Sean Dorrance Kelly is chair of Harvard University’s philosophy department and has published on topics like cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and aesthetics. For his first general-audience book, though, he teamed up with his former teacher Hubert Dreyfus and took on the Western canon. All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age, published this year by Free Press, is a daring proposal for a new embrace of ancient polytheism. Looking back to the epics of Homer, they find resources for thwarting the nihilism that has haunted some of the most brilliant thinkers of our time. I spoke with Kelly over cappuccinos in a noisy Midtown Manhattan diner, while he was waiting to catch a train back up to Boston.Read the rest of The shining and the shiny: An interview with Sean Dorrance Kelly.
Nathan Schneider is an editor at large for The Immanent Frame and an executive producer and senior editor for Frequencies. He is author of Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse and God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet, both published by University of California Press. His journalism has appeared in Harper's, The Nation, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, Religion Dispatches, and elsewhere. He is also an editor of the online publications Waging Nonviolence and Killing the Buddha, and his website is The Row Boat. Read all of Nathan Schneider's TIF interviews here.
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Both an influential scholar and a public intellectual, Robert Bellah is one of the foremost sociologists of his generation. His books and articles have set in motion lasting conversations about the role of religion in public life, both in the United States and around the world. Since retiring from thirty years of teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, Bellah has been at work on his most ambitious book yet, the recently released Religion in Human Evolution (Harvard University Press).Read the rest of Nothing is ever lost: An interview with Robert Bellah.
Saba Mahmood is an anthropologist who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and whose work raises challenging questions about the relationship between religion and secularism, ethics and politics, agency and freedom. Her book Politics of Piety, a study of a grassroots women’s piety movement in Cairo, questions the analytical and political claims of feminism as well as the secular liberal assumptions on the basis of which such movements are often judged. In the volume Is Critique Secular? she joins Talal Asad, Judith Butler, and Wendy Brown in rethinking the Danish cartoon controversy as a conflict between blasphemy and free speech, between secular and religious world views. Now, Mahmood is working on a comparative project about the right to religious liberty and minority-majority relations in the Middle East. We spoke over breakfast in New York City.Read the rest of Religious liberty, minorities, and Islam: An interview with Saba Mahmood.
Not long after his return from Cairo, where he was doing fieldwork, I spoke with Talal Asad at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, where he is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology. Distinguished indeed: with books like Genealogies of Religion and Formations of the Secular, as well as numerous articles, Asad’s work has been formative for current scholarly conversation about religion and secularity, stressing both global context and the ways in which their interaction has been shaped by local histories, in the West and the Middle East. Most recently, he co-authored (along with Wendy Brown, Saba Mahmood, and Judith Butler) Is Critique Secular? (University of California Press, 2009) and contributed a chapter to the just published SSRC volume Rethinking Secularism (Oxford University Press, 2011).Read the rest of The suspicious revolution: An interview with Talal Asad.
Azza Karam is the Senior Culture Advisor at the United Nations Population Fund, where she has pioneered efforts to make human development work more attentive to religion. Karam was born in Egypt and grew up, as the daughter of an Egyptian diplomat, in countries around the world, eventually earning a doctorate in international relations from the University of Amsterdam. Her several books include Transnational Political Islam (2004) and Islamisms, Women and the State (1998). Prior to joining UNFPA, she worked for the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, and the United Nations Development Program, among other organizations.Read the rest of The Rubicon is in Egypt: An interview with Azza Karam.
Jeffrey Kripal, who chairs the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University, is an authority on the mysterious. His books include a wildly controversial study of Ramakrishna’s mysticism; a history of Esalen, an influential spiritual retreat center tucked away in the cliffs of Big Sur; and, now, a probing investigation of several very mysterious thinkers: Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred.Read the rest of Reading the paranormal writing us: An interview with Jeffrey Kripal.
Judith Butler, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is among the leading social theorists alive today. Her most recent books are Frames of War (2009) and The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere (2011), an SSRC volume that puts her in conversation with Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West. As we carried out our conversation by email between Brooklyn and Berkeley, uprisings were occurring across the Arab world, and a U.S.-led coalition had just begun conducting airstrikes in support of rebel forces in Libya. We had discussed some similar questions, and some different ones, a year earlier in an interview for Guernica magazine.Read the rest of Implicated and enraged: An interview with Judith Butler.
For the eighteen days that tens of thousands of Egyptians were rallying to push strongman Hosni Mubarak ever closer to abdication, time itself seemed to pass differently than usual. Something has been happening, though nobody knows exactly where it will go.Read the rest of Egyptian revolution round-up.
Gene Sharp is the foremost strategist of nonviolent social change alive today. He holds a doctorate in political theory from Oxford and has had positions at Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Books like The Politics of Nonviolent Action and Waging Nonviolent Struggle, together with numerous pamphlets and other writings, have inspired and guided popular movements around the world for decades. They have been credited, most recently, as a major influence on the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. He continues his work as Senior Scholar of the Albert Einstein Institution, which operates out of his home in East Boston.Read the rest of The science of people power: An interview with Gene Sharp.
In Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, just out from University of California Press, Yale religion professor Kathryn Lofton orchestrates an encounter between American religious history and daytime television. Oprah Winfrey and the media empire that bears here name, Lofton finds, bear the rudiments of modern, neoliberal womanhood, conveyed through a resolutely non-religious spirituality.Read the rest of What is Oprah?: An interview with Kathryn Lofton.
Patrick Lee Miller is an assistant professor of philosophy at Duquesne University and the author of Becoming God: Pure Reason in Early Greek Philosophy (Continuum). His work focuses primarily on ancient Greek philosophy, albeit in constant conversation with modern thinkers. Becoming God examines the early conflict between Heraclitean philosophy and the Parmenidean metaphysics that was to become the cornerstone of Plato’s thought, and hence of the tradition of Western philosophy that followed in his wake.Read the rest of Greedy time: An interview with Patrick Lee Miller.
Simon During is a professor at the Centre for the History of European Discourses at the University of Queensland, having previously taught at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Melbourne, and elsewhere. In addition to editing The Cultural Studies Reader, now in its third edition, he is the author of several books, including Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic (Harvard, 2002) and Exit Capitalism: Literary Culture, Theory and Post-Secular Modernity (Routledge, 2010). In both, he brings questions of the secular to bear on historical, literary sources both obscure and revelatory. His Compulsory Democracy: towards a literary history is forthcoming.Read the rest of Endgame capitalism: An interview with Simon During.
As National Research Director for the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Charles Villa-Vicencio was intimately involved in the historic process that followed the collapse of apartheid and paved the way for a new social order. As a theologian, prior to the commission, he had spoken out against the apartheid regime, writing and editing numerous books that helped lead South African Christians out of complacency about their government’s policies. After the commission concluded, he founded the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, in Cape Town, and now advises peacebuilding efforts around the world. His most recent book is Walk with Us and Listen: Political Reconciliation in Africa (Georgetown University Press, 2009). We spoke at the offices of Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution Program, where Villa-Vicencio serves as a visiting scholar.Read the rest of More than politics: An interview with Charles Villa-Vicencio.
Colin Jager’s reading of the British romantics places them at the center of debates about religion, secularism, and pluralism today. In The Book of God, he traces the ways in which design arguments for God’s existence—predecessors to the current Intelligent Design movement—were developed and discussed in British literature from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth. His interpretation challenges those in the habit of trying to disentangle the religious and the secular, in both the past and the present. Jager is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University and is currently at work on a second book, After Secularism: Romanticism, Literature, Religion.Read the rest of Romanticism, reflexivity, design: An interview with Colin Jager.
After spending two years earning her master’s degree at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies—and having previously been a visiting fellow at the Institute—Myla Leguro recently returned to her native Mindanao, a violence-ridden island in the southern Philippines. There, for more than two decades, she has been working for Catholic Relief Services to forge peaceful relationships between rival indigenous, Muslim, and Christian groups, as well as the government in Manila. For Leguro, practice comes before theory, and the local precedes the national and the global. When she thinks about religion, too, practical, context-specific steps toward getting different communities talking with each other trump concerns about abstract doctrines or clashing civilizations.Read the rest of Peace from the ground up: An interview with Myla Leguro.
Anthropologist Mayfair Yang teaches in the Religious Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has done pioneering work discovering, describing, and reflecting on the fate of traditional culture in post-revolutionary China through numerous articles and edited volumes, two documentary films, and her book Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: the Art of Social Relationships in China. Throughout, she brings the insights of post-colonial theory and gender studies to bear on the living remnants of ancient ways of life. She is currently writing a new book, Re-Enchanting Modernity: Sovereignty, Ritual Economy, and Indigenous Civil Order in Coastal China.Read the rest of The future of China’s past: An interview with Mayfair Yang.
As director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Mark Juergensmeyer brings the sociology of religion to bear on the analysis of violent conflict in the contemporary world. His recent books include Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State and Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, both published by University of California Press, and he is currently working on God and War, based on his 2006 Stafford Little Lectures at Princeton University. Together with the SSRC’s Craig Calhoun and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, he is a co-editor of the forthcoming volume Rethinking Secularism. We spoke at his home office at UCSB, perched atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.Read the rest of Cosmic war on a global scale: An interview with Mark Juergensmeyer.
Barbara Herrnstein Smith is a distinguished literary scholar at both Brown and Duke, who, since her undergraduate days, has had a special interest in the uses and misuses of scientific psychology. Her latest book, which stems from her 2006 Terry Lectures at Yale University, is Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion (Yale, 2010). It explores the ways in which contemporary cognitive science and evolutionary psychology are being called upon to, once and for all, explain religion. Also, don’t miss her contributions to The Immanent Frame’s discussion “A cognitive revolution?”Read the rest of Religion, science, and the humanities: An interview with Barbara Herrnstein Smith.
Courtney Bender is an associate professor of sociology at Columbia University and co-chair of the SSRC’s Working Group on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life. As a sociologist of religion, she pioneers novel ways of studying religion as it is lived and articulated in contemporary American culture. Her latest book, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming in June), emerged from her research in Cambridge, Massachusetts among people whose “spiritual but not religious” practices and outlooks have been unaccounted for by conventional methods used to identify and study communities of belief.Read the rest of Spirituality, entangled: An interview with Courtney Bender.
How many scholars of religions also run a film company? And how many members of the Council on Foreign Relations can claim an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop? In all likelihood, just one. Reza Aslan, whose bestselling books No god but God and Beyond Fundamentalism have established him as a sought-after expert on Islam and the role of religion in the contemporary world, is also a contributing editor at The Daily Beast and chief creative officer of BoomGen, a company that helps to develop films from or about the Middle East. He earned his Ph.D. in the sociology of religions at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and currently teaches creative writing at the University’s Riverside campus.Read the rest of Religion gone global: An interview with Reza Aslan.
Though currently on sabbatical at the University of Zürich, Richard Amesbury teaches religious and philosophical ethics at the Claremont School of Theology, where he is is involved in establishing a new School of Ethics, Politics, and Society. He is the author of Morality and Social Criticism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and Faith and Human Rights (Fortress, 2008), as well as numerous articles. His interests reach across many themes and fields in which the concept of “religion” is constructed and mobilized, from human rights law to civil religion to the New Atheism.Read the rest of Religions and rights: An interview with Richard Amesbury.
Eduardo Gonzalez is a sociologist and the director of the Truth-Seeking Program at the International Center for Transitional Justice. He advises truth commissions, which are becoming an increasingly common phenomenon around the world, particularly in post-conflict societies. Before joining the ICTJ, he helped organize and carry out the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Previously, he worked as an advocate for the establishment of the International Criminal Court. In addition to book chapters and articles on human rights and truth commissions, he is the author of a Spanish-language blog, La Torre de Marfil.Read the rest of The right to truth: An interview with Eduardo Gonzalez.
Milbank is an Anglican theologian whose ideas, distinguished by a profound skepticism of secular reason, have given shape to Radical Orthodox theology and provided the underpinnings of the Red Tory and Blue Labour movements in British politics. His most recent book, The Monstrosity of Christ, is a collaboration with the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, edited by Creston Davis and published in 2009 by MIT Press. He is also a contributor to Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, a series of critical engagements with Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, recently published by Harvard University Press.
JM: …If you are going to be an atheist and nihilist, then be one. Only second-raters repeat secular nostrums in a pious guise. Such theology can never possibly make any difference, by definition. It’s a kind of sad, grey, seasonal echo of last year’s genuine black. All real Christian theology, by contrast, emerges from the Church, which alone mediates the presence of the God-Man, who is the presupposition of all Christian thinking.Read the rest of Orthodox paradox: An interview with John Milbank.
Mitchell Landsberg, of the Los Angeles Times, reports on a recent Claremont School of Theology conference about how new technologies will affect the future of religion.Read the rest of “Theology After Google” conference.
The Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships have been a source of fierce controversy among science writers, particularly since John Horgan’s ambivalent 2006 debrief essay suggested that the program is keyed toward promoting a religious agenda. The announcement of this year’s fellows has already aroused controversy, particularly surrounding science writer Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science. Biologist Jerry Coyne went on the offensive.Read the rest of Templeton and journalistic integrity.
Andrea Bartoli is currently director of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He also directs U.S. activities for the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Roman Catholic lay organization that has led successful peacebuilding efforts in conflict areas around the world. AB: Our own motivations aside, I would say that Sant’Egidio operates in a totally secular context. The world in which we live, after all, is fundamentally secularized. … Even those who try to build a theocracy in Iran or a Jewish state in Israel recognize the need to acknowledge some kind of secular universality. In whatever form you try to get there, you have to allow for the kind of human rights elaborated after World War II. Without them, you end up having all the anguishes that we see around the world when political structures are not capable of representing the interests of all of their citizens. Sant’Egidio sees itself as a creative minority, not as a Christian majority, and it appreciates what the secular state has to offer religious communities.
The New York Times reports today that, in several states around the U.S., global warming deniers have found common cause with creationists in a way that may prove beneficial for both causes.Read the rest of Global warming and evolution deniers unite.
At On Faith this week, “the question” is whether religious groups proselytizing overseas amounts to “religious freedom” or to “coercion.”Read the rest of The ethics of proselytism.
At the excellent evolution/creationism-junkie blog The Sensuous Curmudgeon, there’s an announcement about Making Sense of Evolution, the new book by John Haught, a Catholic theologian who has become an outspoken advocate of welcoming evolutionary biology into Christian theology.Read the rest of John Haught’s theology of evolution.
In the first New York Times Beliefs column since the departure of Peter Steinfels, Mark Oppenheimer discusses the outrage among Catholics across the political spectrum about Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen’s claim that waterboarding in the war on terror is permissible for Catholics.Read the rest of Catholics argue about waterboarding.
When Francis Collins was appointed director of the National Institutes of Health last year, he stepped down from leading the BioLogos Foundation, which “explores, celebrates, and promotes the harmony of modern science and the Christian faith.” But the position won’t stop him from releasing a new book with HarperOne next month, entitled Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith.Read the rest of Faith from the NIH.
Physicist Stephen Barr, at First Things, looks back on the “intelligent design” movement and asks if it has done any good for either science or religion.Read the rest of Taking stock of intelligent design.
Elizabeth Drescher, at Religion Dispatches, discusses the pope’s recent call for priests to get savvy with online media. She questions whether the Catholic hierarchy really understands what it will be getting into with the (arguably) non-hierarchical landscape of social networks.Read the rest of The pope’s digital turn.
On February 17th, with half the foreheads in the packed room marked by Ash Wednesday smears, Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture sponsored a forum with four authors who have recently written about St. Francis’ 13th-century encounter with the sultan of Egypt: two historians, a Franciscan sister, and a journalist.Read the rest of St. Francis, the sultan, and the promise of peace.
Ever since revelations of his tryst with a male prostitute became public in 2006, Ted Haggard has been a visible focal point for the evangelical community’s encounter with homosexuality. In an interview with Kathryn Joyce at Religion Dispatches, Haggard’s wife Gayle describes how the incident and its fallout has affected her thinking about sexual identity and, as she repeatedly puts it, the spiritual “journey.”Read the rest of Haggling over Ted Haggard’s identity.
Among “ancient astronaut” theorists, inhabiting a realm somewhere between pseudo-science and science fiction (see my 2008 overview at The Smart Set), the most elusive and alluring is Zecharia Sitchin. The New York Times‘s Corey Kilgannon has just done us the service of profiling of the man, even offering a glimpse into the Upper West Side apartment where he has lived for 54 years.Read the rest of Up close with Zecharia Sitchin.
At the Times Literary Supplement, Lauro Martines reviews Cultures of Plague: Medical Thinking at the End of the Renaissance, a new book by Samuel K. Cohn, Jr., which explores how reliance on theology and the medical theories of antiquity gave way to new forms of epidemiology.Read the rest of Explaining the plague.
Better late than never: last year, Princeton University Press published Sarah Stroumsa’s Maimonides in His World. It is a strictly historical study of the Jewish thinker who, by some of his contemporaries, was thought an equal to the prophet Moses himself.Read the rest of Maimonides, man of the Mediterranean.
Harvard’s “New Technologies and Interdisciplinary Research on Religion,” which Ruth posted on earlier, is coming up on March 12-13 and is open to the public.Read the rest of New technologies in research on religion.
As we’ve sometimes noted here, advocates have claimed that Islamic, Sharia-compliant financial products and systems are safer than conventional ones. At Davos, reports Reuters, a top regulator for the government of Qatar disagrees.Read the rest of Is Islamic finance safe?.