research


The burden of growing up in China. A youthful Mao reflects:

The study of how to be a citizen is the study of the history, geography, political doctrine, and artistic climate of one’s country … Certainly, the study of being a person or a citizen is easy, while the study of being a Chinese is difficult. There are five thousand years of history, the land extends over seven thousand li, political doctrine is extremely complex, and human feelings and customs are broad and complex. How can we approach all this? If we were Japan, with only three islands within our borders, or Germany, with a history of only half a century and land equivalent in size to our two provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong alone, how easy things would be! (Mao’s Road to Power, vol. 1, p. 79)

Mao might have his criticisms of useless scholarship and writing, but he also has some suggestions as to how one might write:

Articles should store up forces within. Emerging from Longmen, the Yellow River rushes all the way down to Tongguan. As it turns eastwards, it again rushes to Tongwa. Again it turns northeastwards and rushes to the sea. Once it comes out of hiding and changes its course, it goes for a thousand li without stopping. This is called a big turn. So it is with composition. (The Writings of Mao Zedong, vol. 1, p. 18)

To compose (zuo wen) well, we need to be skilfull, hence the use of the word ‘do’ (zuo); to write (xie), we need to wield the brush furiously, hence the use of the word ‘sketch’ (xie). (p. 19)

This is a place where you should publish at least one article: Memoria Ethnographica.

The journal is published at the North University Centre of the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca. It is based in Baia Mare, in the Maramures district of Transylvania (where I have been on a couple of occasions). Articles are published in both English and Romanian. The editor has made an urgent call for papers, especially by international authors. The twist: the due date is November 9.

So the call is: if you have a decent article that deals with anthropological and ethnographic matters, and if you can complete it by November 9, then the editor is interested. Contact me via comments and I will be able to identify your email address – that is, unless you know my email address already.

Go on, you can do it. These are the places where real work gets published, and the journal is published in one of the great parts of the world.

As a writer who happens to be connected with universities (for a pittance), the issue of publishing is somewhat important. I have also been involved extensively in major editing roles over the years, with both journals and books. A question that keeps coming up is where one should publish? I do not mean the best press for the sake of one’s career. I mean whether one uses conventional publishing at all. Perhaps the biggest threats to conventional publishing for profit are free access to books (such as library genesis) and open access publishing. I have commented on the free book matter earlier, when library.nu was closed down through court action by a consortium of publishers. And I have observed that publishing as an intellectual is probably one of the most exploitative exercises around, for you do all the work and receive virtually nothing for your efforts. Any profits made and retained by the publisher, let alone the copyright.

As many know, open access publishing is another dimension to that challenge. No wonder, then, that there is open warfare between traditional publishers and open-access publishing. Open-access is characterised as dodgy and third-rate. Example of scams abound, such as the Review of European Studies, which asks for a few hundred dollars to submit your article. Universities also play the game, or rather an old game. In the past, they have shored up publishing by constructing an aura of respectability around certain ‘reputable’ publishers, whether commercial or university presses. Positions rely on publishing in such places, as does the obnoxious practice of promotion, as do research assessment exercises, as do grants. Open-access publishing continues to be frowned upon by many. I recall a left-wing scholar saying to me that he always found material in print by traditional publishers much better than open-access work. But then, I guess that figures if you are after a conventional career in the star system of academia. It’s refreshing, then, to view once again the Hitler video concerning open-access:

So what would it mean to say that you will no longer publish in, review for, or do anything to assist profit-based publishing. That you will give your energy only to open-access publishing? The question is as much one for me, since I have published and continue to publish widely in conventional forms. So it was sobering to read through some of the journals listed in the Directory of Open-Access Journals. A vast number of them are from places in the world where money is very tight, where people can hardly manage rent and food, let alone journals and books. Of course, we like to forget the fact that genuinely new ideas always appear outside the mainstream avenues of intellectual work and publishing. A few of those include Spinoza, Negri, Darwin, Descartes, Leibniz, Rousseau, Kojeve, Schweitzer, Guattari, Lacan, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao …

Just completed a PhD? If so, you are probably completely sick and tired of the whole process. The last thing you want to do is engage in further research, since the PhD thesis was like scaling a Mt. Everest of information, ideas, and directions. Who would want to do that again in the near future?

So take a tip from a film director, whose name escapes me: after a first blockbuster, make your second film quickly. There’s plenty of ideas in your head, many of which could not make it into a PhD. You have done the reading and thinking. So write that second book quickly. Six months is all it needs, for a sharp, short book.

Why? That way you realise it doesn’t take another massive effort to complete a writing project. By the time you have finished, new ideas will be forming, further books planned.

Too often I meet people who peaked with a PhD. It may have been a solid, perhaps even influential work that made it into a book. Then they fiddle, become distracted, think of a second book that would surpass the PhD and make a huge splash. A year, two years, a decade flows by, with no result. Some bury themselves in teaching, others are seduced by administrative positions and the associated crumbs of power. By now the chance is gone, and what may appear is a strangled effort, squeezed out between short nights and the petty political games of overblown egos.

Forget all that crap. Get your head down and write the second book, quickly.

An exciting new kid on the block: POPCAANZ (Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand)

Call for Papers (due 1 April):

Papers that explore popular culture and the everyday in relation to issues of religion and secularism are invited for the Religion Area at POPCAANZ’s Annual Conference. The conference will take place June 24-26, 2013 in Brisbane Australia.

Please submit a 200-word abstract and short bio to: religion@popcaanz.com by 1 April.

For further information go to the conference website: http://popcaanz.com/conference-information-2013/

Despite my policy of avoiding posts about the University of Newcastle on this blog, and even though I do my best not to advertise higher degree research in this place, for some reason we seem have gathered a rather scintillating number of students – from China, Russia, Iran, South Africa, and even Australia. Their research topics all deal in one way or another with religion and politics, often of a distinctly leftward bent:

Joel Kelsey:

Zionism with a Human Face?: Humanitarian Ethics and Being-for-the-other in an Israeli Human Rights Movement

Sergey Kozin:

Religion of Labour, Democracy, and Satan: The Socialist Gospel according to Anatoly Lunacharsky

Yazhi Li:

The Role of Religious Criticism in Marx’s Theory

Niall McKay:

Liberation Hermeneutics: An Intertextual Analysis of the Interpretation of the Gospel of Mark in Liberation Movements

Amir Rezapourmoghadammiyandabi

Political Myth: Tabari’s Narration of the Foundation of Society in the History

Fiona (Fang) Yuan:

Marx’s Critique of Modernity: Labour and Religion

And it happens to have Warren Goldstein, Jonathan Boyarin and me as the editors (although Warren is the one who has done most of the work in getting it up and running). You can see the launch information on Sage’s webite, and a full list of the editorial board – review and advisory – at the Critical Theory of Religion site. All of the information, including submission procedures is at the journal website. This is a big show and Sage is putting a lot of energy and resources into it.

Aims and Scope:

Critical Research on Religion is a peer-reviewed, international journal focusing on the development of a critical theoretical framework and its application to research on religion. It provides a common venue for those engaging in critical analysis in theology and religious studies, as well as for those who critically study religion in the other social sciences and humanities such as philosophy, sociology, anthropology, psychology, history, and literature.

A critical approach examines religious phenomena according to both their positive and negative impacts. It draws on methods including but not restricted to the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, Marxism, post-structuralism, feminism, psychoanalysis, ideological criticism, post-colonialism, ecocriticism, and queer studies.

The journal seeks to enhance an understanding of how religious institutions and religious thought may simultaneously serve as a source of domination and progressive social change. It attempts to understand the role of religion within social and political conflicts. These conflicts are often based on differences of race, class, ethnicity, region, gender, and sexual orientation – all of which are shaped by social, political, and economic inequity.

The journal encourages submissions of theoretically guided articles on current issues as well as those with historical interest using a wide range of methodologies including qualitative, quantitative, and archival. It publishes articles, review essays, book reviews, thematic issues, symposia, and interviews.

Has anyone noticed a curious flatness among many who profess to be historians? It is often linked in with particularly virulent expressions of disciplinary chauvinism, but you get it as:

a. An aversion to theoretical concerns, or if they do appear, the proponent treats them like the best thing since the invention of the wheel.

b. The contextual fetish. Everything can be explained by context – someone’s ideas, their changes of position, contradiction, type of breakfast, how long they wear their underwear … Apart from the simple points that contexts are somewhat tricky to access and that texts transcend their contexts in all manner of ways, the contextual fetish functions like an interpretive straightjacket, preventing you from asking the really interesting questions.

Unlike many (Charles Taylor, for instance), some people do actually get better with age. Take Immanuel Wallerstein, who turned 80 in 2010. Since the 1970s, he has been writing his multi-volume The Modern World-System. One volume has appeared every dozen years or so, beginning in 1974. The most recent, from 2011, is in some respects the best yet, at least in terms of the sharpness of his formulations. And the old guy is talking about volumes 5 and 6!

Some samples:

Liberalism has always been in the end the ideology of the strong state in the sheep’s clothing of individualism; or to be more precise, the ideology of the strong state as the only sure ultimate guarantor of individualism (p. 10).

The institutionalization of history and the three nomothetic disciplines – economics, sociology, and political science – in the last third of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth took the form of university disciplines wherein the Western world studied itself, explained its own functioning, the better to control what was happening.

Still the rest of the world was a matter of some concern to the powerful of the world, who wished to know best how to control the ‘others’ over whom they held sway. To control, one must understand, at least minimally. So, again, it is no surprise that academic specialties emerged to produce the desired knowledge … a discipline called anthropology emerged in this period, and it dealt largely with areas that were either colonies or special zones within the metropolitan powers’ home territory. A second discipline, called Orientalism, dealt … largely (but not exclusively) with the semicolonies (pp. 264-5).

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