Anthro in the news 4/21/14

• In Boston, after the bombs

An article in The Boston Globe explored the experiences of Muslims in Boston following the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Fortunately, an anti-Muslim backlash did not occur.

Islamic Society of Boston headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.
Islamic Society of Boston/Wikipedia

The article quotes Nancy Khalil, a doctoral candidate in social anthropology at Harvard: Years ago, she remembered “trying to explain who we really are, in these really anxious, tense meetings” with Jewish leaders, who were then trying to reconcile their desire for better interfaith relations with their communities’ concerns about a mosque founder’s anti-Semitic statements and alleged extremist ties.

“It was an unbelievable moment for me, and it was really indicative of the type of relationships that we now have across institutions and across communities,” Khalil said. “Because it wasn’t just the leaders being welcoming … It was everybody in that temple being welcoming. And that Muslims were comfortable staying there and mingling afterwards, that was telling.”

• U.S. evangelical churches reach out to save minds as well as souls

In an op-ed in The New Times, Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University professor of cultural anthropology at Stanford University, writes about some movement in U.S. evangelical churches moving into the area of mental illness.

Rick Warren speaks at the 2006 TED conference
Rick Warren at TED, 2006/Wikipedia

She notes the pastor Rick Warren, whose son committed suicide one year ago after struggling with depression. Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church, one of the nation’s largest evangelical churches, teamed up with his local Roman Catholic Diocese and the National Alliance on Mental Illness for an event that announced a new initiative to involve the church in the care of serious mental illness.

According to Luhrmann, the churches are not trying to supplant traditional mental health care but instead complement it: “When someone asks, Should I take medication or pray?” one speaker remarked, “I say, ‘yes.’”

Members of the churches think there are not enough services available. Further, many people do not turn to the services that exist because of the social stigma. [Blogger’s note: In other words: all hands on deck to help fight mental health problems. And heads up to the health care system to do more and do better work and try to address the stigma problem.]

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Valentine’s Day goes global and so much news about it!

It’s fascinating to see how certain holidays spread around the world, and how they are marked, celebrated, and “localized” in different countries and regions and among different groups. Valentine’s Day is clearly going global, but with many regional and local permutations. Some of those variations have to do with the very fact that Valentine’s Day is associated with love and romance and, let’s face it, sex. Here are some news bits about Valentine’s Day 2014 around the world.

Cupid
Cupid. Flickr/Arwen Willemsen

Just wanting somebody to love:

In France, Internet dating rises before Valentine’s Day. According to an article in The Global Times, “The Internet is powering Cupid’s wings in France, with use of online dating sites soaring, according to matchmakers preparing to help singletons maximize their seduction opportunities this Valentine’s Day. Of the 18 million single people in France “one in two uses Internet dating,” said Jessica Delpirou, director in France of the Meetic dating website, which was launched in 2001 and recently taken over by the US website match.com. The run-up to St Valentine’s Day — before New Year resolutions are forgotten — is a particularly busy time. “

What’s Valentine’s Day all about?

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Anthro in the news 1/20/14


 

Thomas Robert Malthus

  • China’s one-child policy: Malthus more than Mao

An article in The Times (London) cites the research of Harvard University cultural anthropology professor Susan Greenhalgh that reveals how the visit of a Chinese mathematician to an international meeting in Helsinki put him in touch with Malthusian thinking about population growth and its dangers and specifically the book, The Limits to Growth.

  • Falling down on the job in Cambodia

Over the past two years, many garment workers in Cambodia have fainted and been hospitalized and production has slowed or shut down, according to a report in The New York Times by Julia Wallace, the executive editor of The Cambodian Daily. In one instance, a worker started issuing commands in a language that sounded like Chinese, claiming to speak for an ancestral spirit and demanding raw chicken. No raw chicken was provided, and more faintings occurred.

The article mentions the work of two cultural anthropologists, Michael Taussig and Aihwa Ong, who have described spiritual responses to oppression. Taussig wrote about Colombian peasants working on sugar cane plantations in the 1970s and their perceptions of having sold their souls to the devil.

More closely related to the Cambodian case is Aihwa Ong’s research on spirit possession among women factory workers in Malaysia in the 1970s. Ong interpreted women’s spiritual affliction as a protest against harsh working conditions. Such “protests” however did not result in better working conditions for the women.  In Cambodia, in contrast, mass faintings have produced a positive response – indirectly, through public support for workers’ rights after a government crackdown on demonstrating workers and, directly, through a raise in the minimum wage. [Blogger’s note: garment workers in developing countries need all the help they can get, so bring on the spirits!].

  • The future of jobs in the world

An article in The Economist on the future of employment drew on the work of many scholars including cultural anthropologist David Graeber of the London School of Economics. The views in general are not promising for employment rates, given the ever rising replacement of labor by technology. Increasing income equality is projected. The article alludes to Graeber’s perspective that much modern labor consists of “bullshit jobs” (low- and mid-level screen-sitting that serves simply to occupy workers for whom the economy no longer has much use) and that keeping bullshit workers employed is a ruling class practice to maintain control. [Blogger’s note: interested readers should consult Graeber’s original writings for more details].

  • Eating cake and talking about death

Art du Jour, an art gallery and education space in downtown Santa Cruz, CA is a bright and cozy place where some 30 strangers gather to talk about death and dying. To help begin those conversations comes a new concept in an unlikely phrase: the Death Cafe. Death Cafes originated in England, the country where the hospice movement began. An article in the San Jose Mercury on Death Cafes in California quoted Shelley Adler, a U.C. San Francisco medical anthropologist who held the first San Francisco Death Cafe this past spring:

“Bundt cake makes everything easier…[regarding death, she says]. “We have more than 100 euphemisms for it. The end. Pass away. Kick the bucket. It’s not that we want to avoid it, necessarily. It’s everywhere, from zombie movies to video games. But we were desperately in need of a platform. And, when you face it, you suddenly feel unloaded. It’s not as scary.”

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Anthro in the news 12/2/13

• Breast cancer screening in Israel: opportunity or not?

In Israel, a push to screen for a breast cancer gene leaves many women conflicted, according to an article in The New York Times. Israel has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the world, and many scientists are advocating what may be the first national screening campaign to test women for cancer-causing genetic mutations that are common among Jews. But the tests mean that women have to choose between what they want to know, when they want to know it, and what to do with the information.

Komen Race Jerusalem 2012
Komen Race for the Cure (for breast cancer) in Jerusalem 2012. Flickr/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

Jews of Ashkenazi, or central and eastern European, backgrounds, make up about half of the Jewish population in Israel and the vast majority of those in the U.S. They are much more likely to carry mutations that pose risks for breast and ovarian cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The debate about screening is economic — will the state cover the costs of testing — and ethnic — will only Ashkenazi Jews be routinely tested? Israel is a melting pot of both Arab citizens and Jews from all over the world, and only half of the country’s six million Jews are of Ashkenazi ancestry.

Moreover, even though the testing would be voluntary, women could feel pressured to participate, said Barbara A. Koenig, a professor of medical anthropology and bioethics at the University of California, San Francisco. “When you institute mass screening, you’re making a collective decision that this is a good thing.”

• Sharing amidst poverty in the U.S.

An article in The Los Angeles times described how L.A.’s close-knit Tongan community struggles with poverty while maintaining their strong cultural tradition of sharing. Statistics show half of Tongan Angelenos live in poverty. But, they say, a culture of sharing means “no Tongan is here to get rich”—because even the smallest thing is given.

Scholars believe the numbers of people in the Tongan diaspora is larger than the population of Tongans on the islands. The article quotes Cathy A. Small, a Northern Arizona University anthropology professor who has long studied Tongan communities. When visiting a classroom in Tonga a few years ago, children were told to write letters to their mothers in New Zealand, saying what they wanted for their birthdays. “Nobody found the assignment strange.”

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Anthro in the news 8/19/13

• In Cairo: the Morsi camps

Supporter of President Mohamed Morsi
A supporter of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Aug. 12, 2013. VOA/Reuters

Early this week, Voice of America reported that supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi were defiantly remaining at their protest camps in Cairo, despite days of warnings that the government would soon move on the sites. The article quoted Saba Mahmood, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, who told VOA the interim government has not broken up the camps because the resulting bloodshed would be a “very serious political cost.”

But she says Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood is facing bigger stakes than getting him back in office: “So there is that issue that if indeed they back down, they’re going to not just simply lose Morsi, but they’re going to lose even the basis — the political, social basis — they have built over the last 40 years.”

[Blogger’s note: since then, much blood has been shed and are yet to see what the political costs for the military government will be].

• A probable first in history of anthro: U.S. President fist-bumps anthropologist

While on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, according to the Boston Globe, U.S. President Obama played golf with World Bank President Jim Kim.

[Blogger’s note: Jim Kim, as most aw readers know, is not only the president of the World Bank but also a medical anthropologist, doctor, health advocate, and former university president].

President Barack Obama and World Bank President Jim Kim
President Barack Obama and World Bank President Jim Kim playing golf on Aug. 14, 2013. Darlene Superville/Associated Press

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Anthro in the news 4/29/13

• On Russian distrust of U.S. missile plan

Press TV interviewed William Beeman, a professor of cultural and linguistic anthropology at the University of Minnesota, about U.S.-Russia relations especially in terms of Washington and NATO’s new plans to build an anti-missile system around Western Europe.

NATO missiles
U.S. and NATO Patriot missile deployment to Turkey. Flickr/Staff Sgt. Daniel Owen

In response to a question about American plans to strengthen military bases in Alaska, Beeman replied, “This is an old, old story. The United States tried to establish missiles in Eastern Europe, supposedly in the Czech Republic, I believe, in order to defend against the attacks, as they said, from Iran. Now we are talking about North Korea.

“So the difficulty of course for Russia is that Russia wants to make sure that these missiles would not ever be deployed against Russia, and I can tell you that Russia borders both on Iran and on North Korea. So it is very hard for the United States to guarantee the Russians in any satisfactory way that these missiles would never be used against Russian territories, and I can really understand the Russians’ trepidation about this.”

• Christian belief, practice, and mental health

When God Talks Back by T.M. Luhrmann
Credit: Random House

The Deseret News of Salt Lake City carried an opinion piece in response to a recent New York Times column by Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann, where she says that the reason is not entirely clear why church attendance “boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life.”

She speculates that it is the social support of a congregation and the healthy habits of churchgoers. In clinical terms, she explains how someone can experience a God they can’t see and she observes, “those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale.”

Luhrmann is a professor of cultural anthropology at Stanford University and the author of When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.

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