Advocating on Behalf of the Humanities

NHA logo

Judah Siekkinen is a graduating MA student in REL, who earned his BA from Youngstown State University (in Religious Studies & Geography).

On March 15, 2022, I had the privilege to advocate for federal funding for the Humanities on behalf of the state of Alabama. The event was organized by the National Humanities Alliance (NHA). The NHA works to fund various Humanities organizations, most notably the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). I advocated alongside a colleague from Samford University who just happened to work in their religion department. Continue reading

Kayfabe, or, Why a Scholar of Religion Might Be Interested in Pro Wrestling

PWSJ cover

As a scholar of religion, I’m interested in the term “belief.” I find it to be a very curious term. For example, why would 75,000 people fill a football stadium for two nights of Wrestlemania earlier this year to watch professional wrestling matches that they didn’t believe were “real”? Because pro wrestling is “fake,” right? No one believes it’s a real sport or a real competition, right? But yet enough people in the spend their time and money on these matches they don’t believe in to support two major nationally televised pro wrestling companies (All Elite Wrestling and WWE) on top of numerous regional “independent” wrestling promotions. Continue reading

New Appointment in REL

Oleg Kyselov

The Department of Religious Studies has announced that Dr. Oleg Kyselov has been hired as a full-time Instructor for the 2022-23 academic year.

A senior researcher at the H. S. Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy in Ukraine, Dr. Kyselov first joined REL in October 2021 as a visiting Fulbright Scholar — having been awarded this prestigious appointment for a 9 month visit. Now, instead of returning to Ukraine in July, he will be working in REL for the coming school year, in such courses as REL 105 Honors Introduction to the Study of Religion and our monthly upper-level evening class, REL Goes to the Movies. Continue reading

Sabbatical Publications from Prof. Jacobs’ Desk

“Of the making of many books there is no end, and much study is a wearying of the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) So says the unknown author of Sefer Kohelet/the Book of Ecclesiastes, though both the Jewish and Christian religious traditions attribute it to Melekh Shlomo/King Solomon in his old age. (They also attribute, without evidence, Shir Ha-Shirim/Song of Songs to his youthful exuberance, and Sefer Mishlei/the Book of Proverbs, again without evidence, to his middle years.  Further complicating this picture, various translational possibilities has been proffered for the book’s unusual title Kohelet:  Preacher, Convoker, Convener, Assembler [this latter based on the Hebrew word kahal/assembly]; we’re simply not sure.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this—book writing and book publishing and long hours spent in the solitary confines of one’s “study” as the locale where we “house” our never-ending and always-added to collections of books which we deem relevant, important, need to be read/digested/confronted as we pursue the privileged work of the academy. What triggered these and other thoughts were my three current writing projects all under contract at the same time (!) and reflective of my own somewhat diverse but nonetheless connected ongoing research interests. Continue reading

It’s Honors Day Once Again

Four REL students at the 2021 homecoming tent

With just a few weeks of the semester left to complete we arrive at yet another Honors Day on campus — an opportunity to recognize accomplishments from the past school year, of students, faculty, and even alums. And, in lieu of an in-person event this year, REL has created another video to celebrate some achievements in the Department.

At 10 a.m. this morning we hope that you can cheer on Jackson Foster, the student selected to receive REL’s annual Outstanding Student in the Study of Religion award, presented this year by Prof. Newton, our Undergraduate Director.

Thanks to all those who helped to create this year’s video and especially
to Prof. Newton who produced, directed, and edited it.

Honors Week 2022

Presidents Hall with honors day banners on the balconies

It’s hard to believe that it’s early April already and another Honors Week has arrived. If you’ve been around the building you know that the banners are all up along the second floor (and also on part of the third, where REL now has 4, and soon 5, faculty offices). They date back 21 years, listing all of the names of all of our Silverstein Scholars, including the students awarded it this year: Hannah Alexander, Tyler Blair, Scarlett Ford, Jackson Foster, Stephen Heaton, Blake Jordan, Rebekah Pearson, Caden Philley, Katherine Prince, and Leah Varnell. This award is given to our highest achieving REL majors and Judaic Studies minors; looking back, we’re so very pleased to see how many students have benefited over the past two decades from the financial assistance provided by this kind gift to the Department. This year’s recipients can see Prof. Newton beginning Friday to pick up their letters and to learn what they will receive as part of this honor. Continue reading

Behind the Scenes of ‘Uncivil Religion’ with Our MA Students

A screenshot of the Uncivil Religion home page

In January the Department of Religious Studies, in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, launched the digital project Uncivil Religion. Three MA students in our Department’s Religion in Culture program worked alongside Prof. Mike Altman to build the website for the project. In the latest episode of the Study Religion podcast, fellow MA student Erica Bennet sat down with those three students to hear about their experiences working on Uncivil Religion and what went into building the site. Give it a listen below or go find it on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. And be sure to subscribe, rate, and review!

Continue reading

The 19th Annual Aronov Lecture

Poster for March 23rd Aronov Lecture

Join us for the 2022 Aronov Lecture with Prof. Andrea Jain,
hosted by Prof. Steven Ramey.

March 23, 2022 at 7pm (Central Time)

The Aronov lecture will be virtual again this year as we transition back to normal operations and look forward to next year’s in-person event.

Andrea R. Jain, Ph.D. is Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, Indianapolis, editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and author of Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture (Oxford 2014) and Peace Love Yoga: The Politics of Global Spirituality (Oxford, 2020). She will join Prof. Ramey in a virtual conversation about the state of the field that will open a Q&A with those attending.

Jain’s works in progress, including the documentary film “Predation,” call for humanities scholars to center questions about the current pandemic and planetary crisis. The purpose of humanities scholarship, Jain argues, should include the following: to remind scientists and health experts that equity must be at the center of their response to pandemic and planetary crisis; to uncover and analyze the needs for repair in the relationships between human societies and environmental bodies and non-human animals; and to diagnose capitalism’s death-dealing structures and the causes of ecological death in the hope that activists, in turn, can build on that scholarship to imagine radically different futures.

Current and past REL students will soon receive the Zoom link for the Aronov lecture by email in the coming days.

Guests from off-campus are invited to register at
https://bit.ly/2022AronovLecture

Learn more about REL’s annual Aronov lecture.

Our thanks to Prof. Jeri Wieringa for her work behind-the-scenes to make these virtual events possible last year and again this year.

Who Believes in Conspiracy Theories?

 

Billboard stating "Birds Aren't Real"

As a scholar in religious studies, my interest was piqued when a recent “The Daily” episode from the New York Times discussed community formation in Birds Aren’t Real, a movement / conspiracy theory that claims the government has replaced birds with drones to conduct widespread surveillance. The analysis of people who connect with others through Birds Aren’t Real had similarities to the ways that we discuss religions. Of course, connecting conspiracy theories and religion is not unique to me, as David Robertson highlights various connections in his research on UFOs and other conspiracy theories (listen to Religious Studies Project podcasts “Conspiracy Theories, Public Rhetoric, and Power” and “UFOs, Conspiracy Theories … and Religion?” for more, or read his book UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age: Millennial Conspiracism).

One potential difference from existing work on conspiracy theories and religion, however, is that Birds Aren’t Real is a parody of conspiracy theories. With the New York Times, the founder Peter McIndoe, who typically presents himself as someone desperately spreading awareness of the conspiracy, broke character to discuss the dynamics of his experiences in the satirical movement. Of course, he also has asserted that the media twists his words and disrespects the movement, returning thus to his role as founder of a conspiracy theory. Continue reading

What Can You Do With a Degree in Religion?

Al McGowen, REL alum

Al McGowen majored in Religious Studies (minoring in Social Work and English) while at UA in the late-1970s, after having served in the USAF during the Vietnam era. He went on to earn an M.Div. from Memphis Theological Seminary and did his clinical training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Al became a Fellow In The College of Chaplains, which later became the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), and a Board Certified Chaplain, a Clinical Member of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor with the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and, upon retirement, a Presidential Member of AACC. Throughout his career he has been a Pastor, Pastoral Counselor, an Air Force Chaplain, and a VA Mental Health Chaplain. He was ordained in The United Methodist Church.

When I attended the University of Alabama, in the late 1970s, I was repeatedly asked, “What can you do with a degree in religion?” The years have answered in marvelous ways: after I graduated from seminary, and after I completed all my clinical work, and after getting my various Ordinal, and  Board Certifications, I served literally all over the northern hemisphere as a Chaplain in some very unique places, and I was given many exceptional opportunities.

My religion degree, combined with my M.Div., which included a major in counseling, afforded me the opportunity to be the liaison, for CENTCOM village where 78 Muslim nations were represented. My understanding of Islam served me well, as a Christian Chaplain. When young people, who were having difficulty determining if they could serve in the Air Force, shortly after 911, my connection with my good friend, Ishmael Muhammad, The First Sergeant, helped me to help them make tough decisions. Continue reading