About ten years ago the Department came up with a motto: Studying Religion in Culture. The “in” was italicized to stress the point that, unlike the common “religion and culture” construction that we see all across the field, at the University of Alabama we did not conceive of these two as separate domains that, like billiard balls, sometimes bump into each other (and thus the task of the scholar is to tract the collisions). Instead, the domain we know as religion is but one part of wider historical, cultural practices and institutions (in fact, calling some part “religion” may itself be a local cultural practice!); thus, unlike a previous generation of religious studies scholars, who thought they needed special interpretive methods to study their special data, our object of study is open to examination by means of any of the tools scholars routinely use to study any other cultural practice. (Learn more about the motto here.)
This Fall semester, one of our students, Andie Alexander, has really run with this motto–that the seemingly special is in fact mundane but no less curious (a point made by Pierre Bourdieu toward the bottom of this post)–and produced a video of some of our majors who also happen to study other things as well.
Instead of portraying ourselves and our object of study as special, as unique, as privileged–as seen in that T-rex ad–maybe there’s something to be said for people in the Humanities to embrace our status as average, routine, and mundane. We are like you–we all study people and this things they left behind (whether architecture and rituals or theories about how things work).
As for us? We happen to study religion in culture…, all across culture, by the way.