Dissertation Ideas, #47

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 [1997]: 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).

Readying the Ground for Us

I’ve got some plants in my office that William Doty gave me back in 2001.

Peace lilies.

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

Agency, Structure, and the Myth of the Immaculate Perception

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National Public Radio on the weekend played a story (an interview with Neal Gabler, the author of an Atlantic article on the same topic) about how hard many in the US have it economically. Continue reading

“Who said names were supposed to be easy to say? What are you, a candy bar?”

Picture 2Students 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

“You don’t know what that means!”

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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 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)

Continue reading

Whence Mother Earth?

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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.

Continue reading

Retellings of Baridegi

Spirit_of_a_Noble_Woman_(Probably_Princess_Pari)_and_Attendant_LACMA_M.2000.15.11By: Max Hartley

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

The Modernity of History

Photo courtesy of Hoole Special Collections Library

Photo courtesy of Hoole Special Collections Library

By Andie Alexander
Andie Alexander earned her B.A. in Religious Studies and History in 2012. She currently works as a staff member in the Department as a Student Liaison and filmmaker. Andie also works as the online Curator for the Culture on the Edge blog.

The other day I stumbled across an intriguing article in The Crimson White (CW), the University of Alabama’s student newspaper, about the history of some building names at UA. Continue reading

Curios and Classrooms

20109932_BG1By Kim Davis
Kim Davis earned her B.A. in French and Religious Studies from the University of Alabama in 2003. She went on to get her Masters in French Linguistics and Literature in 2007 and a Masters in Secondary Language Pedagogy in 2010, both from UA. Kim now teaches French and Mythology at Tuscaloosa County High School.

I’m a collector. The picture above is of Kenner Star Wars action figures that I have kept until I had a house to display them in a small curio cabinet. I suppose you wonder what that has to do with my degree in Religious Studies. Much like I now display these figures, I would like to tell you how I now display the knowledge gained in the Department of Religious Studies. Continue reading