I am NOT bad at parking

Sierra Lawson is an M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama; you can visit her website here.

Most mornings, I arrive on campus in the wee hours so I can get to my office before the day warms up and I, no doubt, become a sweaty mess. This means when I park in the faculty deck, it is usually devoid of other cars and I easily pull into a spot, pack up my things, pop in my headphones and head off on my merry way. Prior to leaving my lovely 1997 Ford Explorer, I usually try to give its surroundings a quick look to make sure it is parked within the lines. Yet when I return to the parking deck in the late afternoon, and the lot is FULL of other cars, my butter-colored vehicle stands out—and not just because of its shade.

You see, in the morning, when there are no other cars around, it is very easy to convince myself that I have done a fine job at parking. Yet, when my parking job is juxtaposed to 40 other parked cars it becomes painfully obvious that, even though my car is in the lines, it is not parked particularly well. But, despite the fact that my bumper often sticks out or my tires are turned, I still maintain that I am NOT bad at parking.

For if being ‘bad at parking’ means you lack the ability to park a car in an outlined spot, then you’d have to agree that I am a great parker! Yet, if we take being a ‘good parker’ to mean that you are able to situate your car in an aesthetically pleasing manner between various other cars, all of which are themselves in their spots in a variety of creative ways, then maybe I don’t quite qualify as a ‘not-bad’ parker.

All this is to say: my parking may be judged poor, but only in relation to the context that someone else later builds around it.

Honors Day 2018

Yet another successful Honors Day has come and gone and, just like past years, we had much to celebrate, from noteworthy milestones from several of our undergraduate students to our Department’s first Master’s thesis defense. As always, we (well, Betty) captured the highlights of the day.

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“Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?”

Yes, this year’s Manly Cup will be students vs. faculty in Jeopardy!

Which brings to mind that Cheers episode from so long ago, when Cliff, the know-it-all postal carrier, appeared on the show…

Let’s hope everyone does a little better than he did…

See you at 6 pm in Manly 207, n Thurs April 19

Scholars of Religion are a Creative Lot

Recently, Prof. McCutcheon posted the following on Twitter:

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Marian Apparitions: Religious Ephemera and Politics of Classification

Sierra Lawson, an MA student in the Department of Religious Studies, led our most recent journal group and has some reflections on the reading, Learn more about her work here.

In the Religion in Culture M.A. program, our monthly journal group has created a space in which graduate students can engage with faculty, beyond just their advisor, regarding their individual interests–interests that, ideally, will be reflected in their eventual thesis. While my focus on the Virgin of Guadalupe and her devotees in the rural Southeastern United States has remained constant throughout the course of my studies, my methods in studying her have evolved considerably. While searching for an article for the group to read next, I realized that if I chose it carefully it could potentially showcase a particular lacuna in the field that my work hopes to fill. Continue reading

Dissertation Ideas, #47

In the same spirit in which I welcome the study of the totalizing mythic endeavors, the univers imaginaires, of an Ogotemmêli or an Antonio Guzmán, I would hope, someday, to read a consonant treatment of the analogous enterprise of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics….*

So wrote Jonathan Z. Smith, in his essay “Are Theological and Religious Studies Compatible?” (originally published in The CSSR Bulletin 26 [1997]: 60-61 and then reprinted in Chris Lehrich’s edited collection On Teaching Religion [2013: 75]).

I quote it here as an intellectual provocation, to challenge us as to how we generally privilege the familiar. For whether one identifies as Christian or not, such widely-known insider technical terms as grace, sin, and salvation, along with such proper nouns as the Holy Spirit, God, or Jesus, are more than likely so familiar to most scholars of religion that they would be hard pressed to study, let’s just say, Karl Barth’s magnum opus as a work of epic mythmaking, akin to the oral or written products of cultures with which we are not so familiar.

So it’s rather improbable that we would approach Barth’s text by historicizing it, understanding it as highly coded commentary on the world of its author’s day, perhaps as practical charter for how he thought his world ought to be…. You know, the way we’d surely read comparable texts from other groups. (That some would’t see his text as comparable to those others is part of the problem, by the way….)

It would therefore be a challenge — one well worth the effort, I think — to take Smith’s brief line, above, seriously, and approach the massive Church Dogmatics as nothing more or less than a myth and to then read it accordingly.

It would be a great dissertation project.

* Ogotemmêli, an elder of the Dogon group in Mali/west Africa, provided Marcel Griaule with esoteric insider teachings for the latter’s Conversations With Ogotemmêli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas (Oxford Univ. Press, 1965); Antonio Guzmán was an enculturated Desana Indian, from the Amazon, who Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff met in the city of Bogota, Colombia; see the latter’s book, Amazonian Cosmos (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971).

When Are Religious Studies and Theology Different?

I know a lot of people who don’t sanction the old religious studies vs. theology distinction anymore — to them, the once distinguishable pursuits are better understood to bleed into one another, are mutually informing, are close cousins, or maybe even the very same thing and so to try to differentiate them is a sad testament to the authenticity of the people and the experiences under study. Scholarship, in this mode, is akin to dialogue, a mutually beneficial conversation, an exploration of our common humanity. Continue reading

It’s Time We Tackle This Directly

On Facebook the other day I read a post by a doctoral student in the US who, near done the degree, is venturing into a possible career outside the university; the post repeated a theme we’ve long heard in the humanities: we generally conceive of learning and research too narrowly and, by extension, graduate training ought to be re-calibrated to take into account the many other futures for which we might be preparing students.

I admit that I found this post rather frustrating — not because of what the student wrote but because we still inhabit circumstances in which this needs to be said. For, speaking as someone whose own doctoral training spanned the late 1980s and early 1990s, these conditions are entirely familiar to me.

Sure, we can cite the 2008 economic collapse as ramping up these problems but, as significant as that was, that’s just a change in degree, not kind. For the humanities job market has been terrible for decades and, despite each new generation of doctoral students bemoaning their plight, as they look toward a highly competitive job market, I really don’t see much that any doctoral degree granting school has done to try to address this head on. Simply put, I was writing on these same problems 20 years ago or more (for example, here [from 1996] and here [from 1997]), and I was hardly the first to see the problem and thus not alone in discussing it — so what have we been doing about it all this time? Continue reading

The Problem of First Person Authority

If you’ve paid attention to the news in the US over the past week or so, you’ll know that a bomber was loose in Austin, Texas, and that the suspect was cornered by authorities the other day and blew himself up. Continue reading

It’s a busy week ahead

With spring break drawing to a close we’ve got a full week ahead of us:

(1) Sarah Griswold will defend REL’s first M.A. thesis; it takes place Monday at 1:30 in Manly 210 — all faculty and grad students are invited, along with a small number of B.A. students who the faculty may have invited.

(2) Our 5th annual research symposium takes place all Friday morning, upstairs at the University Club — all majors and minors are invited, along with the faculty of course; it starts around 8:30 am or so, with coffee, tea and breakfast snacks, before the first panel gets going, and we’ll have lunch after its over. Thanks to our M.A. students, who will help to record it (for a future podcast) and also chair the sessions. (See who will be presenting.)

And (3) an incoming MA student, Savannah Finver, is flying in from New York state for a few days, to visit campus for the first time — say hi if you see her. (We have 3 confirmed new grad students starting in the Fall, with one part-time student joining them and possibly an additional full-time student as well.)

See you at Manly Hall — and I hope you’ve had a good week.