Taking a Knee as a Performative Social Site

Football players kneeling during the national anthem

Christopher Hurt is an REL alum who works in tech in Los Angeles. He is best known for his work with the rock ‘n’ roll group, Jamestown Pagans.

To put it lightly, things are going on.

Whether you’re affiliated with The University of Alabama or not, you’ve likely noticed that there’s a lot happening in the country. And while so much of it may seem like new territory (I don’t think I’ve been in the midst of a pandemic before), there’s potentially some familiarity to the picture if you’re looking at it through your academic eye. Continue reading

Stay Tuned and Stay Safe

Photo of Religious Studies seminar roomEarly on, someone added me to a Facebook group dedicated to issues in higher ed that involve or are impacted by COVID-19. I’ve only posted there a few times but have routinely monitored the posts of others, sometimes finding useful links but often being somewhat perplexed by the sorts of things that I see.

For example, consider the post asking others in the group about their routines for cleaning classrooms between classes and how long they’re waiting between classes. As someone commented there, that’s a question best directed at a campus’s facilities operation, let alone the Office of Academic Affairs and the Registrar, since the vast majority of members of the group seem to be faculty, each focused on issues revolving directly around the virus’s implications for their teaching and what they can do about it. Custodial services, though it surely affects us, isn’t something in which we have much of a say, if any. Continue reading

The Uses of Symbolism

Donald Trump holding a bible in front of a boarded-up church

There are certainly those scholars of religion who will study yesterday’s episode — when a large number of peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, were dispersed by police and the national guard with tear gas, batons, and flash-bang canisters (otherwise known as stun grenades), about a half hour before a curfew went into effect, so that Donald Trump could walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church, just across the street from the park, to pose with a bible as part of a 17 minute photo-op — as an episode in the misuse of a holy object. Continue reading

“Violence is Never the Answer”

Screen shot of CNN broadcast in the wake of nation-wide protests following George Floyd's death at the hands of police.

If you were watching CNN midday today then you might have heard LZ Granderson‘s interview, commenting on several days of nation-wide protests in the US that have resulted from yet another African American man dying at the hands of the police — this time a man named George Floyd, in Minneapolis. What Granderson said caught my ear, for it’s just the sort of thing that I’d hope that the students trained in our Department would not just understand but be able to use in understanding the moment in which we now find ourselves. Continue reading

All The News That’s Fit to Email

Photo of the front cover the the 2019-20 Department newsletter

It’s that time of year again — time to send around this year’s Department newsletter. It’s the 17th annual edition, and the third in the current format.

For those who don’t follow this blog regularly — and yes, we know that there’s a few of you out there — our newsletter is a chance to offer a few highlights from another busy year. From the American Examples grant to retirements and graduates, from new hires to incoming students and faculty accomplishments (and you can even throw in some student writing), it’s got it all.

One change, though, is that we don’t have a hard copy version this year. With UA still working under limited business operations (due to ongoing concerns over the risks associated with COVID-19), it seemed that a PDF that we could email to everyone, for them to print or read online, was a pretty good solution.

So, if you’ve not seen our news posted on the blog throughout the past year, you may want to catch-up with the newsletter.

And maybe with some old blog posts too.

Didn’t receive it? You can find an accessible version online.

Incoming REL Student Awarded UA’s Francko Graduate Fellowship

Phoebe Duke-Mosier

We’re very pleased to announce that incoming M.A. student, Phoebe Duke-Mosier, has been awarded UA’s David Francko Graduate Fellowship, which carries full tuition/health insurance, and an annual $25,000 stipend, all of which is committed for both years of her degree.

Named after UA’s previous Dean of the Graduate School, one Francko Graduate Fellowship is awarded annually for incoming graduate students. No teaching assistant duties are linked to this award.

Phoebe graduated in 2019 from Hamilton College with a degree in Religious Studies. Her senior thesis, “Drinking the Kool-Aid: Discourses of Death at Jonestown,” was selected for publication in the Fall 2020 issue of The Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa. She has broad research interests in the study of religion, including religion’s relationship with popular culture and consumerism, discourses and practices surrounding death, and the intersection between the religious and the paranormal.

We’re very pleased to have Phoebe joining us for Fall and to have this prestigious award going to one of our incoming students.

Get Ready….

Old photo of women getting set for the start of a running raceWe have a large incoming class of M.A. students joining us in the Fall and to help them to get set for the new semester we’ve already hosted one Zoom meeting, with our Chair and Graduate Director, to answer some questions about the program. It was a success so we’ve decided to hold a few more voluntary online meetings, to help everyone prep for their Fall courses. Continue reading

Faculty News

Emily award

Emily Crews (pictured above, at our 2019 Honors Day), who has been REL’s full-time Instructor for the past two years, has decided to return north to complete her dissertation at the University of Chicago, and so she will not be rejoining us in the Fall semester.

Emily has specialized in teaching our intro Honors course, REL 105, along with our regular evening course on film, REL Goes to the Movies. She also participated in our American Examples grant, organized our annual undergraduate research symposium, joined in on some REL publishing projects, and supervised some of our M.A. students as teaching assistants — who learned much from her in the classroom.

For to say that she consistently receives wonderful reviews from her students each semester would be a terrible understatement. Apart from regularly stating that she is among the best and most caring faculty members that a student has had at UA, we recently received this statement from a student:

She is a wonderful human being and an absolutely invaluable instructor. If aliens came to this planet to see the best humans we had to offer, she should be the rep for education.

Humor, rigor, and learning things at unexpected moments and applying them in novel places is what student came to expect from her classes — all things that helped to secure REL’s reputation as a pretty good place to be. So yes, we’ll all miss her a great deal. But we wish her luck and look forward to hearing of her progress on finishing up that dissertation.

Interested in some of her work? Listen to a new podcast
(ep. 158) with Emily and follow her on Twitter.

Living Room Classrooms and Kitchen Offices

Popular Mechanics magazine cover from the 1970s with home office pictures

As universities across the country are making plans for whether, and if so how, to return to face-to-face instruction in the Fall semester, I wanted to send out a big thank you to the REL faculty and staff who, like so many others around the U.S. and the world, quickly turned their homes into their offices and their classrooms for the past two months. That means that private internet connections and home utility bills have quite literally kept the lights on and the information flowing for all of our schools and for all of our students.

While it may seem a small thing when judged on an individual basis — after all, I was going to pay that cable bill anyway… — it’s actually rather remarkable when you consider that, collectively, the day-to-day operations of the university have almost completely shifted to the homes of its faculty and staff. Add to this the families of their own that many of them have, let alone their own concerns for the situation that we’ve all found ourselves in (coz they too were scrambling to find homemade masks), and you arrive at a pretty remarkable past two months, in which they each became the University of Alabama.

So, as the Spring semester ends, and as we transition to a summer of online instruction, all the while working to put the proper conditions into place to have a safe and successful Fall, I just wanted to highlight what’s been going on behind-the-scenes for the past 8 weeks. While we’re very grateful for the staff who remained on campus — after all, many essential facilities workers have been busy on campus all this time — and for all of the students who each had to figure out their own adaptations to instruction going remote, the way that faculty and staff members’ living rooms and kitchens became lecture halls and offices, complete with all of those unscripted pet interruptions, also deserves our thanks.

Congrats to Our M.A. Graduates

Graduation picture of students from the 1930sIt’s certainly been an odd end to the Spring 2020 semester, what with universities across the country and around the world moving to remote instruction; that means that there was an abrupt end to meeting in-person with classes, so we’ve not had our Honors Day, when we traditionally recognize our students’ accomplishments.

Although we posted an Honors Day video, in place of our longstanding tradition of meeting together on the balcony, we’d also like to highlight the fine work carried out by our current class of graduating M.A. students, the third group that has graduated from the degree. Continue reading