Studying Religion by Not Studying Religion? Notes from the Field

edgemanlyhallThis month, I had the honor and privilege of delivering the endowed inaugural Day Lecture (in honor of Zachary Day who was a religious studies major at The University of Alabama before he passed) on religion in popular culture for the Department of Religion where scholar of religion Russell T. McCutcheon is currently Chair. I was struck by and in awe of the intellectual energy there among students who major and minor in religious studies. Not just that they were studying religion, but how they were thinking about the academic study of religion in their own specialties of interest. As someone who has spent the last three years teaching religion on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and very much interested in the ongoing conversations regarding the “crisis” in the humanities and “decreasing interest” in fields such as religion, it strikes me that getting students to see the utility in and broad possibilities of something like the academic study of religion might rely upon how we as scholars, or departments, for example, demonstrate not so much what religion is but how studying religion might assist in exploring a wide variety of data in the social world – such as claims to identity and difference. The latter, in part, relies upon how we both mark (and market) the academic study of religion, perhaps away from a static and self-evident “thing” (over there) towards a notion of religion as more of an “anthropological enterprise” – a social process – a human doing and making. Continue reading “Studying Religion by Not Studying Religion? Notes from the Field”