Conscientious Objection, the War in Vietnam, and Jonathan Z. Smith

Richard Hecht, longtime faculty member at UC Santa Barbara, and onetime chair of their Department of Religious Studies, offers a reminiscence of the late Jonathan Z. Smith. Hecht is pictured above, introducing Smith’s 2003 Ninian Smart Memorial Lecture.

I met Jonathan and Elaine Smith shortly after they arrived in Santa Barbara in 1966 in one of the first courses he taught in the department. The war in Vietnam was heating up and President Johnson was guardedly increasing the number of American military personnel in the combat zone. The Selective Service or the Draft had not gone to its lottery system and used a system of classifications in the process of meeting the monthly national goals. A young man 18 years or older could be eligible for the draft and be 1-A; could be physically disqualified (my roommate took off the tip of his right index figure, his trigger finger, by sticking it under his lawn mower) and be 4-F; could be a full time student and be 2-S, as long as you maintained what your college or university considered a full course of study and were not in academic trouble; 1-D if a member of the military reserve like the National Guard or were a member of the ROTC; 3-A if military service would constitute a severe hardship to dependents, and several other categories, including for ministers and theological students. College and universities were required immediately to inform “your” draft board if there was any change in your student status. Continue reading

Scholars Around a Campfire: Understanding Strategic Acts of Identification

Culture on the Edge, a group of scholars studying acts of identity formation and centered here at the University of Alabama, has a new book forthcoming in its series, Studies of Identity Formation. This book, Strategic Acts in the Study of Identity: Toward a Dynamic Theory of People and Place, edited by our own Prof. Vaia Touna, is set for publication in January 2019. Continue reading

#RELHomecoming 2018

This weekend marked REL’s first homecoming bash on the balcony — we sent out invites to all alums for whom we have good mailing addresses and made sure our current majors & minors were in the loop. Our Alumni Liaison committee members were all there, as well as many faculty and staff members.  The result? We’d say that about 50 or 60 students, grads, family, and friends came by before kick-off, for some food, some stories and, yes, some pictures. Continue reading

Another Journal Group

MA Students and faculty met the other day to discuss the article chosen for this meeting of our regular journal group – which just so happened to be an article Prof. Steven Ramey and I coauthored. The article, titled Sourcing Stereotypes: Constructing and Challenging Simplified Knowledge, is made up of two main parts: a critique of a chart (and its corresponding citations) from a textbook in the nursing field concerned with what we took to be stereotypes (some of which religiously-based) in how different populations tolerate or respond to pain, and a second, a similar, though perhaps less obvious, part which was a critique of textbook presentations of groups in the field of religious studies. While having both authors in the room certainly played a role in how the article was examined, the enthusiasm of the group of people present for the discussion played the most vital role in the development of a robust, engaging and productive dialogue about the article itself. For, without conversation partners that help you explore the critical questions you yourself are working to answer, your writing process and the claims you make in your writing will not be able to grow and address new issues.

The discussion opened by highlighting how various components of the writing and publishing process have become integrated into the rest of my work, such as seeing writing (even single-author writing) as far more collaborative than it might at first appear. For instance, in co-writing, I never once felt there was a time where you could say this article was a product of either of us independently. From Family Guy references to generous critical commentary, the authorial voice of the paper did not require us to adopt a homogenous tone because its overarching goal was to investigate the value of organized heterogeneity. That is not to say that we were perfectly happy with the final version that we submitted for peer review and, then, publication. In fact writing, as well as co-writing (at least in my limited experience in terms of this one article’s production), is an ongoing process in which there are many moments where authors are dissatisfied with what we write. In the case of this project, this disagreement, though, was where we were able to tease out exactly what we were discussing and how we thought it might be discussed in lieu of other audiences. For there is no way to write to all readers’ sensibilities and you must agree to present your work in certain ways in order to communicate it beyond your own imagination.

Keeping this idea of an engaged writer in mind, some of those attending were interested in what readers we had imagined for the article and how we went about writing to those audiences. For example, Richard Newton asked about my methods for evaluating a source’s validity while Emily Crews invited me to consider what practical functions simplified knowledge can serve in venues where a detailed, nuanced explanation is not permitted. The questions seemed to be suggesting that through transparent conversations about our own limits, we, as writers, could retain nuance in a way that it is accessible for various audiences. Thus, the limits imposed on our writing, by us as the authors or by the audiences that consume it are, for pragmatic reasons, not necessarily working against our larger objective. In fact, such limits seem to serve as an example of how knowledge can be simplified without compromising nuance.

The CV: This is Your Life

Since Prof. McCutcheon has offered a couple of posts with advice about the job market, one on campus interviews and one on the process more broadly, I thought I would add a post about another piece of the job market process: the CV.

The topic of the CV came up the other day in our REL 502: Public Humanities Foundations course when we were looking at professional websites the students had built. Every student had included some sort of CV on their site but as we talked it became clear that why that CV was there and what it was doing needed to be thought out more clearly. Continue reading

What’s New about New Modernisms?

The discourse of modernism has conventionally been dominated by a limiting attention to aesthetics, form, experimentation, and canon, often treated as standalone objects that capture the essence of modernist art — but what if we focus instead on social politics as a driving force behind the modernist movement?  What new perspective might be gained if we unite the typically separated categories of aesthetics and politics?  In their forthcoming book, Race and New Modernisms, REL Prof. Merinda Simmons and English Prof. Andy Crank confront these questions by offering a unique reevaluation of modernism, one that considers the racial ideology, colonial history, and regional complexity at work behind modernist form and aesthetic. Continue reading

Identity in Inter-Korean Politics

Jacob Inglis is a junior from Huntsville, Alabama majoring in International Studies and minoring in Korean, Asian Studies, and the Randall Research Scholars Program with an interest in Inter-Korean politics and diplomacy.

The world watched over the past year as war on the Korean Peninsula, an inevitable outcome according to North Korea, seemed poised to reignite. Amidst the backdrop of the controversial deployment of additional anti-ballistic missile systems, the testing of North Korea’s newest intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the mainland U.S, and the alleged detonation of a hydrogen bomb by North Korea, tensions on the Korean Peninsula were at their highest point in the decade since the relationship between North and South Korea deteriorated following the failure of the former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung’s Sunshine Policy in the mid-2000s. However, the start of 2018 brought an unexpected opportunity for diplomacy when North and South Korea agreed to enter the Olympic stadium under the joint Korean Unification flag (pictured above) at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. Continue reading

The Campus Interview

Last week I wrote a post on some strategies to think about when applying for academic jobs. As I wrote there, I’ve played the role of Chair long enough that, like many others in the field, I’ve learned a thing or two from being on this side of the interview table; and so, with interview season quickly approaching us, I thought that a sensible follow-up should be some reflections on the on-campus interview, as seen from the Department’s point of view.

(And, as I wrote in that earlier post, my hope is that others get in touch with us to write a guest post or two of their own on these very topics. For views and practices obviously differ and more is better when it comes to getting information to prepare for the job market.) Continue reading

Bingo

For the past few years different versions of a conference bingo card have been making the rounds on social media, with squares to check off for things like “Question that’s not a question” or “All male panel” and other sorts of typical conference experiences that many of us know all too well. In time for the start of the new school year The Chronicle of Higher Education released its own bingo card, this time for the first faculty meeting: Continue reading

Adventures in Archives, Classification, and Eldridge Cleaver

Dan Wells is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Religion at Florida State University. He is currently finishing a dissertation entitled, “Better Dead Than Red: A History of the Christian Crusade Aesthetic.”

Growing up I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I wanted to see some adventure. Long before my awareness of the almost innumerable issues that plagued the series, I thought melting Nazi faces off with ancient artifacts while wearing a cool hat and neglecting professional responsibilities in service to the preservation of history (it belongs in a museum!) sounded rather great (can we pause to recognize how terrible it must have been to be Prof. Jones’ graduate assistant?). With those childhood dreams in the rearview (mostly in the rearview, that is), my adventure usually leads me to a dusty library archive where my only hopes to melt Nazi faces comes during my lunch break when I might encounter a Nazi on Twitter. In a recent adventure to the Bancroft Library at UC-Berkeley, I was in search of the “holy grail” archival find that might take my current research project to the next level. Combing through files on former Black Panther Party Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver, I stumbled upon an article that caught my eye. While not the “holy grail” I was looking for, the find serves as an example of what one might stumble upon in the archives and more importantly, how acts of classification have real life, tangible consequences. Continue reading