the headscarf was conflated with brownness. I thought it was pretty fab. For the record, Prasad was inspired by George Marcus’ writings on Multi-sited Ethnography, which is part of why I bothered with a talk in the Comm Department (no offense, comm people)

In any event, some of the amazingly brilliant questions after the lecture were:

“Why didn’t you do this study in Norway?”

“What do you think Turkish people would think about this?”

“Well, it’s the same as Western women wearing the miniskirt in Saudi Arabia. Why didn’t you study that?”

She handled it marvelously, but seriously guys, stop. It’s sort of like when people ask me why I don’t study, for example, Tibetan refugees. The answer is “Well, because.”

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Irritating Questions for Scholars of Religion: Does X Really Believe Y?

12/02/2012 § Leave a comment

I encounter this question fairly frequently, after “So, you’re going to be Minister?” and “What’s it like being a Buddhist?” 

I suppose I should come to expect it. After all, I’m not averse to collecting trivia myself, and people want to know things about religion. In some ways, the approach to education in the U.S. is factoid-based. We shove information at people with the hope that they will absorb some of it. We’re also encouraged to be “culturally aware”. 

My inclination would be to say “Wow, that’s a dumb question, I’m not really qualified to speculate on that, and neither is anyone, ever.” To complicate matters, generally people are looking for an answer like “Sure, all the Floombists really believe that they turn into a Lizard during the Floombastic Festival.” or “Certainly not, all Floombists really know they’re just pretending to turn into a Lizard during the Floombastic Festival.” I find both of those answers to be entirely unsatisfactory. 

Any suggestions that won’t make me come off as a jerk? 

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