REL 360 Presents: 12 Monkeys

REL 360–our one-credit-hour course–will be showing the 1995 film 12 Monkeys. In the year 2035, only 1% of humanity’s population remains in the aftermath of a deadly virus. James Cole (played by Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to unearth the origin of the virus and thwart it before it can become the deadliest epidemic of his time. Continue reading

REL 360 Presents: The Gods Must Be Crazy

REL 360–our one credit hour course–will be showing the 1980s comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy. After a glass Coca-Cola bottle is thrown from a passing plane into Kalahari bushmen territory, the supposed gift from the gods soon turns the tribe against one another, (since there is only one glass bottle to go around). Xi, the film’s protagonist, takes it upon himself to travel to the ends of the earth to dispose of the ludicrous gift and finds himself in an assortment of absurd adventures along the way. Continue reading

REL 360 Movie Night: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

REL 360, our one credit hour course, is kicking off the spring semester by showing O Brother, Where Art Thou? The film (which has been compared to Homer’s The Odyssey) is set in the deep South during the Depression-era and follows the antics of three escaped convicts on their quest to avoid the law and return home. Continue reading

Attention Budding Religious Studies Scholars


    Fragonard, A Young Scholar (Wallace Collection)

“Thoughts are the precious seeds of which our universities should be the botanical gardens.  Beware when God lets loose a thinker on the world—either Carlyle or Emerson said that—for all things then have to rearrange themselves.  But the thinkers in their youth are almost always very lonely creatures.  ‘Alone the great sun rises and alone spring the great streams.’  The university most worthy of rational admiration is that one in which your lonely thinker can feel himself least lonely, most positively furthered, and most richly fed.”

–William James, “The True Harvard” (1903)

Before loosing you on an unsuspecting world, the Religious Studies Department wishes to cultivate your thoughts in the manner James extolls.  With hopes of furthering your ideas most positively, richly feeding your research, and providing stimulating intellectual companionship, we invite you to participate in the Department’s 4th Annual Religious Studies Undergraduate Research Symposium. Continue reading

REL 360 Presents: Bend it Like Beckham


REL 360–our one credit hour course–will be ending the semester with the film Bend It Like Beckham. The film’s protagonist, Jesminder “Jess” Bhamra, is obsessed with football (more aptly known as soccer in the U.S.), but her fascination with the sport doesn’t align with her parents’ traditional ideas of a young woman’s future. When she joins a soccer team, tensions worsen within her family and she must chose between following her parents’ wishes or pursuing her passion. Continue reading

REL 360 Presents Lilies of the Field

Lilies of the Field

REL 360–our one credit hour course–is hosting yet another movie night! To follow this semester’s theme on Democracy, Race, and Religion, the course will be screening Lilies of the Field. The 1963 film focuses on Homer Smith (also known affectionately as Schmidt) who stops for water in a small farm in Arizona and ends up drawn into a lengthy endeavor by Mother Maria and her fellow nuns to build a church for the impoverished community. What begins as a battle of biblical quotes between the two hard-headed protagonists over the simple matter of payment for his work ends in a project that forever changes the people involved.

The screening is open to everyone!

(Even if you’re not in the class!)

WHAT? REL 360 is a one-credit course designed to show four films throughout the semester that will provoke discussion about what exactly takes place when the humanities and popular culture collide.

WHEN? Thursday, February 18th @ 6:00 pm

WHERE? 203 Garland Hall

WHY? To broaden your horizons! The film allows the viewers insights into the backdrop of race and religion in 1960s America. It’s also free to see!

WHAT ELSE? Anyone can attend! If you decide you like the class, you can email Professor Bagger ( for more information on the course, or visit the REL website.

Hope to see you there!


Enlightening or Entertaining: Kumaré


By Vincent M. Hills

 Vincent M. Hills is a now graduate of the University of Alabama who majored in History with a minor in Religious Studies. The following was written for REL 360: Popular Culture/Public Humanities

 Kumaré is a very interesting “documentary”, but for many different reasons than most documentaries.  The film did not wow viewers with interesting facts or show picturesque landscapes, it did however show a side of Western culture that is often the brunt of criticism from many people, but never actually investigated. Vikram Gandhi was a typical American kid who begrudged the way his family tried to impose their Hindu beliefs and practices on him. A few years after graduating college, Gandhi decided to see how easy it would be to pretend to be a guru from the Far East, and actually have people listen to him. The documentary details his experience. From the perspective of a religious studies scholar, the film provides a plethora of thought provoking scenes.

When Vikram Gandhi transforms into “Kumaré”, it’s comical, but eventually the act takes on a seriousness no one could have seen coming. Gandhi’s original question of whether fabricated spirituality would incite a placebo effect among the people he interacted with was quickly diminished. It was obvious that people believed he was genuine, not only because he looked the part, but also because he seemed like a very introspective and genuine person. Apart from the other people who claimed they were gurus, many of the people who “fell” for Kumaré’s trick, were all at a point in life where they were seeking some type of help. I don’t believe that this is a mere coincidence. The documentary reinforced my, and potentially many others belief that people are most vulnerable when they are emotionally unstable. The question becomes: do these people generally have areas of their lives in which they find themselves emotionally unstable, and they believe the only way they can feel better is through the power of a higher power? The answer to this question can never be effectively answered, however, it’s something people should take into account. It’s important to remember that sweating the details doesn’t make for good entertainment, the primary purpose of this film.

The larger question being asked by the documentary is does it matter that the perceived “truth” in Kumaré is actually a lie, if the elicited response mirrors those who supposedly follow “real” faiths or spiritual guides? Gandhi certainly thinks it doesn’t. Throughout the film, Kumaré speaks to his followers about finding their “inner guru”. They don’t need to look to other people, but rather, simply look inside themselves. His contention is that no guru/prophet is more real than another; some of them just believe their own lie. The question then becomes why do people, well educated, often thoughtful people, get sucked into groups not only like Kumaré’s, but also to more mainstream religions on one hand, and potentially dangerous “cults” on the other? These gurus are essentially selling their religion or philosophy. In the same way a used car salesman enamors a customer; many gurus say the right things in order to establish trust.  This is only an inherently bad thing if the person following the “act” ends up being hurt by any number of the tactics employed by the guru to gain his/her following.

Arguably the most interesting part of the documentary comes when Gandhi begins to realize how much he is being affected by his own transformation. Initially, he struggles to reveal his true identity to his followers. There seems to be lies within truth and truth within lies. Was he so invested that he actually began to believe the lie? Or was he simply overwhelmed by experiencing his initial hypothesis? Regardless of the real answers to those questions, this experiment opened the door for further investigation into this particular religious phenomenon. In the end, Kumaré poses more questions than answers, but this does not take away from its exceedingly interesting premise.

A final consideration viewers of the film should take into account when watching the film is why certain aspects of Gandhi’s experiment were shown and others not. That isn’t to say that there were any political ramifications in place, however, it’s important to remember that the film was definitely arranged in order to maximize its entertainment value. Overall, Vikram Gandhi shined a light on a subject that is a sensitive area for many people, and to his credit, he did so in the least invasive and most effective way he saw possible, and it’s reasonable to expect future research will be geared toward similar experiments.

Halleluja! REL Movie Nights are back!

Halleluja Poster

REL 360–our one credit course–is hosting its first movie night of the spring semester. We will be showing Halleluja by King Vidor. The movie–released in 1929 and the first to attempt to portray a non-stereotypical view of African American life–follows Zeke, the young male protagonist, as he breaks away from a life of sharecropping to become a minister, only to throw away his new lifestyle in order to reconnect with an old flame, and this is where the trouble truly starts. It’s a story of hardship, heartbreak, and redemption, and it’s a film you truly don’t want to miss! Continue reading

REL 360 Showing Kumare: The True Story of a False Prophet

Kumare movie poster

In this fourth and final installment of REL 360‘s semester-long movie screenings, we’ll be following American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi as he enacts a social experiment in the hopes of revealing the irrationality of blind faith. Impersonating an Indian guru, he travels through Arizona gathering followers from all walks of life. Though designed to exhibit the absurdity of blind faith, his experiment may reveal greater spiritual truths than he had set out to unearth. In order to learn what he discovers about human nature, you’ll have to stop by and find out for yourself!

Anyone can come!

(You don’t have to be in the class to enjoy a good film!)

  • WHAT? REL 360 is the new, one-credit course designed to show four films throughout the semester that will provoke discussion about what exactly takes place when the humanities and popular culture collide.
  • WHEN? November 11th @6pm.
  • WHERE? Manly 207
  • WHY? It’s fun, and a great learning experience! Plus it’s free! Take a night off, kick back, and enjoy a good movie! You deserve it!
  • WHAT ELSE? Anyone can attend! Class membership isn’t required, but this will give you a stellar opportunity to find out if this course is right for you. If it is, feel free to email Professor Bagger ( about taking the course next semester!

Hope to see you there!