REL Adds a New Faculty Member

Lauren Horn Griffin

The Department of Religious Studies is very pleased to announce that Dr. Lauren Horn Griffin is joining the faculty, as a full-time renewable Instructor, for the start of the Fall 2020 semester.

Earning her Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2016, Lauren has worked full-time at the University of Oklahoma since 2016, as a digital learning designer in their Office of Digital Learning while also being a regular lecturer in their Department of Religious Studies. Her research interests include the study of saints and other authoritative figures in Roman Catholic communities and the role they play in the creation of national, ethnic, and cultural identity. Combining this with an expertise in digital humanities, her current research focuses on Catholic material culture in digital spaces, specifically how Catholic history is constructed on social media.

In the Fall 2020 semester Lauren will be teaching REL 105 Honors Introduction to the Study of Religion in the Fall as well as REL 310 REL Goes to the Movies, our regular one credit evening course (repeatable up to three times).

We’re very pleased to have Lauren join the faculty and excited by how her expertise enhances REL’s strength in the study of identity as well as its initiative in the digital humanities.

Because REL was authorized to make this hire at a rather late date,
Lauren will begin her appointment working remotely and so we
look forward to when she is able to join us in Tuscaloosa.

Studying Undertakerness and Religion

The Undertaker in the wrestlin ring, kneeling.

Christopher Hurt is an REL alum who works in tech in Los Angeles. He is best known for his work with the rock ‘n’ roll group, Jamestown Pagans.

Without a doubt my favorite professional wrestler has always been, and will always be, The Undertaker. The Undertaker is a character performed by Mark William Calaway in World Wrestling Entertainment (back in my day it was WWF). Recently the WWE released a documentary chronicling the 30 year career (and retirement) of Calaway. It got me thinking about studying religion.

There are quite a few videos out there that go through the major story arcs, rivalries, and matches that make The Undertaker’s career unrivaled. For example, see this video for context to this article:

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Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 2

Historical photo of a Ku Klux Klan Rally and Flag Burning

Vincent D. Jennings graduated in May 2020 from the University of Alabama with a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology. In the Fall of 2019 he began an in-depth study on America’s history of racial violence as part an independent study course with REL’s Prof. Theodore Trost — which culminated in this four-part series.

Between 1868 and 1871, a wave of terror swept across the South, resulting in the deaths of thousands of freed African Americans for simply asserting their most basic liberties; many were killed for simply walking freely on the streets while others were murdered for failing to obey the dictates of a white person during a random encounter. In response to this increasingly tenuous situation, legislators attempted to enact numerous levels of protection for African Americans. However, congressional efforts to provide federal protection and civil rights to formerly enslaved black people were undermined by the United States Supreme Court’s rulings, in cases like The Slaughterhouse Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1872); United States v. Reese, 92 U.S. 214 (1875); and United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876) (Lartey & Morris 2018) .  It wasn’t long thereafter that Northern politicians retreated from the most significant and key pillar of Reconstruction: the commitment to protect freed black people. This unfortunate pivot resulted in the collapse of reconstruction soon thereafter while opening wide the door for cultural influences across the nation that bitterly opposed racial equality and once again this was especially true in the South. Continue reading

Violence Against Blacks in America, Part 1

Young African American boy singing as part of a church choir

Vincent D. Jennings graduated in May 2020 from the University of Alabama with a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology. In the Fall of 2019 he began an in-depth study on America’s history of racial violence as part an independent study course with REL’s Prof. Theodore Trost — which culminated in this four-part series.

In that land…, that land…, that land…, in that great BIG BEAUTIFUL land…
Lord you know I will fare better in that land….

Sitting on the first pew of the church as an eight-year-old I recall the words of this song vividly, as the congregation sang on Sunday mornings. As the son of a pastor I was practically born in the church sanctuary, so my memories are rich and vibrant from those early years. I recall how the congregation would rock and sway as voices would bellow the words of this song, particularly the lyrics: “great BIG BEAUTIFUL land.”  I remember being proud that I knew all the words as I sang along with the adults. It mattered very little that I didn’t fully understand the lyrics. The only thing that mattered was the shared sense of harmony permeating the room that seemed to transcend music. Continue reading

Taking a Knee as a Performative Social Site

Football players kneeling during the national anthem

Christopher Hurt is an REL alum who works in tech in Los Angeles. He is best known for his work with the rock ‘n’ roll group, Jamestown Pagans.

To put it lightly, things are going on.

Whether you’re affiliated with The University of Alabama or not, you’ve likely noticed that there’s a lot happening in the country. And while so much of it may seem like new territory (I don’t think I’ve been in the midst of a pandemic before), there’s potentially some familiarity to the picture if you’re looking at it through your academic eye. Continue reading

True or False or a Mix of Both? The Dissonance of the Gospels presented in Galatia

Rebekah Pearson ’22 is a Religious Studies-Dance Performance double major. In Prof. Newton’s Introduction to the New Testament course, she examined Paul’s Letter to the Galatians as an artifact of competing social definitions. This essay was part of her group’s Bible in Culture zine. Learn more in the firstsecond, third, and fourth posts of the series. 

Imagine this: You have been running for over an hour and you finally make it to what you think is the finish line of your first 10K. But wait! There is no finish line and no crowd cheering you on. All of a sudden you realize that at some point along the way you have made a wrong turn. Now not only are you lost, but you also have to turn around and backtrack to the starting line, only to re-run the entire race. In the biblical Epistle to the Church at Galatia, commonly known as “Galatians,” the recipients of Paul’s letter must have felt similarly. As the people of Galatia are being told many versions of what being a part of the new Christian collective means, Paul, in his epistle to the church at Galatia, rebukes the false teachings that are being spread and reminds his churches of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He establishes not only his authority, but also the authority of the message of faith he preaches so that the Galatians can be certain that they are not living their lives in vain.

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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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We Can’t Leave Tesla Alone

Montenegrin monument to Nikola Tesla

Madeleine Lewis graduated from UA in 2017 with degrees Religious Studies and Applied Mathematics. She is now teaching English and Computer Science in Montenegro with the Fulbright Program.

This past September, Elon Musk tweeted, “Finally, we will do Nikola Tesla proud by having his cars in his countries of origin!” This claim about beginnings, coupled with the fact that I have lived in what some people assert to be Tesla’s singular country of origin for over a year, sparked my curiosity as a scholar of religion.

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Introducing Dr. Edith Szanto

Title card for Prof. Szanto's interview

Dr. Edith Szanto joined REL just this past August, coming to us after working for several years at the American University of Iraq, in Sulaimani. Now partway into her first semester, she’s been teaching an introductory course on Islam and, in the Spring, will be teaching REL 100 Introduction to the Study of Religion along with an upper-level seminar on the way Islam has been conceptualized in Europe and North America.

Thanks again to REL grad Andie Alexander and REL major Kyle Ashley
for their movie-making skills.

The Sacred is the Profane

The other day I was looking at UVA’s podcast, now with several episodes (give it a listen), and couldn’t help but notice a nice example of a theoretical and methodological fracture point in the field, one which likely prompts people to pick a side when doing their work.

For although I agree that “the sacred is the profane,” Bill Arnal and I didn’t quite have this sense of the phrase in mind when picking a title for a set of essays that we collected together and published a few years ago. Continue reading