The World Cup and a Grandmother’s Blessing

Sierra Lawson is an M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama; you can visit her website here.

The World Cup has been a heavily anticipated sporting event for many countries since the 1930s, representing one of those phenomenon that invite communities to abandon divisive tension in favor of coming together to cheer on the team representing their country. From Mexico to Iran and Morocco, and now even to the United States (whose team failed to qualify for this year’s tournament), families come together, huddled intimately around their television sets while someone else peers up at a large screen in a pub, surrounded only by the dull buzz of strangers also watching, each with a fermented drink of choice.

One sporting fan happened to catch my attention this season, a grandmother in a Mexican household who stood in front of her television before the Germany v. Mexico game kicked off and blessed every member of Mexico’s male soccer team as the camera focused in on each of their faces during the national anthem. She even made sure to bless the goalie twice, you know, just to be absolutely sure! The video, a screenshot of which is featured above, was widely circulated on social media the other day, with many proclaiming that there is nothing more precious or pure than a grandma’s blessing.

I have to wonder, would a scholar of Latin American religion classify this video as an example of “religious devotion” or treat it as a silly anomaly to be excluded from the archive? In my experience, traditionally Catholic devotees often get overrepresented in scholarship while individuals who demonstrate devotion in nontraditional ways, such as this grandmother blessing players on her television, are left out of the record because their actions are not really religious. Yet, I’m not sure where we are demarcating really religious behavior from not really religious behavior, because such scholars hardly ever reveal what they mean by ‘religion’ and, thus, a reader is unable to imagine a spectrum of what qualifies as religious.

It seems that many scholars are quick to ignore devotional behavior that does not fit within their definition of religion, without ever realizing that they do not even have one, which means that examples such as this grandmother become marginalized, inspiring only a chuckle in most viewers, without any explanation as to why.

Some Faculty News

The Department of Religious studies is pleased to announce that Emily D. Crews has been hired as an Instructor, to begin work in August 2018.

Emily is a Ph.D. candidate in History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Her dissertation project, now nearing completion, traces the relationship between movement and identity formation in the context of Nigerian immigration to the United States, exploring the ways in which Pentecostalism condition, and is conditioned by, the attempts of people to make themselves feel “at home” in a foreign culture. Her teaching interests are broad, but focus mostly on such areas as migration, gender, sexuality, and the body, as well as religions in the African diaspora.

In the Fall semester, Emily will teach sections of REL 105 Honors Introduction to the Study of Religion as well as REL 360, devoted to religion and pop culture.

Summer Plans: Prof. McCutcheon

We asked the faculty what they were up to this summer; after all, just because the Spring semester is done doesn’t mean they’re all off gardening. And so this is what we learned…

Apart from writing the annual report and getting the Department ready for the new semester in the Fall, Professor McCutcheon has a few projects bubbling away, such as the second edition to his intro book, Studying Religion, which he plans to tackle and complete this summer. He’s also working on narrowing down the contents to an anthology that Walter de Gruyter, in Berlin, has contracted, as a follow-up to Jacques Waardenburg’s once well-known volume, Classical Approaches to the Study of Religion (a 1973 collection that was recently reissued, in a new edition, with a preface from McCutcheon). Picking up in the 1960s, about where Waardenburg’s volume ends, he plans to represent the trends and scholars of importance to the field’s last fifty years, adding a substantive introduction to the book (though maybe not quite the 80 pages of the earlier volume’s introductory chapter). He’s also finalizing the manuscripts for a few things that will be published this summer, such as a co-edited collection of interviews with the late Jonathan Z. Smith (in fact, his friend and co-editor, Willi Braun, is now giving the index one last proofing) and a couple new sets of his own essays (the first with Equinox and the other with de Gruyter). So if he can check all that off his list by August he’ll be a happy camper.

Summer Plans: Prof. Touna

We asked the faculty what they were up to this summer; after all, just because the Spring semester is done doesn’t mean they’re all off gardening. And so this is what we learned…

Prof. Touna who is already in Thessaloniki, Greece, on a research leave, will spend the summer there where she will continue reading, writing and doing research for her new book project “Locating the Past.” The research (supported by two research awards: the CARSCAand the RGC) involves interviews, archival research as well as visiting archaeological sites and museums. She will have meetings with professors from Aristotle University for future collaborations and gave a lecture at the Department of History and Archaeology of Aristotle University. She will also be working on her new course “Introduction to Ancient Religions” that she will teach in the Fall of 2018. And last but not least she hopes to put together an edited volume on what else: “the past.”

Family Reflections in A River Runs Through It

Jared Stewart is a Religious Studies Major and Creative Writing Minor. The following blog post was written for REL 360: Popular Culture/Humanities.

A River Runs Through It was screened in REL 360, a one credit hour course that one may take up to three semesters. The 1992 film about a family living in early twentieth century Montana portrays the lives of two brothers, Norman and Paul Maclean. Norman, the more educated, older brother, moves from his hometown, while Paul, the younger brother,  just can’t seem to ever leave. The one thing that the two brothers do seem to share a bond over is fly-fishing. This is mainly due to the fact that Norman understands how important fly-fishing is to his younger brother Paul. Continue reading

Summer Plans: Prof. Ramey

We asked the faculty what they were up to this summer; after all, just because the Spring semester is done doesn’t mean they’re all off gardening. And so this is what we learned…

Prof. Steven Ramey has a busy summer ahead tackling a few pieces of a larger overall project considering how we describe and narrate. One project involves experimenting with alternative approaches to ethnographic description using his own fieldwork, and the other is looking at historical narratives and the ways that critical theory should influence our narrative choices. These projects require reviewing a variety of sources, including contested accounts of Indian history, and working through some contrasting approaches. In addition to these projects, he will be preparing, as always, for teaching both undergraduate and M.A. courses in the fall semester.

On the Worlds We Conceive Within Ourselves…

Sierra Lawson is an M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama; you can visit her website here.

I recently saw an advertisement that featured two lungs, one healthy and another almost unrecognizable as a human organ. This reminded me of a similar comparison at a summer camp I once attended where they showed us a cow’s lung that had supposedly been exposed to a great deal of smoke. While both demonstrations had different end goals, the former to combat second hand smoke and the latter to scare young children into never considering a smoke, they required similar ontological assumptions from their audiences. Chiefly, the assumption that seeing how our actions outside our corpus have effects on inner organs, but also the subsequent assumption that seeing these consequences will galvanize us into healthier habits or, at the very least, aversion to particular substances. Continue reading