Book Review — Hair

Hair by Scott Lowe

Hair by Scott Lowe is another in the Bloomsbury series on common items in everyday life. Lowe is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, USA, and Co-General Editor of Nova Religio.

Humans have hair. It is a trait we share with all mammals along with live birth and lactation. The amount of hair varies and the “acceptable” hair varies with culture and time. Long hair on males has come and gone. I remember being chastised by the head football coach for being a “hair god” along with the other males with long hair. This was in 1980. After than I spent almost a decade with a Marine Corps high and tight. Currently, I haven’t had a haircut in a decade. Lowe points out that hair follicles have a limited life and produces hair length of about 18 inches on average. Perfect for me. A self-maintaining hair length.

Lowe looks at hair through a religious lens since that is his background. My old comment to the nuns “But, Jesus had long hair.” turns out is likely untrue. It seems that shorter hair on men was common. Perhaps the constant warfare and not wanting to give the enemy something to grab may have been part of it. When the Manchu conquered parts of China it required all people to adopt the Manchu hairstyle under the penalty of death. The front part of the head was shaved but a long ponytail in the back. Perhaps the most radical mullet of all time. In colonial America, Quakers refused to remove their hats before the Puritan governor. Several were put to death for failure to obey until the king intervened. The Quakers took their orders from the Bible. God was to see their bare head, not man. I remember Catholic church in the 1970s — Men removed their hats and women covered their heads with scarves or babushkas.

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head” (1 Cor. 1:3-6)

Odd too that we live in a country or culture where we criticize the Hijab. There is no public concern about the Amish women keeping their head covered for religious reasons. The Amish and Islam share another similarity — Facial hair. Beards are a must for men and moustaches are trimmed in Islam or shaved away on Amish males. The moustache is a symbol of the military and the Amish are pacifists. Other religions and cultures are covered too in both the East and West.

Lowe examines hair biologically, historically, and culturally. From fascination of Blonde hair and fear of red hair to the long, short, and style of it all. A well written and researched book on a subject that is so common but has even resulted in death. The hair over our bodies as well as our head is also discussed from the perspective of history and cultures. A fascinating look into the ordinary.

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