How Not to Reinvent Yourself

Sierra Lawson is a BA and MA graduate of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama who is now pursuing her Ph.D. in the study of religion at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In this post she reflects on how, as a TA, she’s using a model of the field we’ve come to call the examples approach.

As someone who describes their research interests as investigating claims about Marian devotion in modern Latin America, you can imagine my surprise upon being assigned a teaching assistantship in Hebrew Bible this semester. Continue reading

Getting the Party Started on Syllabus Day

The first day of class can be a bit nerve-racking, even for profs. One might think that profs have it easy at the start of the semester, but we all know the importance of first impressions. And for myself, there can be a lot of anxiety around those initial activities.

  • How much of the syllabus should we read? I don’t want to bore anyone, but I don’t want students starting out lost.
  • Do we dive right into content? The semester can really fly, so there’s no time to delay. I also don’t want to scare students off or have to re-teach material for those who won’t be joining our course until the second or third class session.
  • We could do an icebreaker? I like the sentiment, yet something doesn’t feel right about this either?

There are a lot of different directions one could go on Day One. And last week I approached the start of my REL100 introductory course by working “backwards.”

I thought a bit about some of Ellie Cochran’s reflections about her time as an REL major. One thing that I kept coming back to in her blog posts was how the kinds of questions she came to ask toward the end of her time were not at all that different from the sort that many students have when they first enroll in a course. By degree’s end she had more tools  for conceptualizing and investigating these questions–leading to more and more questions. Hints of that curiosity are there from the beginning.

So how might we take advantage of that kind of curiosity from the jump?

One way to absolutely not do this is to turn the course into a study of trivia and factoids.

Choose Your own Religion Wheel: A Guide to the Savvy Convert

More than a few Religious Studies profs have one of these in their office.

I found it at Spencer Gifts gif from the Office

This is true. I found mine at the mall.

The wheel gives you data like the number of adherents, how the religion frames the afterlife, material culture, pros, cons, and a quick description of beliefs. Although all that information has its place and may be potentially interesting to students, I think they are savvy enough to know that a 15-week course on those things as an end (rather than a means) may be a lemon of an education.

So the question for me became how do I short-circuit any attempt to turn the class into a trip on the Wheel-o-Religion.

Now for whatever reason, when I think about my scholarship, I often come back took a classic Paul Mooney bit remarking on “the N-word.” Commenting on Americans’ simultaneous obsession with and aversion to talking about race, Mooney once remarked,

“Everybody wants to be a “N—–,” but nobody wants to be a N—–.”

Like many jokes, it surfaces the conditions on the way we make meaning. In the joke. In fewer than 15 words, Mooney relays an ethnographic observation to poke at the power dynamics, psychology, and history of race. I’m no comedian, but I’d be thrilled with those kind of results from a 75-minute class.

So instead of the Wheel-o-Religion, I riffed on Mooney’s bit:

“Everybody wants to talk about religion, but nobody wants to talk about religion.”

Then we broke it down, discussing the first question and then the second one.

I was pretty amazed by the depth of questions I got. The conversation was so riveting that I didn’t have time to snap a photo. I ended the class with one final discussion question:

What do we need to discuss this semester so that this course is not a waste of time?

Perhaps the most remarkable thing was how at no point did the questions turn to google-able answers. No trivia. No factoids.

So as the semester gets going. Let’s be a little a nervous. Let’s get a little curious. And let’s see where good questions take us. I hardly think that doing so would be a waste of our time.

Anakin Skywalker saying, "This is where the fun begins."

Are you a Religious Studies prof? Tell us what you did for your first day.

Spotlighting Graduating MA Students

Emma Gibson and Sierra Lawson have spent the last two years developing their skills in research, social theory, and the public and digital humanities among other useful accomplishments. This spring, both students will graduate with a Master’s of Arts in Religion in Culture and plan to put their analytical tools to work as they further their education. Emma will pursue a Master’s of Architecture while Sierra earns a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. Find out what these young women have planned after graduation.

Continue reading

Prof. Altman Works with APAEP

Religious Studies Professor Michael Altman will be teaching with the Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project (APAEP) once a week this spring semester. He will be leading a course titled Religion in America to incarcerated students at the Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, AL. Continue reading

More Isn’t Necessarily Better: Some Thoughts on the Job Search Process

Another job search season is upon us and, not yet knowing if our Department will be lucky enough to search for a new tenure track line (this year I submitted requests for two, in fact), I thought I’d offer a little unsolicited advice to people on the job market (and simultaneously solicit anyone else with experience on search committees in our field to contact me to consider writing a guest blog for our site, reflecting on these very issues from their point of view).

In case it doesn’t go without saying, let me me clear: the advise is idiosyncratic (for this is how I see things) but, for people on the other side of all those online application systems, maybe it’ll still provide a helpful insight into how at least some people go about the work of finding a new colleague.

Continue reading

Taco Insights on Faculty Service

With the start of another school year right around the corner I’m thinking about service — one of those three main areas into which scholars usually divide up their work (the others being research and teaching, of course — and the order in which they’re written is not insignificant). It’s not hard to find faculty posting on social media bemoaning committee work, as if it gets in the way of a professor’s real work, but I’m here to say how important it is to the long term well-being of a Department — the primary unit that helps to make possible those individual careers. Continue reading

#RELResearch: Professors Simmons, Loewen, and Altman Publish Together

IMG_5860

If you pick up the most recent issue of the venerable journal Method and Theory in the Study of Religion you will find three essays from REL faculty discussing the recently published Norton Anthology of World Religion. Rather than a simple review of the multivolume work, the essays from Merinda Simmons, Nathan Loewen, and Mike Altman consider what the publication of the anthology means for the larger field of religious studies. Each essay puts the anthology into a larger context of how scholars research and teach about religion. Curious what they said? Abstracts and links for the essays are below. Continue reading

We Are the Beneficiaries

vogons

As I sit here making the Spring 2017 class schedule for our department I recall the many times that I’ve heard academics lament being involved in administration. (That they equally complain about no longer being much involved in the governance of their institutions is an irony too rich to overlook.) “My condolences” is the witty reply many offer when learning that a colleague has fallen on the dagger (yes, that’s how it is portrayed) of becoming a department chair, coupled with such profuse congratulations at news of one stepping down as to make you think that it was equivalent to having your wrongful conviction overturned. Continue reading

Check Out All of Our Class Blogs

giphy-66

Did you notice the new tab on the menu at the top of our blog? That one up there that says “Class Blogs?” Well, many of our classes in REL use blogs so students can use their critical thinking skills in public. That new “Class Blogs” tab takes you to page where you can find all of our class blogs from this year’s REL 490 course to an Honors History of Religions in America course in Spring 2014. Check out the all of our great student content!

 

giphy-67

Prof. Loewen Presents at the Center for Instructional Technology’s Showcase

IMG_3256[9]

Faculty in REL, and throughout the University, are experimenting with technology in their classrooms every semester. Last week the Center for Instructional Technology (CIT) hosted a showcase for faculty to share the cool stuff their are doing with technology in the classroom. The Department’s own Prof. Nathan Loewen presented his work in developing The College of Arts & Sciences Teaching Hub, a digital resource center that provides tools for faculty to improve and innovate in their teaching.

Along with Jessica Porter, eTech’s Digital Editorial Specialist, Prof. Loewen presented features of the Teaching Hub and engaged the audience in dialogue about the site’s design, potential features and future content. In short, the focus of the Teaching Hub is to promote community, collaboration, and teaching innovation in the College; provide opportunities to develop and refine teaching skills throughout the year, including yearly workshops, peer coaching, and the common book event; identify and share resources regarding effective, research-based teaching practices; and foster cross-disciplinary conversations on teaching and learning, relevant to faculty members at any level.

Because teaching with technology is so much more than just Powerpoint.

46dedfb64dff1eddb7e7ddcfd8afdf04