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.

MA Students Taking Over the Study Religion Podcast

You guys ready for everyone's minds to be blown?

Our podcast has been taken over. For the latest episode of Study Religion, we’ve turned it over to our MA students–Emma Gibson, Sarah Griswold, and Sierra Lawson. This Fall these students were all part of our MA foundations course REL 502: Religious Studies and Public Humanities. In the course the students learned to use digital tools and our field’s main professional organization, the American Academy of Religion (AAR) served all semester as the example on which they applied these tools So to end the semester we invited them to talk a bit about the last four AAR Presidential Addresses (2013-2016)–giving us their take on how the field is shaped and where it all might be going.

 

 

 

Why We Use Slack in the MA in Religion in Culture

slack

Have you ever heard of Slack? I first heard about it in an ad on one of my favorite podcasts. It’s a group messaging app that allows to build a closed “workspace” where a team of people can send messages, share files, and communicate. It can even assign your office Secret Santas for you. But here in the Department of Religious Studies, we’re using Slack to communicate across our new MA program in Religion in Culture.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

The AAR Conference Stories Project

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 religiousstudies@ua.edu. Put “AAR Story” in the subject line.

We want to hear your most interesting, funny, exciting stories from the AAR!

The Study Religion Podcast is BACK!

The first episode of our department podcast, Study Religion, for the new school year is all about, well, firsts. I talk to our first cohort of graduate students in the new Religion in Culture MA program about being the first students in a new program and how the first semester is going. Next I sit down with Prof. Vaia Touna to talk about a big first in her career: her first book. We also talk about how societies use the past and history to represent themselves in the present. And I learned something about Greek toast.

Give it a listen!

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P.S. If you listen to us on Apple Podcasts, please leave us a comment and a rating! It really helps other folks find the show!

REL Grad School Workshop

Time is money, money is power, power is pizza and pizza is knowledge

Are you thinking about going to grad school? Do you have questions?

How do you find the right graduate program?

What’s a statement of purpose?

What’s grad school like?

Well, we have answers!!

Join us tomorrow night at 6pm in Manly 210 for our annual REL Grad School Workshop. We’ll have answers to any of your questions and PIZZA!

 

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!