October 21 2017

by David R. Blumenthal, Emory University

Jacob Neusner and I grew up on opposite sides of the tracks. Neusner was, as Aaron Hughes has shown in his very good biography, born into a marginally Reform Jewish family, had no formal Jewish education, no supportive Jewish youth group, and no Zionist orientation. He was an outsider to the community of Jews who are consciously committed to, and actively participant in, their community. I came from the opposite background. My father, Rabbi Aaron Blumenthal, was one of the leaders of the Conservative Movement: a founding member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, author of the responsum permitting women to be called to the Torah, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, and winner of an adult education award at his synagogue.

by Evan Berry, American University

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Pope Francis and his translator on December 2, 2016 in the Vatican. They sit around Pope Francis' desk.

How is scholarly knowledge about religion useful to conversations about public policy? Can—and should—scholars of religion lend their expertise to governments? After a decade of public calls for improved religious literacy in the United States, it seems reasonable to say that the kinds of knowledge produced by AAR members are valuable to policy debates. Perhaps our knowledge can also be useful to policymakers themselves.

I served as a fellow in the AAR-Luce Fellowship in Religion and International Affairs program during the final year of the Obama administration. I worked alongside career foreign service employees, political appointees, and other academic fellows in the Department of State’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs. There are helpful sources treating the history of this office and the diplomatic work it has advanced, and I hope to supplement these here by describing my particular role and considering how religion scholars’ expertise can be informative for US foreign policy.

The NEH logo

Congratulations to the following AAR members whose projects have been awarded grants funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. We are proud to have their work reach scholars as well as university and K-12 students.

The AAR is a member of the National Humanities Alliance, a humanites advocacy organization and a coalition of scholarly societies, archives and preservation centers, and universities and colleges advancing humanities research, education, and public programs. The NHA has made it easy for individuals to take the first step in helping to maintain and grow the visibility and importance of the humanities in the public sphere.

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.

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