A Return to the Nacirema

Ryland Hunstad, a student in Prof. Simmons’s REL 100 this past semester, is a sophomore from Denver, Colorado majoring in finance & management information systems, with interests in politics, philosophy, & religion.

In the following post he offers some further reflections on a group of people who were originally studied, in the mid-1950s, by the anthropologist, Horace Miner.

Since the last expedition to the land of the Nacirema, anthropologists have had several more opportunities to visit these people and observe their customs and social practices, in an attempt to decode the seemingly cryptic meaning behind their traditions and religious practices as it relates to their society. Those outsiders studying the Nacirema, by learning the language and acquainting themselves in general with the members of the Nacirema tribe, have begun to understand these customs in more depth, especially as they relate to the class system present among the Nacirema. Our hope in this piece is to relay their findings so that these social practices may be studied and analyzed in greater detail. Continue reading

REL Graduates Head Off to Do Great Things

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We have great students here in REL. When they graduate they go off to do great things. (You can hear about some of the things our graduates do at our Grad Tales events.) We are proud of all of the REL majors that are graduating. Four of this year’s REL graduates are going off to pursue further academic work in graduate school: Continue reading

A Word with Our Majors

Word with Our Majors Pic

The REL film crew recently caught up with a few of our majors around Manly Hall. We talked a bit about the classes they’re taking now, as well as what’s in store for them next semester. Watch the video to find out what they had to say!

A Word with Our Majors from UA Religious Studies.

(Re)Introducing the REL Blog

bloggingIf you’re a returning student then you know all about the REL blog (right?). But if you’re new to REL then it’s worth letting you know that we’re interested in seeing you post your writing in the public domain via this REL blog — you’ll notice a “Student Blog” tab among the other sub-blogs on the site.

blogtabsSo talk with one of your REL profs if you think you have something — perhaps originally written for one of your REL courses — that reflects the interesting and well-argued work going on in the study of religion here at the University of Alabama. Working under their guidance you may be asked to revise it and then it might get posted.

And if you’re an REL grad who’d like to exhibit the critical thinking that you took away with you when you left Manly Hall, and which you still apply today, then please contact the Department Chair and pitch an idea for a post — because we’d also like to see your writing on the site.

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A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 11: Research Assistants

researchassistantThis 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.

The second to the last item on the draft document is the only one that concerns our work with students — odd, if you think about it, since much of teaching concerns preparing them to be researchers themselves, so you’d think that a statement on research responsibilities would give some attention to our role mentoring the next generation of scholars. But, instead, the only attention to students reads as follows:

researchassistantsIf there’s been little to no explicit awareness of the loaded nature of terminology so far in the document, then there’s surely no reason to expect it to start now, given that we’ve reached its penultimate section. So we have little choice but to accept that the slippery term “collegiality” is used here as if it is self-evidently meaningful, making it yet another example of how the document fails to live up to the standards that (I would hope) many of us work to attain in our own research (e.g., clearly define your terms, recognize which are contested, identify your assumptions and mount a persuasive case for why you use the term as you do, etc.). Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 9: Broader Public

lecturehallThis 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.

Much like the earlier post on doing human subjects research, we find a truism enshrined in the draft document’s eighth bullet point (at least in the opening clause; I include the ninth also since it too is related):

publicunderstandingI’m not sure if there are many scholars out there who decline to provide an account of what they’re up to — it would not be difficult to understand conference presentations, publications, and even the teaching that we do to be doing just that. So I’m unsure why this needs to be included as one of the thirteen obligations the AAR’s committee sees fit to put into their document. Even paying attention to the threefold grouping into which they divide this reporting — our research questions, methods, and findings — isn’t innovative and therefore doesn’t help to clarify why this item was included; for this reads as if it was offering instructions to a lower level undergraduate students on how to write a research paper.

In fact, given that this is pretty much what we, as scholars, all already do, without being told to, it’s somewhat surprising that we also weren’t advised to have a thesis when we write a paper. Continue reading

Baby Steps

honorsday2012If you’re reading this blog then you may know that we’re a small undergraduate degree-granting Department that has a number of things going on — from a couple of longstanding lecture series to a newly invented annual undergrad research symposium, from an active student association and Facebook page, to some faculty who actively collaborate with one another on their own research. We bring grads back to talk about their post-B.A. lives and careers, we have this blog with posts from faculty, students, and alumni, and we try to take what leadership we can on campus-wide initiatives. We teach our share of students each semester, of course (in some large lectures and also in small seminars), but, as a group, we also understand that running a thing called a Department is about more than teaching students or just having offices next door to each other, where we each pursue our individual scholarly interests.

In this day of calls for the Humanities to justify themselves, increasing emphases on university degrees as preparation for practical careers, and parents and students shopping carefully for degrees and majors, I can’t imagine how a faculty member mindful of the precarious position of any institution — including the university or their own department — would approach it any differently.

But many do, of course. To their own detriment, I think. Continue reading

Journalist, Know Thyself

Back in April, 2012, Frank Bruni, a regular columnist for The New York Times Magazine, wrote an Op-ed piece that was much discussed at the time. Entitled “The Imperial Promise of College,” it argued that the condition of the current economy (e.g., the high un/under-employment rate, the staggering amount of collective student debt, etc.) should prompt college students to select majors that have direct, practical pay-off. After singling out a couple of examples of majors that, in all likelihood, turn out to be unrelated (or as he might have phrased it, irrelevant) to someone’s eventual career, he writes: Continue reading

Turtles All the Way Down

It’s the day after our inaugural lecture in 2012-13’s series on the place of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the contemporary university and I’m troubled by the student feedback that I’ve heard so far. It’s come from some of our undergraduate majors, who attended, as well as from an assortment of students enrolled in my 100-level introductory course who also attended. (“Write me a one page description and you can earn some extra credit in the course”–the professor’s old trick to get students new to the university to think a few new thoughts, and, as we used to say, expand their horizons.) Whether or not it was the intended message of the speaker–Prof. Gregg Lambert from Syracuse University–the students seems to have heard a message of lamentation for the future of the Humanities–not a description of how we got here or a renewed defense of our relevance but, instead, a (to their ears at least) dire message from a senior professor concerning the fact that they may be deluded to think that grad school might be for them (since they’ll possibly be mired in student debt that will take them decades to repay–making grad school sound like a bit of a scam); because they’re all just human capital, spewed into the global market from a never-ending pipeline, why continue in their studies? As one first year student who attended the lecture said to me today, sounded both intimidated and incredulous: “Declaring a major may be the most important decision of my life?!” Continue reading