University of Toronto Press Blog

  • An excerpt from 'Homophobia in the Hallways' by Tonya D. Callaghan

    On a cold day in March 2011, an inconspicuous, unremarkable group of students at St Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario, did something remarkable, something that, in their school – indeed in Catholic schools across Canada at the time – was unthinkable. They requested permission to establish a club, a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) club in their school. To the unenlightened eye, their action appeared small, routine even. It was a logical request for an in-school club whose focus would be to make the school a safe space for lgbtq students and their straight allies by raising awareness about, and so hopefully reducing, school-based homophobia. It was not even an original idea; GSAs had originated in the United States almost 25 years before. Unbeknown to these students, they would soon be taking on a significant battle for Canadian LGBTQ rights. Their actions set off a series of events that would reverberate across the country.

    The students quickly learned that St Joseph’s school was not ready for such a club. A maelstrom ensued. The students, led by 16-year-old Leanne Iskander, encountered strong opposition first from their principal and then from administrators at the district level. By June, they remained in a standoff. The students vowed to continue their fight in the next school term.

    The establishment of a GSA in a secular Canadian public school barely seems an issue worth noting, judging by the lack of media stories about such attempts. There is, in fact, no formal mechanism in place to ban GSA clubs in non-religious public schools. Starting a GSA club in a secular public school has often, though not always, proved no more controversial than setting up an anti-racism or debate club. Students who join a GSA in a non-religious school have the right to broadcast their club meeting schedule over the school’s public address system, actively solicit other students for their club using posters and other means, meet on school property, and name their club a GSA without any concern over the use of the word gay. Note that publicly funded separate Catholic schools are accountable to civil, not church, authorities. Religious bodies do not have a constitutional or legal interest in separate schools, and, as such, Canadian Catholic separate schools are not private or parochial schools as many are in other countries.

    In Canadian Catholic schools, such as St Joseph Secondary School in Mississauga, however – a publicly funded school, I must emphasize – Leanne Iskander and friends’ request to establish such a club was rejected outright more than once and caused serious alarm, not only for the administrators of St Joseph’s but also for its school district, the Ontario bishops, and the Ontario provincial government.

    The increasingly public battle between this particular group of students in St Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School and their Catholic school administrators is significant because it represents the growing discontent between publicly funded Canadian Catholic schools and Canadian society at large. In Canada, same-sex legal rights have been steadily advancing – in 2005 Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize marriage equality nationwide (Rayside, 2008) – and Canadian gay Pride parades regularly attract millions of tourist dollars. In the publicly funded Canadian Catholic school system, however, advances in same-sex legal rights have been virtually non-existent. When trying to determine how to manage the existence of lgbtq people (students, teachers, aids, and support staff included) in Canadian Catholic schools, Catholic education leaders turn to Catholic doctrine rather than to their legal authority – Canadian human rights law. Catholic doctrine describes “homosexual acts” as “acts of grave depravity” that are “intrinsically disordered” and count among the list of “sins gravely contrary to chastity” (cited in Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops [OCCB], 2004a, p. 53). Needless to say, relying on Catholic doctrine as a guide for curricular and policy decisions makes Canadian Catholic schools hotbeds for homophobia.

  • Horse Pills: A New Therapy for Those Suffering from PTSD

    Written by guest blogger, Ellen Kaye Gehrke.

    Happy Trails, photo of a man petting a horse

    Although we just had our paper published in the Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health, it really does not address the deepest issues around PTSD and what horses can do to instigate and sustain healing from trauma. We did capture some great quantitative information and demonstrated that the health of the Veterans substantially improved with exposure and connection to horses. We also were happy to discover the significance when we measured their positive affect as to how much more confident they were feeling about themselves. Those of us who regularly work with horses and have a philosophy of horse as partner already knew what we had to prove with evidence. The true benefit was witnessing the transformation of the Veterans as they safely, and in their own way, stripped away layer upon layer of pain, suffering, isolation, self-doubt, disconnection and silent suffering and were comforted and reinforced by their heart connection with their horses. The program was not just about riding- it was about feeling whole again with the help of horses and a genuinely caring group of wranglers, instructors, fellow veterans, and, of course, some amazing open hearted horses.

    We are writing another article that includes the qualitative results. Veterans kept a weekly journal answering specific questions about the topic of discovering and healing each week and wrote their thoughts, reflections and insights. These provided far more power to our research and allow us to dive deeper into how horses really do give the support and confidence for the journey back from some dark places Veterans go who are suffering from PTSD and TBI.

    One particular quote from a Veteran who had been contemplating suicide gave us the goose bumps when they wrote: “I look forward each week to being with (name of horse) than to being in heaven.”

    Stay tuned. We will be glad to answer any questions about the program and the results to the readers. Meanwhile we recommend Horse Pills over other medications for relief of PTSD.

    Happy Trails,
    Dr. Ellen Kaye Gehrke

    Ellen Kaye Gehrke, PhD, is the program director of the Masters of Science in Complementary and Integrative Health, and is a Professor of Health Sciences in the School of Health and Human Services, National University, San Diego, California. “Measuring the psychophysiological changes in combat Veterans participating in an equine therapy program” can be found in the latest issue of the completely open access Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health. Read it online here.

  • An excerpt from 'Prairie Fairies' by Valerie J. Korinek

    Prairie Fairies makes a contribution to a small but important literature analysing the history of gay liberationist activism in Canada and of the ways that Canadian activism was inspired by – and aware of – American developments, while differing from them in important ways.  Importantly, in a context where, as Miriam Smith has argued, the “national” movement was never more than a “set of loose networks … rather than a coherent actor,” local queer organizations were the source of most activities. The prairies thriving activist scenes, in Winnipeg and Saskatoon in particular, would play an important role in generating local activism and contributing to the “national” liberationist scene. Westerners played a more significant role than earlier pan-national works have acknowledged, including [the fact] that western activist groups hosted three of the eight national gay and lesbian conferences held between 1973 and 1980.

    Gay liberationist strategies and tactics continued to be articulated and used in the west well into the mid-1980s. At a time when many central Canadian organizations would shift to “rights talk” and legal “equality seeking” in the early to mid-1980s, westerners continued with various platforms of the liberationist strategies, including consciousness-raising, education, and human rights matters when they arose. Taking a historical, regional approach to gay and lesbian activism captures continuity and change, offers more perspective into social actors and local organizations, and deepens our knowledge of the breadth of regional queer political work. It was AIDS that changed the focus of western Canadian activist organizations, as well as activist migrations and burnout, not a shift to “rights” talk in the advent of the new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    By 1985, AIDS had arrived in all the prairie cities and this plague dramatically transformed the organizational, activist, and queer communities in the various cities, as attention turned from liberationist goals to medical advocacy and support. Hopefully, future historians will research and write that social history. The connections and debates fostered about health, politics, sexuality, and relations between lesbians and gay men post-AIDS offers another vantage point on questions about place, sexuality, and queer politics. AIDS conclusively ended any anachronistic or utopian notion that prairie cities were not home to sizable populations of lesbians and gays, or that LGBT residents would be content to be second-class citizens with respect to medical care, political representation, or basic human rights protections.

    From 1930 to 1985, Prairie Fairies demonstrates that queer people created communities; fostered social, educational and social service opportunities; and, indeed, created spaces for prairie residents to be gay or lesbian. People found pockets of urban spaces in which to be queer – this became a precursor to formal politics for some individuals, but also a way to assert a political identity in a place constantly trying to ignore, silence, or eradicate such differences. Putting the queer westerners back into the modern history of prairie cities and prairie societies reclaims important literal and historical space for prairie queer people, and moves them from the margins to the centre of the historical frame. From the 1930s through to the mid-1980s, queer westerners were part of vibrant queer and straight communities, and stories of these “mavericks” ironically fit beautifully within the prairie historiography at the very same time that their existence challenges everything we thought we knew about these provinces.

  • The History of Magic and Witchcraft

    To mark the publication of our new primary source collection, European Magic and Witchcraft: A Reader, author Martha Rampton provides some thoughts on how the book can be used in a course, the content and structure of the book, and the importance of studying magic as an integral part of human history and culture.

    “The History of Magic and Witchcraft” is a challenging course to teach. Over time I have found it necessary on the first day of the semester to remind students that it is a history class—in fact a history of religion in a sense, not a “how-to” seminar. I suggest that students drop the course if they are enrolled in order to conjure spells; but they rarely do, and inevitably mid-way through the semester, I hear: “When will we learn some magic?” “This class is all about religion,” or “When do we get to the witches?” So I produced a reader that satisfies everyone: those looking for incantations, those looking for werewolves, those looking for the horror of the macabre, and myself. Myself because my goal in European Magic and Witchcraft: A Reader is to reanimate a host of people and institutions locked in time. I have selected a wide-ranging assortment of source-types including hagiography, law codes, literature, court transcripts, scholarly treatises, grimoires, papal bulls, and witch-hunting manuals that allow readers to get as close as possible to the individuals that enliven the pages of the book: the people who used magic, condemned it, re-envisioned its purpose, and died because of it.

    In my view, a particular value of the book is that it is both non-linear and chronological—a seeming contradiction. By this I mean that when the readings are lined up chronologically, an interesting pattern emerges which demonstrates that at any given time there were diverse and clashing understandings of what magic meant or could do, depending on the community, institution, or individual under consideration. There is no straight trajectory from paganism, to romance, to learned magic, to witch-hunts, to skepticism. These constructs were co-temporal, intermingled, and each could appear in one context and disappear in another. From the earliest Christian centuries the capacity of the magic arts to carry off fantastic feats of revivification or transvection, for example, was contested. In the late medieval and early modern eras, diabolism, angelic magic, and Neoplatonic theurgy operated in European cultures side-by-side. Criticism of the judicial processes of witch prosecutions and suspicion from the medical profession are in evidence as early as the mid-sixteenth century when the witch hunts had barely begun, and this skepticism was voiced throughout the period of the witch trials. My chronological approach makes it clear that magic cannot be pinned down or neatly boxed and packaged; it was a mixed bag at any point on the historical continuum and for that reason is all the more intriguing.

    European Magic and Witchcraft is suitable for many audiences: scholars; teachers; students of history, English, anthropology, sociology, gender studies, and religious history; and the general public. The book is designed for the university classroom where it can be used at all levels across a variety of disciplines. Clearly the text is appropriate for courses on European magic, where it has an advantage over other primary source collections in that it covers the full spectrum of magic and witchcraft from late antiquity through the early modern period. The early Middle Ages is often given short shrift in the study of magic and treated as a seed-bed or precursor to subsequent developments; the same neglect is evident in regard to Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia. My collection examines early medieval and northern European magic in their own right. The book is also eminently usable for Western Civilization and general medieval and early modern courses. While the collection is primarily conceived as a history book, it draws on materials suitable to English, anthropology, religion, and sociology classrooms, demonstrating the interdisciplinarity of knowledge. A focus on the gendered nature of magic practices and witchcraft theory lend themselves to a gender studies curriculum. Every chapter ends with a handful of provocative questions that help the reader think about each text from multiple perspectives. Finally, European Magic and Witchcraft is simply a good read for anyone interested in the subject. The chapter introductions and background information contextualizing each individual reading give the book a narrative structure.

    As evidenced in popular literature, film, and college catalogues, interest in magic and witchcraft among students and the general public has mounted for several years, and for good reason. These topics shed light on popular and learned religion, heresy, folk medicine, rural culture, marginal populations, the development of intellectual/social constructs, juridical processes, and gender dynamics. Yet even given this, the academic study of magic has only recently been accepted as fully respectable. The history of the scholarship on magic is as interesting as magic itself.

    Nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century research evinced a fascination with late medieval demonology and paranoia about heresy. Scholars argued that the medieval church manufactured the stereotype of “the witch” and imposed it on a selected population that, brutalized by repression, torture, and threat of execution, confessed to heinous crimes and the sin of heresy, and that without the Catholic “creation” of Satan as the powerful counterpart to God, the witch trials would not have been possible. However, early-twentieth-century folklorist and anthropological findings revealed that many features of the European “witch” appear in cultures untouched by Christianity. Most of the ideas and practices attributed to European malefici are virtually ubiquitous. Some historians argued that medieval magic was the residuum of ancient Teutonic religions or an organic vestige of pre-historic, non-Christian fertility cults. Marxist writers viewed witchcraft as a form of political dissent, and some studies reveal that local populations took an aggressive stance on the village level against what they perceived as the very real threat of sorcery and did not depend on the Inquisition to define witchcraft for them. Whatever the particular angle, virtually all scholars now writing on the subject acknowledge that the broad concepts behind magic and witchcraft as played out in the medieval and early modern periods were not particular to Europe but were versions of phenomena commonly experienced by all peoples in some form. This perspective is crucial because it has sensitized scholars to the value of studying magic within networks of societal beliefs.

    Even though by the mid-twentieth century magic was understood as an integral component of human culture around the world, academia tended to view magical practices (and the study of them) as frivolous “oddities and superstitions,” “fantasies of mountain peasants,” “mental rubbish of peasant credulity and feminine hysteria” (Hugh Trevor-Roper, The European Witch Craze 9), or “a topic which most historians regard as peripheral, not to say bizarre” (Keith Thomas, “The Relevance of Social Anthropology” 47). Over the last four and a half decades as magic studies have proliferated, the reaction to the subject as an academic pursuit has changed. In 1998, Claire Fanger voiced an increasingly widespread attitude about the importance of magic by questioning scholars who minimalize it: “What precisely does it mean for a practice to be ‘marginal’ if it is widespread, if it is transmitted over several centuries, if textual evidence for it is relatively abundant,” especially given the fact that the relevant texts were forbidden, highly secret by their nature, and deliberately destroyed on a recurring basis (Conjuring Spirits x)? In short, magic is no longer a trivial subject on the edge of legitimate historical investigation, but is central to the story of human culture.

    Martha Rampton is Professor of History at Pacific University. She concentrates on the early medieval period with an emphasis on social history and the activities and roles of women. She is the founder and director of the Pacific University Center for Gender Equality.

  • Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food, Second Edition

    Feast on this! We have just published a gorgeous new edition of Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food, with a full-colour interior and a range of new features for students and instructors. In this blog post, the author, Gillian Crowther, provides background on how the book has changed from the first to the second edition and on some of the important issues raised in its pages. We highly recommend this book not only as a textbook but as a fascinating introduction to thinking about food and culture in very different ways!

    Over the last few years we have heard a lot about avocados; entertained the consumption of all things charcoal; experimented with chickpea pancakes and aquafaba; worried about palm oil, plastic packaging, weighed-up sugar taxes; warmed to the wonders of fermentation; watched hands-and-pans videos; and have learned (despite IKEA’s claim) that meatballs are actually Turkish! Each day brings a new food story, and the challenge for anyone teaching the anthropology of food is to provide an approach that can accommodate the dynamic nature of our collective food culture. The opportunity, then, to dish up another serving of Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food was enticing. It has allowed me to modify its recipe, mix in some new ingredients, and rearrange the existing core to improve the original textures and tastes, and to keep it relevant.

    The book still incorporates an emphasis on listening to public food discourses to understand local food culture—the nutritional, culinary, gastronomic, and sustainable meanings and values surrounding avocados, charcoal, and meatballs, for instance. The basic structure remains the same, moving from our nutrient needs, global patterns of food acquisition, cooking, and commensality, towards contemporary social, economic, and political realities. Ethnographic examples continue to explore the similarities and differences of our relationships with food, to address varied cosmological ideas and the identity-work of gender, age, class, and ethnicity, while considering the dynamics of power and authority manifest in the control of food. The materiality of food, and our embodied experiences of cooking and eating, are also persistent themes extending into the new edition.

    Each chapter, however, has been refined, and some substantially re-written, to more clearly address an anthropological framework for making sense of our global food system. More specifically, the discussion of the globalization of food production, distribution, and consumption has been reworked and updated. It now includes the work of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization to explore how top-down global models intersect with grassroots food security, sovereignty, and activism. Consequently, the global gastro-anomie chapter is now organized around specific food challenges—famine, climate change, and non-communicable diseases—and the gastro-politics of varied solutions concerning quantity, quality, and access to food are assessed. These serious realities are balanced by recognition of the satisfaction and pleasure that are gained from food, its creative potential, and its eminently social capacities. Each chapter is accompanied by some suggested further readings drawn from the work of current food scholars, which can be useful as course supplements or student assignments.

    The new edition remains structured around the conceptual frame of cuisine as a significant facet of everyday culture, deeply tied to personal and group identity, and memory-making. The book’s case studies, from Britain, Guatemala, France, India, and the United States, among other locales, serve to contextualize cuisines in the wider historical, social, economic, and political processes of everyday life. These model the questions food anthropologists pose and the sources of evidence studied, and serve as comparison points against which the reader’s own cuisine can be brought into focus. To facilitate a process of self-reflection, this edition includes new experiential learning assignments to accentuate the “guide” quality of the text. There are two types of practical exercises, which focus on specific foods and related fieldwork activities. These were designed to make classes interactive and to bring food into the room without the logistics of food safety! Each applies the frame of social anthropology to interrogate the values and meanings that shape everyday food activities, environmental and social relationships, and our sense of identity.

    “Pondering a Foodstuff” boxes focus on particular foods, ranging from raw ingredients such as sugar, fat, and meat, to specific cooked dishes like pies and chocolates, for instance. These are served as tastes of the research possibilities that surround any food and illustrate how embedded food is in the social fabric of any cultural context. Toward this end, the book moves Malinowski’s “imponderabilia of actual life” into the twenty-first century, making methodological use of the Instagram-able quality of food and our fondness for smartphone photography. The photographs, now in full colour, model the anthropological lens, framing our everyday food encounters as worthy of study. These practical boxes encourage photographic scavenger hunts, which sharpen observational skills, and prompt anthropological questions based on each chapter’s terms and themes. While images cannot replace the materiality of food, they certainly cut down on classroom messiness and foster productive chat-‘n-chew teachable moments. For instance, the images can facilitate an interrogation of a food’s material substance, allowing its objective, sensorially assessed physical properties to be recalled and considered as cues for handling, processing, cooking, and eating. A picture can easily trigger sensory memories and start the conversation about how meanings and values are assigned to food, transforming its properties into sought after or avoided qualities. Furthermore, the range of food images, from fruit to meat, opens the door to debates about health and ethical choices, the pleasures of gastronomy and commensality, and grave sustainability issues surrounding global food patterns.

    “Foodscape Grounded” boxes, on the other hand, provide specific, self-guided, out-and-about activities to bring another practical engagement with the book’s content. Included are an exploration of food labels, supermarket and farmer’s market fieldtrips, an assessment of food security using the four pillars approach, and a guide to restaurant reviews. These cultivate an awareness of the global food system’s reach, bringing home the global ramifications of our eating practices and directly tapping into students’ engagement with public food discourses as part of classroom discussions. Furthermore, the experiential activities are a powerful reminder of the important concept of embodiment, which is particularly relevant to the anthropology of food. For instance, cooking is an embodied skill, calling upon the cook to manipulate foods, to engage with its materiality, and to perform patterned tasks to make something to eat. The “Chaîne Opératoire” exercise asks for a step-by-step account of the bodily and cognitive skills and knowledge required to transform raw ingredients into a cooked dish. It makes apparent how culture is written into physical experiences, including the sensory engagement with food.

    As a teaching tool, Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food dishes up an anthropological perspective that invites students to apply its ideas through testing, sampling, and discussion, and to formulate an understanding of their local food culture. It encourages students to regard their recent food experiences as valuable, meaningful, relevant, and worthy—the stuff of anthropological research. It also emphasizes that wherever anthropologists conduct fieldwork, we engage with the everyday lives of ordinary people—just like our students, and their ideas, behaviours, and experiences are what constitute culture, everywhere.

    Gillian Crowther is Professor of Anthropology at Capilano University in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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