Yes, Virginia…

One of our majors (also minoring in Judaic Studies) posted the following on our student association’s Facebook page earlier today (re-posted here with her permission):

Leaving aside, for the time being, the issue of whether personality, aptitude, and IQ tests actually tell us anything concrete about individuals (as opposed either to generalized conclusions about wide groups or the assumptions and values of those who make the tests), we can at least say that, yes, Virginia, there is a major like that. And yes, mom, there are wonderful careers for people who possess these skills.

Stars Upon Thars

“This so-called real world is the same place we’ve always been, of course….”

So said Greg Johnson, in the close to his public lecture the other day (read the conclusion to his paper here). This is an exceedingly important point, I think; the university as a whole, and of course the Humanities in particular, are often accused of being disengaged from this real world; the privileged, “ivory tower” (a phrase we get from the Song of Solomon–hardly a working class text itself, but I digress) that we in the university inhabit is thought somehow to be secluded, and thereby protected, from the rest of the world. This otherworldly realm of merely immaterial ideas (as it is characterized) is therefore something apart from the material world of matters that matter. Continue reading “Stars Upon Thars”

Greg Johnson on the Real World in Real Time

On November 6, 2012, the second lecture in the 2012-13 series was presented by Prof. Greg Johnson, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His lecture–entitled, “In the Moment: The Relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences for the Study of Religion in Real Time”–opened by reflecting on the “Studying Religion in Culture” motto of UA’s Department of Religious Studies and then moved on to examining the manner in which ongoing debates and legal contests in Hawaii over contemporary indigenous people’s rights and ancestral remains present the scholar of religion with an opportunity to study religion both in the skin and in the bone, as he phrased it, i.e., examining, “in real time,” the manner in which it is performed/enacted both in more flamboyant, public settings (e.g., organized protests) and also in a more behind-the-scenes, structural manner (e.g., people attending hearings and meetings, taking minutes, filing legal briefs and court challenges, etc., all in the context of operationalizing the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990).

After examining two case studies from Hawaii he turned his concluding attention toward linking his approach to studying religion, politics, and identity, toward the theme of this year’s lecture series. Prof. Johnson kindly provided his unpublished text to the Department and so the conclusion in posted below. Continue reading “Greg Johnson on the Real World in Real Time”

Where’s Waldo?

This morning, a friend on Facebook used to create a tag cloud for the online program book of the upcoming annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR)–the largest professional association for scholars of religion. Another version is posted here.

It’s hardly a scientific or systematic representation of what scholars of religion work on, and I’d hate to draw too many conclusions about the field simply from the frequency of certain words’ appearances in panel titles, paper titles, and abstracts for papers. (E.g., “University” is so large surely because it appears in almost every presenter’s institutional affiliation, which appears with every paper in the program book.) However, noticing how tiny the word “theory” is (I leave it to you to find that particular Waldo), it prompted me to wonder what a tag cloud for a truly social scientific conference on religion might look like–one that studied people rather than the claims they make. That is, would we find “experience,” “theology,” “Christian,” and “God” so prominent, and “history,” “human,” “people,” “culture,” and “order” so small…?

Search the online program book for yourself–type in some interesting key words and see what you come up with.

… All Across Culture

About ten years ago the Department came up with a motto: Studying Religion in Culture. The “in” was italicized to stress the point that, unlike the common “religion and culture” construction that we see all across the field, at the University of Alabama we did not conceive of these two as separate domains that, like billiard balls, sometimes bump into each other (and thus the task of the scholar is to tract the collisions). Instead, the domain we know as religion is but one part of wider historical, cultural practices and institutions (in fact, calling some part “religion” may itself be a local cultural practice!); thus, unlike a previous generation of religious studies scholars, who thought they needed special interpretive methods to study their special data, our object of study is open to examination by means of any of the tools scholars routinely use to study any other cultural practice. (Learn more about the motto here.) Continue reading “… All Across Culture”

Deep Impact

I remember a speaker who would hold the vowels in the first syllable of the word “meaning”–saying “meeee-ning”–signalling to the audience, I guess, that he really, really meant it, much like those who don’t just mean something, like when they extend either their good wishes or deep sympathies, but, instead add that they “sincerely mean” this or that. When it comes to the word “meaning,” I’ve noticed that lots of people do this in my academic field (the study of religion); often associating a hand gesture with this linguistic affectation: some sort of reaching out, maybe the hand slightly opened upward, as if loosely cupping and then displaying a precious object–somehow trying to signal, I gather, the extra mile that they are going to convey the significance of their words. But, despite the highlighting that they behaviorally give to their words, they are, after all, just words–sounds produced by the body and decoded (or encoded?) by ears and brains. Yet somehow, as listeners, we tend to think that they are actually meaningful, sounds and characters on a page or a computer screen that somehow carry this thing we call meaning (for example, did you notice my choice of “convey” two sentences ago? Much as when we “speak from the heart”…). As I’ve often told my students, you can’t hear or read your own language and not “hear” and “see” it as language, as having a meaning. Continue reading “Deep Impact”

The Relevance of Research: Religions as Vestigial States

[By Naomi Goldenberg]

My work at present is focused on developing the hypothesis that religions can be productively thought of as vestigial states.  I consider this to be one way of de-essentializing, demystifying and deconstructing the category of religion.  In general, the concept directs theory along two trajectories:  one is the analysis of particular histories in which ‘religions’ are formed or solidified in distinction to ‘states’; another is a focus on classifications which current governments use to delineate spheres of power.  I understand that if the term vestigial state has any resonance, that it will be as a temporary, partial and provisional tool for building theory in critical religion. Continue reading “The Relevance of Research: Religions as Vestigial States”

Engaging the Employability Debate

When engaging in the employability debate (which is problematic in its own right), many departments in the Humanities and Social Sciences need to challenge what Gregory Alles calls the “narrow managerial mentality,” the assumption that qualifying for a career requires an undergraduate degree in the field of one’s career. In raising this issue, Alles distinguishes between careers that require “a high percentage of non-transferable ‘hard skills’” and careers that “require the acquisition of a larger percentage of highly transferable ‘soft skills’ and a knowledge base that has both breadth and depth. Most of the specific skills that are needed can be learned on the job, indeed, are probably best learned there” (Religion [2011] 41:2, 219-220). Continue reading “Engaging the Employability Debate”