About Russell McCutcheon

Russell McCutcheon is the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. Interested generally in issues of theory in the study of religion, and specifically in the social and political utility of the very term "religion" itself, he has worked at three different public universities in the US. He teaches a variety of courses -- from the intro course to theories of myth -- and continues his research on such topics as religion and modernity. He also has a dog, Izzy.

Fall 2017 Classes

What’s on tap for REL’s Fall 2017 undergrad classes?

Get a PDF of the course flyer here.

Purity and Danger

If you know of the Panera chain of soup & sandwich shops then you might know about their latest marketing campaign — they sell clean food.

I guess that means that other menus — those of their competitors in the fast food industry, that is — are populated by, well, dirty food.

Apart from the curiously anti-intellectual theme to the campaign (if you can’t easily say the name then it must be bad for you), the initiative makes evident that Mary Douglas‘s work is as relevant now as it ever was.

On the Right Track

Did you happen to see the job ad posted for a position at the National Humanities Center (in North Carolina)? Continue reading

Pagan Rites in Space

Yes, cosmonauts apparently all pee on the back right tire of the bus that carries them to the launch pad, before they take off.

At least the guys do; but the ladies are said to bring a vial of urine to pour on the tire.

It’s a ritual. Continue reading

It’s Alive!

Yes, the application system for REL’s new M.A. degree has gone live.

Visit here to learn more about the materials needed for an application.

Or speak with Prof. Simmons (REL’s Grad Director), if you have questions
or visit the UA grad school’s online application to learn more.

Faculty Reading Group: Transitions

On page 117, in the essay entitled “Historicism, History, and the Figurative Imagination,” we read the following:

But if my hypothesis is correct, there can be no such thing as a non-relativistic representation of historical reality, inasmuch as every account of the past is mediated by the language-mode in which the historian casts his original description of the historical field prior to any analysis, explanation, or interpretation he may offer of it.

We read this classic Hayden White piece (originally published in History and Theory, Vol. 14/4 Beiheft 14: Essays on Historicism [1975]: 48-67) in a faculty reading group in our Department last Friday, that met for the first time, during lunch. I’ve not read the essay for years; yes, I first went looking for what I’d previously underlined in my copy of the book but the above sentence jumped out at me for the first time (to be honest, it was only when a colleague quoted it during our discussion, which made me flip through some pages looking for it). For, as I later elaborated, in agreement with another colleague who detected some curious ambiguity in White’s essay, this sentence nicely captures his place as a transitional figure.

For at least with some of us who have been influenced by his work, reading that sentence now seems to be just a little unsatisfactory since it reads as oddly conservative, and thus not nearly as radical as it likely read forty years ago. Continue reading

“My Excitin’ Life”

That’s an historic picture — you can tell by the hair, the typewriter, and, yes, the size of the collar — that ran on the Fall 1994 front page of Samsara, what was then the annual newsletter of the University of Tennessee’s Department of Religious Studies (see the issue here and 1993’s here); it ran along with an article entitled “A Report from the Head.” Charlie Reynolds (1938-2017), who earned his Ph.D. in religious ethics from Harvard in 1968 and who was a longtime member of their faculty (starting in 1969), passed away the other day, from complications associated with Alzheimer’s.

He was the Head — and not the Chair, as I remember him once correcting me — from 1980 to 2000, and he was the person who first hired me in this field.

I’ve never forgotten his generosity and demeanor; now’s the time to share a story or two.
Continue reading

Readying the Ground for Us

I’ve got some plants in my office that William Doty gave me back in 2001.

Peace lilies.

I was thinking about that yesterday, during a memorial service for William (who passed away on January 2, 2017, at the age of 77), at which people said some kind words and told a few stories — some of which were about his passion for cooking and, yes, gardening.

When I moved into my new office, here in historic Manly Hall (once belonging to the late-Leon Weinberger), just a few doors down from the office William occupied for many years, he gave me some plants to spruce up the place. Continue reading

For Members Only

I recall, in the Fall of 2015, a job ad appearing on our main professional online site for a pastor for a church. Then, not long after, I saw an ad there for someone to co-write a “15-20 page paper … on the theology and praxis of the engineering profession for it’s Christian members.” Both times I wrote our association’s leadership questioning why our site was judged a relevant place for such a listing. And now, not long ago, news made the rounds of social media of an ad for a research projects coordinator for the Museum of the Bible. Continue reading

REL Peer Mentor Program Launched

This semester we’re trying something new in REL — we’ve developed a peer mentoring program whereby a small number of students who excelled last semester in a 100-level course are being invited to stay involved in the same course this semester, as a peer mentor.

For we tend to think that studying by yourself, especially when you find the course challenging, isn’t the most effective strategy. Continue reading