#Day2018 is here

Tonight: #Day2018 — our fifth annual Day Lecture. The topic of this series is religion in pop culture and tonight we have Dr. Elijah Siegler visiting campus — he had a busy day yesterday of visiting with faculty and students — who will be talking about the Coen Brothers’ movies. It’s in Smith Hall 205 this year, starting at 7 pm.

Looking for a crash course on Coen movies…?

See you there!

Incoming MA Student Awarded National Alumni Association Graduate Fellowship

We’re extremely pleased to announce that Keeley McMurray, who will be starting our M.A. this Fall, has been awarded a National Alumni Association Graduate Fellowship by the University of Alabama.

Keeley will graduate from the University of Alabama in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and English. Though her curiosities in the study of religion are broad and still growing, she is currently studying the rhetorical utility of the idea of “sincerely held beliefs” in contemporary American politics and law; she aims for this project to expand into a study of “conscience” in the history of tolerance and secularization. She will be working with Prof. Altman¬†as her supervisor.

The highly competitive fellowship that Keeley has been awarded, for which she was nominated by the department, is open to in-state students from across all disciplines on campus; it is given to approximately 30 students annually and the funds for these awards are generated through the state of Alabama’s customized UA license tag — learn more here.

Graduate Council Fellowship Awarded to Incoming M.A. Student

We’re pleased to announce that Savannah Finver, who will begin our M.A. in the Fall, has been awarded a Graduate Council Fellowship, by the School of Graduate Studies, for the 2018-19 academic year. This award, which was also given to current M.A. student Sarah Griswold for 2017-18, is an outright scholarship and entails no teaching assistant duties.

Savannah graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas College in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy/Religious Studies. Her interests are focused around the rhetorical strategies employed by groups which identify both as ‘religious’ and ‘nonreligious’ and their influence on the American political sphere. While at UA she’ll be working with Prof. Touna as her supervisor.

The Graduate Council Fellowship, for which students must be nominated by their home department, is UA’s most prestigious award for graduate students. Approximately 100 GCFs are given each year, mainly to incoming Masters or Doctoral students.

Coming Attractions: 6 Questions with…

We’ve sent out 6 simple questions to a wide array of REL grads — some of them are recent and some have been away from Manly Hall for quite a few years. We’re asking them to reflect back on their time here and tell us a little about what they’ve ended up doing.

We’ll post them as they come in…

But Why Is It Interesting?

I’ve seen a variety of posts on social media about the recently-opened Museum of the Bible in Washington DC. While some have been pointing out the legal problems surrounding how the museum has acquired some of its artifacts, others contest how the museum presents its material. In other words, there are those who see it as nothing less than “evangelical propaganda” — and some of those holding this position seem to be scholars of the bible. Continue reading

“They Shall Take Up Car Keys…”

There’s a new book out about Pentecostal snake handlers in the US.

As described on the publisher’s site (click the image above to go there), the book is concerned with addressing the following question:

Despite scores of deaths from snakebite and the closure of numerous churches in recent decades, there remains a small contingent of serpent handlers devoted to keeping the practice alive…. What motivates them to continue their potentially lethal practices through the generations?

I’ve discussed these groups in classes over the years, and sometimes in my writings, since they can’t help but fascinate us. But all along it’s seemed clear to me that the interesting thing is why they interest us. Continue reading

“Yes, but…”

If you’re paying attention to US news then you may have been seeing the recent stories leading up to the Senate vote that failed to pass the necessary financial deals to finance the federal government — which resulted in the shutdown that we’re now in. While some parts of the federal government are still open, other parts aren’t.

At present, the political drama continues. Continue reading

In Search of…

Students in REL 490 are currently reading a couple of essays by Joseph Kitagawa (d. 1992), longtime (and influential) faculty member at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School (from his 1987 collection), to help set the stage for our eventual reading of some of the works by the late Jonathan Z. Smith.

In Kitagawa’s essay, “The History of Religions in America” (1959 — originally published in that once influential set of essays on methodology), we find the following:

[O]ne must remember the admonition of Tor Andrae that the origin of religion is not a historical question; ultimately it is a metaphysical one.

It’s an interesting line, I think; given that the classic History of Religions approach was rather concerned with using the comparative method to identify the universal essence of religion, Kitagawa’s repetition of this warning has an ambivalent status in both his essay and in the field — not to mention how it could also serve to retain certain sorts of key inquiries for theology alone.

But without elaborating in detail here, I admit to being curious how people today read that advise… While for me discourses on origins are an effective rhetorical technique, employed in disputes among social actors in the present, I know plenty of people who still aim to figure out the origin of this or that religion (let alone a myth or a ritual) or who are set on explaining the pre-historic origins of religiosity in general.

So it seems that the admonition didn’t have much effect, unless there are more in our field than I realize who instead think of skin care products when they hear the word.

Let’s Get to Work

Mid-afternoon today, the last day of 2017, I received word that Professor Jonathan Z. Smith, of the University of Chicago, had passed away the day before (due to complications from lung cancer). You can read the obituary his family has written, which is posted on Prof. James Tabor’s blog.

In the coming days and months there’s sure to be a number of stories circulating about Jonathan — in fact, I’ve already seen many kind remembrances posted on social media. And, like others, I too have a few of my own. But one in particular stood out to me as I sat here, thinking about the sad news that I received earlier today. Continue reading