It May Be Simpler Than You Think

I saw the above tweet yesterday, which prompted me to mull over why we generally think that the role of religion is such a complicated thing to study. It occurred to me that it is complicated (i) if you fail to recognize that there’s been trained scholars of religion out there for well over 100 years who have lots to say on these matters but also (ii) if we buy local accounts of it being some ethereal thing that mysteriously informs the practical aspects of people’s lives.

But if we instead assume it’s no less practical than any other sphere — and, what’s more, if we assume that privileging some features of life by calling them religious is also mundane and highly practical — well, we’d likely approach these topics rather differently.

So a series of tweets resulted. Continue reading

They Were Right to Boo

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Did you see Ted Cruz’s speech last night at the Republican National Convention? Maybe you heard about this morning — if you’re following the US Presidential race, that is.

He had a prime spot and ended his speech with a few words that caused him to get resoundingly booed. Continue reading

Rethinking Public Religion

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Lately I’ve been getting emails about a summer school on the topic of public religion — specifically, on “how different forms of religion and religiosity meander through social realities today.”

Like the problematic notion of material religion (critiqued here), the idea that religions can be either private and public is a troublesome one that we seem not to be able to get beyond. It’s a notion given significant steam about 20 years ago with the publication of the book pictured above; as described on the publisher’s site: Continue reading

Agency, Structure, and the Myth of the Immaculate Perception

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National Public Radio on the weekend played a story (an interview with Neal Gabler, the author of an Atlantic article on the same topic) about how hard many in the US have it economically. Continue reading

The Sociology of Individuals

capitalizingreligionMy REL 245 course presses on and now we’re about to tackle Craig Martin’s Capitalizing Religion: Ideology and the Opiate of the Bourgeoisie.

So I’ve got some weekend reading to do.

The course is asking whether the study of religion ought to be founded on the assumption that the public, observable, material elements of religious life are but secondary manifestations of prior immaterial things — usually called beliefs, experiences, feelings, meanings, etc. Calling this common assumption into question is a way to further complicate how scholars (especially Americanists studying the pluralism of the US) often talk about religious change, such as the supposed decisions that so-called individual, rational actors are said to make when they convert or “shop for” a religion. Continue reading

No Chili Peppers

shotsfiredThere’s a bit of a controversy brewing in social media over a new review essay published in the our field’s main peer review periodical, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, on the book, On Teaching Religion, edited by Chris Lehrich and containing some of the writings on pedagogy by Jonathan Z. Smith.

The reviewer, a onetime student of Smith’s, reflects on her own experience in his classes, as an undergrad at the University of Chicago in the late-1990s, in order to identify the gaps (i.e., inconsistencies or maybe even contradictions) she now finds, looking back, between the teacher and the writer. Continue reading

Dispatch from a UK Classroom

Adam and EveA friend in the UK on Facebook just posted this newspaper article for what seems to be a new series, “Academic Anonymous” — “where academics can tell it like it is”– entitled:

Teaching Religion: My Students are Trying to Run My Course

Not a few academics in the UK now feel rather frustrated, what with a variety of changes in higher education funding brought about recently by the government there — issues not unfamiliar on this side of the Atlantic, of course, where an increasing emphasis on tuition-based funding (in response to widespread cuts in government funding) has sometimes led to a “student-as-customer” model, a model that sometimes suggests to a few students that their mere attendance in class warrants an A. Continue reading

Experience Is In the Eye of the Beholder

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By Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She currently works as a staff member in the Department as a Student Liaison and filmmaker. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.

The other day I came across a friend’s Facebook photo that advertised the upcoming 4th of July Color Run in Montgomery, AL. It reminded me of Russell McCutcheon’s post discussing the marketing strategies of the for-profit company The Color Run, LLC. I, like many others it seems, assumed it was a non-profit, cancer awareness type event. While it is marketed much the same as other charity events, their website does say on that they are a “for profit event management company.” So while the information isn’t widely advertised, it’s no secret, either. Continue reading

Personalized Reading Experiences

Like a lot of academics, I’m sure, I got this email the other day, from a textbook publisher doing its best — like all those MOOC providers and other eBook developers — to create the impression of a need.

Picture 7Funny, but I thought we’d already invented a way to have an individualized reading experience. Continue reading

It Was Just My Imagination

Picture 5I just saw this New York Times blog post, thanks to The Religious Studies Project’s post on its Facebook wall. The photographer, Jim Estrin, is quoted as follows:

“The challenge for me is capturing the essence of an invisible event”… Continue reading