Faculty and Staff Honors 2021

Framed buttons from past REL student events

Honors Day, last week, is an annual opportunity not just to celebrate student successes but also to recognize REL faculty and staff accomplishments. But, given our continued concern for hosting in-person events, we again relied on a video, created once again by Prof. Richard Newton (with the help of a variety of faculty), to celebrate another year — one full of challenges, to be sure, but one in which we saw the members of the Department going above and beyond the call of duty.

To begin: little did our new Administrative Secretary, LeCretia Crumpton, know what kind of year was in store for her when, back in mid-March 2020, she arrived from Chemistry and first started working in REL, just as Betty Dickey retired after 32 years in the Department. For within a week Spring break had arrived, but then it was extended and all in-person classes and non-essential university operations were moved to remote status. As organized as the Department tries to be, we certainly didn’t plan on LeCretia working remotely on her own laptop and learning at a distance about everything that it takes to run the Department. (And you’d be surprised by how much that involves.) But, within a week or two, UA’s already busy IT staff got her connected to the main office computer and between behind-the-scenes emails, Zoom meetings, and pretty regular phone calls, the Department’s main office reinvented itself. We’re so pleased with the job she has done, in these very trying circumstances; and so, to mark one year in the position, we thought she now needs to be officially initiated into the group by having her own set of historic buttons (above) from past REL button events, including one of the original “Your Back” buttons and a few, yes, buttons that are buttons. #irony Continue reading

Equivalent Categories and Where to Find Them

Meme from the TV show The Office, in which two different things are portrayed as sthe same

 Jeremee Nute is a graduating M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. He is originally from Missouri, where he earned his B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy from Missouri Western State University.

Scholars who research cultures outside of Europe and North America often try to find categories that correspond to “religion,” such as those who study Ancient China. For example, one analog that is sometimes proposed by these scholars is Zōngjiào (宗教), said to be the Mandarin term for religion. One such scholar who looks for such homologs to religion is Robert Ford Campany, a Professor of Asian studies at Vanderbilt University, who specializes in Medieval China. In his article, “On the Very Idea of Religions (In the Modern West and in Early Medieval China)”, he argues that, while the western category of religion can be analytically helpful to those studying non-western cultures, scholars just need to “pay close attention to two cultural and temporal sets off linguistic usages and their metaphorical implications and juxtapose these results” (290). This juxtaposition, he argues, allows a scholar to better understand the “contours and limitations” of the discourses in both cultural and temporal sets.

Thus, for Campany, scholars can study other people’s religions (such as his work on early medieval China) by looking for the following analogous sites in their cultures: founder or paragon synecdoche, “path” or “way,” “law” or “regulations,” and/or “the teaching of x,” etc. 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

Careers with Khara — An Annual REL Workshop

Careers workshop in Feb 2018

REL alum, Khara Cole (2013, with a double major in REL and Public Relations), now the Marketing Director at American Exchange (pictured above, left, at our February 2018 workshop) is once again offering a careers workshop for REL students (all majors and minors in the Department as well as grad students) — but it’s virtual this time.

We’ll be talking about preparing a resume and tips on doing a job search & interviewing.

Wednesday, March 24 @ 7:00 p.m.

And we’ll also be talking about the important skills that REL students possess — sure, you know how to study religion but you also know how to work with people who come from different worlds as well as how to describe, compare, explain, and so much more.

All majors, minors, and MA students will
receive the Zoom link via email.

Interested in another REL alum’s take-away when she
participated in one of Khara’s previous workshops?

And what about that time Khara visited the Department back in 2015…?

Announcing the 2021 Day Virtual Lecture: Sporting the Sacred

We invite you to join us on March 10th at 7pm (central) for our annual Day Lecture — which will be a virtual event this year, hosted by Prof. Richard Newton.

Dr. Zachary T. Smith will discuss the academic study of religion and sports, beginning with the question: how can we think beyond the common scholarly (and popular) characterization of sport as some kind of new quasi-religious phenomena of secularized society?

Zach is an Assistant Teaching Professor in Kinesiology, in the School of Behavioral​ Sciences & Education at Penn State University (Harrisburg). He earned his M.A. in Comparative Religion from Western Michigan State University and his Ph.D. in Kinesiology and Sport Studies from the University of Tennessee, writing a dissertation entitled, “For God’s Sake, FIGHT!”: Carnal Ethnography, Christian Mixed Martial Arts, and a Military Definition of Reality. Zach was also a member of the 2020 cohort of REL’s American Examples initiative and, most recently, is the author of the article, “Can Sport be Regarded as ‘Cultural Liturgy’?” in the special issue of Sport in Society (2019) on social scientific perspectives on sports.

Current REL students (minors, majors, and graduate students), alums, and faculty will all receive the Zoom link in your inbox prior to the event.

For off-campus guests who wish to join us, please register at:
https://bit.ly/DayLecture
You will receive the Zoom link via email the day before the event.

Learn more about the annual Day Lecture

 

 

New Titles in REL: Second Virtual Book Event (Zoom)

Join us for another evening of conversation, this time hosted by REL’s own Dr. K. Merinda Simmons and celebrating the recent publication of another new title in REL, Identifying Roots: Alex Haley and the Anthropology of Scriptures, by Dr. Richard Newton.

Due to pandemic protocols, our book events for Spring 2021 are virtual and open to guests both on and off campus.

We invite you to join us virtually, via Zoom, on
February 23, 2021, at 7 p.m. (US central time).

Current REL students (minors, majors, and graduate students), alums, and faculty will all receive the Zoom link in your inbox prior to the event.

For off-campus guests who wish to join us, please register at:
https://bit.ly/IdentifyingRoots
You will receive the Zoom link via email
the day before the event.

Civil Religion or Christian Nationalism?

Image from Jeep commercial, of cross and map of America on the wall of a small chapel

How scholars use categories to name things, and thereby identify those things that deserve our critical attention, has long interested me. And among the things that have caught my attention over the years is the once prominent category “civil religion” — one made famous by the late U.S. sociologist Robert Bellah, drawing on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s much earlier use of the term in his 1762 book, The Social Contract (for e.g., see book 4, chpt. 8; read Bellah’s influential 1967 essay.) I first came to the term in the light of my studies of commentaries on Mircea Eliade’s early political activities in Romania, as a young man between the world wars. I was curious about the lengths to which his contemporary defenders went to protect him from any criticism — such as claiming that Eliade had exhibited what one scholar characterized as mere “patriotic fervor” or even “non-political nationalism” (see Carol Olson’s The Theology and Philosophy of Mircea Eliade [1992], 44-45 — something I discussed in Manufacturing Religion [1997], 90).

Now, those familiar with how “we” are patriots while “they” are nationalists shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, of course, knowing that national alignments and actions with which “we” agree are easily represented as positive and desirable. This suggests that the distinction between patriotism and nationalism is all in the eye of the self-interested beholder.

None of this is new, of course. Continue reading

New Titles in REL: Upcoming Zoom Event

Book cover of Race and New Modernisms

Join us for an evening of conversation hosted by REL’s own Dr. Richard Newton to celebrate the publication of a new title in REL, Race and New Modernisms, co-authored by Dr. K. Merinda Simmons and Dr. James A. Crank (Department of English, University of Alabama) — a book that was a finalist for a 2020 PROSE book award (in the category of Literature).

In past semesters we would have gathered in person at the local bookstore, Ernest & Hadley Booksellers, but pandemic protocols now require a different approach. As a result, our book events for Spring 2021 will be held virtually and are open to guests both on and off campus.

So join us virtually, via Zoom, on January 26, 2021, at 7 p.m. (US central time).

Current REL students (minors, majors, and graduate students), alums, and faculty will all receive the Zoom link in your inbox prior to the event.

For off-campus guests who wish to join us, please register at:
http://bit.ly/RaceAndNewModernisms
You will receive the Zoom link via email
the day before the event.

Your Sun Bread, Yourself

baked sun bread beside the book Sun Bread, by Elisa Klaven

Every year my kids and I make Sun Bread to commemorate the winter solstice. I got this idea from the place where modern momming dwells: Instagram. My kids (by chance) went to a Waldorf preschool which focuses, among other things, on reinforcing the children’s identification with nature and spending the majority of time outside regardless of weather (born in Germany, Waldorf schools take seriously the German saying “there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing”). The year is built around seasonal festivals that draw from a variety of traditions (including Anthroposophy, the esoteric philosophy of the founder, Rudolph Steiner, but that’s a whole other can of worms). Continue reading