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.

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.


Show notes:

Turkey ritual

Hubert and Mauss on sacrifice

Kathryn McClymond on sacrifice

Edward B. Tylor and William Robertson Smith on sacrifice

Believer on CNN


Profs. Altman and Goodwin’s twitter conversation about Believer

Megan Goodwin’s excellent new article

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.

Continue reading

Prof. Ikeuchi to Screen Her Research

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 11.39.28 AM

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!


Religious Studies in the Time of Trumpism


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.

Continue reading

REL Graduates Head Off to Do Great Things


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:


Jared being recognized for all his hard work in REL at the 2016 Honors Day reception

Jared Powell and his perfectly pressed pants will be working towards his M.A. in English here at the University of Alabama. Jared was the Outstanding Student in the Academic Study of Religion in 2014 and a Silverstein Scholar in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017. He also made some pretty good movies and photoshop images while working in the REL office.


Khortlan receiving her 2015 Outstanding Student award.

Khortlan Patterson will be heading off to Princeton Theological Seminary. Along with her active work within the UA campus community, Khortlan was a Silverstein Scholar four years in a row from 2013-2014 through 2016-2017 and was an Outstanding Student in the Academic Study of Religion in 2015.


Sarah presenting her research at SECSOR, the southeastern regional conference of the American Academy of Religion

Sarah Griswold will be heading south. She’ll be attending Florida State University where she’ll work toward her M.A. in the Religious Studies Department. Sarah was the 2016 Outstanding Student in the Academic Study of Religion and her essay “There is a Well at Cawnpore” won multiple awards for undergraduate research.


Sierra accepting her 2014-2015 Silverstein Scholars award from Prof. Jacobs

Sierra accepting her 2014-2015 Silverstein Scholars award from Prof. Jacobs

Sierra Loya is New Haven bound! She’ll be attending Yale Divinity School in the fall. Sierra was a Silverstein Scholar in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

Congratulations! We’re all very proud of you!


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:


For his part, Jared did his best to look good for the occasion.

Congratulations, Jared! Thank you for everything you’ve done for this department!

A Busy Week in REL: Grad School Workshop, Grad Tales, and the Manly Cup

It’s a busy week this week around Manly Hall. Here are three REL events you do not want to miss this week.

1. TONIGHT a 6pm in Manly 210: Graduate School Workshop

Are you thinking about going to graduate school after you graduate? Do you have questions? Where to apply? How to apply? What’s it like? How do you pay for it? These are good questions.  I will be hosting the event and I need your help as I organize the event. Tweet me your questions so I can come with answers (or with people who might have answers). Send your questions to @michaeljaltman and use the hashtag #RELGradQ!

And there will be pizza!


2. TOMORROW at 7pm in the Anderson Room of the Ferg: Grad Tales with filmmaker and REL alumnus Andrew Grace

 Born and raised in north Alabama, Andrew Grace is an independent documentary filmmaker whose films have aired on Public Television stations and at film festivals across the country. He was also a double major in REL and American studies. His film Eating Alabama won the James Beard Award for Best Documentary in 2014, and his recent work includes the interactive documentary “After the Storm,” which incorporated innovative graphic/web technology into the filmmaking process to tell a story about the tornado that devastated parts of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham in 2011. At the University of Alabama he teaches and oversees the interdisciplinary social justice documentary program called Documenting Justice.

3. THURSDAY at 6pm at Manly Hall: The Manly Cup


The Manly Cup is an annual contest between students and faculty with the winner getting to claim possession of the trophy for a year. This year the students and faculty will compete in badminton! We have secret footage from the faculty training sessions.

What a week!