I am NOT bad at parking

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

Most mornings, I arrive on campus in the wee hours so I can get to my office before the day warms up and I, no doubt, become a sweaty mess. This means when I park in the faculty deck, it is usually devoid of other cars and I easily pull into a spot, pack up my things, pop in my headphones and head off on my merry way. Prior to leaving my lovely 1997 Ford Explorer, I usually try to give its surroundings a quick look to make sure it is parked within the lines. Yet when I return to the parking deck in the late afternoon, and the lot is FULL of other cars, my butter-colored vehicle stands out—and not just because of its shade.

You see, in the morning, when there are no other cars around, it is very easy to convince myself that I have done a fine job at parking. Yet, when my parking job is juxtaposed to 40 other parked cars it becomes painfully obvious that, even though my car is in the lines, it is not parked particularly well. But, despite the fact that my bumper often sticks out or my tires are turned, I still maintain that I am NOT bad at parking.

For if being ‘bad at parking’ means you lack the ability to park a car in an outlined spot, then you’d have to agree that I am a great parker! Yet, if we take being a ‘good parker’ to mean that you are able to situate your car in an aesthetically pleasing manner between various other cars, all of which are themselves in their spots in a variety of creative ways, then maybe I don’t quite qualify as a ‘not-bad’ parker.

All this is to say: my parking may be judged poor, but only in relation to the context that someone else later builds around it.

Marian Apparitions: Religious Ephemera and Politics of Classification

Sierra Lawson, an MA student in the Department of Religious Studies, led our most recent journal group and has some reflections on the reading, Learn more about her work here.

In the Religion in Culture M.A. program, our monthly journal group has created a space in which graduate students can engage with faculty, beyond just their advisor, regarding their individual interests–interests that, ideally, will be reflected in their eventual thesis. While my focus on the Virgin of Guadalupe and her devotees in the rural Southeastern United States has remained constant throughout the course of my studies, my methods in studying her have evolved considerably. While searching for an article for the group to read next, I realized that if I chose it carefully it could potentially showcase a particular lacuna in the field that my work hopes to fill. Continue reading

The REL Reading Group: Thinking Through Phenomenology

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The following post from Emma Gibson, a student in our MA program, reflects on the recent meeting of the journal reading group, part of our Religion in Culture MA.

So, what exactly is phenomenology? When I started my first semester in fall 2017 at the religious studies department, I got some interesting looks when I told everyone I was primarily interested in phenomenology. I learned quickly that phenomenology of religion and philosophical phenomenology are not the same thing. Perhaps this is because I spent most of my undergraduate degree as a philosophy major. For example, I was surprised to learn that most phenomenologists of religion have framed their work as a study of “religious experience” in order to either argue for an unknowable God, or to claim that these experiences are unique from other kinds of experience. Philosophical phenomenology focuses on the general experience of the subject making sense of the world, rather than separately analyzing “kinds” of experiences.

I am currently developing a topic for my M.A. thesis that compares and contrasts both philosophical phenomenology and phenomenology of religion. Jonathan Tuckett’s article “Prolegomena to a Philosophical Phenomenology,” proposes one way of doing phenomenology of religion that is better aligned with philosophical phenomenological methods. So I suggested it for our journal group. Tuckett argues that phenomenology of religion should return to and follow more closely the methods developed by Edmund Husserl. More specifically, Husserl’s philosophy on intersubjectivity and ‘life-worlds’. Tuckett argues that Alfred Schutz (a follower of Husserl) influenced scholars such as James Spickard and Peter Berger who both attempted to outline a philosophical phenomenology in line with Husserl’s philosophy. According to Tuckett, they fall short because they did not consider Husserl’s later phenomenology (2). Tuckett’s final point is that a revised sociological phenomenology is best suited to achieve the goals of Spickard and Berger. It is “an enquiry into the structures of knowledge which produce reality” (6). For the purposes of my MA thesis, articles like Tuckett’s will help me explain why and how the phenomenology of religion is so different from philosophical phenomenology.

While I was reading the article, I was drawn to Tuckett’s proposal to conceptualize religion as “alien”. Tuckett explores how the work of Husserl deployed a distinction between the home-world and the alien-world (8). The home world is a “homogenous totality” (33) while the alien, “entails the introduction of heterogeneity by destabilising the homogeneity of the home-world” (33). The last section, “A Proper Phenomenology of Religion,” is the introduction to a more extensive project, where he proposes “secular” as an analytical umbrella that designates the set of that which is naturalized. “Religion,” then, marks what does not fit into that set.

It reminded me of the work being done in my Women’s Studies feminist theory and the abject taught by Dr. Jennifer Purvis. I recently read and wrote on Judith Butler’s philosophy. Butler argues that the abject is what is cast away from society for the modern subject’s identity formation. The individual cannot make sense of who they are without defining what they are not. In Bodies That Matter, Butler says, “the subject is constituted through the force of exclusion and abjection” (xiii). The key take away from Butler’s philosophy in the context of this blog post is the relationship between the subject and the other. There is no essential subjecthood, but, rather, a subject constituted by categories, dualisms, language, and negation.

While I recognize that Butler’s abject refers to that which is undesirable and Tuckett’s alien is geared more towards that which is unfamiliar, both act in a way that may help subjects critically reflect on their assumed norms and language. Also, in many ways the concept of the abject functions similarly to Tuckett’s alien. The abject disrupts our thinking but does not necessarily have to be inaccessible. To bring the two in relation to each other, Tuckett says, “The very point of this alien encounter, then, is that in presenting the person with both inaccessibility and non-belonging they are made to realise that they are not the master of themselves” (34). This quote led me to draw similarities between the abject and the alien because both highlight how subjects produce themselves in such a way as to reveal what they are not.

So, a phenomenology of religion influenced by philosophical phenomenology in line with Husserl takes into account the problems of intersubjectivity. Drawing distinctions between religious experience and secular experience presupposes that these distinctions are natural, but, they are actually claims made in the home-world–claims that are taken for granted. A sociological phenomenology brings these distinctions between phenomenology of religion and philosophical phenomenology to light and could definitely be helpful in considering fundamental difference between the two methods.

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Car, Jesus, and Punk Rock

Kendrick Jacobs is a senior from Jupiter, Florida majoring in Religious Studies. The following blog post was written for REL 360: Popular Culture/Humanities.

Repo Man at first glance comes off as being another cult classic film. It captures a moment in American history you can’t read in a book or put your finger on, but if you asked someone who grew up in that time they would know exactly what you were talking about. The strange atmosphere put on by the satirical consumerism, dark comedy, and punk vibe that the movie has makes most people watch it and leave thinking nothing more than how weird it was to watch. But, underneath that tough punk exterior hides deep seated symbolism for religion. You would probably think it crazy if someone said it to you, but taking a closer look can really make this movie shine brighter than it already does.

The first religious symbolism in the movie is found in the movie’s theme itself, repo man. A repo man is not the kind of person you want to see ever in your life. They come and take your car from you when you least expect it. As shown in the movie, they break into, sneak into, and sometimes outright steal cars in order to get their job done. Now, with this image in mind, jump to what tax collectors were in Jesus’ time. Tax collectors would steal money and lie about how much was due in order to get a larger commission off of what they collected. When asked why he ate with tax collectors, Jesus responded by stating that he was sent not for the righteous, but for the sinners in Mathew 9:12. This same concept is seen in the movie because the repo men are able to drive the glowing car at the end of the movie without any protective gear or any special procedures. They simply get in the car and drive it off. This scene plays a vital role in the nuanced religious aspects of the movie because the federal agents wearing protective gear, and whose job it is to retrieve the car, are killed in the process of attempting to get close to it. The agents represent the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’s time. Throughout the movie, the federal agents attempt to take the car by any means necessary but are thwarted by the repo men in the end.

Another aspect of symbolism is the rebirth symbolized in the movie. Although comedic in nature, the scene where the repo men go to Bud’s hospital bed give us a clear example of rebirth in the movie. Upon opening the door, the gang are greeted with an empty bed. The phrase “He is risen” is exclaimed by someone and they leave to find him. Bud’s hospital scene could go one of two ways in terms of symbolism. The obvious is that it is a jest at the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the opening of his tomb. This example would be most plausible because the exact same phrase is uttered in both scenarios. Also, Bud is the first to successfully drive the car without any need for extra equipment. After his driving, the car is able to glow and fly by some divine manner. One way of looking at this is to say that in the same way Jesus’s sacrifice was a way for others to follow him into heaven, Bud’s actions were a way for the repo men to amount to more in their society. Through his “resurrection” he was able to leave behind a new meaning for the repo men. No longer were they the lowly car stealing scumbags that society had seen them as, but instead, they had transcended to a place where the federal government agents were looking to them for guidance. Another way his death can be seen as symbolism is through the resurrection of Lazarus. The reasoning for this is because Bud is definitely not a saint nor is he the “Jesus” of the repo men.

Overall, Repo Man was a great movie that combined comedy with grinding pop culture to weave a time and place that many would consider real fiction in a way. Through the clever placement of symbolism, many religious properties come through which make the repo men look like the disciples of Jesus. Coming back to this symbolism, the car in the movie can be seen as a sort of Holy Ghost left behind by Bud for the other repo men, or maybe even the Kingdom of Heaven itself. This final analysis comes from the idea that Jesus taught in Mark that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. The underlying theme in Repo Man might just be this: The restructuring and reordering of power that leads to those hated by society, be they a punk or an unwanted car repo man, being put on top to the dismay of the higher ups.

REL 360 Responds to C.R.A.Z.Y

Matthew McCullough is a recent graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in Religious Studies and Political Science. He is excited to be staying on campus to join the new Religion in Culture MA program in the Spring. The following blog post was written for REL 360: Popular Culture/Humanities. Continue reading