Ever since I was in graduate school, I have lamented the inability of scholars to solicit and engage with cultivated lay audiences. With that in mind, I invite you to check out this video, part of a series I have been making which streams on the British New Humanist (a really interesting and intellectually diverse magazine of skeptical thought) and the good ol’ Huffington Post.
I envisioned this series as a sort of “Secularism 101.” I felt that it was necessary because my study of the subject demonstrated that there is massive and crippling confusion as to what secularism is and, probably more importantly, what secularism is not. The video above, however, seems like one that might be of interest to the scholars and university types who read The Chronicle.
In the span of about three minutes, we manage to cover the following artistic points of interest: Danish mid-century modern …
Let me be start by saying that I like and respect New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. I had the pleasure of interviewing him a few years back on Faith Complex. Although we disagreed on nearly everything under the sun, he was thoughtful, generous of intellect, and quite funny.
With that preamble rendered, I am simply staggered by his recent head-scratcher of an Op-Ed entitled “Defining Religious Liberty Down.” It’s worthy of scrutiny because it raises the volume considerably in the already clamorous “religious freedom” debate. For Douthat voices the argument that some unnamed group out there–who could that be?–doesn’t care a whit about religious freedom.
For those who are not familiar with this new culture-war killing zone, let me bring you up to speed. A seemingly value-neutral term has shifted ideological shape in the past election cycle. “Religious freedom”…
Politico reported on July 17 that campaign officials deny that there will be any repeat this year of Rick Warren’s 2008 Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency. It is not clear from the report whether these officials hale from the Romney or Obama camps (or both).
It’s the only news item of its kind that I have seen, so I am a bit confused (see my subsequent post of July 19 on the matter). Most news agencies are still reporting that the event is on the books. If–and at present it’s a big if–Warren’s hope for a 2012 reprise is currently off the table we must ask: Why?
I say this not only because the idea of a sectarian cleric religious-testing American presidential candidates is deeply problematic on Church/State grounds. (Will rabbis, Roman Catholic priests, imams and atheist chaplains be granted the same access and interviewing privileges?)
I would also avoid the shindig because the previous forum that Warren hosted was a disaster by standards of fair journalistic practice.
It goes without saying that every single professor on every single college campus is brilliant and crucial to the institution’s mission. This truism does, however, leave unanswered an essential question: Which type of professor is the brilliantest and crucialest of them all?
Many are the candidates for this designation—for, as I just noted, ours is a guild that will not countenance mediocrity in any form. Yet certain sorts of scholars simply stand out, even by the lofty standards that prevail in the stately halls of higher education.
What follows is a rundown of those professors who, justifiably no doubt, understand themselves to be the most intelligent and significant members of the academic community.
L’engagée: If knowing the names and birthdays of every employee in the cafeteria isn’t a mark of deep knowledge, then what is? This individual is The Icarus of the…
According to an important 2001 survey, 44 percent of American Jews by religion claimed to be “secular,” or “somewhat secular.” I repeat: 44 percent!
The next religious group to embrace the “secular” designation with as much verve, were Buddhists at 22 percent (which could make sense when you consider the Dalai Llama’s views on secularism, see his recent book, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World.)
Yet the question remains: What does it mean to be a secular Jew? Having studied the phenomenon for years let me propose a good way to figure this all out: Let’s not fix this fluid and complex identity into a tight definitional box just yet. Why not spend the next few years surveying the possibilities?
There are professors who think through this issue, philanthropic organizations such as the Posen Foundation–now led by the young and charismatic Jesse…
Dear readers: I was trading pedagogical notes over lunch with my Georgetown colleague Matthew Lambert when he mentioned in passing an interview he had conducted with then ex-, now present, University of Virginia president, Teresa Sullivan as part of a larger project he was working on. I told him that I might know some people who were interested in hearing about that and asked him to contribute this post. Which he graciously did.
“Abraham Lincoln is weeping today.”
What could possibly make the 16th president, who fought to salvage the union, “weep?” Could it be the explosion of federal debt? Or the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Obamacare? Or, perhaps, it was the slow box-office sales for his new movie, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?
All are good guesses. But it was actually the former president of a major public university dramatically reacting to …
Out of absolutely nowhere this past Friday night, a severe derecho or “land hurricane” of some meteorological unusualness hit D.C. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians have no electricity–again (see below)–in inferno-like conditions, where the temperature outside is at or around 100 degrees.
Our friends at Pepco, the region’s electricity provider, casually informed us that 90 percent of its customers’ power should be restored by July 6th!
Well, thanks, Pepco! We’ll keep our gaze fixed on that date, as we step over the lifeless carcasses of our beloved pet dogs and cats, as well as our more expendable small children and remaining parental units. I think that terse “update” has much to do with why Pepco is ranked as the “most hated…
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is now one week deep into its “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. As you may know, this activism has emerged as a protest against the Obama administration’s HHS mandates.
The health-care mandates–requiring most insurance providers to cover contraception for women free of charge in their health plans–have been understood by the bishops to be a massive violation of Catholic religious freedom. Of course, the success of this campaign hinges on the bishops’ ability to portray this decision as an affront to the religious freedom of all Americans.
In January, USCCB president Archbishop (now Cardinal) Timothy M. Dolan gave a statement to the effect that: “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their health care is literally unconscionable.”
In previous posts, I have, with very jerky semaphore strokes, signaled my difficulties with scholarly or even spiritual work that aspires to be either “liberal” or “conservative.” Professors, I submit, should reevaluate their life choices if either designation is too readily (and accurately) applied to their research.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that being a “centrist” is Sole Proper Positionality for a Professor (though, quite frankly, we really could use a few more centrists here in Washington). It does mean that political rigidity can be the solvent of serious thought.
In any case, those scholars whose work is predictably liberal or conservative are missing out on the pleasure of not thinking politically. This entails the joy of not belonging to a team, a faction, a party, etc. A Philip Roth character, in a line that never ceases to amuse me, celebrated the virtues of…
Don't wait for Romney to bring up religion. (Photo by Austen Hufford via Flickr/CC)
Four years and nine days ago today, Barack Obama stunned (uninitiated) analysts at a campaign stop in Zanesville Ohio with the announcement that if elected he would retain George W. Bush’s much-maligned Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. It would become “a critical part” of his administration, said the junior senator from Illinois.
Some liberals were shocked. They shouldn’t have been. As the current writer and a few others had been arguing prior to 2008, the Democrats had finally figured out that they could no longer be the “Party of Secularism.”
Ah 2008! Good times for Faith and Values politicking, be it red or blue. It seemed every candidate–from Mike Huckabee to John Edwards–was invoking God on …
“I suppose,” she wrote, “every generation of sociology is doomed to have its Durkheim, and Mark Regnerus is quickly becoming ours.”
It is obvious that Professor Essig in that short piece was mostly concerned with questions having nothing to do with Durkheim, but I have to ask: why “doomed“? Durkheim stands amongst the most unyieldingly original–and peculiar–minds in the entire history of social theory. Some of us await the return of a Durkheim to the lost paradise of social theory as we await a (the?) Messiah!
As part of our ongoingseries investigating the unique and complex texture of professors’ relations with their own children, I submit the following remarks–remarks which defy closure in the form of a concluding paragraph.
Thing that my child did that I liked: On Saturday, the hockey player one scored a pretty nice goal. True, he was totally poaching/cherry-picking the opposition’s net. Yet given the unremarkable history of Jewish excellence in hockey, we’ll take it any way we can get it.
Thing that my child did that gave me pause: After scoring his goal, he proceeded to do a sort of gliding “Tebow”, enacted in one celebratory arc from the crease to the blue line.
Our post-game conversation in the pungent biosphere that is a hockey locker room went something like this:
Me: “That was quite a pretty goal you scored. Lotta skill on that. Lotta skill. Though what was up…
You, Roth, are the least completely rendered of all your protagonists. . . My guess is that you’ve written metamorphoses of yourself so many times, you no longer have any idea what you are or ever were. But now what you are is a walking text.
–Nathan Zuckerman to “Philip Roth” in The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography
(Photo of Philip Roth from NNDB.com. Click on photo to go to site of origin.)
When I first heard a few years back that an authorized biography of Philip Roth was being undertaken by a scholar who was handpicked by Philip Roth, and an intimate of Philip Roth, and A-OK by Philip Roth’s standards, I heard myself mouthing my mother’s fatalistic catch-phrase, “Oh, ça va mal finir, tout ça.”
My concerns had less to do with the biographer than with his subject.
For the first time ever in the history of this column, I am going to gloat. Yesterday was the Program for Jewish Civilization‘s sixth annual presentation of senior theses and the work our students did made me truly proud. I mean, proud in the way that one sighs, “Oh, this is why I became a professor. ‘Cuz I was sort of forgetting there. But now it’s OK. Now I remember.”
This is the set up: The seniors spend the better part of the year researching and writing a thirty-page thesis on anything relating to Judaism that interests them (in consultation, of course, with our faculty). They are paired up with a faculty adviser with expertise in their chosen area.
They meet their advisers privately a minimum of four times during the semester. Then they meet an additional four times with the director of the senior colloquium, Rev. Dennis McManus, D.Phil., to discuss, refine and criticize …
The story focuses on a 54-page advertising plan that somehow dropped into the Times‘ outstretched hands “through a person not connected to the proposal who was alarmed by its tone.” The financial force behind the plan is the “conservative billionaire” Joe Ricketts who, according to a proxy, “is very concerned about the future direction of the country” (as conservative billionaires are wont to be).
The prospectus itself details a media strategy to flesh out the connections between Barack Obama and his controversial pastor,…
“No, no civil war. I’m an optimist,” observes my colleague, the anthropologist and Georgetown School of Foreign Service Professor Gwendolyn Mikell.
Dr. Mikell is here reflecting on the recent explosion of sectarian strife in Nigeria–strife which is often understood by analysts in the Western media as predicated on ethno-religious conflict between the Muslim north and Christian south.
The treacherous headline grabber in all of this has been the jihadist group Boko Haram. This fundamentalist Islamist sect advocates the imposition of Sharia law and has engaged in horrendous assaults on Christian communities. Amongst the most frightful was last year’s Christmas massacre which resulted in the deaths of dozens of Catholic worshipers in Madala.
Professor Mikell complexifies the media narratives and argues against “Nigeria-on-the-brink” ruminations. In a piece in the Huffington…
Things are looking up, especially after Barack Obama’s evolving views on same-sex marriage look like they are about to send fence-sitting conservative Christians charging into Romney’s arms.
So the presumptive GOP nominee’s main job today was to further exploit the opening granted to him by his opponent (Please note: I am not necessarily saying Obama was tactically mistaken in endorsing gay marriage. I am saying that the immediate benefits accrue to Romney).
With a friendly audience in front of him, Romney did what he had to do:
President Obama told ABC news yesterday that on the subject of same-sex marriage he has been “going through an evolution on this issue.”
He may indeed be going through an intellectual evolution in his thinking about the rights of gay people to marry. His recent remarks indicate that he has undergone a theological evolution as well. Recall that Obama cast his new-found stance on this issue as a reflection of his Christian scruples (a point I hope to explore in greater detail forthwith).
But permit me now in my capacity as a student of Faith and Values campaigning to point to a third type of evolution in his thinking: Obama’s strategists have completely given up on religious conservativesand concluded that they are irredeemably lost to Mitt Romney.
This observation needs to be properly contextualized. In 2008, Democrats were still reeling from the damage that the so-called…
About 30 seconds before Professor Matthew Bowman of Hampden-Sydney College sat down for an interview with me, I whispered to him:
Matthew, this interview is not for our colleagues in the American Academy of Religion. It’s not for the specialists that we write for in our scholarly publications. It’s for intelligent people everywhere, who will benefit from the breadth of your knowledge on this subject. So keep it real!
And keep it real he did.
With his inner wonk summoned, validated, and released, Dr. Bowman (author of the fine monograph, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith) proceeded to dazzle us with highly sophisticated insights about the Mormon community, rendered in clear, accessible locutions.
Our guest tries to make sense of an extremely curious demographic finding: When it comes to voting for a Mormon president, conservative Evangelicals and secular…