Grad Tales is Back!

Interviewed by Kim Davis (BA 2003), Jennifer Alfano Nelson (BA 2007) was the Department’s guest at the first Grad Tales of the new year, held in the Ferguson Student Union last night. Now hosted by the Department’s recently-formed Alumni Liaison Committee (of which both Jennifer and Kim are members), Grad Tales is an ongoing series that dates to 2013-14 when alums were first invited back, to meet with current students and to discuss their careers and how, in hindsight, they now saw their time at UA — the courses they took, the choices they made, and the relevance of it all now that they’re out in the so-called real world. Continue reading

Grad Tales is Back

Back in the 2013-14 school year we started a new series, Grad Tales, aimed to bring REL grads back to campus to meet with current students — likely students in our 100-level courses who major in everything from engineering and business to social work and nursing. Knowing how many students aren’t sure what they’re going to do in their lives, what major to declare, and how a career will or won’t develop after they graduate, our goal was to invite back a variety of grads who have done a variety of things, hoping to convey the message that an undergrad degree opens the doors onto all sorts of different futures. While we know that some of our students are pretty interested in the study of religion itself, we find that even our majors and minors end up doing lots of different things (as our guests at Grad Tales make plain), so we hoped that members of our student association would come too. Always scheduled in the evening, a faculty member sat up front (like Prof. Ramey, above, with Ben Simmons [BA 2009], back in February of 2014; Ben’s the VP of Engineering for Sworkit, a fitness app), interviewed them and then directed traffic once the questions began.

And, sure, we also served cookies and some pretty good punch.

Since inventing this series, which has so far mostly hosted nearby alums, we’ve had 14 grads come back to campus, people who are now working in business, teachers, lawyers, social workers, doctors, researchers, etc. And our 15th — Jennifer Alfano Nelson — is this coming Wednesday night (7 pm, in the Ferg’s Anderson Room). Graduating as an English/Religious Studies double major, she left working a middle school English teacher after 7 years and learned to code, now working in Birmingham as a software developer. So we’re looking forward to what she can tell us about everything from declaring majors to changing careers and hitting the books again long after graduation.

Something new about Grad Tales this year is that our recently formed Alum Liaison Committee has gotten involved — so we’re really happy to report that, from here on out, they’re our hosts, helping us to identify our guests and interview them. So Kim Davis (BA 2003, REL and French), who is a French teacher at Tuscaloosa County High School and who was also our first Grad Tales guest, will be our host Wednesday night. And, working with Prof. Vaia Touna, they’re already planning the Spring event.

And yes, there will be cookies and punch.

There and Back Again: A Grad’s Tale

What can you do with a degree in Religious Studies or the humanities? Have questions about what happens after graduation? Come find out from a successful REL graduate. Join us on Wednesday, September 26 for our Grad Tales event! Jennifer Alfano Nelson is a Religious Studies graduate who will be discussing her undergraduate degrees (English and Religious Studies) earned from UA in 2007.

 

Jennifer went on to earn a M.A. in Education at UAB and taught middle school English from 2010-2017, and she is now a member of the Alum Liaison Committee. During this time, she developed an interest in educational technology and software development and decided to learn to code, receiving a scholarship to Flatiron School’s Web Developer program from Women Who Code. She is now a software developer at Quantalytix, Inc. in Birmingham, AL. She also gets to combine her passion for education and technology as a Microsoft TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) volunteer, co-teaching an introduction to computer science course at Tarrant High School.

Meet Jennifer…

 

Jennifer’s host in the event will be Kim Davis also an REL grad and member of the Alum Liaison Committee.

Tales from the Secondary Classroom: Discovering Normative Vocabulary

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By Kim Davis
Kim earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and French from
the University of Alabama in 2003. She went on to earn her
Masters in French Linguistics and Literature in 2007 and
a Masters in Secondary Language Pedagogy in 2010,
both from UA. Kim now teaches French and Mythology
at Tuscaloosa County High School.

A while back, I wrote about how an early morning Culture on the Edge Facebook post and subsequent conversation with one of its members helped me to think deeper about one of my classroom lessons. Well, that same post inspired me to create a new lesson for my unit on Asian mythology in which I would ask my students to think about the ways normative language would influence the way they construct knowledge of things they are learning for the first time.

I often complain that students in secondary classrooms are not challenged unless they are taking an AP class. My mythology class is composed of a wide range of grade levels, 9-12, with students who are taking a full course of advanced and AP classes to regular classes. While many teachers might argue that the lesson I provided is college-level ideas and therefore not cognitively appropriate for students in regular classes, I have never subscribed to that belief. My students proved me correct.

I started the class by showing them an article from the BBC on the history of Tibet and pointed out how the words used to describe Tibet were very positive and the words used to describe the Chinese government were negative. Then, we read the Culture on the Edge post by Craig Martin and defined the term normative vocabulary. After that, each group read a different NPR article about Buddhism and folk religion in China. I asked each group to highlight words when they felt they were being used normatively and sort them into positive and negative columns. Finally, I asked them to answer the following questions:

  1. How is this article presenting the religion described?
  2. Who benefits from the way the religion is being described?
  3. If this article was the only time you have ever read anything about this religion, what would you think about it? Would you accept this article as fact without questioning the description or the agenda behind the words being used?

My students did a fantastic job of picking out the normative vocabulary and identifying the ways in which it created a positive and negative view of religion in China, the Chinese government, and their relationship. They also did an outstanding job of predicting who benefitted from the articles’ descriptions. Some of the best responses to question three are as follows:

Beijing Finds Common Cause with Chinese Buddhists

“I would think that Buddhists are greedy and money-hungry.”

“I would think that this group of people [Buddhist monks] were a bunch of savages who learned [to fix] their wrong ways with the help of the Chinese government.”

In age-old Buddhist scripture, help for modern woes

“That it is a happy and peaceful religion.”

China’s Leaders Harness Folk Religion for Their Aims

“I would think of the religion as beautiful and joyful because of the words chosen…But the author made the Chinese government seem greedy and only interested in making proceeds off of the local’s religion.”

So, what have I concluded from this two day activity? That secondary students of all levels are completely capable of performing the type of critical analysis that is typically reserved for undergraduate students. I have to send many thanks to Craig Martin for the initial article that gave me two ideas, to Russell McCutcheon for helping me network with the group, and to Steven Ramey for helping me locate the articles and answering questions about the ideas I was exploring. I look forward to incorporating more of the content and ideas from the Culture on the Edge group into my mythology curriculum.

Photo credit: Tibet-5573 by Dennis Jarvis CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

Too Hard, Too Soft, Just Right

courtdecisionI’ve seen some comments on social media about this recent court decision — click the image to read about it. (If you don’t know much about Pastafarianism then go here.) As a scholar of religion interested not so much in studying religion but, rather, in studying those who use the term to accomplish practical social work (by classifying this or that as religion [or not!]), I admit that I can be a little disappointed when I see other scholars of religion chime in about such decisions. For by failing to see the term “religion” as a rhetorical device, as a tool some people use to manage social life by naming,  distinguishing, and then ranking assorted items, scholars often unwittingly enter into debates over what religion really is (or isn’t).

And, in the process, they make themselves data for people like me. Continue reading

The Teacher Who Went on to Facebook and Came Back with an Insight

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By Kim Davis
Kim earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and French from
the University of Alabama in 2003. She went on to earn her
Masters in French Linguistics and Literature in 2007 and
a Masters in Secondary Language Pedagogy in 2010,
both from UA. Kim now teaches French and Mythology
at Tuscaloosa County High School.

The other morning I logged onto Facebook for some mindless scrolling while I drank my morning coffee. A post by Craig Martin from Culture on the Edge caught my attention.

The following conversation then ensued. Continue reading

The Effects of “Bad Religion”

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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 M.A. in Religious Studies at CU Boulder. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.

Many of you may be following, or at least aware of, Rowan, KY county clerk Kim Davis denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the recent Supreme Court ruling (on June 26, 2015) that legalized same-sex marriage across the United States. In the days following Davis’s refusal to cooperate, I have seen a lot of “bad religion” claims being made on social media and news media sites — i.e., claims by some that she exhibits an improper or inauthentically religious position. It has also since come out in the press that Davis has been married four times and had an affair with one man whom she eventually married. So what strikes me as interesting are the types of reactions and articles I have seen while scrolling through Facebook, seeking to invalidate her: she’s a hypocrite, she’s playing fast and loose with the Bible, her “personal beliefs” are infringing on others’, as a divorcée and adulterer she has no moral high ground — the list goes on. Continue reading

What Teachers Need

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Kim Davis earned her B.A. in French and Religious Studies from the University of Alabama in 2003. She went on to get her Masters in French Linguistics and Literature in 2007 and a Masters in Secondary Language Pedagogy in 2010, both from UA. Kim now teaches French and Mythology at Tuscaloosa County High School.

I recently attended the annual conference of a K-12 teacher professional organization. I hoped to gain some urgently needed CEUs (continuing education credits), but I also hoped to confront the serious issues facing public education today through engaging seminars.

I was sadly mistaken.

Continue reading

Les petits pas: A Response to Baby Steps

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By Kim Davis
Kim Davis earned her B.A. in French and Religious Studies from the University of Alabama in 2003. She went on to get her Masters in French Linguistics and Literature in 2007 and a Masters in Secondary Language Pedagogy in 2010, both from UA. Kim now teaches French and Mythology at Tuscaloosa County High School.

I recently have gone through a period of questioning how much I have been able to accomplish in my job as a French teacher in a local high school.  When I interviewed for the job, I eagerly told my prospective bosses how I looked forward to the challenges of building a French program from the ground-up and even called upon my experience helping to re-invent the Department for examples of what I could accomplish. Continue reading