Liz Bucar, Stealing My Religion: Not Just Any Cultural Appropriation (Harvard, 2022).
Liz Bucar’s Stealing My Religion is a humble, open-hearted, scholarly examination of the ethics of appropriating the religion of others. I say that because this is not a book where you will find Bucar demonizing other people nor will you find an apology for why anyone, anywhere should be able to practice whatever element of whatever religion they want. Instead, you will find a sincere attempt to navigate between these two poles, with Bucar using her own pedagogical practices as a case study for one of the chapters, and transparently questioning herself and thinking out loud about taking students to Spain to participate in Camino de Santiago de Compostela, even when they are not Catholic, or even religious at all. Her other case studies—non-Muslims wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslim women and people practicing yoga divorced from its Indian spiritual roots—are both thought-provoking.
It is fair to say that for Bucar, not all borrowing is the same. Her presentation shows that appropriating religious practices can be far more ethically ambiguous than say appropriating something that has to do with another race. And some religious appropriation, e.g. wearing the hijab, seems to be more problematic than others, e.g. practicing yoga for its health and psychological benefits. The key point is that we should be careful when engaging the religion of others when we do not intend on becoming part of the communities and histories that gave us this or that belief or practice. If this ethical engagement with religions that are not your own is a concern to you, then I highly recommend this book as a thought partner.
4 Replies to “A Short Note on Liz Bucar’s Stealing My Religion”
Good to hear this kind of book is out there, and contemporary. I do believe we should be cautious and respectful when engaging with or appropriating any practices or other elements of a given religion.
But it IS complicated in that many aspects are universal “truths” or may not be specifically religious though developed more highly or applied more systematically in a given religion…. a key example being breath-work in Hinduism/Buddhism. (Many Westerners ignore the value of focusing on one’s breathing at some length, but have no problem with the idea of “take a deep breath” or “count to ten”, which encourages slower breathing as well.
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Oh… my other thought is that this issue, as a problem in some cases is far from new. As long as religions have been practiced, it appears, there has been cross-pollination, or “appropriation”, or the mixing often called syncretism.
For Jews and Christians, just look carefully at the quasi-historical and prophetic sections of the Hebrew Bible. It’s just the nature of cultures adjacent to or overlapping one another. And similarly but more widespread in the “information age”.
I would say that Bucar does a good job of recognizing that religion is unique in this regard and that borrowing is inevitable and not necessarily wrong. Her book focuses more on exploring how borrowing might be ethical or unethical, seeing appropriation not as a clear, black-and-white matter but a very complicated one.
Thanks. Sounds good. I hope it gets broadly read and is influential.