(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

6 Questions with Markus Harris

We have a series that features grads that have ended up doing a pretty wide variety of things after leaving their REL classes (graduating either recently or a little while ago).  So we posed a few questions to each and let’s see what we learn.

1. When were you enrolled at UA and what major(s) and minor(s) did you graduate with?

Greetings! I had two tenures of enrollment with the University of Alabama. The second tenure is where I found a home with Religious Studies. I graduated in the Spring of 2011 with a B.A in African American Studies and a minor in Religious Studies.

2. When you first came here from high school, what did you think you wanted to do for a career?

Ha! When I first came to UA, I was going to be a Computer Scientist!

3. Any memories from your REL classes in Manly Hall that stand out and, more importantly perhaps, that you can share without incriminating anyone?

All of the things!! Were it not for the consideration given to me, I am not sure that I would have made it out with a degree. The Politics of Authenticity! It was at Manly where I learned what it meant to truly be a Scholar!! I will always cherish the time spent with Dr. Murphy in “History of Christian Thought.”

4. So what have you ended up doing and what path led you there? Tell us a little about your career now.

Currently, I am a Coordinator for the Lyle School of Engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. I also teach ESL at Richland College, and I do some private consulting for Higher Education. Fate has brought me here, existentially! Ha! I will complete a Ph.D. in History eventually.

5. Is it fair to think that some of your REL undergrad classes or skills continue to be useful to you? If so, do you have any examples?

I know that the experience I was afforded as an undergrad learning and growing in Religious Studies has certainly contributed to my current space in the world. For example, I facilitate English learning classes with people of conflicting religious backgrounds. Sometimes, it can get really interesting!

6. If you now gave some advice to your earlier self, the one in classes in Manly Hall, what would that be?

Listen and read much more! Pay more attention to Dr. McCutcheon, Dr. Trost,  and Dr. Simmons! Drink more coffee! Hang out with Betty more!! Speak up more (if you can imagine that)!

The 6th Annual Day Lecture

If you weren’t able to attend our 6th annual Day Lecture this year,
then you can now find it on Vimeo!

Dr. Teemu Taira, who is a Professor in the Department of the Study of Religions at the University of Helsinki, spoke on “Reading Bond Films Through the Lens of Religion.”

Our thanks to A&S’s etech office for filming the lecture.

Is this “Rising” or even Equal?

Ana Schuber is a graduate student in our Religion in Culture MA program. This post was originally published on our Religious Studies & Social Theory: Foundations course blog.

So, here in the middle, actually right up on the final run toward the mid-term 2018 elections, it was amazing to see a political advertisement that turned the standard dialogue about women running for office on its head. Paid for by the Serve America PAC, a democratic effort, this ad features eight first time congressional female candidates running across the United States for elected office. You should watch it here:

I have a long and varied path from my early identification as a feminist in the 1960s to the present Pussy Hat wearing throng of women with political ambition or political desire. This ad was new.

Seeing the ad for the first time on Facebook, my old feminist heart leapt at the visual of these women, all having served America either through military service (Marines, Navy or Air Force) or governmental service (CIA). They spoke of their service in combat, as leaders, in high-powered jobs and their desire to continue to serve their country through political service.

First impressions being what they are and quite frankly after forty years of the old dialogue about the “little ladies” running for office, I was blown away and amazed at this political advertisement. I smiled and re-posted it to several feminist friends and colleagues and planned to show the ad to my undergraduate students in triumph of a new wave of possible women candidates who could win with such a message.

But then, the scholar in me woke up and shoved aside the feminist and I started wondering what I would say to my students. The language of this ad was different than any other “woman’s” political ad that I had ever seen. They were using the language that is usually associated with male power. They were talking about flying combat planes, leading men and women into battle, leading men and women on a huge ship, working in a male-dominated investigation unit. The linguistic images were those of men. Hold on a minute.  Feminists have been fighting the image of nature versus nurture for hundreds of years and endless reams of scholarship attempting to level the playing field for both men and women.  Scholars like Sherry B Ortner (see her article “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture”) associate women’s lack of social or cultural power to the fact that women are considered closer to nature due to their ability to give birth and nurture children. Men are typically identified with the power associated with the protection of weaker women and children through aggression and battle. This political ad was using what many would consider male language. Rather than considering women equal to men, was this not a usurpation of “male” language just to get females elected?

As women have been afforded secondary status historically, this ad leaves us with an incredible predicament because women are not unilaterally one thing across the globe and when it comes to the concept of power there are even more complexities. It seems that we have finally begun to un-separate the “duties” of men and women in culture and un-tangle the gendered language used to understand what power is acceptable within culture. More importantly, what does it say if these women win in the mid-term election of 2018? Do women have to usurp the heretofore language of male “power” in order to win? What does this say about a woman who occupies a “traditional” woman’s job in culture such as school teacher, non-profit worker or librarian? Is female “power” now only afforded to those women who have “made it” in traditional male jobs such as combat or the CIA? That seems to be the message of this political ad.

When all these ideas came rushing into my head, I was suddenly mad. Minutes before, I was ready to run out and vote and champion this moment and minutes later I was grumpy and back to my typical “HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?” mood. In the long run, what happens if women win using what is considered male language, and what are the consequences?

There and Back Again: A Grad’s Tale

What can you do with a degree in Religious Studies or the humanities? Have questions about what happens after graduation? Come find out from a successful REL graduate. Join us on Wednesday, September 26 for our Grad Tales event! Jennifer Alfano Nelson is a Religious Studies graduate who will be discussing her undergraduate degrees (English and Religious Studies) earned from UA in 2007.

 

Jennifer went on to earn a M.A. in Education at UAB and taught middle school English from 2010-2017, and she is now a member of the Alum Liaison Committee. During this time, she developed an interest in educational technology and software development and decided to learn to code, receiving a scholarship to Flatiron School’s Web Developer program from Women Who Code. She is now a software developer at Quantalytix, Inc. in Birmingham, AL. She also gets to combine her passion for education and technology as a Microsoft TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) volunteer, co-teaching an introduction to computer science course at Tarrant High School.

Meet Jennifer…

 

Jennifer’s host in the event will be Kim Davis also an REL grad and member of the Alum Liaison Committee.

6 Questions with Joe Kimbrough

We’ve started a new series, featuring grads that have ended up doing a pretty wide variety of things after leaving their REL classes (graduating either recently or a little while ago).  So we posed a few questions to each and let’s see what we learn.

1. When were you here & what did you graduate with?

I arrived in September or October 2005, after Hurricane Katrina. I graduated in May 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies with a minor in Philosophy.

2. When you first came here from high school, what did you think you wanted to do for a career?

I planned a seminary trip to become a pastor.

3. Any memories from your REL classes in Manly Hall that stand out and, more importantly perhaps, that you can share without incriminating anyone?

“Without incriminating anyone,” huh? You’re not making things easy, Dr. McCutcheon. This could take a minute…. All right, I recall a meeting with Dr. Tim Murphy. Dr. Murphy led my independent study at the time. He wanted an update after Spring Break. I reached the door at the same time as my buddy, Zach Day. Murphy told us both to come in and see what happens. Dr. Murphy, Zach, and I had one of the best brainstorm sessions. Everyone tossed theorists about. We each shared a perspective based on our current project. Plus, we dreamed of where our individual projects could lead us. Oh sure, the goals were reached. The three of us came away with a touch of clarity and a dozen new rabbit trails. I enjoyed the simple exploration of it all.

4. So what have you ended up doing and what path led you there? Tell us a little about your career now.

The best description I have: I daylight as a tobacconist and moonlight starting up a ministry project. I worked a number of odd jobs after graduation. I, even, returned to Bama to get a master’s degree. In 2015, I landed as store manager for The Briary in Homewood, AL. Also, I write stories, perform in churches, and promote artists through the Storytelling Apologetics Project. So I control inventory and plan stories. Meanwhile, I sell pipes, tobacco, and cigars and rehearse for storytelling performances. Plus, I play webmaster for both positions. Never thought I would end up here, but my career path is a fun ride.

5. Is it fair to think that some of your REL undergrad classes or skills continue to be useful to you?

Absolutely, not only is it fair but also completely accurate. I talk daily about Derrida, Plato, and Chesterton with customers. I might even suggest that sales are like adapting to different professors. Plus, I find the same rules for editing papers apply to editing stories .I could go on, but suffice it to say: my time in Manly definitely benefits me daily.

6. If you now gave some advice to your earlier self, the one in classes in Manly Hall, what would that be?

Look down the course list, and take that one class simply because it looks interesting. Yeah, I know it doesn’t fit with anything else at the moment. However, that class will have the most fascinating benefits one day.

That’s Joe, above, pictured with his wife Jessica.

6 Questions with Shane Sharp

We’ve started a new series, featuring grads that have ended up doing a pretty wide variety of things after leaving their REL classes (graduating either recently or a little while ago).  So we posed a few questions to each and let’s see what we learn.

1. When were you enrolled at UA and what major(s) and minor(s) did you graduate with?

1997-2001; Psychology and Religious Studies (double major)

2. When you first came here from high school, what did you think you wanted to do for a career?

I wanted to do something that didn’t involve backbreaking labor in the hot, hot sun.

3. Any memories from your REL classes in Manly Hall that stand out and, more importantly perhaps, that you can share without incriminating anyone?

The best classes I had were with Dr. Catherine Roach, and those didn’t happen in Manly Hall. What I remember the most about my classes in Manly was how students would simply tell professors they were wrong, especially in the Old Testament and New Testament classes. Dr. Green, of course, took this in stride. Dr. Weinberger was too old to put up with any of that and would outline each and every way the student was wrong (and not in a nice way).

4. So what have you ended up doing and what path led you there? Tell us a little about your career now.

I am an associate professor of Sociology at Northern Illinois University. After graduating from UA, I attended Vanderbilt and received an MA in Religion. I then moved on to the University of Wisconsin—Madison and received an MA and PhD in Sociology. I was hired by NIU in 2011, and I have been here ever since. I do research in the social psychology of religion. A particular area of research I focus on is the religious practice of prayer.

5. Is it fair to think that some of your REL undergrad classes or skills continue to useful to you? If so, do you have any examples?

This is a fair assumption. Dr. Doty’s psychology of religion class and Dr. Roach’s problem of evil class have stuck with me. As I said above, I do research in the social psychology of religion. I also have written journal articles on theodicy, and I can trace this interest back to Dr. Roach’s course.

6. If you now gave some advice to your earlier self, the one in classes in Manly Hall, what would that be?

Everything’s going to be all right.

Ed. Note: Dr. William Doty and Dr. Leon Weinberger, longtime members of REL, retired in the late 1990s or very early 2000s and have since passed away; former Chair of REL, Dr. Patrick Green, though retired, still teaches occasionally for Honors or Blount, and Dr. Catherine Roach is a senior member of the faculty in New College here at UA.