The Ordinary as Exotic

Abnormal_BrainLately I’ve been paying some attention to studies of the so-called paranormal or the non-ordinary — this recent podcast for example. For these seem to be fairly recent categories that are growing in popularity among scholars of religion; given the critiques that have been leveled at the category religion over the past few decades, it appears that what many of us might have once called religion or religious experience is now just being classed among an even larger group of curious things — such as “special things,” as Ann Taves does — all in contradistinction to the normal or the ordinary. Continue reading

… All Across Culture

About ten years ago the Department came up with a motto: Studying Religion in Culture. The “in” was italicized to stress the point that, unlike the common “religion and culture” construction that we see all across the field, at the University of Alabama we did not conceive of these two as separate domains that, like billiard balls, sometimes bump into each other (and thus the task of the scholar is to tract the collisions). Instead, the domain we know as religion is but one part of wider historical, cultural practices and institutions (in fact, calling some part “religion” may itself be a local cultural practice!); thus, unlike a previous generation of religious studies scholars, who thought they needed special interpretive methods to study their special data, our object of study is open to examination by means of any of the tools scholars routinely use to study any other cultural practice. (Learn more about the motto here.) Continue reading