New Hire in REL at UA

The Department of Religious Studies, in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Alabama, is very pleased to announce the hire of Dr. Edith Szanto. She begins at UA in the Fall semester of 2019, as a tenure-track Assistant Professor, with expertise in the area of social theory of Islam.

Dr. Szanto has been teaching in the Social Sciences Department at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, since 2011. She received her M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 and her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Toronto in 2012.  She has extensive international experience and works on questions relating to bodies, violence, politics, and Islam in Syria and Iraq.  She has also worked on Twelver Shi’i women’s seminaries, self-flagellation rituals, ecstatic Sufi practices, spiritual healing, and Middle Eastern television. Most recently, she has been studying religious reactions to ISIS in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Dr. Szanto will be teaching REL 236 in the Fall, our Core Curriculum intro course on Islam, and will be available to supervise M.A. students interested in using the study of Islam as a site to explore the application of social theory in the study of religion. She will also be assisting with the development of cross-disciplinary Mid-East Studies at UA.

We are very pleased to be adding Dr. Szanto to the faculty.

Honors Day 2019 Recipients Announced

Letters went out a week ago so it’s time to make some public announcements concerning those students receiving awards at our Honors Day celebrations this coming April.

So we’re very pleased to announce that 16 REL majors and/or Judaic Studies minors are receiving this year’s Silverstein Scholars award, recognizing their accomplishment in our classes. Find their names at the award link.

Three B.A. students will share the award for the Outstanding Student in the Academic Study of Religion, recognizing their overall contributions to the Department.

And two graduating M.A. students will each share this year’s Goodwyn award.

All presentations (along with a few surprises) will be made at the annual REL ceremony, on our balcony on Honors Day (Friday, April 5), beginning around noon (or immediately following the conclusion of the A&S ceremony); as always, we’ll have some good food, a few speeches, and we’re hoping to see our alums as well as all majors and minors in the Department.

The A&S grad event is Monday April 1 @ 4 pm in the Moody Music Hall Recital Hall (where Prof. Simmons will make a presentation to our Goodwyn recipients) and the A&S undergrad event is Friday April 5 @ 10 am in the main concert hall of Moody Music Hall (where Prof. Altman will recognize our three Outstanding Student award winners).

Congratulations to everyone!

The Sympathetic Magic of Advertising

There was a time, a hundred or more years ago, when scholars regularly used this term “sympathetic magic” to name the process by which one thing was thought to affect something else — but doing so not by means of the cause/effect relationships we usually take for granted. If, for example, I rub this stone in just this way then something will happen over there to that mountain, or if I treat this lock of hair in some fashion then the person from whom it came will be similarly effected. That this term was associated with efforts to talk about what was once called magic, in distinction from what was then known as religion, should be obvious. Continue reading

Majors Fair

REL faculty and students will again be attending UA’s annual Majors Fair — this year on Valentines Day. If you’ve got questions about the study of religion or Judaic Studies, drop by — and if you’re a current student we’d love to see you stay for a while and help answer some questions.

Where and when is it, you ask…?

In Need of a Little More Precision

In a post the other day I discussed some of the problems with the recent Pew study on the apparent correlation between religiosity (understood as church attendance) and happiness.

Read that post here.

Well, as a brief follow-up, consider this Feb 8 post by one of the researcher’s involved in this work. Here we find, in the opening graphic (reproduced above), a voice that makes plain that the research subjects reported feeling happy; yet this voice changes considerably in the post’s opening paragraph where it is phrased as follows: Continue reading

This Week in the First Amendment

Have you been following the story of the La Lomita Chapel, in Mission, Texas? It was built in 1865 and today is at the center of a fight over land — more specifically, the Federal government trying to acquire this private land for the purposes of the border wall that some want built there.

The local Roman Catholic diocese doesn’t agree. Continue reading

It’s in the Mail

Yes, it’s already time to start thinking about Honors Day 2019 — we’ve come a long way since our first ceremony, back in 2002 (above). Sure, it’s still on the balcony but the food’s a lot better now. And we’re able to recognize quite a few more of our excellent students.

This year the Department has its annual event — to which all majors and minors are invited — beginning around noon on Friday, April 5, but the A&S grad ceremony is on Monday, April 1, at 4 pm in the Recital Hall of Moody Music Hall (where Prof. Simmons, our Grad Director, will be representing REL) and the A&S undergrad ceremony is Friday, April 5, at 10 am in the main hall of Moody (with Prof. Altman, our Undergrad Director, making the presentations on behalf of REL). Continue reading

Prof. McCutcheon has Lots of Pots on the Stove

Prof. Russell McCutcheon, who came to UA as the REL Department Chair in the summer of 2001, sometimes says that the career of a scholar involves keeping a lot of pots boiling, all at a different rates. The trick is knowing which can just simmer, on the back burner, and which ones need attention because they’re about to boil over.

Well, this year four pots that were each bubbling away on their own resulted in some new books, all of which were published in just the past few months. But they’re each a different sort of book. Continue reading

Prof. Jacobs on his Writing Process

Prof. Steven Jacobs has worked in the Department of Religious Studies for nearly two decades now. As a professor and the Aaron Aronov Chair of Judaic Studies, Dr. Jacobs spends his time lecturing, researching, and especially reading and writing. Beyond his focus in biblical translation and interpretation, Jewish-Christian relations, the Holocaust, and historical and contemporary genocides, Prof. Jacobs has written and edited numerous books and articles across varying subject matters (with one work that was even translated into Japanese and Arabic). Continue reading