#REL100 in the (student) News

Pardon the self-promotion:

Introductory level courses here at Emory are not famous for their enthusiastic levels of participation, attendance or commitment. Often these classes are big, too drafty or, let’s be honest, just too early in the morning to meet the same standards of discussion and debate set by upper-level courses and seminars.

Professors in these classes face a unique challenge: getting a large group of students, often from many majors and years, to take an active part in class discussion and lecture.

The Religion 100: Introduction to Religion course taught by Ph.D. student Michael Altman this semester is meeting this challenge head-on. The class is growing from the more conventional, old school homework assignments by injecting the curriculum with technology and the hallmark social networking of our generation.

Twitter and blogging are given an academic spin in the effort to boost class involvement, enthusiasm, and engagement.

So, I’ve made it into the student newspaper. Now, let’s just see how the course evaluations turn out…

Drafting a Syllabus: REL100 Intro. to Religion- Christian and Hindu Traditions

I’ve been preparing for my maiden voyage in the world of teaching this coming semester. I’ve been given the privileged of  teaching my own class: Religion 100 Introduction to Religion. At Emory we teach this course comparatively so every class picks two traditions to focus on. Being an Americanist who studies Hinduism in American culture, I of course chose Christianity and Hinduism. I’m really excited about the course. I’m going to try and use Twitter inside and outside of class and we’re also going to set up a public blog for the class. Is this too much? I don’t know. We’ll see.  So, without further ado, below is my first draft of the syllabus. I’d welcome any comments, provocations, or advice. I’ve already turned to Facebook for a lot of ideas and help with it as it stands now. So let me know what you think! (The spacing in the schedule section is a little off from copying and pasting out of Word but I’m too lazy to fix it right now.)

Religion 100: Introduction to Religion

Christian and Hindu Traditions

MWF 10:40-11:30 White Hall 112

Michael J. Altman


Office Hours: Tues. 2pm-4pm, Wed. 3pm-5pm at the Starbucks in the Oxford Rd. Bldg. and by appt.

I. Course Description

This course introduces the academic study of religion through a comparative approach to Hindu and Christian religious cultures. The central question of our course is “What is religion?” We will attempt to answer this question by drawing on a range of examples from Hindu and Christian religious cultures. These case studies will come from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in both India and America and range from Hindu pilgrimage to American Catholic devotionalism to yoga to evangelical Christian revivalism. These case studies will be organized around three themes: the body, ritual and devotion, and space and motion. In each case and through each theme we will pay special attention to the ways “religion” is constructed, authorized, and maintained. Turning to the ways religion was constructed in the past will shed light on the ways it is understood today. By the end of the course we will have an understanding of the rich variety of religious cultures found within Christianity and Hinduism while also gaining theoretical tools for analyzing various constructions of “religion.”

Continue reading

Hacking the Dissertation « THATCamp Southeast 2011

Below is my session idea for THATCamp Southeast. An unconference for digital humanities.

How can digital humanities help us reimagine the dissertation? As a mid-program graduate student, I’m standing at the beginning of my dissertation project and I’m interested in hacking the dissertation.

I’ve been thinking about this from a few angles. First, digital sources provide one new way of rethinking the dissertation. Digital archives and collections that offer full text searching provide new ways to do dissertation research, especially in the current climate where graduate research funding may be difficult to find. Second, the actual dissertation itself can be rethought. For example, how could digital sources for a dissertation be archived online to provide a sort of source book for the research project? What would a “digital dissertation” look like? Lastly, how can digital technology improve the process of writing a dissertation? The dissertation is a young scholars first major project, what sort of technologies are out there that every dissertating graduate student ought to try to help them stay organized and get the thing written?

I would love to see something come out of this discussion that could serve as a guide or toolbox for graduate students wanting to hack their dissertations. There are a lot of great reviews and ideas about writing dissertations with digital technologies (for example, Tonya Roth’s blog “Hacking the Dissertation Process” ) but its very scattered and tough to track down and synthesize. We need a more systematic approach to rethinking a digital dissertation.

via Hacking the Dissertation « THATCamp Southeast 2011.

Power, Authority, and the Academic Journal: Thoughts on UC vs. NPG

Why do we need academic journals?

In the midst of the ongoing dispute between the University of California system and the Nature Publishing Group over the rates of science journals, I’ve been wondering what exactly is the function of the academic journal?

I see two.  First, journals like those published by NPG function to distribute knowledge.   Second, journals act to authorize academic work.  The current spat between UC and NPG is beginning to reveal the ways these two functions are related and how they are also falling apart.  What is missing from the current discussion of the UC vs. NPG battle is an analysis of how power and authority move through the current journal publication structure, which at bottom, is a question about how journal publication functions .

Continue reading

‘Punk’ Academics, ‘Jam’ Academics, and the ‘Culture Industry’

This morning a couple of weird thoughts began to criss-cross in my mind that linked ‘punk’ academics, jam bands, and Theodore Adorno.  In the end, I began to see the political edge of the digital humanities in opposing what Adorno and Horkheimer call the “culture industry.”

To start off, I was reading Adorno and Horkheimer’s “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as mass deception” essay and thinking about ways for humanist academics to fight the totalizing power of late capital and the culture industries in the age of new media.  Not too heavy, huh?

Then I noticed a great link on twitter about an archive of electroacoustic music being distributed via torrent.  I replied that etree.org is another great site that is distributing music via torrent for all sorts of bands in the ‘jam music’ scene, most notably Phish but also Dave Matthews, String Cheese Incident, etc.  All of these bands have a liberal taping policy that allows fans to tape their live performances and the distribute them non-commercially.  (Another example of this is the Live Music archive over at archive.org, also run by etree.org)

The combination of academia and music reminded me of once hearing about the Do-It-Yourself culture of ‘punk academics.’  Now, I don’t really know that much about punk academics–I did spend most of my teen years listening to punk bands like NOFX, the Descendents, and the Dead Kennedy’s–but thinking about them alongside the open access taping policy of bands like Phish prompts this question:

Don’t we need some ‘jam academics’?

Continue reading

Know Your [Digital] Archives

I have  a new blog post up over at the Religion In American History Blog entitled “Know Your [Digital] Archives” that comments on the Making of America Collection at Cornell/U-Michigan and the 19th Century Schoolbooks Collection at U. of Pitt.

Why I Started this Blog

In short, Dan Cohen convinced me.

I came across an article-post by Cohen while exploring Hacking the Academy titled “Professors Start Your Blogs”  that made me realize I wanted to be a part of what he was talking about.

In the post, Cohen counters all the reasons most people, including myself have not started blogs.  I fully accept his argument and look forward to using this blog as a valuable piece of my graduate study and academic career.

Thanks to Cohen, I’m also considering posting a contribution to Hacking the Academy in the next day or two.