Theses and Dissertations - Department of Religious Studies

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    Constructing conscience: freedom and self-governance in colonial New England
    (University of Alabama Libraries, 2020) McMurray, Keeley Malone; Altman, Michael J.; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    American politics and law, like other liberal democracies, couches itself in the protection of the free individual, one who possesses both “beliefs” and the unalienable right to those “beliefs.” The “freedom of religion” guaranteed to U.S. citizens in the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment prioritizes this supposedly private and transcendent realm of “sincerity,” “faith,” and “experience,” kept separate from the contextual and temporal world of society and politics. Historians of American religion, and scholars of religion more broadly, have long taken this “interiority” rhetoric to be self-evident, ignoring the prescriptive implications of positing such an interiority at all. Rather than understanding these rhetorics of “interiority” as referencing a non-empirical and apolitical reality of autonomous “selfhood,” this paper will argue that the constitutional protection of the autonomous individual is constitutive of a particular type of political subjectivity, one that allows for those in power to manage dissent by authorizing some differences and marginalizing others. I will therefore interrogate the function of institutionalizing such an “interiority” in the first place, in order to understand how and why American society works the way that it does. Using three cases from seventeenth-century New England to better inform contemporary cases involving “conscientious objection,” I will argue that the privatized discourse of “religion,” and thus a discourse of the “self-governing individual,” functions as a tool of governance through the authorization, exclusion, and negotiation of unfalsifiable claims.
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    Reorienting phenomenological method for the critical study of religion
    (University of Alabama Libraries, 2019) Gibson, Emma Abigail; Loewen, Nathan R. B.; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    The phenomenological method put forth by Edmund Husserl in Logical Investigations (1900) made its way into several academic disciplines over the last century. What started as a philosophical method of answering metaphysical and ontological questions was soon adopted by Gerardus van der Leeuw in Religion in Essence and Manifestation (1938), who sought to answer theological questions. Phenomenological methods continue within the field of philosophy, for example those influenced by Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927), but are, for the most part, abandoned by religious studies scholars due to the theological trajectory set by van der Leeuw, among others. If, however, the phenomenological method of religion was to model itself after the philosophical approaches, it may become a tool for critical scholars of religion today. I begin with a section highlighting the differences between philosophical phenomenology and phenomenology of religion in order to identify the theological elements which appear in the phenomenological method of religion. By comparing the work of Martin Heidegger and Gerardus van der Leeuw, this section shows how Heidegger’s approach is critical of van der Leeuw. Doing so illustrates the ways the philosophical phenomenological method can address the issues of theology found in the phenomenological method of religion. Then, I reference the phenomenological method as it appears in feminist and queer phenomenology in order to further explore the ways the phenomenological method may be critical of previous approaches to “religion.”
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    Theorizing origins: an analysis of descriptions of hybridity in Marian devotional cultures
    (University of Alabama Libraries, 2019) Lawson, Sierra Lynn; McCutcheon, Russell T.; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    Scholars have long been interested in groups whose members describe themselves as devotees of Mary. Yet, in relaying the descriptions of such devotional communities, scholars too often merely repeat the history put forward by the devotees themselves. Scholars’ repetition of the tale of devotional origins provided by their informants—examined here in three separate case studies, each deriving from different periods and geographic regions—problematically reifies our understanding of the past and a group’s development, portraying it as an authentic account of that history. Instead, using recent scholarship on Marian devotional groups as the example, this thesis maintains that scholars should remain critical of the origins accounts provided by the groups they study and remain wary of recreating those narratives in their own descriptions of the groups.
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    Their throats were constricted: nationalism, history, and memorials in Nana Rao Park
    (University of Alabama Libraries, 2018) Griswold, Sarah; Altman, Michael J.; University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
    In the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Nana Rao Park in Kanpur is a microcosm for the history of India since 1857. The park exists as a space to be used for recreation, but it also houses a group of memorials that work to reinforce certain narratives. Today, the memorials tell the story of the 1857 Rebellion through the lens of Indian nationalism. Before Indian Independence in 1947, however, the park operated as a space to ideologically reinforce British imperialism. Each iteration of this park both reflects and perpetuates the dominant narrative at any given time. This thesis examines Nana Rao Park through those memorials and contemporaneous scholarship to show that narratives and the material output of those narratives are always politically driven. Whether to establish empire or fight for a national identity, Nana Rao Park is a space where these ideologies and narratives collide.