Michael J. Altman is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies. Dr. Altman's areas of interest are American religious history, theory and method in the study of religion, the history of comparative religion, and Asian religions in American culture. Overall, his research sits at the crossroads of American religious history and religious studies, using the theoretical insights of religious studies to dig deeper into what we mean by "religion" in religious history. His current research examines cultural constructions of Hinduism in 19th-century America.
On the first page of Imagining Religion, historian of religion Jonathan Z. Smith writes:
For the self-conscious student of religion, no datum possess intrinsic interest. It is of value only insofar as it can serve as exempli gratis of some fundamental issue in the imagination of religion.
For Smith, and I agree with him, scholars should choose particular examples as data that suit particular questions that they want to answer. In this way, the scholar of religion is not bound by “the boundaries of canon nor of community” in their pursuits. Thus, the data for religious studies is not limited to things that seem “religious” in the common use of the term. Furthermore, it is not the “religious” data that directs our research, but the larger theoretical questions that we seek to answer through the data we select.
This brings me to WrestleMania. Today WWE will put on their 35th annual WrestleMania show and I think there are three aspects of the show that could be of interest to a scholar of religion in the Smithian vein. To be clear, I don’t think a religious studies approach to WrestleMania should go find the things that seem obviously religious happening at the event, nor am I arguing that pro wrestling is also a religion. Rather, I am pointing out a few places where a scholar asking certain questions might find some data to theorize with.
So, I present a Religious Studies Guide WrestleMania 35.
When we all get back from Spring Break on March 18 it will officially be time for registration advising for the Fall 2019 semester. Prof. Altman has set aside Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday afternoons from noon-3:30 for advising appointments. So please email him and let him know a time and date that fits those afternoons so you can chat about the excellent courses we’re offering next semester and how to get you one semester closer to graduation!
Earlier this fall we announced a new working group for early career scholars of religion in America, American Examples. Thanks to funding from REL and the College of Arts and Sciences we will be hosting 6 participants on campus for a workshop that will produce an anthology of new papers taking a new approach to the study of religion in America.
We are happy and excited to announce the participants in the inaugural year of the working group:
Since Prof. McCutcheon has offered a couple of posts with advice about the job market, one on campus interviews and one on the process more broadly, I thought I would add a post about another piece of the job market process: the CV.
The topic of the CV came up the other day in our REL 502: Public Humanities Foundations course when we were looking at professional websites the students had built. Every student had included some sort of CV on their site but as we talked it became clear that why that CV was there and what it was doing needed to be thought out more clearly. Continue reading →
The American Academy of Religion, the national scholarly association for religious studies in America, just sent out its program of plenary addresses for its upcoming annual meeting this November. The abstract for David Gushee’s Presidential Address caught my eye.
There are a number of things to say about this. First of all, I told ya’ll this would happen during the nomination process three years ago. Looking closely at the abstract, the phrase “will perform ‘religion in public’ in a confessional vein” jumps out at me right away. The theme of the annual meeting, chosen by Gushee as president, is “religion in public” and this sentence shows the versatility of that phrase. The phrase “religion in public” usually connotes the area where scholars investigate how things called “religion” show up in the public sphere. Or sometimes, especially within the AAR and it’s mission to “enhance the public understanding of religion,” religion in public means that scholars share their knowledge about things called religion with the public. But this is neither of those. Gushee will be performing religion in public. He will be bringing the thing called religion into the public. But what public? A room full (or maybe not full) of scholars in a massive conference center who paid the exorbitant registration fees of the AAR? That’s not exactly Times Square or a CNN studio.
The latest episode of the REL podcast, Study Religion, is now available wherever you get your podcasts. This episode gives a glimpse into the guests we have had visit the department this past spring. Every year our department welcomes guests who come and give lectures or visit with faculty and students. This past semester we had two excellent guests visit the department as part of our lecture series. First, Dr. Elijah Siegler was our Zachary Day Memorial Lecturer and gave an excellent talk on religion in the films of the Coen Brothers. Then, Dr. Linell Cady came as our Aronov Lecturer. Dr. Cady spent time with a group of faculty discussing the current state and future of religious studies in higher education. She also delivered a wonderful lecture on spirituality, science, and secularism in America. This episode is a taste of these visits from our guests.
Part of our new MA program is a foundations course, REL 502: Religion and Public Humanities, that I was in charge of teaching this year. In that class students learn a whole bunch of new digital tools for conducting and presenting their research and I knew we’d need an easy way to communicate, share links and files, and collaborate on projects. Email would have been to clunky for all of this so I decided to use Slack. When I told other faculty about this, it became clear that we could use Slack beyond just REL 502. Slack could provide a space for faculty and graduate students to share information, collaborate, and communicate.
So, rather than a Slack workspace just for my class, we have had a Slack workspace for the MA program as a whole and it has been really helpful. Every faculty member and all of our graduate students have access to it and it has made communication much easier in our new program. Within the workspace we have channels for each of the two foundations courses (REL 501 and REL 502), a channel called #gradhacks where we post advice for navigating graduate school, a general channel for information and announcements, and one for digital humanities within religious studies. The REL 501 class is using it to share brief responses to their readings each week while my REL 502 class uses it to collaborate on our digital projects.
More than communication, though, Slack provides camaraderie across the MA program. One student told me yesterday that she liked Slack because it was something more professional than a Facebook message or a text because it’s dedicated “for work” but less formal and complicated than an email because of its easy to use desktop and mobile apps. As our MA program grows and begins to produce alumni, we hope the Slack becomes a space where MA graduates can share ideas and advice with current MA students. The workspace will grow as the program grows and provide a stable digital hub for students and alumni. And it’s fun to share gifs.
As part of our REL 502 Religionus Studies and Public Humanities foundations course, our graduate students are putting together a collection of stories about people’s experiences at the annual American Academy of Religion national meeting. The AAR is more than an academic conference, it’s also a social and cultural event and we want to try and capture the aspects of the meeting that don’t show up on the conference program. We will take the best stories we can gather and use them in an upcoming episode of our podcast, Study Religion. To submit your story, call our AAR Stories hotline at 205-626-9346 and leave a message or record yourself telling your story and email the audio file to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “AAR Story” in the subject line.
We want to hear your most interesting, funny, exciting stories from the AAR!