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.
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.
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 : 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 →
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 →
On Thursday, June 4, I took a flight from Kansas City, Missouri to Indianapolis to attend the Fourth Biennial Conference on Religion American Culture hosted by the the Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture at IUPUI. Though it was the fourth incarnation of the conference, it was the first time I had attended. Historians and sociologists made up the majority of participants (some of them situated in religious studies departments), mixed in with a few anthropologists, a couple of theologians, and even a political scientist! Sandwiched between two receptions, the conference took place over two days and consisted of eight sessions—attended by all conference participants—lasting an hour and a half each. Three panelists per session were asked to present short narratives on their assigned topics before opening questions and discussion to the audience. The format succeeded in helping to generate spirited and valuable conversation.
I remember almost two years ago when American historian Edmund Morgan died. I had read Morgan’s Visible Saints as part of my doctoral exams but, not being a historian by training or researching the colonial period, I hadn’t read much else of his work. But after his death I read a lot about Morgan. I read stories from his graduate students, from his colleagues, and from scholars who had come into contact with the man one way or another. It seemed like every historian of a certain generation had some story about him.
Among the assorted knick-knacks that line my office’s shelves—ranging from such relics as photos of friends and family or gifts I’ve accumulated over the years to a selection of tattered romance novels shelved long ago among my books by mischievous students—is a nicely matted and framed “fossil” of Knightia, a long extinct genus of small boney North American freshwater fish, dating to more than 35 million years ago (or what scientists know as the Eocene epoch), and which was recovered from the well-known (to fossil hunters, at least) Green River Formation in southwestern Wyoming.
I bought it one summer, heavy wooden frame and all, about ten years ago in a gift shop in downtown Iowa City, Iowa, at the same time that I purchased for my Department’s library a number of other so-called artifacts, such as the stereotypical dancing Shiva statue and the Thai-styled bust of Buddha, complete with its intricately carved curls. (What a disappointment when people learn I got these in Iowa City!) I never anticipated writing about my framed piece of sedimentary rock that, for whatever reason, has found a home among the Cs in my shelving taxonomy (yes, I shelve books by author’s surname, so?), though I have often used it in classes to illustrate a point or two about discourses on origins; I now realize that this rock might have some uses outside of the classroom. Continue reading →