Symposium Recap

Last week, the Department of Religious Studies hosted its annual Undergraduate Research Symposium at Gorgas Library. Students from Religious Studies courses collaborated with advisors on written projects before presenting their work at the event. The unique topics, challenging question-answer portion, and free coffee made for a refreshing Friday morning. Professors, alumni, MA students, and undergraduates used social media to keep up with the event.

Prof. Emily Crews opened the morning, keeping her Twitter followers updated with images and brief explanations of each presenter and their work. Other students and faculty similarily shared key arguments from each presenter through brief tweets and photographs. Jade Teel was the first undergraduate researcher featured on the Department’s social media. Under the supervision of Prof. Merinda Simmons, Jade began the symposium with a discussion of identity, pointing to Kendrick Lamar’s “Kung Fu Kenny” concert video as an example of cultural appropriation.

The first panel prepared to present at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. Graduate Student, Caity Bell, introduced each presenter: Jade Teel, Sofia De Faria, and Bowen Gissendaner.

Sofia De Faria, a Religious Studies major graduating in December, followed Jade with a presentation of her research on bilingual Catholic churches in the American South. Under the supervision of Prof. Ted Trost, Sofia exposed unbalanced discrepancies between English and Spanish-speaking masses. Responding to a question by Prof. Crews, she claimed that her personal ties to her church of study allowed her subjects to provide more candid interview responses.

Bowen Gissendaner was the last to present from the first panel with a paper titled “Han, Hui, and Uyghur: Ethnic Conflicts in the Chinese West.” With help from Prof. Ramey, Bowen explored the construction of ethnic identities and the role of violence in categorization.

Prof. Ramey chats with Sofia De Faria after her presentation.

Undergraduate researchers and audience members took a break to enjoy coffee and muffins between presentation panels. Faculty and students from across campus mingled during the intermission — even a few parents came by to support presenters and participate in the conversation.

The second panel was opened by Olivia Melton, who explored the implications of Korean media on women through the promotion of particular Confucian ideals. Olivia, who was supervised by Prof. Loewen, kept the audience engaged after playing a clip from a popular Korean talk show that exemplified her claim. Though social conditions for women in Korea have improved, Olivia pointed out that the oppression of women is still evident, especially in the media. 

Kyle Ashley, a Junior in the Religious Studies Department, followed Olivia with a presentation on authenticity in the popular 80’s film The Karate Kid. Advised by Prof. Altman, Kyle exercised the work of several scholars to support his claim. His presentation even sparked the interest of a spectator, who remained after the Q&A to challenge Kyle’s argument further.

Jacob Inglis, supervised by Prof. Ramey, was the last undergraduate to present at the symposium. He closed the event with a compelling discussion of how identity might be formed in South Korea especially, with an emphasis on the difficulties of building and maintaining a cohesive national identity in general. Jacob claimed that in order to better understand identity narratives individuals must acknowledge that they do not come in one shape or size but as creations from varying actors with diverse interests.

Prof. Loewen and Trost chat with undergraduate and graduate REL students.

Spectators and presenters lingered in the library after Prof. Crews concluded the event, discussing the presentation material and enjoying a break from the stresses of mid-semester. Special thanks to Gorgas Library for providing a space for the Department of Religious Studies Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium 2018-19. We look forward to continuing the event next year.