I recently wrote short reflection on Wild Wild Country for Christianity Today. There's only so much you can cover in a magazine article... I still have so many questions after watching this fascinating depiction of the events in my home state of Oregon! Here are a few: ***Fair warning: these are pretty nerdy. Definitely the kind that keep religion scholars up at night.*** What counts as "authentic" religion? Religion scholars problematize this term, but the town of Antelope, the State of Oregon, the federal government, and the followers of Bhagwan were very invested in whether or not Osho and his followers were participating in a really real religion. What constitutes appropriation? Westerners have long been accused of appropriating practices, philosophical ideas, etc. from the "mystic East." Are the large groups of white Americans and Europeans attracted to Rajneeshpuram part of the New Age appropriation of Indian practices? If not, how would we categorize Bhagwan's efforts to create a mash-up of asceticism
and materialism; “East” (defined in a number of ways in the film) meets “West”
(a term with many meanings and uses in the film); spiritual and carnal?
What makes American religion, American? Entrepreneurialism? Capitalism? Celebrity? Religion scholars often note that Americans are very enthusiastic religious innovators. Does Wild Wild Country show us anything about what makes for a successful or unsuccessful religious innovation? Does it show us anything about why Americans seem so attracted to new religious movements?
What are the limits of charismatic authority? Whether you consider the real charismatic leader to be Bhagwan or Sheela, there's no doubt that the two are using charisma as a source of authority... but what are the limits of that power? Sheela and Bhagwan both test the limits in their own ways until they eventually break.
How does space shape religion in the USA? The rugged landscape, culture, and politics of Central Oregon surely played a role in shaping the practices of the Rajneeshees. How does space continue to shape other groups, whether it be rural or urban, contemporary or colonial, large or small?
This is just a start! The fun of watching Wild Wild Country is that it invites so many layers of questions upon questions.
Academic reading is a specific skill. It's a lot different than savoring your favorite novel or poem. It requires speed, precision, and critical thinking. But, once you acquire this skill, you'll be well-equipped for life as a student. Need help learning how to read academically? My mentor Kathleen Flake has just the tips for you!
(printed with permission from Kathleen Flake)
Academic material is not meant to be read. It is meant to be
ransacked and pillaged for essential content. This means that you
should never just sit down to read academic works as if they were
novels or magazine articles. Academic study is not suited to such
an approach, and the chances are you could spend hours reading
and then not have a clue what you have been reading about
(does that sound familiar?).
Never read without specific questions you want the text to
answer. If you want your reading to stay in your memory, you
must approach your text with a list of questions about the
particular information you are after, and search the text for the
answers to those questions. Don't just read with the hope that an
answer will appear.
Never start reading at page 1 of the text. If there is a summary, a
conclusion, a set of sub-headings, or an abstract, read that first,
because it will give you a map of what the text contains. You can
then deal with the text structurally, looking for particular points,
not just reading ‘‘blind'' and so easily getting lost. Always keep in
mind what you need, what is relevant to the question you are
asking the text.
Think critically as you read. In reading academic texts you need to develop a personal (but nevertheless academic and rational)
response to the article/ theory/ chapter through
(1) developing an
understanding of the content and
(2) evaluating and critiquing the
article. Therefore, before reading a text closely, read the
introduction or abstract and skim read the text to give you a
preliminary idea of what it is about. Then read it closely and
critically. Some questions to help you read critically are:
a. What are the main points of this text?
b. Can you put them in your own words?
c. What sorts of examples are used? Are they useful?
Can you think of others?
d. What factors (ideas, people, things) have been
included? Can you think of anything that has been
e. Is a particular bias or framework apparent? Can you
tell what 'school of thought' the author belongs to?
f. Can you work out the steps of the argument being
presented? Do all the steps follow logically?
g. Could a different conclusion be drawn from the
argument being presented?
h. Are the main ideas in the text supported by reliable
evidence (well researched, non-emotive, logical)?
i. Do you agree or disagree with the author? Why?
j. What connections do you see between this and
k. Where does it differ from other texts on the same
l. What are the wider implications——for you, for the
Treat critical reading as a skill which can be developed through
practices, such as:
a. Taking notes of the text's main ideas and adding
your own responsive comments.
b. Talking to others about what you have read.
c. Relating a given text to others in the syllabus by
identifying similar or contrasting themes.
d. Explaining what the text means to a non-specialist
and noting what you would have to add to make it
intelligible? (This will help you to see the underlying,
e. Asking yourself: "Is it possible to disagree with any
f. Asking yourself: 'How can I convince my
peers/teachers that I understand what this is about?'