" The 1980s Action Hero and The Power Team: How Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rambo Reinvigorated Muscular Christianity"
In her book Hard Bodies, Susan Jeffords argues that the Hollywood masculinity of the Reagan era turned toward the hyper-masculinity of Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque bodies in order to reassert a strong national identity. In the paper, I argue that this elevation of a particular male body type did not escape the realm of religion. The Power Team is one example of evangelical Christian group that utilizes feats of strength and images of muscular bodies as prostyltizing tools. My paper will explore the relationship between mass-produced icons of masculinity such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rambo and the rise of feats of strength evangelism as demonstrated by the Power Team.
John Jacobs founded the Power Team in the late 1970s. They are a group of strong individuals, primarily men, who perform feats of strength as praise tools and as a mode of evangelical outreach. After each successful feat of strength, the leader connects the success of the attempt to faith in Jesus and the strength of God. The spectacle is continuously leading toward a culmination in an altar call and conversion opportunity.
This very overt linking of human strength and the power of God is not new. In fact, this sort of claim dates back to the 1850s and the rise of muscular Christianity in Great Britain. Certainly, the Power Team is indebted to this tradition, but also they are indebted to the Hollywood masculinity that was produced during their formative decade. The white male action hero becomes a prototype for a new sort of muscular Christianity, one based on enlarged muscles and spectacular feats of strength rather than the well-rounded athletic prowess that was espoused by the first generation of muscular Christians.
"From the Rainforest to Cyberspace: Ayahuasca Shamanism and the Western Imagination"
My paper is based on ethnographic data collected over a period of 18 months in Iquitos, Peru. The data was collected for my dissertation entitled "From Medicine Men to Day Trippers: shamanic tourism in Iquitos, Peru". During my fieldwork I worked with local shamans and westerners who participated in ceremonies that involved the consumption of the hallucinogenic drink ayahuasca. Ayahuasca, an Amazonian hallucinogen that has been used by indigenous people for thousands of years, has recently been appropriated by westerners in the context of tourism. I argue that this phenomenon is not something entirely new and that it is the continuation of a long lasting interest and fascination in the west on shamanism as well as hallucinogens – an interest that is not recreational but has spiritual overtones.
Combining historical evidence and ethnographic data on the motivations of westerners who pursue shamanic healing, I show that shamanism is often viewed as the healing force for bodily and mental disorders that stem from what is perceived as western culture's spiritual impoverishment. In relation to this, I discuss perceptions of healing that do not fit the western biomedical paradigm as well as ideas about the acquisition of knowledge - for example through visionary experiences. I examine how westerners manage to integrate – more or less successfully – their "shamanic" experiences to their everyday experience and to their existing worldview, creating new forms of spirituality.
Of course the commercialization of shamanism has been widely criticized. I briefly discuss the debate on the impact of western appropriation of indigenous knowledge and spirituality particularly Neo-shamanism and the New Age.
"Biblical Asanas - Market Sacralization and Religious Commodification"
A recent study by the Yoga Journal, an online and print yoga magazine, found that 16.5 million Americans or 7.5% of the population now practice yoga, which is "an increase of 5.6% from the prior year and 43% from 2002", and "almost one in seven non-practitioners, or about 25 million people, say they intend to try yoga within the next 12 months." Further this study finds that, Americans spend $2.95 billion a year on yoga classes and products".
The market is being saturated with a myriad of yoga products, and this is certain to increase as the practice of yoga increases. New yoga classes such as Christian yoga and Torah yoga are a 'testament' to how religious groups can be affected by market trends. Some synagogues are using yoga to entice people to observe the Sabbath, and Christian yoga classes are tailoring various asanas to Biblical scriptures. Is this a case of yoga becoming increasingly commodified, the market becoming gradually more sacralized? Several boundaries - between religions and between the sacred (yoga) and the profane (market) - are exposed, and perhaps we need to rethink certain categories in our understanding of religion, belief, practice and the market. This paper will examine these boundaries via the lens of contemporary yoga trends.
"Consuming the First Zen Patriarch in Contemporary South Korea"
Anyone who visits Korea soon encounters the representations of a certain Indian-looking old man with glaring eyes, beard and usually serious but at the same time very humorous appearance. This ugly-looking bearded man is called Bodhidharma and believed to be the founder of meditational (Son, or Chan or its more commonly known Japanese name, Zen) Buddhism, who went to China around the 6th century to propagate Buddhism.
His figure and his legend is usually represented in Buddhist temples, but as a recent phenomenon we can find his figure more and more often in secular and semi-secular context, such as in souvenir shops not only at the vicinity of temples but in other touristy areas and frequently visited places, like resting places near highways, or even in subway stations and in restaurants in South Korea. In popular women magazines and in the television we can often find advertisements for Bodhidharma-painters offering well-being for their customers.
I have spent several years of research with collecting textual and visual references concerning Bodhidharma in East Asian countries, where his figure appeared and venerated.
In my paper I would like to summarize and to draw attention to a current trend in South Korean visual arts and Buddhism when producing and distributing images of the first Zen patriarch is gaining momentum what we cannot ignore and should deal with it in the context of its inner developments and history as well as in context with other Asian countries.
"Soviet Film and the Melodramatic Modes of Iconoclasm"
This paper will consider the relationship between Russian film theory and Orthodox icon theory through a close reading of the visual shifts from Stalinist to post-Stalinist film melodrama, as the move from the 1930s visualization of the Stalinist master narrative to the 1950s visual return to a world of objects and a flirtation with the bounds of visual representation. The Stalinist melodrama naturalized filmic bodies to be stable, morally legible codes, the visual counterparts to Soviet doctrines, for its viewers. In contrast, the post-Stalinist melodrama created filmic bodies to exceed this natural correspondence to text and to speak beyond it to the private moral dilemmas of the audience in ways the dialogue could not. The excessive melodramatic performance of the 1950s became the text, and melodramatic bodies became sites for stretching the limits of visual legibility. The performativity and artifice of the bodies created new and multiple legibilities through excess, spectacle, and affect, echoing the highly stylized Orthodox icon and its veneration as excessive bodily presence in the context of the public liturgy. In this way, this paper will explore the ways that 1950s melodrama challenges the notion that Stalinist visual culture merely appropriated the Orthodox icon's form and function and discarded its content, suggesting instead that the Stalinist icon embodied an iconoclastic stance against the private exchange between image and viewer that is the other side of both icon veneration and melodramatic consumption. Soviet iconoclasm, in this case, was not the destruction or even the replacement of religious images but a technique for changing the relationship between image and viewer, preserving icons to change desire for them in a lasting way.
"Is the Hindu mythological film dead? A Quick Circumambulation of Indian Cinema"
In this paper I will examine the history of the Hindu mythological film in India from the birth of Indian cinema (1913) up to the eighties. I will do this by following the fate of the seminal story of the perfect king, devotee and Hindu hero Raja Hariscandra. Picked by Dadasaheb Phalke as the subject of the first Indian film, this silent feature launched an entire film genre in India known as "mythologicals". As a genre, mythologicals were closely allied to "devotional" films—both evidence of the vibrancy and popularity of religious themes in early Indian cinema. Raja Hariscandra was re-made for over 70 years and in virtually every South Asian vernacular, yet the popularity, commercial success and artistic quality of this representation of this myth declined proportionally.
What can we learn about media, mythology and the popular/ commercial representation of Hinduism from the many avatars of this one tale? What sort of communities or audiences do commercial and mass media versions of religious tales create? In this paper I will show that the initial success of this myth had as much to do with its close relation to national and political identity as it does with its appeal to religious sentiment. I argue that as this relation eroded, so did the vibrancy of this Hindu myth (along with other mythologicals/ devotionals). I will end with a brief survey of the resurgence of the mythological genre in TV in the eighties—the massive successes of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Once again, in my analysis I will show that the popularity of these deeply religious TV commercial epics is closely tied to political and national identity. I end by arguing that the mythological is not dead, but has been reborn in its TV avatar.