A Lesson on Origins at #REL50th

Our 50th anniversary celebrations have come to an end (but we’ll post a fun fact each Monday for the rest of the semester) — and, if you ask me, it was a great success.

We filmed parts of it (i.e., the two faculty lectures, by Profs. Altman and Trost, and the opening to the next night’s Grad Tales panel — featuring five grads who returned to help mark the occasion [scroll down here to see who they were]); these movies are now being produced in the main office. They’ll probably be posted in a few weeks. Continue reading

#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

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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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.

Continue reading

How Not to Be a Senior Scholar

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I remember almost two years ago when American historian Edmund Morgan died. I had read Morgan’s Visible Saints as part of my doctoral exams but, not being a historian by training or researching the colonial period, I hadn’t read much else of his work. But after his death I read a lot about Morgan. I read stories from his graduate students, from his colleagues, and from scholars who had come into contact with the man one way or another. It seemed like every historian of a certain generation had some story about him.

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#LoungeTweets: The Be Sure To Feed Your Garden Gnomes Edition

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On Wednesday, Prof. Michael Altman was the first faculty member to take part in Live Tweets from the Lounge. It was a riveting hour of Twitter exchanges. Rumor has it that faculty are now fighting over who gets to hang out in the lounge next. Stay tuned for more details. Continue reading

ar·ti·facts with Prof. Altman

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The next episode in our ar·ti·facts series has been uploaded! This installment features Prof. Altman and his “filtered” photograph of the Quad. Is it Instagram or is it just old?

ar·ti·facts: The Filtered Past with Prof. Mike Altman from UA Religious Studies.

A Good Book with Prof. Altman

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The next video in our A Good Book series has been uploaded and is ready for viewing! The third installment of our newest series features Prof. Mike Altman as he discusses Richard King’s  book Orientalism and Religion, including the experience of meeting the author himself, who gave our annual Aronov Lecture last year. Enjoy!

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

A New Blog for a New Job

Picture 6Prof. Altman, who worked as an Instructor in our department in 2013-14 and who begins as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Fall of 2014, has revamped his blog.

Check it out.