Looking Back on the Past Two Years

With the 2022 Interim session in full swing and the Summer semester’s start less than a couple weeks away, with the year-end report written and submitted by the Chair and the year-end meeting with the Dean now completed, the realization that Spring 2022 has come to an end is really only now just settling in for everyone. Students have graduated, summer jobs or summer travel is already underway, and campus is pretty quiet once again (and, yes, already hot). So now’s a good time to reflect, a bit, on where we’ve been over the past two and a half years. Continue reading

Advocating on Behalf of the Humanities

NHA logo

Judah Siekkinen is a graduating MA student in REL, who earned his BA from Youngstown State University (in Religious Studies & Geography).

On March 15, 2022, I had the privilege to advocate for federal funding for the Humanities on behalf of the state of Alabama. The event was organized by the National Humanities Alliance (NHA). The NHA works to fund various Humanities organizations, most notably the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). I advocated alongside a colleague from Samford University who just happened to work in their religion department. Continue reading

New Appointment in REL

Oleg Kyselov

The Department of Religious Studies has announced that Dr. Oleg Kyselov has been hired as a full-time Instructor for the 2022-23 academic year.

A senior researcher at the H. S. Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy in Ukraine, Dr. Kyselov first joined REL in October 2021 as a visiting Fulbright Scholar — having been awarded this prestigious appointment for a 9 month visit. Now, instead of returning to Ukraine in July, he will be working in REL for the coming school year, in such courses as REL 105 Honors Introduction to the Study of Religion and our monthly upper-level evening class, REL Goes to the Movies. Continue reading

It’s Honors Day Once Again

Four REL students at the 2021 homecoming tent

With just a few weeks of the semester left to complete we arrive at yet another Honors Day on campus — an opportunity to recognize accomplishments from the past school year, of students, faculty, and even alums. And, in lieu of an in-person event this year, REL has created another video to celebrate some achievements in the Department.

At 10 a.m. this morning we hope that you can cheer on Jackson Foster, the student selected to receive REL’s annual Outstanding Student in the Study of Religion award, presented this year by Prof. Newton, our Undergraduate Director.

Thanks to all those who helped to create this year’s video and especially
to Prof. Newton who produced, directed, and edited it.

Honors Week 2022

Presidents Hall with honors day banners on the balconies

It’s hard to believe that it’s early April already and another Honors Week has arrived. If you’ve been around the building you know that the banners are all up along the second floor (and also on part of the third, where REL now has 4, and soon 5, faculty offices). They date back 21 years, listing all of the names of all of our Silverstein Scholars, including the students awarded it this year: Hannah Alexander, Tyler Blair, Scarlett Ford, Jackson Foster, Stephen Heaton, Blake Jordan, Rebekah Pearson, Caden Philley, Katherine Prince, and Leah Varnell. This award is given to our highest achieving REL majors and Judaic Studies minors; looking back, we’re so very pleased to see how many students have benefited over the past two decades from the financial assistance provided by this kind gift to the Department. This year’s recipients can see Prof. Newton beginning Friday to pick up their letters and to learn what they will receive as part of this honor. Continue reading

REL Spirit Week

Photo of Prof. Loewen and Jacobs tweeting from the REL Lounge.

Yes indeed, this coming week (Oct. 11-15) is our first REL Spirit Week, with lots going on — and we hope you’ll join us for all of it.

Monday: students can tag @StudyReligion on their Instagram stories about what they’re doing (class prep? getting a coffee at the student center? in class? hanging out on the balcony or meeting a prof?) and we’ll re-post them to REL’s Instagram story (this will happen throughout the week). We’ll also have a #loungetweets session on Twitter (something we’ve not done in a while and which needs to be revived) — tune in to see what’s going on.

Tuesday: From 10-noon we’ll be having another button event along the Crimson Promenade, adjacent to Presidents Hall — and yes, we have new buttons to give away! Join our tent, hand out some buttons to random passersby, and meet other REL majors and minors, MA students, and faculty. Also, Prof. Griffin’s REL 310’s monthly movie night is from 6-9 pm and their movies are once again open to majors, minors, and MA students (it’s moved to the much larger ten Hoor 30). The movie: What We Do in the Shadows (2014).

Wednesday: Lots happening today — from 10-2 pm it’s the Majors Fair in the student center’s ballroom (talk to Prof. Newton about helping out at our table) and, later that night, it’s our first Fall movie on the balcony, at 7 pm (or once it’s dark enough) with Karate Kid (1984) being shown by Profs. Newton and Griffin. (A classic, no?) We’ll have folding chairs, so dress for the weather and BYO Popcorn. We’ll also have the regular balcony break from 10-noon, with a Guess Who game custom designed for the occasion.

Thursday: MA students will be visiting all of our lower-level classes, talking about Spring REL classes, distributing some info about them, and maybe bringing a few of the leftover buttons with them.

Friday: We close out the week with a final #loungetweets session (and more re-posted Instagram stories from throughout the week). Stop by the lounge to see who’s tweeting or write them back,

Photo of a past REL button event

Computational Thinking in the Humanities

Woman in 1955 working at an early, large computer

As previously announced, REL has established its own digital lab (RELdl), directed by Prof. Jeri Wieringa. The lab is an outgrowth of REL’s long investment in integrating computing skills into the life of the Department and its degree programs; among our goals is to see the lab inject energy and expertise into a variety of collaborative research projects and curricular initiatives. Continue reading

Tip of the Iceberg

Graph showing the increasing frequency of the phrase "religious expression" since 1800The common English phrasing “religious expression” carries with it a set of assumptions about what scholars of religion study as well as how and why they study it, though the term is today so widespread that I doubt many think much about what it entails. Continue reading

Doing Theory

Screen shot from the online OED's definition of the word theoryOften in the study of religion you’ll hear people saying things like “I don’t do theory” (yes, there’s often an emphasis on the verb, akin to saying “I don’t do [insert something with which you disagree or dislike]) or maybe you’ll come across a conversation on when to introduce theory to undergraduate students — right from their first course or, fearing that will alienate them from the field, only doing so later, “once they’ve already got the basics,” as some will say.

There’s a real conservatism embedded here that’s tough for some to see, what with the prominence of assuming that, for good or ill, there’s a variety of discrete things in the world that are just naturally called religions, comprising the defining trait of different groups of people who all interact in various ways with each other or their surrounding circumstances. And so, studying those traits, their expression, and those interactions constitutes the study of religion — at least for some. Continue reading

We Really Can’t Afford to Go Back to Normal

Scholars on a panel presenting their work at a conferenceA few weeks ago, after emailing a representative of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), it became apparent to me that the Fall conference-going season in our field will be moving forward as the usual in-person meetings instead of the hybrid format that, in the light of a year living with COVID-19, I had assumed would be offered. It’s now becoming apparent to others as well, with an online petition now circulating, addressed to the leadership of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), framing the lack of a hybrid option as an accessibility issue. While I understand the factors that are cited by these orgs as constraining their ability to be nimble and implement a hybrid option (e.g., from insufficient high speed internet capabilities to conference venue charges for the necessary technology and its support), it seems to me that the issue is far larger than COVID-19 and that we are long overdue for the leadership of these associations to do some creative rethinking about what an academic conference now does and thus how best to offer them in the future.

For, as serious as it is in its own right, the pandemic is really just the most recent reason why this must be done — and done quickly. Continue reading