February 20 2024

by Sarah Jacoby, Northwestern University

a small tower of rocks built on an enbankment in front of a forest

The 21st-century has seen a rapid expansion of interest in contemplative pedagogy across institutions of higher education, not to mention K-12 education. Even as contemplative pedagogy can be found everywhere from courses on law to language, it has a more complex relationship with religious studies. Although the fiction of pure objectivity has receded in intellectual inquiry more broadly, many religious studies departments defend themselves from critics on all sides by presenting themselves as engaged in the “scientific study of religion” (religionswissenschaft). Promoting contemplative practice in the classroom can risk crossing the line into proselytizing, as well as into the culturally imperialist decontextualization and appropriation of others’ traditions, leaving some religious studies scholars wary of first-person approaches to learning that are based on practices associated with particular religions.

by Scott C. Alexander, Catholic Theologican Union, editor

Prefatory miniature from a moralized Bible of "God as architect of the world", folio I verso, Paris ca. 1220–1230. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum 1' 1½" × 8¼". Public Domain.

Although not trained as a “theologian,” for years I’ve written and taught about theology. I’ve done this primarily as a student of Islamic history and societies, and I have committed to communicating to my own students some of the intricate subtleties and deep wisdom of the medieval kalām tradition (dialectical or “scholastic” theology)—the intellectual stock-and-trade of such famous practitioners as al-Ghazali, Maimonides, and Aquinas.

by Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, Pamela Klassen, and Steven M. Wasserstrom

a long, curved shelf of a library

There are lives at stake in how we teach about cultures. And our jobs are getting harder.

On March 15, an armed white nationalist went into mosques in Aoteoroa New Zealand as congregational prayers began, and he killed as many people as he could. In his manifesto, the gunman explained that he killed these people because they looked to him like “invaders.” To be clear, on the evidence of his extensive “manifesto,” this murderer did not kill because he hated Islam. His concerns, as he described them at nauseating length, were with borders, territory, and the migration of peoples. He killed because he understood the modern world with a relentless Eurocentrism: white people should be at the center no matter where one stands on the globe. Let this soak in.

Lincoln Mullen, author of "The Chance of Salvation: A History of Conversion in America," joins Kristian Petersen in a conversation about the spectrum of religious identity in American history and how the phenomena of conversion is allows scholars to study a variety of religious groups—and their relationships to each other.

Mullen is the winner of the 2018 AAR Best First Book in the History of Religions.

Jenna Reinbold, winner of the 2018 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of Analytical-Descriptive Studies, discusses her book "Seeing the Myth in Human Rights" (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). Reinbold is interviewed by Kristian Petersen.

by Anonymous

a group of locks hooked onto a wire cable

You do not know who wrote this article—but you probably know who I am.

I am a professor in theological education. I am well respected by my students and by scholars in my field. I am mid-career, an established scholar and a veteran teacher. I work full time—at least 40 hours a week. I teach four to five courses per year; advise students; recruit prospective students; direct DMin projects; and lead workshops. I am the author of multiple books (one by a university press) and over a dozen peer-reviewed articles. I am co-editor of a well-received textbook and am sought after as an editor by colleagues and publishers. I am regularly invited to peer review articles and books, and I serve in leadership in my scholarly guild, my church, and the seminary communities in which I teach. Yet, I earn less than $20,000 a year—and without benefits or job security.

I am the contingent faculty member in your midst. What, if anything, am I owed?

Noah Salomon interviewed by Kristian Petersen

Noah Salomon, author of "For Love of the Prophet: An Ethnography of Sudan's Islamic State" (Princeton University Press, 2016) and winner of AAR's 2017 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of analytical-descriptive studies, talks to Kristian Petersen about his fieldwork in Sudan, the attempts at a unified Sudan prior to the 2011 partition, and tradition of the Islamic nation-state.

by Sarah Jacoby, Northwestern University

Students march in protest with a large banner sign, "Black Lives Matter"

There is no way to deeply consider religion—its history, definition, impact, danger, and promise—without also thinking about the construction of race. And yet, addressing race, racism, and white privilege in the religious studies classroom is fraught with challenges for faculty and students alike. These tensions have been exacerbated by the contemporary political climate in the United States, but ultimately stem from much deeper historical roots involving settler colonialism, the genocide and forced relocation of indigenous populations, and the enslavement of peoples of African descent. Addressing this maligned history in the United States as well as different iterations of it around the world, considering its contemporary consequences, and envisioning possible futures is part of the important work taking place in religious studies classrooms.

by Natalie Avalos, University of Colorado, Boulder

The Decolonial Classroom: Making Power Visible

by Brett J. Esaki, University of Arizona

Unlike my colleagues contributing to this Spotlight, my emphasis is less on what one could or should do and more on what one should not do. Specifically, I recommend that you do not teach a course on whiteness studies as an untenured professor, lecturer, or (god-forbid) as an adjunct. Likely, my colleagues might disagree, and I too hate to take this standpoint, but I ask that you at least consider my perspective as one end of the spectrum, where I advise excessive preparation for the potential negative consequences of teaching antiracism.