Our culture is a visual culture. Everywhere one looks, there are images and signs that seek and grab our attention. Studying the ways cultures hierarchically order the senses, cultural historian Walter Ong argues that for the West, visuality predominates all other senses. In the West, visuality is the primary mode in which we understand the world. (This explains why anthropologists, in interpreting culture, undertake the methodology of participant-observation.) As Ong points out, the taxonomic imagination in the West is strongly visualist and has the tendency to constitute cultures as if they were “theaters of memory.”
Edward Said speaks of a similar process. In imagining the Orient, the West “reconverted, restructured from the bundle of fragments brought back piecemeal by explorers, expeditions, commissions, armies, and merchants into lexicographical, bibliographical, departmentalized, and textualized” representations of the Orient. The Orient’s multiple and divergent stories are fabricated as a singular body of signs that can then be read by the West. Such a process of representing the Orient “is a theatrical one: the Orient is the stage on which the whole East is confined. On this stage will appear figures whose role it is to represent the large whole from which they emanate” (Orientalism, 1978).
The above image, taken from a magazine, advertises “the luxury of being yourself.” The advertisement comes from Conrad Hotels, an international luxury hotel chain owned and operated by Hilton Worldwide. The image depicts two Western tourists eating in an outdoor restaurant in Asia. What are we to make of this representation of the East (and the West)? What are we to make of the juxtaposition between the Orient and the Occident? And what can we, as activists, scholars, and global citizens, do to correct the way our culture represents others? This is a conversation we ask you to participate in.
Steve Hu is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. Prior to beginning doctoral studies, he was a minister at a large Asian American church in New Jersey. He has also worked as a research assistant at the Columbia Journalism Review, the magazine of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. His research interests center on Chinese popular religion, Christianity in China, and religious uses of mass media.
Jason Craige Harris is a third-year master's candidate in Black Religion in the African Diaspora and a Marquand merit scholar at Yale Divinity School, where he was recently awarded the Mary Cady Tew Prize for exceptional ability in history and ethics. He earned a bachelor’s in religion and African-American studies from Wesleyan University and received the Giffin Prize for excellence in the Study of Religion, Spurrier Award for ethics, and an official citation for academic excellence issued by the 2009 Connecticut General Assembly. As a fellow at Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities and a recipient of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, Harris wrote a senior honors thesis analyzing theological anthropologies along political and racial fault lines in U.S. Evangelical history. His research and writing are principally concerned with black life, Christianity, (post)colonialism, violence, feminisms, critical social theory, and ultimately planetary flourishing. Concerns arising from the academic study of Africana religion, philosophy, and ethics particularly inform his inquiries. Through an interdisciplinary framework, he probes the systems of values that undergird dominant epistemological, rhetorical, cultural, and religious forms to determine to what extent, if at all, they conduce to robust conceptions of justice. With an eye toward contemporary social problems, he considers the religious strategies and visions that historically marginalized peoples have created to respond to conditions of living and being delimited by restrictive understandings of race, gender, religion, and nation. He is a general editor at the Journal of Postcolonial Networks, where, among other things, he helps to facilitate conversations on race and postcolonial/liberation theologies. As a Christian minister and budding public intellectual, Harris seeks and invites others into more holistic and attuned, less violent and constrained, ways of narrating the self and the divine.
Areas of Interest and Research:
African American Religious Studies
African American Moral, Social, and Political Thought
African American Intellectual History
Liberation and Postcolonial (Christian) Thought
Philosophies of Liberation
Contemporary Religious Thought
Race, Gender, and American Christianities
Evangelicalisms and Pentecostalisms
Histories of Race Discourse in the Americas
(Christian) Social Ethics
Critical Social Theory/Social Philosophy
Theories of Race, Gender, and Power
Method and Theory in the Study of Religion
He is deeply committed to a praxis in which dualities of mind/heart, mind/body, and emotions/thought are consistently challenged and replaced with integrated models of selfhood that cherish self-multiplicity - the point at which the postcolonial becomes self-consciously embodied. He also enjoy taking walks in the coolness of the day, singing, laughing, and writing poetically and theoretically on his lived experience, whatever helps to bring more beauty and justice into the world.