Making Sense of Debates on Harry Style’s Fashion with Religious Studies: Authority, Legitimation, and Authenticity

Callie Mastin graduated this August with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and International Studies with a minor in French. Callie was a student in REL 105 with Professor Griffin in Spring 2022.

Harry Styles on the cover of Vogue magazine.

It’s no secret that Harry Style’s use of gender non-conforming fashion is a hotly debated topic. When Styles, wearing a custom Gucci dress, appeared on the front cover of Vogue as the first solo male cover in Vogue’s history, both fans’ and critics’ reactions were mixed. While some people appraised Styles for breaking down traditional barriers between men’s and women’s fashion, others accused Styles of appropriating non-binary fashion. Over the course of the last unit in our semester, we have explored Martin’s concepts of legitimation, authority, and authenticity claims as they relate to religion and other cultural concepts or phenomena. For the purposes of this blog, the ways in which Martin’s concepts can be applied to the discourse surrounding Harry Styles’s Vogue cover will be analyzed.

Continue reading

Hunting Witches: a Social Constructivist Perspective

Lauren Thompson is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Asian Studies. Lauren was a student in Prof. Loewen’s REL101 “The Violent and the Sacred” in Spring 2022. As a senior this year, Lauren will further explore an interest in Religious Studies and Occultism while applying for graduate studies.

First page of Malleus maleficarum from 1572

The history of Western Europe is punctuated by massacres and individual killings of ‘witches.’ Neighbors turned on neighbors, Church turned on parishioners, and the higher classes turned on the lower: all in attempts to rid the world of “witches”. Sociologist Nachman Ben-Yehuda writes, “From the early decades of the 14th century until 1650, continental Europeans executed between 200,000 and 500,000 witches.” (Ben-Yehuda, 1980). Witch trials waxed and waned between the years 1450 to 1750. Experts and researchers have not been able to determine exactly how many lives were lost during those years. Today, the accusation of “witch” continues to play a role in gender-based violence. And while we know much about post-Reformation Europe and its attitude towards the “other”, there are still questions and theories left unanswered.

Continue reading

Advocating on Behalf of the Humanities

NHA logo

Judah Siekkinen is a graduating MA student in REL, who earned his BA from Youngstown State University (in Religious Studies & Geography).

On March 15, 2022, I had the privilege to advocate for federal funding for the Humanities on behalf of the state of Alabama. The event was organized by the National Humanities Alliance (NHA). The NHA works to fund various Humanities organizations, most notably the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). I advocated alongside a colleague from Samford University who just happened to work in their religion department. Continue reading

Thinking With Baudrillard

Stonewall Protest Marchers

Jacob Barrett is a second year M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. He is originally from Colorado Springs, CO, and received his B.A. in Philosophy & Religion from Nebraska Wesleyan University. He is interested in pursuing questions about religion and governance, law, and the state through contemporary examples from American politics. In March 2022, he will present his research at the southeast regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion.

On June 27, 2017 Billboard released the final installment of “Spilling the Tea,” a pride month drag queen roundtable discussion with moderator Tamar Braxton posing questions to drag queens Derrick Barry, Pandora Boxx, Mariah Paris Balenciaga, Manila Luzon, and Willam Belli. In the episode, found here, the discussion takes on many topics including a reflection on the Pulse nightclub shooting that took place in Orlando on June 12, 2016 and which claimed 49 lives. When Tamar Braxton asks the queens how they see the Pulse shooting impacting Pride Month a year later, older queen Pandora Boxx answers, “I think the younger generation thinks [being gay] has just been accepted this whole time, and they don’t realize we’ve had to fight for it.” Derrick Barry then interrupts with: “Like when people don’t know what Stonewall is.” The exchange takes place starting at 4:05 in the video and what follows is below: Continue reading

Simulation Theory: How is ‘Religion’ Part of It?

computer simulation of a residential street

Tyler Dettmar developed this post from a presentation originally created for Prof. Lauren Horn Griffin’s REL 245, American Religious History. Special thanks for editorial assistance from REL’s graduate student Jacob Barrett.

In recent years, something called simulation theory has begun appearing more frequently in public discourse. Public figures such as Elon Musk have called attention to this ideology, spreading quickly over social media. With the latest movie in The Matrix franchise coming out a few weeks ago, conversation about simulation theory has redoubled. Why don’t we typically study something as popular as sim theory in courses on religion in America?

First, what is simulation theory? Essentially, simulation theory is the idea that we are living in a computer simulation, and that every aspect of our reality is artificial. In fact, according to this ideology, not everyone is even “real”; only the “programmers” are really real and can change reality. Continue reading

Sneaker Culture: An Item-Based Religious Movement?

sneaker con graffiti

Drew Whinery, from Tuscaloosa, AL, is a senior majoring in Music, with a minor in Criminal Justice. The following post developed from a presentation originally created for an REL class with Prof. Lauren Horn Griffin.

As a college student, I tend to stay up with trends. One that has been popular for years is known as “Sneaker Culture.” The idea behind Sneaker Culture is that certain shoes, or sneakers, are released in a limited supply and many people seek them to up their fashion game or add to their collection. Continue reading

Internships and Unexpected Relevance of REL Skills

Sonya Harwood-Johnson

Sonya Harwood-Johnson, originally from Grimes, Iowa, received her B.S. in Anthropology and Religious Studies, with a minor in Environmental Studies, from Iowa State University in 2020. She began work last month as a full-time International Programming Assistant at UA’s International Student and Scholars Services office; she will complete her M.A. in the study of religion at UA, as a part-time student, later in 2022.

When deciding which university I wanted to apply to for my Master’s degree, Alabama’s Religion in Culture program really stuck out to me. Coming from a background in Cultural Anthropology, I always had a difficult time whenever I felt like religion was being studied apart from the people who participate in it. I had no idea which direction I wanted to go with a Master’s in Religion, but UA seemed like the right place to guide me. It was exactly this “Religion in Culture” concept, with the guidance and prompting from UA’s faculty, that led me to internships that really helped me apply the skills I was learning that could be utilized outside of traditional academia. Continue reading

Things You Didn’t Think You’d Learn in Grad School: Coding

Students working in REL 503

Erica Bennett, now in her second and final year of the REL MA, is from Louisiana and earned her undergraduate degree from Millsaps College. Working with Prof. Touna as her supervisor, she is also a T.A. this semester for Prof. Simmons’s REL 100 and Prof. Altman’s research assistant on the American Examples grant. She is interested in studying new religious movements.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that our society revolves around, and cannot function without, technology. From Netflix party hangouts and social media to collaborative online work spaces and daily Zoom meetings, technology seems to have become even more integrated into our daily lives. While people use the internet, websites, apps, and other technologies every day, most do not know how the internet works, that it is physical resource, or that anyone can learn to code or program. One reason I decided to enroll in the Religion in Culture MA program at the University of Alabama was the emphasis on helping students grow their digital humanities skills. Before my first class at UA, I expected to learn skills that would be helpful for digital projects like making podcasts, videos, and websites to distribute my research to a wider public. I did learn those skills (thank you REL 502!) and I get to practice them on a regular basis. What I did not expect to learn, and surprisingly really enjoy, was how to code and program to assist in my research efforts and better understand the digital world we live in. Continue reading

Can We Analyze Trumpism as a Millenarian Movement?

Trump giving his speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention

Elizabeth Tagg is a graduating senior in the Department of Religious Studies,
writing a thesis on apocalyptic rhetoric in the age of Trump.

Donald Trump built his reputation as a political outsider who could “drain the swamp,” fix a broken system, and make America great again. Indeed, in his 2016 RNC speech, he declared that “[he] alone could fix it.” Many believed him, and many still do. For example, when the pandemic and instructions to quarantine were in full swing, Trump started to frame the coronavirus pandemic as a “great and powerful plague” which had come to destroy the world, but America would rise from this “death and destruction” to become “greater than ever before.” One particular response on Facebook read “God chose you, Mr. President… you are working unto God, not unto men.” The confluence of spiking death tolls and a plague of biblical proportion created a moment of disillusionment where zealotry, and even millenarian thinking, could thrive. Millenarian movements are based on critiques of power culminating in social protests against oppressive systems. In New Heaven New Earth, Professor Kenelm Burridge analyzes millenarian movements, highlighting the ways in which the millenarian critiques initiate a “redemptive process” in which the old moral order is cast off to make way for a new society. At the heart of the millenarian movement is the prophet, whose divine revelations almost always refer to a prosperity and prestige that define the new conditions of being, the new social order.

Could Trumpism be analyzed as a millenarian movement? Can this help us predict the future of Trump’s base, post-Trump? Burridge simplifies the millenarian pattern into three phases which help us to better understand millenarian movements and their application to Trump: feelings of disenfranchisement, battle with oppressors, and triumph of the new order.

Continue reading

Equivalent Categories and Where to Find Them

Meme from the TV show The Office, in which two different things are portrayed as sthe same

 Jeremee Nute is a graduating M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. He is originally from Missouri, where he earned his B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy from Missouri Western State University.

Scholars who research cultures outside of Europe and North America often try to find categories that correspond to “religion,” such as those who study Ancient China. For example, one analog that is sometimes proposed by these scholars is Zōngjiào (宗教), said to be the Mandarin term for religion. One such scholar who looks for such homologs to religion is Robert Ford Campany, a Professor of Asian studies at Vanderbilt University, who specializes in Medieval China. In his article, “On the Very Idea of Religions (In the Modern West and in Early Medieval China)”, he argues that, while the western category of religion can be analytically helpful to those studying non-western cultures, scholars just need to “pay close attention to two cultural and temporal sets off linguistic usages and their metaphorical implications and juxtapose these results” (290). This juxtaposition, he argues, allows a scholar to better understand the “contours and limitations” of the discourses in both cultural and temporal sets.

Thus, for Campany, scholars can study other people’s religions (such as his work on early medieval China) by looking for the following analogous sites in their cultures: founder or paragon synecdoche, “path” or “way,” “law” or “regulations,” and/or “the teaching of x,” etc. Continue reading