Behind the Scenes of ‘Uncivil Religion’ with Our MA Students

A screenshot of the Uncivil Religion home page

In January the Department of Religious Studies, in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, launched the digital project Uncivil Religion. Three MA students in our Department’s Religion in Culture program worked alongside Prof. Mike Altman to build the website for the project. In the latest episode of the Study Religion podcast, fellow MA student Erica Bennet sat down with those three students to hear about their experiences working on Uncivil Religion and what went into building the site. Give it a listen below or go find it on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. And be sure to subscribe, rate, and review!

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What Can You Do With a Degree in Religion?

Al McGowen, REL alum

Al McGowen majored in Religious Studies (minoring in Social Work and English) while at UA in the late-1970s, after having served in the USAF during the Vietnam era. He went on to earn an M.Div. from Memphis Theological Seminary and did his clinical training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Al became a Fellow In The College of Chaplains, which later became the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), and a Board Certified Chaplain, a Clinical Member of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor with the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and, upon retirement, a Presidential Member of AACC. Throughout his career he has been a Pastor, Pastoral Counselor, an Air Force Chaplain, and a VA Mental Health Chaplain. He was ordained in The United Methodist Church.

When I attended the University of Alabama, in the late 1970s, I was repeatedly asked, “What can you do with a degree in religion?” The years have answered in marvelous ways: after I graduated from seminary, and after I completed all my clinical work, and after getting my various Ordinal, and  Board Certifications, I served literally all over the northern hemisphere as a Chaplain in some very unique places, and I was given many exceptional opportunities.

My religion degree, combined with my M.Div., which included a major in counseling, afforded me the opportunity to be the liaison, for CENTCOM village where 78 Muslim nations were represented. My understanding of Islam served me well, as a Christian Chaplain. When young people, who were having difficulty determining if they could serve in the Air Force, shortly after 911, my connection with my good friend, Ishmael Muhammad, The First Sergeant, helped me to help them make tough decisions. Continue reading

Thinking With Baudrillard

Stonewall Protest Marchers

Jacob Barrett is a second year M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. He is originally from Colorado Springs, CO, and received his B.A. in Philosophy & Religion from Nebraska Wesleyan University. He is interested in pursuing questions about religion and governance, law, and the state through contemporary examples from American politics. In March 2022, he will present his research at the southeast regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion.

On June 27, 2017 Billboard released the final installment of “Spilling the Tea,” a pride month drag queen roundtable discussion with moderator Tamar Braxton posing questions to drag queens Derrick Barry, Pandora Boxx, Mariah Paris Balenciaga, Manila Luzon, and Willam Belli. In the episode, found here, the discussion takes on many topics including a reflection on the Pulse nightclub shooting that took place in Orlando on June 12, 2016 and which claimed 49 lives. When Tamar Braxton asks the queens how they see the Pulse shooting impacting Pride Month a year later, older queen Pandora Boxx answers, “I think the younger generation thinks [being gay] has just been accepted this whole time, and they don’t realize we’ve had to fight for it.” Derrick Barry then interrupts with: “Like when people don’t know what Stonewall is.” The exchange takes place starting at 4:05 in the video and what follows is below: Continue reading

Simulation Theory: How is ‘Religion’ Part of It?

computer simulation of a residential street

Tyler Dettmar developed this post from a presentation originally created for Prof. Lauren Horn Griffin’s REL 245, American Religious History. Special thanks for editorial assistance from REL’s graduate student Jacob Barrett.

In recent years, something called simulation theory has begun appearing more frequently in public discourse. Public figures such as Elon Musk have called attention to this ideology, spreading quickly over social media. With the latest movie in The Matrix franchise coming out a few weeks ago, conversation about simulation theory has redoubled. Why don’t we typically study something as popular as sim theory in courses on religion in America?

First, what is simulation theory? Essentially, simulation theory is the idea that we are living in a computer simulation, and that every aspect of our reality is artificial. In fact, according to this ideology, not everyone is even “real”; only the “programmers” are really real and can change reality. Continue reading

Sneaker Culture: An Item-Based Religious Movement?

sneaker con graffiti

Drew Whinery, from Tuscaloosa, AL, is a senior majoring in Music, with a minor in Criminal Justice. The following post developed from a presentation originally created for an REL class with Prof. Lauren Horn Griffin.

As a college student, I tend to stay up with trends. One that has been popular for years is known as “Sneaker Culture.” The idea behind Sneaker Culture is that certain shoes, or sneakers, are released in a limited supply and many people seek them to up their fashion game or add to their collection. Continue reading

Prof. Ramey Interviews Mitsutoshi Horii, Co-editor of Method and Theory in the Study of Religion

Mitsutoshi HoriiMitsutoshi Horii joined the editorial team for Method and Theory in the Study of Religion (a peer reviewed, quarterly journal of the North American Association for the Study of Religion, published by Brill) a few months ago, working with Steven Ramey (professor and graduate director in our program) and Aaron Hughes (professor at University of Rochester).* Dr. Horii is Professor at Shumei University, Japan, and currently serves as Principal at Shumei’s overseas campus in the UK, Chaucer College. Beyond his current faculty position, we wanted to get to know more about his research and interests in relation to method and theory, and he graciously agreed to answer our questions. Continue reading

Internships and Unexpected Relevance of REL Skills

Sonya Harwood-Johnson

Sonya Harwood-Johnson, originally from Grimes, Iowa, received her B.S. in Anthropology and Religious Studies, with a minor in Environmental Studies, from Iowa State University in 2020. She began work last month as a full-time International Programming Assistant at UA’s International Student and Scholars Services office; she will complete her M.A. in the study of religion at UA, as a part-time student, later in 2022.

When deciding which university I wanted to apply to for my Master’s degree, Alabama’s Religion in Culture program really stuck out to me. Coming from a background in Cultural Anthropology, I always had a difficult time whenever I felt like religion was being studied apart from the people who participate in it. I had no idea which direction I wanted to go with a Master’s in Religion, but UA seemed like the right place to guide me. It was exactly this “Religion in Culture” concept, with the guidance and prompting from UA’s faculty, that led me to internships that really helped me apply the skills I was learning that could be utilized outside of traditional academia. Continue reading

Announcing Uncivil Religion: A Digital Resource about Religion in the January 6 Attack on the Capitol

A screenshot of the Uncivil Religion home page

Following announcements from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the University of Alabama, the Department of Religious Studies is proud to announce a new digital resource produced in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s Center for the Understanding of Religion in American History

Uncivil Religion uses publicly available digital media to trace the threads of religious symbols, ideas, discourses, and identities throughout the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Launching just days before the one year anniversary, the project includes a series of interpretive essays and a curated set of galleries of digital media that represent the various ways religion showed up that day. The essays, all of which were written by internationally recognized scholars of religion and politics, use individual examples of digital media from January 6 to explore the larger role of religion before, during, and after that day.

Prof. Mike Altman, from UA’s Department of Religious Studies, and Dr. Jerome Copulsky, a consulting scholar at the National Museum of American History’s Center for the Understanding of Religion in American History, are the project’s directors. Dr. Peter Manseau, Director of the Center for Understanding Religion in American History at the National Museum of American History, serves as project advisor. Religious Studies graduate students from the REL 502: Public Humanities and Religious Studies course in the Fall of 2021 provided research and digital expertise to the project. The REL Digital Lab, within the Department of Religious Studies, and eTech, within the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Alabama, provided additional technical resources, consulting, and support.

Uncivil Religion is an exciting new collaboration between the museum and the department and we are hopeful that it can grow. It is a resource that will be of value to teachers, scholars, and anyone interested in better understanding the role of religion in politics.

REL News: Jackson Foster Awarded Marshall Scholarship

Jackson Foster, REL Major

Established in the UK by the passage of the Marshall Aid Commemoration Act, the Marshall Scholarship annually finances up to fifty young Americans to study for a degree in any field in the United Kingdom. Chosen for their leadership and ambassadorial potential, as well as their academic ability, Marshall Scholars are a living embodiment of the enduring special relationship between the UK and America.

This year, the British government selected forty-one winners from over one-thousand university-endorsed applicants and REL is extremely proud that REL double major Jackson Foster is among them. Continue reading

Things You Didn’t Think You’d Learn in Grad School: Coding

Students working in REL 503

Erica Bennett, now in her second and final year of the REL MA, is from Louisiana and earned her undergraduate degree from Millsaps College. Working with Prof. Touna as her supervisor, she is also a T.A. this semester for Prof. Simmons’s REL 100 and Prof. Altman’s research assistant on the American Examples grant. She is interested in studying new religious movements.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that our society revolves around, and cannot function without, technology. From Netflix party hangouts and social media to collaborative online work spaces and daily Zoom meetings, technology seems to have become even more integrated into our daily lives. While people use the internet, websites, apps, and other technologies every day, most do not know how the internet works, that it is physical resource, or that anyone can learn to code or program. One reason I decided to enroll in the Religion in Culture MA program at the University of Alabama was the emphasis on helping students grow their digital humanities skills. Before my first class at UA, I expected to learn skills that would be helpful for digital projects like making podcasts, videos, and websites to distribute my research to a wider public. I did learn those skills (thank you REL 502!) and I get to practice them on a regular basis. What I did not expect to learn, and surprisingly really enjoy, was how to code and program to assist in my research efforts and better understand the digital world we live in. Continue reading