February 22 2018

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.

Interview with Russell McCutcheon, Chair, Department of Religious Studies, University of Alabama

Historic Marker of the Manly District on the campus of the University of Alabama

An interview with Russell T. McCutcheon, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama

Ann Taves, University of California, Santa Barbara
Graham Ward, University of Oxford

Headshots of Ann Taves and Graham Ward

Academic fields are constituted by their debates, and the relation between theological and religious studies approaches has been one of the most enduring but least productive debates in the study of religion. This dialogue between Graham Ward, a distinguished theologian, and Ann Taves, a distinguished religious studies scholar, attempts to refine that conversation. It is the product of months of exchanges as they read each other’s work (Taves 2016; Ward 2014) and tried to discern where they concurred and where they diverged as they prepared for a plenary session, “Normativity in the Academic Study of Religion,” at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion. That conference session, and this published version of their scripted dialogue, strives to reframe the conversation about theology and religious studies.

I organized the session because I thought it might help to talk more precisely about what unites and divides scholars as we imagine the nature and scope of the academic study of religion—a topic I also addressed in my 2015 AAR presidential address (Tweed 2016). I was concerned, on the one hand, that some theologians seemed surprisingly disinterested in religious studies scholarship, including historical or social scientific studies and analyses of their own tradition, even though every theologian I know engages scholarship in some other discipline. Some theologians even seem a bit defensive, complaining that the academy doesn’t respect their discipline, yet they don’t engage the research of those they want to persuade. On the other hand, I was concerned that some religious studies scholars not only didn’t engage those doing constructive religious reflection, or arrogantly dismissed them, but they also claimed that the AAR’s “big tent” had grown too large and that those who enact values and make normative judgments have no place in it.

by James Logan, Earlham College

I arrived at Earlham College in the fall semester of 2004 as an assistant professor of religion and African & African American studies. Upon arrival I quickly learned that requests to serve my institution beyond the routine requirements of a tenure-track professor—teaching, publishing, academic advising, and committee work—would be a staple of my vocational life. Like most Black professors employed at predominately White liberal arts institutions, I was predestined by the circumstances of history to routinely make decisions concerning the degrees to which I should, and would, serve Black students (at my own institution and others) as all-‘round life coach, cultural advisor, counselor, family friend, and intercessory oracle. And all this while navigating within an institution developed, from its inception, for the intellectual and spiritual advancement, and social-cultural comfort, of European American peoples.

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