Looking Over and Overlooking

Malory Nye’s tweet, the other day, got me thinking… So I replied:

Picture of three tweets that start to make the point of this blog post

For a while, now, I’ve had this feeling: as happens with any new and successfully reproduced social developments (or what advocates just call advances), newcomers to the group tend to normalize them. Which is a wonderful luxury, if you think about it — in fact, it’s likely among the things the earlier generation worked toward: the right of subsequent members to take things for granted that their elders could not.

“Of course we ought to have a course on theories of religion” someone might now say in our field, or, “Sure, naming something as ‘religious’ is worthwhile studying.” Why? Coz “#classificationmatters” they my tweet in reply. But the risk of normalizing such gains is that we fail to see them as the accomplishments of historical actors, in prior situations where this was not the case. Continue reading

“We Could Only Resort to Prayer…”

Hands clasped in prayerThere was an interesting story on the radio the other day — in which a Roman Catholic bishop in the Philippines described how they’re now ringing church bells every evening to raise awareness about the brutality of the ongoing drug war in his country.

Give it a listen (go here if the embed doesn’t work):

What caught my ear, and prompted me to bring this story to the attention of my Theory of Religion seminar the other day, was how praying seemed to be not enough.

… that is why we have resorted to ringing of bells, because we could only resort to prayer.

But if one takes seriously the claims of those people we may study — those who see prayer as efficacious — how is communicating directly with a powerful being who governs the universe not already enough? Why resort to anything else, whether or not it’s ringing church bells?

I don’t ask this question flippantly — not at all. Instead, the bishop’s claim strikes me as a fascinating instance of a folk theory of religion, offered by a religious devotee — someone who seems to know that, for whatever reason, there are limits to the effects this discourse can have.

For, at times, people seem to know that they need to do more than merely pray to a god.

When those times are, and in which situations, is unknown to me; in fact, I wonder how devotees know when to take an unchanged situation as the answer to their prayers, whether they like it or not (concluding, perhaps, that the ways of God are unknown to mere mortals…), and when they must decide that they need to resort to something else — to take matters into their own hands, as it were.

Simply put, when is praying to a god not enough and how does one know it?

Given all the critiques you can now find online of merely saying “you’re in our thoughts and payers” when a disaster occurs — and yes, I’m thinking of debates around this topic that we’ve just seen, here in the US, concerning the hurricane and then terrible flooding in Texas (e.g., see below) — this seems to be a pretty timely question to ask.

Joel Osteen Tweets

So the above interview, undoubtedly given in a life and death situation where a social actor probably feels pretty frustrated that a much desired change has not taken place, raises what I see to be some pretty interesting questions for the student of religion concerning the folk expertise of the people we study: for sometimes and somehow they seem to know that their claims need to be augmented.

Word and Things: Recovering Theoretical Creativity

Adrian Hermann is Professor of Religion and Society at Forum Internationale Wissenschaft, University of Bonn, Germany. (The introduction to the series is posted here.)

The debate that flares up in discussing a book like Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion seems to point to two different ways in which scholars are currently using the category of “religion.” At the same time, however, it seems that the differences between these two options are often not explicitly reflected upon. Instead, each side sees in their usage the only sensible way of speaking about “religion” and of conceptualizing its study, often without even being fully aware of the implications of their own position. Continue reading

“All of the evil that he represents for me…”

screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-1-27-13-pmSeeing cheering crowds in Miami, first thing this morning as I checked my phone for overnight news, celebrating Fidel Castro’s death, made me think a little about our disdain when there were rumors of people cheering after the twin towers collapsed (Trump routinely cited this early in his campaign); when is death — or better, whose death — worth cheering, I wondered?

But as the morning wore on and more news came out, my attention shifted to an issue that has long preoccupied me: our authority as scholars.

In fact, it’s a topic I spoke on last weekend, at our field’s main national conference, as part of a panel commenting on this year’s conference theme: revolutionary love. It struck me as entirely inappropriate for scholars of religion (but for liberal theologians, sure, why not?) for a variety of reasons, one of which was the problem of assuming that just because we study religion we therefore have something relevant to say about social issues, i.e., the ability to diagnose ills and provide remedies. For that’s what the panel was on: whether love was an effective political force. Continue reading

Lecture on Evolution & Religion

ALLELEOn March 31, Dr. William Lee McCorkle presented his research as part of the Alabama Lectures on Life’s Evolution (ALLELE) series, sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences. His lecture, titled “Religion, a Cultural Virus,” offered a crash-course on the academic study of religion and focused on the advantages of an evolutionary theory of religion, as well as highlighting his work at LEVYNA, the Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion, which he helped to establish. Continue reading

So what’s your theory of religion?


If you’ve been following what’s going on in Oregon over the past few days then you know about the armed stand-off that involves members of the Bundy family, among other ranchers, occupying the headquarters of a federal wildlife refuge, as their stand against the federal government’s land-use policies (maybe even the federal government’s legitimacy). Continue reading

Have You Met Prof. Bagger?

Picture 7The Department recently hired Dr. Matt Bagger as an Instructor. So, as you probably guessed, a video was on the way.

And so, here it is.

If you see him around Manly Hall give him a warm Roll Tide welcome! He’ll appreciate it.

An Interview with Dr. Bagger from UA Religious Studies.