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

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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.

“Canon Fodder” by Merinda Simmons

This brief review of The Norton Anthology of World Religions uses the anthology as an occasion to consider the poststructuralist analytical offerings of what came to be known as the canon wars in literary studies, suggesting that the academic field of religious studies would be well-served to engage in its own canon wars. Doing so would begin to deconstruct in productive ways the protectionist and/or descriptive stance too many scholars of religion have in relation to their objects of study.

“Teaching by Production Rather Than Products” by Nathan Loewen

The classroom has potential to be the most common context for the dissemination of method and theory in religious studies. Scholars have the ability to perform scholarly competencies in their teaching venues such as providing evidentiary support, taking stock of methodological concerns, and demonstrating familiarity with current trends in criticism within the field, just to name a few. Those who take seriously critical moves in the field, furthermore, might see the dialogical self-consciousness and an attention to structures to be shared primary interests for critical theory and contemporary pedagogy. All too often, and problematically, the competencies applied in scholarship are separated from teaching. Research is seen as “real work” (e.g., publications and conference papers) and, for many, teaching merely serves those practical ends. With this problematic dichotomy in mind, the publishing of The Norton Anthology of World Religions (NAWR) is sadly not surprising in the year 2015. When critical scholarship is withheld from pedagogical tools (like an anthology), the demonstrable lack of scholarly competency and disciplinary aptitude in Jack Miles’ preface and introduction to the NAWR remains unremarkable (particularly since he claims to address religious studies undergraduates and their professors). Miles not only presents the NAWR as a means by which “international world religions should be allowed to speak to you in their own words” (Miles 2015: li) but he also prescribes—as supposedly prior to theoretical commitments—the method of “secular, neutral comparative study of religion” (41) through the “fine art of page flipping” (lvii) as the original and best practice for the study of religion. Miles’ failures as a critic and as a pedagogue merely reflect the presumption that students need only interact with the superstructures of higher education and not be let in on the processes that create scholarship. This essay will outline this problematic vis-à-vis the preface and introduction to the NAWR in order to highlight the role a critical study of religion should play in our teaching.

“Where Did This Box of Books Come From?” by Mike Altman

The publication of The Norton Anthology of World Religions and the subsequent massive free exam copy mailing campaign by W. W. Norton requires an explanation. Why does the field of religious studies need such an anthology? What has led us to the place where such an anthology even makes sense? This essay examines the explanations General Editor Jack Miles gives for why The Norton Anthology of World Religions arrived in faculty mailboxes all over the country in the spring of 2015.

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Ar·ti·facts Returns for the 2016 Semester!

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We’re kicking off the fall semester with the resurgence of the ar·ti·facts series, in which faculty showcase an item from his or her office that bears some significance or importance to the professor and his/her role in the department. This season starts off with Dr. Nathan Loewen and a bit of family history…

Stay tuned for more upcoming videos in this series!

Ar·ti·facts: A Glimpse into the Past with Dr. Loewen from UA Religious Studies

REL Movie Nights Return with Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

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Our one credit hour course–REL 360–returns for the fall semester with the showing of Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. This 1999 crime/action film follows “Ghost Dog”, a hit-man for the mafia who models his life by the code of the samurai. When one of his missions goes awry, causing him to leave a witness alive, Ghost Dog himself becomes a target of the mafia.

The screening is open to everyone!

(Even if you’re not in the class!)

WHAT? REL 360 is a one-credit course designed to show four films throughout the semester that will provoke discussion about what exactly takes place when the humanities and popular culture collide.

WHEN? Thursday, August 25 @ 6:00 pm

WHERE? 235 Lloyd Hall

WHY? To promote intriguing discussions outside of a typical lecture-setting. It’s a free film and a fun way to spend a Thursday afternoon.

WHAT ELSE? Anyone can attend! If you decide you like the class, you can email Professor Bagger (mcbagger@ua.edu) for more information on the course, or visit the REL website.

 

Hope to see you there!

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Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Faculty Scorecard jpgIt’s a new academic year so, yes, we have some new posters going up around Manly Hall — one being the new and improved faculty display case.

Located between the offices of Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Touna, this new poster reveals, for the first time ever, some fun facts that you probably didn’t know about your professors.

Our challenge to you? Match the little-known facts with the correct professor. Get the scorecard (print the JPEG by clicking the image above), then complete it and submit it in the box in REL’s main office for a chance to win a “major prize.” (While we ourselves may not know what this prize is, we promise you won’t want to miss out.)

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Submit your entries to the main office by noon on August 31
and, from among the correct submissions,
we’ll draw for a winner.

Welcome Back 2016

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The Department of Religious Studies is thrilled to welcome you back to the start of another eventful academic year! We’re ushering in the new semester with a bit of a blast to the past as the Department celebrates fifty years of studying religion in culture. Check out the video to see just how much things have changed around Manly Hall.

Welcome Back ’16 from UA Religious Studies.

“Celebrating Merrily Their Happy Anniversary…”

50th Anniv Logo FinalYes, we’re celebrating the Department’s 50th anniversary throughout 2016-17.

Although we’ll wait until later to let you know precisely what that celebration will entail, I thought I’d let you know the rationale for why we’re celebrating this now. Continue reading

They Were Right to Boo

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Did you see Ted Cruz’s speech last night at the Republican National Convention? Maybe you heard about this morning — if you’re following the US Presidential race, that is.

He had a prime spot and ended his speech with a few words that caused him to get resoundingly booed. Continue reading

We Are the Beneficiaries

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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

Prof. Ikeuchi to Screen Her Research

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Our newest addition to the REL faculty, Prof. Suma Ikeuchi will screen her ethnographic film “In Leila’s Room” at the 2016 Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Media Festival. Here’s a brief description of the film:

A young Brazilian migrant woman, Leila, runs a small make-up salon in her apartment in Toyota City, Japan. Most of her clients are, like herself, Brazilians of Japanese descent who have return migrated to the land of their ancestors. Her small salon is also a social hub of evangelical women in the local Brazilian migrant community who come in for good make-up and conversations. In this intimate space, Leila, her fellow migrants, and the filmmaker speak about and act out their complex identities.
Shot almost entirely in one room, the film captures migrants’ sense of identity and belonging by witnessing the interactions between Leila, the filmmaker, her family and friends, and the clients. What defines being Japanese, Brazilian, or Japanese-Brazilian? How does generational identity shape transnational belonging? How can one rely on God in the face of ethnic discrimination and social alienation? The scenes and dialogues speak to these issues that migrants constantly grapple with.

The film will be screened at the festival in Minneapolis, MN this November. Congratulations, Prof. Ikeuchi!

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Make a Shift

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I’ve noticed an interesting reaction online to the news that Trump may have become born-again Christian — at least as reported recently in an interview with the noted US evangelical leader James Dobson.

The reaction concerns either how social actors like Dobson have stooped to a new low by so crassly using faith for political purposes (and thereby trying to make Trump more palatable to a segment of voters) or how this signals the final demise of the so-called Christian Right and any religious relevance it might have once had. Continue reading