Family Resemblance and the Social Risks of Guess Who

Years ago, before I had kids, I was chitchatting with an acquaintance. I cannot recall what we were actually talking about. The memory is remarkable to me because these days I am rarely alone enough to enjoy a leisurely adult conversation. I can’t believe now how much I took such moments for granted back then.

Anyway, in the midst of the conversation, the acquaintance’s young daughter came out of a building to meet her mother. They can’t have been apart for more than a few hours, but their reunion would make you think it had been days or weeks. The scene was heartwarming even from the position of the third-wheel.

As I watched them embrace, I felt a second-hand joy. And maybe out of some weird sense of guilt or obligation, I felt the need to say something the way people do when they find a silence awkward. I had never seen the young girl before, and I said something about how I thought she resembled her mother.

I don’t think the little girl heard or cared to listen to what I said. However, the mother took the comment in, looked at me, and said that they the daughter was adopted.

In hindsight, maybe I should have endured the silence! ūüėČ

I don’t even know if this acquaintance would remember the incident. But my confusion about the moment left an impression enough for me to write about it years later.

You see, I did not intend for my remark to be a commentary on the genetic legitimacy of parentage. All I meant was that, in my observation, the child and the adult had similar appearances. But if you think about a game like Guess Who–the object of which is to deduce the identity of a select person by asking the selector questions about the person’s appearance, then you can see just how derivative such observations can be. If anything, I meant to point out something about the emotional closeness of the parent and daughter. I happened to riff on a physical relationship to do so. My acquaintance did not grant the authority of my metaphor.

 

Lest you think I’m trying to defend my actions, you should know that as a Black father of bi-racial children whose facial features are often the subject of exoticizing conversations, one of my nightmares is that at the wrong place and the wrong time, someone seeing a difference in our physical features will lead to a well-meaning but prejudicial concern about our emotional distance and result in our separation. So if anything, I was happy to be schooled in the aforementioned moment.

Maybe I should have paid better attention to Durkheim and thought about the social function of my comment. The incident has got me thinking more about the limits of a “family resemblance” approach to religion. Because while there’s no problem with simply remarking that something is a religion or like a¬†religion, it leaves unclear what that resemblance ¬†means explicitly.¬†As Timothy Fitzgerald says,¬†“There is a human drama being played out here and we may want to know the story” (231).

Guess Who: The Classic Mystery Face Game. People are trying to guess identities based upon cartoon facial features.

But to essentialize a relationship is to grow comfortable with more ambiguity, not less. Besides that not being a great game, what are the consequences of that complacency?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Reading, Writing and… R: How I Began to Study the Philosophy of Religion with Digital Tools

Professor Loewen Presenting to two women with the help of a large digital screen.

Prof. Nathan Loewen specializes in the philosophy of religion and digital humanities among other things. This summer his research interests are taking him in a new direction at their intersection.   

In Fall 2018, I took my research in a new direction. I began learning how to study the philosophy of religion with digital tools. The objective is to determine how to quantitatively test my qualitative argument that the field is historically structured by commitments to theism in ways that challenge its cross-cultural relevance. In the future, I plan to use these tools to locate underutilized opportunities to alter the scope of the field beyond theism. Continue reading

The Study Religion Podcast is Back!

Professor Tim Jensen sits in the REL seminar room.

It’s been a while but the Study Religion podcast is back! Go find us wherever you get your podcasts and be sure to subscribe, rate, and comment.

In this episode we welcome Prof. Tim Jensen from the University of Southern Denmark, the president of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR). Prof. Jensen spent some time in conversation with our own Prof. Richard Newton and some of our MA students in Religion in Culture about how the academic study of religion looks from a global perspective beyond the Unite States.

Find all of our episodes and transcripts of each show at: religion.ua.edu/about-us/podcasts/

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 ‚ÄúGo Ahead, Cite the Nazi‚ÄĚ (B2).* His unnecessarily provocative argument as summarized by his disingenuous solution‚ÄĒ ‚Äúcite work that is relevant regardlessof the author‚Äôs [sic] misdeeds‚ÄĒwas made even more disturbing by his conclusion, ‚Äúyou should not‚ÄĒunder any circumstances‚ÄĒadjust your citation practices to punish scholars for [sic] bad behavior‚ÄĚ (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)‚ÄĒthe former an avowed antisemite and the latter an unrepentant Nazi, both of whom he rather cavalierly dismisses, choosing only to celebrate their ‚Äúcontributions‚ÄĚ to philosophy.¬† In my own field of religious studies, a ‚Äúsofter‚ÄĚ 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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Grad Student Interns with Alabama Heritage Magazine

As part of the MA in Religion in Culture at UA, students attend a monthly colloquium designed to introduce them to community members seeking graduates with strong critical thinking skills. During these meetings, the Department of Religious Studies brings in individuals from within and outside of the University to share their experiences in the job market. Their presentations often focus on the ways that the tools each MA student is cultivating in their humanities courses can be useful outside of traditional academia.

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Symposium Recap

Last week, the Department of Religious Studies hosted its annual Undergraduate Research Symposium at Gorgas Library. Students from Religious Studies courses collaborated with advisors on written projects before presenting their work at the event. The unique topics, challenging question-answer portion, and free coffee made for a refreshing Friday morning. Professors, alumni, MA students, and undergraduates used social media to keep up with the event.

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Spotlighting Graduating MA Students

Emma Gibson and Sierra Lawson have spent the last two years developing their skills in research, social theory, and the public and digital humanities among other useful accomplishments. This spring, both students will graduate with a Master’s of Arts in Religion in Culture and plan to put their analytical tools to work as they further their education. Emma will pursue a Master’s of Architecture while Sierra earns a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. Find out what these young women have planned after graduation.

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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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Spotlighting REL Graduating Seniors

The Department of Religious Studies will have a variety of students graduating in May after earning a Bachelor of Arts as majors in the Department of Religious Studies. Over the last four years, each senior has learned and applied social theory through various research projects, independent studies, and a number of unique REL courses. Taking classes like Religions of the World, Theories of Myth, and Religious Existentialism, students were able to shape a unique study of religion that best fit their personal interests. From Medical School to Museum Studies, the Class of 2019 has diverse plans for the application of their undergraduate studies in the Department. Several of these students are spotlighted below.

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REL Grad Hosts Career Workshop

Last week, Khara Cole, who graduated from UA with a degree in Public Relations and Religious Studies in 2013, lead current students in a career workshop. The casual meeting launched last year as an RSSA initiative and continued this year (organized by Prof. Vaia Touna). The presentation covered everything from resume structure to LinkedIn formatting, and even nonverbal communication during interviews.

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