Friday, June 10, 2011

Book: Toying with God by Nikki Bado-Fralick and Rebecca Sachs Norris

Nikki Bado-Fralick and Rebecca Sachs Norris. Toying with God. The World of Religious Games and Dolls. Baylor University Press. Waco, Texas, 2010.

While searching the internet for blog inspiration I came across this book, Toying with God, by Nikki Bado-Fralick and Rebecca Sachs Norris. Immediately I knew I had to have it! My birthday was coming up so I sent my sister on a mission and she got it for me. Thanks sis!
To be honest, what I didn’t expect was an academic book. But it is. I don’t know why but I expected it to be a tongue-in-cheek journalistic journey through the wonderful world of religious entertainment. Probably the topic just put me on the wrong track. In fact the authors themselves point out this tendency to underestimate the topic when they say that “when we started to research this book, we were told by many [...] that the study of religious games and dolls was not proper scholarship.” (p. xii) A prejudice I very much fight against yet still seem to hold myself. Nice glass of cold water in the face to begin with.
All the better for the academic character I’d say, since I like it best when a book cares to ask questions and seeks answers to those questions about the nature of what it is dealing with rather than to just give a freak show like overview of things that are out there. Yet, and this is turning into a bit of a mantra in all of my book reviews, it is at the same time a great source of inspiration. Lets get this out of the way first. Ladies and gentlemen, gather round and behold! The spectacular world of religious toys and games, such as Fulla the Muslim doll, Holy Huggables and Mormonopoly! You will not believe your eyes as you look up Yes ladies and gentlemen, even though it is a book with serious analytical aims, the material it analyses is just too juicy not to enjoy.
Now then, what about the analysis? First a word on method. I am not completely sure, but this book seems to be somewhat immersed in theory that aims to expose dualistic ideas that are taken for granted to be cultural agreements. This is not exactly my academic cup of tea. First because the factual basis for an analysis with such an aim usually tends to be suggestive, which makes the actual worth of it debatable. Second, and more importantly, because it can turn the cultural product that is under scrutiny into a political tool with which to prove a point. The political agenda then can take over and mute what is being examined. Colleen McDannell in her book Material Christianity carefully avoided this trap but Bado-Fralick & Sachs Norris seem to occasionally fall victim to it.
The authors take on different perspectives throughout the book. Sometimes they seem (pop)culturally pessimistic when they write for instance “[We agree] with Postman [who says] that the ability to think deeply and rationally about a subject is hampered by superficial education and media geared toward novelty and easily digestible sound bites.” (p. 28) At other times the authors take on a more relativistic perspective, when they state for example that  “Children seldom stick to scripted actions in play, no matter how solidly both they and the script are rooted in religious values.” (p. 54) The ambivalence of their judgements is actually enjoyable. It adds some depth to the book, something the authors themselves, along with Postman, might take as a compliment.
I just highlighted some of the themes the book touches on but it is far more rich. Perhaps this is simultaneously both its strength and weakness for although the depth is enjoyable, at times the matter seems to be buried under theory. Still I enjoyed the book very much, it encourages critical thinking about the subject, and the the fact alone that it showed me the way to the Noah and the whale bible toy will make me forever grateful.

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