Road Trip

Early Monday morning my advisor, Russell McCutcheon, and I traveled down the road and across the state line to visit Mississippi State University. Since my acceptance into the Religious Studies department at the University of Alabama’s new M.A. program a few months ago, Russell and I have been discussing the possibility of having Dr. Mary Rebecca Read-Wahidi serve on my advisory committee. Dr. Read-Wahidi attended the University of Alabama for her Ph.D. in Anthropology and was advised under Dr. Bill Dressler who developed the Cultural Consonance Model (and she also TA’ed in Religious Studies and, in fact, still teaches online for the department). She also continues to work closely with the Graduate Director for the Anthropology department, Dr. Jason DeCaro (You can read a brief response to their most recent journal article from Russell and I here.)

Dr. Read-Wahidi is currently working on multiple research projects at the Social Sciences Research Center at MSU, but her work on the Catholic veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe was what initially suggested that she would be a great fit for my interest in studying migration and identity formation in Spanish-speaking communities in the US. Specifically, in her dissertation, Dr. Read-Wahidi studied how religious devotion can buffer the negative physiological effects induced by stress related to migration.

In addition to Dr. Read-Wahidi, there are a variety of interdisciplinary scholars at the SSRC in Starkville who are all working on individual as well as collaborative research projects. At one point during our trip we were introduced, by Dr. Read-Wahidi, to Dr. Arthur Cosby, who serves as the Director of the Center but in the past has also served as a professor of sociology at institutions such as Louisiana State University; his research is based around something he has termed ‘social climate’ model (learn more about his work here).

So the work being done at the SSRC is very much in line with the kind of work that I can imagine myself continuing to do in the future, but I’ll keep you posted on that.

All Systems Normal

Picture 9 Yesterday we had our second annual undergraduate research symposium, which featured the work of four current students — many of whom are double majors — and a grad of our Department. We instituted this event last year and held it at the university club at the same time as our senior seminar took place, inviting those students as the audience. But this year we decided to try holding it in a much larger venue and to advertise it among all of our classes, perhaps making it an extra credit opportunity. It worked really well; we had quite good attendance, the papers were all wonderful, and the event nicely modeled (for any student thinking about majoring in the study of religion) what sort of work you can do in the academic study of religion. Continue reading

An Interview with Ann Taves

tavesAn interview with Prof. Ann Taves has just been posted — she is a former President of the American Academy of Religion and is well known for her work on religious experience as well as her interest in applying the finding from cognitive psychology to the study of religion. She’s  now at work on a new book, Revelatory Events: Unusual Experiences and New Spiritual Paths, and supervising the interdisciplinary Religion, Experience, and Mind (REM) Lab Group at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

What is the Academic Study of Religion?: A Graduate’s Perspective

gradtalestdavisTim Davis earned his B.A. in Religious Studies and Spanish in 2006. He went on to earn his J.D. at UA’s School of Law. He is now practices law, with an emphasis in civil litigation, in St. Clair County, AL. Tim wrote this piece for new REL students shortly before graduating.

As an entering freshman at The University of Alabama I knew that my older sister, a junior at the time, was a Religious Studies major but I had no clue as to what she studied. Because she told me that she had taken courses in Tibetan Buddhism and the Hebrew Bible, I assumed that Religious Studies majors did all of their coursework studying descriptive information about the different religions that are found throughout the world. Continue reading

Greg Johnson on the Real World in Real Time

On November 6, 2012, the second lecture in the 2012-13 series was presented by Prof. Greg Johnson, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His lecture–entitled, “In the Moment: The Relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences for the Study of Religion in Real Time”–opened by reflecting on the “Studying Religion in Culture” motto of UA’s Department of Religious Studies and then moved on to examining the manner in which ongoing debates and legal contests in Hawaii over contemporary indigenous people’s rights and ancestral remains present the scholar of religion with an opportunity to study religion both in the skin and in the bone, as he phrased it, i.e., examining, “in real time,” the manner in which it is performed/enacted both in more flamboyant, public settings (e.g., organized protests) and also in a more behind-the-scenes, structural manner (e.g., people attending hearings and meetings, taking minutes, filing legal briefs and court challenges, etc., all in the context of operationalizing the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990).

After examining two case studies from Hawaii he turned his concluding attention toward linking his approach to studying religion, politics, and identity, toward the theme of this year’s lecture series. Prof. Johnson kindly provided his unpublished text to the Department and so the conclusion in posted below. Continue reading

Deep Impact

I remember a speaker who would hold the vowels in the first syllable of the word “meaning”–saying “meeee-ning”–signalling to the audience, I guess, that he really, really meant it, much like those who don’t just mean something, like when they extend either their good wishes or deep sympathies, but, instead add that they “sincerely mean” this or that. When it comes to the word “meaning,” I’ve noticed that lots of people do this in my academic field (the study of religion); often associating a hand gesture with this linguistic affectation: some sort of reaching out, maybe the hand slightly opened upward, as if loosely cupping and then displaying a precious object–somehow trying to signal, I gather, the extra mile that they are going to convey the significance of their words. But, despite the highlighting that they behaviorally give to their words, they are, after all, just words–sounds produced by the body and decoded (or encoded?) by ears and brains. Yet somehow, as listeners, we tend to think that they are actually meaningful, sounds and characters on a page or a computer screen that somehow carry this thing we call meaning (for example, did you notice my choice of “convey” two sentences ago? Much as when we “speak from the heart”…). As I’ve often told my students, you can’t hear or read your own language and not “hear” and “see” it as language, as having a meaning. Continue reading