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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 →