June 13 2024

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.

by Donna Yarri, Alvernia University

"Resting" by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (French, Lyons 1824–1898 Paris) ca. 1867-1870

The concept of a sabbatical has its roots in the Western religious traditions, in particular in the Bible. The Ten Commandments, ostensibly given to Moses, includes not only a negative series of commands—“thou shalt nots”—but also includes two positive commandments—“Honor thy mother and father,” and “Keep holy the Sabbath day.” Of all of the commandments, keeping holy the Sabbath day was probably the easiest one to obey! Who is going to argue with taking a day off, even if the express purpose is to focus on God? Of course, remembrance and worship of the God who created all and made all things possible was the primary intent. But there were practical implications as well—everyone/everything was able to rest, including humans, animals, and the land.

In our modern world, this directive has been somewhat watered down, especially with so many Blue laws no longer in effect. Yet many religious believers the world over take this opportunity to attend their house of worship to focus on God. The directive to take a break in the seventh year was a further extension of the Sabbath day. While most biblical scholars will be familiar with the religious component of the sabbatical, almost all faculty, regardless of area of study, know the secular idea of the sabbatical used in the modern college and university. This is what specifically informs the ministerial and academic practices of the sabbatical—the idea that one could take a full year off to focus on things other than one’s usual routine, with the ability to apply and hopefully receive the opportunity to be released from one’s regular duties. It is not so much to focus on God (although that is not necessarily precluded), as to focus on “something else.”  

by Isobel Johnston, Arizona State University

Painting, attributed to Spanish school of the 17th century, of a kitchen maidservant working

This past year a man colleague told me his key to time management in graduate school: “The first thing you need to do is marry a woman.”

Having someone else to ensure basic daily needs is a distinguishing factor between many professional men and women. Yet the domestic demands of cooking, laundry, cleaning, and shopping are absent in Guide for the Guild's call for a list of tasks demanding professional women’s time. This absence reflects at least two issues:

by Dena S. Davis, Lehigh University

Concrete and stone sign for Wheaton College on campus. It reads "Wheaton College" and "For Christ and His Kingdom"

Editor's note (3/5/2016): Since publication of this essay, Larycia Hawkins has accepted a position at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture as the Abd el-Kader Visiting Faculty Fellow.