“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.

Car, Jesus, and Punk Rock

Kendrick Jacobs is a senior from Jupiter, Florida majoring in Religious Studies. The following blog post was written for REL 360: Popular Culture/Humanities.

Repo Man at first glance comes off as being another cult classic film. It captures a moment in American history you can’t read in a book or put your finger on, but if you asked someone who grew up in that time they would know exactly what you were talking about. The strange atmosphere put on by the satirical consumerism, dark comedy, and punk vibe that the movie has makes most people watch it and leave thinking nothing more than how weird it was to watch. But, underneath that tough punk exterior hides deep seated symbolism for religion. You would probably think it crazy if someone said it to you, but taking a closer look can really make this movie shine brighter than it already does.

The first religious symbolism in the movie is found in the movie’s theme itself, repo man. A repo man is not the kind of person you want to see ever in your life. They come and take your car from you when you least expect it. As shown in the movie, they break into, sneak into, and sometimes outright steal cars in order to get their job done. Now, with this image in mind, jump to what tax collectors were in Jesus’ time. Tax collectors would steal money and lie about how much was due in order to get a larger commission off of what they collected. When asked why he ate with tax collectors, Jesus responded by stating that he was sent not for the righteous, but for the sinners in Mathew 9:12. This same concept is seen in the movie because the repo men are able to drive the glowing car at the end of the movie without any protective gear or any special procedures. They simply get in the car and drive it off. This scene plays a vital role in the nuanced religious aspects of the movie because the federal agents wearing protective gear, and whose job it is to retrieve the car, are killed in the process of attempting to get close to it. The agents represent the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’s time. Throughout the movie, the federal agents attempt to take the car by any means necessary but are thwarted by the repo men in the end.

Another aspect of symbolism is the rebirth symbolized in the movie. Although comedic in nature, the scene where the repo men go to Bud’s hospital bed give us a clear example of rebirth in the movie. Upon opening the door, the gang are greeted with an empty bed. The phrase “He is risen” is exclaimed by someone and they leave to find him. Bud’s hospital scene could go one of two ways in terms of symbolism. The obvious is that it is a jest at the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the opening of his tomb. This example would be most plausible because the exact same phrase is uttered in both scenarios. Also, Bud is the first to successfully drive the car without any need for extra equipment. After his driving, the car is able to glow and fly by some divine manner. One way of looking at this is to say that in the same way Jesus’s sacrifice was a way for others to follow him into heaven, Bud’s actions were a way for the repo men to amount to more in their society. Through his “resurrection” he was able to leave behind a new meaning for the repo men. No longer were they the lowly car stealing scumbags that society had seen them as, but instead, they had transcended to a place where the federal government agents were looking to them for guidance. Another way his death can be seen as symbolism is through the resurrection of Lazarus. The reasoning for this is because Bud is definitely not a saint nor is he the “Jesus” of the repo men.

Overall, Repo Man was a great movie that combined comedy with grinding pop culture to weave a time and place that many would consider real fiction in a way. Through the clever placement of symbolism, many religious properties come through which make the repo men look like the disciples of Jesus. Coming back to this symbolism, the car in the movie can be seen as a sort of Holy Ghost left behind by Bud for the other repo men, or maybe even the Kingdom of Heaven itself. This final analysis comes from the idea that Jesus taught in Mark that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. The underlying theme in Repo Man might just be this: The restructuring and reordering of power that leads to those hated by society, be they a punk or an unwanted car repo man, being put on top to the dismay of the higher ups.

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

REL 360 Responds to C.R.A.Z.Y

Matthew McCullough is a recent graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in Religious Studies and Political Science. He is excited to be staying on campus to join the new Religion in Culture MA program in the Spring. The following blog post was written for REL 360: Popular Culture/Humanities. Continue reading