Did You Take a Selfie?

gobdvidsnipLast Thursday was the annual Get on Board Day, an event where student groups from across campus set up on the Crimson Promenade and pass out information and freebies to students.

If you found our tent, then chances are you took a selfie to get an REL or an Asian Studies t-shirt and you had some ironic REL buttons forced on you. But if you weren’t able to make it, watch our latest video to see what all you missed.

Hope to see everyone again next year!

Get on Board Day 2015 from UA Religious Studies.

Factual Assertion or Persuasive Argumentation?

scholarreadingI finally got around to reading Tom Tweed’s recent Journal of Religion essay the other day, “After the Quotidian Turn: Interpretive Categories and Scholarly Trajectories in the Study of Religion Since the 1960s.” I’ve got a paper of my own in which I argue that we should turn our attention toward studying what I’ll just call the common, so I thought I should see what Tom had to say — those who advocate for studying so-called everyday religion, such as finding a small, simple shrine in a notch on a sidewalk’s wall, or those who go looking for, say, the implicit religion of baseball, are certainly talking about rather different things than I am in my paper, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing what they’re all up to. Continue reading

Should We Pull at Our (Funding) Strings?


The American Academy of Religion recently held a consultation with its membership about “Responsible Research Practices: A Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct for AAR Members.” A grand total of four scholars responded to the statement on the AAR’s website. A online quick search for responses elsewhere returned nothing, other than a series of posts by Russell McCutcheon. Unless members of this scholarly association are just waiting for the session at the AAR’s annual meeting where further discussion will be held, the response to the Statement seems to be mostly crickets.

I was going to write a post about Statement’s lack of reference to the extant policies and bodies that govern most research in higher education, but there is a footnote that gives a nod to the fact that ” The labels and procedures vary across national borders and among educational institutions, but there is much agreement about the guiding principles.” Thus, for basic knowledge of what governs our research as members of the higher education research community, the AAR’s membership does not require this Statement. Those of us who work at publicly-funded institutions are very strictly held to these policies.

Thinking about funding led me to another item that did catch my eye. The preamble says that the Statement is to inform religious studies research “from funding to publication.” There is nothing in the Statement to guide professional conduct with regard to funding.

There is a folk adage that says “money never comes without strings.” Should the Statement say something about funding?

The first bullet point in the statement lays out the principle that, “To honor the highest ideals of intellectual inquiry and the institutional contexts that support them, researchers should defend academic freedom.” How does academic freedom relate to funding?

Were the Statement to pull on the strings that fund your research, would it come unravelled?

As a self-funded graduate student, I never worried about declaring who funded my dissertation research. As a scholar at a publicly-funded institution, I am now beholden to take ethics compliance courses and to declare all my funding sources in order to be cleared of any conflicts of interest. My obligations as a researcher to disclose my interests in this regard extend beyond whether I ask students to buy my books or if I obtain technology that just so happens to see personal use every now and then. Were my child or father to obtain any benefit from my research, I would need to declare it.

UA conflict of interest policy

A lot, and I mean A LOT, of research in our field seems to be funded by a wide variety of individuals, groups and organizations with various – explicit and tacit – interests. Some of these just might be up for scrutiny in the interest of whatever may be the “highest ideals” of academic inquiry or in defense of “academic freedom.”

For example, why does the Statement not say anything relevant about the possibility of research funded by what it elsewhere calls “communities of belief and practice”? U.C. Irvine just announced three endowed new chairs in Hindu, Sikh and Jain studies. At past AAR annual meetings I have been approached by members of the Hindu American Foundation to fund my research. The HAF is not an outlier or an innovator. Rather, the precedent is that funding for religious studies research is often tied to groups with specific interests.

The Lily Foundation, is but one example:

“Our primary aim in this field is to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians, principally by funding efforts to encourage, support and educate a new generation of talented pastors and to strengthen current pastors in their capacities for excellence in ministry…We support theological schools and other educational and religious institutions that share these aims.”

Although nowhere in the proposed Statement is it suggested to do so, I wish to disclose that I have participated in workshops funded by the Lily Foundation and have published in the journal Teaching Theology and Religion, which is also funded by the Lily Foundation.

So this leads me to ask: who is pulling your strings?

(Re)Introducing the REL Blog

bloggingIf you’re a returning student then you know all about the REL blog (right?). But if you’re new to REL then it’s worth letting you know that we’re interested in seeing you post your writing in the public domain via this REL blog — you’ll notice a “Student Blog” tab among the other sub-blogs on the site.

blogtabsSo talk with one of your REL profs if you think you have something — perhaps originally written for one of your REL courses — that reflects the interesting and well-argued work going on in the study of religion here at the University of Alabama. Working under their guidance you may be asked to revise it and then it might get posted.

And if you’re an REL grad who’d like to exhibit the critical thinking that you took away with you when you left Manly Hall, and which you still apply today, then please contact the Department Chair and pitch an idea for a post — because we’d also like to see your writing on the site.


“REL” is Spelled B-I-N-G-O

bingocardHave you noticed the new “Welcome Back” posters on some of the doors around Manly? What about the big Bingo cards on these posters? As many of you know, the Department and our Student Association host a number of events throughout the year, and 2015-2016 is already packed with lectures, dinners, movies, and more.

So click here to print off your own REL Bingo card and keep track of all our events throughout the year.

Welcome back, and we hope to see you around Manly Hall.


“Welcome Back…”

welcomeback2015snipIt’s become a bit of a tradition here in REL to have a Welcome Back video at the beginning of each new school year. You’ve probably seen past years’ videos recently making the rounds on our social media sites; but now the wait for this year’s video is finally over.

So, as everyone settles in for another year, the REL faculty have just one thing to say:

Welcome Back 2015 from UA Religious Studies.

P.S. You’ll surely notice some new faces…be sure to say “hello” to new faculty members Matt Bagger and Vaia Touna.

Welcome (back) mat

welcomebackbuttonLast night’s “Week of Welcome” kick off event, held in Coleman Coliseum, was far better attended than we had imagined. The Religious Studies Student Association was there, along with Profs. Finnegan, Ramey (also representing Asian Studies), and Touna.

Along with a few thousand incoming first year students.

So, you know those 1,000 “welcome (back) mat” buttons that we got this summer, some of which we thought we’d bring to the first day of REL classes…? Well, they’re all gone.

But welcome back anyway.