A Purpose Driven Label

"There is a misconception that Buddhism is a religion and that you worship Buddha. Buddhism is a practice like yoga. You can be a Christian and practice Buddhism" quote attributed to Thich Nhat HanhGroups often want to claim that their practices and beliefs constitute a religion. The label religion provides certain benefits, such as a protected legal status, respect in certain contexts, and often prestige. In fact, various groups like Sikhs and Jains want to see their religions included in the discussion of World Religions for the legitimacy that it affords. The image above circulating on social media lately identifies Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen monk, as making the opposite assertion, that Buddhism is not a religion. Continue reading

Loving India Back? Routine Violence and Rewriting History in a British Airways Ad

Parker Evans is a junior majoring in English and Religious Studies, with a minor in the Blount Scholars Program. This post was written for Dr. Ramey’s ​class on Religion and Identity in South Asia. 

Take a few minutes to consider the violence in this advertisement for British Airways:

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Outlawed Violation of Human Rights or Protected Religious Practice?

Given the prominence of debates over classification in my classes I’m always on the look-out for a good e.g., something useful in getting us thinking about the interests driving classification systems and their practical effects — and, perhaps, illustrating how naming something as religion plays a role in all this. Continue reading

Unnatural Groups and Protests in India

A_farmer_coming_to_field_with_bullock_cart,IndiaGroup identifications are not something inherent or automatic; they require work to construct and maintain, and that work only makes sense when those group identifications serve some interests, such as gaining access to power and resources. Currently in India, communities based on caste identification, specifically Jats in Haryana (a province in northern India near New Delhi), are protesting for special access to government jobs under the reservation system. Jats are an interesting example of a contested community, as their status in the traditional hierarchy of communities is unclear. Some claim that they are upper caste, like the Rajputs, but many Rajputs dispute that. Some suggest that they lost their upper caste status by failing to maintain upper caste rituals, yet others assert that they were Dalits (formerly untouchables) but eventually raised their status to simply low caste. Each of these status positions creates winners and losers, people who gain or lose access to status, resources, and power. Continue reading

Classroom to Conference: REL Majors Presenting Their Research

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REL is very happy to announce that two of our students have been accepted to present their research at the Southeastern regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion in March.

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Jared Powell will be presenting a paper titled “And the Beat Goes On: Imaginings and Retellings of Han Shan by Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac.” The conference paper began as a project in Dr. Ramey‘s REL 419: Tales From Asia course. In the paper, he analyzes the ways in which Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac–two Beat Generation writers–translate and retell the poetry and life of Tang Dynasty Chinese poet Han Shan. He argues that in their works, Snyder and Kerouac create an imagining of Han Shan as an ascetic Buddhist ideal that champions typical Beat emphases of playfulness, spirituality, and counterculturalism

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Sarah Griswold’s conference paper is also Asia related. Titled, “There is a Well at Cawnpore: The Politics of Commemoration in Colonial India,” her paper analyzes a memorial at a well in the Indian town of Cawnpore. The well stood as a memorial of the Siege of Cawnpore during the 1857 revolt under British colonial rule. The conference paper began as a project in Dr. Altman‘s special topics REL 483: Religion in Colonial India course (that will soon be a regular course offering in the department).

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You can find the full conference program here. You might even notice a few other REL names on the schedule.

Do you have a paper from a course that you’re proud of? Are you interested in sharing your work beyond just your professor? REL offers many opportunities to share your undergraduate research, such as this blog, the REL Honors Research Symposium, the UA Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Conference, and the regional AAR meeting. Talk to your professor about how you can present the great research you are doing in your courses!

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“You don’t know what that means!”

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By Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She is now working on her Ph.D. in American Religious Cultures at Emory University. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.

Several weeks back, I came across College Humor’s “If Gandhi Took A Yoga Class” video. In the clip, they have Gandhi challenging “western” yoga practices and understandings. Take a look… (Warning, there is some foul language)

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Science and Religion

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The relationship between the categories “science” and “religion” retains great significance within contemporary society. Exactly what that significance is, though, depends on the person’s conceptions and interests. For example, some want to emphasize the value of one over the danger of the other, while some work to bridge the apparent divide separating them. An article that a student pointed out to me last week connects the two categories by asserting scientific explanations for particular practices and traditions that the author labeled Hindu. (Thanks, Lexi.)

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A Good Book with Prof. Ramey

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The next video in our A Good Book series has been uploaded! The fifth episode of our second season features Prof. Steven Ramey and his discussion of Gyanendra Pandey’s book The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India.

A Good Book with Prof. Ramey from UA Religious Studies.

The Imagined Kashmir

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Anna Davis is a junior from Prattville, Alabama who is majoring in Geography and Religious Studies. She wrote this post as part of Dr. Steven Ramey’s course, REL 321: Religion & Identity in South Asia

The geographic area of South Asia has experienced a catastrophic series of floods in recent weeks. The region of Kashmir in particular has had a difficult time recovering from the floods in part because of the aid that was provided. People died during the floods and are now dying from disease spread by the floods. Many Kashmiris still refuse Indian intervention and relief. Food bags were dropped to the people, but the people chose to dump the food onto the ground.

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