Aim High…?

jobtalkI was at one of the field’s doctoral schools a while back, to give a talk, and heard from a couple sources — both grad students repeating what they’d been told as well as from a faculty member — that the primary purpose for students to be enrolled in graduate school (or perhaps at that particular one) was “to write a field-changing dissertation.” Sure, being professionalized as a grad student, such as accumulated publications of your own and gaining teaching experience, can be important but, or so it was claimed, that can distract from your primary purpose: to write a field-changing dissertation.

I admit that I found this rationale a little odd. Even risky. 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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Honors Thesis Defense: Emily Vork on Gone With the Wind and Greek Life in the South

Emily Vork, who is graduating this semester, will be defending her Honors thesis this Friday, December 6, at 12:30 pm in Manly Hall 210. Her thesis is titled “‘Cavaliers and Cotton Fields’: the ‘Old South,’ Performativity, and Gone With the Wind in Southern Greek Life.” Her thesis project was supervised by Prof. Mike Altman. The thesis defense is open to faculty and undergraduate students in the department. Come hear Emily speak about her research project and celebrate the hard work she put into it this semester!

 

Hold Your Fire, Coz the Author is Already Dead

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I’ve often used Borges’s wonderful little piece, “Borges and I” in classes, as a quick way into the debate on the death of the author.

If you’ve not read it, it’s worth taking a moment to look it over. Tackle Foucault’s essay, or Barthes’s for that matter, on much the same topic too, if you’re ambitious. It’s worth your while, I think. Continue reading

Attention Budding Religious Studies Scholars

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    Fragonard, A Young Scholar (Wallace Collection)

“Thoughts are the precious seeds of which our universities should be the botanical gardens.  Beware when God lets loose a thinker on the world—either Carlyle or Emerson said that—for all things then have to rearrange themselves.  But the thinkers in their youth are almost always very lonely creatures.  ‘Alone the great sun rises and alone spring the great streams.’  The university most worthy of rational admiration is that one in which your lonely thinker can feel himself least lonely, most positively furthered, and most richly fed.”

–William James, “The True Harvard” (1903)

Before loosing you on an unsuspecting world, the Religious Studies Department wishes to cultivate your thoughts in the manner James extolls.  With hopes of furthering your ideas most positively, richly feeding your research, and providing stimulating intellectual companionship, we invite you to participate in the Department’s 4th Annual Religious Studies Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Please consider reworking a paper you have written for a course and presenting it before assembled friends, family, and faculty (on Wednesday morning March 29).  You will work under the supervision of your professor and receive additional comment from Prof. Bagger.  When you present your research alongside your peers, the audience will have the opportunity to ask you questions about your ideas.  In the past students have found the entire process tremendously rewarding, and the event has become a highlight of the Department’s academic year.  Speak to your professor should you wish to participate.

The University provides a similar opportunity on March 30.  The Undergraduate Research & Creative Activity Conference brings together students from throughout the University to showcase their research.  To participate in the URCA, students must submit an abstract of their research online during the first seventeen days of February.  To assist you in that process, the University will schedule abstract-writing workshops in advance of the February deadline.

If honing your ideas and scholarly skills (as well as representing the Department of Religious Studies before the University community) does not provide sufficient incentive—as James would well recognize it might not: “Experience has proved that great as the love of truth may be among men, it can be made still greater by adventitious rewards” (“The PhD Octopus,” 1903)—the University has seen fit to supply cash prizes.  For more information, see Prof. Bagger or visit URCA.UA.EDU.  You may, of course, participate in both the Department Symposium and the University Conference.

“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

REL Heads to Texas for the American Academy of Religion

Postcard reading "Greetings from San Antonio, Texas"

via Boston Public Library on Flickr CC BY 2.0

Something happens every weekend before Thanksgiving. No, not the cupcake tune up game before the Iron Bowl. It’s the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the national scholarly society for the academic study of religion. This weekend many of the faculty from REL are headed to San Antonio for the meeting and they have some pretty interesting plans.

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When Considering a Career in the Humanities, Think Globally

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Tenzan Eaghll received his Ph.D. from the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, in 2016. He is currently an English Instructor at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Bangkok. For his publication and contact information see https://utoronto.academia.edu/TenzanEaghll

Ecclesiastes 11 states, “Cast out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back.” Like all biblical passages, this sentence can obviously be interpreted in many ways, but for me it contains a special insight about how to succeed in our contemporary global market: it suggests that it is best to scatter your talents and skills as far as possible, and to allow the winds of opportunity to take you where they may. Now, as a bit of a nihilist, I am not usually one to quote bible passages, but given the current economic situation of academia in the West this one seems helpful because it encourages you not to put all your proverbial eggs in one basket. In an odd way, it provides a glimmer of hope to the dire situation that Humanities graduates like myself find themselves in after completing their B.A.s, M.A.s, and Ph.D.s, and offers a simple piece of advice: when considering a career in the humanities, think globally.

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But First a Word From Our Students…

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Madeleine Lewis is a senior studying mathematics and religion at the University of Alabama. They spend their time researching conspiracy theories, making tacos in a tiny kitchen, and inciting resistance in their peers, among other things.

We’re asking some current REL students to finish a few sentences for us….

The first REL course I took at UA was: Religion and Literature: Authority, Authorship, and Canon with Dr. Simmons.

One of the most curious things I’ve learned so far in one of my REL courses is: the context leading up to Jim Jones’s mass murder at Jonestown and the group dynamics of The Peoples’ Temple.

A practical skill I’ve learned in REL is: how to form lasting and friendly relationships with my professors.

The coolest thing about the second floor of Manly Hall is: the little metal trough that McCutcheon fills with peanuts and uses to feed squirrels on the balcony. I call it Basil’s buffet.

One thing not a lot of people know about REL is: how aptly theories of religion apply to popular culture and politics.

Make your own slogan: How did Donald Trump win the 2016 election? Study religion and find out.

But First a Word From Our Students….

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Keeley McMurray is a junior double majoring in English and Religious Studies. When she isn’t writing papers or contemplating the meaning of life, Keeley loves to travel, listen to Jeff Buckley and make art.

We’re asking some current REL students to finish some sentences for us….

The first REL course I took at UA was: Honor’s Intro to Religious Studies with Dr. Rollens.

One of the most curious things I’ve learned so far in one of my REL courses is: the existence of terrorist groups comprised of Buddhist monks. Goes to show how every religion can spawn a myriad of interpretations and practices.

A practical skill I’ve learned in REL is: the wonderful ability to step out of my own life and look at things from an aerial perspective. Every individual functions under a different cultural script that shapes their unique perspective. Realizing this has made me a more peaceful, loving, and respectful person.

The coolest thing about the second floor of Manly is: the small troughs of nuts left out for the visiting squirrels. It always makes my day to see them stuffing their faces with the treats left out for them.

One thing not a lot of people know about REL is: that it applies to virtually every part of the human experience.  And it makes you fun at parties — this is a topic that seems to engage everyone. People flock to you when you are able to understand and respect their perspectives…and an endless supply of REL fun facts doesn’t hurt, either.

Make your own slogan: Did Tom Cruise evolve from a clam? Study religion and find out!