REL Update: Starting the New Fall Semester

UA graphic listing tips for staying healthy during the Fall semester

In mid-June we posted an update about the upcoming Fall classes but with the semester’s start now just two weeks away, it’s time for another update on some specific changes to REL classes.

So while we certainly leave major details about re-entry to the University to communicate to students, staff, and faculty (with information found at UA’s health info site, concerning such things as the required COVID-19 testing, new conduct rules, and the required health check every three days [which requires your Bama credentials and a cell phone number]), there’s some details about REL that we’ll convey here. Continue reading

Our Actions Have Implications

University of Alabama sign on the need to wear a face mas.

We’ve been getting some inquiries from friends around the country who have seen news reports on so-called COVID-19 parties hosted by some students in Tuscaloosa (as well as elsewhere in the country, according to reports). The local Fire Department’s Chief reported this to the city council the other day but now we see that it has made the national news — such as this report from yesterday morning: Continue reading

Fall Update: Changes to Courses

Books and a Department of Religious Studies mug in a library

As noted in the previous update on the Fall semester, being nimble and adaptable to changing circumstances is among the key skills students need for success this Fall, whatever university they’re attending; after all, COVID-19 continues to present very real challenges in many U.S. states, let alone countries around the world, significantly affecting the well-being of some age groups as well as people with certain risk factors; in response, such new policies as regular use of masks in classes and decreased seating capacity in lectures halls and labs due to physical distancing guidelines developed by the UA System and the University itself (see the Academic Affairs portion of UA’s now-released guidelines) mean that a number of adjustments are now being made to ensure successful Fall classes. After all, if you’re familiar with the seating pattern in a typical classroom at any university, maintaining the mandated 6 feet of distance from the instructor or from the nearest student (something that will be indicated with lines on classrooms’ floors and with seats marked so as not to be occupied) means that a room will now only seat a small portion of those enrolled in the courses. Continue reading

Update on REL’s Fall Planning

Sample image from self-reporting healthcheck app.

In early June we posted an update so that everyone knew that REL’s plan for a safe and productive Fall semester was the main thing now occupying our attention. With the UA System’s recent release of it’s plan for Fall, complete with a variety of recommendations for each of UA’s three campuses, we feel that the time is right to update everyone again on what the Fall in REL may look like. Continue reading

Stay Tuned and Stay Safe

Photo of Religious Studies seminar roomEarly on, someone added me to a Facebook group dedicated to issues in higher ed that involve or are impacted by COVID-19. I’ve only posted there a few times but have routinely monitored the posts of others, sometimes finding useful links but often being somewhat perplexed by the sorts of things that I see.

For example, consider the post asking others in the group about their routines for cleaning classrooms between classes and how long they’re waiting between classes. As someone commented there, that’s a question best directed at a campus’s facilities operation, let alone the Office of Academic Affairs and the Registrar, since the vast majority of members of the group seem to be faculty, each focused on issues revolving directly around the virus’s implications for their teaching and what they can do about it. Custodial services, though it surely affects us, isn’t something in which we have much of a say, if any. Continue reading

Living Room Classrooms and Kitchen Offices

Popular Mechanics magazine cover from the 1970s with home office pictures

As universities across the country are making plans for whether, and if so how, to return to face-to-face instruction in the Fall semester, I wanted to send out a big thank you to the REL faculty and staff who, like so many others around the U.S. and the world, quickly turned their homes into their offices and their classrooms for the past two months. That means that private internet connections and home utility bills have quite literally kept the lights on and the information flowing for all of our schools and for all of our students.

While it may seem a small thing when judged on an individual basis — after all, I was going to pay that cable bill anyway… — it’s actually rather remarkable when you consider that, collectively, the day-to-day operations of the university have almost completely shifted to the homes of its faculty and staff. Add to this the families of their own that many of them have, let alone their own concerns for the situation that we’ve all found ourselves in (coz they too were scrambling to find homemade masks), and you arrive at a pretty remarkable past two months, in which they each became the University of Alabama.

So, as the Spring semester ends, and as we transition to a summer of online instruction, all the while working to put the proper conditions into place to have a safe and successful Fall, I just wanted to highlight what’s been going on behind-the-scenes for the past 8 weeks. While we’re very grateful for the staff who remained on campus — after all, many essential facilities workers have been busy on campus all this time — and for all of the students who each had to figure out their own adaptations to instruction going remote, the way that faculty and staff members’ living rooms and kitchens became lecture halls and offices, complete with all of those unscripted pet interruptions, also deserves our thanks.

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

Stranger than Fiction: On “Superheroes” and “Essential Workers”

Cartoon featuring medical personnel dressed as superheroes

Martin Lund is senior lecturer in religion at Malmö University in Sweden. He is currently working on a co-authored book about the “supervillain” Magneto and a single-authored book about the “superhero” and theory.

For many of us, the world seems a pretty strange place right now. What we consider “normal” has been upset and we’re having to make adjustments. People are reacting in different ways, some enthusiastically embracing self-quarantine and others grousing that they can’t go about their business as they like. It’s probably pretty safe to say that whatever else, many of us are getting a bit squirrely in our houses and apartments.

For some people, however, there is no choice in the matter: some of us are encouraged to work at home as much as possible – for us in the university this generally means pivoting to online teaching and sharing bad jokes about Zoom, but others are considered “essential workers” (or some variation thereof) and have to keep going to work. “Essential workers” are classified by the Pan-American Health Organization (somewhat circularly) as “the personnel needed to maintain essential services”; “essential services” in turn are “the services and functions that are absolutely necessary, even during a pandemic” and include “executive governance, healthcare, fire and police protection, provision of clean water and basic sanitation, infrastructure and utilities maintenance, and food provision.” Continue reading

Going Remote

Video-conference call scene from the movie 2001: A Space OdysseyIt’s surely not news to anyone that we’ve gone remote, taking all REL courses online as part of our effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. The University of Alabama, like so many schools nation-wide (let alone throughout the world) continues on what we call limited business operations (LBO), with academic offices closed, in-person classes suspended, students gone from the residences, and only essential employees still working on campus. (Get info on UA’s response to the pandemic.) But classes continue, thanks to a some technologies that we’ve been using. Continue reading

Coming Attractions: A Change in Format

Screenshot of computer screen during Zoom videoconference, with many participants

As communicated to all of our students over the past week, UA is maintaining limited business operations (LBO) for at least the next two weeks (and it will re-assess during that time concerning whether those conditions continue), with students asked not to return to campus. (A plan will soon be rolled out, from the central administration, concerning when those living in the residence system can return to collect their possessions.) This means that offices will not be staffed in person for the coming weeks and, instead, staff and faculty will be working remotely (in most cases, from home); the Spring semester continues, however, though classes are changing, as are the way faculty and students will interact. Continue reading