The Rabbi and the Lawyer


Khortlan Patterson is a Junior at the University of Alabama majoring in Religious Studies and African American Studies. She is interested in education reform and minority academic achievement. This post was originally written for Dr. Rollens’ course, REL 360: Popular Culture/Public Humanities.

A Serious Man is a film detailing a series of unfortunate life events of a Jewish man, Larry Gopnik. Many of us find ourselves in similar messes where we look for or actively commission others, who we consider qualified and informed, to make meaning of our lives. This film addresses this common practice in a satirical manner, which prompts us to be more aware of who we authorize to make meaning for us.

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REL Announces a New Hire

Picture 10The Department of Religious Studies is very pleased to announce that it has now finalized another new hire: Vaia Touna, who works on ancient and modern Greek identity, as examples of wider issues in identity studies, will begin as a tenure-track Assistant Professor, in August 2015.

Vaia is currently completing her dissertation in the academic study of religion at the University of Alberta, entitled “The Politics of ‘Greek Identity’: Discourses on the Religious Self and Tradition”; she has also earned degrees in the study of religion at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece. She assisted with REL’s past study abroad courses in Greece, worked in the Department for a semester in 2010 (as part of the College of Arts & Sciences’ Greece Initiative),and will bring to REL a wealth of new language and primary source expertise, focused on the ancient Greek/Hellenistic period.

Complementing the research emphases of other REL faculty, she will offer courses that use social theory to situate the ancient data as examples of wider processes also taking place in a variety of other cultural and historical settings.

With this new hire the Department’s full-time tenure-track and tenured faculty will now number 9 — twice as large as the Department was in 2001 and the largest it has been since its founding in the mid- to late-1960s.

“Well, Somehow…”

emojiscienceHave you seen the new 1:25 video from Bill Nye, the science guy, explaining evolutionary theory with Emoji?

It’s kind’a curious since it is clearly meant to persuade people inasmuch as it says complex things both fun and simply — hence the emojis popping in and swooshing and out — as if anti-evolutionary positions are inspired by their lack of understanding of complex matters.

But here’s where, in the first 20 seconds, attempts like this fail… Continue reading

Zombieland is Your Land


Sarah Griswold is a junior double majoring in Mathematics and Religious Studies. She spends her “free time” analyzing her favorite shows on Netflix, which of course winds up ruining them. This post was originally written for Dr. Sarah Rollens’ course, REL 360: Popular Culture/Public Humanities.

Stories about zombies are a fascination for many people in today’s popular culture. Beyond zombie movies and television shows, there are books, games, and even people who are preparing in real life for a threat that will never come. Dr. Kelly Baker, who recently spoke about zombies at the annual Day Lecture, even reminded the audience that the Center for Disease Control makes a formal statement periodically to reiterate that zombies are still not real. For an example, check out this article from The Huffington Post from back in June of 2012.

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Just Look at That Parking Lot


Catie Stewart is a sophomore at the University of Alabama from Madison, Mississippi. She is double majoring in English and Religious Studies and minoring in Psychology. This post was originally written for Dr. Rollens’ course, REL 360: Popular Culture/Public Humanities.

I recently watched the film A Serious Man for REL 360, and as the plot unfolded, I found myself wondering: What is going on? The storyline is riddled with seemingly disastrous events that all lead up to the movie’s finish, which does not appear to actually resolve any sort of conflict. At first, my reaction to the ending was one of surprise and dissatisfaction; I couldn’t understand why the plot would lead up to this huge climax and then simply cut to the credits with no explanation. In fact, it seemed to me that the entire movie had no meaning at all and was simply a random representation of the main character’s experiences.

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“Brotherhood, Peace, and Let Loose with their Money”

Nativity-SceneWith the Christian holiday season upon us, and the inevitable media coverage of the so-called “war on Christmas,” it’s worth remembering Lynch v. Donnelly (465 U.S. 668) — a US Supreme Court case from 1984 in which the city of Pawtucket, RI, was sued over the annual nativity scene that it erected, at (admittedly minimal) public expense each year in the downtown shopping area. Continue reading