The Jim Salem Chair Award Goes to REL

We’re very pleased to announce that, at the year-end A&S chairs event over the weekend, Dean Robert Olin presented the annual Jim Salem Chair Award to REL’s own Prof. Russell McCutcheon.

Instituted by the Dean after the death, in July of 2012, of the longtime American Studies Department Chair, Jim Salem, the award recognizes “outstanding leadership to students, faculty, and the College.” Salem, who chaired the search committee that brought Dean Olin to UA, was known for his enthusiasm, dry wit, and use of American pop culture as a way into understanding 20th century American culture and politics.

Prof. McCutcheon came to Tuscaloosa in the Fall of 2001, to chair REL at a time when the Department was on the brink of reinvention; while serving three terms as chair (2001-2009; 20013-present) he has also had a productive research and teaching career at UA, being named to one of the campus’s few University Research Professor positions in February of 2018.

Given annually, the Jim Salem award is selected by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and, with Dean Olin’s upcoming retirement in September, this marks his last selection for this award.

Congratulations, Prof. McCutcheon!

Culture on the Edge: An Origin Story

Last week, Professors Steven Ramey and Vaia Touna sat down to discuss their involvement with the Culture on the Edge research group and blog, along with their two book series. Though the discussion was intended to focus on Prof. Touna’s recent addition to the published series, it naturally led to a conversation on the implications of fabricating origins and identity.

Continue reading

Prof. McCutcheon has Lots of Pots on the Stove

Prof. Russell McCutcheon, who came to UA as the REL Department Chair in the summer of 2001, sometimes says that the career of a scholar involves keeping a lot of pots boiling, all at a different rates. The trick is knowing which can just simmer, on the back burner, and which ones need attention because they’re about to boil over.

Well, this year four pots that were each bubbling away on their own resulted in some new books, all of which were published in just the past few months. But they’re each a different sort of book. Continue reading

Summer Plans: Prof. McCutcheon

We asked the faculty what they were up to this summer; after all, just because the Spring semester is done doesn’t mean they’re all off gardening. And so this is what we learned…

Apart from writing the annual report and getting the Department ready for the new semester in the Fall, Professor McCutcheon has a few projects bubbling away, such as the second edition to his intro book, Studying Religion, which he plans to tackle and complete this summer. He’s also working on narrowing down the contents to an anthology that Walter de Gruyter, in Berlin, has contracted, as a follow-up to Jacques Waardenburg’s once well-known volume, Classical Approaches to the Study of Religion (a 1973 collection that was recently reissued, in a new edition, with a preface from McCutcheon). Picking up in the 1960s, about where Waardenburg’s volume ends, he plans to represent the trends and scholars of importance to the field’s last fifty years, adding a substantive introduction to the book (though maybe not quite the 80 pages of the earlier volume’s introductory chapter). He’s also finalizing the manuscripts for a few things that will be published this summer, such as a co-edited collection of interviews with the late Jonathan Z. Smith (in fact, his friend and co-editor, Willi Braun, is now giving the index one last proofing) and a couple new sets of his own essays (the first with Equinox and the other with de Gruyter). So if he can check all that off his list by August he’ll be a happy camper.

Constructing Judaism and Claiming Christianity: Modern Jewish Philosophy in an Age of Theory

Creator: Doré, Gustave, 1832-1883., French.; Date: 1856.; Material: wood engraving on wove paper; Measurements: sheet: 55 x 38.9 cm. ; image: 39 x 30.2 cm.; Repository: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Dept. of Prints, Drawings and Photographs.; Williamstown, Mass.; 1977.55B.; http://www.clarkart.edu

Creator: Doré, Gustave, 1832-1883., French.; Date: 1856.; Material: wood engraving on wove paper; Measurements: sheet: 55 x 38.9 cm. ; image: 39 x 30.2 cm.; Repository: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Dept. of Prints, Drawings and Photographs.; Williamstown, Mass.; 1977.55B.; http://www.clarkart.edu

Robert Erlewine is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Illinois Wesleyan University where he teaches courses related to philosophy of religion and Judaism. He is the author of two monographs, Monotheism and Tolerance: Recovering a Religion of Reason (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010) and Judaism and the West: From Hermann Cohen to Joseph Soloveitchik (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016).

In recent years, in the academic study of religion there have been rather public disputes about the nature of religious studies. Russell McCutcheon and William Arnal note an important sea-change that seems to have taken place in the field over the last few decades, that there has been a “widespread turn from practicing [religious studies] as if it was a branch of the history of ideas toward studying what is now known as ‘religion on the ground’ or ‘material religion.’” This shift “estranges former close relationships with our cousins in philosophy and, instead, forges affinities with our new friends, the social anthropologists and culture studies.” What does this change in religious studies mean for more philosophically oriented sub-disciplines — other than shrinking job prospects for young scholars? Can recent developments in theories and methods enable a rethinking of subfields in religious studies that remain close to philosophy departments?

Rethinkings that can generate energy and foster vitality? Continue reading

Report from the Public Universities Chairs Workshop

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Dr. Kevin Schilbrack (pictured above, right) is a professor of Religious Studies and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Appalachian State University. He was recently at the University of Alabama for the inaugural workshop for public university Religious Studies department chairs and offers the following report.

Like many other department chairs, I suspect, I became chair after years of teaching, writing, and generally being collegial – but I received little or no training on how to be a chair.   And the work as chair of a department of Religious Studies in a public university comes with its own particular set of issues.  What does the study of religions include when it is in a state-supported setting?  Where can we profitably collaborate with other disciplines?  And perhaps, above all, how can we recruit new students to the academic study of religions? To create a forum where department chairs could meet and work on questions like these, we came together for what we hope is the first annual workshop for chairs of departments of Religious Studies. Continue reading

#LoungeTweets with Dr. McCutcheon on Wednesday

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Our next #LoungeTweets event is coming up, and this time Dr. Russell McCutcheon has answered the call of duty! He’ll be hanging out in the REL lounge on Wednesday, April 22nd from 2:30-3:30 to respond to your questions, give us a play-by-play of lounge activities, and more. Follow him at @McCutcheonSays.


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Keep up with the live tweets by searching #LoungeTweets.


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Voting is over: McCutcheon Says It’s @McCutcheonSays

(The official soundtrack to this post.)

Thanks to everyone who voted. After all the votes were counted and the local board of elections argued over hanging chads, we have dubbed a winner. You can now find Dr. Russell Mccutcheon on Twitter at @McCutcheonSays.  So know your role and tweet at him.

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Grad Tales Part IV

gradtales4On March 31, 2014, the Department hosted its fourth (and final for 2013-14) “There and Back Again: A Grad’s Tale” event. For this event, Prof. Russell McCutcheon talked with REL grad John Lyles about what he’s been up to since he left Manly Hall in 2010 after earning his B.A. in Religious Studies, with a minor in Biology. Continue reading