In their efforts to apportion blame and channel retaliatory action in the post September 11 world, scholars and pundits alike have used a series of rhetorical techniques to great effect, manufacturing an image of Islam, the proverbial Other, that is highly conducive to the needs of liberal democracies but hardly a reflection of any one of the many 'authentic' Islams. This has largely been achieved by ignoring the many differences within the Islamic movement and asserting that social identities are based on a stable, uniform kernel that moves unchanged throughout history and across the globe. This inevitably results in caricatures that have many uses; in portraits of dissenting groups it tends towards demonization. In this wide-ranging essay--which considers a variety of discursive sites, from contemporary film and art to the War on Terror--a scholar of religion asks the reader to consider how the classifications we use to name and thereby negotiate our social worlds--foremost among them the classification "religion" itself--are implicitly political and are being wielded in the public arena to carry out generally undisclosed/under analyzed social work.
Russell T. McCutcheon is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. He is the author of The Discipline of Religion: Structure, Meaning, Rhetoric (2003), Critics Not Caretakers: Redescribing the Public Study of Religion (2001), and Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Notalgia (1997). Along with Willi Braun he edited the Guide to the Study of Religion (2000) and is the editor of The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion (1999).