Profs. Simmons and Altman Talk About the New MA Degree

Have you heard about the Religions Studies Project? It’s a great website and podcast based out of the United Kingdom. This week they are featuring a podcast episode with Profs. Mike Altman and Merinda Simmons all about our new Religion in Culture master’s degree program.

Give it a listen and learn about our new program. We’re still accepting applications!

 

Making Sense of a Sabbatical

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In my Introduction to Religious Studies course, my students think a lot about “making the strange familiar and familiar strange.” With those lessons in mind, I thought I’d make a bit more familiar for students who won’t see me as much in the Spring a practice that happens within the academy—the sabbatical. After being awarded tenure (typically in year 5 or 6), professors can apply for a sabbatical by outlining a specific research project that would benefit from some time away from campus. The project I described in my own proposal is my second single-author scholarly monograph. But, of course, there are always multiple projects at different stages in the works—or, as a colleague put it to me years ago, various pots simmering at higher and lower temperatures on the same stove. I’ve found I’m far more productive and enjoy writing more when I’m working on a few things at once instead of trying to move through projects and ideas linearly. Going into next semester’s sabbatical, I currently have three proverbial pots simmering:

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#RELResearch: Professors Simmons, Loewen, and Altman Publish Together

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If you pick up the most recent issue of the venerable journal Method and Theory in the Study of Religion you will find three essays from REL faculty discussing the recently published Norton Anthology of World Religion. Rather than a simple review of the multivolume work, the essays from Merinda Simmons, Nathan Loewen, and Mike Altman consider what the publication of the anthology means for the larger field of religious studies. Each essay puts the anthology into a larger context of how scholars research and teach about religion. Curious what they said? Abstracts and links for the essays are below.

“Canon Fodder” by Merinda Simmons

This brief review of The Norton Anthology of World Religions uses the anthology as an occasion to consider the poststructuralist analytical offerings of what came to be known as the canon wars in literary studies, suggesting that the academic field of religious studies would be well-served to engage in its own canon wars. Doing so would begin to deconstruct in productive ways the protectionist and/or descriptive stance too many scholars of religion have in relation to their objects of study.

“Teaching by Production Rather Than Products” by Nathan Loewen

The classroom has potential to be the most common context for the dissemination of method and theory in religious studies. Scholars have the ability to perform scholarly competencies in their teaching venues such as providing evidentiary support, taking stock of methodological concerns, and demonstrating familiarity with current trends in criticism within the field, just to name a few. Those who take seriously critical moves in the field, furthermore, might see the dialogical self-consciousness and an attention to structures to be shared primary interests for critical theory and contemporary pedagogy. All too often, and problematically, the competencies applied in scholarship are separated from teaching. Research is seen as “real work” (e.g., publications and conference papers) and, for many, teaching merely serves those practical ends. With this problematic dichotomy in mind, the publishing of The Norton Anthology of World Religions (NAWR) is sadly not surprising in the year 2015. When critical scholarship is withheld from pedagogical tools (like an anthology), the demonstrable lack of scholarly competency and disciplinary aptitude in Jack Miles’ preface and introduction to the NAWR remains unremarkable (particularly since he claims to address religious studies undergraduates and their professors). Miles not only presents the NAWR as a means by which “international world religions should be allowed to speak to you in their own words” (Miles 2015: li) but he also prescribes—as supposedly prior to theoretical commitments—the method of “secular, neutral comparative study of religion” (41) through the “fine art of page flipping” (lvii) as the original and best practice for the study of religion. Miles’ failures as a critic and as a pedagogue merely reflect the presumption that students need only interact with the superstructures of higher education and not be let in on the processes that create scholarship. This essay will outline this problematic vis-à-vis the preface and introduction to the NAWR in order to highlight the role a critical study of religion should play in our teaching.

“Where Did This Box of Books Come From?” by Mike Altman

The publication of The Norton Anthology of World Religions and the subsequent massive free exam copy mailing campaign by W. W. Norton requires an explanation. Why does the field of religious studies need such an anthology? What has led us to the place where such an anthology even makes sense? This essay examines the explanations General Editor Jack Miles gives for why The Norton Anthology of World Religions arrived in faculty mailboxes all over the country in the spring of 2015.

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4 Tips For Applying to Graduate School from Dr. Simmons

Snippet GradOn Monday, April 13th, the Religious Studies Student Association hosted an event where undergraduates gleaned insights about the ins and outs of applying to graduate school from the department’s very own Dr. Micheal Altman, Dr. Matthew Bagger, and Dr. Vaia Touna! In case you missed the event, Dr. Merinda Simmons has listed some advice of her own below! Continue reading

The Department is Winning the Internet Today

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The Department has taken over the Marginalia Review of Books today. The popular site for reviews of work in religious studies is currently featuring interviews with both Prof. Merinda Simmons and me, Prof. Mike Altman.

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#LoungeTweets: Dr. Simmons Tweets from the REL Lounge on Tuesday

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It’s that time again. No, not exam time. It’s time for live tweets from the REL lounge! Take a break from the studying and see what’s going on with one of our amazing faculty members as they hang out in the REL lounge and think deep thoughts.

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No, that’s not right. Use #LoungeTweets. Dr. Merinda Simmons will hang out in the lounge from 2:00-3:00 on Tuesday Dec. 9 to answer questions, tweet about what’s happening in the lounge, and let us know what she’s up to lately. Follow her at @MerindaSimmons.

Follow the conversation at #LoungeTweets. Don’t miss it!

ar·ti·facts with Prof. Simmons

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The latest video in our second season of ar·ti·facts has been uploaded. This episode features Dr. Simmons and her Jane Austen action figure, a memento of days gone by.

ar·ti·facts: A Memento of Departments Past with Prof. Merinda Simmons from UA Religious Studies on Vimeo.

A Good Book with Prof. Simmons

 

 

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The latest video in our newest series, A Good Book, is now on Vimeo. This episode features Prof. Merinda Simmons discussing the influence of Judith Butler’s book Gender Trouble.

Meet the Press

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Our own Dr. Merinda Simmons recently published a book, titled Changing the Subject: Writing Women Across the African Diaspora. In this post, she sat down for an interview to discuss the book, her work, and its relations to the academic study of religion.

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UA at SECSOR

This past weekend, several faculty members and one former student presented research and networked with colleagues at the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion (SECSOR) Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Andie Alexander, a recent grad and office worker extraordinaire, presented a paper entitled “Shifting the Focus: Understanding the Teller Behind the Tale” for a Method and Theory in the Study of Religion undergraduate research panel.

Dr. Finnegan presented a paper entitled “The Digital Discourses of Muslim Environmentalist,” which tracked the construction of the terms environment, environmentalist, and Islam. She was also appointed co-chair of the Islam section.

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To help lead a conversation on Ronald Neal’s Democracy in 21st Century America: Race, Class, Religion, and Region, Dr. Simmons presented her thoughts on authenticity and identity.

On Saturday, Dr. Ramey finished his tenure as the President of SECSOR.  He also shared many of the exciting things that we do in the department, like buttons, blogs, and Facebook as part of “What Will You Do With That? A Workshop on Encouraging Majors and Enrollments.”