New Titles in REL: Upcoming Zoom Event

Book cover of Race and New Modernisms

Join us for an evening of conversation hosted by REL’s own Dr. Richard Newton to celebrate the publication of a new title in REL, Race and New Modernisms, co-authored by Dr. K. Merinda Simmons and Dr. James A. Crank (Department of English, University of Alabama) — a book that was a finalist for a 2020 PROSE book award (in the category of Literature).

In past semesters we would have gathered in person at the local bookstore, Ernest & Hadley Booksellers, but pandemic protocols now require a different approach. As a result, our book events for Spring 2021 will be held virtually and are open to guests both on and off campus.

So join us virtually, via Zoom, on January 26, 2021, at 7 p.m. (US central time).

Current REL students (minors, majors, and graduate students), alums, and faculty will all receive the Zoom link in your inbox prior to the event.

For off-campus guests who wish to join us, please register at:
http://bit.ly/RaceAndNewModernisms
You will receive the Zoom link via email
the day before the event.

Your Sun Bread, Yourself

baked sun bread beside the book Sun Bread, by Elisa Klaven

Every year my kids and I make Sun Bread to commemorate the winter solstice. I got this idea from the place where modern momming dwells: Instagram. My kids (by chance) went to a Waldorf preschool which focuses, among other things, on reinforcing the children’s identification with nature and spending the majority of time outside regardless of weather (born in Germany, Waldorf schools take seriously the German saying “there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing”). The year is built around seasonal festivals that draw from a variety of traditions (including Anthroposophy, the esoteric philosophy of the founder, Rudolph Steiner, but that’s a whole other can of worms). Continue reading

Thoughts Upon Losing My Religion (Major)

Students working on a group assignemt in an Intro class Kathryn D. Blanchard is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Religious Studies at Alma College, where she has taught undergraduates since 2006.

I’ll start by making a long story short: the Religious Studies department at my institution has been shrinking for years, and this year the major was cut. The minor survives, for now (we got off lucky compared to French, German, and Anthropology), mostly because I—the lone faculty member—have tenure, our classes are generally full, and the college has a Presbyterian affiliation.

When other schools cut or threaten to cut religious studies, I pay attention to how folks defend it. Most defenses revolve around a few themes: religious studies prepares people for successful careers; it prepares people for responsible citizenship; and it is central to the liberal arts and the purposes of higher education, so no self-respecting institution should be without it—especially because it is so popular/relevant/cheap. Some of these arguments can be applied to the humanities more broadly, while others carve out a special place for religion. This very thorough recent statement from the American Academy of Religion covers all the bases, as does a fine blog post on this site by a current master’s student. Perhaps my favorite is from Megan Goodwin, who writes so eloquently, “Humanities cutbacks make us dumber, crueler, and less likely to survive as a species.” Continue reading

“The Cult of Cults”: Pop Culture Representations of a Minority Religious Group

HBOMax promotional image for its Heavens Gate documentary

Allison Isidore is a second-year M.A. student
in the Department of Religious Studies.

On December 8, I submitted my last paper for the semester, wrapping up what has been, for many, a stressful period. Having just seen the trailer for the new HBOMAX docuseries “Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults,” I  wondered how the religious group was represented and decided to take a look.

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The Relevance of Religious Studies is Not that We Study Religion

Students working together in the Religious Studies classroom

Jacob Barrett is a first year M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. From Colorado Springs, he earned his B.A. from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Philosophy & Religion and Biology. In the Spring he will present his research at the southeast regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion.

Junior year of my undergraduate degree, I was asked by the chair of the Religious Studies department to represent the major at an event where first year students would more-or-less speed date with different departments to start deciding what they wanted to major in. I was paired with the new Religion professor and together we set out to convince first year students to begin thinking about why participating in our department (whether that be majoring, minoring, or just taking several classes) was advantageous to them. I started with the typical “The faculty are so supportive and amazing” and “The major is pretty flexible so if you are a double major it is really easy to fit in” and “The classes are really fun and they also cover a lot of the requirements in the curriculum, so you can kill two birds with one stone by taking a course.” When the professor started his part, he said something so simple yet so important: “We teach you how to think, how to write, how to talk about things in ways that other departments don’t.”

With universities proposing cuts to Religious Studies departments becoming more and more of a regular occurrence, there is the feeling that we (those who consider ourselves members of “the field”) must defend the importance and relevance of what we do and what we offer. Religious Studies departments are often not producing majors or bringing in money in the same numbers as larger departments, so they become an easy target when universities need to find ways to save money. How, then, do we convince a university to keep our departments? Continue reading

What is the Country’s Reality?

Logo from the TV show Lovecraft Country

Allison Isidore is a second-year M.A. student
in the Department of Religious Studies.

Have you seen the new HBO show “Lovecraft Country”? In the series premiere, set in 1950s America, we follow Atticus Freeman (played by Jonathan Majors), Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett), and George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance) as they travel to “Ardham,” Massachusetts, in hopes of finding Atticus’s father, Montrose Freeman (Michael K. Williams). He went missing while searching for the family’s history.

The trio drives through town after town as George works on a new guide for Black Americans to travel safely through Jim Crow America. Throughout the episode, the characters interact with monsters, both human and not, that are out to kill the three travelers. Their human enemies are White cops and mobs trying to run the main characters out of town or kill them, which their pursuers enjoy. “Lovecraft Country” therefore asks the question: “Who is the real monster in America?” Is it the creatures, or is it the White racists? However, the show also asks its viewers what is the reality in which they live, what American reality do we individually live in? Continue reading

A Moving Target

Logo for the University of Vermont's Department of Religious StudiesLong ago, at the start of a Fall semester, I was speaking with someone newer to our Department about whether it was likely that we would have a tenure-track search that year; we had recently had a faculty member depart for another university, leaving our then small Department with no one covering Asia. We hoped to fill that gap, of course, but one can never be sure if requests for lines (whether replacements or new) will be granted by the University. “But surely Asia is important” I was told in reply, the person assuming that the University administration would agree.

I replied by asking whether they thought that the 22 other Departments in the College of Arts & Sciences also had unfilled lines and uncovered areas of importance to them — such as Modern Languages and Criminal Justice, or Chemistry, Biology, and Political Science. For while I may not think that another Elizabethan specialist is really needed in the English Department I can easily imagine how important such a line might be to someone over there (thus making its way into their rationale for requesting the position). So I suggested that if I were the Dean or the Provost I’d likely not be making these decisions — after all, resources are limited and not everyone will get what they want — based on the scale of value used by each Department in making their staffing requests but, instead, I’d probably come up with some other set of criteria, one that I could use across units that each employed their own local, different, and sometimes competing or even contradictory criteria for what was important or valuable. Continue reading

The REL Cohort Book Club

Flyer for October's book club reading: The Handmaid's Tale

Erica Bennett, in her first year of REL’s MA, completed an Honors degree in Religious Studies/Sociology Anthropology at Millsaps College in Jackson Mississippi, where she spent much of her time either playing volleyball for the college’s team, participating in several different clubs and organizations, or coaching a local youth volleyball club. Once at UA, she wanted to create something that might help to bring her cohort together, in a year as divided and isolated as 2020 had been. REL shows great interest in expanding students’ writing and reading skills so she thought that there was no better way to do this than to start a book club and blog about the books — with this being her first, with more to come.

This was the baptismal month for the newly formed Cohort Book Club. This group was formed with the goal of reading a new dystopian themed novel each month. Partly to help our minds escape form the terrifying and almost dystopian America/world we seem to now inhabit, but to also give the members a way to be introspective into our ever-changing society. This is a place for insight, discussion, and criticism of our world while also a place to analyze what could be worse. For the first month, a month before the national presidential election, I decided that reading The Handmaid’s Tale would be most appropriate for this occasion. 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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