50th Anniversary Fun Fact #16

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

Loving India Back? Routine Violence and Rewriting History in a British Airways Ad

Parker Evans is a junior majoring in English and Religious Studies, with a minor in the Blount Scholars Program. This post was written for Dr. Ramey’s ​class on Religion and Identity in South Asia. 

Take a few minutes to consider the violence in this advertisement for British Airways:

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The 15th Annual Aronov Lecture

Last month, Dr. Laura Levitt, Professor of Religion, Jewish Studies & Gender at Temple University, presented “Objects Out of Place: Revisiting the Sacred Arts of Holding, Custody and Conservation,” as the Department’s 15th annual Aronov Lecture. (Learn more about this annual lecture series here.)

Did you miss the event? Not to worry! You can watch it here.

Our thanks to Caity Walker and Ellie Cochran for filming & posting the lecture.

Have you seen our collection of the first ten Aronov lectures?

Honors Day 2017

Yes, it’s that time of year again: the Spring semester is starting to wind down and that means it was once again time for balcony banners and Honors Day — the occasion when we recognize some milestones and noteworthy accomplishments from the past year.

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50th Anniversary Fun Fact #15

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

50th Anniversary Fun Fact #14

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: Room 11 & In Leila’s Room

REL 360–our one credit hour course–is hosting its final movie night of the semester! We’ll be viewing two films–one created by one of our own profs, Dr. Suma Ikeuchi. Continue reading

50th Anniversary Fun Fact #13

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

Music for the Masses: Hindu Identity and Artistic Expression

TM Krishna and other musicians play a concert for the public in southern India.

Keeley McMurray is a junior double majoring in English and Religious Studies with a minor in Theatre. The following post was written for Dr. Ramey’s REL 321 course, Religion & Identity in South Asia. 

Visual and performing arts continue to be seen as bold expressions of personal identity in modern cultures throughout the world.  Despite the fundamental inclusivity of art as means of sharing and preserving culture, the politics of artistic expression have limited the opportunity for certain groups to practice and perfect their crafts.  In South Asia, art is complicated by the complex religious and social identities of those living in the region.  Elite Hindus often restrict India’s cultural legacy to artistic forms that they dominate, overshadowing a myriad of minority contributions and subaltern narratives.

A primary example is Carnatic music, a religiously-inspired genre significant to Hindu culture.  For centuries, upper castes have preserved this music as a divine art form symbolic of brahman and practiced it with utmost artistry.  Because of its association with divinity, purity, and pleasure, upper castes have often limited the practice and enjoyment of traditional Carnatic music to major temples, royal courts, and a few rich landowners; local kings, some being composers or musicians themselves, would traditionally patronize performances.  In recent years, however, the exclusivity of cultural and religious identity associated with Carnatic music is changing to accommodate a more diversely artistic society.  Activists are making an effort to ensure that those left out of the cultural narrative are given their recognition, and have a fair opportunity to explore their artistic potential.

Thodur Madabusi Krishna, a classical musician in southern India, has made it his mission to break the social barriers surrounding Carnatic music in order to “liberate the art to new spaces.”  While he has encountered opposition from those that wish to preserve the restrictions on this genre of music, Krishna was recently bestowed the Ramon Magsaysay Award for emergent leadership in “ensuring social inclusiveness in culture.”  Characteristic to southern India and largely untouched by Persian and Islamic influence, elements of Carnatic music trace their divine origin to the Vedas.  Thousands of hymns are dedicated to the gods and chanted in Hindu ritual, put to complex melodies called Ragas.  These proponents assert that the potency of this music demands ritual tutoring through the gurukula system, in which a student would live and learn with a Carnatic guru.  Gurus often descended from ancient lines of musicians and composers, and thus were selective and rigorous with instruction.  With these qualifications to become a worthy and revered musician, many were left unable to pursue their art.

This degree of discipline and the significance of Carnatic music to Hindu culture assured the social superiority of both patrons and practitioners, still to this day.  Krishna, a musician born into the Brahmin caste, recognizes the present social implications of this music considered Hindu.  The Magsaysay Award Foundation praises Krishna for seeing that his art was “a caste-dominated art that fostered an unjust, hierarchic order by effectively excluding the lower classes from sharing in a vital part of India’s cultural legacy.”  The musical performances of the Dalits and other non-Brahmin communities, for example, are rarely given praise or publicity.  Music festivals and large concerts around India have been notoriously guilty of showcasing only upper-caste talent, disregarding other groups without the luxury of guru education or elite sponsorship.  This is an unfair representation based on social identity and a conservative interpretation of Hinduism that chooses to ignore “the music of the marginalized.”

The way society has restricted Hindu culture further divides those who identify as Hindu.  In a region as complex as India, it is problematic to homogenize artistic expression in reflection of the elite few.  In hopes of promoting a more unified culture, Krishna is taking action to transform the arts into a more egalitarian space.  He began by hosting concerts in unconventional locations:  crowded buses, railway platforms, and even the slums of Sri Lanka.  In areas that would have remained unexposed to classical music, Krishna has introduced school curriculums for Carnatic instruction, musical scholarships for rural youth, and free music festivals for the general public.  Most importantly, his Svanubhava movement brings together musicians of diverse social backgrounds in an attempt to “heal differences and break stereotypes.”  By dismantling the social structure of Hindu culture, one achieves a more reformed portrayal of India:  a diverse nation where art is appreciated, regardless of social identity.

Barometers in the Field: Another Student Report from the Regional AAR

Sierra Lynn Lawson is an Anthropology and Religious Studies double major and a Spanish minor. She is from a small town in Wyoming and hopes to study the illegality of midwifery in Alabama as it relates to post-civil war identity formation.

I was most pleased with my experience at the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion (SECSOR) because it provided me with the opportunity to see what is, and what is not, happening in the academic study of religion. As someone completing a B.A. this Spring and entering an M.A. program in the Fall, I believe the connections I made at SECSOR could be foundational to the work I hope to do in the near future.

Outside of attending panels such as ‘Religion and Ecology’, ‘Ethics, Wellbeing and Sexuality’, and another looking at narratives of Utopia and Dystopia, I made a point to be present at less-formal meetings, such as meals for marginalized groups. My method for choosing specific panels, and events, was to seek out individuals exploring critical issues of authorship, identity formation and representation in their work.

The majority of the conference was based around research reflecting Christian theological endeavors. As SECSOR is co-hosted by the Society of Biblical Literature, this was not particularly surprising. While Christian theology is on the opposite end of where I would place my academic interests on of the spectrum of religious scholarship, I found its presence critical to understanding of the current state of the field.

One of my peers, Parker Evans, was presenting his own undergraduate research regarding the influence of nationalism on Heidegger’s thought. Upon mentioning that he was from the University of Alabama before his presentation, the chair for the undergraduate panel replied that Parker was “…probably from the most South out of all of us”. While this was an erroneous comment in terms of literal geography, because many Floridian and Georgian schools were also attending the conference, in my mind it summoned all sorts of interesting discussions about where we draw boundaries for the ‘South’.

Similarly – it seemed academic approaches to religion also negotiate specific margins constituting different means to more or less critical ends. The name-dropping of Russell McCutcheon seemed to serve as a barometer measuring self-alliance with the study of religion as its own category. Academics from Emory to Florida State proudly displayed their loyalty to McCutcheon’s work and specific paradigms, and I chuckled at the serious tone they adopted when speaking of the man whose office I find myself in more often than my own living room. I knew McCutcheon was somewhat of a polarizing figure in the field, but I had never seen a group of people adhere so stringently to another individual as a euphemism for the paradigms they themselves operate from.

On the opposite end of the spectrum were academics who seemed to consider themselves, or their work, to lie outside of phenomena which is ‘fair game’ for data. From personal conversations I was aware of Dr. McCutcheon’s critique of Mircea Eliade, and was utterly dumbfounded by academics who counterintuitively avoided investigating  the obvious connection between their critical inquiries and their own predispositions or desires.

I consider the humanities to be integral to understanding the implicit and explicit intentions, which inform interactions between members of society as well as the phenomena they invest meaning into. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult to find other individuals aligning with this mentality as students flock to majors providing a straightforward map for entering the work force.

The funding I received from both the University of Alabama, as well as the Amy Lynn Petersen Endowed Support fund within the Department of Religious Studies, provided me with the opportunity to travel to Raleigh, NC for the regional conference for the American Academy of Religion. At the SECSOR I engaged with fellow aspiring academics, as well as individuals who are well established in academia and known for their scholarship. I am forever indebted to the generous contributions, for without the connections I made at the conference I fear I may have never expanded my horizons to appreciate the field of Religious Studies, as it exists in its contemporary form, as well as the role I might play in it.