August 21 2017

by Jennifer Howe Peace, Andover Newton Theological School

protestors in Paterson NJ

Given the belittling rhetoric that characterized the last campaign cycle and the Twitter-driven rancor of contemporary discourse, it can be tempting to either dismiss it all as political spin or tune it out because of the sheer volume of unsubstantiated claims and disturbing caricatures. As scholars and members of the American Academy of Religion, one contribution we can make to mitigate the white noise and reactivity of our current political culture is to help focus public attention on key issues relevant to our expertise that might otherwise disappear in the never ending flow of fast-paced news cycles.

We invite AAR members to make public comments on draft guidelines for the evaluation of digital scholarship.

by Aaron W. Hughes, University of Rochester, and Ali Altaf Mian, Seattle University

Kalman P. Bland

Kalman P. Bland (1942–2017), a longtime member of the American Academy of Religion, was professor emeritus of religious studies at Duke University, amateur violist, conversationalist extraordinaire, and embodiment of the Platonic ideal of thoughtfulness.

Kalman received his BA in philosophy from Columbia University, his PhD in medieval Islamic and Jewish philosophy from Brandeis University, and his rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. He began teaching at Indiana University before relocating to Durham, North Carolina, to take up a position at Duke, where he served on the faculty for 38 years. He was an award-winning undergraduate teacher and an important member of the graduate program.

a red and white star logo with ACLS printed below

The AAR is thrilled to share the the following members are 2017 American Council of Learned Societies fellowship recipients:

John Corrigan - Luce/ACLS Program in Religion, Journalism & International Affairs Fellowships for Scholars
Professor, Religion and History, Florida State University
Religious Violence and American Foreign Policy

Timothy S. Dobe - Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars
Associate Professor, Religious Studies, Grinnell College
The Muslim Gandhi: Islamicate Hinduism, Alternative Communities and Radical Religious Love

by Cassie Hillman Trentaz, Warner Pacific College

child's hand with a crayon coloring line images of hats in many colors

My partner and I moved from Chicago, IL, to Portland, OR, more than 1000 miles away from our families for a one-class-per-semester adjunct teaching gig when I was nearly seven months pregnant.

Please, hold your applause. Yes, we are obviously geniuses.

Opportunity had emerged in Portland that seemed worth exploring. We were invited to come and participate in a college that was reinventing its relationship to context, neighborhood, and questions of what it means to be faithful and responsible in this here and now. I wanted in on that. That first year, I gave birth, finished and successfully defended my dissertation, and taught those two classes for a whopping $3,000 total income for our family of three. Gratefully, at the end of that year, a full-time teaching position opened and I got the job. (You can breathe now.)

Sarah Jacoby, Northwestern University

A protest sign reads "Bring Back Facts! Make America THINK again!"

The impact of the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States reverberated across campuses all over the country, affecting students and their professors in religious studies classrooms in myriad ways. In the immediate aftermath of the election, teachers faced emotionally charged classrooms, replete with students who were weeping and despondent, terrified and stunned, elated and vindicated, and the full-range between. Walking into the classroom bleary-eyed the morning after the election raised immediate pedagogical questions for those of us standing in front of students in the throes of processing the results. Should we initiate a discussion about students’ reactions or avoid addressing it head-on given the emotional intensity of the moment? Should we stick tightly to the scheduled topic of the day, or veer off the syllabus to consider what was, to many, a shocking election outcome? Should we maintain a neutral stance in the classroom, giving all students’ voices a chance to be heard while maintaining our own objectivity? Or was that even possible, let alone morally conscionable, in the face of rhetoric (not to mention the specter of impending legislation) that left some students and their families endangered?

Interview with Kristian Petersen

Bhrigupati Singh, assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University, speaks about how his examination of the Sahariyas, a tribe living in extreme poverty in Northwest India, stretches and blurs the boundaries of religion and secularity in studying how the tribespeople reflect on questions of ethics, happiness, and quality of life. His work encourages scholars of religion—particularly those engaging with nonwestern traditions—to develop a comparative vocabulary that goes beyond Eurocentrism and Postcolonialism alike.

Singh is the author of Poverty and the Quest for Life: Spiritual and Material Striving in Rural India (University of Chicago Press, 2016), which won the AAR's 2016 Book Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of analytical-descriptive studies.

by Morgan Shipley, Michigan State University

Shot from behind him, Trump walking out from the capitol building to being inaugurated as president on Jan 20, 2017.

Drawing from Max Weber’s distinction in The Sociology of Religion between the prophet and the priest, this short article explores how Trump’s application of American civil religion (a public faith that inculcates political values) operates to routinize a discourse and politics governed by intolerance. Addressing a dire need to resuscitate what he views as a decrepit American project resulting from decades of progressive agendas, Trump assumes a dual position as savior of a sullied America (exemplified in his emphasis on building a barrier—physical and rhetorical—to protect American interests, and repeated promises to return jobs to America) and enforcer of traditional values (demonstrated in his defense budget or “America First” maxim).

Yet the shift from Trump’s candidacy, where he functioned as the charismatic prophet, to his presidency, where he assumes the position of status quo priest, illustrates the incongruity of these dual roles, highlighting the ability for Trump to offer an outsider’s vision to save the American project while failing to account for the structural and routine constraints that temper such an agenda (the courts, Congress, media, and citizen protests have all hampered Trump’s agenda). Such incongruity not only helps explain the challenges Trump and America faces, but also more significantly, unveils how Trump, in the name of his prophetic vision, subverts traditional ideals when it comes to American civil religion and the place of pluralism. In other words, Trump’s shift from candidate to president allows us to trace the means by which prophetic promises, in order to find priestly delivery, often necessitate a return the status quo modeled through marginalization. Trump’s role as prophet thus reintroduces—in order to legitimate—a historic trend within America that predicates the inclusivity of civil religion through practices of exclusion.1 That is, in turning to the sacred symbols of the United States, Trump returns to an exceptionalist construction of civil religion: a project established through God’s will, expressed through division, and delineated by a characteristic American identity—white and Christian.

by Antonio Eduardo Alonso, Emory University

Illuminated manuscript page, Mary Magdalene announcing the Resurrection to the Apostles, St. Albans Psalter, 12th century

The articles that form this issue of Spotlight on Theological Education emerged out of the work of Theological Education Between the Times, a project funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment to the Candler School of Theology. This project seeks to renew and resource conversations on the purposes of theological education in a season of profound change. The empirical origins of this project are the kinds of dramatic shifts that most of us committed to the work of theological education can easily narrate even as the degree to which each of us feels those shifts on a day-to-day basis varies widely with our institutional contexts. The changes are substantial.

by Anonymous

Interior of Budapest train station

A new chapter of my life started a few weeks ago with sudden changes—loss of an important romantic relationship and the death of a beloved friend. It was indeed quite a lot to digest all at the same time. I’m still digesting with much less indigestion than before, but nevertheless chewing at the changes.

I’ve travelled… a lot. I just turned fifty this year, and during this glorious lifetime I’ve had the good fortune to visit over 60 countries on all the continents (except for the polar ones). I’ve spent the past couple of years trying to settle down in one spot. And I’ve made some decisions about where to stay and work that didn't go so well. So I moved some more. In fact, since the 2000, I’ve moved fifteen times between seven countries.

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