From sneaker ads and the “solidarity hijab” to yoga classes and secular hikes along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, the essential guide to the murky ethics of religious appropriation.
We think we know cultural appropriation when we see it. Blackface or Native American headdresses as Halloween costumes—these clearly give offense. But what about Cardi B posing as the Hindu goddess Durga in a Reebok ad, AA’s twelve-step invocation of God, or the earnest namaste you utter at the end of yoga class?
Liz Bucar unpacks the ethical dilemmas of a messy form of cultural appropriation: the borrowing of religious doctrines, rituals, and dress for political, economic, and therapeutic reasons. Does borrowing from another’s religion harm believers? Who can consent to such borrowings? Bucar sees religion as an especially vexing arena for appropriation debates because faiths overlap and imitate each other and because diversity within religious groups scrambles our sense of who is an insider and who is not. Indeed, if we are to understand why some appropriations are insulting and others benign, we have to ask difficult philosophical questions about what religions really are.
Stealing My Religion guides us through three revealing case studies—the hijab as a feminist signal of Muslim allyship, a study abroad “pilgrimage” on the Camino de Santiago, and the commodification of yoga in the West. We see why the Vatican can’t grant Rihanna permission to dress up as the pope, yet it’s still okay to roll out our yoga mats. Reflecting on her own missteps, Bucar comes to a surprising conclusion: the way to avoid religious appropriation isn’t to borrow less but to borrow more—to become deeply invested in learning the roots and diverse meanings of our enthusiasms.
Lively in style and backed by solid, unobtrusive scholarship…In her call for responsibility in borrowing, Liz Bucar singles out for criticism forms of exploitation close to her own identity as privileged and religiously unaffiliated.
So finely written, so intelligent and fair, and laced with such surprising discoveries that it deserves a reader’s full attention…As the act of walking a religious pilgrimage does invite greater self-awareness…Stealing My Religion is now an essential part of that worthy endeavor.
Injects new life into what has become a stale discourse on the concept of ‘cultural appropriation.’ Bringing together three disparate case studies, Bucar brilliantly demonstrates how definitions of religion fuse with practices of capitalism and ownership…Stealing My Religion accomplishes what it sets out to do and then some.
Stealing My Religion not only deftly grapples with fascinating case studies to name and center the ethical challenges of religious appropriation, but also models how to use this knowledge to reassess our relationship to practices of religious appropriation that we all collude with in various ways. The book also invites us to pause to (re)assess our participation in these complicated spheres of praxis—as educators and scholars, or just everyday folks—and ultimately our responsibilities to the communities we have harmed along the way.
Inspiring and admirable…This book is highly recommended not only for scholars of religion in general, but especially for anthropologists and ethnographers of religion in particular. It not only offers new insights into religious practices and the appropriation of these practices by both religious and non-religious people, but also addresses fundamental methodological and epistemological challenges within the study of religion.
Undoubtedly a stimulating and challenging investigation of appropriation…Bucar perhaps offers some of the best the field of religious studies has to offer as an analytic and ethical enterprise. She forces her readers to examine the interconnections of individual and structural religious exploitation in our classrooms and beyond.
Stealing My Religion offers a careful meditation on the problems of religious appropriation in the contemporary world.
At a time when discussions about cultural appropriation too often feel overheated and imprecise, Liz Bucar points to a way forward by asking us to consider the stolen stuff of faith—religious ideas, practices, and objects repurposed by those outside the fold. But who owns religion? Who is outside and inside the fold? Bucar’s sharp insights, shot through with humor and self-awareness, are exactly what we need the next time we reach over to borrow from someone else’s religion for our own therapeutic, political, or educational needs.
Using hijab to sell soda, the Buddha to market vegan food, or crucifixes to make pop music pop can feel edgy or celebratory for those embracing the visuals without the credos behind them. But, as Liz Bucar reveals in this thoughtful work, the faithful may not appreciate seeing their heart on your sleeve. A welcome and necessary reminder that all of us, ultimately, are unreliable narrators when we weave ourselves into others’ stories.
With interpretive subtlety and ethical vision, Liz Bucar explores the moral risk of intercultural theft. Stealing My Religion is a powerful intervention by a leading scholar of religion into the illiberal results of everyday religious exploitation. Highly recommended.
A sharp and courageous book that claims religion can also be culturally appropriated. With provocative and timely examples, Liz Bucar challenges our understandings about race, culture, and religion when we think about appropriation.
When do religious borrowings cause harm? When do they function as meaningful exchanges? In this brilliant study, Liz Bucar skillfully wrestles with these difficult questions and brings race, religion, and commodification into conversation.
- 272 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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