On Ancient Greek Ethnic Identity

As part of UA’s Alabama/Greece Initiative, Prof. Ioannis Xydopoulos visited the Department of Religious Studies just before Spring Break, hosted by REL’s Prof. Vaia Touna. After meeting with students, exploring Tuscaloosa, and guest teaching in one of Prof. Touna’s classes, our visitor from Aristotle University (AUTh) in Thessaloniki, presented his research on issues of ancient Greek identity.

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Chris Hurt Returns for Grad Tales

Last night REL welcomed back 2008 grad Chris Hurt, who had a thing or two to say about the continuing relevance of his liberal arts degree at UA. Interviewed by Justin Nelson (himself an REL grad from 2007), Chris talked about how he ended up at UA from Mississippi, his experiences in our classes, as well as how he found his way to Los Angeles after graduation — where he now lives, working at Wag while also pursuing a career in music. Continue reading

Real People, on the Ground

Implicit Religion

Dr. David Robertson is Co-Editor of the journal Implicit Religion and co-editor and founding editor of The Religious Studies Project.

If, like me, you use the kind of critical approach that Russell McCutcheon was talking about in his recent post, focusing on processes of designation, then you’ll sooner or later be told by a colleague that you waste time endlessly arguing about definitions. Often this is followed up by the claim that they “don’t do theory.” I’ve even had people exasperatedly tell me that none of what I do matters to real people, on the ground.

Of course, you can’t not do theory – but you can be conscious of it, or not. As Rush said, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” You’ve chosen the implicit folk category, inherited from colonialism and Protestantism – that religion is a special thing, set apart and unique, beliefs about ‘big questions’, of inherent value to people.

(As an aside, it’s interesting how many of those arguing that we can find religion in overlooked places present this as intrinsically a good thing. For those who focus on identifying new forms of spirituality, or religion in new places, the churches may be in decline, but the Nones/SBNRs still have values, beliefs, rituals… We saw the same thing in the early days of the study of religion where Protestant theologians strove to establish a grounding for Christianity outside of the Church and apart from the mythology of the Bible. Their arguments that religion is all about how people themselves relate to the spiritual, it’s just those elitist priests corrupting things, is exactly what most material or lived or implicit religion scholars are arguing.)

There is nothing new about this split in the field between those who see our field as analyzing social processes and those who see it as about being better humans, as Leonardo Ambasciano’s recent book demonstrates most clearly. Although we tend to think of this as a split between Religious Studies and Theology, perhaps, as Russell McCutcheon recently tweeted, this is better framed as a split between those who approach religion as a social science and those using a humanities approach:

But what is certainly true is that the critical/discursive/attributional study of religion needs to better articulate the utility of the approach, in contexts beyond academic debates on method and theory. The fact is that what gets counted as religion in specific contexts is perhaps the most impactful question we can ask as social scientists. Far from being merely discourse-about-discourse in some Ivory Tower, the critical approach shows what the category is actually doing in the real world – both to those whom it constrains, and those for whom it is useful.

The Religious Studies Project has been making resources for the classroom that do this since 2012, and the University of Alabama and The Open University are showing what the post-World Religions department might look like. But we could do more.

Screenshot of the front-page of the Religious Studies Project website.Confession time: when I took over as editor of Implicit Religion with Jack Laughlin, I had no interest in implicit religion as a theoretical framework. Rather, my interest was, and is, in what assumptions are implicit when someone identifies something as religious – be that in the media, the law, healthcare, academia, or whatever. While the excellent journal Method & Theory in the Study of Religion focuses programmatically on this approach, I want Implicit Religion to complement this with articles and themed issues on how these processes play out in the world, especially on the ragged edges of the category.

Implicit ReligionYou know… real people, on the ground. For example, when whether having a Christmas Tree was a civil or religious duty became a serious public issue in Denmark. Or when a judge ruled that nationalism was “religion-like”, so a man kept his job — but other times, allows us to take religion off the table when it would mean that it was implicated in violence or bigotry. Tying state ceremonies to religious institutions makes it harder to challenge either of them. Classifying “mindfulness” as secular means that it can better serve neoliberalism.

And these are just a few examples. I’m sure you can think of any more — and we’re looking for submissions

Apples and Oranges, Similar yet Different

AnnaLaura Campbell is a Junior from Bailey, MS, majoring in Accounting and minoring in Religious Studies. After graduation, she plans to attend law school and study business law or continue her education in Accounting with a master’s degree and CPA license.

We’ve heard the phrase many times in our lives: “That’s like comparing apples and oranges!” But what does it actually mean? Apples and oranges are both fruits, relatively circular, and a healthy snack, but they are distinctly different from each other when it comes to color, taste, and texture. We often use this phrase to reference the comparison of two separate entities that are seemingly similar to each other, but inherently different. We don’t just apply this idea to fruit, though; we compare people in the same way.

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The Implications of Designations

A lot of people in our field now advocate approaches that find religion either in unexpected or overlooked places. What once might have been called the implicit religion movement, at least as once associated with the work of the late Ed Bailey, has now been joined by the more-or-less related lived religion, material religion, religion on the ground, as well as the embodied religion approaches, all of which aim to identify religion in places where scholars, who have long been preoccupied with reading texts (and thereby studying what some of our literate predecessors left behind), have not found it before, often due to some sort of scholarly bias. Continue reading

Spring Semester Coming Attractions

After Spring break there’s plenty happening in REL.

Apart from the American Examples workshop, mentioned in a post yesterday, on the first Monday back, starting at 10 am, we have our annual button event, just in time for the upcoming registration for Fall classes (which opens on Mon, Mar. 25). Once again, Prof. Newton is at the helm and he’d love to see you stop buy, hand out a few buttons and some info on classes. The REL tent will be set up adjacent to Manly Hall, in the usual spot.

On March 27, from 7-9 pm, Grad Tales returns, with REL grad Chris Hurt being interviewed by REL grad Justin Nelson (and member of REL’s Alum Liaison Committee). Chris, a 2008 grad, has a day job, sure, but is also actively pursuing a career in music, out in LA, with the Jamestown Pagans. More info about our event here. Or catch him on lead vocals and keyboard here: Continue reading

Coming Soon: American Examples

Just after Spring Break, the first American Examples Workshop will be hosted at the University of Alabama, funded jointly by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Religious Studies. Held here in Tuscaloosa and organized by Prof. Michael Altman, the goal of the workshop is to rethink the way religion in America is studied and taught.

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On Paying Attention to Politicians Signing Bibles

Geoff Davidson graduated from the University of Alabama Religious Studies Department in 2009 before earning his M.Div. at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. He is now a minister, writer, and library information specialist at Baylor.

Late last week President Trump was seen autographing Bibles while surveying the effects of a devastating tornado in eastern Alabama, leading to skirmishing in both news media and religious communities. There were those who dismissed this incident immediately, and why shouldn’t they? Why should a signed Bible merit discussion in the face of any other pressing political or religious topic de jour?

For the scholar of religion, such easy dismissiveness is a good way to miss important data. Christians, not a monolithic lot by any stretch, have been hotly divided on the topic with some leveling serious religious charges against both the president and those who asked that their Bibles be signed. This disagreement warrants accurate reflection in its own right, but it also points to critical underlying issues: how Christians see their holy texts and how this affects their actions. Continue reading

A Social-Psychological Theory of Religion

So…, just why are people religious?

It’s not a question everyone asks, since many scholars today are more concerned with what it means (often to the participants themselves) to be religious. But there are those in the academy today who, like those who helped to establish the study of religion in the late 19th century, are interested in explaining the historical (even evolutionary) cause of religion or its contemporary function. Often, though, they are found outside Religious Studies, in other academic fields, like sociology or anthropology.

If we define religion as belief in a supernatural being, as many do, and aim to answer questions of cause or function, then here’s an almost hour-long podcast from last summer, posted at NPR’s Hidden Brain, on the work of Azim Shariff, a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia.


If the embed doesn’t load, try here.

Learn more at the MOOC (massively open online course) he co-designed.

Sesame Street, Bears, The Mahabharata, and Ideology

Image from Pexels and authorized for use under the Pexels license

Kyle Ashley is a junior from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Majoring in Religious Studies, his main interests include music, games, sports, and their respective subcultures.

Ever wonder why there are so many different versions of the same story? For example, in the version of Goldilocks and The Three Bears that was told to me by my grandmother, Goldilocks is, for all intents and purposes, a home invader, a home invader that steals Baby Bear’s porridge, breaks Baby Bear’s chair, and sleeps in Baby Bear’s bed. But in the Sesame Street version that I watched as a child, Goldilocks and Baby Bear are friends in the middle of a fight, apparently. And instead of chasing her out of their house, the Bear family bring in Goldilocks for a big ol’ bear hug (her replacement, the Big Bad Wolf, proves to be less than ideal). What’s going on here? Continue reading