About Michael Altman

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.

Inventing Something New: A Public Digital Religious Studies

It’s getting closer and closer to a new academic year. This year we’re starting something new in the Department, our MA in Religion in Culture. That means new(ish) students. That means new classes too. I’m excited for the new semester because I get to teach the first version of our MA course REL 502: Public Humanities and Religious Studies. It’s all so new!

But seriously, it’s all so new! It’s not just a new class in a new degree program. The very idea of public humanities or digital humanities or digital public humanities and religious studies is a new one. As Christopher Cantwell and Hussein Rashid observed in their 2015 report Religion, Media, and the Digital Turn, “At the same time that digital scholarship became ascendant within the academy, it also became surprisingly absent from the study of religion.” While other fields, most notably history and literary studies, have developed sophisticated methods and theories surrounding the use of digital technology in research and teaching, religious studies has lagged behind. Likewise, there is a long tradition of “public history” in history departments that train students for work in public institutions like museums or non-profits. It is true that the flagship North American academic society for the study of religion, the American Academy of Religion, has taken an increasing interest in promoting “the public understanding of religion.” But that interest has focused mainly on K-12 education and journalism. No one is taking religious studies straight to the public.

So, out of the swirl of digital humanities, public humanities, and our own department’s interest in social theory, I am trying to spin a new class that will begin to train MA students to do public digital religious studies. Not only that, but in the class itself we’ll be working together to invent “public digital religious studies.” We can look to historians and literary scholars for ideas and examples, we can engage the literature on public humanities, we can look at digital humanities projects, but in the end we are setting off on a brand new path in the study of religion. We’ll also be learning a lot of new practical digital tools and skills with which to build this public digital religious studies. It’s a brand new invention and this new class will be our laboratory. I’m excited to get started.

 

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Profs. Simmons and Altman Talk About the New MA Degree

Have you heard about the Religions Studies Project? It’s a great website and podcast based out of the United Kingdom. This week they are featuring a podcast episode with Profs. Mike Altman and Merinda Simmons all about our new Religion in Culture master’s degree program.

Give it a listen and learn about our new program. We’re still accepting applications!

 

Study Religion: The Podcast Episode 2 “Turkey Ritual”

In this episode we think about the ways we categorize things as religion. The show begins with the ritual life of turkeys and what that tells us about the category “religion.” Then a few REL majors show us how the category “sacrifice” is all around us. Finally, host Michael Altman talks with Dr. Megan Goodwin (@mpgphd) about the new CNN show Believer and how religious studies can find a broader public audience.

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We Have a Podcast

We love to talk about religious studies here in the Department. We love to talk about religious studies so much that we decided we should record some of it. That’s why we are happy to announce the launch of our new podcast: Study Religion.

The podcast will bring those outside our campus into the conversations we are having on the balconies and inside the offices of Manly Hall. It will provide a venue for students to talk about and showcase their undergraduate research. It will give students in our new M.A. program an outlet for their skills and an opportunity for professionalization. It’s a chance to make everything great about this department more accessible to a larger audience.

The show will be a mix of genres. It will feature interviews with faculty and guests about their work, analysis of current events and popular culture, and segments produced by students. We’re aiming for an episode or two a month, but they will be occasional and their frequency will reflect the goings-on in the department and the larger field.

Please subscribe to us on iTunes and leave a comment and a rating. That really helps others find the show. You can also find us on SoundCloud.

In the first episode, I sit down with Prof. Russell McCutcheon, the Department Chair, to talk about what makes this Department what it is and what we’re trying to do around here. In the second half of the show, I’m joined by Prof. Merinda Simmons, our Graduate Director, to talk about the new MA in Religion in Culture that we are launching in the fall.

Give it a listen:

 

We’ll Answer All of Your Questions about Graduate School!

Are you curious about graduate school in any field? Got questions? Well we’re here to answer them. Join us at 6:30pm on Wednesday February 8 in Manly 210 for informal discussion of all things graduate school. We’ll talk about everything from the application process to getting finished and prepared for the job market. It’s also a chance to get more info about the brand new REL MA degree in Religion in Culture.  For more info or to RSVP see the Facebook Event. Hope to see you there!

 

One Week of Research in an Archive: A Journal

Professors around the department often talk about their “research.” But what exactly is that? It’s something to do with books and articles, right? In hopes of showing how some of us work–or at least how I work–below is a day by day running journal of a five day research trip I took to the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Prof. Ikeuchi to Screen Her Research

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Our newest addition to the REL faculty, Prof. Suma Ikeuchi will screen her ethnographic film “In Leila’s Room” at the 2016 Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Media Festival. Here’s a brief description of the film:

A young Brazilian migrant woman, Leila, runs a small make-up salon in her apartment in Toyota City, Japan. Most of her clients are, like herself, Brazilians of Japanese descent who have return migrated to the land of their ancestors. Her small salon is also a social hub of evangelical women in the local Brazilian migrant community who come in for good make-up and conversations. In this intimate space, Leila, her fellow migrants, and the filmmaker speak about and act out their complex identities.
Shot almost entirely in one room, the film captures migrants’ sense of identity and belonging by witnessing the interactions between Leila, the filmmaker, her family and friends, and the clients. What defines being Japanese, Brazilian, or Japanese-Brazilian? How does generational identity shape transnational belonging? How can one rely on God in the face of ethnic discrimination and social alienation? The scenes and dialogues speak to these issues that migrants constantly grapple with.

The film will be screened at the festival in Minneapolis, MN this November. Congratulations, Prof. Ikeuchi!

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Religious Studies in the Time of Trumpism

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When I heard Donald Trump’s speech on Monday I realized that Trump’s rhetoric presents the scholar of religion with a crossroads. Scholars of religion have to make a decision about how to engage Trumpism.

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REL Graduates Head Off to Do Great Things

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We have great students here in REL. When they graduate they go off to do great things. (You can hear about some of the things our graduates do at our Grad Tales events.) We are proud of all of the REL majors that are graduating. Four of this year’s REL graduates are going off to pursue further academic work in graduate school: Continue reading

Jared Powell: One Outstanding Student Worker

Jared Powell accepting his nominee award from Robert Hayes, Assistant Dean for Student Services, College of Arts and Sciences

Jared Powell accepting his nominee award from Robert Hayes, Assistant Dean for Student Services, College of Arts and Sciences

So much of what happens to make REL into the wonderful department that it is happens because of our hardworking main office staff. The videos, the buttons, the events, and all the other things that make this department such a joy to be part of couldn’t happen without our student workers. Yesterday, one of those student workers finally got the recognition he deserves. Jared Powell, an REL major, a graduating senior, a future MA student in English, and a man who knows the value of well-ironed pants, was recognized as a nominee at this year’s Student Employee of the Year Awards luncheon. Why was Jared nominated, you might ask? Well, our department’s Administrative Secretary, Betty Dickey, said it best: Continue reading