Introducing the Foxy Folklorist Blog

Introducing the Foxy Folklorist Blog March 18, 2016
Photo by James Moriarty
Photo by James Moriarty

Unless you already follow me on Twitter (@foxyfolklorist), you’re probably wondering… what the heck is a foxy folklorist?

Maybe a kitsune came to mind, or maybe you thought of the trickster foxes of European folktales, or the trickster fox’s more recent filmic incarnation The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I do like to think of myself as participating in the long tradition of tricksters cleverly upsetting the status quo, and one of the topics I’ll explore in this blog post is the relationship between folklore and power.

While these tricksy associations resonate with what I’m doing now in my non-traditional career, when I came up with this name, I wanted it to be a tongue-in-cheek take on the fact that I’m a professional folklorist, but I also study gender and sexuality. I might even – gasp – have a gender and sexuality of my own. I know, it’s racy for academics to admit to inhabiting physical bodies with social identities.

In my next few posts, I’ll describe why it’s important for Patheos to have a folklore blogger, and why I’m a good fit for the atheist channel, but for now I’ll say a bit about my academic background and why I blog about folklore, culture, and sex.

I attended UC Berkeley for my undergrad, intending to major in history or something related, so that I could become a writer. Instead, I got bit by the folklore bug. My first semester, I took intro to cultural anthropology, intro to linguistics, intro to religious studies, and a freshman seminar on fairy tales…and I realized that I wanted to study all those things, which is basically what folklore is, as the study of expressive culture. Then I started to study under Alan Dundes, famed folklorist, and I decided to get a PhD in folklore.

That brought me to Indiana University, where I earned my MA and PhD. My MA was on interpretive approaches to father-daughter incest fairy tales (you can read a version of it here), and my dissertation was on gender and the body in European fairy tales (I’ve blogged about it here, and there’s a revised chapter available to read here). I’ve also done fieldwork on contemporary belly dance in America (read my article about numinous/spiritual dance experiences here). I study body art, feminism, queer theory, narrative theory, gender and sexuality, the history of sex education, and… stuff. Basically, I study people doing creative things in various cultural contexts.

What really grabbed my attention about folklore is the fact that it’s a form of culture that is non-institutional and endlessly varied. In short, I’ll never be bored. But more to the point, I get to study people’s engagement with tradition. Tradition is dynamic rather than static, and tradition is always about power, even if it’s in subtle ways: who has the power to perform a given tradition, transmit it, or even subvert it? While we ask these questions of everything from mundane stuff like family dinners up through festive occasions, we’re getting at the same cultural dynamics, and asking similar questions of who has agency, which identities are suppressed vs. celebrated, and so on. Basically, I get to professionally investigate who has the right to tell their story, using which language, foregrounding which identities. It’s good work to engage in… and I try to maintain a sense of humor (perhaps even snark) while doing so.

In addition to writing academic articles, I’ve enjoying blogging for over five years now. I’ve done most of my blogging at jeanajorgensen.com (which is now archived here), and I also blog about sex education topics at doctorjeana.com. So I’m not new to blogging, but I’m quite excited to now be blogging at Patheos, where I can contribute to the nuanced conversation happening around culture, belief, and power!

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  • Aloha

    Sounds like a nice blog … I’m looking forward to it.

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      Thank you!

  • rascal barquecat

    Interesting ideas (goes off to read links included in article.)
    OH, nearly forgot, welcome to Patheos!

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      Thanks! I’m excited to be here.

  • Clancy

    Thanks for the flashback! When I saw “Foxy Folklorist” my memory immediately flashed to a comic book by half-brother sent me from Japan in the 1950’s. The story, I later learned, was “Bunbuku Chagama”, but I remembered the drawings of a fox (I thought) turning into a teakettle, then growing legs and walking a tightrope.

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      That sounds like a fascinating manga!

  • Sophia Sadek

    I look forward to your blog. I spent some time decoding the symbols in the Grimm’s collection, so I have familiarity with the topic.

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      This sounds fascinating! I’m curious what kind of symbolic approach you took…

      • Sophia Sadek

        There are objects that show up in multiple stories, such as a golden ball. The golden ball also shows up in medieval art as a symbol of state power. Alchemy associates gold with the Sun. I presume the golden ball represents the cult of Sol Invictus.

        I also looked at common features of different stories. For example, there are many stories with a character named John (Johannes, Hans, Hansel). These stories have fascinating similarities and differences. One of the more interesting pairs of stories feature a Hans and a Greta character. They appear to be from opposites sides of the orthodox/heterodox divide.

        • Jeana Jorgensen

          The golden ball as sun sounds reminiscent of the solar mythology school of interpreting folklore (as a primitive way of conceiving of cosmological phenomena in coded ways). It’s largely fallen out of favor, but I think it still resonates with folks, and for good reason…

          • Sophia Sadek

            The cult of Sol Invictus was an earthly political phenomenon that could be considered to exist in the cult of Rome. People who interpreted it as a cosmological phenomenon were looking in the wrong place.

  • Jonathan Roth

    Well this blog sounds right up my alley. 🙂 Looking forward to your posts!

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      Great, thank you!

  • Robert Baden

    Ha! Another dancer!
    Some eastern European song lyrics can be quite interesting………

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      Oh, I’m quite sure! I’ve seen other belly dancers talk about the importance of translating lyrics when songs are in Arabic (because of how it’d be impolite to dance to songs that are religious in nature without knowing it), but I don’t see as many dialogue relating to Eastern European songs. Then again, I speak a little Russian, so that perhaps wouldn’t be the biggest hurdle for me…

      • Robert Baden

        I rely on translations from folk dancers who are more into the individual cultures. I can pick out a word or two, but wouldn’t be able to translate any myself.
        I can mumble in half a dozen different languages, however.