All posts by Amit Pasupathy

(5) Reflections on Presentations

I thought Lena’s presentation on the alt-right was fascinating. I think living in the Bay Area has given me a distorted view of anything that is not highly liberal/progressive, and the objectivity in which she presented her topic was great. I especially appreciated the screenshots of comments that she included, as well as the entire overview of what the alt-right aims to achieve, what it celebrates, and what other groups view the alt-right as. Though I abhor most of what the alt-right stands for, as this administration continues into 2020, I look forward to further researching the alt-right (and its effects on this presidency) with a foundation of objective understanding.

(4) God Almighty: Religious Rhetoric in Post-Religious America

Research question: How can progressive activists use religious rhetoric effectively in a post-religious America?

Here is the thesis moment/paragraph that I use in my current draft:

But America has changed, and considerably so. Millennials are far less religious than their elders. According to the Pew Forum, only 40% of millennials consider religion as important to their lives, as opposed to 65% of those beyond age 65, and 72% of those beyond age 90 (Religious Landscape Study). And by virtue of that social and demographic change, the religious rhetoric employed by such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez will not have the same impact on all Americans today as it did in the mid-20th century. However, the core tactics that these activists used to further their movements – human storytelling, references to visceral historical events, and turning religious rhetoric against conservative institutions – are still useful today, albeit in a modern, technologically relevant form.

Road map: For each of these points, I plan to reference both past tactics and why they worked as well as modern forms of those tactics and why they worked. Human storytelling (civil rights/gay marriage), historical events (women’s suffrage & civil rights/refugee ban & black lives matter), religious rhetoric against (need to still decide/gay marriage)

(3) Final Clarity: Progressives & Religious Rhetoric

Here is the link to my infographic: https://drive.google.com/a/stanford.edu/file/d/0B-p7zo34RsP8ZzlUWm9QZ2tqdHc/view?usp=sharing

As I began my oral presentation, I was able to create a story reflecting my thought process for research. I discussed the context for my research question (that millennials are not as religious as their parents and grandparents) as well as how progressives were able to use religion for their movements in the past. However, it was not clear what exactly my research question was. Was I talking about how progressives used religion or how conservatives used religion or what exactly “using religion” means?

That feedback reappeared in my research proposal peer review. Again, I provided context for religion and activism, but it wasn’t clear what exactly I wanted to research, and why. My readers were not sure if I was going to create a how-to guide for using religious rhetoric or analyze how progressives have used rhetoric in history. As such, when I made my infographic, I wanted to make sure that my research question was both clear to my audience and manageable as a written topic.

My infographic was received well. My audience thought it was simple – I began by discussing how neoconservatives use religion to further their movements. But instead of talking about historical progressive movements, I used Trump’s travel ban as a case study for how progressives can use religious rhetoric. As you can see, I included different sources – national churches, the ACLU, and activists themselves. Creating this infographic and my audience’s affirmation made me realize that my research topic should be:

Both historical and modern conservatives have used religion as a foundation for their activist movements. However, progressives also have and should continue to use religious rhetoric and storytelling to grow the size and bargaining power of their activist movements.

(2) Activism through Organized Religion

  1. Activism through public transportation design – public trains and subways provide cheaper means of travel for low-income households, often composed of minorities. I think it would be interesting to view urban development through the lens of “transportation equity”.
  2. Activism through music in the Islamic world – recently, a music video featuring Saudi women dancing has been circulating through social media. It would be fascinating to delve deeper into how activism manifests under Sharia law.
  3. Activism through historical art – I’m curious as to how artists in the 20th century (and earlier) used art to further rights. Perhaps artists depicted models in specific ways to push its audience in a specific direction.
  4. Activism through iPhone apps – FireChat helped people in Hong Kong organize democracy protests in 2014 even when the Internet was shut down. Smartphones are changing the way our activism works, but how?
  5. Activism through changing religious institutions – At least in my opinion, I think college students tend to criticize organized religion for stagnating social progress. How can millennia-old institutions participate as “activists” in our current world?

 

As a practicing Hindu, the first story (in relation to giving a voice to a marginalized group) that comes to mind is the Mahabharata. Shikhandi, the charioteer of the hero Arjuna, is born as a girl but changes his gender to male to exact revenge upon his enemies. Modern retelling of epics like these help shape society’s views on different activist issues. Interestingly enough, according to an Ipsos poll in 2016, 85% of Indians believe that transgender people should be protected from discrimination by the government. Within the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has taken steps to expand traditional doctrine by urging priests to view the world with moral nuance, a stance that has major implications for divorcees, gays and lesbians. There must be other examples in various religious texts and institutions (with which I am currently not familiar).

 

Our world isn’t black and white, and we shouldn’t view religion as such. I want to find the nuances through an activist lens.

(1) Seduction in Signs

In Chapter 5, Tim Jordan discusses the idea of branding and its effects on our daily lives. He argues that nothing in our cultural lives has not been “produced by the professionals of desire” (Jordan 117). From Nike to McDonald’s, corporations have become adept at finding ways to “control [the] meaning” (Jordan 111) of various symbols and ideas. And they have been quite successful – golden arches immediately force audiences to think of fast comfort food. Swooshes push audiences to think of prestige and athleticism. By simply participating in our capitalist society, we are trained to connect words to products, slogans to lifestyles, and ideas to money. Activists now must find ways to use those innate connections against these corporations.

What makes Jordan’s connection of branding to activism! so interesting is its accessibility and effectiveness. It is amazing that a couple of San Francisco guys can place a pink bra on a billboard and reduce the masculinity of an entire cigarette brand (Jordan 105). Our current society has become democratized online – I would argue that one does not need to be in a formal activist group to turn a brand against itself.

To illustrate this, let us consider the recent presidential election – indeed, any discussion of contemporary activism should consider the recent presidential election. One can argue that Donald Trump is a true master of branding – with his tweets and incendiary rally rhetoric that enraptured the media, he was able to create “seduction in return for consumption” (Jordan 110) all for free. And of course, the consumption was the voters’ constant attention. Every American knows the power of the slogan “Make America Great Again”, and those blue caps have been engrained into our memory forever.

But with the power of social media, liberals turned the slogan against itself. “Make America Great Again” became “Make America Hate Again” and “Make America Gay Again”. Alas, the work was to no avail. However, the case study stands; branding and activism! are intertwined, and activists and regular citizens alike can create change by knowing how to manipulate symbols, slogans, and seductive signs.