No Chili Peppers

shotsfiredThere’s a bit of a controversy brewing in social media over a new review essay published in the our field’s main peer review periodical, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, on the book, On Teaching Religion, edited by Chris Lehrich and containing some of the writings on pedagogy by Jonathan Z. Smith.

The reviewer, a onetime student of Smith’s, reflects on her own experience in his classes, as an undergrad at the University of Chicago in the late-1990s, in order to identify the gaps (i.e., inconsistencies or maybe even contradictions) she now finds, looking back, between the teacher and the writer. Continue reading


ISRAEL-VATICAN-POPENote to self: if you’re going to spin tales of origin in the service of contemporary interests then be careful, for someone with different interests can always tweak what you’re trying to do, to suit their own purposes.

Case in point: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent effort to use an origins narrative to spin a tale of similarity quickly cut toward difference when the Pope corrected him on a detail, requiring some hasty fine tuning to get back to the original point…


Embedded in Religion

Rigoberta_Menchu_2009_croppedWhat ideological positions are embedded within the practices and conceptions that we commonly identify as religions? Depending on one’s own ideological position and perspective, various people emphasize the patriarchy, ethnocentrism, and violence within various examples of religion. People will certainly debate if those ideological positions are typical in expressions of religion or an accretion to some idealized form. What about common definitions of what counts as religion? What ideological positions are embedded there? In classes I often emphasize the ways that claiming “religion” becomes a way to establish special status for particular conceptions, symbols, or actions. You cannot use that image because it is religious. You cannot prohibit this action because it is religious. So, what counts as religious in a society makes a big difference. But our analysis should also extend to broader implications of definitions of religion and the ideological assumptions that they support. Continue reading

Rant, Screed, or Valid Critique?

The Study of JudaismDictionarily, the difference between a screed and a rant is the difference between written and oral discourse. What joins them together is a certain angry compulsion to “get the word out”, “wake up the lethargic” and/or, not without a certain brazenness, “right the wrong”. All-too-often, the words chosen are themselves hostile, and, rather than engaging the reader or listener, they serve to close the very doors they were originally intended, perhaps, to open.

Not so with Professor Aaron Hughes’s latest commentary on the, for him, sad state of Judaic Studies, my own subfield in the academic study of religion. Hughes, Ph.D. Indiana University and Philip S. Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Rochester, wrote a piece “Jewish Studies Is Too Jewish” in The Chronicle Review of The Chronicle of Higher Education on March 24, 2014, and which, in many ways, was an all-too-brief summary of his recent book The Study of Judaism: Authenticity, Identity, Scholarship (Albany: Suny Press, 2013; 1672 pages). Both the book and article have evoked fascinating responses from, among others, Michael Satlow (Brown University), and Zachary Braiterman (Syracuse University). More on this in a bit. Continue reading

Going Strong

Picture 3We established the REL blog two years ago this summer, originally linked to our 2012-13 lecture series on the relevance of the humanities (hence the theme of many of our early posts) but then widened the lens considerably last summer, developing a faculty blog along with one for current students, grads, and even for guests.

Overall, we’ve had 23,500 hits, with 599 being our best single day.

We’ll be posting from the archives throughout the summer, and publishing new content as well (like something from Prof. Jacobs this Monday morning). So we hope you continue to find the blog provocative of thought, as they say.

(Who “they” are we have no idea.)

It’s in the Record Books

yearendreportYes, the year-end report for 2013-14 has been written, proofed, and sent to the Dean. So it’s in the record books now.

It was another great year in REL: the newly inaugurated Day Lecture series; a new undergraduate research symposium established; new faculty members coming on board and even hired for the coming year; four grads returned to talk about the relevance of their degrees; the Manly Cup Kick-ball Megabowl…; more Vimeo videos featuring some wonderful students, both new and old; the Department blog has really taken off and now we’re on Twitter. (Join our Facebook page if you’re looking for pics…)

We hope the summer goes well for everyone and we’ll see you back in August — we’re already cooking up some plans for the new year…

Studying Religion and…

Wondering Where photo 2The third installment of our “Studying Religion and…” video series is ready to roll!

This album showcases the range of interests of our students and professors. The newest video, “Wonderin’ Where Our Majors Are…,” features many of our current double majors, and even a few triple majors. While you’re watching this one, take a look back at the others in the album and you’ll see that we live by our motto of studying religion in culture… all across culture.

Wonderin’ Where Our Majors Are… from UA Religious Studies.


Altman-Rollens Criss-CrossBig things are happening at REL this summer, including some moving. In case you haven’t already heard, Prof. Mike Altman and Prof. Sarah Rollens have criss-crossed (although, thankfully, not in true Hitchcock fashion) offices. Prof. Altman’s office is now on the second floor and Prof. Rollens has moved upstairs to the penthouse with the great view.

In the game of musical offices, you grab the one closest to you when the music stops.