Examples: Why Would a Religious Studies Scholar Study That?

EXAMPLES: A Study Religion & American Examples Production

We are really cranking out the podcast series on our Study Religion podcast here in REL. One of our latest podcast series is an American Examples and RELdl production hosted by Religion in Culture MA student and American Examples fellow, Ciara Eichhorst. It’s called “Examples” and it’s a podcast that explores what we have come to call the “examples approach” to studying religion in culture. The examples approach sees specific case studies of religion in America as opportunities for investigating larger theoretical questions. It’s what we’ve done in the essays in volume 1 of American Examples: New Conversations about Religion and the forthcoming volume 2. (There are two more volumes on the way, btw.) But now we are doing that in a podcast where Ciara sits down with scholars who are part of the American Examples project and gets them talking about their examples and what they do with them.

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Making Sense of Debates on Harry Style’s Fashion with Religious Studies: Authority, Legitimation, and Authenticity

Callie Mastin graduated this August with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and International Studies with a minor in French. Callie was a student in REL 105 with Professor Griffin in Spring 2022.

Harry Styles on the cover of Vogue magazine.

It’s no secret that Harry Style’s use of gender non-conforming fashion is a hotly debated topic. When Styles, wearing a custom Gucci dress, appeared on the front cover of Vogue as the first solo male cover in Vogue’s history, both fans’ and critics’ reactions were mixed. While some people appraised Styles for breaking down traditional barriers between men’s and women’s fashion, others accused Styles of appropriating non-binary fashion. Over the course of the last unit in our semester, we have explored Martin’s concepts of legitimation, authority, and authenticity claims as they relate to religion and other cultural concepts or phenomena. For the purposes of this blog, the ways in which Martin’s concepts can be applied to the discourse surrounding Harry Styles’s Vogue cover will be analyzed.

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Humanities PhDs and the Academic Job Market: A New Podcast Series

Erica Bennett and Jacob Barrett, podcast series hosts

Over the summer Erica Bennett, now in her final year of our M.A., worked with a recent M.A. alum, Jacob Barrett (now in the first year of his Ph.D. at UNC Chapel Hill), on a four part podcast series, devoted to the academic job market and the variety of careers for which Humanities Ph.D.s are suited — if, that is, Ph.D. students and the faculty who train them see careers outside academia as relevant sites where their research skills can be applied. With his own doctoral degree now starting, and the challenges of the Humanities job market in academia all too obvious to him, these conversations on just what a Ph.D. prepares students for, the applicability of the degree in a variety of settings, as well as faculty’s and Departments’ need to see their work as preparing students for more than just possible employment as a professor, are pretty relevant for Jacob, as they are for anyone in his position.

So, based on the reception to a tweet this past summer by Bradley Sommer (about being newly on the job market), himself a recent History Ph.D. graduate, this new podcast series involved Erica speaking first with Bradley about his ongoing job search and then checking in with Pamela Gilbert (an English Professor at the University of Florida), in the second episode, on some of the wider factors that impact a faculty member’s ability to assist students to think about (and find) careers outside of academia. In episode three we meet Jared Powell, an REL alum who double majored in English, then earned an MA in English at the University of Alabama, and who recently left his Ph.D. in English at UNC — a decision involving concerns about the current academic labor market. The series then wraps up with Erica and Jacob hearing from Shannon Trosper Schorey, a recent doctoral graduate in Religious Studies, also from UNC, who has established a career for herself in the tech sector at Red Hat — Shannon is a strong advocate for Humanities graduate programs rethinking how they train their students and the future work they’ll be doing.

We hope the series is helpful to students and faculty alike —
all four parts are now posted on SoundCloud and
on the REL website.

Hunting Witches: a Social Constructivist Perspective

Lauren Thompson is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Asian Studies. Lauren was a student in Prof. Loewen’s REL101 “The Violent and the Sacred” in Spring 2022. As a senior this year, Lauren will further explore an interest in Religious Studies and Occultism while applying for graduate studies.

First page of Malleus maleficarum from 1572

The history of Western Europe is punctuated by massacres and individual killings of ‘witches.’ Neighbors turned on neighbors, Church turned on parishioners, and the higher classes turned on the lower: all in attempts to rid the world of “witches”. Sociologist Nachman Ben-Yehuda writes, “From the early decades of the 14th century until 1650, continental Europeans executed between 200,000 and 500,000 witches.” (Ben-Yehuda, 1980). Witch trials waxed and waned between the years 1450 to 1750. Experts and researchers have not been able to determine exactly how many lives were lost during those years. Today, the accusation of “witch” continues to play a role in gender-based violence. And while we know much about post-Reformation Europe and its attitude towards the “other”, there are still questions and theories left unanswered.

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Restraint, Anxiety, Faith: Global Politics at the End

Image of Basil Liddell Hart from Wikimedia commons

Manners constitute a restraint.[1]

So quoth Basil Henry Liddell Hart, the British defense intellectual, writing in 1946.  Liddell-Hart’s prominence among British policymakers and defense planners of his generation is difficult to overstate.  Along with JFC ‘Boney’ Fuller, he was one of the first to understand the significance of the tank, and of mechanized warfare (though he was – or so the story goes – unable to convince the Exchequer to pay for them).  Later, he would serve as defence/military affairs editor of the Times of London, and as a behind-the-scenes adviser to Secretary of War Leslie Hore-Belisha, until the latter was outmaneuvered and sacked.  He even wrote a short infantry-training manual for the British Army (some of which appeared in reprint here).

This moment was one in which British ‘topsiders’ were confronting what to them seemed a profoundly upended world. Continue reading

While the Wind’s on our Backs

Department Newsletter Cover

Yesterday I sent out our annual Department newsletter — it’s much smaller than it was 19 years ago, when we first started it. But back then the Department didn’t have a podcast or a Vimeo account where student-created content was regularly posted, let alone an Instagram account, so the newsletter was the main place where we could get some news out annually and represent the good work being done in the Department. So now, with frequent Facebook and Twitter updates, the newsletter plays a rather different role.

Among the various functions of yesterday’s update — such as announcing our incoming M.A. cohort and the interesting work being done by all of our faculty — was the chance to alert just our alums and current students as to an upcoming change in the Department. For in the late Spring of the 2021 semester, at my annual year-end meeting with the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences (where the past year’s work in the Department is discussed, along with briefing him on future plans), I told the Dean that, at the conclusion of my current term as Department Chair (in August of 2023), I wouldn’t stand for another 5 year term. I figured that two years notice was fair, what with the last year being taken up with the process to search for a successor; and so, at that August’s annual Fall faculty retreat, where we get ready for a new school year, I let the faculty and staff in on the news, thereby giving us as a group a year to talk about where the Department has been and where it might be going and, in the midst of all that, to mull over who the faculty would like to recommend to the Dean as their next Chair. Continue reading

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