After another unnecessary trip to the bookstore last semester (I have a bad habit of buying more books than I have time to read), I finally sat down with American Gods, a Neil Gaiman novel turned Starz series, at the suggestion of Prof. McCutcheon. Though the title and premise of the book certainly correlates to religious studies as I know it, the unique introduction flaunted on the cover of the edition I happened to buy, interested me more. Unbeknownst to me — as it was the only available version at Barnes and Noble — I had purchased the “Tenth Anniversary Author’s Preferred Text”, advertised on Amazon as, “American Gods as Neil Gaiman always meant it to be”. Now, anyone familiar with Roland Barthes essay The Death of the Author (a recent obsession of mine) should take a moment to recognize exactly where this blog post is headed. Continue reading
Kyle Ashley is a junior from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Majoring in Religious Studies, his main interests include loitering in libraries, copious amounts of coffee, and
keeping it emo in 2019.
“Knuckle Puck is awesome, but they can be a little screamo,” my stepbrother Tanner states, responding to my recommendation for which band he should play next.
“Ya… I guess.” I respond. We were fresh off attending the “Last cross-country Warped Tour” (Vans Warped Tour, for those who may not know, is a punk-centric music festival) and had a wealth of bands we wanted to push on others. Knuckle Puck, a band out of Chicago, was amongst our favorites.
As part of the MA in Religion in Culture at UA, students attend a monthly colloquium designed to introduce them to community members seeking graduates with strong critical thinking skills. During these meetings, the Department of Religious Studies brings in individuals from within and outside of the University to share their experiences in the job market. Their presentations often focus on the ways that the tools each MA student is cultivating in their humanities courses can be useful outside of traditional academia.
Jackson Foster is a freshman at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and History and minoring in the Blount Undergraduate Initiative and Randall Research Scholars Program. He is currently studying the intersections between law, politics, and religion in Dr. Altman’s REL130 course. This piece was originally published in High School SCOTUS, a national Supreme Court blog comprised of young students like Jackson.
The Supreme Court heard arguments last month in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, a case involving a 40-foot Peace Cross situated in a Maryland public park. Before (and since) the argument, American Legion has received special attention from the constitutional scholar and layman alike. It has been enveloped in media scrutiny (see Nina Totenberg’s Cross Clash Could Change Rules For Separation Of Church And State); it is one of the first Establishment Clause cases in the Kavanaugh era, and it may spell the end of the Lemon test.
While constitutional considerations carry great weight, they miss the heart of this case. American Legion does not so much implicate the Establishment Clause or the Lemon test as it implicates American civil religion. The questions argued in the case, therefore, can be nicely distilled to one: Is the cross civil or sectarian? Continue reading
Last Friday, the Department of Religious Studies hosted its annual Honor’s Day reception on the second-floor balcony of Manly Hall. Friends and family traveled in from around the state (and nation) to celebrate award recipients. The agreeable weather, tasty food, and great company made for an ideal day to celebrate the hard work of faculty and students over the last year.
As part of UA’s Alabama/Greece Initiative, Prof. Ioannis Xydopoulos visited the Department of Religious Studies just before Spring Break, hosted by REL’s Prof. Vaia Touna. After meeting with students, exploring Tuscaloosa, and guest teaching in one of Prof. Touna’s classes, our visitor from Aristotle University (AUTh) in Thessaloniki, presented his research on issues of ancient Greek identity.
If, like me, you use the kind of critical approach that Russell McCutcheon was talking about in his recent post, focusing on processes of designation, then you’ll sooner or later be told by a colleague that you waste time endlessly arguing about definitions. Often this is followed up by the claim that they “don’t do theory.” I’ve even had people exasperatedly tell me that none of what I do matters to real people, on the ground.
Of course, you can’t not do theory – but you can be conscious of it, or not. As Rush said, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” You’ve chosen the implicit folk category, inherited from colonialism and Protestantism – that religion is a special thing, set apart and unique, beliefs about ‘big questions’, of inherent value to people.
(As an aside, it’s interesting how many of those arguing that we can find religion in overlooked places present this as intrinsically a good thing. For those who focus on identifying new forms of spirituality, or religion in new places, the churches may be in decline, but the Nones/SBNRs still have values, beliefs, rituals… We saw the same thing in the early days of the study of religion where Protestant theologians strove to establish a grounding for Christianity outside of the Church and apart from the mythology of the Bible. Their arguments that religion is all about how people themselves relate to the spiritual, it’s just those elitist priests corrupting things, is exactly what most material or lived or implicit religion scholars are arguing.)
There is nothing new about this split in the field between those who see our field as analyzing social processes and those who see it as about being better humans, as Leonardo Ambasciano’s recent book demonstrates most clearly. Although we tend to think of this as a split between Religious Studies and Theology, perhaps, as Russell McCutcheon recently tweeted, this is better framed as a split between those who approach religion as a social science and those using a humanities approach:
For quite some time I’ve not been a fan of the theology vs rel st framing of the debate. For me it’s more about humanistic vs social scientific approaches. References to the enduring human spirit just as troublesome as souls.
— Russell McCutcheon (@McCutcheonSays) February 26, 2019
But what is certainly true is that the critical/discursive/attributional study of religion needs to better articulate the utility of the approach, in contexts beyond academic debates on method and theory. The fact is that what gets counted as religion in specific contexts is perhaps the most impactful question we can ask as social scientists. Far from being merely discourse-about-discourse in some Ivory Tower, the critical approach shows what the category is actually doing in the real world – both to those whom it constrains, and those for whom it is useful.
The Religious Studies Project has been making resources for the classroom that do this since 2012, and the University of Alabama and The Open University are showing what the post-World Religions department might look like. But we could do more.
Confession time: when I took over as editor of Implicit Religion with Jack Laughlin, I had no interest in implicit religion as a theoretical framework. Rather, my interest was, and is, in what assumptions are implicit when someone identifies something as religious – be that in the media, the law, healthcare, academia, or whatever. While the excellent journal Method & Theory in the Study of Religion focuses programmatically on this approach, I want Implicit Religion to complement this with articles and themed issues on how these processes play out in the world, especially on the ragged edges of the category.
You know… real people, on the ground. For example, when whether having a Christmas Tree was a civil or religious duty became a serious public issue in Denmark. Or when a judge ruled that nationalism was “religion-like”, so a man kept his job — but other times, allows us to take religion off the table when it would mean that it was implicated in violence or bigotry. Tying state ceremonies to religious institutions makes it harder to challenge either of them. Classifying “mindfulness” as secular means that it can better serve neoliberalism.
And these are just a few examples. I’m sure you can think of any more — and we’re looking for submissions…
AnnaLaura Campbell is a Junior from Bailey, MS, majoring in Accounting and minoring in Religious Studies. After graduation, she plans to attend law school and study business law or continue her education in Accounting with a master’s degree and CPA license.
We’ve heard the phrase many times in our lives: “That’s like comparing apples and oranges!” But what does it actually mean? Apples and oranges are both fruits, relatively circular, and a healthy snack, but they are distinctly different from each other when it comes to color, taste, and texture. We often use this phrase to reference the comparison of two separate entities that are seemingly similar to each other, but inherently different. We don’t just apply this idea to fruit, though; we compare people in the same way.
Just after Spring Break, the first American Examples Workshop will be hosted at the University of Alabama, funded jointly by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Religious Studies. Held here in Tuscaloosa and organized by Prof. Michael Altman, the goal of the workshop is to rethink the way religion in America is studied and taught.
Kyle Ashley is a junior from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Majoring in Religious Studies, his main interests include music, games, sports, and their respective subcultures.
Ever wonder why there are so many different versions of the same story? For example, in the version of Goldilocks and The Three Bears that was told to me by my grandmother, Goldilocks is, for all intents and purposes, a home invader, a home invader that steals Baby Bear’s porridge, breaks Baby Bear’s chair, and sleeps in Baby Bear’s bed. But in the Sesame Street version that I watched as a child, Goldilocks and Baby Bear are friends in the middle of a fight, apparently. And instead of chasing her out of their house, the Bear family bring in Goldilocks for a big ol’ bear hug (her replacement, the Big Bad Wolf, proves to be less than ideal). What’s going on here? Continue reading