Jeri Wieringa

Jeri Wieringa

Assistant Professor |
Director, REL Digital Lab

Office Hours

Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 1:30pm – 3pm.

Website

Prof. Wieringa's Website

REL Digital Lab

Education

  • PhD, History, George Mason University
  • MA, Religion, Yale Divinity School
  • BA, Philosophy and English, Calvin College

Bio

Dr. Jeri Wieringa is a digital historian who joined REL in August 2020. She graduated summa cum laude in 2011 with a Master of Arts in Religion from Yale Divinity School after receiving her BA from Calvin College in 2008 (with a double major in Philosophy and English). She earned a PhD in History from George Mason University in 2019, writing a digital dissertation, A Gospel of Health and Salvation: Modeling the Religious Culture of Seventh-day Adventism, 1843 – 1920.

Her scholarship takes place at the intersection of computational and data science methods as applied to the study of American religious history. Dr. Wieringa’s current research not only evaluates and develops computational methods for research in the Humanities but also considers the whole ecosystem of digital projects, from data creation to archiving and preservation.

She has worked on a wide number of grant-funded digital humanities projects, including Digital Humanities Now, the Journal of Digital Humanities, and Omeka, and is co-creator of DH Bridge, an open curriculum introducing computational methods for humanities scholars. She has presented her research at the annual meetings of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, American Historical Association, and the American Academy of Religion. She worked previously as the Digital Publishing Production Lead with Mason Publishing Group, part of the George Mason University Libraries.

Dr. Wieringa is also a member of the department’s undergraduate committee.

Courses Taught

Dr. Wieringa teaches a variety of courses, from REl 120 Religion and Science and REL 315 Digital Humanities in Religious Studies to REL 503 Digital Methods for Religious Studies and classes on the history of religion in America.

You can learn more about her work on her Portfolio page.

Daniel Levine

Daniel Levine

Associate Professor |
Aaron Aronov Chair of Judaic Studies

Office Hours

Wednesday 1:30-3:30 pm; In office, by appointment, or via Zoom (email for zoom link).

Website

Prof. Levine's Website

Bio

Dr. Daniel Levine studies international relations, political philosophy and theory, and Middle Eastern politics.  His research agenda works along two distinct lines of thought. The first draws on Frankfurt School social theory and on the history and philosophy of social science to interrogate the interactions between academic scholarship and public policy: the responsibilities and obligations incumbent on scholars whose work intersects with war and deadly violence. The second focuses on fear: both the direct experience of it, and its “afterlife” — in history and public memory, in the workings of political institutions, and in policy discourses and doctrines. He is currently focusing on the early years of the Israel-Palestine conflict, with emphasis on Jewish/Zionist political and strategic thought in the decades between the First World War and the War of 1948-49.

In October 2019 he was appointed by the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees to REL’s Aaron Aronov Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies.

Dr. Levine is cross-appointed to the Department of Political Science, holding equal appointments in both units; his teaching duties in REL began in the Spring 2020 semester.

Dr. Levine is also an advisor for the Judaic studies minor and a member of the undergraduate committee.

Selected Publications

Edith Szanto

Edith Szanto

Assistant Professor

Office Hours

By appointment

Website

Prof. Edith Szanto's Website

Education

  • PhD, Religious Studies, University of Toronto, 2012

Bio

Dr. Edith Szanto is an assistant professor in religious studies at The University of Alabama, joining the department in Fall 2019. Dr. Szanto received her PhD in religious studies from the University of Toronto in 2012 with a dissertation that examined Twelver Shi’i practices in Syria, where she spent three years on a Fulbright scholarship, researching popular Islamic practices and working for the UN.

She has previously taught at the University of Toronto and at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani.

Dr. Szanto is finishing the manuscript of her book, tentatively entitled Transgressive Traditions: Twelver Shi’ism in Modern Syria. The book focuses on Twelver Shi’i models of education, commemorative rituals, and negotiations of communal identities at the shrine of Sayyida Zaynab and in the seminaries surrounding the shrine.

Among her recent projects is one examining religion in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Dr. Szanto is a member of the department’s undergraduate committee and an advisor for the REL major and minor.

Classes Taught

Among the classes, Dr. Szanto teaches is REL 236 Islam as well as a variety of upper-level and graduate seminars on the study of Islam, such as REL 336 Islam and the West.

Selected Publications

Richard Newton

Richard Newton

Associate Professor |
Undergraduate Director

Office Hours

Monday and Wednesday, 9:00am-Noon and by appointment. Please email ahead of time to arrange meetings.

Website

Prof. Newton's Website

Research Groups

Culture on the Edge

The Society for Comparative Research on Iconic and Performative Texts

The Institute for Signifying Scriptures

Education

  • PhD, Critical Comparative Scriptures, Claremont Graduate University

Bio

Richard Newton received his PhD in Critical Comparative Scriptures from Claremont Graduate University.

Dr. Newton’s areas of interest include theory and method in the study of religion, African American history, the New Testament in Western imagination, American cultural politics, and pedagogy in religious studies. His research explores how people create “scriptures” and how those productions operate in the formation of identities and cultural boundaries. In addition to an array of book chapters and online essays, Dr. Newton has published in the Journal of Biblical Literature and Method & Theory in the Study of Religion among other venues. His book, Identifying Roots: Alex Haley and the Anthropology of Scriptures (Equinox, 2020), casts Alex Haley’s Roots as a case study in the dynamics of scriptures and identity politics with critical implication for the study of race, religion, and media. And you can learn more about his use of digital media and pedagogy at his site, Sowing the Seed: Fruitful Conversations in Religion, Culture, and Teaching.

Dr. Newton is also a member of the department’s executive committee and editor of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion.

Russell T. McCutcheon

Department Chair |
University Research Professor

Office Hours

By appointment

Website

The Religious Studies Project

Culture on the Edge

Research Groups

Culture on the Edge

Education

  • PhD, Religion, University of Toronto, 1995

Bio

Russell T. McCutcheon, who came to the University of Alabama’s Department of Religious Studies as its Department Chair in the summer of 2001, was trained at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario) and the University of Toronto, where he received his PhD in the academic study of religion in 1995. He came to the U.S. from Canada in 1993, to teach full time as an Instructor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (1993-96); from 1996 to 2001 he was an Assistant and then Associate Professor at Southwest Missouri State University (Springfield; now known as Missouri State University). Since 2005 he has held the rank of Professor and, in February 2018, was awarded the rank of University Research Professor from the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees.

He stepped down as chair at the end of the 2008-09 academic year (after serving two terms), led technology projects for the College of Arts & Sciences for two years, returning to REL to teach and then, in August of 2013, was reappointed to the role of department chair; in 2018 he was appointed by the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences to his fourth 5 year term.

His areas of interest include the history of scholarship on myths and rituals, the history of the publicly-funded academic study of religion as practiced in the U.S., secularism, theories of religion, as well as the relations between the classification “religion” itself and the rise of the nation-state.

He has written a wide number of books, including his first, Manufacturing Religion (1997) and Studying Religion: An Introduction (2007; second ed. 2018), as well as publishing a several collections of his own essays, such as Critics Not Caretakers (2001), The Discipline of Religion (2003), A Modest Proposal on Method (2015) and Entanglements (2015) — while also editing journals and editing or co-editing a variety of resources in the field (such as The Guide to the Study of Religion [with Willi Braun, 2000], Fabricating Origins [2015], Fabricating Identities [2017], and Religion in 5 Minutes [with Aaron Hughes, 2017]). In 2018 he published two new collections of his own essays: “Religion” in Theory and Practice (Equinox) and Fabricating Religion (Walter de Gruyter) as well as another co-edited book with Braun, Reading J. Z. Smith (Oxford University Press).

His recent books include an edited collection of Willi Braun’s essays, Jesus and Addiction to Origins (Equinox 2020), Remembering J. Z. Smith (a collection of essays on the influence of Jonathan Z. Smith, co-edited with Emily Crews; Equinox 2020), and, with Aaron Hughes, a collection of leading scholars debating each other’s definitions of religion (for Oxford University Press; Fall 2021). His collection of essays, On Making a Shift in the Study of Religion and Other Essays was published in Berlin by Walter de Gruyter in 2021 and, along with Aaron Hughes, he co-authored two new resources, Religion in 50 Words: A Critical Vocabulary and Religion in 50 More Words: A Redescriptive Vocabulary (2021). With Aaron Hughes he is also the editor of What is Religion? Debating the Academic Study of Religion (2021).

He is the series editor for Religion in Culture and Critical Categories in the Study of Religion (both with Routledge), an earlier series now published by Bloomsbury (Controversies in the Study of Religion), as well as being one of the co-editors of the Supplements to MTSR book series (published by Brill).

Learn More

See his A Good Book episode.

Courses Taught

McCutcheon regularly teaches large enrollment sections of REL 100 Introduction to the Study of Religion as well as a wide variety of courses and upper-level seminars in the Department (on such topics as theories of religion and the rhetoric of religious experience). In addition, he is a member of the Graduate Faculty and regularly supervises M.A. students.

Selected Publications

Visit Prof. McCutcheon’s amazon.com author’s page to learn more about his work or find him on Google Scholar.

Ted Trost

Theodore Louis Trost

Professor

Office Hours

Thursday, 2pm-3:15pm  & by appointment

Affiliations

New College

Education

  • PhD, Harvard University, 1998

Bio

Professor Theodore Louis Trost graduated from Harvard University in 1998 with a PhD in the study of religion. His dissertation focused on the career of Douglas Horton, an American Protestant leader in the ecumenical movement during the 20th century. Previous degrees were earned at the University of Michigan (BGS), the San Francisco Theological Seminary (MDiv), and the Graduate Theological Union (MA). He also worked for nine years as a flight attendant and purser with the now-defunct Pan American World Airways.

Dr. Trost holds a joint appointment within the College of Arts & Sciences in the Department of Religious Studies and the New College. He served as chair of the Department of Religious Studies from 2009 until 2013 when, while on sabbatical from UA, he was Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Philosophy, Religion, and the History of Science at Leeds University, England. Dr. Trost was promoted to the rank of Professor in August 2010; he was Distinguished Teaching Fellow in the College of Arts and Sciences from 2015 to 2018.

Trost teaches courses in American religious history, religion and popular culture, bible, religious rhetoric in literature and film, and songwriting. He is also a songwriter and a member of the group called Thaddaeus Quince and the New Originals.

Learn More

Courses Taught

  • REL 112  Introduction to the New Testament
  • REL 124  Religion and Film in America
  • REL 240  Apocalypse in Contemporary Film
  • REL 311  English Bible as Literature
  • REL 355  The Rhetoric of Religious Conviction
  • REL 420  The Gospel of Mark
  • REL 490  Senior Capstone Seminar

Professional Service

In addition to his responsibilities to the University of Alabama, Dr. Trost has served as the chair of the Academic Relations Committee of the American Academy of Religion (2014 to 2018).  In collaboration with Philip Stoltzfus, he founded and co-chaired the Music and Religion Section of the American Academy of Religion.  He currently serves on the Editorial Boards of the New Mercersburg Review and Rock Music Studies.

Selected Publications

Books

Book Chapters and Articles

  • “Randy Newman’s Satirical Vision and the Myth of America,” in Nicolas Baxter-Moore and Thomas Kitts, eds., The Routledge Companion to Popular Music and Humor (London: Routledge [2018]).
  • “Theo-political Discourse and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Reagan Era,” Religion and Theology 25 [2018].
  • “Philip Schaff: The Flow of Church History and the Development of Protestantism,” co-authored with David Bains, Theology Today 71/4 (January 2015): 416-428.
  • “The Pan Am Quipper as Site of Anxiety: Managing Emotion in an Era of Neoliberalism and Corporate Decline,” American Quarterly 66/4 (December 2014): 1021-1037.
  • “Transgressive Theology: The Sacred and the Profane at U2’s PopMart” in Scott Calhoun, ed.,U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments (Eugene, OR: Lexington, 2014), 91-104.
  • “‘Devil’s on the Loose’: Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Religious Imagination” in Tom Kitts, ed., Finding Fogerty: Interdisciplinary Readings of John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival (Eugene, OR: Lexington, 2013), 53-70.
  • “Watching for Religion and Race at the Movies” in Carolyn M. Jones and Theodore Louis Trost, eds., Teaching African American Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 219-240.
  • “Story, Product, Franchise: Images of Postmodern Cinema,” co-authored with Bruce Isaacs in Matthew Kapell and William G. Doty, eds., Jacking into the Matrix Franchise: Cultural Reception and Interpretation (New York: Continuum, 2004), 65-79.
Vaia Touna

Vaia Touna

Associate Professor

Office Hours

By appointment

Website

Culture on the Edge

Education

  • PhD, Religious Studies, University of Alberta
  • MA, Study of Religion, Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece
  • BA, Study of Religion, Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece

Bio

Vaia Touna was trained at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki where she earned her B.A. in the study of religion and received her M.A. in 2008. She completed her doctoral studies at the University of Alberta and successfully defended her dissertation in September of 2015. Although Greek is her first language, she is also fluent in English, French, and Italian, as well as working in ancient Greek source materials.

She first came to the University of Alabama in May 2009, as part of REL’s annual study abroad trip to Greece, organized by Prof. Russell McCutcheon. During her one week stay, she taught four classes to the students who enrolled for the 2009 trip. Ms. Touna acted as the local coordinator for the 2008 and 2009 trips.

In the spring of 2010, Prof. Touna came again as an instructor to the University of Alabama as part of the Alabama-Greece Initiative during which time she taught REL 105 and co-taught REL 100 and REL 480 with Prof. Russell McCutcheon. She also taught courses in Modern Greek language through the Critical Languages Center.

Her scholarly interests in religion in society range widely, from looking at specific concepts from the Classical and Hellenistic eras to methodological issues concerning the study of religion in general. Her research focuses on the sociology of identity formation with examples drawn from the ancient Greco-Roman world and modern Greece.

Prof. Touna is currently working on a project—which is intended as a new monograph—that draws upon her first book, Fabrications of the Greek Past: Religion, Tradition, and the Making of Modern Identities (Brill 2017), where she demonstrates how the discourses of historical agents (mainly scholars) signify past material by placing them in current narratives, thereby authorizing certain identities (whether national or personal) both in the present and past. The new book project expands on this first work and will be a significant contribution in the field as it will demonstrate how the construction of the past and people’s identities in the present is a dialectical, interactive process that involves not only scholars and the artifacts they study—as the first book maintained—but also an often unnoticed collaboration between a variety of participants (e.g., archaeologists and local residents, worshipers and tourists, museum visitors and curators, etc.), who each have their own narratives about, and investments in the past. Her project involves fieldwork ethnography and archival research in Greece.

Prof. Touna is also a member of the department’s graduate committee.

Learn More

Watch her first interview with the REL film crew or watch an interview with Prof. Touna conducted in the Summer of 2022 at Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany.

Read some of Prof. Touna’s blogs in Culture on the Edge.

Courses Taught

  • REL 100 Introduction to Religious Studies
  • REL 105 Honors Introduction to Religious Studies
  • REL 106 Introduction to Ancient Religions
  • REL 237 Self, Society, and Religions
  • REL 341 Theories of Myth
  • REL 370 Theorizing Religion in Ancient Greece
Merinda Simmons

Merinda Simmons

Professor

Office Hours

By appointment

Research Groups

Culture on the Edge

Education

  • PhD, English, The University of Alabama

Bio

Merinda Simmons has a PhD in English and is a Professor in the Department of Religious Studies.

Her areas of emphasis include gender studies and queer theory, southern studies, method and theory in the study of religion, postcolonial studies, Afro-Caribbean and African American literature and theory, migration and diaspora studies.

Her current research examines “slave religion,” a category scholars popularized only as recently as the late 1960/early 70s and which many still use to describe antebellum myths and rituals prevalent in slave communities. Several key concepts upon which slave religion discourse relies—including “religion,” “the South,” “the Atlantic,” and “race”—are relatively recent rhetorical phenomena. Their uses prior to the 18th centuries are quite far removed from 20th and 21st-century deployments (scholarly or otherwise). When taken together, their discursive histories begin to tell an interesting story about Black Studies in 20th-century academia, while complicating quests for origins in circum-Atlantic contexts along the way.

Grounded in archival and queer theories, as well as critical improvisation studies, Sourcing Slave Religion is an intervention in the contemporary scholarship on race and religion by way of “discourse diaspora,” a methodological approach that rejects recuperation as a scholarly aim and instead argues for finding theoretical possibility in the unsalvageable and the irretrievable.

Dr. Simmons is a member of the department’s executive and graduate committees and chair of the scholarship committee.

Current Projects

Dr. Simmons is currently at work on her second monograph, tentatively entitled Sourcing Slave Religion: Theorizing Experience in the Archive. The project historicizes the terms needed in order to deploy the concept of “slave religion,” along with the politics and theoretical apparatuses operative in those deployments.

She is also writing the co-authored (with Craig Martin, St. Thomas Aquinas College) book, Gender: A Critical Primer (contracted with Equinox Publishing).

Learn More

ar·ti·facts: A Memento of Departments Past with Prof. Merinda Simmons from UA Religious Studies on Vimeo.

Courses Taught

  • REL 100 Introduction to Religious Studies
  • REL 105 Honors Introduction to Religious Studies
  • REL 124 Religion, Media, The South
  • REL 226 African Diaspora Religions
  • REL 234 Identifying Gender in Religion
  • REL 237 Self, Society, & Religion
  • REL 415 Religion in the American South
  • REL 430 Religion and Literature
  • REL 419 Slave Religion in the United States
  • REL 480 Gender Theory and Religion
  • REL 501 Social Theory Foundations
  • REL 590 Graduate Capstone Seminar

Selected Publications

Books
  • Race and New Modernisms. Co-authored with James A. Crank. Sept. 2019. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Changing the Subject: Writing Women across the African Diaspora. July 2014. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press
Edited Book Series

Steven Ramey

Professor |
Graduate Director

Office Hours

Thursdays 9-10 am PRH 315A and by appointment.

Email for an in-person appointment or a Zoom meeting if another time is needed.

Affiliations

Asian Studies Program

Research Groups

Culture on the Edge

Bio

Steven Ramey, who joined the faculty as assistant professor in Fall 2006, completed his PhD in the religions of South Asia, especially focusing on Hinduism and Islam, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also holds an MDiv from Emory University in Atlanta and a BA in history from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. He has taught previously at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Furman University.

Dr. Ramey was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor and awarded tenure in the Fall 2011 and was promoted to full professor in the Fall 2016. He began serving as director of graduate studies in Fall 2020.

Dr. Ramey’s primary research focuses on the contests over identifications, particularly in contexts of migration and disagreements over contemporary practices related to subgroups within a larger community. He has conducted extensive research with people from the region of Sindh who assert a clear Hindu identification but whose practices, which incorporate Hindu deities and texts, the Guru Granth Sahib, and Sufi saints, lead others to question the Hindu identification of the Sindhis. He has also researched South Asian religions in the southeastern United States, especially focusing on Indo-Caribbean Hindus and Sindhi Hindus in this context. He uses the case of the Sindhi Hindus, Indo-Caribbean Hindus, and other subgroups to analyze the ways religious boundaries are constructed and contested in both academic studies and contemporary societies and the impact of those processes on minority groups.

Using his ethnographic work in India and the Southeastern United States, he has published and presented on the ways Sindhi Hindus construct their community and practices in various contexts, represent themselves to non-Sindhis, and negotiate the challenges that their minority position creates. His book, Hindu Sufi or Sikh: Contested Practices and Identifications of Sindhi Hindus in India and Beyond, was published in 2008 with Palgrave Macmillan press. He is also editor of Writing Religion: The Case for the Critical Study of Religion (University of Alabama Press, 2015), which honors the first decade of the department’s Aronov lecturers. Most recently, he has applied the results of his previous research to analyze the construction of differences, both in relation to those who identify as not religious and to discourses surrounding Islam in the United States. His edited volume Fabricating Difference was published in summer of 2017, and he has a new edited volume Hinduism in 5 Minutes, which is scheduled to be published in October 2022. He is also collaborating with Leslie Dorrough Smith on a textbook introducing religions of the world that challenges readers to think critically about competing representations of each religion and the world religion paradigm more generally.

Dr. Ramey also participates in the Culture on the Edge Research Collaborative, regularly contributing to its blog and editing the Culture on the Edge: Studies in Identity Formation book series published by Equinox Publishers. He has also written for the Bulletin for the Study of Religion and the Huffington Post.

Dr. Ramey is a member of the department’s executive and undergraduate committees, and he is an advisor for the Asian studies minor.

Learn More

ar·ti·facts: Blowing in the Breeze with Prof. Steven Ramey from UA Religious Studies on Vimeo.

Courses Taught

  • REL 100 Introduction to the Religious Studies
  • REL 102 Religions of the World
  • REL 208 Hinduism
  • REL 220 Survey of Asian Religions
  • REL 236 Islam
  • REL 321 Religion and Identity in South Asia
  • REL 322 Tales from Asia
  • REL 370 Survey of Islamic Traditions
  • REL 373 Advanced Studies in Asian Religions
  • REL 483 Seminar in Asian Religions
Nathan Loewen

Nathan R. B. Loewen

Associate Professor |
A&S Faculty Technology Liaison

Education

  • PhD, Modern Philosophy of Religion, McGill University

Bio

Nathan Loewen, who began in REL as of January 1, 2015, earned his PhD in Modern Philosophy of Religion at McGill University’s Faculty of Religious Studies. Prior to coming to UA he taught at McGill University (2005-2009) and in the Department of Humanities at Vanier College (2009-14), both of which are in Montreal, Canada.

Dr. Loewen has two primary areas of research and publication. One focuses on globalizing discourses within the philosophy of religion, and the other analyzes the emerging confluence between Religious Studies and Development Studies.

A third area of interest for him is critical digital pedagogy–how today’s students might critically analyze the structure and function of digital platforms that are being used in higher education. His work in this area focuses on innovations that enable teachers and classes to reflect upon how they engage not only with each other but also with wider circles of scholars and various publics on both local and global contexts.

It is this last research focus that has led to his role as Faculty Technology Liaison for the College of Arts and Sciences. He manages the College’s website for teaching and professional development, assists A&S faculty in the processes of revising or developing online courses, organizes events (such as OLIS) and participates in technology committees across campus.

Dr. Loewen most recently published Beyond the Problem of Evil: Derrida and Anglophone Philosophy of Religion, where he considers how Derrida’s treatment of evil (le mal) might assist the work of historicizing the discourse on evil within the philosophy of religion.

Learn More

Courses Taught

  • REL 100 Introduction to Religious Studies
  • REL 220 Survey of Asian Religions
  • REL 237 Self, Society and Religion: Religious Existentialism
  • REL 490 Problems of Evil

Selected Publications