The Relevance of Religious Studies is Not that We Study Religion

Students working together in the Religious Studies classroom

Jacob Barrett is a first year M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. From Colorado Springs, he earned his B.A. from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Philosophy & Religion and Biology. In the Spring he will present his research at the southeast regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion.

Junior year of my undergraduate degree, I was asked by the chair of the Religious Studies department to represent the major at an event where first year students would more-or-less speed date with different departments to start deciding what they wanted to major in. I was paired with the new Religion professor and together we set out to convince first year students to begin thinking about why participating in our department (whether that be majoring, minoring, or just taking several classes) was advantageous to them. I started with the typical “The faculty are so supportive and amazing” and “The major is pretty flexible so if you are a double major it is really easy to fit in” and “The classes are really fun and they also cover a lot of the requirements in the curriculum, so you can kill two birds with one stone by taking a course.” When the professor started his part, he said something so simple yet so important: “We teach you how to think, how to write, how to talk about things in ways that other departments don’t.”

With universities proposing cuts to Religious Studies departments becoming more and more of a regular occurrence, there is the feeling that we (those who consider ourselves members of “the field”) must defend the importance and relevance of what we do and what we offer. Religious Studies departments are often not producing majors or bringing in money in the same numbers as larger departments, so they become an easy target when universities need to find ways to save money. How, then, do we convince a university to keep our departments? Continue reading

The Uses of Symbolism

Donald Trump holding a bible in front of a boarded-up church

There are certainly those scholars of religion who will study yesterday’s episode — when a large number of peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, were dispersed by police and the national guard with tear gas, batons, and flash-bang canisters (otherwise known as stun grenades), about a half hour before a curfew went into effect, so that Donald Trump could walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church, just across the street from the park, to pose with a bible as part of a 17 minute photo-op — as an episode in the misuse of a holy object. Continue reading

Prof. Jacobs on his Writing Process

Prof. Steven Jacobs has worked in the Department of Religious Studies for nearly two decades now. As a professor and the Aaron Aronov Chair of Judaic Studies, Dr. Jacobs spends his time lecturing, researching, and especially reading and writing. Beyond his focus in biblical translation and interpretation, Jewish-Christian relations, the Holocaust, and historical and contemporary genocides, Prof. Jacobs has written and edited numerous books and articles across varying subject matters (with one work that was even translated into Japanese and Arabic). Continue reading

On Reading Each Other

Recently, a friend brought to my attention a 2015 article, by Amy Hollywood, published in Revista de Estudios Sociales, that takes issue with my work. The essay turns out to be an excerpt from what was then her forthcoming collection of essays (published in 2016).

Although none of my work is cited in the essay (perhaps it’s cited in her book?), in two footnotes I’m mentioned as being among a group who are problematic in their approach to the study of religion. While in one I’m listed (twice, mind you) as being among the scholars that Tyler Roberts “takes on” in his 2013 book, Encountering Religion: Responsibility and Criticism After Secularism, the other footnote reads as follows: Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 5: Sources and Interpretations

fairbalancedThis 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.

What should be clear from my previous comments is that I don’t think the draft document simply needs some editing or a few words added to it, in order to make it work. Instead, I think the entire exercise needs to be rethought, form the ground up. But to get there we first need to take the committee seriously and offer the response they solicited to what they’ve put in front of us, if for no other reason than to know how not to tackle such a topic.

Hence this series.

So, we turn to the fourth bullet point:

Picture 22There is much to comment on in this item, so much so that its two sentences really deserve to be elaborated into at least several paragraphs, so that readers understand what’s going on here — i.e., what are the issues and what’s at stake in this particular statement?

After all, modern hermeneutic theory’s been a few centuries in the making, suggesting that a “fair interpretation” is a little more complex to achieve than it here seems.

But I’m getting ahead of myself… Continue reading