The study of religion has long been practiced as a cross-culturally descriptive and comparative enterprise, looking for similarities and differences across groups and throughout history. While this aspect of the field is certainly important to us at Alabama we also think that the field can be far more than this. That’s why, whether in their classes or scholarship, our faculty draw upon the work of scholars from across disciplines to help us understand the similarities and differences that our comparative work makes evident. For we also assume that, whatever else others may claim religion to be, it is at least a series of human claims, acts, and organizations, that can be studied in the same fashion as the many other claims, acts, and organizations scholars routinely examine. We therefore tackle our work knowing that the collection of things that we commonly call religion are all human, making them social, historical, political, etc.
This approach to the field shaped the design of our MA, ensuring that one of its two foundations was an introduction for all students to recent and contemporary work in that broad field known today as social theory. REL 501 Social Theory and Religious Studies, required in a student’s first Fall semester, ensures that everyone in the program understands the wide array of scholarship on which they have to draw in doing their own work and shaping the thesis that they will eventually tackle. From historians and postcolonial writers to semioticians, feminist scholars, identity theorists, and post-structuralists, students will be familiar with using the work of people situated well outside our field, doing so in a manner that thickens and productively complicates their understanding of the peoples and artifacts they may be study in our program.