“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

Our MA Students Have Been Busy

Front page of Erica Bennett's website

Our first year MA students have been busy creating their own websites for their required REL 502 course this semester with Prof. Loewen. So we thought you might like to see what they’re interested in, let alone what they’ve created — here’s just a few: Continue reading

A Case Study in Framing and Interpretation

New coverage of Solid Rock church's continued services amidst COVID-19 crisis

Brady Duke is a senior at the University of Alabama majoring in Religious Studies and Latin. After graduation, he plans on pursuing a master’s degree in Classical philology with a concentration in Latin language and literature.

Throughout this semester, we have been learning various ways in which individuals, either scholars or laypersons, interact, define, and interpret the past. Consequently, the interpretations stemming from these discourses reflect more about those analyzing the object of study than the object of study itself; while it is quite the claim, everyone frames their object of study in such a way as to highlight their own interests, the degree to which these interests are explicit being the only difference. Thus, through these discourses, we are able to see the underlying interests at work.

Such is also the case in “Ohio Megachurch Keeps Holding Mass Gatherings, Even as Coronavirus Spreads.” Continue reading

True or False or a Mix of Both? The Dissonance of the Gospels presented in Galatia

Rebekah Pearson ’22 is a Religious Studies-Dance Performance double major. In Prof. Newton’s Introduction to the New Testament course, she examined Paul’s Letter to the Galatians as an artifact of competing social definitions. This essay was part of her group’s Bible in Culture zine. Learn more in the firstsecond, third, and fourth posts of the series. 

Imagine this: You have been running for over an hour and you finally make it to what you think is the finish line of your first 10K. But wait! There is no finish line and no crowd cheering you on. All of a sudden you realize that at some point along the way you have made a wrong turn. Now not only are you lost, but you also have to turn around and backtrack to the starting line, only to re-run the entire race. In the biblical Epistle to the Church at Galatia, commonly known as “Galatians,” the recipients of Paul’s letter must have felt similarly. As the people of Galatia are being told many versions of what being a part of the new Christian collective means, Paul, in his epistle to the church at Galatia, rebukes the false teachings that are being spread and reminds his churches of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He establishes not only his authority, but also the authority of the message of faith he preaches so that the Galatians can be certain that they are not living their lives in vain.

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Kashmir Confusion

Image of gate at Wagah border

Gate at Wagah border post between India and Pakistan
Credit: “The border” by Sheep’R’Us is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Daniel W. Lee is a Marketing major with a Religious Studies minor from the University of Alabama. He plans to continue his studies of religion after his graduation this May.

The threat of nuclear war loomed over Asia earlier this Fall. The dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan was the basis for this threat, escalating tensions dramatically between these two countries. The article Pakistan’s Ambiguity Over Nuclear War Comes to the Fore from The Times of India discussed how Kashmir is caught between these two countries and has cultural and religious identifications with both that go back generations. Like Pakistan, Kashmir is primarily occupied by Muslims, but it also has had legal ties to India since the area’s independence from Great Britain’s direct political control. This article manipulates its presentation in an effort to give India the clear advantage in the confrontation.

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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