June 04 2020

by Cecily Hill, National Humanities Alliance

National Humanities Alliance logo

As of this writing, colleges and universities around the nation have closed their doors; most have shifted to online learning. In-person public programs are on pause, indefinitely. For the majority of us, large components of our work have come to a screeching halt, while we have had to abruptly shift to scores of new personal and professional challenges.

At the National Humanities Alliance, we are continuing our work to document the impact of the humanities in a variety of contexts, but with a particular eye toward how humanities organizations and institutions are serving their communities and constituencies during this challenging time. We are also using this time to support humanities faculty, practitioners, and organizations as they plan for the future.

Lee H. Butler, Jr., PhD, Distinguished Service Professor of Theology and Psychology, Chicago Theological Seminary

Lee H. Butler, Jr. and Charles H. Long together

Dr. Charles Houston Long was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, during the time of legislated segregation. While his formative years were lived during a time of deep racial tensions, his personhood was nurtured within a crucible of Black intellectual excellence. He attended the premier Black school in Arkansas’ segregated public school system, Little Rock Dunbar Junior and Senior High School and Junior College. When the Dunbar school was being established, Black community leaders were committed to an institutional structure that would prepare students for college alongside a curriculum to provide students with labor-force skills. Recognized for its outstanding faculty and rigorous curriculum, Dunbar was the first Black school in Arkansas to be accredited by the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges in 1931. Because education was regarded as one of the pathways to full citizenship, Dunbar Junior College placed emphasis upon educating people to become teachers. It is not coincidental, therefore, that Charles Long became a great scholar-teacher and a fierce advocate for intellectual rigor. He always looked for the sweat in a scholar’s work.

 

Today, we mourn the passing of Dr. Charles H. Long, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, University of California-Santa Barbara, and past president of the American Academy of Religion (1973).

Dr. Long was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, during the time of legislated segregation. While his formative years were lived during a time of deep racial tensions, his life was nurtured within a crucible of Black intellectual excellence. He left Little Rock and volunteered for the United States Army Air Forces served in World War II. With strength of character, determination of will, critical intellect, and a commitment to academic excellence, he entered the University of Chicago earning the D.B. ‘53 and Ph.D. ’62, and was offered a faculty appointment at the University of Chicago Divinity School where he became a pillar in the framing of Religionswissenschaft (History of Religions).

Jessica L. Tinklenberg, Claremont Colleges

Empathy by John Edward Marin

In 2011, Sara Konrath and her colleagues published a study indicating that college students’ empathy skills seemed to be in steep decline.1 By reviewing the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) scores of college students between 1979 and 2009, researchers concluded that “Empathic Concern was most sharply dropping, followed by Perspective-Taking” and that much of the decline in these two subcategories of dispositional empathy had taken place in the previous decade.2 Konrath et al.’s meta-analysis launched a thousand Higher Ed think pieces and spawned a bevy of initiatives to introduce empathy into the college learning environment.

Bissera Pentcheva interviewed by Kristian Petersen

Bissera V. Pentcheva, winner of AAR's 2018 Award for Excellence in Historical Studies for her book Hagia Sophia: Sound, Space, and Spirit in Byzantium, talks about how digital technology, as applied to the ancient and medieval aural experience of the Hagia Sophia, makes it possible for historians to see, feel, and hear primary textual and liturgical sources in new ways.

Countering the narrative that Langston Hughes was uninterested in religion, scholar and author Wallace Best describes the poet as an "avid and eclectic churchgoer" who returned time and again to the question, construction, and meaning of salvation in American religious history.

Wallace Best's book Langston's Salvation: American Religion and the Bard of Harlem (NYU Press, 2017) won the 2018 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Textual Studies category, presented by the American Academy of Religion. He is professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University.

by Deonnie Moodie, University of Oklahoma

Anne Monius, professor of South Asian religions at Harvard Divinity School, died on August 3, 2019. Anne was a member of the AAR for nearly thirty years where she served as editor of the Religion in Translation book series (2005–2014); associate editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (2006–2010); chair of the Jain Studies program unit (2009–2011); and presider, panelist, and respondent in dozens of Annual Meeting sessions throughout her distinguished career. Colleagues and friends will remember her work and contributions to the field during this year's AAR Annual Meeting in San Diego. The details for that session appear below this remembrance, written by one of Anne's students, Deonnie Moodie, who is now assistant professor of South Asian religions at the University of Oklahoma.


Anne’s wedding present to me was a wall hanging, a colorful tapestry featuring Ganesh, Lakshmi, and an array of beautiful pastoral images. Her card indicated that I was to hang it over my marital bed to ensure the birth of sons. After a lengthy bout of laughter with my partner about the very intimate nature of this gift from my PhD advisor—a woman widely admired and even feared for her intellectual prowess—I had two thoughts. The first was, “And she’s funny too!” and the second, “She can’t seriously want me to have a baby, right? Does she have any idea how long that would delay my dissertation?”

Nancy Levene, professor of religious studies at Yale University, joins Kristian Petersen in a conversation about her book, Powers of Distinction: On Religion and Modernity, which won AAR's 2018 Award for Excellence in Constructive-Reflective Studies.

Don't miss another AAR interview. Subscribe to the American Academy of Religion's audio feed in your favorite podcast app.

by Beatrice Gurwitz, National Humanities Alliance

A group of five humanities advocates talk together outside an office door at the Capitol

For three years in a row, the Trump administration has called for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and other humanities funding streams. In both 2017 and 2018, thanks to robust advocacy from the humanities community, the Republican-controlled Congress rejected the administration’s efforts and passed increases for the NEH and several other humanities programs. This year, we are seeing support on Capitol Hill for even greater increases for the NEH and other humanities programs. The possibility of these increases is partly a result of the Democratic takeover of the House, but that isn’t the whole story—a Democratic majority has not always meant proposed increases for the humanities. Support for the NEH has grown on both sides of the aisle, largely as a result of our collective efforts to showcase just how valuable the humanities are to communities around the country. 

by Mary L. Keller, University of Wyoming

Ocean, broken ice, and a sunset off the coast of Greenland

In a June 2016 op-ed for RSN, I wrote that as of 2019, when my duties as co-chair of the Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection Unit were over, I would no longer be attending the AAR in light of the unsustainable carbon budget of the travel and venues. Colleagues in the AAR and SBL wrote that my absence would be a loss to the community. Many wrote with suggestions for collective action, like implementing Mitchell Thomashow’s The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus at their respective schools.1 Catalyzed, we coordinated swift, and immediate strike actions at our colleges and universities. “You are not alone,” they wrote to me, and it was true.

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