January 20 2018

by Russell T. McCutcheon, University of Alabama

Jonathan Z Smith speaking at a podium with a blue curtain behind him

On the recent afternoon and early evening of New Year’s Eve many of us were shocked to learn the sad news that Jonathan Z. Smith, arguably the world’s most influential scholar of religion over the past fifty years, had died the previous day from complications due to lung cancer. He was 79 and had been undergoing treatments since his diagnosis last summer.

by Kristy Slominski, University of Mississippi

two women

To contribute to the ongoing discussions initiated by the Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession about power dynamics within academia and the elusive quest for work-life balance, I have been asked to address how these issues intersect with the experiences of female graduate students. Of course, I cannot speak for all of the amazing women and varied experiences within this group, but I did spend considerable time during graduate school looking into these issues and speaking with students as a member of the AAR’s Graduate Student Committee and later as the student director elected to the Board of Directors. I also served as a student representative within the Western Region of the AAR and helped to create their Graduate Student and Professional Development Unit.

 

When did you know you were gifted/called to the vocation of teaching?

by Mara Willard, AAR Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion

headshot of Winnifred Sullivan with a case of books behind her

The AAR’s Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion is pleased to announce that Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington and affiliated professor at the Bloomington Maurer School of Law, is the 2017 recipient of the Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion.

Now in its twenty-first year, the Marty Award recognizes extraordinary contributions to the public understanding of religion by individuals whose work has a relevance and eloquence that speaks not just to scholars, but to other “publics” as well.

by Fred Glennon, Le Moyne College

Black and white photograph of 2 men and 3 women around a table, each with one hand on top of it. A spectre of a hand arises from the floor toward the bottom of the table.

Walk into a classroom early and you might overhear students talking about such television shows as The Walking Dead, Ghosthunters, or Haunted Case Files; or the latest horror film like Ouija: Origin of Evil. Such paranormal pop culture is so prevalent these days that there is a website whose mission is “dedicated to covering all of paranormal culture in mass media.” While the website does not endorse claims about the paranormal, it does reflect the widespread interest in the paranormal among the population. Personally, I love the films that deal with ghosts and demons, as do many of my students. They are intrigued, if not a little bit spooked, by the genre. They want to believe that there are mystical experiences and forces that transcend the routine in everyday life. I share their interest.

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.

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