REL Receives Four Year, $350,000 Grant from the Luce Foundation

The Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama is very pleased to announce a $350,000 grant from the Henry  Luce Foundation to fund a significantly expanded version of its American Examples Workshop (piloted in 2018-19 with the assistance of UA’s College of Arts & Sciences).

With this new grant, the Department will call for applications and select up to nine early career scholars (ranging from ABD to tenure-track) to be brought to the University of Alabama three times throughout the calendar year for workshops on research, teaching, and public scholarship. Contingent, alt-ac, and other non-tenure track scholars will be especially encouraged to apply. The workshops are an effort to assist early career scholars of America to entertain a shift in focus that has been successfully adopted by members of the Department. As the original American Examples workshop described it:

The study of religion in America, or American religious history, has most often sought to discover what is uniquely “American” about American religion… What if we instead approach America as one site among others, an important and useful but by no means unique example, that might reveal larger cross-cultural insights about religion, social formations, identities, and more? What if we did not take “America” and “religion” for granted? AE, then, is an attempt to do just that: develop research on religion in America that is portable, cross-cultural, comparative, and theoretically driven.

With Prof. Mike Altman as the grant’s PI and the chair of the AE Steering Committee (comprised of Profs. Steven Ramey, Merinda Simmons, and Richard Newton), the ongoing series of workshops will involve many of the faculty in the Department serving as mentors and participating in programming. In addition, the program will benefit from the logistical and digital skills of one of our MA students, who will annually serve as the AE graduate research assistant. The inaugural holder of this Luce-funded GRA position will be Keeley McMurray.

After their first year of workshops, each AE participant will return once in the following year to report on the implementation of their new skills, serve as mentors to the next year’s participants, and participate in a public event involving REL undergraduate and graduate students. The program will also produce publications, digital projects, course syllabi and a number of other resources so stay tuned for more information about this exciting new initiative in the Department.

More news about the call for applications will come later this summer as we select the 2020 cohort this fall and hold the first workshop in Spring 2020.

The Jim Salem Chair Award Goes to REL

We’re very pleased to announce that, at the year-end A&S chairs event over the weekend, Dean Robert Olin presented the annual Jim Salem Chair Award to REL’s own Prof. Russell McCutcheon.

Instituted by the Dean after the death, in July of 2012, of the longtime American Studies Department Chair, Jim Salem, the award recognizes “outstanding leadership to students, faculty, and the College.” Salem, who chaired the search committee that brought Dean Olin to UA, was known for his enthusiasm, dry wit, and use of American pop culture as a way into understanding 20th century American culture and politics.

Prof. McCutcheon came to Tuscaloosa in the Fall of 2001, to chair REL at a time when the Department was on the brink of reinvention; while serving three terms as chair (2001-2009; 20013-present) he has also had a productive research and teaching career at UA, being named to one of the campus’s few University Research Professor positions in February of 2018.

Given annually, the Jim Salem award is selected by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and, with Dean Olin’s upcoming retirement in September, this marks his last selection for this award.

Congratulations, Prof. McCutcheon!

6th Annual Undergrad Research Symposium

REL is again hosting its undergrad research symposium, held this year in
Gorgas Library 205, so there’s plenty of room to join us and hear some of the research that our students have been doing.

It starts at 9:00 am Friday, February 22. There will be two panels (9-10 and 10:15-11:15), both of which are chaired by M.A. students in the Departments.
And Prof. Crews is our host.

Pictured above: the 5th annual event, held at the University Club in Spring 2018

 

Prof. McCutcheon has Lots of Pots on the Stove

Prof. Russell McCutcheon, who came to UA as the REL Department Chair in the summer of 2001, sometimes says that the career of a scholar involves keeping a lot of pots boiling, all at a different rates. The trick is knowing which can just simmer, on the back burner, and which ones need attention because they’re about to boil over.

Well, this year four pots that were each bubbling away on their own resulted in some new books, all of which were published in just the past few months. But they’re each a different sort of book. Continue reading

A New Honors Day Tradition

We have a new award to announce, which will be given out each year at Honors Day on the balcony: the Alum Liaison Committee Award.

This award (funded by alums and the Department) will recognize up to four students (one Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior) who submit a short essay (500 words) on their experiences in our classes, e.g., how they found us, what surprised them about the field, and interesting uses to which it might be put. It’s open to any student in an REL course and each award comes with a $100 prize.

The members of our Alum Liaison Committee will be reading the essays and making the decisions, so please visit the page (linked above) for this new award to learn more and consider making your own submission in this inaugural year (due March 1).

Coming Attractions

It’s going to be another busy semester around Manly Hall — REL has some guests coming and things are happening.

Along with three candidates visiting campus this month for a tenure-track faculty position that we hope to fill for Fall 2019 (devoted to social theory of Islam) — and we’ll be talking to some students about joining each interviewee for a chat over coffee — we have Prof. Tim Jensen flying in from Denmark to deliver the 17th annual Aronov Lecture and REL grad Chris Hurt is due from California to join us at another Grad Tales event, hosted again by our Alum Liaison Committee. (Chris, on keyboards and vocals, is one half of the group Jamestown Pagans.) With our alums in mind, we should also mention that they’ll again be offering a careers workshop later this semester, with some practical advice that you’ll find useful, no matter what you’re aiming to do after university. And, as part of the College of Arts & Sciences’ Alabama/Greece Initiative, Prof. Touna will be hosting a professor from Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, for a week — he’ll be offering guest lectures and making some class visits — and a group of early career scholars are visiting campus as part of our new American Examples working group, organized by Prof. Altman and funded by both the Department and the College of A&S. (Did we say that we’re applying for a fairly large external grant to make this an annual event…?)

Did we mention the sixth annual honors research symposium at the end of February? You should talk to an REL prof — asap — if you have a paper you’d like to revise and present.

Of course Honors Day is also coming, the first Friday of April, with the Department’s annual ceremony on the balcony around noon (immediately following the completion of the A&S event at Moody Music Hall). Oh, and we’ve got something new to announce about Honors Day but we’ll leave that for a separate notice.

So welcome back and we hope you have a great Spring semester.

20 Conference Dos and Don’ts

With the our field’s main annual conference just days away, we thought we’d offer a public service announcement to those who may be new to navigating the heady intellectual environment of a scholarly meeting.

So here goes…

1. Don’t wander into the book display unprepared; instead, psych yourself up for the over-stimulating audio-visual onslaught that is a convention center ballroom filled with thousands and thousands of books — many of which are on either Jesus or the Apostle Paul — and nearly as many tweed-coated scholars fighting over them or talking to each other in the middle of the aisle. #obstaclecourse Continue reading

Identity in Inter-Korean Politics

Jacob Inglis is a junior from Huntsville, Alabama majoring in International Studies and minoring in Korean, Asian Studies, and the Randall Research Scholars Program with an interest in Inter-Korean politics and diplomacy.

The world watched over the past year as war on the Korean Peninsula, an inevitable outcome according to North Korea, seemed poised to reignite. Amidst the backdrop of the controversial deployment of additional anti-ballistic missile systems, the testing of North Korea’s newest intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the mainland U.S, and the alleged detonation of a hydrogen bomb by North Korea, tensions on the Korean Peninsula were at their highest point in the decade since the relationship between North and South Korea deteriorated following the failure of the former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung’s Sunshine Policy in the mid-2000s. However, the start of 2018 brought an unexpected opportunity for diplomacy when North and South Korea agreed to enter the Olympic stadium under the joint Korean Unification flag (pictured above) at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. Continue reading