Method as Identity: Manufacturing Distance in the Academic Study of Religion, by Christopher M. Driscoll and Monica R. Miller is here, at last. Dr. Monica R. Miller and I have worked on this monograph for the last four years, so we’re thrilled to see it in our hands. And your hands, too. Admittedly, the price is a bit high for students, and well, most scholars, too. But that can quickly be addressed if everyone asks their institutional library to purchase a hard copy of the book now. Then, in about a year’s time, a paperback will be released.
Over the last week (and really for much longer), President of the United States Barack Obama and President of Liberty University Jerry Falwell, Jr. have offered two seemingly different approaches for curbing the rising tides of domestic and foreign threats of violence. On December 4, two days after the San Bernardino massacre, Falwell spoke to the students of Liberty and expressed frustration that President Obama’s “answer to circumstances like [the San Bernardino massacre] is more gun control.” He then encouraged the students to obtain a concealed carry gun permit, so that they could “end those Muslims before they walked in.” On December 6, President Obama spoke to the nation from the Oval Office and discussed the San Bernardino massacre, “the broader threat of terrorism, and how we can keep our country safe.” The President spoke proactively of his administration’s “strategy to destroy ISIL,” marking seven years of “confronting the evolving threat” through his “authorizing U.S. forces to take out terrorists abroad” because he knows “how real the danger is.” The speech ended with Obama jumping up onto a tightrope we’ve seen him walk before, that of distinguishing “ISIL” from “Islam,” and “Terrorists” from “Muslims.”
IN 2005, one of today’s most revered American writers, David Foster Wallace (now deceased), delivered a commencement address to graduates of Kenyon College, titled “This Is Water.” The twenty-minute speech is worth a listen or read, freely available on YouTube and in Wallace’s eponymous 2009 collection, This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. Some of what he says in the address about liberal arts education is applicable to humanism. In particular, his words help to color a brand of humanism I refer to as “uncertain humanism,” a way of privileging human possibilities for flourishing that relies on an embrace of and appreciation for uncertainty—for not knowing, feeling anxious, insecure, and unsettled. Uncertain humanism is not just about how we approach “facts.” It involves how we approach our very identities and who we think we are.
Continue reading at The Humanist Magazine July/August 2015...
(Originally published for Marginalia Review of Books on January 19, 2015. Reprinted here in full including images that were not included in the MRB post due to permissions issues.)
The hard truth is that neither Negro nor white
has yet done enough to expect the dawn of a new day...
With these words taken from Dr. Martin Luther King’s final book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, King prophetically and woefully suggests that for the dawn of a day without racism, more black blood and suffering will come hand in hand with white denial, ignorance, and indifference.
I remember well a day in middle school, during gym class. We’d just arrived to gym and were swiftly told that in lieu of P.E., we’d be attending the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day assembly. Some students were happy, others were sad to miss the glorified recess that is junior high phys.ed. One white student, I’ll never forget, spoke up and said “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ... more like James Earl Ray day.” Amid awkward laughter from students and an even more awkward silence from the gym teacher, we walked to the auditorium. As our class sat down, my childhood emotion met with intellectual curiosity and I wondered, “Were we there to celebrate King’s life or to have our minds galvanized as to exactly what happens to those who profess to climb insurmountable mountains?