August 17 2019

by Stephen Kidd, National Humanities Alliance

Several years ago, the National Humanities Alliance invited Folger Shakespeare Library Director Mike Witmore to testify on Capitol Hill in support of federal funding for the humanities. In his finely-crafted remarks, Witmore drew on his experience teaching Shakespeare to engineering students at Carnegie Mellon University to make the claim that “a lot of what makes us tick cannot be stated as an equation.” At the end of his remarks, he posed a question to the committee: “What would happen if you subtracted Shakespeare from our world, from our schools, and from our culture?” He then answered, “… America would not have produced a Lincoln, a Frederick Douglass, or an Emily Dickinson, all of whom were steeped in the plays of this writer.”

When Witmore concluded, the Republican chair of the subcommittee—whom I paraphrase here—said: “I think I can speak for the whole committee in saying that we get it. We care about this. But, our constituents don’t ask for the humanities. So my challenge to the advocates in this room is: get our constituents to ask for the humanities.”

by Mary L. Keller, University of Wyoming

Airplane taking off, distorted by heat

As an applied historian of religions, I am working with Rod Morrison, MBA, a local Wyoming organic farmer, to consider “Ecology as the Arbiter of Value in the 21st Century.” In a paper we developed for a 2014 Critical Finance Studies conference at the University of Amsterdam, and drawing from Wes Jackson’s work in Consulting the Genius of the Place (Counterpoint 2011) and Emmanuel Pastereich’s promotion of an international eco-currency, Rod and I proposed a currency based on the calorie, what we call the FCV—food calorie value. What does the FCV have to do with Laurie Zoloth’s 2014 presidential address to the AAR in which she proposed an Annual Meeting sabbatical every seven years?

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?