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Stealing My Religion: Not Just Any Cultural Appropriation

Regular price $ 27.95

by Liz Bucar

Harvard University Press

9/13/2022, hardcover

SKU: 9780674987036


From sneaker ads and the "solidarity hijab" to yoga classes and secular hikes along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, the essential guide to the murky ethics of religious appropriation.

We think we know cultural appropriation when we see it. Blackface or Native American headdresses as Halloween costumes--these clearly give offense. But what about Cardi B posing as the Hindu goddess Durga in a Reebok ad, AA's twelve-step invocation of God, or the earnest namaste you utter at the end of yoga class?

Liz Bucar unpacks the ethical dilemmas of a messy form of cultural appropriation: the borrowing of religious doctrines, rituals, and dress for political, economic, and therapeutic reasons. Does borrowing from another's religion harm believers? Who can consent to such borrowings? Bucar sees religion as an especially vexing arena for appropriation debates because faiths overlap and imitate each other and because diversity within religious groups scrambles our sense of who is an insider and who is not. Indeed, if we are to understand why some appropriations are insulting and others benign, we have to ask difficult philosophical questions about what religions really are.

Stealing My Religion guides us through three revealing case studies--the hijab as a feminist signal of Muslim allyship, a study abroad "pilgrimage" on the Camino de Santiago, and the commodification of yoga in the West. We see why the Vatican can't grant Rihanna permission to dress up as the pope, yet it's still okay to roll out our yoga mats. Reflecting on her own missteps, Bucar comes to a surprising conclusion: the way to avoid religious appropriation isn't to borrow less but to borrow more--to become deeply invested in learning the roots and diverse meanings of our enthusiasms.


"At a time when discussions about cultural appropriation too often feel overheated and imprecise, Liz Bucar points to a way forward by asking us to consider the stolen stuff of faith--religious ideas, practices, and objects repurposed by those outside the fold. But who owns religion? Who is outside and inside the fold? Bucar's sharp insights, shot through with humor and self-awareness, are exactly what we need the next time we reach over to borrow from someone else's religion for our own therapeutic, political, or educational needs." -- Gene Demby, cohost and correspondent for NPR's Code Switch

"With interpretive subtlety and ethical vision, Liz Bucar explores the moral risk of intercultural theft. Stealing My Religion is a powerful intervention by a leading scholar of religion into the illiberal results of everyday religious exploitation. Highly recommended." -- Kathryn Lofton, author of Consuming Religion

"When do religious borrowings cause harm? When do they function as meaningful exchanges? In this brilliant study, Liz Bucar skillfully wrestles with these difficult questions and brings race, religion, and commodification into conversation." -- Shenila Khoja-Moolji, author of Sovereign Attachments: Masculinity, Muslimness, and Affective Politics in Pakistan

About the Author:

Liz Bucar is a religious ethicist and author of the prizewinning Pious Fashion. Professor of Religion at Northeastern University, she is a certified Kripalu yoga teacher and leads a popular study abroad program along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.