December 12 2017

by Pankaj Jain, University of North Texas

An eminent scholar recently came to our university campus and spoke about the role of the diverse religious communities of the world and their attitudes toward the environment. He showed examples from several indigenous communities from North America, South America, Africa, and Asia. Yet when he referred to the traditions of India, he used these words: “India has the most bizarre culture in the world, where even a cobra is worshipped. This is a bit of an overshoot.” It amazes me that even in this supposedly globalized world, India continues to mystify scholars.

by Sandra B. Lubarsky, Appalachian State University

In the modern Western world, the link between beauty and sustainability remains underappreciated. If the dominant preoccupation of our culture has been science, our most marginal concern may be aesthetics — so much so that we often think of the two as antithetical. Science has embraced the idea that reality is value-neutral. It has cultivated an epistemological method of detached knowing. Aesthetics, by contrast, is a minefield of value. It demands engagement, subjectivity, and personality.

Ilya Merlin, University of North Carolina, Charlotte

*The title of this article is taken from a clause in Patrick French’s article on Bataille, Blanchot, and friendship. As Bataille stands as an important theorist of religion, I offer this article as an alternative insight into my scholastic and political interests.

Barbara A. McGraw, Saint Mary’s College, California

two men praying together at a prison in Nogales, Mexico

What is Messianic Judaism? Is it Christian or Jewish? Is a chapel with an altar and a cross that important to Protestants? Can’t they have their religious services in the prison housing units instead? What is a Wicca wand? Is it really a religious item? Is tobacco all that important to Native American religious practices in prison? Can an herb be substituted? What is Odinism? Is it a racist religion? Are other ethnic religions racist? What is the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Islam? Can the two groups practice together? Who are the Sikhs and why do Sikh inmates say that they must not cut their hair? With so many religions, how can prison officials accommodate religion in prisons in a fair and neutral way?

These are the sorts of questions that prison officials have asked since 2003 in prison chaplaincy directors programs sponsored by the American Academy of Religion at Annual Meetings. The program consists of a series of sessions where prison chaplaincy directors meet with prominent AAR scholar-experts. The format is casual, with each scholar providing a short overview of the religion of their expertise, followed by open dialogue among the directors and the scholars. A comparative religion and law scholar provides a prison religion law update as well.

Over the years, more than twenty-five leading scholars and prison chaplaincy directors from approximately twenty states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have participated in the program. The directors come with thoughtful, intriguing questions, and the scholars have found the conversation to be an enriching experience. Scholars’ insights often have wide impact, as each of the directors is responsible for his or her whole state or, in the case of the United States, the entire Federal Bureau of Prisons. And some of the directors have been inspired to form an association in their own right—the National Correctional Chaplaincy Directors Association.

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