Announcing the 2019 American Examples Participants

Earlier this fall we announced a new working group for early career scholars of religion in America, American Examples. Thanks to funding from REL and the College of Arts and Sciences we will be hosting 6 participants on campus for a workshop that will produce an anthology of new papers taking a new approach to the study of religion in America.

We are happy and excited to announce the participants in the inaugural year of the working group:

For more information about the participants,
check out the American Examples website.


More Isn’t Necessarily Better: Some Thoughts on the Job Search Process

Another job search season is upon us and, not yet knowing if our Department will be lucky enough to search for a new tenure track line (this year I submitted requests for two, in fact), I thought I’d offer a little unsolicited advice to people on the job market (and simultaneously solicit anyone else with experience on search committees in our field to contact me to consider writing a guest blog for our site, reflecting on these very issues from their point of view).

In case it doesn’t go without saying, let me me clear: the advise is idiosyncratic (for this is how I see things) but, for people on the other side of all those online application systems, maybe it’ll still provide a helpful insight into how at least some people go about the work of finding a new colleague.

Continue reading

Publication News

We just got word that a paper co-written by Sierra Lawson (entering the second year of her M.A. in our Department) and Prof. Steven Ramey has been accepted to be published in the coming year in UK peer review journal Culture & Religion.

What’s it on?

Sourcing Stereotypes: Constructing and Challenging Simplified Knowledge


The social media uproar in Fall 2017 over a nursing textbook chart that presented generalized characterizations of minority groups generated an assumption that medical training needs more Religious Studies expertise. Analyzing the sources that the chart cited, we trace the authors’ assertions to studies of varying quality and identify several specific processes involved in simplifying knowledge for dissemination, as the authors disregarded the limits of each specific study and ignored counter-evidence or otherwise evaded critical scrutiny. Comparing this example to examples from world religions discourse illustrates both differences and similarities in the process of constructing simplified presentations. While both presumably developed out of good intentions, they generate significant problems in their effort to shape material to support larger arguments. Thus, scholars across disciplines should critique and complicate their own processes for generating simplified knowledge.


Notes on Surviving and/or Flourishing in Graduate School

Mark Ortiz (far left) graduated from the University of Alabama in May 2015 with degrees in Religious and Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Geography at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he studies the connections between global climate politics and ethics.

Survival…, what a dreary thought. As a climate change researcher, the concept of survival calls to mind dystopian images of underground bunkers, moribund ecosystems, and tough political trade-offs. Graduate school, while taxing, is (or should be) considerably less miserable and trying than these apocalyptic scenarios.

That said, graduate school is difficult. I’ve found it helpful during my short tenure to mine the wisdom of people who have been through it before – professors and colleagues further along in my program especially. Here, I offer a couple of the lessons I’ve learned during my first three semesters of graduate school which will hopefully have resonance beyond the walls of the academy: Continue reading

Aim High…?

jobtalkI was at one of the field’s doctoral schools a while back, to give a talk, and heard from a couple sources — both grad students repeating what they’d been told as well as from a faculty member — that the primary purpose for students to be enrolled in graduate school (or perhaps at that particular one) was “to write a field-changing dissertation.” Sure, being professionalized as a grad student, such as accumulated publications of your own and gaining teaching experience, can be important but, or so it was claimed, that can distract from your primary purpose: to write a field-changing dissertation.

I admit that I found this rationale a little odd. Even risky. Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 3: Do No Harm

hippocraticoath This is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

The previous post — concerned with a group of Academy members who, I argued, are necessarily absent from the draft statement on responsibilities (why necessarily? If they were explicitly acknowledged it would likely undermine our ability, as an Academy, to advocate for academic freedom) — was implicitly about the lack of systematicity of this draft document. Although I am, of course, unaware of what the committee discussed, what they produced and distributed does not suggest they itemized a complete list of the groups to which they think a researcher owes something (i.e., has responsibilities). After all, church hierarchies are oddly absent from the document despite many members within our big tent surely working in private religiously-affiliated schools that sometimes require faculty to sign and follow a statement of faith (which likely has a direct impact on what they teach and study). But acknowledging this to be one such constituency likely undermines some of the ways that the AAR seeks to authorize itself as an academic organization.

The absence of self-awareness for what, in principle and in practice, the Academy is therefore seems to be a strategic necessity to make a document such as this work. Continue reading

“Nobody’s Gonna Go Out With Me…”

onthecouchThis blog was started in our Department back in May 2012, anticipating the 2012-13 academic year’s lecture series that had four different guests all focus on the relevance of the Humanities — a national debate here in the US for decades but one that was obviously heightened in the face of the 2008 economic collapse both here and abroad. The Department, under then Chair Ted Trost, decided to tackle this head on. And so I started posting periodically on why I think the Humanities (or, more broadly, the Liberal Arts) remain relevant. Continue reading

Get Ready to Run


While working on a Masters degree, I recall an early-career professor in whose office a friend and I would regularly meet for one of our classes. As I recall, he was still working on finishing his own Ph.D. at the time and on his wall he had nicely mounted a large piece of interesting-looking driftwood, all gnarly and weathered, which had been signed by a bunch of people. One day we asked what it was. He replied with a story that, as I recall it now, went something like this: Continue reading

The Proclaimers

proclaimingI’ve seen a lot of early career people teaching — of course, I was once one of them, like us all, back when, at the University of Tennessee in the early 1990s, I would write out entire lectures the day or night before and then read them each class, sticking closely to my text — and they unfortunately share a trait with some of their older, supposedly experienced colleagues: they’re proclaimers. Sitting at the back of a classroom, during the typical practice teaching moment for a job interview (something we require in our Department, along with a research presentation and a variety of other steps that comprise the typical on-campus job interview today), I’ve heard my share of candidates talk about methodological this and ontological that, hierophanies abound as do ideologies, and liminalities, and transcendental epistemologies, not to mention some post-structuralist ennui. But in the midst of the technical vocabulary I often find people who do not yet know how to teach but who, instead, are equipped only to tell people what they themselves already happen to know.

In a word, they’re proclaimers. Continue reading