It’s interesting that I decided to begin a blog series on identity at the same time that I began a highly anthropological course of Masters study. I don’t think I even understood how much focus there would be on identity. Although I’m only a week and a half in, it seems like it’s all we talk about. Or in the most recent cases, “identification.” Cultural identity, racial identity, ethnic identity, sexual identity, gender identity, religious identity, and the list goes on.
I wrote the following as a visceral response to the introduction of a book we are reading in class called Seeing Differently by Amelia Jones. She is asking readers to reconstruct how we think about the ways we quantify art and other visual forms of expression, assuming the post-modern idea that “identity” or “identification” is a social construct and not something we should take into account as absolute truth. I agree with her that it is a social construct, but I’d also argue that every human lifestyle displays an observance of the constructs, and I think that’s something we all have to deal with in some way or another. But being a Christian within a post-modern, post-structuralist, post-identity society is especially strange for obvious reasons, and I thought that this specific issue of Christian cultural identity vs Academia illuminated the awkward dynamic in a unique way.
(If you opened this expecting to see an identity Bible verse blog entry, I probably already lost you. It’s fine, this isn’t quite blog post material… I’m fully aware that most people don’t care about this, so feel free to click away. I assure you I’ll resume my conversational tone for next time. 😉 I just wanted to post these thoughts for specific friends (who I’ll tag) and the select few people who might engage with it, or find it supplementary to thinking about identity in a Biblical sense, despite living in a post-modern era.)
Thoughts on Academia:
To be within Academia, especially any form of anthropology, is to be constantly exploring, observing, and studying how we as humans structure belief and action, engage in societal behavior, and assume cultural identities. We know that “identities” are social constructs, we know that humans operate under the social constructs as if they were real. But then we turn around, go out into the world, and participate in those same patterns about which we were just reading. Not that we would refrain from “being human” just because we may have a more profound understanding of the patterns, but there is definitely a peculiar quality to this sort of life.
This behavior is more apparent to me, perhaps, because of my spiritual beliefs. By associating myself with Christianity, which is simultaneously one of the most beloved and most criticized belief systems in our world, I am automatically placing myself in a situation in which I am aware of much of the criticism, reputations, and theories about my religion (both theological and secular) and yet in the same day that I study these things can willingly put the analysis aside to engage in culturally/doctrinally Christian practices or behaviors. Because I have decided to fully engage in a human experience, in this case my spirituality (although we all do this with other things), I often check my intellectual theories at the door. There is a natural inclination to separate the two things, and it forces a display of priority when I step into a spiritual situation (i.e. a worship service). I can choose to live by faith and worship God in spite of understanding the many argued and conflicting theories about His nature and existence, or I can let the theories hinder me from having a spiritual experience. I always let faith take precedence in these situations, because I believe in the complexity of the human being, our need to be fulfilled mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Yet I live in the limbo that comes with being committed to both spiritual and intellectual beliefs. These held assumptions usually dovetail quite nicely, but in the specific instance of cultural identity, it’s much more of a balancing act.
For example, in Seeing Differently by Amelia Jones, she implores us to “continue to acknowledge the ways in which bodies are identified and positioned in the world (including our own), while refusing to allow our assumptions about identity to congeal into fixed binaries.” By the faith I have decided to base my life upon, I agree to assume some identities that have been “congealed into fixed binaries” on multiple levels for more than two thousand years, and meanwhile my studies show me that there is much truth to the impossibility of nailing down the concept of identification.
The presentation of a choice is exemplified here in the life of one who is simultaneously a scholar and a Christian, but this conflict can arise within any academic mind. There is simply more to life than our theories, and this becomes an intriguing and somewhat awkward dynamic to live in light of, since we are part of the society that we study daily. And yet, I continually find myself in favor of the fulfillment I find in a spiritual identity, which at times is as equally necessary and inexplicable as theories of identification themselves. Therefore, I continue to live in the tension, as we each must.