In or Out?

I’ve got to admit, I’m getting tired of all the “epistemological crisis” talk and the way it’s being pinned on the humanities in general and postmodernism in particular.

For the way I see it, members of groups that once benefited from a broad social consensus are now a bit angry that someone has pointed out the link between power and knowledge. Or, to rephrase, it’s curious to me how a socio-political issue is continually portrayed as an epistemological issue, as if this is all about how “we know” and not about “how we organize” and “who gets to organize.” Continue reading

Public Service Announcement

The day I meet postmodernists whose relativism does not disappear the minute they start talking about salaries and workloads is the day I will take relativism seriously.

That’s a quotation I saw posted on social media yesterday, from Steve Bruce‘s new book Researching Religion: Why We Need Social Science.

My comment on the site?

I find positions one disagrees with are easiest critiqued when one parodies them.

Fending off parodies of postmodernism’s influence in our field is a full-time job these days, whether they come from the theologians looking for evidence of God’s truth, the humanists in search of Meaning and the Enduring Human Spirit (the uppercase is intended), or, yes, the social scientists who equally need religion to be some real, tangible thing but in order to explain it in some fashion. But despite the obvious differences among these three broad approaches, I see representatives of each routinely drawing upon the same parodies of critical or postmodern stances.

So, as a public service, let me comment here that to take a self-interested and apparently absolutist stand concerning a salary or a workload RELATIVE TO one’s practical and changeable interests is not some sort contradictory “Aha!” moment that exposes the weakness at the heart of a social constructionist or so-called relativist approach. Instead, it is actually a pretty good argument for why we should take such an approach, as Bruce phrases it, seriously.

Social actors, after all, aren’t the most consistent players and I see no reason why scholars are somehow different from the rest of their peers. So an approach that they adopt in the study of others which they apparently suspend when advancing their own interests strikes me as a good example of how social life actually works, providing a pretty compelling case for why we ought to be doing anything but dismissing that approach in our study of human behavior and organization.

5 Questions with Teemu Taira

With the annual Day Lecture at the end of October, we posed a few questions to our upcoming guest, Prof. Teemu Taira (pictured above at Malham Cove, Yorkshire Dales, England).

Q: Can you tell us a little about your background: what did you first go to university to study and how did you come across the academic study of religion? Was it always clear that a future career in the university was ahead for you?

A: I did not even think of any other options than going to the university, although I had no close relatives or friends who had studied at the university. The tricky thing was to decide what to study. In Finland students are selected on the basis of exams and you have to read 1 or 2 books, so I browsed the exam books from different disciplines. I considered philosophy, history of ideas, and anthropology, but I ended up studying religion. When people ask why study of religion, I usually tell them three narratives. Continue reading

Conscientious Objection, the War in Vietnam, and Jonathan Z. Smith

Richard Hecht, longtime faculty member at UC Santa Barbara, and onetime chair of their Department of Religious Studies, offers a reminiscence of the late Jonathan Z. Smith. Hecht is pictured above, introducing Smith’s 2003 Ninian Smart Memorial Lecture.

I met Jonathan and Elaine Smith shortly after they arrived in Santa Barbara in 1966 in one of the first courses he taught in the department. The war in Vietnam was heating up and President Johnson was guardedly increasing the number of American military personnel in the combat zone. The Selective Service or the Draft had not gone to its lottery system and used a system of classifications in the process of meeting the monthly national goals. A young man 18 years or older could be eligible for the draft and be 1-A; could be physically disqualified (my roommate took off the tip of his right index figure, his trigger finger, by sticking it under his lawn mower) and be 4-F; could be a full time student and be 2-S, as long as you maintained what your college or university considered a full course of study and were not in academic trouble; 1-D if a member of the military reserve like the National Guard or were a member of the ROTC; 3-A if military service would constitute a severe hardship to dependents, and several other categories, including for ministers and theological students. College and universities were required immediately to inform “your” draft board if there was any change in your student status. Continue reading

#RELHomecoming 2018

This weekend marked REL’s first homecoming bash on the balcony — we sent out invites to all alums for whom we have good mailing addresses and made sure our current majors & minors were in the loop. Our Alumni Liaison committee members were all there, as well as many faculty and staff members.  The result? We’d say that about 50 or 60 students, grads, family, and friends came by before kick-off, for some food, some stories and, yes, some pictures. Continue reading

The Campus Interview

Last week I wrote a post on some strategies to think about when applying for academic jobs. As I wrote there, I’ve played the role of Chair long enough that, like many others in the field, I’ve learned a thing or two from being on this side of the interview table; and so, with interview season quickly approaching us, I thought that a sensible follow-up should be some reflections on the on-campus interview, as seen from the Department’s point of view.

(And, as I wrote in that earlier post, my hope is that others get in touch with us to write a guest post or two of their own on these very topics. For views and practices obviously differ and more is better when it comes to getting information to prepare for the job market.) Continue reading

Bingo

For the past few years different versions of a conference bingo card have been making the rounds on social media, with squares to check off for things like “Question that’s not a question” or “All male panel” and other sorts of typical conference experiences that many of us know all too well. In time for the start of the new school year The Chronicle of Higher Education released its own bingo card, this time for the first faculty meeting: Continue reading

More Isn’t Necessarily Better: Some Thoughts on the Job Search Process

Another job search season is upon us and, not yet knowing if our Department will be lucky enough to search for a new tenure track line (this year I submitted requests for two, in fact), I thought I’d offer a little unsolicited advice to people on the job market (and simultaneously solicit anyone else with experience on search committees in our field to contact me to consider writing a guest blog for our site, reflecting on these very issues from their point of view).

In case it doesn’t go without saying, let me me clear: the advise is idiosyncratic (for this is how I see things) but, for people on the other side of all those online application systems, maybe it’ll still provide a helpful insight into how at least some people go about the work of finding a new colleague.

Continue reading

Grad Tales is Back

Back in the 2013-14 school year we started a new series, Grad Tales, aimed to bring REL grads back to campus to meet with current students — likely students in our 100-level courses who major in everything from engineering and business to social work and nursing. Knowing how many students aren’t sure what they’re going to do in their lives, what major to declare, and how a career will or won’t develop after they graduate, our goal was to invite back a variety of grads who have done a variety of things, hoping to convey the message that an undergrad degree opens the doors onto all sorts of different futures. While we know that some of our students are pretty interested in the study of religion itself, we find that even our majors and minors end up doing lots of different things (as our guests at Grad Tales make plain), so we hoped that members of our student association would come too. Always scheduled in the evening, a faculty member sat up front (like Prof. Ramey, above, with Ben Simmons [BA 2009], back in February of 2014; Ben’s the VP of Engineering for Sworkit, a fitness app), interviewed them and then directed traffic once the questions began.

And, sure, we also served cookies and some pretty good punch.

Since inventing this series, which has so far mostly hosted nearby alums, we’ve had 14 grads come back to campus, people who are now working in business, teachers, lawyers, social workers, doctors, researchers, etc. And our 15th — Jennifer Alfano Nelson — is this coming Wednesday night (7 pm, in the Ferg’s Anderson Room). Graduating as an English/Religious Studies double major, she left working a middle school English teacher after 7 years and learned to code, now working in Birmingham as a software developer. So we’re looking forward to what she can tell us about everything from declaring majors to changing careers and hitting the books again long after graduation.

Something new about Grad Tales this year is that our recently formed Alum Liaison Committee has gotten involved — so we’re really happy to report that, from here on out, they’re our hosts, helping us to identify our guests and interview them. So Kim Davis (BA 2003, REL and French), who is a French teacher at Tuscaloosa County High School and who was also our first Grad Tales guest, will be our host Wednesday night. And, working with Prof. Vaia Touna, they’re already planning the Spring event.

And yes, there will be cookies and punch.

Calling All REL Grads…

REL grads: you may have recently seen on our social media that current majors and minors were greeted with new book bags this Fall, with the Department identity on the one side and UA’s on the other.

Well, now grads can contact us and ask for one as well.

They’re flat-bottomed, sturdy bags, made from heavy canvas, and are 12 ” tall x 14 ” wide and open to be 5 inches wide. While suitable for books they also work great for, well…, virtually anything else you can fit in them, whether fresh produce form the farmer’s market or the river stone you’re using to build that sweet backyard water feature.

To get yours mailed to you, visit https://religion.ua.edu/stay-in-touch/ on the Department website and update your mailing address, tell us a little news about yourself, and at the bottom of the page, under Other Comments/Questions, just ask for a book bag.

Simple as that.

The offer, while supplies last, is limited to grads
who majored or minored at UA in REL or Judaic Studies.