The Relevance of Religious Studies is Not that We Study Religion

Students working together in the Religious Studies classroom

Jacob Barrett is a first year M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. From Colorado Springs, he earned his B.A. from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Philosophy & Religion and Biology. In the Spring he will present his research at the southeast regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion.

Junior year of my undergraduate degree, I was asked by the chair of the Religious Studies department to represent the major at an event where first year students would more-or-less speed date with different departments to start deciding what they wanted to major in. I was paired with the new Religion professor and together we set out to convince first year students to begin thinking about why participating in our department (whether that be majoring, minoring, or just taking several classes) was advantageous to them. I started with the typical “The faculty are so supportive and amazing” and “The major is pretty flexible so if you are a double major it is really easy to fit in” and “The classes are really fun and they also cover a lot of the requirements in the curriculum, so you can kill two birds with one stone by taking a course.” When the professor started his part, he said something so simple yet so important: “We teach you how to think, how to write, how to talk about things in ways that other departments don’t.”

With universities proposing cuts to Religious Studies departments becoming more and more of a regular occurrence, there is the feeling that we (those who consider ourselves members of “the field”) must defend the importance and relevance of what we do and what we offer. Religious Studies departments are often not producing majors or bringing in money in the same numbers as larger departments, so they become an easy target when universities need to find ways to save money. How, then, do we convince a university to keep our departments? Continue reading

Prof. Jacobs on his Writing Process

Prof. Steven Jacobs has worked in the Department of Religious Studies for nearly two decades now. As a professor and the Aaron Aronov Chair of Judaic Studies, Dr. Jacobs spends his time lecturing, researching, and especially reading and writing. Beyond his focus in biblical translation and interpretation, Jewish-Christian relations, the Holocaust, and historical and contemporary genocides, Prof. Jacobs has written and edited numerous books and articles across varying subject matters (with one work that was even translated into Japanese and Arabic). 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

Making Sense of a Sabbatical

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In my Introduction to Religious Studies course, my students think a lot about “making the strange familiar and familiar strange.” With those lessons in mind, I thought I’d make a bit more familiar for students who won’t see me as much in the Spring a practice that happens within the academy—the sabbatical. After being awarded tenure (typically in year 5 or 6), professors can apply for a sabbatical by outlining a specific research project that would benefit from some time away from campus. The project I described in my own proposal is my second single-author scholarly monograph. But, of course, there are always multiple projects at different stages in the works—or, as a colleague put it to me years ago, various pots simmering at higher and lower temperatures on the same stove. I’ve found I’m far more productive and enjoy writing more when I’m working on a few things at once instead of trying to move through projects and ideas linearly. Going into next semester’s sabbatical, I currently have three proverbial pots simmering:

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Writing Well: An Incomplete Set of Guidelines

Frustration

It’s that time of the semester: final essays. But before you mash the
print button or send that paper to your professor, you should take a
quick look at this writing advice from Prof. Matthew Bagger. Prof.
Bagger gave these tips to his REL 360 course but they are helpful for any papers you may have coming due this semester.

“If there’s anything [God] hates, it is… oozy writing.”

–William James (1905)

A good persuasive essay presents a cogent and compelling argument with clarity, elegance, and verve.  The following guidelines should help you craft an effective essay.

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