UA’s Fall 2021 Operations Plan

UA COVID-19 Update IconBelow is the content (complete with links) of an email sent to all UA faculty and staff on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, discussing the university’s expectations around UA’s return to classes in the Fall 2021 semester.

REL faculty and staff have taken the risks of COVID-19 very seriously since early in 2020 and we hope that all students, as they return to campus, comply with the various requirements and recommendations outlined below.

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The University of Alabama System released today its Fall 2021 Operations Plan. In accordance with the System plan, The University of Alabama updated its COVID-19 plan with guidelines for Fall 2021. Widespread utilization of the life-saving COVID vaccine has helped UA officials plan for our Fall semester experience. Every member of our campus community is strongly encouraged to be vaccinated to keep you and our campus safe and Protect Our HerdContinue reading

The Inquisition’s Baggage

Torturer and rack from a movie about the Inquistion

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

Have you ever seen Inquisición (film, 1977)? If you’re a lover of period-piece horror movies, like I am, then you’ll want to check it out. Mondo Macabro has a Blu-ray release that is standout. The subject matter calls to mind this data…

Several years into his papacy John Paul II initiated a commission to study the Inquisition in the hopes of creating a sort of tally for the Catholic Church. The thinking, it seems, was that by initiating a closer examination of the wrongdoings of the past, and formally acknowledging them, it would leave one less strike against the institution, which had already done this with the Galileo incident. Continue reading

Fulbright Scholar Joining REL for 2021-22

Oleg Kyselov

We’re very pleased to announce that Dr. Oleg Kyselov, a senior researcher at the H. S. Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy in Ukraine, will be joining REL as a Fulbright Scholar from October until June.

His own teaching covers a broad area, including the sociology and geography of religion along with a variety of topics in the history of religions, globalization, and methodologies. Among his most recent publications are: “Interaction Between Religion and Science: Comprehension of Ukrainian Scientific Atheists” in Studia Sociologica 12/1 (2020) and his co-authored chapter, “Atheism in the Context of the Secularization and Desecularization of Ukraine in the 20th Century” in Freethought and Atheism in Central and Eastern Europe: The Development of Secularity and Non-Religion, 284-309 (Routledge, 2020).

While at UA he aims to become more conversant with recent developments in the academic study of religion as practiced in the US, looking for possible points of contact with the field as it has developed in the Ukraine. He will also take advantage of his time in the US to travel and meet with a variety of other scholars of religion throughout the country.

We’re very pleased to host Dr. Kyselov and look forward to conversations on the balcony, more than likely a variety of class visits, and also to learning far more about how the field has taken shape in Ukraine.

What’s My Line…?

Title card from video saying: but it didn't go as planned.

A little while back, we asked our first year M.A. students to tell us what they were working on — you know, what they were reading, something about their classes, or other things that they were doing that were related to their degree. It was at the height of the pandemic here in the US, so, whether in their bubbles or out in the fresh air with classmates, they got to work and did a little filming, sending us the results.

To say that our grad students read widely and tackle a variety of timely and tough topics goes without saying. But recording it all in one take…? Well, that’s even tougher.

As we say at the end, we’re pretty proud that all of our students, in both the BA and MA degrees, rose to the occasion during a challenging year. And yes: we’re hoping to see everyone’s maskless and healthy face in our classrooms in the Fall.

Thanks to Savannah Aldridge,
working in our main office this summer,
for putting this all together.

Announcing the RELdl

Late 1950s computing lab

There’s some renovations starting to happen in REL this summer — we’re transforming the Department library into an REL digital lab (RELdl) that Prof. Jeri Wieringa (who joined REL a year ago and who works directly in this area) will direct and under whose auspices all digital work in REL can take place. Continue reading

New MA Students Coming to REL

three incoming MA students

We’re very pleased to announce that we have three incoming MA students, all beginning Fall 2021, and who are joining 10 students already in the program.

Those new students are (top left, going counterclockwise): Katie Johnson, Ciara Eichhorst, and Phoebe Duke-Mosier; you can learn more about their interests and backgrounds by visiting our grad student directory.

We’re also very pleased that all 12 of the full-time students in our graduate program will each be fully funded for 2021-22, from receiving such awards as UA’s prestigious Francko Graduate Fellowship along with competitive Graduate Council Fellowships to working as full Graduate Teaching Assistants, or taking on the role of Graduate Research Assistant, such as with the Department’s American Examples initiative or working elsewhere on campus.

Can We Analyze Trumpism as a Millenarian Movement?

Trump giving his speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention

Elizabeth Tagg is a graduating senior in the Department of Religious Studies,
writing a thesis on apocalyptic rhetoric in the age of Trump.

Donald Trump built his reputation as a political outsider who could “drain the swamp,” fix a broken system, and make America great again. Indeed, in his 2016 RNC speech, he declared that “[he] alone could fix it.” Many believed him, and many still do. For example, when the pandemic and instructions to quarantine were in full swing, Trump started to frame the coronavirus pandemic as a “great and powerful plague” which had come to destroy the world, but America would rise from this “death and destruction” to become “greater than ever before.” One particular response on Facebook read “God chose you, Mr. President… you are working unto God, not unto men.” The confluence of spiking death tolls and a plague of biblical proportion created a moment of disillusionment where zealotry, and even millenarian thinking, could thrive. Millenarian movements are based on critiques of power culminating in social protests against oppressive systems. In New Heaven New Earth, Professor Kenelm Burridge analyzes millenarian movements, highlighting the ways in which the millenarian critiques initiate a “redemptive process” in which the old moral order is cast off to make way for a new society. At the heart of the millenarian movement is the prophet, whose divine revelations almost always refer to a prosperity and prestige that define the new conditions of being, the new social order.

Could Trumpism be analyzed as a millenarian movement? Can this help us predict the future of Trump’s base, post-Trump? Burridge simplifies the millenarian pattern into three phases which help us to better understand millenarian movements and their application to Trump: feelings of disenfranchisement, battle with oppressors, and triumph of the new order.

Continue reading

Faculty and Staff Honors 2021

Framed buttons from past REL student events

Honors Day, last week, is an annual opportunity not just to celebrate student successes but also to recognize REL faculty and staff accomplishments. But, given our continued concern for hosting in-person events, we again relied on a video, created once again by Prof. Richard Newton (with the help of a variety of faculty), to celebrate another year — one full of challenges, to be sure, but one in which we saw the members of the Department going above and beyond the call of duty.

To begin: little did our new Administrative Secretary, LeCretia Crumpton, know what kind of year was in store for her when, back in mid-March 2020, she arrived from Chemistry and first started working in REL, just as Betty Dickey retired after 32 years in the Department. For within a week Spring break had arrived, but then it was extended and all in-person classes and non-essential university operations were moved to remote status. As organized as the Department tries to be, we certainly didn’t plan on LeCretia working remotely on her own laptop and learning at a distance about everything that it takes to run the Department. (And you’d be surprised by how much that involves.) But, within a week or two, UA’s already busy IT staff got her connected to the main office computer and between behind-the-scenes emails, Zoom meetings, and pretty regular phone calls, the Department’s main office reinvented itself. We’re so pleased with the job she has done, in these very trying circumstances; and so, to mark one year in the position, we thought she now needs to be officially initiated into the group by having her own set of historic buttons (above) from past REL button events, including one of the original “Your Back” buttons and a few, yes, buttons that are buttons. #irony Continue reading

Equivalent Categories and Where to Find Them

Meme from the TV show The Office, in which two different things are portrayed as sthe same

 Jeremee Nute is a graduating M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. He is originally from Missouri, where he earned his B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy from Missouri Western State University.

Scholars who research cultures outside of Europe and North America often try to find categories that correspond to “religion,” such as those who study Ancient China. For example, one analog that is sometimes proposed by these scholars is Zōngjiào (宗教), said to be the Mandarin term for religion. One such scholar who looks for such homologs to religion is Robert Ford Campany, a Professor of Asian studies at Vanderbilt University, who specializes in Medieval China. In his article, “On the Very Idea of Religions (In the Modern West and in Early Medieval China)”, he argues that, while the western category of religion can be analytically helpful to those studying non-western cultures, scholars just need to “pay close attention to two cultural and temporal sets off linguistic usages and their metaphorical implications and juxtapose these results” (290). This juxtaposition, he argues, allows a scholar to better understand the “contours and limitations” of the discourses in both cultural and temporal sets.

Thus, for Campany, scholars can study other people’s religions (such as his work on early medieval China) by looking for the following analogous sites in their cultures: founder or paragon synecdoche, “path” or “way,” “law” or “regulations,” and/or “the teaching of x,” etc. Continue reading