Description

Taking the Department's motto seriously -- studying religion in culture -- this MA degree explores cross-disciplinary social theory and applies it to the study of religion, seeing each site studied as a test case in identity formation. Unlike other graduate programs in the study of religion, the MA in Religion in Culture at The University of Alabama presses beyond mere description and cross-cultural comparison, instead using social theory to understand the effects that narratives, practices, classification systems, and institutional structures have on social groups and their members. The degree program maintains this approach with a combination of analytic tools and digital skills, training students to use innovative technologies so as to communicate their findings effectively to wide audiences.

Two Key Foundations

The premise of the degree is that the work taking place in our field has wide relevance. Critical analysis and innovative communication skills in the public humanities are therefore both cornerstones of this MA. While all students will carry out their own independent research and gain co-writing experience with their supervisor, courses will require them to produce original article-length research papers and to create substantive digital presentations. These emphases begin in the first semester of the program, with two Foundations courses: one in social theory and the other in public humanities. In consultation with their supervisor, their culminating thesis project will emphasize one or the other of these two modes of scholarly communication -- allowing students to tailor the thesis to suit their own interests and career plans.

Supervision

Supervisors are assigned by the graduate committee when a student is accepted into the program, making the statement of purpose a crucial element of the application process, inasmuch as it is the primary means by which the graduate committee determines whether there is sufficient overlap of faculty expertise with incoming students' interests and needs. (This assignment is open to revision, at the discretion of the graduate director, should student interests change.) Faculty supervisors assist students in navigating the degree program, advising courses based on student interests, and mentoring the completion of a culminating thesis project. 

Degree Structure

The 36 credit hour graduate degree (2 years of course work, including the final thesis) focuses on providing students with two critical foundations: (i) becoming conversant in contemporary social theory and applying it to their area of interest in the study of religion and (ii) developing competencies in the tools of the public, digital humanities. In their first semester students will be not only reading widely in social theory (and applying it to an historical, regional, or ethnographic example of their choice) but also gaining familiarity with a wide variety of digital tools (from video and audio recording and editing, to making web pages and working with "big data") that will assist them in sharing their research. Students are also encouraged in their second semester to take a course examining the history of the study of religion in order to think critically about the application and relevance of those foundational elements in the field of religious studies. 

Relevance of the Degree

The program is designed not only for students hoping to pursue doctoral work but also for those aiming to use these skills in any number of other professions -- places where the analytic skills gained from working in social theory are enhanced by their communication skills and digital expertise. Rigorous coursework and original research with the mentorship of faculty prepares students for prestigious PhD programs; meanwhile, experience applying digital platforms to those research interests equips students with sought-after skills that can be applied to a number of careers.

Non-credit Colloquium

A required, non-credit Graduate Colloquium meets twice each semester and exposes students to a range of professional issues relevant to higher education today. The kinds of topics covered include, but are not limited to: teaching, C.V. preparation, applying for future graduate study, and career opportunities outside academia.

Journal Group

Attended by REL graduate students and faculty, an academic reading group meets twice each semester. Each session is led by a second-year MA student and features discussion of a current peer-reviewed journal article relevant to that student's research interests.

Funding

There are a limited number of graduate teaching assistantships (GTA) -- full or partial -- that are awarded annually on a competitive basis. Full GTA positions (i.e., 0.5 FTE) come with a full stipend and full tuition waiver (whether in- or out-of-state); partial GTA positions (e.g., 0.25 FTE) come with a half stipend and half tuition waiver.

Contact

For more information, contact Prof. Merinda Simmons, REL's graduate director.