July 18 2018

by Molly Bassett, Georgia State University

Late last spring, Sarah Levine, a former student now senior editor for Religious Studies News, emailed me to ask if I would be interested in writing for the newsletter’s new column “Theoretically Speaking.” Her e-mail came at a perfect time: I had just begun redesigning one of the courses Sarah took with me several years ago. In fact, she took the first version of the course, and it is now in its third iteration. Sarah and I met over coffee, and I proposed that she write with me. She graciously agreed. Our essays reflect on “Religious Dimensions in Human Experience,” a dual-level (graduate and undergraduate) course that uses a comparative method to explore “religion” and religions as anthropological projects.

Sarah took a version of the course inspired by an epigraph and op-ed.1 We examined themes like certitude (or ignorance, as Sarah puts it) using Errol Morris’s Times essays, and Oliver Sacks, Daniel Dennett, and Gloria Anzaldúa informed our conversations about storytelling and “the self.” This fall, the course will look completely different, but the underlying method, which I describe below, is the same. While reading widely for my research, I came across Wendy Doniger’s observation, “Animals and gods are two closely related communities poised like guardians on either threshold of our human community, two others by which we define ourselves” (1989, 3). My aim in “Religious Dimensions” is always to provide space and structures for students to ask some of the big questions that bring them to the study of religions. This fall, we will be examining humans as beings that stand “Between Animals and Gods.” In this essay and the one that follows it, Sarah and I explain a bit about the place and application of theory and method in the course, and Sarah her experience of the course.

by Brandy Daniels, Vanderbilt University

Still from Florence + the Machine's music video, "How Big How Blue How Beautiful." Florence Welch in white raising hands to sky.

I’ve been slow to listen to Florence + the Machine’s newest album, "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful," which is rather odd given that I’m a long-time fan, and thus have waited in patient, eager anticipating for over three years for new material from the fiery musician who so many, myself included, see as  "flamboyantly imaginative" and "captivating," whose “exceptional sense of melody” produces songs that “let her show off with grand, arching vocal lines, leaping deftly across her registers.” As I’ve often said about another of my favorite musicians, Karen Berquist of "Over the Rhine," Florence too sings like she’s having an orgasm. How could one not be captivated?

Yet, when I first heard “What Kind of Man?,” the first single from the new album, soon after it was released in February, I was disappointed. It’s blues-pop vibe just didn’t jive with me—or, rather, it just hit the wrong note, evoking more of a feeling of post-coital ambivalence and regret then of orgasmic release. I’d recently been through a tough breakup of my own, and wanted the melancholic, abstracting Florence of “What the Water Gave Me” and “Breaking Down” or, even better, the melodic Florence of “Dog Days are Over” and “Shake it Out:” the Florence of upbeat, empowering hopefulness. I was looking for the blues without the pop, or even the pop after the blues. But not both together.

by Beth Eddy, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Well, the time is almost upon me. My tenure materials are due in early June. The last cancer scare was over the Christmas holidays. My doctors tell me "reduce your stress load." They don't understand my situation.

I was diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer in September of 2010. I had a complete mastectomy with the removal of seventeen lymph nodes early that October. Five of those nodes turned out to be cancerous. I was given a diagnosis of Stage III breast cancer. What followed were eight weeks of chemotherapy, then a month and a half of radiation therapy. After a year of recovery, I had a free tram flap replacement of my breast, which involved cutting a segment from my belly fat and muscle and hooking it up to the blood vessels that will keep it alive as my new breast. The second surgery was by far the harder of the two.

SherAli Tareen with Kristian Petersen

SherAli Tareen, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College, was awarded an American Academy of Religion’s 2014 Individual Research Grant. He talks to Religious Studies News about his project Islam, Tradition, and Democracy: The Case of the Deoband Madrasa.

Image: Darul Uloom Deoband Madrasa, located in Uttar Pradesh in the northeast India. Photo by Bakrbinaziz via Wikimedia Commons.

by Gail Labovitz, American Jewish University

Opening title screen of the film (2001) The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

The “Seligman Postdoctoral Fellowship in Judaic Studies” is very generous as academic fellowships go. It supplies full living expenses, including use of a large (multi-bedroom!) apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It includes health insurance and (very rare in a postdoc) a retirement plan. This coming week it even includes tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert, and I don’t know of any other postdoc that offers that. Moreover, the “Seligman Fellowship” will give me an opportunity to do the researching, writing, and publishing that will make me a more attractive candidate for academic jobs—most particularly, to do the necessary rewriting to make my dissertation publishable—without any teaching obligations. Finally, the “Seligman Fellowship” is highly exclusive. It’s never been offered before, and very likely will not be offered again. It’s only ever been offered to one candidate—me.

As you may have guessed, I’m married to Seligman.

We invite AAR members to make public comments on this draft policy statement on academic freedom.

Interview with Aysha Hidayatullah and Kecia Ali, Cochairs, Islam, Gender, and Women Group

Five women sitting on stairs outside a building in Sarajevo chatting. Four are veiled, and one is reading a book.

Each year, the AAR's program committee reviews applications for new program units to be added to the Annual Meeting. Proposed program units must demonstrate how they will contribute to the field and are judged on a number of factors: whether they represent an emerging area of study, if there's a significant scholarly demand, and how they will contribute to the Annual Meeting program.

Among the newest program units to be inducted into the Annual Meeting program is the Islam, Gender, and Women Group. In this interview, cochairs Kecia Ali and Aysha Hidayatullah explain to RSN the Group's commitment to nontraditional programming, its relationship with feminism, and the rhetoric of objectivity.


7 July 2015

The two-fold purpose of this statement is to generate conversation about the challenges of research about religion and to provide guidelines that establish standards of professional conduct and identify researchers’ responsibilities.

General Reflections

by Alison Colpits, University of Toronto

Hands in Solidarity, Hands of Freedom mural on the side of the United Electrical Workers trade union building on West Monroe Street at Ashland Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.

I always find it unfortunate when the so-called work-life balance is framed as a problem for women. I’m aware that, as the AAR Status of Women in the Profession Committee (SWP) rightly indicates, it’s a problem for women insofar as women are still mostly responsible for “care work.” So I don’t find it unfortunate because I don’t think it to be true. I do think it’s true. Rather, I find it unfortunate because even though the work-life balance is an urgent problem for women, having women write and talk about it for each other isn’t going to change anything. The problem with the SWP calling for stories about the work-life balance in academia is that it’s the SWP that has to make the call for it.

by Susan Abraham, Loyola Marymount University

Hua Mulan in "Gathering Gems of Beauty," album leaf, ink and colors on silk. Painter identified as He Dazi. Qing dynasty. Mulan depicted in a field with her back to the viewer, holding a spear

My brief today is to address the challenges of being single in a couple-normative guild. I have three parts to my remarks.

I. The first is the obvious one—the structural issues that lead to what Michael Warner called “regimes of the normal” in his Fear of a Queer Planet.1 “The Normal” of course, bespeaks the not-normal, and I personally speak from the standpoint of a single, queer, Catholic, liberationist, Marxist, feminist, postcolonial, poststructuralist, immigrant Indian female. When the invitation was first broached to me of this panel, I had a flashback to my very first interview with the US consulate in Bombay in 1990, as the official who looked over my papers said, “We have never given a student visa to a single young woman from India, especially to study theology.” My sense of learned shame and helplessness then has of course been repeated many times in the American academy. I did not necessarily set out to be single, though of course, growing up in India, I would swear up and down that I would not marry, even to the point of sabotaging behind my mother’s back her desperate attempts to “marry me off.” What I meant then was that I did not want to be married in the traditional way. Marriage itself, as a concept and category, was and is something I remain thoroughly suspicious of for a number of reasons. But choosing to be single, that was not really part of the plan. Singlehood was conferred on me. And I have had to think about it. The words of Eve Sedgwick in her Epistemology of the Closet ring true: “Many people have their richest mental/emotional involvement with sexual acts that they don’t do, or even want to do.”2