(Just Like) Starting Over Pt. 4

Ellie Cochran is a senior at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies with a depth study in Environmental Management. She will be graduating this May and plans to pursue a Master of Science in Family Financial Planning & Counseling. She’s been blogging her reflections on her time in the Department of Religious Studies. You can read parts 1, 2, and 3 in this series here.

Mere days before I am to graduate from the University of Alabama, I find myself considering the changes that have occurred since I first began school here in August of 2015. There are, of course, the obvious changes, such as no longer living in a dorm or the fact that I will soon have a double-major bachelor’s degree listed on my resume instead of none. But much like with any phase of one’s life, college being no different, there are subtle changes that take place over time and which typically go undetected until further scrutinized.

Continue reading

The Jim Salem Chair Award Goes to REL

We’re very pleased to announce that, at the year-end A&S chairs event over the weekend, Dean Robert Olin presented the annual Jim Salem Chair Award to REL’s own Prof. Russell McCutcheon.

Instituted by the Dean after the death, in July of 2012, of the longtime American Studies Department Chair, Jim Salem, the award recognizes “outstanding leadership to students, faculty, and the College.” Salem, who chaired the search committee that brought Dean Olin to UA, was known for his enthusiasm, dry wit, and use of American pop culture as a way into understanding 20th century American culture and politics.

Prof. McCutcheon came to Tuscaloosa in the Fall of 2001, to chair REL at a time when the Department was on the brink of reinvention; while serving three terms as chair (2001-2009; 20013-present) he has also had a productive research and teaching career at UA, being named to one of the campus’s few University Research Professor positions in February of 2018.

Given annually, the Jim Salem award is selected by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and, with Dean Olin’s upcoming retirement in September, this marks his last selection for this award.

Congratulations, Prof. McCutcheon!

(Just Like) Starting Over Pt. 3

Ellie Cochran is a senior at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies with a depth study in Environmental Management. She will be graduating this May and plans to pursue a Master of Science in Family Financial Planning & Counseling.

As I sat in Professor Crews’ class on a Tuesday in early February, I found myself wondering about each of the students who chose to add her REL 105 course to their schedule when they registered for classes a few months back. Many of them, in fact, most of them were looking for a Core course that was both interesting and would fulfill some portion of their vast degree requirements. I too was in that position just three years ago and, without ever considering that I would obtain an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies, I signed up for the introductory course.

At the time that I registered for my intro course, I was considering a change in degrees, but I had not officially decided on anything. Throughout my freshman year of college, my major was Business, largely because that is what I had hesitantly declared while attending Bama Bound the June before I came to UA. During the fall and spring semesters of my first year, I took a couple of general business courses which were required of any major within the College of Business. In addition to taking the business requirements, I, like most students in their first two years of undergrad, focused on also taking a variety of courses that would fulfill the general Core requirements for the University as a whole. These included History, Literature, Art, Humanities, Natural Science, and social/behavioral science classes. When I decided to forgo my general business degree just two weeks before I began my sophomore year, I suddenly needed to modify my entire fall schedule. As a result, I loaded up on a mix of lower-level core courses, taking an online Anthropology class, large-enrollment History and Literature classes, one Natural Science, and you guessed it, a Religious Studies course. Continue reading

Citing the Misdoers and Bad Behavers?

Steven L. Jacobs, standing on the 2nd floor of Manly Hall at the University of Alabama

Dr. Steven L. Jacobs is Professor and Aaron Aronov Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies at The University of Alabama. His primary research foci are in Biblical Studies, translation and interpretation, including the Dead Sea Scrolls; as well as Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

In the December 14, 2018 issue of The Chronicle Review, Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago penned a piece entitled “Go Ahead, Cite the Nazi” (B2).* His unnecessarily provocative argument as summarized by his disingenuous solution— “cite work that is relevant regardlessof the author’s [sic] misdeeds—was made even more disturbing by his conclusion, “you should not—under any circumstances—adjust your citation practices to punish scholars for [sic] bad behavior” (emphases added). Even more problematic was his total failure to address any notion of historical contextualization regarding the work of the philosophers he cites, Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)—the former an avowed antisemite and the latter an unrepentant Nazi, both of whom he rather cavalierly dismisses, choosing only to celebrate their “contributions” to philosophy.  In my own field of religious studies, a “softer” but nonetheless equally problematic case would be that of Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), a formerly avowed Christian nationalist and supporter of the Romanian Iron Guard during World War II.

Continue reading

What’s Screamo? How the Same Term Can Mean Different Things

Tanner (far left) and Kyle (far right) with Nick and Joe of Knuckle Puck. Taken July 1, 2018.

Kyle Ashley is a junior from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Majoring in Religious Studies, his main interests include loitering in libraries, copious amounts of coffee, and
keeping it emo in 2019.

“Knuckle Puck is awesome, but they can be a little screamo,” my stepbrother Tanner states, responding to my recommendation for which band he should play next.

“Ya… I guess.” I respond. We were fresh off attending the “Last cross-country Warped Tour” (Vans Warped Tour, for those who may not know, is a punk-centric music festival) and had a wealth of bands we wanted to push on others. Knuckle Puck, a band out of Chicago, was amongst our favorites.

Continue reading

Some Old Books Find a New Home

Prof. William Doty (1939-2017) was a professor in the Department of Religious Studies, at the University of Alabama, from 1981 until his retirement in 2001, though he continued teaching courses on campus for many years after that — often, though not always, on the study of myth — for either the Honors College or A&S’s Blount Scholars Program. Yesterday afternoon, a small group of current M.A. students were invited to William’s now mostly empty house, here in Tuscaloosa, where an estate sale had recently taken place, but where a large number of books still remained. “Who knew that the academic books wouldn’t go?” said Doty’s longtime friend and neighbor, Charles Day, with a wink, when he let them into the house to browse the shelves.

It’s fitting that a fairly large number of his books and his detailed notes, written on thick stacks of paper folded into each book, their pages bulging with paperclips and Post-it notes  — on everything from postmodernism and New Testament studies to books on myth, material religion, film, literary studies, philosophy, and semiotics — will now populate the shelves of students in the Department; even the faculty will each get a chance to claim a few that, for the time being, reside in boxes in the Chair’s office, as a memento of one of Manly Hall’s former residents.

Read about William’s life and career.

Grad Student Interns with Alabama Heritage Magazine

As part of the MA in Religion in Culture at UA, students attend a monthly colloquium designed to introduce them to community members seeking graduates with strong critical thinking skills. During these meetings, the Department of Religious Studies brings in individuals from within and outside of the University to share their experiences in the job market. Their presentations often focus on the ways that the tools each MA student is cultivating in their humanities courses can be useful outside of traditional academia.

Continue reading

Argument Analysis: Legion v. American Humanist Association

Monica L. Waller, arguing for respondent in American Legion v. American Humanist Assoc., 2-27-19Jackson Foster is a freshman at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and History and minoring in the Blount Undergraduate Initiative and Randall Research Scholars Program. He is currently studying the intersections between law, politics, and religion in Dr. Altman’s REL130 course. This piece was originally published in High School SCOTUS, a national Supreme Court blog comprised of young students like Jackson.

The Supreme Court heard arguments last month in American Legion v. American Humanist Association, a case involving a 40-foot Peace Cross situated in a Maryland public park. Before (and since) the argument, American Legion has received special attention from the constitutional scholar and layman alike. It has been enveloped in media scrutiny (see Nina Totenberg’s Cross Clash Could Change Rules For Separation Of Church And State); it is one of the first Establishment Clause cases in the Kavanaugh era, and it may spell the end of the Lemon test.

While constitutional considerations carry great weight, they miss the heart of this case. American Legion does not so much implicate the Establishment Clause or the Lemon test as it implicates American civil religion. The questions argued in the case, therefore, can be nicely distilled to one: Is the cross civil or sectarian? Continue reading

(Just Like) Starting Over Pt. 2

Ellie Cochran is a senior at UA, majoring in Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies with a depth study in Environmental Management. She will be graduating this May and plans to pursue a Master of Science in Family Financial Planning & Counseling.

As mentioned in my first blog post, (Just Like) Starting Over Pt. 1, I have spent part of my final semester as an undergraduate sitting in on the Religious Studies honors introductory course (REL 105) that is required of majors. While this course is technically the same introduction material that I received three years ago in my intro class (REL 100), I have noticed some distinguishable differences between the honors and non-honors courses.

Continue reading

A Religious Studies Guide to WrestleMania

On the first page of Imagining Religion, historian of religion Jonathan Z. Smith writes:

For the self-conscious student of religion, no datum possess intrinsic interest. It is of value only insofar as it can serve as exempli gratis of some fundamental issue in the imagination of religion.

For Smith, and I agree with him, scholars should choose particular examples as data that suit particular questions that they want to answer. In this way, the scholar of religion is not bound by “the boundaries of canon nor of community” in their pursuits. Thus, the data for religious studies is not limited to things that seem “religious” in the common use of the term. Furthermore, it is not the “religious” data that directs our research, but the larger theoretical questions that we seek to answer through the data we select.

This brings me to WrestleMania. Today WWE will put on their 35th annual WrestleMania show and I think there are three aspects of the show that could be of interest to a scholar of religion in the Smithian vein. To be clear, I don’t think a religious studies approach to WrestleMania should go find the things that seem obviously religious happening at the event, nor am I arguing that pro wrestling is also a religion. Rather, I am pointing out a few places where a scholar asking certain questions might find some data to theorize with.

So, I present a Religious Studies Guide WrestleMania 35.

Continue reading