Teaching the Bible in Culture: Identifying Room for Questions Unanswered

Students doing group work.

Prof. Newton reflects on his approach to teaching the Bible in a public university. Study religion and find out about the Bible in Culture here, part 1, and in future posts.

One of my aims in my Introduction to New Testament course is to lead students in thinking carefully about the actors and drama represented in the text. As Adele Reinhartz notes, when our explanations employ terms like “Pharisee,” “Jews,” “Samaritans,” or “Romans” too assuredly, we probably have more questions to ask about what’s at play. Just as a quick point of comparison, we wouldn’t be so cavalier using terms like “the Blacks,” “the liberals,” or “the South,” especially in mixed company, right? So what is to be gained by taking these ancient typecasts at face value and without qualification?

We spend a lot of time time complicating the idea of identity. In fact, using the comparison above, students seem to have little trouble recognizing the notion of sacrosanct identity as a politically-loaded packaging of what Jean Francois Bayart termed, “operational acts of identification.” But this takes practice. Part of thinking about the “applications and traditions” associated with New Testament texts is considering the work these terms do in various first century Mediterranean scenarios.

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Internships as Part of the REL M.A. Program

Caity Bell's work space, this past summer, preparing a museum exhibit

We recently sat down with Caity Bell, a second year M.A. student in Religious Studies, and talked about internship opportunities. This past summer she helped frame historic representations during her internship with the Landmarks Association of DeKalb County (pictured above).

1. How did you first hear about the chance to do an internship as part of your MA in Religious Studies?

Caity: I first heard about the opportunity during one of our colloquium sessions. Dr. Merinda Simmons, our Grad Director, had invited Dr. Susan Reynolds, Editor for Alabama Heritage, to discuss the various ways she’s used her degree in the Humanities to her benefit in jobs outside of traditional academic positions. Susan mentioned at the end of our meeting that she was looking for interns to help out at the magazine the following semester and I was quick to apply for the position. Though I didn’t choose to receive academic credit for the internship I did still work it into the independent study I was doing with my advisor, Dr. Steven Ramey. Continue reading

Whose Preferred Edition?

After another unnecessary trip to the bookstore last semester (I have a bad habit of buying more books than I have time to read), I finally sat down with American Gods, a Neil Gaiman novel turned Starz series, at the suggestion of Prof. McCutcheon. Though the title and premise of the book certainly correlates to religious studies as I know it, the unique introduction flaunted on the cover of the edition I happened to buy, interested me more. Unbeknownst to me — as it was the only available version at Barnes and Noble —  I had purchased the “Tenth Anniversary Author’s Preferred Text”, advertised on Amazon as, “American Gods as Neil Gaiman always meant it to be”. Now, anyone familiar with Roland Barthes essay The Death of the Author (a recent obsession of mine) should take a moment to recognize exactly where this blog post is headed. Continue reading

Power and Perfect Pictures

This post is part of a series that originated out of a photo essay assignment in Dr. Simmons’s Interim “Religion and Pop Culture” course that asked students to apply discussion themes to everyday objects or experiences.

When I was younger and more naive, I thought the future would have flying cars, cured diseases, and immortal people. Today popular culture more often utilizes trends of a dystopian future, such as the ones in The Hunger Games and Divergent. In these stories, there is great injustice and suffering, and the hero of the story must rise against the system. These plotlines occur where good ideas and intentions cross with futuristic technology and end up with unintended consequences. The shift in view of the future from a place we all want to live to a place only the damned are left to endure reflects the situations of the storytellers. Asking in a post for The Week why TV is “awash in afterlives, hells, and purgatories,” Lili Loofbourow states, “I’m trying not to read too much into this historical moment, but it’s hard to avoid speculating about the ways in which this proliferation of TV shows about people embracing the irrational reflects the national mood.” I think this shift in fiction, as Loofbourow implies, goes hand in hand with people’s everyday lives. Stories about the future are really stories about the present—about the people telling them.

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The Performances We Give Every Day

This post is part of a series that originated out of a photo essay assignment in Dr. Simmons’s Interim “Religion and Pop Culture” course that asked students to apply discussion themes to everyday objects or experiences.

The time is Halloween 2018, and my nephews—ages nine and seven—are focused on one thing. They eat, sleep, and breathe Power Rangers. For them, these action heroes make the world go round. So naturally, at Halloween, the only costuming option as far as they are concerned is…you guessed it, Power Rangers. The only problem is that their love for the franchise is bigger than the amount of options available at stores. So, we set out to make their outfits from scratch. Several sheets of craft foam, plasti-dip, and spray paint cans later…here we are.

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Defending Non-“Real” Music

This post is part of a series that originated out of a photo essay assignment in Dr. Simmons’s Interim “Religion and Pop Culture” course that asked students to apply discussion themes to everyday objects or experiences.

I think there’s a power in not caring about the opinions of others. If we place enough value on something, then no matter what the opinions of others are, we can still look at it with a sense of pride. Taking away the “unfortunate interruption of opinions” allows for someone to unironically love something (Kavanagh, 306). There are a lot of things we hold dear to ourselves that, in theory, have no “real” value on our lives. Of course, a lot of people would defend their family, friends, careers—but favorite music? Why do we place such importance on who our favorite artists are? Why do we get so defensive when others try and shut down our top picks? Why do we feel a little embarrassed sometimes if the person or group we’re into isn’t “real music”?

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Power Always Changes

This post is part of a series that originated out of a photo essay assignment in Dr.Simmons’s Interim “Religion and Pop Culture” course that asked students to apply discussion themes to everyday objects or experiences.

As I was sitting at work the other day at Bryant Denny Stadium, the doorbell buzzed turning on the camera to let me know someone was outside. Using the speaker, they explained to me why they were there. This is part of my job. People ring the doorbell, explain to me why they are there, and I decide if they get access to the building. A few weeks ago, the doorbell rang and as I was about to hit the unlock button, I realized that I recognized the person outside. One of my past professors was standing outside waiting for me to respond. This professor was…not my favorite, to put it diplomatically. For a few seconds, I sat there debating on if I should let him in. Here I was sitting at my desk, a student, but I had the power in this setting. This power was situational but absolute. Outside of that building, I have no power in comparison to the professor. In class, I had no power, but he did. At the moment before I open the door, however, I get to make the decision of who can enter and who cannot. I, a student worker, control the access for one of the most important buildings in Tuscaloosa. People come from all over the world to this building, but I get to make the decision if they get to come inside. This one instance made me think about the peculiarity of power. Who grants it, who has it, and who does not are all constantly changing. Whether or not we realize it, we can observe these shifts in our lives every day if we pay attention. Continue reading