So opens a Wikipedia article that caught my eye the other day, because of the theory of religion buried in it. For by means of a misleadingly simple parenthetical aside, one that hearkens back to a much earlier approach to understanding religion, the writer tells us a great deal about their thoughts on why people tell tales of the gods. Continue reading
On Wednesday, March 6th, the Department of Religious Studies will be hosting Prof. Ioannis Xydopoulos from Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece. His visit is part of the Alabama-Greece Initiative, a program that promotes relationships between American and Greek scholars. Beginning in 2010 and sponsored by the University of Alabama College of Arts and Sciences, the initiative encourages the exchange of students and faculty for study abroad, research, and guest lectures.
In the same spirit in which I welcome the study of the totalizing mythic endeavors, the univers imaginaires, of an Ogotemmêli or an Antonio Guzmán, I would hope, someday, to read a consonant treatment of the analogous enterprise of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics….*
So wrote Jonathan Z. Smith, in his essay “Are Theological and Religious Studies Compatible?” (originally published in The CSSR Bulletin 26 : 60-61 and then reprinted in Chris Lehrich’s edited collection On Teaching Religion [2013: 75]).
I quote it here as an intellectual provocation, to challenge us as to how we generally privilege the familiar. For whether one identifies as Christian or not, such widely-known insider technical terms as grace, sin, and salvation, along with such proper nouns as the Holy Spirit, God, or Jesus, are more than likely so familiar to most scholars of religion that they would be hard pressed to study, let’s just say, Karl Barth’s magnum opus as a work of epic mythmaking, akin to the oral or written products of cultures with which we are not so familiar.
So it’s rather improbable that we would approach Barth’s text by historicizing it, understanding it as highly coded commentary on the world of its author’s day, perhaps as practical charter for how he thought his world ought to be…. You know, the way we’d surely read comparable texts from other groups. (That some would’t see his text as comparable to those others is part of the problem, by the way….)
It would therefore be a challenge — one well worth the effort, I think — to take Smith’s brief line, above, seriously, and approach the massive Church Dogmatics as nothing more or less than a myth and to then read it accordingly.
It would be a great dissertation project.
* Ogotemmêli, an elder of the Dogon group in Mali/west Africa, provided Marcel Griaule with esoteric insider teachings for the latter’s Conversations With Ogotemmêli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas (Oxford Univ. Press, 1965); Antonio Guzmán was an enculturated Desana Indian, from the Amazon, who Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff met in the city of Bogota, Colombia; see the latter’s book, Amazonian Cosmos (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971).
I’ve got some plants in my office that William Doty gave me back in 2001.
I was thinking about that yesterday, during a memorial service for William (who passed away on January 2, 2017, at the age of 77), at which people said some kind words and told a few stories — some of which were about his passion for cooking and, yes, gardening.
When I moved into my new office, here in historic Manly Hall (once belonging to the late-Leon Weinberger), just a few doors down from the office William occupied for many years, he gave me some plants to spruce up the place. Continue reading
Did you hear the radio story this morning on folklorists attempting to explain why, all across culture, old women so often appear as evil characters in fairy tales and myths…? Continue reading
Students in REL 237 are watching Avalon this week, a 1990 film about the changes that take place within a family of early to mid-20th century Americans who, like so many of our ancestors, came to this continent from somewhere else.
“I came to America in 1914…, by way of Philadelphia. That’s where I got off the boat,” says Sam, one of the film’s protagonists, recollecting an epic past for the grandchildren.
One of the reasons that I like using the film is the chapter on it that Bruce Lincoln contributed to a 1996 collection of essays, Myth & Method. If we watch the movie then we also read the chapter afterward. Continue reading
By Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She is now working on her Ph.D. in American Religious Cultures at Emory University. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.
Several weeks back, I came across College Humor’s “If Gandhi Took A Yoga Class” video. In the clip, they have Gandhi challenging “western” yoga practices and understandings. Take a look… (Warning, there is some foul language)
John D. James is a senior at the University of Alabama majoring in Religious Studies and minoring in General Business. This book review was written for Dr. Michael J. Altman’s REL 370: Empire and the Construction of Religion course.
In Mother Earth: An American Story, Sam D. Gill begins to articulate and explain with physical evidence that the term “Mother Earth” is commonly misused and presented to audiences as some common knowledge involving Native American thought and belief. Gill takes an interesting approach when trying to carefully argue that Mother Earth is not an ancient central Native American figure. This book’s message is a radical rethinking of how the figure Mother Earth came to be used and ultimately misused by so many who failed to ask questions concerning Mother Earth’s origin.
Max Hartley is a senior studying Anthropology and Asian Studies, with a focus on East Asia. She is particularly fascinated by mythology, religion, and the influence of folk religions in the modern age, as well as shamanism in its many forms, particularly as it is practiced in Korea
The Korean myth of Bari-degi or The Abandoned Princess Bari tells the story of the first mudang, or shaman. The myth details how the young princess, abandoned at birth by her father, came to know of his sickness and used cunning and bravery to cross between the world of living and dead in order to save him. This act of traversing between worlds is what makes her the first shaman, establishing the uniquely female dominated tradition within Korea. It also touches on a common theme in Korean culture — the concept of filial piety, drawn heavily from Confucian tradition. Shamans give a voice to the marginalized, in some cases those experiencing stress or mental anguish, those who have been victimized in others, and in the case of Korea often women who were traditionally silenced under the rigid Confucian structure. Continue reading