Studying Undertakerness and Religion

The Undertaker in the wrestlin ring, kneeling.

Christopher Hurt is an REL alum who works in tech in Los Angeles. He is best known for his work with the rock ‘n’ roll group, Jamestown Pagans.

Without a doubt my favorite professional wrestler has always been, and will always be, The Undertaker. The Undertaker is a character performed by Mark William Calaway in World Wrestling Entertainment (back in my day it was WWF). Recently the WWE released a documentary chronicling the 30 year career (and retirement) of Calaway. It got me thinking about studying religion.

There are quite a few videos out there that go through the major story arcs, rivalries, and matches that make The Undertaker’s career unrivaled. For example, see this video for context to this article:

Continue reading

The Religious is the Political

President Donad Trump posing with a Bible after protestors were cleared from the park

Savannah H. Finver is a recent graduate of U.A.’s Master of Arts in Religion in Culture program. Beginning in the Fall of 2020, she will be pursuing her Ph.D. at Ohio State University in Comparative Studies. Her interests lie in discourses on religion as they appear in U.S. law and politics, especially as they pertain to the assignment of civil rights and legal privileges.

Regardless of what platform you use to get your news, you likely saw a photo circulating in the early days of June like the one above of President Donald Trump holding up a bible in what many have decried as an irreverent fashion in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. The President’s photo op unleashed a whirlwind of controversy for several reasons, including that he reportedly used police and National Guard troops to clear the area of demonstrators peacefully protesting police brutality and the death (though some would prefer the term murder—after all, the two terms place the onus of responsibility on different subjects, with important legal implications) of George Floyd. Likely due to the civil unrest that has been so prominent throughout the U.S. in the past few months, the photo also prompted backlash from religious practitioners, clergy, and institutions who insisted that Trump was using the bible and St. John’s Church—objects traditionally associated with religion—for a political stunt. Continue reading

Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 4

Historical photo of Emmett Till alive and then in his coffin after being murdered, terribly disfigured.

Vincent D. Jennings graduated in May 2020 from the University of Alabama with a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology. In the Fall of 2019 he began an in-depth study on America’s history of racial violence as part an independent study course with REL’s Prof. Theodore Trost — which culminated in this four-part series.

With the evolution of slavery in mind, consider a recent movie entitled “Just Mercy,” which chronicles the fight of the Equal Justice Initiative to defend wrongly convicted inmates condemned to death row in Alabama.

A memorable line from that film regarding an African American who was facing the death penalty was: “No matter what you call it, it’s just another way to lynch a black man.”  This line speaks to the more widespread concern regarding how the death penalty is being used to perpetuate excess violence against African Americans. Continue reading

Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 3

Historical photo of two African Americans lynched from trees with a large crowd of whites gathered to watch.

Vincent D. Jennings graduated in May 2020 from the University of Alabama with a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology. In the Fall of 2019 he began an in-depth study on America’s history of racial violence as part an independent study course with REL’s Prof. Theodore Trost — which culminated in this four-part series.

Of all the violations deemed worthy of lynching an African American, no offense or accusation stirred the level of vitriol and incited the level of violence more than the suggestion of sexual contact between a black man and a white woman. It required little more than a rumor based upon a whisper against a black for the result to end in a lynching. The trope of the lascivious hyper-sexual black male served as the basis for the most incorrigible acts of “retribution.” Sexual contact between a black male and a white woman (occasionally real, but usually imagined) often involved as little as a black man accused of failing to keep his eyes on the ground in the presence of a white woman. For the lynching era emerged on the scene at the same time that Jim Crow and racial integrity laws prohibited social interactions between people of different races. The fact that the violations were always perceived to occur in relations between black men and white women (but seldom between white men and black women) speaks to how “this trope regarding the hyper-sexuality of black men especially vis-a-vis the inviolable chastity of white women, was and remains one of the most enduring tropes of white supremacy” (Lartey & Morris, 2018). Continue reading

Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 2

Historical photo of a Ku Klux Klan Rally and Flag Burning

Vincent D. Jennings graduated in May 2020 from the University of Alabama with a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology. In the Fall of 2019 he began an in-depth study on America’s history of racial violence as part an independent study course with REL’s Prof. Theodore Trost — which culminated in this four-part series.

Between 1868 and 1871, a wave of terror swept across the South, resulting in the deaths of thousands of freed African Americans for simply asserting their most basic liberties; many were killed for simply walking freely on the streets while others were murdered for failing to obey the dictates of a white person during a random encounter. In response to this increasingly tenuous situation, legislators attempted to enact numerous levels of protection for African Americans. However, congressional efforts to provide federal protection and civil rights to formerly enslaved black people were undermined by the United States Supreme Court’s rulings, in cases like The Slaughterhouse Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1872); United States v. Reese, 92 U.S. 214 (1875); and United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876) (Lartey & Morris 2018) .  It wasn’t long thereafter that Northern politicians retreated from the most significant and key pillar of Reconstruction: the commitment to protect freed black people. This unfortunate pivot resulted in the collapse of reconstruction soon thereafter while opening wide the door for cultural influences across the nation that bitterly opposed racial equality and once again this was especially true in the South. Continue reading

Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 1

Young African American boy singing as part of a church choir

Vincent D. Jennings graduated in May 2020 from the University of Alabama with a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology. In the Fall of 2019 he began an in-depth study on America’s history of racial violence as part an independent study course with REL’s Prof. Theodore Trost — which culminated in this four-part series.

In that land…, that land…, that land…, in that great BIG BEAUTIFUL land…
Lord you know I will fare better in that land….

Sitting on the first pew of the church as an eight-year-old I recall the words of this song vividly, as the congregation sang on Sunday mornings. As the son of a pastor I was practically born in the church sanctuary, so my memories are rich and vibrant from those early years. I recall how the congregation would rock and sway as voices would bellow the words of this song, particularly the lyrics: “great BIG BEAUTIFUL land.”  I remember being proud that I knew all the words as I sang along with the adults. It mattered very little that I didn’t fully understand the lyrics. The only thing that mattered was the shared sense of harmony permeating the room that seemed to transcend music. Continue reading

A Case Study in Framing and Interpretation

New coverage of Solid Rock church's continued services amidst COVID-19 crisis

Brady Duke is a senior at the University of Alabama majoring in Religious Studies and Latin. After graduation, he plans on pursuing a master’s degree in Classical philology with a concentration in Latin language and literature.

Throughout this semester, we have been learning various ways in which individuals, either scholars or laypersons, interact, define, and interpret the past. Consequently, the interpretations stemming from these discourses reflect more about those analyzing the object of study than the object of study itself; while it is quite the claim, everyone frames their object of study in such a way as to highlight their own interests, the degree to which these interests are explicit being the only difference. Thus, through these discourses, we are able to see the underlying interests at work.

Such is also the case in “Ohio Megachurch Keeps Holding Mass Gatherings, Even as Coronavirus Spreads.” Continue reading

Stranger than Fiction: On “Superheroes” and “Essential Workers”

Cartoon featuring medical personnel dressed as superheroes

Martin Lund is senior lecturer in religion at Malmö University in Sweden. He is currently working on a co-authored book about the “supervillain” Magneto and a single-authored book about the “superhero” and theory.

For many of us, the world seems a pretty strange place right now. What we consider “normal” has been upset and we’re having to make adjustments. People are reacting in different ways, some enthusiastically embracing self-quarantine and others grousing that they can’t go about their business as they like. It’s probably pretty safe to say that whatever else, many of us are getting a bit squirrely in our houses and apartments.

For some people, however, there is no choice in the matter: some of us are encouraged to work at home as much as possible – for us in the university this generally means pivoting to online teaching and sharing bad jokes about Zoom, but others are considered “essential workers” (or some variation thereof) and have to keep going to work. “Essential workers” are classified by the Pan-American Health Organization (somewhat circularly) as “the personnel needed to maintain essential services”; “essential services” in turn are “the services and functions that are absolutely necessary, even during a pandemic” and include “executive governance, healthcare, fire and police protection, provision of clean water and basic sanitation, infrastructure and utilities maintenance, and food provision.” Continue reading

Call for Submissions: Alum Liaison Committee Award

Old typewriter keys

Are you a student in an REL class this year (whether or not you;re a major or minor in our Department) who is game to write approx. 500 words on:

  • How you found the study of religion at UA
  • Aspects of the field that you found surprising
  • Unexpected ways in which you might apply what you’ve learned

If so, then our Alum Liaison Committee, comprised of four REL grads,
wants to hear from you!

Annually, at the Department’s Honors Day ceremony, the members of the Alum Liaison Committee award a small number of prizes to the essays that they found most interesting, surprising, or even compelling.

Get more details on the award and consider applying.
Deadline: March 1, 2020.

Submissions should be sent to Prof. Vaia Touna (who will then share them with the committee); they must also contain:

  • The student’s name, CWID, and email address
  • The student’s College (A&S, Business, Nursing, Social Work, Engineering, etc.) as well as their Major/Minor
  • The REL course/section in which the student was/is enrolled and its year/semester
  • The student’s status (Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, or Senior) at the time of their submission

Be creative!

Highlighting REL Undergraduate Research

Student presenting a paper at the 2019 undergrad research symppsoium, with students listening

It’s that time again: time to consider presenting your research at REL’s 7th annual Honors Research Symposium. Devoted to the work of our undergrad students, the annual symposium is chaired by REL M.A. students and is again organized by REL faculty member, Emily Crews.

The event this year will again be held in Gorgas Library 205, all morning on Thursday, March 26 — we’ll announce the actual start time closer to the event, once we know how many students will be presenting.

All students enrolled in a REL class — whether or not
you’re a major or minor — are eligible to participate.

So if you have an essay that you wrote for one of your REL classes that you think could be revised and presented orally in approx. 10 minutes, then contact an REL professor to see if they’ll mentor you in the revision process. Or perhaps if they’ll even supervise a new paper that you intend to write for the event. Once you have your mentor in place, they’ll alert Prof. Crews that you’re aiming to participate in the event.

Note: students working on Honors projects in REL are expected to present their research at this annual event.

Light refreshments will be provided.