By Liz Bucar
You probably think you know cultural appropriation when you see it. Gwen Stefani’s bindi. Cultural appropriation. Native American headdresses at Coachella. Cultural appropriation. Almost anything the Kardashian’s say they invented. Cultural appropriation.
But for all our outrage over forms of cultural theft, as a scholar of religion I can’t help noticing that cases of appropriation of religion often fly under the radar. Have you ever heard someone accused of “religious appropriation”? I bet not because religious borrowing is accepted and even encouraged. In fact, the same people who are quick to call out cases of cultural borrowing as exploiting marginalized communities refuse to recognize that religious communities or practitioners can also be exploited when others adopt their practices in the name of politics, education, or well-being. And I think that is a problem.
I wrote a whole book about this topic, called Stealing My Religion, that focuses on cases when individuals adopt religious practices without committing to religious doctrines, ethical values, systems of authority, or institutions. And I argue this exacerbates existing systems of structural injustice.
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