Power and Perfect Pictures

This post is part of a series that originated out of a photo essay assignment in Dr. Simmons’s Interim “Religion and Pop Culture” course that asked students to apply discussion themes to everyday objects or experiences.

When I was younger and more naive, I thought the future would have flying cars, cured diseases, and immortal people. Today popular culture more often utilizes trends of a dystopian future, such as the ones in The Hunger Games and Divergent. In these stories, there is great injustice and suffering, and the hero of the story must rise against the system. These plotlines occur where good ideas and intentions cross with futuristic technology and end up with unintended consequences. The shift in view of the future from a place we all want to live to a place only the damned are left to endure reflects the situations of the storytellers. Asking in a post for The Week why TV is “awash in afterlives, hells, and purgatories,” Lili Loofbourow states, “I’m trying not to read too much into this historical moment, but it’s hard to avoid speculating about the ways in which this proliferation of TV shows about people embracing the irrational reflects the national mood.” I think this shift in fiction, as Loofbourow implies, goes hand in hand with people’s everyday lives. Stories about the future are really stories about the present—about the people telling them.

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The Performances We Give Every Day

This post is part of a series that originated out of a photo essay assignment in Dr. Simmons’s Interim “Religion and Pop Culture” course that asked students to apply discussion themes to everyday objects or experiences.

The time is Halloween 2018, and my nephews—ages nine and seven—are focused on one thing. They eat, sleep, and breathe Power Rangers. For them, these action heroes make the world go round. So naturally, at Halloween, the only costuming option as far as they are concerned is…you guessed it, Power Rangers. The only problem is that their love for the franchise is bigger than the amount of options available at stores. So, we set out to make their outfits from scratch. Several sheets of craft foam, plasti-dip, and spray paint cans later…here we are.

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Defending Non-“Real” Music

This post is part of a series that originated out of a photo essay assignment in Dr. Simmons’s Interim “Religion and Pop Culture” course that asked students to apply discussion themes to everyday objects or experiences.

I think there’s a power in not caring about the opinions of others. If we place enough value on something, then no matter what the opinions of others are, we can still look at it with a sense of pride. Taking away the “unfortunate interruption of opinions” allows for someone to unironically love something (Kavanagh, 306). There are a lot of things we hold dear to ourselves that, in theory, have no “real” value on our lives. Of course, a lot of people would defend their family, friends, careers—but favorite music? Why do we place such importance on who our favorite artists are? Why do we get so defensive when others try and shut down our top picks? Why do we feel a little embarrassed sometimes if the person or group we’re into isn’t “real music”?

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Power Always Changes

This post is part of a series that originated out of a photo essay assignment in Dr.Simmons’s Interim “Religion and Pop Culture” course that asked students to apply discussion themes to everyday objects or experiences.

As I was sitting at work the other day at Bryant Denny Stadium, the doorbell buzzed turning on the camera to let me know someone was outside. Using the speaker, they explained to me why they were there. This is part of my job. People ring the doorbell, explain to me why they are there, and I decide if they get access to the building. A few weeks ago, the doorbell rang and as I was about to hit the unlock button, I realized that I recognized the person outside. One of my past professors was standing outside waiting for me to respond. This professor was…not my favorite, to put it diplomatically. For a few seconds, I sat there debating on if I should let him in. Here I was sitting at my desk, a student, but I had the power in this setting. This power was situational but absolute. Outside of that building, I have no power in comparison to the professor. In class, I had no power, but he did. At the moment before I open the door, however, I get to make the decision of who can enter and who cannot. I, a student worker, control the access for one of the most important buildings in Tuscaloosa. People come from all over the world to this building, but I get to make the decision if they get to come inside. This one instance made me think about the peculiarity of power. Who grants it, who has it, and who does not are all constantly changing. Whether or not we realize it, we can observe these shifts in our lives every day if we pay attention. Continue reading

(Just Like) Starting Over Pt. 4

Ellie Cochran is a senior at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies with a depth study in Environmental Management. She will be graduating this May and plans to pursue a Master of Science in Family Financial Planning & Counseling. She’s been blogging her reflections on her time in the Department of Religious Studies. You can read parts 1, 2, and 3 in this series here.

Mere days before I am to graduate from the University of Alabama, I find myself considering the changes that have occurred since I first began school here in August of 2015. There are, of course, the obvious changes, such as no longer living in a dorm or the fact that I will soon have a double-major bachelor’s degree listed on my resume instead of none. But much like with any phase of one’s life, college being no different, there are subtle changes that take place over time and which typically go undetected until further scrutinized.

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(Just Like) Starting Over Pt. 3

Ellie Cochran is a senior at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies with a depth study in Environmental Management. She will be graduating this May and plans to pursue a Master of Science in Family Financial Planning & Counseling.

As I sat in Professor Crews’ class on a Tuesday in early February, I found myself wondering about each of the students who chose to add her REL 105 course to their schedule when they registered for classes a few months back. Many of them, in fact, most of them were looking for a Core course that was both interesting and would fulfill some portion of their vast degree requirements. I too was in that position just three years ago and, without ever considering that I would obtain an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies, I signed up for the introductory course.

At the time that I registered for my intro course, I was considering a change in degrees, but I had not officially decided on anything. Throughout my freshman year of college, my major was Business, largely because that is what I had hesitantly declared while attending Bama Bound the June before I came to UA. During the fall and spring semesters of my first year, I took a couple of general business courses which were required of any major within the College of Business. In addition to taking the business requirements, I, like most students in their first two years of undergrad, focused on also taking a variety of courses that would fulfill the general Core requirements for the University as a whole. These included History, Literature, Art, Humanities, Natural Science, and social/behavioral science classes. When I decided to forgo my general business degree just two weeks before I began my sophomore year, I suddenly needed to modify my entire fall schedule. As a result, I loaded up on a mix of lower-level core courses, taking an online Anthropology class, large-enrollment History and Literature classes, one Natural Science, and you guessed it, a Religious Studies course. Continue reading

(Just Like) Starting Over Pt. 2

Ellie Cochran is a senior at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies with a depth study in Environmental Management. She will be graduating this May and plans to pursue a Master of Science in Family Financial Planning & Counseling.

As mentioned in my first blog post, (Just Like) Starting Over Pt. 1, I have spent part of my final semester as an undergraduate sitting in on the Religious Studies honors introductory course (REL 105) that is required of majors. While this course is technically the same introduction material that I received three years ago in my intro class (REL 100), I have noticed some distinguishable differences between the honors and non-honors courses.

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(Just Like) Starting Over Pt. 1

4 students writing lists related to book chapters on a marker board. There backs are turned toward the camera.

Ellie Cochran is a senior at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies with a depth study in Environmental Management. She will be graduating this May and plans to pursue a Master of Science in Family Financial Planning & Counseling.

Over the last few months, in the final semester of my undergraduate degree, I have been participating in an independent study in the Department of Religious Studies, which includes sitting in on the Honors Introduction to Religious Studies course, taught by Prof. Emily Crews. In addition to sitting in on two different sections of her course each week, and reviewing many of the same readings that I did in my own intro course three years ago, I have also regularly met with Prof. Russell McCutcheon and discussed new readings on pedagogy in the humanities. While there has been quite a bit of overlap between the kinds of things I learned in my introductory course, taught by Prof. Merinda Simmons, my experience of sitting in again on this 100-level course has been surprisingly different than what I expected when the semester began in January. Continue reading

Using Sports to Understand Social Perspectives

Ally Manel is a sophomore from Holbrook, New York. She is a dual degree
candidate in Biology and Religious Studies, as well as a member of
the University of Alabama Equestrian Team.

With the Final Four just around the corner, millions of people will tune in to watch their favorite college teams compete for the title of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Thousands will pack into the stadium to watch the games, and there are bound to be many angry fans each time the referee makes a close call. Now, being a sports fan, I am no stranger to the frustration felt when a referee seems to be favoring the opponent. After all, I am certain where my loyalties lie, and when the ref makes a call that seems unfair, it certainly feels like they lose the objectivity expected of them, as if they have allegiances with the adversary. Now, no one is perfect, and when the tables are turned and the referee seems to favor my team, I suddenly see the calls as fair. The contradictions in my critique of the referee can be translated into responses to traditions such as Hinduism. Sometimes, outsiders see certain viewpoints of Hindu myths as contradictory to Hindu ideals, just as close calls by referees can be seen as both fair and unfair to outsiders.

In Hinduism, Hanuman is a significant deity and is given the honorable title of “destroyer of evil.” In one particular Hindu comic, “Hanuman to the Rescue: Hanuman brings the Sanjeevani,” by Anant Pai, Hanuman is given the task of delivering a plant to Lakshmana, another influential deity, in order to save his life. While bringing the plant, Hanuman has to kill hundreds of his enemies to get back to his home and Lakshmana. To Hindus, the story is thought to represent the truest form of loyalty and sincerity, and the violence against the enemies is seen as necessary. To some outsiders of the religion, the violence used to kill the enemies in order to save Lakshmana is seen as contradictory to the ideals of the religion. For instance, take the Hindu idea of ahimsa, meaning nonviolence. Many Hindus attempt to live by this principle, and for the comic to portray violence so openly, some see it as contradictory to ahimsa. Whether the comic is contradictory to the religion, though, is not what I am here to decide. Instead, it’s important to note how an individual’s own biases, experiences, and background shape the opinion they form. Maybe Hindus are more willing to overlook Hanuman’s violence because his intentions are to destroy evil, and without taking a violent approach, evil will persist. If one looks from a different perspective, though, the violence might be viewed as wrong and unnecessary.

Taking this back to March Madness referees, a referee may make a certain call because of something they learned in training, or a similar play that went down, just in the same way that a Hindu might overlook Hanuman’s violence because of an experience they’ve had, while another person might see the act as a bit problematic. These differing opinions are simply inevitable, and it is important for us to take into account the different sides of every story. These different experiences can change an entire ideology, as seen with the story of Hanuman retrieving the plant. The biases of authors and readers lead to different versions of stories, and in order to fully understand a story, often the reader must consider their own biases as well as the writer’s experiences.

 

Image credit: via MaxPixel (CC0 1.0)

A Return to the Nacirema

Ryland Hunstad, a student in Prof. Simmons’s REL 100 this past semester, is a sophomore from Denver, Colorado majoring in finance & management information systems, with interests in politics, philosophy, & religion.

In the following post he offers some further reflections on a group of people who were originally studied, in the mid-1950s, by the anthropologist, Horace Miner.

Since the last expedition to the land of the Nacirema, anthropologists have had several more opportunities to visit these people and observe their customs and social practices, in an attempt to decode the seemingly cryptic meaning behind their traditions and religious practices as it relates to their society. Those outsiders studying the Nacirema, by learning the language and acquainting themselves in general with the members of the Nacirema tribe, have begun to understand these customs in more depth, especially as they relate to the class system present among the Nacirema. Our hope in this piece is to relay their findings so that these social practices may be studied and analyzed in greater detail. Continue reading