American Examples: “An incubator for the next generation of scholars.”

American Examples

Richard Kent Evans (PhD in North American Religions from Temple University, 2018) has written his first book, titled MOVE: An American Religion, which is a religious history of MOVE. He is currently working on a history of “religious madness” from the late seventeenth century to the present. He currently teaches at The College of New Jersey and is a Research Associate at Haverford College.

We asked him to explain what he gained from his participation in the first American Examples workshop last year.

Picture of Richard Kent Evans. He is wearing a winter coat and scarf.

American Examples was a fantastic experience. I got the chance to meet several emerging scholars in the field of American Religion working in a variety of methodologies. We were allowed to engage with each other’s work on a deep level. Our meetings together were inspiring, unpretentious, and immensely helpful. American Examples feels like a group of friends who went through graduate school together. We’re a cohort now. I’m excited to watch this program become an incubator for the next generation of scholars of American Religion.

 

 

American Examples is currently accepting applications for 2020.

APPLY HERE

It’s Not Worthless

Yes, I tweeted the above, this morning, in response to a tweet about “an older prof” who supposedly said to someone that writing book reviews is “professionally worthless.”

What I find so frustrating is the contempt that many scholars (older or younger) seem to have for the day-to-day machinery of the field — from reviewing essay submissions to journals, reviewing book submissions to publishers, reviewing tenure & promotion applications, reviewing books, and editing journals to advising students, supervising graduate work, and even serving in administrative positions. And, yes, I think contempt is the right word, at least judging by the way many talk about such activities and how we value them (in things like tenure and promotion standards) — or how we joke about them and make a show either dodging those bullets or falling on those spears. Continue reading

REL MA Students Present at Culture Studies Conference

Today’s panel with REL MA students was part of the interdisciplinary culture studies graduate student conference, planned by a grad student committee and funded through the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama. REL was represented on the planning committee by second year MA student Keeley McMurray, and it is taking place at the Bryan Conference Center on campus. Continue reading

American Examples: “An intriguing experimental workshop.”

"AE" American Examples logo

Travis Cooper holds a double PhD in Religious Studies and Anthropology and lectures at Butler University. His dissertation project, “The Digital Evangelicals: Contesting Authority and Authenticity after the New Media Turn,” examined religious boundary maintenance strategies in the era of social media. His current research focuses on the various social architectures that structure everyday American life-worlds, rituals, and traditions—systems ranging from media ideologies and print culture to the ideologies of urban design and the built environment. An ethnographer of the American Midwest, he studies (sub)urban habitudes, residential and religious architecture, and the anthropology of the modern.

We asked him to explain what he gained from his participation in the first American Examples workshop last year.

 

American Examples was, for me, an intriguing experimental workshop. What can come of bringing religious studies scholars, historians, digital media scholars, anthropologists, and ethnographers together to talk about this nebulous thing we call “American religion”? American Examples, for one, blended the thrill of an academic conference with the intimacy and rigor of a graduate seminar. During our inaugural gathering, the event was set up so that by the time we arrived on campus we had already read and thought about each of the group’s respective research projects. I learned about Nigerian Pentecostal immigrants, American Muslim comedians, Indo-Trinidadian Hinduism, digital atheism, and the long and complex social history of the study of madness.

By the time we convened in person, we were able to jump straight into discussion guided by workshop mentors from among the religious studies department’s stellar faculty. The discussions were not only about giving and receiving critically constructive feedback but also making connections between the various projects as well as theorizing, in a meta-sense, the work that we as Americanists do. Finally, the workshop was very much a collaborative event. Having 10 or so people read and contribute in a significant way to the shape of your work is quite the thrilling experience. Because of American Examples, I have a much stronger research project and richer network of colleagues and conversation partners. I found the entire project to be immensely rewarding and highly recommend participating if you have the opportunity.

American Examples is currently accepting applications for 2020.

APPLY HERE

American Examples: What Did You Gain From Being Part of AE?

American Examples

Prea Persaud (B.A. from Rollins College, M.A. from Syracuse University, Doctoral Candidate at the University of Florida) is a Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte where her teaching focuses on Hinduism. In addition to teaching classes on Hinduism and the Hindu diaspora, she also teaches classes on the Caribbean. She is interested in global Hinduism, religion in the Americas (inclusive of the Caribbean), and issues concerning race, identity, and post-colonialism.

 

We asked her to explain what she gained from her participation in the first American Examples workshop last year.

One of the last things Mike Altman told us when we were leaving the first gathering of American Examples was that we were all considered alumni now and would forever be treated as part of the department. A year out, I have found that statement to be a true representation of how the AE organizers feel about the participants. Both Steven Ramey and Emily Crews have reached out to me about additional projects they are working on. Mike Altman passed along a review he thought I might be interested in. And Samah Choudhury and I have stayed in communication about the job market and our dissertations. As a result of the conversations I had with everyone during the workshop, I was able to successfully complete a related dissertation chapter and draft a conference paper I will present at AAR this fall.

AE was exactly what pre-grad school me believed grad school would be like – people reading together, thinking through difficult concepts, collaboratively working on our writing, and building long-lasting and supportive networks. What I appreciated most about the workshop, in addition to its mission to think beyond the category of “American religion,” was its inclusion of non-tenure tracked and contingent faculty. As an ABD grad student and full-time lecturer working on the Caribbean, an area that is often excluded or forgotten about in larger grants, it is difficult to find programs I qualify for that also provide substantial support. By including contingent faculty and having grad students observe the workshop and interact with the participants, AE actively works against persistent hierarchies in the academy. So in both content and structure, I think AE is doing the work needed to push conversations farther in academia and I look forward to continuing to work with both the organizers and future participants.

American Examples is currently accepting applications for 2020.

APPLY HERE

“Working Yourself into a Shoot”: When is a Performance a Performance?

A collag with WWE superstar Lacey Evans and a police officer handing her a speeding ticket.

As some of you may know, I love pro wrestling and I think it can be good data for the scholar of religion. Let me offer a recent example that lit up the wrestling fan twitters over the weekend.

The WWE, the world’s biggest wrestling company, toured through Canada over the weekend, holding a show in Edmonton, Alberta. While driving through Canada, one of the wrestlers, Lacey Evans, was pulled over for speeding. She posted this video on Twitter Saturday.

A little bit of context here. Lacey Evans’s wrestling character is a snobby southern belle who calls the fans and other wrestlers “nasties.” She’s a “bad guy” or a “heel,” in wrestling terms. She’s uppity, conceded, mean, and rude. The “do you know who I am?!” response in the video is a perfect example of her character. Like most of her social media posts, the entire video is Lacey Evans in character.

In wrestling terms this is called a “work.” A work is everything that happens within the fictional world of wrestling. Everything you see on TV during a WWE show is a work and, with the advent of social media, more and more of what fans read from wrestlers on Twitter or Instagram is also a work. The thing about a work is that the goal is to elicit a response from the audience. When a wrestler is “working” in the ring they want the live audience to cheer them if they are a “babyface,” or good guy, and boo them if they are a heel. The video that Lacey Evans posted is her working as a heel to get a response from the audience of fans on Twitter.

Well, she’s a good worker. The tweet went viral. It was even picked up by the Toronto Star. The video produced a backlash among wrestling and non-wrestling fans who replied to her defending Canada and chastising her for her attitude. The backlash was so strong that eventually Evans had to send out another tweet admitting that the police officer in the video was in on the work the whole time and that she was just “doing her job” to entertain the fans.

In wrestling terms, this second tweet is called a “shoot.” A “shoot” is something real or legitimate. It breaks the fictional world of the work. It’s something not part of the show or part of the character. Notice that the statement is signed “Sgt Estrella.” That’s a reference to Lacey Evans’ real name, she was a Sergeant in the Marines before she was a wrestler. She used her shoot name to sign the statement.

What I find interesting about all of this is that wrestling fans want to get worked. Since the 1990s, most wrestling fans know that the WWE is scripted entertainment and that the performers in the ring are working together to tell a story through their matches. In short, we all know it’s a work. This has made it a lot harder for wrestlers and wrestling companies to work the fans and get the responses they want from them. The companies need those responses because it’s the emotional response and enjoyment of getting caught up in the show, in the work, that makes fans spend money. Getting worked is also the fun part of wrestling for fans. They want to get sucked into the fictional world of the show. Wrestling companies need to work the fans and the fans want to be worked.

But here Lacey Evans worked everybody. Everybody who watched the video and got mad got worked. They lost themselves in the story she was telling about herself as a sassy, rude, arrogant, southern belle from America, talking back to a polite Canadian police officer. She even got the cop in on the work! This is great heel work. This is what wrestling fans should want. But instead the backlash was so big Lacey Evans had to break character and shoot. She had to admit that it had all been a performance.

But here’s my question, which was the real performance? It’s easy to see the first tweet and video, where Evans is working, as a performance. But isn’t the second tweet a performance too? Evans puts her biography out there as a former law enforcement officer and marine as a performance to show that she really isn’t the person she was previously performing to be. She selects the aspects of her identity best suited to the moment to perform the part of a supporter of law enforcement. And, that performance is still bracketed by her “PSA Listen up nasties” which sounds like her working character. It’s a shoot inside a work trying to answer another work.

It’s performance all the way down.

This whole situation is what the most famous wrestler of all time, Hulk Hogan, would call “working yourself into a shoot.” Because all of us are always performing. We’re all working.

Country Music

WSM radio performance of early country music duet

You a fan of country music? If so, then you may already know about Ken Burns’ new 16 hour documentary, on PBS. (Maybe you’ve seen some of his others…?) But if you’re not a fan you probably should still be watching it, since (at least in the first episode) it provides some wonderful examples of how a scholar who goes digging in the archives, after the little details, can unearth some really interesting things. Continue reading

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

The Aaron Aronov Chair in Judaic Studies

We have some news: Associate Professor Daniel Levine, a faculty member in UA’s Department of Political Science, has just been appointed by the University of Alabama Board of Trustees as the Aaron Aronov Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies. He will now have a co-appointment to both Political Science and the Department of Religious Studies, teaching equally for both units — with his first REL course (a Core course on religion and politics) coming in the Spring 2020 semester.

Dr. Levine studies International Relations, political philosophy and theory, as well as Middle Eastern politics. His research draws on Frankfurt School social theory and on the history and philosophy of social science to examine the interactions between academic scholarship and public policy. Currently, his focus is on fear: both the direct experience of it, and its “afterlife” in history and public memory, as well as in the workings of political institutions and in discussions and implementations of policy. Continue reading

American Examples 2020: Call for Participants

American Examples is a collaborative working group for early career scholars who study religion in America, broadly conceived, from a variety of disciplines. The program is generously funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. American Examples engages the study of religion in America across the three areas of research, teaching, and public scholarship. Drawing on expertise from across the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama, American Examples’ training and mentoring produces scholars whose work exceeds the intellectual and geographic boundaries of “American religion” or “American religious history.”

American Examples seeks applications for participants in its newly expanded 2020 program. AE consists of three two-day workshops, each with its own focus: research, public scholarship,  and teaching. The workshops are hosted at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and led by mentors drawn from the faculty of the Department of Religious. Travel, lodging, and meals in Tuscaloosa for participants are paid for by American Examples.

The Workshops

Research- March 5-8, 2020: A collaborative discussion of chapter length works in progress that will lead to the publication of an edited anthology of participants’ chapters.

Public Scholarship- May 7-10 2020: An introduction to a number of digital tools for building public digital projects and presenting research to larger publics through digital platforms.

Teaching- Oct 1-4, 2020: A collaborative and engaging series of discussions and activities that will equip participants with new methods and pedagogy for teaching courses on religion in America.

 For more information on the workshops see http://americanexamples.ua.edu/about.

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