Grad Tales is Back!

Interviewed by Kim Davis (BA 2003), Jennifer Alfano Nelson (BA 2007) was the Department’s guest at the first Grad Tales of the new year, held in the Ferguson Student Union last night. Now hosted by the Department’s recently-formed Alumni Liaison Committee (of which both Jennifer and Kim are members), Grad Tales is an ongoing series that dates to 2013-14 when alums were first invited back, to meet with current students and to discuss their careers and how, in hindsight, they now saw their time at UA — the courses they took, the choices they made, and the relevance of it all now that they’re out in the so-called real world. Continue reading

Grad Tales is Back

Back in the 2013-14 school year we started a new series, Grad Tales, aimed to bring REL grads back to campus to meet with current students — likely students in our 100-level courses who major in everything from engineering and business to social work and nursing. Knowing how many students aren’t sure what they’re going to do in their lives, what major to declare, and how a career will or won’t develop after they graduate, our goal was to invite back a variety of grads who have done a variety of things, hoping to convey the message that an undergrad degree opens the doors onto all sorts of different futures. While we know that some of our students are pretty interested in the study of religion itself, we find that even our majors and minors end up doing lots of different things (as our guests at Grad Tales make plain), so we hoped that members of our student association would come too. Always scheduled in the evening, a faculty member sat up front (like Prof. Ramey, above, with Ben Simmons [BA 2009], back in February of 2014; Ben’s the VP of Engineering for Sworkit, a fitness app), interviewed them and then directed traffic once the questions began.

And, sure, we also served cookies and some pretty good punch.

Since inventing this series, which has so far mostly hosted nearby alums, we’ve had 14 grads come back to campus, people who are now working in business, teachers, lawyers, social workers, doctors, researchers, etc. And our 15th — Jennifer Alfano Nelson — is this coming Wednesday night (7 pm, in the Ferg’s Anderson Room). Graduating as an English/Religious Studies double major, she left working a middle school English teacher after 7 years and learned to code, now working in Birmingham as a software developer. So we’re looking forward to what she can tell us about everything from declaring majors to changing careers and hitting the books again long after graduation.

Something new about Grad Tales this year is that our recently formed Alum Liaison Committee has gotten involved — so we’re really happy to report that, from here on out, they’re our hosts, helping us to identify our guests and interview them. So Kim Davis (BA 2003, REL and French), who is a French teacher at Tuscaloosa County High School and who was also our first Grad Tales guest, will be our host Wednesday night. And, working with Prof. Vaia Touna, they’re already planning the Spring event.

And yes, there will be cookies and punch.

Coming Attractions: 6 Questions with…

We’ve sent out 6 simple questions to a wide array of REL grads — some of them are recent and some have been away from Manly Hall for quite a few years. We’re asking them to reflect back on their time here and tell us a little about what they’ve ended up doing.

We’ll post them as they come in…

A Lesson on Origins at #REL50th

Our 50th anniversary celebrations have come to an end (but we’ll post a fun fact each Monday for the rest of the semester) — and, if you ask me, it was a great success.

We filmed parts of it (i.e., the two faculty lectures, by Profs. Altman and Trost, and the opening to the next night’s Grad Tales panel — featuring five grads who returned to help mark the occasion [scroll down here to see who they were]); these movies are now being produced in the main office. They’ll probably be posted in a few weeks. Continue reading

Celebrate Good Times

Yes, this semester we’re celebrating our Department’s 50th anniversary.

If you’re interested in some of the historical background, then see this post from this past August.

The short story is that UA’s Department of Religious Studies dates to 1932, as best we can tell, but only in 1966-7 did the university — just like public universities all across the US — make the changes necessary for students to study religion in a manner that satisfied the requirements of the US Constitution’s First Amendment. Practically speaking, that meant moving away from having a variety of campus chaplains offering theologically-oriented courses to hiring Ph.D.s trained in what was quickly emerging as the academic study of religion (usually called Religious Studies in North America). Continue reading

A Busy Week in REL: Grad School Workshop, Grad Tales, and the Manly Cup

It’s a busy week this week around Manly Hall. Here are three REL events you do not want to miss this week.

1. TONIGHT a 6pm in Manly 210: Graduate School Workshop

Are you thinking about going to graduate school after you graduate? Do you have questions? Where to apply? How to apply? What’s it like? How do you pay for it? These are good questions.  I will be hosting the event and I need your help as I organize the event. Tweet me your questions so I can come with answers (or with people who might have answers). Send your questions to @michaeljaltman and use the hashtag #RELGradQ! Continue reading

The #GradTales Audience: Reflections From Current Students

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As you may be familiar one of our events here in REL is the Grad Tales Event: Here and Back Again. The department invites a former REL major to talk about their experience before and after graduation, in hopes that they can help current students think not only about their place in the university but also how to make the best out of it; to think creatively about the courses they take in the humanities in general, and how to put that knowledge in good use after their graduation. In our last Grad Tales event we invited a recent graduate, Alexis Poston, to the task and Prof.Touna asked the students of her REL100 class to attend the event and write a brief paragraph with their thoughts regarding the talk. What follows are some of those students’ reflections. Continue reading

Marketing and the Academic Study of Religion

kharaWhat connects red lipstick, racecars, and health care? The study of religion, of course! (Well, sort of.) Khara Cole, a 2013 graduate with a double major in Religious Studies and Public Relations, has found the skills that she developed in Religious Studies particularly important, as she designs products and their implementation for a health insurance company. She returned to campus last week to talk about her experiences working in the corporate world. The tasks of writing persuasive business proposals and accessible marketing texts clearly draw on her skills that she developed in our classes that emphasized various writing assignments. Solving problems, looking at both the little details and the broader picture as well as the ways different people might respond to the issues, employs the analytical and critical thinking skills that she, like many of our majors, considers a highlight of their work in Religious Studies.

In terms of lipstick and race cars, Khara provided this concrete example of the value of her religious studies major. When Khara began working on her current team implementing new products for her company, she noticed two previous marketing posters, one with a tube of red lipstick dominating the poster and the other with a racecar. Thinking of her first course in the department (Women and Religion with Prof. Simmons), she recognized the gender stereotypes implicit within these posters geared to different audiences and began developing more effective marketing efforts that avoided such gendered stereotypes that would alienate portions of the target audiences. Her story illustrates clearly the relevance of the questions that we often ask in our classes about the ways dominant symbols develop and the groups that those symbols exclude. Looking at those posters with a critical gaze enabled her to consider the ways a range of people might view them rather than accepting the symbolism of dominant stereotypes. In her experience, her skills in critical analysis, therefore, facilitate better marketing and communication strategies. As other graduates have told us, a major in Religious Studies helps students develop skills that provide vital contributions to a range of careers, including business and marketing.

A New Series Kicks Off: Grad Tales Extra

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Zac Parker graduated with a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Alabama in 2011. Here he helps us kick off our new, ongoing series, Grad Tales Extra, in which grads not able to join us on campus, to discuss the relevance of their degree, can drop us a line instead, to update us on what they’ve done since leaving Manly Hall.

During the year following graduation, I spent many months traveling, camping, and backpacking around the country, taking time to explore and reflect on what I wanted to do in my life and figuring out what priorities were most important to me. In the Fall of 2012 I entered the East Carolina University Master’s program for Anthropology, eventually graduating with a concentration in Cultural Anthropology in the Spring of 2014. Upon receiving my M.A., I entered a month-long residential yoga teacher training program at Swami Satchidananda‘s Integral Yoga ashram at Yogaville, VA. Currently, I am living in beautiful Colorado Springs, CO, working as a Life Coach at a blended online\in-person high school for “at-risk” students and teaching yoga on the weekend. I continue to enjoy expanding my understanding of religion in its many forms, with its many aspects.

I cannot fully express the deep and sincere gratitude I have for the Religious Studies department, for what it has given me. I have been shocked when talking to a number of fellow UA alumni since graduation how little others seem to have gotten out of or enjoyed their undergraduate careers. Nothing could be further from the truth for me. Every single Religious Studies class, in addition to the amazingly supportive faculty and fellow majors, was incredibly eye-opening, thought provoking, and (sorry to sound like a Hallmark card) even life changing. It truly, truly was, and I cannot thank the department enough for helping guide me along my own path of inquiry and understanding. I certainly do not mean to take away anything from any of the faculty, but I’d specifically like to thank Dr. Trost, Dr. Jacobs, Dr. Ramey, and the late Dr. Murphy (may he forever rest in peace) for helping instill in me an everlasting thirst for greater understanding and the ability to critically question things in ways I had previously unimagined.

Did You Miss Last Night’s “A Grad’s Tale” with Samantha Bush? Here’s All the Wisdom in One Blog Post

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Last night we had the pleasure of hearing from Samantha Bush, an REL grad, about her life after the Capstone and how her REL degree has helped her get her career started. If you missed it last night, here are the highlights thanks to our intrepid team of live tweeters.

Continue reading