September 20 2017

by Lisa Nichols Hickman, Duquesne University

"Parable of the Good Samaritan." Oil on canvas. Jan Wijnants, 1670.

When a nurse is exhausted by the ills on his hospital floor, we might diagnose the problem as compassion fatigue: A form of traumatic stress disorder affecting overwhelmed caregivers, compassion fatigue takes a physical, financial, vocational, emotional and spiritual toll.

Diagnosed among nurses and journalists, Nicholas Kristof has argued that compassion fatigue has become widespread because of pervasive news media coverage of crises around the world. I wonder what compassion fatigue looks like in academia?

In the medical field, compassion fatigue is exhaustion from caring. Perhaps a new, related diagnosis is needed for life in the twenty-first century: How do you describe someone who is exhausted, not from caring, but simply from living?

by Fred Glennon, Le Moyne College

Interest in understanding and working with and for the marginalized is a growing concern within the academy. The president-elect of the American Academy of Religion, Eddie Glaude, has declared that his focus during his presidential year will be on vulnerable populations. A yearly review of the AAR Annual Meeting program will find panels drawing from research with and teaching of various vulnerable populations. As all of the authors in this issue will attest, there is no group more vulnerable than those incarcerated in the various levels of our prison system: city, county, state, and federal.

by Kent Greenawalt, Columbia Law School

Protestors for and against same-sex marriage outside the US Supreme Court on

We live in an era in which public opinion and political positions are sharply divided. This has been exemplified both by the ineffectiveness of Congress in recent years and by the sharpness of the 2016 presidential campaign. One of the most controversial political and moral issues of our time has been whether couples of the same sex should be allowed to get married. In its fundamental sense, that problem was settled by the Supreme Court’s 2015 creation of a constitutional right to such marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges1, but that hardly has resolved everything. Even if one assumes, as I do, that an overturning of that decision is highly unlikely, it does not settle how individuals and companies must treat married couples of the same gender. Recent proposals for broad exemptions within states have generated intense controversy, and we can expect Congress to face this issue once the new president and members of Congress are in office.

Interviewed by Kristian Petersen

In this interview, Tariq Jaffer talks about the subject of his award-winning 2014 book, "Razi: Master of Qur'anic Interpretation and Theological Reasoning." Razi (1148–1210), a post-classical scholar, introduced the highly innovative, rational method of interpretation and reasoning in the Islamic tradition.

Jaffer's book won the 2015 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the textual studies category.

by Jessica Lee Ehinger, Boston University

large, decorative iron gate

As someone actively pursuing life as a “flexible academic,” I’m excited by the increased attention at AAR to nontraditional research. When I started out as a graduate student in 2008, I was, as far as I knew, the only one pursuing a PhD while actively considering roles outside of academia. I had never heard of anyone leaving academia, except for the occasional person “pursuing a career in politics,” and this was always spoken with a tone of disdain. When I started working full-time in 2012, the choice was purely pragmatic—my funding had run out, but I wanted to finish my degree, so I decided to try balancing my work and my writing rather than taking out loans for what I knew could be an indefinite number of years.

by Elizabeth Pérez, Dartmouth College

A pot filled with roasted corn tamales

Growing up in a Cuban family, I understood that food was love. My fondest cooking memory is of making tamales with my mother: sprinkling maize flour with tiny mosaic tiles of pork and green pepper; whisking in broth and tomato sauce; spooning the dough into soaked corn husks, then binding them with string. My mother worked as a seamstress, and I more often saw the hands that conjured tamales making magic with needle and thread.

Secretary of State John Kerry speaking at the podium during a speech to the Baker Institue of Public Policy at Rice University

"The more we understand religion and the better able we are as a result to be able to engage religious actors, the more effective our diplomacy will be in advancing the interests and values of our people," said Secretary of State John Kerry to an audience at Rice University's Baker Institue for Public Policy last Tuesday evening, April 26.

by Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, Perkins School of Theology

In the midwestern town of Dubuque, Iowa, plans to build a mosque are underway. Seventy percent of the building costs have been raised, and according to Lieutenant Scott Baxter of Dubuque’s police department, no threats, complaints, or hate crimes have occurred. Cardiologist Rami Eltibi, a member of the Tri-State Islamic Center, sees the mosque’s construction "as a milestone in the organization’s efforts to break through the misinformation and fear surrounding Islam. The site will be focused on fostering increased conversation and understanding among those with differing beliefs in creating a more welcoming and inclusive Dubuque" (Telegraph Herald, January 11, 2016).

How do we do this in the academy? In a period of growing Islamophobia in the United States, how can theological institutions help "build a mosque," metaphorically speaking, and replace sites of misinformation and miscommunication?

Interviewed by Kristian Petersen

In this conversation with Kristian Petersen, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan discusses how the role of chaplains in the United States developed alongside understandings of the First Amendment. Chaplaincy, she argues, provides a legal solution to the fragile problem posed by the free exercise and establishment clauses in the Constitution.

Sullivan is the author of A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law (University of Chicago Press, 2014) which won the American Academy of Religion's Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the analytical-descriptive studies category.

by Melissa M. Wilcox, Whitman College

The Olympics are airing as I write this, and there’s one ad I particularly detest. It features a slick, fifty-something, white man standing next to an opulent backyard pool overlooking a walled yard backed by palm trees. Over the course of the ad, this apparently successful businessman walks through an equally opulent and pristine house complete with very brief cameos (blink and you miss them) of two young, white girls and an attractive, predictably younger-appearing, white woman. The ad concludes with the man changing with lightning speed from expensive leisure clothing to an equally expensive business suit, walking out of his front door, removing the electric charger from his Cadillac, and stepping inside the car.

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