50th Anniversary Fun Fact #4

Although dating to 1932, in 2016-17 we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary, given how the Department was reinvented in 1966-7 — in keeping with how the study of religion was established then across public universities in the US. No longer confessionally-oriented and staffed by campus ministers, it became a cross-culturally comparative and interdisciplinary field.

So all semester we’ll be posting some weekly fun facts from 1966 — not that long ago for some of us yet ancient history for others. Continue reading

Faculty Reading Group: Transitions

On page 117, in the essay entitled “Historicism, History, and the Figurative Imagination,” we read the following:

But if my hypothesis is correct, there can be no such thing as a non-relativistic representation of historical reality, inasmuch as every account of the past is mediated by the language-mode in which the historian casts his original description of the historical field prior to any analysis, explanation, or interpretation he may offer of it.

We read this classic Hayden White piece (originally published in History and Theory, Vol. 14/4 Beiheft 14: Essays on Historicism [1975]: 48-67) in a faculty reading group in our Department last Friday, that met for the first time, during lunch. I’ve not read the essay for years; yes, I first went looking for what I’d previously underlined in my copy of the book but the above sentence jumped out at me for the first time (to be honest, it was only when a colleague quoted it during our discussion, which made me flip through some pages looking for it). For, as I later elaborated, in agreement with another colleague who detected some curious ambiguity in White’s essay, this sentence nicely captures his place as a transitional figure.

For at least with some of us who have been influenced by his work, reading that sentence now seems to be just a little unsatisfactory since it reads as oddly conservative, and thus not nearly as radical as it likely read forty years ago. Continue reading

“My Excitin’ Life”

That’s an historic picture — you can tell by the hair, the typewriter, and, yes, the size of the collar — that ran on the Fall 1994 front page of Samsara, what was then the annual newsletter of the University of Tennessee’s Department of Religious Studies (see the issue here and 1993’s here); it ran along with an article entitled “A Report from the Head.” Charlie Reynolds (1938-2017), who earned his Ph.D. in religious ethics from Harvard in 1968 and who was a longtime member of their faculty (starting in 1969), passed away the other day, from complications associated with Alzheimer’s.

He was the Head — and not the Chair, as I remember him once correcting me — from 1980 to 2000, and he was the person who first hired me in this field.

I’ve never forgotten his generosity and demeanor; now’s the time to share a story or two.
Continue reading

Readying the Ground for Us

I’ve got some plants in my office that William Doty gave me back in 2001.

Peace lilies.

I was thinking about that yesterday, during a memorial service for William (who passed away on January 2, 2017, at the age of 77), at which people said some kind words and told a few stories — some of which were about his passion for cooking and, yes, gardening.

When I moved into my new office, here in historic Manly Hall (once belonging to the late-Leon Weinberger), just a few doors down from the office William occupied for many years, he gave me some plants to spruce up the place. Continue reading

New Media (and) Ritual

Travis Cooper is a PhD candidate in anthropology and religious studies at Indiana University. His research interests include method and theory in the study of religion, discourse analysis, social media, critical ethnography, digital anthropologyand social theory. He’s currently dissertating on the boundary maintenance strategies of emerging evangelical communities after the New Media turn.

I recently read and re-read Connor Wood’s post, “Social Media is Toxic. Religious Studies Tells Us Why,” and found my initially troubled impressions confirmed. Wood’s account of social media, by my reading, is fourfold. According to Wood, (1) The Internet is largely free of filters, barriers, or standards for etiquette. The second argument gives rise to the first: (2) The Internet is absent rituals. Wood suggests that (3) unfiltered, toxic communications online are leading toward societal chaos. Lastly, the blogger uses the discussion of the Internet’s ritual lack to (4) argue for the necessity of the interdisciplinary field of religious studies.

I’d like to commend the author for plugging for both of my own disciplines of training—anthropology and religious studies—as well as for contributing a short and provocative think piece that makes some bold claims and ultimately fueling productive conversations on the study of new media. Although I emphatically endorse Wood’s fourth point, that social science-informed religious studies has the tools to theorize such changes, theses one through three are less than compelling. What follows is a bit of rationale on why the claims are problematic. Continue reading

Meet our Peer Mentors

This semester the Department of Religious Studies is proud to announce that we have teamed up with several students from various departments across campus to form our inaugural Peer Mentor Program (coordinated by Professor Touna). Because these students excelled in their REL Core course last semester, they will be available to help students in two of our survey courses this semester: REL 100 (sections 001 and 002) and REL 102. Continue reading

50th Anniversary Fun Fact #3

Although dating to 1932, in 2016-17 we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary, given how the Department was reinvented in 1966-7 — in keeping with how the study of religion was established then across public universities in the US. No longer confessionally-oriented and staffed by campus ministers, it became a cross-culturally comparative and interdisciplinary field.

So all semester we’ll be posting some weekly fun facts from 1966 — not that long ago for some of us yet ancient history for others.

Continue reading

REL 360 Presents: The Gods Must Be Crazy

REL 360–our one credit hour course–will be showing the 1980s comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy. After a glass Coca-Cola bottle is thrown from a passing plane into Kalahari bushmen territory, the supposed gift from the gods soon turns the tribe against one another, (since there is only one glass bottle to go around). Xi, the film’s protagonist, takes it upon himself to travel to the ends of the earth to dispose of the ludicrous gift and finds himself in an assortment of absurd adventures along the way. Continue reading

REL 360 Movie Night: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

REL 360, our one credit hour course, is kicking off the spring semester by showing O Brother, Where Art Thou? The film (which has been compared to Homer’s The Odyssey) is set in the deep South during the Depression-era and follows the antics of three escaped convicts on their quest to avoid the law and return home. Continue reading

50 Things for 50 Years

To commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Department of Religious Studies, we’ve put together a video of fifty different things REL has been up to over the years.

We sure do have a lot going on around Manly Hall, and our majors and minors help to make a lot of that possible. It’s been a great fifty years, and here’s to fifty more! Take a look at what we have going on, and we hope to see you around the department for out next event. Continue reading