REL Adds a New Faculty Member

Lauren Horn Griffin

The Department of Religious Studies is very pleased to announce that Dr. Lauren Horn Griffin is joining the faculty, as a full-time renewable Instructor, for the start of the Fall 2020 semester.

Earning her Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2016, Lauren has worked full-time at the University of Oklahoma since 2016, as a digital learning designer in their Office of Digital Learning while also being a regular lecturer in their Department of Religious Studies. Her research interests include the study of saints and other authoritative figures in Roman Catholic communities and the role they play in the creation of national, ethnic, and cultural identity. Combining this with an expertise in digital humanities, her current research focuses on Catholic material culture in digital spaces, specifically how Catholic history is constructed on social media.

In the Fall 2020 semester Lauren will be teaching REL 105 Honors Introduction to the Study of Religion in the Fall as well as REL 310 REL Goes to the Movies, our regular one credit evening course (repeatable up to three times).

We’re very pleased to have Lauren join the faculty and excited by how her expertise enhances REL’s strength in the study of identity as well as its initiative in the digital humanities.

Because REL was authorized to make this hire at a rather late date,
Lauren will begin her appointment working remotely and so we
look forward to when she is able to join us in Tuscaloosa.

REL Update: Starting the New Fall Semester

UA graphic listing tips for staying healthy during the Fall semester

In mid-June we posted an update about the upcoming Fall classes but with the semester’s start now just two weeks away, it’s time for another update on some specific changes to REL classes.

So while we certainly leave major details about re-entry to the University to communicate to students, staff, and faculty (with information found at UA’s health info site, concerning such things as the required COVID-19 testing, new conduct rules, and the required health check every three days [which requires your Bama credentials and a cell phone number]), there’s some details about REL that we’ll convey here. Continue reading

Studying Undertakerness and Religion

The Undertaker in the wrestlin ring, kneeling.

Christopher Hurt is an REL alum who works in tech in Los Angeles. He is best known for his work with the rock ‘n’ roll group, Jamestown Pagans.

Without a doubt my favorite professional wrestler has always been, and will always be, The Undertaker. The Undertaker is a character performed by Mark William Calaway in World Wrestling Entertainment (back in my day it was WWF). Recently the WWE released a documentary chronicling the 30 year career (and retirement) of Calaway. It got me thinking about studying religion.

There are quite a few videos out there that go through the major story arcs, rivalries, and matches that make The Undertaker’s career unrivaled. For example, see this video for context to this article:

Continue reading

Our Actions Have Implications

University of Alabama sign on the need to wear a face mas.

We’ve been getting some inquiries from friends around the country who have seen news reports on so-called COVID-19 parties hosted by some students in Tuscaloosa (as well as elsewhere in the country, according to reports). The local Fire Department’s Chief reported this to the city council the other day but now we see that it has made the national news — such as this report from yesterday morning: Continue reading

The Religious is the Political

President Donad Trump posing with a Bible after protestors were cleared from the park

Savannah H. Finver is a recent graduate of U.A.’s Master of Arts in Religion in Culture program. Beginning in the Fall of 2020, she will be pursuing her Ph.D. at Ohio State University in Comparative Studies. Her interests lie in discourses on religion as they appear in U.S. law and politics, especially as they pertain to the assignment of civil rights and legal privileges.

Regardless of what platform you use to get your news, you likely saw a photo circulating in the early days of June like the one above of President Donald Trump holding up a bible in what many have decried as an irreverent fashion in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. The President’s photo op unleashed a whirlwind of controversy for several reasons, including that he reportedly used police and National Guard troops to clear the area of demonstrators peacefully protesting police brutality and the death (though some would prefer the term murder—after all, the two terms place the onus of responsibility on different subjects, with important legal implications) of George Floyd. Likely due to the civil unrest that has been so prominent throughout the U.S. in the past few months, the photo also prompted backlash from religious practitioners, clergy, and institutions who insisted that Trump was using the bible and St. John’s Church—objects traditionally associated with religion—for a political stunt. Continue reading

Fall Update: Changes to Courses

Books and a Department of Religious Studies mug in a library

As noted in the previous update on the Fall semester, being nimble and adaptable to changing circumstances is among the key skills students need for success this Fall, whatever university they’re attending; after all, COVID-19 continues to present very real challenges in many U.S. states, let alone countries around the world, significantly affecting the well-being of some age groups as well as people with certain risk factors; in response, such new policies as regular use of masks in classes and decreased seating capacity in lectures halls and labs due to physical distancing guidelines developed by the UA System and the University itself (see the Academic Affairs portion of UA’s now-released guidelines) mean that a number of adjustments are now being made to ensure successful Fall classes. After all, if you’re familiar with the seating pattern in a typical classroom at any university, maintaining the mandated 6 feet of distance from the instructor or from the nearest student (something that will be indicated with lines on classrooms’ floors and with seats marked so as not to be occupied) means that a room will now only seat a small portion of those enrolled in the courses. Continue reading

Update on REL’s Fall Planning

Sample image from self-reporting healthcheck app.

In early June we posted an update so that everyone knew that REL’s plan for a safe and productive Fall semester was the main thing now occupying our attention. With the UA System’s recent release of it’s plan for Fall, complete with a variety of recommendations for each of UA’s three campuses, we feel that the time is right to update everyone again on what the Fall in REL may look like. Continue reading

UA Trustees To Study Building Names

Picture of the name of Manly Hall, inscribed about the front door

If you’ve been following the news then you likely saw that three historic plaques honoring UA’s contributions to the Confederacy, each put up around the time of WWI, were removed just the other day, along with the large boulder in front of Gorgas Library that served as one of those plaques’ homes.

For those who never read them, the plaque formerly on that boulder, funded in 1914 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, read as follows (source: al.com): Continue reading

Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 4

Historical photo of Emmett Till alive and then in his coffin after being murdered, terribly disfigured.

Vincent D. Jennings graduated in May 2020 from the University of Alabama with a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology. In the Fall of 2019 he began an in-depth study on America’s history of racial violence as part an independent study course with REL’s Prof. Theodore Trost — which culminated in this four-part series.

With the evolution of slavery in mind, consider a recent movie entitled “Just Mercy,” which chronicles the fight of the Equal Justice Initiative to defend wrongly convicted inmates condemned to death row in Alabama.

A memorable line from that film regarding an African American who was facing the death penalty was: “No matter what you call it, it’s just another way to lynch a black man.”  This line speaks to the more widespread concern regarding how the death penalty is being used to perpetuate excess violence against African Americans. Continue reading

Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 3

Historical photo of two African Americans lynched from trees with a large crowd of whites gathered to watch.

Vincent D. Jennings graduated in May 2020 from the University of Alabama with a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology. In the Fall of 2019 he began an in-depth study on America’s history of racial violence as part an independent study course with REL’s Prof. Theodore Trost — which culminated in this four-part series.

Of all the violations deemed worthy of lynching an African American, no offense or accusation stirred the level of vitriol and incited the level of violence more than the suggestion of sexual contact between a black man and a white woman. It required little more than a rumor based upon a whisper against a black for the result to end in a lynching. The trope of the lascivious hyper-sexual black male served as the basis for the most incorrigible acts of “retribution.” Sexual contact between a black male and a white woman (occasionally real, but usually imagined) often involved as little as a black man accused of failing to keep his eyes on the ground in the presence of a white woman. For the lynching era emerged on the scene at the same time that Jim Crow and racial integrity laws prohibited social interactions between people of different races. The fact that the violations were always perceived to occur in relations between black men and white women (but seldom between white men and black women) speaks to how “this trope regarding the hyper-sexuality of black men especially vis-a-vis the inviolable chastity of white women, was and remains one of the most enduring tropes of white supremacy” (Lartey & Morris, 2018). Continue reading