Classroom to Conference: REL Majors Presenting Their Research


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.



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!


Justifying Actions

justifying actions

By Ashley Crawford

Ashley Crawford is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She is a junior majoring in
Marketing with a minor in Psychology.

Have you ever played the game telephone when you were younger? Someone starts out whispering a sentence in someone’s ear and they whisper it in someone else’s until it gets to the last person and by then it is completely different from the original sentence. This game was fun because it was always interesting to hear how different everyone heard the original sentence. Maybe this was because people changed the original sentence to something they thought they wanted to hear instead. We still do this today. Have you ever told a story to someone but left out the parts that made you look bad? Or ever ignored all the bad characteristics of someone you loved? It is like they say, there are always two sides to a story.

In my religion 419 class we are studying one of the most famous works in Indian literature, the epic poem of the Ramayana. There are many different versions of the Ramayana, and not one form is considered the original. We read the “300 Ramayanas” which showed us many different versions of the Ramayana. A reason behind this is that over the years, people manipulated the story to get what they wanted out of it. The parts of the story that did not agree with their beliefs, they left out. Other parts of the story where Rama did something that was not particularly all good, they either ignored it or justified it. People do this so that the story of the Ramayana will be the story they want to hear or can relate to the best.

I thought it was interesting that one of the most popular stories in India could have so many different versions. There are many different versions of religions, but somehow we create versions that best suit us. I think the reason behind this is that we make excuses or exceptions to rules so that we feel better than we actually are, similar to what readers do for the Ramayana.

So what is the “real” story? Whether it is the Ramayana or just a story a friend is telling you about what happened to them, there is no “real” story. The story will always have different sides to it. Just like the game telephone we played as kids, we will turn something we heard into something else we wanted to hear without even realizing it. We are constantly changing things and stories so that they will fit in best with what we want. In conclusion, there is no “real” version but instead a version that is best for you.

Image credit: Wikiphoto “How to Play the Telephone Game: 5 Steps (with Pictures) via wikihow (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Sita Sings the Universal Blues


by Jared Powell
Jared Powell is  a senior from Canton, Mississippi
majoring in English and Religious Studies. This post
was originally written for Steven Ramey’s REL 419 class.

Any college student would agree that the last thing we need is another Netflix suggestion to distract us from our studies… but that is exactly what I’m going to offer. Put down your English readings, forget about that MathLab assignment, and–dare I say it–skip the football game and watch Sita Sings the Blues. Nina Paley’s animated retelling of the Ramayana is humorous, charming, visually captivating, and–as will be explained after the preview below–incredibly insightful for thinking about narrative formation. Continue reading