The Sacred is the Profane

The other day I was looking at UVA’s podcast, now with several episodes (give it a listen), and couldn’t help but notice a nice example of a theoretical and methodological fracture point in the field, one which likely prompts people to pick a side when doing their work.

For although I agree that “the sacred is the profane,” Bill Arnal and I didn’t quite have this sense of the phrase in mind when picking a title for a set of essays that we collected together and published a few years ago. Continue reading

Épater les Bourgeoise…?

I do no speak or read French. Many years ago, however, in undergraduate school, I had a professor of English literature who was inordinately fond of the French phrase épater les bourgeoise—as he would translate it on a regular basis, “to shock the ordinary human being out of his [or her] lethargy.”  That is, there are those works, persons, events to which ordinary human beings, most of us, can only react in shock, sometimes in dismay; other times in paralysis.  One such event historically is the Holocaust (Hebrew, Shoah), the systematic, organized and planned murders of more than six million Jews—children, women, and men—and others: Sinti/Roma; homosexuals, primarily males; the physically and mentally challenged; and, lastly, so-called “asocials”, those whom the Nazis deemed unworthy of place in their present and future society. Even today, more than seventy-five years after the end of World War II, its power to shock, dismay, frighten, disorient shows no signs of abating.  Concomitantly, those most associated with this “crime of crimes”, this paradigmatic genocide—Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich, Rudolf Hoess, Alfred Rosenberg, and others in the upper echelons of the Nazi hierarchy—still retain their power to amaze and disgust us as the very embodiments of evil personified.

Closely associated with them and their murderous agendas are the words which also retain their power: Auschwitz death camp (symbolic of the entire system of death); the Warsaw Ghetto, symbolic of Jewish incarceration and Jewish resistance and other unsuccessful efforts at extermination; Six Million, symbolic of the Jews murdered; and the like. Continue reading

What’s Screamo? How the Same Term Can Mean Different Things

Tanner (far left) and Kyle (far right) with Nick and Joe of Knuckle Puck. Taken July 1, 2018.

Kyle Ashley is a junior from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Majoring in Religious Studies, his main interests include loitering in libraries, copious amounts of coffee, and
keeping it emo in 2019.

“Knuckle Puck is awesome, but they can be a little screamo,” my stepbrother Tanner states, responding to my recommendation for which band he should play next.

“Ya… I guess.” I respond. We were fresh off attending the “Last cross-country Warped Tour” (Vans Warped Tour, for those who may not know, is a punk-centric music festival) and had a wealth of bands we wanted to push on others. Knuckle Puck, a band out of Chicago, was amongst our favorites.

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I Hope You’re Happy

Did you see the recent study that the Pew Research Center has posted, on the positive correlation between being religious and being happy? It’s worth looking at, especially if you think scholarship on religion ought to be no less rigorous than scholarship on any other aspect of being human.

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A Visit to Montgomery Museums

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL commemorates all documented cases of lynching in America. Each metal pillar is engraved with the victims’ names and the county where the crime took place.

Several weeks ago, along with Prof. Ramey, Caity Bell, Savanah Finver, and Keely McMurray (all first-year MA students in the study of religion) took the two hour drive to Montgomery, AL, to explore a variety of historical representations in museums and memorials. They began their tour at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice before visiting the Legacy Museum and finishing at the Alabama State Archives Museum. Continue reading

Adventures in Archives, Classification, and Eldridge Cleaver

Dan Wells is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Religion at Florida State University. He is currently finishing a dissertation entitled, “Better Dead Than Red: A History of the Christian Crusade Aesthetic.”

Growing up I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I wanted to see some adventure. Long before my awareness of the almost innumerable issues that plagued the series, I thought melting Nazi faces off with ancient artifacts while wearing a cool hat and neglecting professional responsibilities in service to the preservation of history (it belongs in a museum!) sounded rather great (can we pause to recognize how terrible it must have been to be Prof. Jones’ graduate assistant?). With those childhood dreams in the rearview (mostly in the rearview, that is), my adventure usually leads me to a dusty library archive where my only hopes to melt Nazi faces comes during my lunch break when I might encounter a Nazi on Twitter. In a recent adventure to the Bancroft Library at UC-Berkeley, I was in search of the “holy grail” archival find that might take my current research project to the next level. Combing through files on former Black Panther Party Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver, I stumbled upon an article that caught my eye. While not the “holy grail” I was looking for, the find serves as an example of what one might stumble upon in the archives and more importantly, how acts of classification have real life, tangible consequences. Continue reading

Components of What?

Picture of cards nad poker chipsOne of our grad students has pointed out a problem with a recent article that we read in our Department’s monthly journal group; Sarah wrote:

Although titled “Durkheim with Data,” it seemed as though the creators of this project have not critically considered or defined the very categories they have opted to work within…

I think this is a pretty keen insight, for when I first read the article I was struck by a passage on p. 323, coming after a long quotation concerning the difficulties of defining “society” and “culture”: Continue reading

The REL Journal Group: Durkheim and Data Edition

The following exchange between Prof. Mike Altman and Sarah Griswold, a student in our MA program, reflects on the recent meeting of the journal reading group, part of our Religion in Culture MA.

Mike Altman: Sarah, for our first journal reading group you chose the article “Durkheim with Data: The Databse of Religious History” from a recent issue of JAAR. What’s the gist of the article and why did you think we should read it in our group of MA students and faculty?

Sarah Griswold: The article is basically an introduction (and justification) for the Database of Religious History. This database is meant to serve two purposes: to be a database for “religious groups” in the premodern world and to provide evidence for a theory of religious evolution. In effect, the database tries to play both fields of holding and providing both quantitative and qualitative data. The article mostly reads as an attempt to draw more scholars in in order to add data to the database.

As far as why I thought we should read it, there were a few reasons. First, as someone with a background in both the humanities and math, I think understanding how and why qualitative data is quantified is really important to understanding and critiquing the purpose and use of databases like this one. Second, as the humanities (and particularly religious studies) moves more and more towards digital projects, we need to be aware of what’s out there so we can emulate what is done well and improve on what is lacking. Finally, the article also offers us insight into the theoretical workings of the project itself. Although titled “Durkheim with Data,” it seemed as though the creators of this project have not critically considered or defined the very categories they have opted to work within, making the move from qualitative to quantitative data suspect. That, I think, can be quite telling of the ultimate success or failure of a project of this size.

MA: As a student in this new MA program that has an emphasis on digital and public humanities what can you learn from this article and what can we as a program learn?

SG: Personally, this article reinforced the importance of thinking through the categories you use when quantifying data. It can be easy to point to something you “know” is religion and label it as such without thinking about why you’ve decided on that label in the first place. It’s also interesting to think about the collaboration across disciplines that these projects require. It would be impossible for one or two scholars to gain all the skills needed to make these things even work. It turns out that group projects exist in real life too and not just in school.

As a program, I think the biggest take away is to pay attention to the developments of these projects. Because the DRH has a capacity to refine their methods, I don’t think they should be entirely dismissed as uncritical. There are positive and negative take aways from critically examining any digital project. Learning more about digital projects and examining their goals and functions can and will tell us a lot about how to move forward in our own individual and collaborative projects.

What Gets Labeled as Religion

Still not quite sure what scholars study when they say that they study the classification or the category religion itself…? Think that all scholars of religion need a definition of religion to get started with their work?

If so, why not give a listen to episode 21, that was just posted the other day. It’s a short podcast by Malory Nye, author of a widely used intro book in our field, and he elaborates on the simple fact that he’s

“a student of religion who doesn’t study religion…”

Make It So

Did you catch Titus Hjelm‘s excellent post the other day?

His argument concerned the manner in which otherwise routine claims or actions are represented by specific groups, for specific reasons, as controversial; the apparent controversy of some religions (notably, in his post, Islam — at least to a number of people in so-called Western countries) is thus not an essential trait but one that is acquired in the public marketplace. Continue reading