And So You’re About to Start an M.A. at Alabama…

Students having class outside

Keeley McMurray, from Huntsville, AL, earned her BA (2018) and MA (2020) in REL and is now beginning her Ph.D. at Florida State. We asked her to offer incoming students a little advice on what to expect.

Congratulations and welcome to Tuscaloosa! There are a few things you should know as you’re getting acquainted. No fear — we’ve got some insider information that will supplement a graceful transition into the Bama world.

1. ROLL TIDE — Surely you’ve heard this slogan spouted by fans of the university’s football team, or maybe you’ve noticed its ubiquitous presence across the greater state of Alabama. You’ll soon find this shockingly versatile slogan creeping into your subconscious and erupting into your vocabulary, often in unexpected instances, appropriately taking the place of words like “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you.” It is the pinnacle of verbal fillers, the apex of sentimental conversation.

Read about the historical conception of “roll tide.”

And watch this wonderful introduction to the colloquial use of our favorite phrase:


2. MANLY HALL — Home to Religious Studies on the second floor and Gender & Race Studies on the first floor, Manly Hall, and its neighboring buildings within Woods Quad, are structured a bit differently than other buildings on the UA campus. Classrooms and offices are accessible from the balconies behind the building, bordering the lush and whimsical Sculpture Garden that serves as a resting spot and crossroads for students…and, perhaps, one weary robot.

Manly Hall

3. SOME PECULIAR CLASSMATES — While the balconies of Manly Hall are buzzing with students, faculty, and staff members, you’ll notice a number of squirrelly peers who also call Manly home. The second floor is a hotspot for our furry — and feathered — friends, who maintain an enduring interest in Religious Studies (and maybe the peanuts we leave out for them, too).

4. WE HAVE A LOUNGE — Need a break? Some coffee? A snack? Some good, old-fashioned community? Located in Manly 200, the Religious Studies lounge is a great way to meet new people and make new connections. The walls are decorated with departmental relics and the cabinets are stocked with nibbles for the peckish pupil (for the small price of $0.50, that is). Our regular Coffee Breaks bring students and faculty together over caffeine, donuts, and current events, and the Religious Studies Student Association (RSSA) uses the lounge to host an array of activities from game nights and potlucks to pumpkin carvings. The lounge also houses the Departmental Library, complete with a collection of relevant resources and space for graduate students to work and congregate.

Students and faculty in the department lounge during a coffee break

5. TRADITIONS? WE’VE GOT ‘EM — Students and faculty look forward to the department’s annual events, which include our two public lecture series. The Aronov Lecture invites nationally recognized scholars of religion to speak on broad issues within the humanities and social sciences, while the Day Lecture features scholars whose work concerns religion and popular culture. At the end of each school year, students and faculty go head-to-head in a riveting rivalry for the coveted Manly Cup, an absurdly large trophy awarded to the winning team. A test of brains, brawn, and sometimes pure luck, the yearly competition has taken many forms — kickball, bake-off, Wikipedia races, jeopardy, and even some heated rounds of UNO. But we all come back together as a department during the annual Honors Day on the balcony, where students and faculty are recognized for their hard work over a spread of southern cuisine.

The annual Manly Cup, with students who won over faculty recently.

6. SWAG. SO MUCH DEPARTMENTAL SWAG. — Mugs. Buttons. T-shirts. Carabiners. Pens. Tote bags. Stickers. Magnets. More buttons. And yes, faculty baseball cards, complete with each professor’s stats. You could say we take pride in our program. Twice a year you can find students and faculty outside of Manly Hall during the department’s Button Event, aggressively distributing an ever-growing collection of buttons to passers-by (in hopes that some might become curious enough to stick around…

The department tent set up with students giving out buttons and brochures

7. BLOG ABOUT IT — The Religious Studies Department Blog is a way for students (both graduate and undergraduate), faculty, and alumni to apply what they’ve studied in Manly Hall to topics that are of interest to wider audiences. You’ll find short, informative commentaries on everything from sports to politics to pop culture as contributors regularly engage with global, national, and local events. It’s a great way to practice the critical thinking skills obtained in our classrooms, and a wonderfully accessible way to communicate the endless relevancy of the humanities and social sciences. Don’t want to blog about it? Maybe you’d like to podcast about it. That’s right–our Departmental Podcast functions similarly, and we house the equipment to make it possible.

The Department's SoundCloud account for its podcast

8. T-TOWN, NEVER DOWN — There’s more to Tuscaloosa than football (though game days are always packed with excitement and fellowship, in addition to traffic). There’s something for everyone, you’ve just got to look. The city’s natural terrain is ideal for those who enjoy spending time outdoors; take a stroll along the Riverwalk that borders the Black Warrior River, go hiking on the trails at Lake Nicol, or have a nice swim at Hurricane Creek. Visit Moundville Archaeological Park, where prehistoric Mississippian structures and artifacts are preserved in the park and museum. Craving some culture? The College of Arts and Sciences hosts a regular series of events to attend, including performances, productions, and exhibits galore. Head downtown to have a drink and listen to some jazz at Alcove International Tavern, or enjoy a coffee and some open-mic readings at Monarch Espresso Bar. Indulge in some quality buffalo chicken dip at Buffalo Phil’s or grab a gourmet donut from Babe’s Doughnut Co. Play some trivia at Black Warrior Brewing or sift through records at Oz Music….

The list goes on, dear reader. Make the most of your time in beautiful Tuscaloosa!

Downtown Tuscaloosa at night