What Can You Do With a Degree in Religion?

Al McGowen, REL alum

Al McGowen majored in Religious Studies (minoring in Social Work and English) while at UA in the late-1970s, after having served in the USAF during the Vietnam era. He went on to earn an M.Div. from Memphis Theological Seminary and did his clinical training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Al became a Fellow In The College of Chaplains, which later became the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), and a Board Certified Chaplain, a Clinical Member of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor with the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and, upon retirement, a Presidential Member of AACC. Throughout his career he has been a Pastor, Pastoral Counselor, an Air Force Chaplain, and a VA Mental Health Chaplain. He was ordained in The United Methodist Church.

When I attended the University of Alabama, in the late 1970s, I was repeatedly asked, “What can you do with a degree in religion?” The years have answered in marvelous ways: after I graduated from seminary, and after I completed all my clinical work, and after getting my various Ordinal, and  Board Certifications, I served literally all over the northern hemisphere as a Chaplain in some very unique places, and I was given many exceptional opportunities.

My religion degree, combined with my M.Div., which included a major in counseling, afforded me the opportunity to be the liaison, for CENTCOM village where 78 Muslim nations were represented. My understanding of Islam served me well, as a Christian Chaplain. When young people, who were having difficulty determining if they could serve in the Air Force, shortly after 911, my connection with my good friend, Ishmael Muhammad, The First Sergeant, helped me to help them make tough decisions. Continue reading

The Inquisition’s Baggage

Torturer and rack from a movie about the Inquistion

Christopher Hurt is an REL alum who works in Los Angeles. He is best known for his work with the rock ‘n’ roll group, Jamestown Pagans.

Have you ever seen Inquisición (film, 1977)? If you’re a lover of period-piece horror movies, like I am, then you’ll want to check it out. Mondo Macabro has a Blu-ray release that is standout. The subject matter calls to mind this data…

Several years into his papacy John Paul II initiated a commission to study the Inquisition in the hopes of creating a sort of tally for the Catholic Church. The thinking, it seems, was that by initiating a closer examination of the wrongdoings of the past, and formally acknowledging them, it would leave one less strike against the institution, which had already done this with the Galileo incident. Continue reading

Have You Read the Latest Bulletin for the Study of Religion?

Bulletin for the Study of Religion

Prof. Richard Newton introduces us to the latest iteration of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion, now a joint collaboration between Equinox Publishing and the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama.

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Recognizing Alum Accomplishments

Award plaque

At Honors Day 2019 the Department first awarded a new annual prize, to recognize the accomplishments of our graduates — the majority of whom go on to succeed in a wide variety of fields, making evident to our current students, we hope, the wide applicability of the skills gained in our classes. Then, this past Spring, it was renamed in honor of the commitment to our student shown by our longtime Administrative Secretary, Betty Dickey, who retired on April 1, 2020, after 32 years in the Department. But with universities across the country moving to limited business operations back in mid-March (due to COVID-19), there was too much happening to properly alert the successful nominees, let alone announce it at Honors Day 2020, as we had hoped.

But now is time to make-up for all of that. So, having written to our two recipients, it’s time to let you know who the faculty have selected from this past year’s nominations: we’re very pleased to announce that the 2019-20 recipients of the Dickey Alum Award are Susanna Payton Dunlap and Criag Nutt. Continue reading

And So You’re About to Start an M.A. at Alabama…

Students having class outside

Keeley McMurray, from Huntsville, AL, earned her BA (2018) and MA (2020) in REL and is now beginning her Ph.D. at Florida State. We asked her to offer incoming students a little advice on what to expect.

Congratulations and welcome to Tuscaloosa! There are a few things you should know as you’re getting acquainted. No fear — we’ve got some insider information that will supplement a graceful transition into the Bama world.

1. ROLL TIDE — Surely you’ve heard this slogan spouted by fans of the university’s football team, or maybe you’ve noticed its ubiquitous presence across the greater state of Alabama. You’ll soon find this shockingly versatile slogan creeping into your subconscious and erupting into your vocabulary, often in unexpected instances, appropriately taking the place of words like “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you.” It is the pinnacle of verbal fillers, the apex of sentimental conversation. Continue reading

Studying Undertakerness and Religion

The Undertaker in the wrestlin ring, kneeling.

Christopher Hurt is an REL alum who works in tech in Los Angeles. He is best known for his work with the rock ‘n’ roll group, Jamestown Pagans.

Without a doubt my favorite professional wrestler has always been, and will always be, The Undertaker. The Undertaker is a character performed by Mark William Calaway in World Wrestling Entertainment (back in my day it was WWF). Recently the WWE released a documentary chronicling the 30 year career (and retirement) of Calaway. It got me thinking about studying religion.

There are quite a few videos out there that go through the major story arcs, rivalries, and matches that make The Undertaker’s career unrivaled. For example, see this video for context to this article:

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The Religious is the Political

President Donad Trump posing with a Bible after protestors were cleared from the park

Savannah H. Finver is a recent graduate of U.A.’s Master of Arts in Religion in Culture program. Beginning in the Fall of 2020, she will be pursuing her Ph.D. at Ohio State University in Comparative Studies. Her interests lie in discourses on religion as they appear in U.S. law and politics, especially as they pertain to the assignment of civil rights and legal privileges.

Regardless of what platform you use to get your news, you likely saw a photo circulating in the early days of June like the one above of President Donald Trump holding up a bible in what many have decried as an irreverent fashion in front of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C. The President’s photo op unleashed a whirlwind of controversy for several reasons, including that he reportedly used police and National Guard troops to clear the area of demonstrators peacefully protesting police brutality and the death (though some would prefer the term murder—after all, the two terms place the onus of responsibility on different subjects, with important legal implications) of George Floyd. Likely due to the civil unrest that has been so prominent throughout the U.S. in the past few months, the photo also prompted backlash from religious practitioners, clergy, and institutions who insisted that Trump was using the bible and St. John’s Church—objects traditionally associated with religion—for a political stunt. Continue reading

Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 4

Historical photo of Emmett Till alive and then in his coffin after being murdered, terribly disfigured.

Vincent D. Jennings graduated in May 2020 from the University of Alabama with a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology. In the Fall of 2019 he began an in-depth study on America’s history of racial violence as part an independent study course with REL’s Prof. Theodore Trost — which culminated in this four-part series.

With the evolution of slavery in mind, consider a recent movie entitled “Just Mercy,” which chronicles the fight of the Equal Justice Initiative to defend wrongly convicted inmates condemned to death row in Alabama.

A memorable line from that film regarding an African American who was facing the death penalty was: “No matter what you call it, it’s just another way to lynch a black man.”  This line speaks to the more widespread concern regarding how the death penalty is being used to perpetuate excess violence against African Americans. Continue reading

Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 3

Historical photo of two African Americans lynched from trees with a large crowd of whites gathered to watch.

Vincent D. Jennings graduated in May 2020 from the University of Alabama with a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology. In the Fall of 2019 he began an in-depth study on America’s history of racial violence as part an independent study course with REL’s Prof. Theodore Trost — which culminated in this four-part series.

Of all the violations deemed worthy of lynching an African American, no offense or accusation stirred the level of vitriol and incited the level of violence more than the suggestion of sexual contact between a black man and a white woman. It required little more than a rumor based upon a whisper against a black for the result to end in a lynching. The trope of the lascivious hyper-sexual black male served as the basis for the most incorrigible acts of “retribution.” Sexual contact between a black male and a white woman (occasionally real, but usually imagined) often involved as little as a black man accused of failing to keep his eyes on the ground in the presence of a white woman. For the lynching era emerged on the scene at the same time that Jim Crow and racial integrity laws prohibited social interactions between people of different races. The fact that the violations were always perceived to occur in relations between black men and white women (but seldom between white men and black women) speaks to how “this trope regarding the hyper-sexuality of black men especially vis-a-vis the inviolable chastity of white women, was and remains one of the most enduring tropes of white supremacy” (Lartey & Morris, 2018). Continue reading

Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 2

Historical photo of a Ku Klux Klan Rally and Flag Burning

Vincent D. Jennings graduated in May 2020 from the University of Alabama with a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology. In the Fall of 2019 he began an in-depth study on America’s history of racial violence as part an independent study course with REL’s Prof. Theodore Trost — which culminated in this four-part series.

Between 1868 and 1871, a wave of terror swept across the South, resulting in the deaths of thousands of freed African Americans for simply asserting their most basic liberties; many were killed for simply walking freely on the streets while others were murdered for failing to obey the dictates of a white person during a random encounter. In response to this increasingly tenuous situation, legislators attempted to enact numerous levels of protection for African Americans. However, congressional efforts to provide federal protection and civil rights to formerly enslaved black people were undermined by the United States Supreme Court’s rulings, in cases like The Slaughterhouse Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1872); United States v. Reese, 92 U.S. 214 (1875); and United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876) (Lartey & Morris 2018) .  It wasn’t long thereafter that Northern politicians retreated from the most significant and key pillar of Reconstruction: the commitment to protect freed black people. This unfortunate pivot resulted in the collapse of reconstruction soon thereafter while opening wide the door for cultural influences across the nation that bitterly opposed racial equality and once again this was especially true in the South. Continue reading