Dr. Roshan Abraham: Not-So-Secret Scholarly Identities

Roshan Abraham
As someone familiar with the work of our Department. Dr. Roshan Abraham knows that we appreciate the complexities of identification. Join Prof. Newton as he gets to know a bit about our 2019 Day Lecturer in the interview below. See part 1 here.

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Dr. Roshan Abraham: A Day Lecturer’s Origin Story

A picture of Roshan Abraham at a microphone speaking.

Dr. Roshan Abraham is our 2019 Day Lecturer. Prof. Newton was able to chat with him to learn a little bit more about his training and his scholarship.

We’ve heard you’ll be talking about the Bible and comics. Comics often involve origin stories. What’s your scholarly origin story?

I don’t really have a simple story about my academic training; I got to the study of religion through a very circuitous route. I’ll try to keep it brief.

I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Kansas, majoring in English and Classical Languages. When I went on to my PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania, I became interested in the ethnography of India in Greek Literature, which lead my to Apollonius of Tyana, the first century Neopythagorean sage who journeyed to India to study with the Brahmans. At the same time, I developed an interest in ancient magic, and, as luck would have it, a central part of Apollonius’ biography was the accusation of being a magos (a “magician”). At this point, all of my training was as a classicist, but, having grown up as a PK (preacher’s kid), it was hard for me not to notice similarities between Apollonius’ biography and the synoptic gospels.

 

You can learn more about Prof. Abraham’s work on the many lives of
Apollonius on the podcast, Hold That Thought.

The year I started my dissertation was the same year Annette Reed joined the religious studies department at Penn, which was on the other end of the hall from Classical Studies. Annette introduced me to the study of religion and, over the course of writing my dissertation, gave me all of my initial training in religious studies. I’d audit her courses, she’d give me reading lists, and, despite the fact that she wasn’t on my dissertation committee, she would spend countless hours discussing second temple Judaism, early Christianity, and religious studies theory and methodology. I got hooked quickly, but, since all of my religious studies training was essentially “off the books,” the likelihood of being able to continue in the field was very slim.

I was lucky, however, to have been hired at Washington University in St. Louis, jointly appointed in the Department of Classics and the Program in Religious Studies. During my time at WashU, I had so many opportunities to engage with Religious Studies, through teaching, advising, curriculum development, and professional service, and I found my disciplinary home in the academic study of religion.

Honestly, one of the many honors of having been invited to give the Day Lecture is knowing that Annette Reed is going to be your Aronov lecture in the same academic year.
I left WashU in 2016, due to a family decision to move to the DC area, and have since been following a non-traditional route in the academy. After three years of adjuncting at Georgetown, George Mason, and American University, I was hired as an advisor/instructor in American University’s First Year Program. I’m fortunate to have found a full-time position that still grants me opportunities to teach religious studies.

A gif of the A-team discussing how, "I love it when a plan comes together."

And we are fortunate to have you both visiting us here at The University of Alabama. Can you give us a little preview of what you’ll be discussing.
My talk is centered around the question: why does the Noah story have so much saliency right now in comics? The question arose after seeing three different comic book stories adapting or in some way inspired by the Biblical story of the Great Flood: Cullen Bunn and Juan Doe’s Dark Ark, Jason Aaron and r.m. Guera’s The Goddamned, and Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, and Niko Henrichon’s Noah (the graphic novel on which the Russel Crowe movie is based). These works are not merely adaptations, however, since the visual language of comics makes these works into acts of translation. I draw on Walter Benjamin’s theory of translation as an act of creation, belonging to the after-life of a text. I’ll be looking at how the visual language of comics reveal how new layers of meaning and interpretation are added on to the text and how these layers of meaning connect with political and theological agendas. This is equally found in confessional adaptations of the bible, such as in The Action Bible and The Kingstone Bible, works that are explicitly designed for theological education and proselytization.

We look forward to hearing more!

Mark your calendars for the 2019 Day Lecture with Dr. Roshan Abraham. Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at 7:00pm in ten Hoor 30. And tune in Friday to the Study Religion blog to find out more about Dr. Abraham, his research, and his teaching. To keep up on social media, follow along at #Day2019.

 

REL MA Students Present at Culture Studies Conference

Today’s panel with REL MA students was part of the interdisciplinary culture studies graduate student conference, planned by a grad student committee and funded through the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama. REL was represented on the planning committee by second year MA student Keeley McMurray, and it is taking place at the Bryan Conference Center on campus. Continue reading

American Examples 2020: Call for Participants

American Examples is a collaborative working group for early career scholars who study religion in America, broadly conceived, from a variety of disciplines. The program is generously funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. American Examples engages the study of religion in America across the three areas of research, teaching, and public scholarship. Drawing on expertise from across the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama, American Examples’ training and mentoring produces scholars whose work exceeds the intellectual and geographic boundaries of “American religion” or “American religious history.”

American Examples seeks applications for participants in its newly expanded 2020 program. AE consists of three two-day workshops, each with its own focus: research, public scholarship,  and teaching. The workshops are hosted at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and led by mentors drawn from the faculty of the Department of Religious. Travel, lodging, and meals in Tuscaloosa for participants are paid for by American Examples.

The Workshops

Research- March 5-8, 2020: A collaborative discussion of chapter length works in progress that will lead to the publication of an edited anthology of participants’ chapters.

Public Scholarship- May 7-10 2020: An introduction to a number of digital tools for building public digital projects and presenting research to larger publics through digital platforms.

Teaching- Oct 1-4, 2020: A collaborative and engaging series of discussions and activities that will equip participants with new methods and pedagogy for teaching courses on religion in America.

 For more information on the workshops see http://americanexamples.ua.edu/about.

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Épater les Bourgeoise…?

I do no speak or read French. Many years ago, however, in undergraduate school, I had a professor of English literature who was inordinately fond of the French phrase épater les bourgeoise—as he would translate it on a regular basis, “to shock the ordinary human being out of his [or her] lethargy.”  That is, there are those works, persons, events to which ordinary human beings, most of us, can only react in shock, sometimes in dismay; other times in paralysis.  One such event historically is the Holocaust (Hebrew, Shoah), the systematic, organized and planned murders of more than six million Jews—children, women, and men—and others: Sinti/Roma; homosexuals, primarily males; the physically and mentally challenged; and, lastly, so-called “asocials”, those whom the Nazis deemed unworthy of place in their present and future society. Even today, more than seventy-five years after the end of World War II, its power to shock, dismay, frighten, disorient shows no signs of abating.  Concomitantly, those most associated with this “crime of crimes”, this paradigmatic genocide—Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Rudolf Hoess, Alfred Rosenberg, and others in the upper echelons of the Nazi hierarchy—still retain their power to amaze and disgust us as the very embodiments of evil personified.

Closely associated with them and their murderous agendas are the words which also retain their power: Auschwitz death camp (symbolic of the entire system of death); the Warsaw Ghetto, symbolic of Jewish incarceration and Jewish resistance and other unsuccessful efforts at extermination; Six Million, symbolic of the Jews murdered; and the like. Continue reading

REL Receives Four Year, $350,000 Grant from the Luce Foundation

The Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama is very pleased to announce a $350,000 grant from the Henry  Luce Foundation to fund a significantly expanded version of its American Examples Workshop (piloted in 2018-19 with the assistance of UA’s College of Arts & Sciences).

With this new grant, the Department will call for applications and select up to nine early career scholars (ranging from ABD to tenure-track) to be brought to the University of Alabama three times throughout the calendar year for workshops on research, teaching, and public scholarship. Contingent, alt-ac, and other non-tenure track scholars will be especially encouraged to apply. The workshops are an effort to assist early career scholars of America to entertain a shift in focus that has been successfully adopted by members of the Department. As the original American Examples workshop described it:

The study of religion in America, or American religious history, has most often sought to discover what is uniquely “American” about American religion… What if we instead approach America as one site among others, an important and useful but by no means unique example, that might reveal larger cross-cultural insights about religion, social formations, identities, and more? What if we did not take “America” and “religion” for granted? AE, then, is an attempt to do just that: develop research on religion in America that is portable, cross-cultural, comparative, and theoretically driven.

With Prof. Mike Altman as the grant’s PI and the chair of the AE Steering Committee (comprised of Profs. Steven Ramey, Merinda Simmons, and Richard Newton), the ongoing series of workshops will involve many of the faculty in the Department serving as mentors and participating in programming. In addition, the program will benefit from the logistical and digital skills of one of our MA students, who will annually serve as the AE graduate research assistant. The inaugural holder of this Luce-funded GRA position will be Keeley McMurray.

After their first year of workshops, each AE participant will return once in the following year to report on the implementation of their new skills, serve as mentors to the next year’s participants, and participate in a public event involving REL undergraduate and graduate students. The program will also produce publications, digital projects, course syllabi and a number of other resources so stay tuned for more information about this exciting new initiative in the Department.

More news about the call for applications will come later this summer as we select the 2020 cohort this fall and hold the first workshop in Spring 2020.

Honors Day 2019 in Photos

Last Friday, the Department of Religious Studies hosted its annual Honor’s Day reception on the second-floor balcony of Manly Hall. Friends and family traveled in from around the state (and nation) to celebrate award recipients. The agreeable weather, tasty food, and great company made for an ideal day to celebrate the hard work of faculty and students over the last year.

Earlier in the week office workers and groundskeepers broke out the zip-ties to hang every Silverstein banner (between 2002 and 2019). Many of the guests who were majors in the Department before graduating could find their own names listed on the railings. Current MA student, Sierra Lawson, and REL Senior, Ellie Cochran stand behind one of these banners to chat as they grab lunch catered by the Cypress Inn.

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