Undergrad Research is on the Agenda

Join us tomorrow morning, Friday Feb. 22, for our 6th annual undergrad research symposium. It starts at 9 a.m. in room 205 of Gorgas Library (on the main floor). We have 6 students presenting their own original work (mentored by REL faculty), on two panels, and two of our M.A. students are presiding.

REL Contributes to Wabash Early Career Workshop

Last weekend, Prof. Steven Ramey braved the cold to meet five other scholars of religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, IN, an hour west of Indianapolis. The group bunkered down at the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion while they planned a workshop series for professors who teach undergraduates.

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REL Grad Hosts Career Workshop

Last week, Khara Cole, who graduated from UA with a degree in Public Relations and Religious Studies in 2013, lead current students in a career workshop. The casual meeting launched last year as an RSSA initiative and continued this year (organized by Prof. Vaia Touna). The presentation covered everything from resume structure to LinkedIn formatting, and even nonverbal communication during interviews.

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6th Annual Undergrad Research Symposium

REL is again hosting its undergrad research symposium, held this year in
Gorgas Library 205, so there’s plenty of room to join us and hear some of the research that our students have been doing.

It starts at 9:00 am Friday, February 22. There will be two panels (9-10 and 10:15-11:15), both of which are chaired by M.A. students in the Departments.
And Prof. Crews is our host.

Pictured above: the 5th annual event, held at the University Club in Spring 2018


Culture on the Edge: An Origin Story

Last week, Professors Steven Ramey and Vaia Touna sat down to discuss their involvement with the Culture on the Edge research group and blog, along with their two book series. Though the discussion was intended to focus on Prof. Touna’s recent addition to the published series, it naturally led to a conversation on the implications of fabricating origins and identity.

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New Hire in REL at UA

The Department of Religious Studies, in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Alabama, is very pleased to announce the hire of Dr. Edith Szanto. She begins at UA in the Fall semester of 2019, as a tenure-track Assistant Professor, with expertise in the area of social theory of Islam.

Dr. Szanto has been teaching in the Social Sciences Department at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, since 2011. She received her M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 and her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Toronto in 2012.  She has extensive international experience and works on questions relating to bodies, violence, politics, and Islam in Syria and Iraq.  She has also worked on Twelver Shi’i women’s seminaries, self-flagellation rituals, ecstatic Sufi practices, spiritual healing, and Middle Eastern television. Most recently, she has been studying religious reactions to ISIS in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Dr. Szanto will be teaching REL 236 in the Fall, our Core Curriculum intro course on Islam, and will be available to supervise M.A. students interested in using the study of Islam as a site to explore the application of social theory in the study of religion. She will also be assisting with the development of cross-disciplinary Mid-East Studies at UA.

We are very pleased to be adding Dr. Szanto to the faculty.

Honors Day 2019 Recipients Announced

Letters went out a week ago so it’s time to make some public announcements concerning those students receiving awards at our Honors Day celebrations this coming April.

So we’re very pleased to announce that 16 REL majors and/or Judaic Studies minors are receiving this year’s Silverstein Scholars award, recognizing their accomplishment in our classes. Find their names at the award link.

Three B.A. students will share the award for the Outstanding Student in the Academic Study of Religion, recognizing their overall contributions to the Department.

And two graduating M.A. students will each share this year’s Goodwyn award.

All presentations (along with a few surprises) will be made at the annual REL ceremony, on our balcony on Honors Day (Friday, April 5), beginning around noon (or immediately following the conclusion of the A&S ceremony); as always, we’ll have some good food, a few speeches, and we’re hoping to see our alums as well as all majors and minors in the Department.

The A&S grad event is Monday April 1 @ 4 pm in the Moody Music Hall Recital Hall (where Prof. Simmons will make a presentation to our Goodwyn recipients) and the A&S undergrad event is Friday April 5 @ 10 am in the main concert hall of Moody Music Hall (where Prof. Altman will recognize our three Outstanding Student award winners).

Congratulations to everyone!

The Sympathetic Magic of Advertising

There was a time, a hundred or more years ago, when scholars regularly used this term “sympathetic magic” to name the process by which one thing was thought to affect something else — but doing so not by means of the cause/effect relationships we usually take for granted. If, for example, I rub this stone in just this way then something will happen over there to that mountain, or if I treat this lock of hair in some fashion then the person from whom it came will be similarly effected. That this term was associated with efforts to talk about what was once called magic, in distinction from what was then known as religion, should be obvious. Continue reading

Pssst! Check this Out: School’s in for Summer!

a street in Bologna Italy

Parker Evans graduated from REL with a BA, in the Spring of 2018, and is currently working on his MA in Gender and Race Studies, here at UA

Coming up on a year ago, shortly after the Department’s Honors Research Symposium, I applied for a couple of summer programs in Europe at the suggestion of Dr. Loewen. He and I had a short conversation in which I told him I was planning on taking a tour of Europe following my graduation. He told me about his experience at UCSIA to let me in on a secret: programs called “summer school” take place all around the world for a concentrated study of specific topics. Several take place in Europe (Hint: in New Zealand and Australia, they are called winter school; e.g. the Center for Humanities Research)

A hallway in Bologna ItalyI quickly did some research and found a few that piqued my interest. I used terms such as philosophy, theory, religion, and political science to find programs of interest to me. I even found a site that did some of the searching for me. I ended up applying to two: the Summer School in Global Studies and Critical Theory in Bologna, Italy; the other was hosted by the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands. I was rejected from the former and accepted to the latter, but I decided to have my cake and eat a little piece of it too.

I couldn’t attend the classes in the Bologna summer school, whose topic last summer was the question of humanism, but I could still attend the public lectures. So I started my travels off in Bologna in order to catch the lecture of Amitav Ghosh, a prominent Indian author of fiction. He was among an exciting roster of other outstanding thinkers and writers at the program last summer, among them Achille Mbembe and Paul Gilroy, as well as Judith Butler in the 2017 program.

The point here is not that I missed the opportunity to be in a classroom with these thinkers but that the opportunity is there, hidden away.

And while my professors in the Groningen program did not have the same “star power” as those in Bologna, our class was perhaps all the more productive for it. My experience of the program in Groningen, which was a survey of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, was a very intimate one.

While the prospect of going back to school during the summer, for no official university credit, may seem like academic masochism, it was a deeply rewarding experience. For the cost of about $350 dollars, we were put up in dorms and fed lunch each day. Considering the weekly cost of regular travel, that’s not a bad deal at all. The program lasted for five days (plus dinner and a city tour the preceding weekend), which turned out to be plenty of time to form sincere friendships with my classmates. The makeup of the program was relaxed enough that it comfortably included students from the undergraduate level to doctoral candidates. Most of them were from European countries, although China, Australia, and the United States (not including myself) were also represented.

students on a canal boat in Gronigen NetherlandsAfter graduating from UA, going straight into summer school made academia exciting in a way I had not experienced before. I had discussions in groups of people who spoke at least five different first languages, who had various nationalities and who articulated a variety of academic interests and applications. To facilitate dialogue across these differences, the classes were conducted in English (Two of the German students even spoke to each other in English so as not to alienate others). Most of the students stayed in the dorms provided by the University of Groningen (a welcome respite from the hostels I was used to). The common living space was especially nice because it gave us the time to discuss the authors we were reading outside of the more structured setting of the classroom. It would not be a stretch for me to suggest that these informal conversations were the most valuable part of the program. Not only were our particular conversations profound, but those conversations cemented the connections among us.

The secret within the secret of the summer schools is that, while the classes themselves are enjoyable, the programs themselves are wonderful points of communication and networking. This is not “networking” in the dry, business sense of knowing who to call for favors.

Rather, I have realized how I am being able to place myself as a scholar within a larger, international community of thought.

Almost all of my former classmates and I are friends on social media, and we get to peek into each other’s lives and academic developments. Being able to see myself within that community has been invaluable. If they are able, I would suggest that anyone heading into an academic career seek out their own respective communities through summer schools.

Majors Fair

REL faculty and students will again be attending UA’s annual Majors Fair — this year on Valentines Day. If you’ve got questions about the study of religion or Judaic Studies, drop by — and if you’re a current student we’d love to see you stay for a while and help answer some questions.

Where and when is it, you ask…?