The Rabbi and the Lawyer

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Khortlan Patterson is a Junior at the University of Alabama majoring in Religious Studies and African American Studies. She is interested in education reform and minority academic achievement. This post was originally written for Dr. Rollens’ course, REL 360: Popular Culture/Public Humanities.

A Serious Man is a film detailing a series of unfortunate life events of a Jewish man, Larry Gopnik. Many of us find ourselves in similar messes where we look for or actively commission others, who we consider qualified and informed, to make meaning of our lives. This film addresses this common practice in a satirical manner, which prompts us to be more aware of who we authorize to make meaning for us.

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Just Look at That Parking Lot

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Catie Stewart is a sophomore at the University of Alabama from Madison, Mississippi. She is double majoring in English and Religious Studies and minoring in Psychology. This post was originally written for Dr. Rollens’ course, REL 360: Popular Culture/Public Humanities.

I recently watched the film A Serious Man for REL 360, and as the plot unfolded, I found myself wondering: What is going on? The storyline is riddled with seemingly disastrous events that all lead up to the movie’s finish, which does not appear to actually resolve any sort of conflict. At first, my reaction to the ending was one of surprise and dissatisfaction; I couldn’t understand why the plot would lead up to this huge climax and then simply cut to the credits with no explanation. In fact, it seemed to me that the entire movie had no meaning at all and was simply a random representation of the main character’s experiences.

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“It’s what makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving.”

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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.

With Thanksgiving upon us, television commericals have been selling holiday food and related items. The closer Thanksgiving got, more and more ads for sweet potatoes, turkey, cranberry sauce, etc., starting popping up on TV. That’s no surprise, right? It’s a day of family, eating, football, eating… Did I say eating? So a lot of preparation goes into planning and hosting Thanksgiving dinner. It can be somewhat chaotic. We’ve all had some version of the “I forgot the cream of mushroom soup!” moment of running to the grocery only to find they’ve sold out.

But of the commercials I’ve seen, the one that sticks in my mind the most is the Stouffer’s pilgrim commercial. Take a look…

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Self-Help Jesus in America

Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel

By Allie Rash
Allie Rash is a rising senior double majoring in Mathematics and Religious Studies. She hails from Franklin, TN, but calls North Carolina and Kansas home as well.  This Spring Allie completed an independent study with Prof. Mike Altman on ideas of self-help in American Protestantism. In this post she reviews the final book they read together, Kate Bowler’s Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. This post originally appeared on Allie’s independent study blog, Self-Help Jesus.

The final book we read for this semester is called Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel by Kate Bowler. And, as the title assures, it made for a beautiful finish to my quest. In my first post I laid out three questions I would try to keep in mind during this semester and they were: Continue reading

Paradise Lost

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By Colin McElvenny
Colin McElvenny graduated from The University of Alabama in 2011 with a double major in Religious Studies and Psychology. Currently, he lives in Hawaii on the island of Oahu teaching biology and human physiology at Leilehua High School.

I’ll be honest. When I was first offered a position teaching biology and human physiology in Hawaii, a few thoughts came to mind instantaneously. The first being, “Thank god I got placed in paradise”. Quickly that notion was overrun by the idea, “I was a religious studies major, how the heck will I be able to teach biology and physiology?” Continue reading

“It Doesn’t Matter What I Say”

On p. 3, near the opening of the late Frits Staal’s classic essay, “The Meaningless of Ritual” (Numen [1979] 26: 2-22), he wrote:

Picture 2Contrary to how most of us see it, for Staal, ritual was not referential, i.e., it’s not that one does this because it means this or represents that. While the meaning surely comes later, in hindsight, often taught to us by others, when one is doing ritual one is instead obsessed with sheer form, not content; one simply works to follow the rules because, well…, they are the rules. Continue reading

Can I Order the Authentic Dish, Please?

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By Wesley Davidson
Wesley Davidson is a senior Religious Studies major and Judaic Studies minor from Dothan, Alabama. He plans to continue his study of religion in culture at the graduate level and is currently playing the waiting game after finishing the application process.

Recently while perusing The Huffington Post I came across an interesting article titled, “10 Common Food Terms That Have Lost All Meaning.” The article’s main concern is how certain food classifiers such as authentic and natural have been overused and in the author’s opinion have “lost all meaning” as a result. The problem seems to be that we can no longer trust a company when they advertise their product as such because they have used descriptive terms that some deem to be inappropriate or misleading. We encounter this all the time when choosing which restaurant to go to or what item on the menu best suits our current tastes. Continue reading

Deep Impact

I remember a speaker who would hold the vowels in the first syllable of the word “meaning”–saying “meeee-ning”–signalling to the audience, I guess, that he really, really meant it, much like those who don’t just mean something, like when they extend either their good wishes or deep sympathies, but, instead add that they “sincerely mean” this or that. When it comes to the word “meaning,” I’ve noticed that lots of people do this in my academic field (the study of religion); often associating a hand gesture with this linguistic affectation: some sort of reaching out, maybe the hand slightly opened upward, as if loosely cupping and then displaying a precious object–somehow trying to signal, I gather, the extra mile that they are going to convey the significance of their words. But, despite the highlighting that they behaviorally give to their words, they are, after all, just words–sounds produced by the body and decoded (or encoded?) by ears and brains. Yet somehow, as listeners, we tend to think that they are actually meaningful, sounds and characters on a page or a computer screen that somehow carry this thing we call meaning (for example, did you notice my choice of “convey” two sentences ago? Much as when we “speak from the heart”…). As I’ve often told my students, you can’t hear or read your own language and not “hear” and “see” it as language, as having a meaning. Continue reading