American Examples: Adapting to a Fall 2020 and Beyond

American Examples Logo

When we announced the American Examples program, funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, we were super excited about the three workshops we would be offering in 2020. We were able to hold one of them in person in early March. Then the world changed, and, with it, our plans.

Many of the REL faculty pitched in late in the spring and into the early summer to adapt to our new COVID reality by hosting a series of informal Zoom discussions about teaching with our 2020 AE participants (and even a couple 2019 AE folks). The discussions offered everyone a chance to share how they were experimenting with remote teaching and how to better prepare for their fall courses. I think everyone involved found the discussions fruitful.

screenshot of AE zoom conversation

This fall we are adapting again, though with greater preparation. Rather than the planned face to face workshop on public humanities, we have shifted to a new model. Beginning last week, the #AE2020 cohort has been joining myself and another REL faculty for informal conversations about the public humanities and how we think about them here in our department. Last week Prof. Jeri Wieringa joined us to talk about the role of digital platforms and tools in public humanities and the relationship between public humanities and digital humanities. This week, Prof. Richard Newton spent time talking about how scholars can craft a public persona and how to manage things as an online public scholar of religion. Next week, Prof. Nathan Loewen will join us for our final conversation to discuss the REL 502 Public Humanities Foundations course he is teaching and how public humanities relates to both the graduate and undergraduate classroom. The first two conversations have proven useful and fun and we look forward to another great one next week.

screenshot of another AE zoom conversation

Along with these conversations, the 2020 AE participants will be working on producing a series of short accessible videos on key terms in the study of religion. In these videos the participants will take a term that is useful to them in their research (text, canon, law, ritual, etc.) and use an example from their research to explain the term. The idea being that scholars who study things in times and places outside the United States might also use that term and that teachers or interested members of the public might find their explanations useful. We hope these videos will reach a public audience, via a new AE YouTube channel, but we also think they will be useful in introductory religious studies courses. After all, the classroom is probably the public space scholars of religion have the most frequent access too. Our students are the public too.

And on top of all of this, the 2021 AE cohort is just around the corner. Keep your eyes peeled for a 2021 call for participants for a newly designed remote version of AE. That should be out very soon.

American Examples: THE BOOK

American Examples

American Examples, the program for early-career scholars of religion in America funded by the Luce Foundation, is proud to announce a new publication relationship with the University of Alabama Press. UAP will be publishing an anthology of research essays from each of the American Examples cohorts beginning with the first AE cohort that met in spring of 2019. The first anthology, titled American Examples: A New Conversation About Religion, will be published in the summer of 2021. We are very excited to partner with UAP and look forward to four more anthologies over the next four years of the program’s funding. Continue reading

REL Adds a New Faculty Member

Lauren Horn Griffin

The Department of Religious Studies is very pleased to announce that Dr. Lauren Horn Griffin is joining the faculty, as a full-time renewable Instructor, for the start of the Fall 2020 semester.

Earning her Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2016, Lauren has worked full-time at the University of Oklahoma since 2016, as a digital learning designer in their Office of Digital Learning while also being a regular lecturer in their Department of Religious Studies. Her research interests include the study of saints and other authoritative figures in Roman Catholic communities and the role they play in the creation of national, ethnic, and cultural identity. Combining this with an expertise in digital humanities, her current research focuses on Catholic material culture in digital spaces, specifically how Catholic history is constructed on social media.

In the Fall 2020 semester Lauren will be teaching REL 105 Honors Introduction to the Study of Religion in the Fall as well as REL 310 REL Goes to the Movies, our regular one credit evening course (repeatable up to three times).

We’re very pleased to have Lauren join the faculty and excited by how her expertise enhances REL’s strength in the study of identity as well as its initiative in the digital humanities.

Because REL was authorized to make this hire at a rather late date,
Lauren will begin her appointment working remotely and so we
look forward to when she is able to join us in Tuscaloosa.

Stay Tuned and Stay Safe

Photo of Religious Studies seminar roomEarly on, someone added me to a Facebook group dedicated to issues in higher ed that involve or are impacted by COVID-19. I’ve only posted there a few times but have routinely monitored the posts of others, sometimes finding useful links but often being somewhat perplexed by the sorts of things that I see.

For example, consider the post asking others in the group about their routines for cleaning classrooms between classes and how long they’re waiting between classes. As someone commented there, that’s a question best directed at a campus’s facilities operation, let alone the Office of Academic Affairs and the Registrar, since the vast majority of members of the group seem to be faculty, each focused on issues revolving directly around the virus’s implications for their teaching and what they can do about it. Custodial services, though it surely affects us, isn’t something in which we have much of a say, if any. Continue reading

All The News That’s Fit to Email

Photo of the front cover the the 2019-20 Department newsletter

It’s that time of year again — time to send around this year’s Department newsletter. It’s the 17th annual edition, and the third in the current format.

For those who don’t follow this blog regularly — and yes, we know that there’s a few of you out there — our newsletter is a chance to offer a few highlights from another busy year. From the American Examples grant to retirements and graduates, from new hires to incoming students and faculty accomplishments (and you can even throw in some student writing), it’s got it all.

One change, though, is that we don’t have a hard copy version this year. With UA still working under limited business operations (due to ongoing concerns over the risks associated with COVID-19), it seemed that a PDF that we could email to everyone, for them to print or read online, was a pretty good solution.

So, if you’ve not seen our news posted on the blog throughout the past year, you may want to catch-up with the newsletter.

And maybe with some old blog posts too.

Didn’t receive it? You can find an accessible version online.

Incoming REL Student Awarded UA’s Francko Graduate Fellowship

Phoebe Duke-Mosier

We’re very pleased to announce that incoming M.A. student, Phoebe Duke-Mosier, has been awarded UA’s David Francko Graduate Fellowship, which carries full tuition/health insurance, and an annual $25,000 stipend, all of which is committed for both years of her degree.

Named after UA’s previous Dean of the Graduate School, one Francko Graduate Fellowship is awarded annually for incoming graduate students. No teaching assistant duties are linked to this award.

Phoebe graduated in 2019 from Hamilton College with a degree in Religious Studies. Her senior thesis, “Drinking the Kool-Aid: Discourses of Death at Jonestown,” was selected for publication in the Fall 2020 issue of The Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa. She has broad research interests in the study of religion, including religion’s relationship with popular culture and consumerism, discourses and practices surrounding death, and the intersection between the religious and the paranormal.

We’re very pleased to have Phoebe joining us for Fall and to have this prestigious award going to one of our incoming students.

Faculty News

This is the time of year when faculty who applied last Fall for promotions are notified of the decision of the Office of Academic Affairs. We’re therefore quite pleased to announce that Dr. Merinda Simmons and Dr. Nathan Loewen have each been promoted — Dr. Simmons to the rank of Professor (sometimes called Full Professor) and Dr. Loewen to the rank of Associate Professor. In addition, Dr. Loewen was awarded tenure.

Merinda Simmons

Professor Simmons, who earned her Ph.D. in English at the University of Alabama (in 2009), has been our inaugural Graduate Director, having helped lead the Department in the planning stages for our M.A. degree (now entering its 4th year). She works across a wide variety of areas, both in her undergraduate and graduate teaching and in her research: from gender studies, queer theory, southern studies, and method and theory in the study of religion, to postcolonial studies, Afro-Caribbean and African American literature and theory, as well as studies in migration and diaspora. She has authored and/or edited four books and is currently working on the manuscript to a new monograph, Sourcing Slave Religion: Theorizing Experience in the Archive. With this promotion she has attained the highest rank faculty obtain.

Framed document present to Dr. Simmons

To mark the occasion, Dr. Simmons received a framed original of the cartoon version of herself that was featured on the Department’s blog back in 2014-15 — making a point that she’s often made in classes concerning how rhetorics of antiquity (even on our own campus) function.

Nathan Loewen

Associate Professor Loewen earned his Ph.D. at McGill University (in 2009) and taught at McGill  (2005-2009) and then at Vanier College (2009-14), both in Canada, before coming to UA in 2015. His work in the philosophy of religion originally focused on the problem of evil (the topic of his first book, Beyond the Problem of Evil: Derrida and Anglophone Philosophy of Religion) but has now moved more broadly to be concerned with ways to globalize the philosophy of religion. His appointment also entails a significant amount of time dedicated to his role as the College of Arts & Sciences’ Faculty Technology Liaison, assisting the College to promote everything from better teaching in general to the development of better online courses. With this promotion he has also been awarded tenure.

Framed document presented to Dr. Loewen

To mark this milestone in his career, Dr. Loewen was also presented with a framed original from the 2014-15 web series which features himself; of note is that, in hindsight, we can now see how his cartoon was basically a prototype for the trading cards that the Department eventually made just last year.

Congratulations to both Merinda and Nathan — these are well-deserved
awards to two hard-working and valuable colleagues.

 

 

Going Remote

Video-conference call scene from the movie 2001: A Space OdysseyIt’s surely not news to anyone that we’ve gone remote, taking all REL courses online as part of our effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. The University of Alabama, like so many schools nation-wide (let alone throughout the world) continues on what we call limited business operations (LBO), with academic offices closed, in-person classes suspended, students gone from the residences, and only essential employees still working on campus. (Get info on UA’s response to the pandemic.) But classes continue, thanks to a some technologies that we’ve been using. Continue reading

Coming Attractions: A Change in Format

Screenshot of computer screen during Zoom videoconference, with many participants

As communicated to all of our students over the past week, UA is maintaining limited business operations (LBO) for at least the next two weeks (and it will re-assess during that time concerning whether those conditions continue), with students asked not to return to campus. (A plan will soon be rolled out, from the central administration, concerning when those living in the residence system can return to collect their possessions.) This means that offices will not be staffed in person for the coming weeks and, instead, staff and faculty will be working remotely (in most cases, from home); the Spring semester continues, however, though classes are changing, as are the way faculty and students will interact. Continue reading