Introducing Dr. Edith Szanto

Title card for Prof. Szanto's interview

Dr. Edith Szanto joined REL just this past August, coming to us after working for several years at the American University of Iraq, in Sulaimani. Now partway into her first semester, she’s been teaching an introductory course on Islam and, in the Spring, will be teaching REL 100 Introduction to the Study of Religion along with an upper-level seminar on the way Islam has been conceptualized in Europe and North America.

Thanks again to REL grad Andie Alexander and REL major Kyle Ashley
for their movie-making skills.

Religious Literacy and the Definition of Religion

world religions info grpahic

The US field’s largest professional association, the American Academy of Religion, recently released a set of guidelines (3 years in the making) on promoting religious literacy in 2 and 4-year US colleges — find it posted here as a PDF. Continue reading

An e.g. of How Meaning Works

Title card for the artifacts video series

Yes, REL videos are back for some of our ongoing series — such as the artifacts series, in which faculty are invited to talk a bit about something in their office.

In this episode, Prof. Richard Newton, who first joined REL last year.

See the whole artifacts series here.

Not Your Typical MA Program

Our third group of incoming MA students started classes this past August, joining four full-time MA students now in their second year. So we thought it was time to introduce them all to you, and ask them to tell us what they’re studying — from people, places and things to the digital tools useful in doing their work.

For more information on REL’s Religion in Culture MA, visit our website and
contact Prof. Merinda Simmons, our Graduate Director.

Thanks to REL grad Andie Alexander and
current REL major Kyle Ashley for creating this video.

How Not to Reinvent Yourself

Sierra Lawson is a BA and MA graduate of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama who is now pursuing her Ph.D. in the study of religion at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In this post she reflects on how, as a TA, she’s using a model of the field we’ve come to call the examples approach.

As someone who describes their research interests as investigating claims about Marian devotion in modern Latin America, you can imagine my surprise upon being assigned a teaching assistantship in Hebrew Bible this semester. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

It’s About More Than the Review

So, I wrote a thing recently about how writing book reviews is not worthless.

But I got some push back concerning how some people in the profession, such as contingent faculty, don’t have the time or the ability to work for free by writing book reviews. I did say writing review was good for people at all career stages, after all, no?

I find this response lamentable, to be honest, because I don’t happen to think that writing book reviews is all about the review that results. In fact, even though that earlier post was written to contest some unnamed senior person who claimed that they were professionally worthless, the assumption that writing a book review is about the review (and so, is it really worth it…?) is a problem that many seem to share, regardless their career stage.

I don’t think its about the review, though. Continue reading

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.

 

It’s Not Worthless

Yes, I tweeted the above, this morning, in response to a tweet about “an older prof” who supposedly said to someone that writing book reviews is “professionally worthless.”

What I find so frustrating is the contempt that many scholars (older or younger) seem to have for the day-to-day machinery of the field — from reviewing essay submissions to journals, reviewing book submissions to publishers, reviewing tenure & promotion applications, reviewing books, and editing journals to advising students, supervising graduate work, and even serving in administrative positions. And, yes, I think contempt is the right word, at least judging by the way many talk about such activities and how we value them (in things like tenure and promotion standards) — or how we joke about them and make a show either dodging those bullets or falling on those spears. Continue reading

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