You’re a Historian; Get the Memo?

A stack old books with the one on the top opened up.

Lin Kristensen, “Timeless Books,” CC-BY-SA 2.0

Prof. Newton shares how a little bit about his approach to helping students consider historiography. His memo assignment reminds students that they have a substantial role in writing the history they are studying. It’s a simple assignment that is useful for the novice and professional historian alike.  

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UA Trustees To Study Building Names

Picture of the name of Manly Hall, inscribed about the front door

If you’ve been following the news then you likely saw that three historic plaques honoring UA’s contributions to the Confederacy, each put up around the time of WWI, were removed just the other day, along with the large boulder in front of Gorgas Library that served as one of those plaques’ homes.

For those who never read them, the plaque formerly on that boulder, funded in 1914 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, read as follows (source: al.com): Continue reading

The Science of Religion–A Work in Progress

Students working on a whiteboard, diagramming the parts of an essay.

Prof. Richard Newton reports on a discussion topic from his graduate seminar on the history of religious studies. His students have been talking about the backstory of debates on definition as it pertains to religious studies. This week, students read a little bit from the nineteenth century Dutch scholars, Cornelis P. Tiele.

In my History of the Study of Religion seminar, our Religion in Culture graduate students have been discussing the very enterprise in which we are engaged. The course is built around the following question:

What does it mean to discuss the academic study of religion as a history, a field, and a discipline?

There are many places to start with such an endeavor. And if interest warrants, I’ll share how we’ve done this in a future post. For now I’ll go in media res and just share an interesting passage that we came across in our study. Continue reading

Teaching the Bible in Culture: Identifying Room for Questions Unanswered

Students doing group work.

Prof. Newton reflects on his approach to teaching the Bible in a public university. Study religion and find out about the Bible in Culture here, part 1, and in future posts.

One of my aims in my Introduction to New Testament course is to lead students in thinking carefully about the actors and drama represented in the text. As Adele Reinhartz notes, when our explanations employ terms like “Pharisee,” “Jews,” “Samaritans,” or “Romans” too assuredly, we probably have more questions to ask about what’s at play. Just as a quick point of comparison, we wouldn’t be so cavalier using terms like “the Blacks,” “the liberals,” or “the South,” especially in mixed company, right? So what is to be gained by taking these ancient typecasts at face value and without qualification?

We spend a lot of time time complicating the idea of identity. In fact, using the comparison above, students seem to have little trouble recognizing the notion of sacrosanct identity as a politically-loaded packaging of what Jean Francois Bayart termed, “operational acts of identification.” But this takes practice. Part of thinking about the “applications and traditions” associated with New Testament texts is considering the work these terms do in various first century Mediterranean scenarios.

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Citing the Misdoers and Bad Behavers?

Steven L. Jacobs, standing on the 2nd floor of Manly Hall at the University of Alabama

Dr. Steven L. Jacobs is Professor and Aaron Aronov Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies at The University of Alabama. His primary research foci are in Biblical Studies, translation and interpretation, including the Dead Sea Scrolls; as well as Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

In the December 14, 2018 issue of The Chronicle Review, Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago penned a piece entitled “Go Ahead, Cite the Nazi” (B2).* His unnecessarily provocative argument as summarized by his disingenuous solution— “cite work that is relevant regardlessof the author’s [sic] misdeeds—was made even more disturbing by his conclusion, “you should not—under any circumstances—adjust your citation practices to punish scholars for [sic] bad behavior” (emphases added). Even more problematic was his total failure to address any notion of historical contextualization regarding the work of the philosophers he cites, Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)—the former an avowed antisemite and the latter an unrepentant Nazi, both of whom he rather cavalierly dismisses, choosing only to celebrate their “contributions” to philosophy.  In my own field of religious studies, a “softer” but nonetheless equally problematic case would be that of Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), a formerly avowed Christian nationalist and supporter of the Romanian Iron Guard during World War II.

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Alabama-Greece Initiative Lecture Coming Up

On Wednesday, March 6th, the Department of Religious Studies will be hosting Prof. Ioannis Xydopoulos from Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece. His visit is part of the Alabama-Greece Initiative, a program that promotes relationships between American and Greek scholars. Beginning in 2010 and sponsored by the University of Alabama College of Arts and Sciences, the initiative encourages the exchange of students and faculty for study abroad, research, and guest lectures.

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Knowing Your Roots

Last week I sat down to chat with Dr. Richard Newton, a faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies who recently joined us from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. Originally from Texas, Professor Newton lived on each coast before making his way to The University of Alabama. This semester, he’s teaching a course on Islam, advising the Religious Studies Student Association (RSSA), and, next semester, will be teaching a graduate course on this history of the field along with an intro to the New Testament.

Dr. Newton’s work is interested in evaluating how cultural texts or scriptures, can inform a sense of individual and group identity. Currently, he is working on his first book, Identifying Roots: Alex Haley and the Anthropology of Scriptures, and hopes it will be available for purchase within the next year. Continue reading

Faculty Reading Group: Transitions

On page 117, in the essay entitled “Historicism, History, and the Figurative Imagination,” we read the following:

But if my hypothesis is correct, there can be no such thing as a non-relativistic representation of historical reality, inasmuch as every account of the past is mediated by the language-mode in which the historian casts his original description of the historical field prior to any analysis, explanation, or interpretation he may offer of it.

We read this classic Hayden White piece (originally published in History and Theory, Vol. 14/4 Beiheft 14: Essays on Historicism [1975]: 48-67) in a faculty reading group in our Department last Friday, that met for the first time, during lunch. I’ve not read the essay for years; yes, I first went looking for what I’d previously underlined in my copy of the book but the above sentence jumped out at me for the first time (to be honest, it was only when a colleague quoted it during our discussion, which made me flip through some pages looking for it). For, as I later elaborated, in agreement with another colleague who detected some curious ambiguity in White’s essay, this sentence nicely captures his place as a transitional figure.

For at least with some of us who have been influenced by his work, reading that sentence now seems to be just a little unsatisfactory since it reads as oddly conservative, and thus not nearly as radical as it likely read forty years ago. Continue reading

The Myth of Charismatic Visionaries

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Let’s play a game

Which one of these quotes is from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, writing just the other day, and which is from William James, the American psychologist of religion, writing well over 100 years ago? Continue reading