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 Johnson kindly provided his unpublished text to the Department and so the conclusion in posted below.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”

Excerpt from Gregg Lambert’s “The Future of the Humanities”

On September 25, 2012, Prof. Gregg Lambert of Syracuse University’s Humanities Center, joined us in Tuscaloosa to present a public lecture entitled “The Future of the Humanities”*–the inaugural lecture in this year’s series on the place of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the contemporary university. As with all future talks in this series, we plan to post an excerpt from the lecture soon after it is delivered, inviting comments from those in attendance or from those reading this blog, knowing also that the lecturer is always invited either to post a new blog or respond to comments from other to these excerpts.


Excerpt from “The Future of the Humanities”*

As I will return to discuss in the conclusion, given the growth of the tertiary sector globally [i.e., the service sector of the economy], let us briefly return to Marx’s earlier model. The problem with Marx’s entire theory of labour power is that it was premised upon the dominance of the manufacturing sector of 19th century economies in England and Germany, in which creativity and imagination were not among the potential to be developed as human capital stocks, and thus only belonged to the capitalists who creatively and imaginatively buy and sell labor or commodities. A worker did not need to be creative in most skills, only technically knowledgeable, and the only requirement was that he could be trained to perform a skill. Later on, the level technical knowledge increased and national programs of literacy and quantitative skills were put in place to train new classes of workers. Continue reading “Excerpt from Gregg Lambert’s “The Future of the Humanities””

Turtles All the Way Down

It’s the day after our inaugural lecture in 2012-13’s series on the place of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the contemporary university and I’m troubled by the student feedback that I’ve heard so far. It’s come from some of our undergraduate majors, who attended, as well as from an assortment of students enrolled in my 100-level introductory course who also attended. (“Write me a one page description and you can earn some extra credit in the course”–the professor’s old trick to get students new to the university to think a few new thoughts, and, as we used to say, expand their horizons.) Whether or not it was the intended message of the speaker–Prof. Gregg Lambert from Syracuse University–the students seems to have heard a message of lamentation for the future of the Humanities–not a description of how we got here or a renewed defense of our relevance but, instead, a (to their ears at least) dire message from a senior professor concerning the fact that they may be deluded to think that grad school might be for them (since they’ll possibly be mired in student debt that will take them decades to repay–making grad school sound like a bit of a scam); because they’re all just human capital, spewed into the global market from a never-ending pipeline, why continue in their studies? As one first year student who attended the lecture said to me today, sounded both intimidated and incredulous: “Declaring a major may be the most important decision of my life?!” Continue reading “Turtles All the Way Down”

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”