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:

Continue reading

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

Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 1

Young African American boy singing as part of a church choir

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.

In that land…, that land…, that land…, in that great BIG BEAUTIFUL land…
Lord you know I will fare better in that land….

Sitting on the first pew of the church as an eight-year-old I recall the words of this song vividly, as the congregation sang on Sunday mornings. As the son of a pastor I was practically born in the church sanctuary, so my memories are rich and vibrant from those early years. I recall how the congregation would rock and sway as voices would bellow the words of this song, particularly the lyrics: “great BIG BEAUTIFUL land.”  I remember being proud that I knew all the words as I sang along with the adults. It mattered very little that I didn’t fully understand the lyrics. The only thing that mattered was the shared sense of harmony permeating the room that seemed to transcend music. Continue reading

The Satanic Panic Did Not Take Place

Podcast promotional image for episode on The Satanic Panic

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.

I recently finished listening to a podcast called Conviction. I listened to the second season specifically. It centers on families affected by the Satanic Panic and since I’ve written about this before, and it’s a big part of my academic interest, I felt compelled to compose another piece. Continue reading

Taking a Knee as a Performative Social Site

Football players kneeling during the national anthem

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.

To put it lightly, things are going on.

Whether you’re affiliated with The University of Alabama or not, you’ve likely noticed that there’s a lot happening in the country. And while so much of it may seem like new territory (I don’t think I’ve been in the midst of a pandemic before), there’s potentially some familiarity to the picture if you’re looking at it through your academic eye. Continue reading