Saving Faith At the Dawn of the 20th Century

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Living in the early 21st century, it might seem a little hard to believe that a century ago liberal Protestantism was the dominant voice of religion in the United States. Of course in a land so vast there were a lot of voices and opinions concerning religion. But in the urban power centers liberal Protestantism had the ears of politicians and business elites.

At this same time there were centrifugal forces weakening liberal Protestantism’s institutional grasp. As people poured into growing industrial cities from the countryside and overseas, they were greeted by secular clubs, cultural events, and entertainments that loosened the grip of the church. With so many inhabitants of different races, ethnicities, religions, beliefs, and practices, doubts about specific doctrines and creeds grew. The growing authority of science offered alternative explanations for a whole range of natural and metaphysical phenomena.

In Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of the Secular Age (Cornell University Press, 2015), historian David Mislin explores how liberal Protestantism responded to the pressures of skepticism, doubt, and pluralism. In reaching out to Catholics and Jews of like mind, liberal Protestant leaders were haltingly moving toward what would in the post-World War II world become Judeo-Christian America.

I spoke with David Mislin on January 20, 2016 about his new book.

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—Fred Rowland

Dissent in America: A faculty-librarian collaboration

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The early 2000s was an eventful period: a popping Internet bubble deflating the economy; the controversial presidential election hanging on chads in Florida and determined by Supreme Court justices long committed – at least rhetorically – to judicial restraint; the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington; and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Polarized politics, contested economics, and lots of bombs dropping in faraway places.

In these anxious times Professor Ralph Young created the Dissent in America course and students eagerly signed up. Young found students enthusiastic to learn about the history of dissenting voices and ideas in American history. Students were introduced to distant voices and gained insight on how the United States had come to its present circumstances. As an outgrowth of the course, Young started the Dissent in America Teach-Ins (see YouTube Video) on Friday afternoons which are open to anyone. Both the course and the teach-ins continue to this day.

After Dissent in America became a General Education course, Young worked with librarian David Murray to add a formal information literacy component. Murray, an experienced instruction librarian, worked with Young for ten years before departing for the College of New Jersey in the summer of 2015. Young published two books as a result of his work on dissent: Dissent in America: The voices that shaped a nation and Dissent: The history of an American idea.

On December 2, 2015 I spoke to Ralph Young and David Murray on Dissent in America and their work together.

—Fred Rowland

 

 

Gaming on the edge

Adrienne Shaw

Concepts like identity, identification, and representation are thrown around pretty loosely when people try to explain the influence of popular media on individuals and groups. Categories like race, gender, sexuality, and class are widely recognized, broadly applicable and, because of this, they are often invoked as a substitute for more nuanced thinking about how individuals relate to media, whether TV, film, or digital games.

  • Do gay men like particular TV shows because they include gay characters?
  • Are women more likely to watch football now that there are (a few) female commentators?
  • Why would women play violent, misogynistic video games?

In her new book, Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), Adrienne Shaw complicates this approach by studying “representation in in a way that takes into account the fluidity, performativity, and contextuality of identity categories.” In a series of interviews with individuals from marginalized groups, Shaw, an avid digital game player herself, attempts to situate game playing within the overall lived experiences of her subjects. Through this indirect approach, she hoped to gain a better understanding of how, when, and why representation mattered. One of her main goals in writing this book is to help change the way academic and business researchers study identity, identification, and representation. I spoke with Adrienne Shaw about her new book on July 11, 2015.

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—Fred Rowland

Religion, Food, & Eating

mariedallam       benjamin zeller

Marie Dallam is an assistant professor of religious studies in the honors college at the University of Oklahoma. Benjamin Zeller is an assistant professor of religion at Lake Forest College in Illinois. They are the editors, along with Reid L. Neilson and Nora L. Rubel, of the recently released Religion, Food, & Eating in North America. We connected via Skype on February 26, 2015 to discuss this anthology on religious foodways, or the ways people connect food and religion in their daily lives. Though we often tend to think of religion as a part of our identity that can be put on or sloughed off like a change of clothes, in practice religious identities permeate and cross over other areas of our daily routine, including the ways we sustain mind and body through food and eating. Many of us are familiar with the food “rules” of religion, like eating kosher in Judaism and halal in Islam. A focus on these theological food principles can serve to mask the complex and changing nature of food habits among believers.

This book started its life as a seminar at an American Academy of Religion annual conference in which participants were invited to come and discuss their ideas about food. The response was impressive and the result of this first-of-its-kind meeting is Religion, Food, & Eating in North America, which includes chapters on Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, African diasporic religions, and Native American religions. In the course of studying these traditions, we learn something about dietary abstinence, nineteenth century vegitarianism, raw foods, a salmon ritual, Father and Mother Divine, and locavorism.

Marie Dallam earned her PhD in Religion from Temple University in 2006. Benjamin Zeller was an instructor in Temple’s Department of Religion between 2005 and 2007.

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—Fred Rowland

Kathleen Grady Talks Sustainability

Kathleen Grady

On Friday, March 6, Temple University is hosting the Tri-State Sustainability Symposium (conference topics) at the Temple Performing Arts Center and Alter Hall, sponsored by the Delaware Valley Green Building Association and many area businesses and organizations. Now in its fifth year, this is one of the regional events in which Temple University’s Office of Sustainability participates. Temple University established the Office of Sustainability under the directorship of Sandra J. McDade on July 1, 2008, in response to the recommendations of the Sustainability Task Force, appointed by then-President Ann Weaver Hart in 2007. Kathleen Grady became the second director of the Office of Sustainability in November 2012. Her office is charged with fulfilling the tripartite mission to “advance sustainable academic initiatives and research, create a sustainable campus environment and culture and…improve outreach and engagement on sustainability issues.”

I first became aware of the Office of Sustainability through the Library Prize for Undergraduate Research on Sustainability & the Environment, now in its fifth year, for which the director served as one of the judges. I also noticed that Temple University was sponsoring, initiating or participating in many environmentally-related events and programs. Finally, as discussions of the new library proceeded, I wondered whether new construction was carefully planned for sustainability. I was curious to know whether the Office of Sustainability was simply an excercise in public relations or a concerted effort to address its ambitious mission.

Though I have no experience in community or institutional planning, I came away from this interview impressed by the level of involvement by the Office of Sustainability in the life and operations of the university. Each year the office takes a Greenhouse Gas Inventory, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 30% by 2030 (base year 2006). Each year funds are appropriated to improve the sustainability of present buildings, and the Office of Sustainability is involved in the planning of new buildings, such as the future home of the Temple University Libraries.

I spoke to Kathleen Grady on December 5, 2014 on the role of the Office of Sustainability at Temple University.

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—Fred Rowland

Media, Pennsylvania: March 8, 1971

John Raines and family

 

John Raines teaching

In 2013 whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked thousands of classified documents and confirmed a vast National Security Agency spying program. Though there had been significant revelations before Snowden’s leaks, this new information made it impossible for the US government to deny the international scope of its intrusions into the privacy of individuals, organizations, and governments.

43 years earlier a group of eight middle class antiwar activists performed a similar public service, releasing internal FBI documents that revealed a pattern of abuse by J. Edgar Hoover and federal agents. The full story is told in a new book (Betty Medsger’s The Burglary) and a documentary film (1971, directed by Johanna Hamilton), both released in 2014. The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, as they called themselves, burglarized the Media, Pennsylvania office of the FBI in the hopes of finding evidence of illegal FBI surveillance and disruption of the antiwar movement.

J. Edgar Hoover’s citadel was seemingly impregnable, built by decades of careful public relations and a comprehensive intelligence network. Though there was near certainty among antiwar activists and other protest groups of FBI malfeasance, there was no tangible evidence. After surveilling the Philadelphia FBI office and determining that it was too closely guarded, the Commission to Investigate the FBI looked to the FBI’s suburban offices for an opportunity.

After months of casing the Media, Pennsylvania office, the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI made its move on the night of the first historic Joe Frazier – Muhammad Ali fight, March 8, 1971. By sunrise the next day, the Citizens’ Commission had eight large suitcases of documents – the full contents of the Media FBI filing cabinets – secured in an isolated farmhouse, waiting to be organized and analyzed. Hundreds of FBI agents were assigned to investigate the Media break-in, but no one was ever charged with the crime. The disclosures that resulted from the Media burglary provided concrete evidence of illegal FBI activities.

John and Bonnie Raines were members of the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. John Raines, now professor emeritus, has been at Temple University since he arrived from the Union Theological Seminary in 1966. John Raines spoke to me about his experiences with the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI on October 2, 2014.

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—Fred Rowland

Box Score: An Autobiography

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Introducin’ Kevine Varrone, baseball bardster over iTunes way   five and a quarter ounces avoirdupois   leaving his ancestral home: Goodin, Strawberry, Casey Stengall       amazing  a walk is as good as a hit    we used to say   that’ll be a rope in the boxscore   Pete Gray Nanticoke brief bloom back to cobblestone streets   city of hills & stars & sky & all of it falling or held in the firmament somewhere beyond the outfield fence  Center City rises up as the light fades waiting, sea gulls, plastic bags   the eephus turns instinct on its ear (1-3) a country life & estate Penn wrote to his wife   Sacrificing, converting, teaching, mixing, blending, bleeding   it seems odd don’t you think that we run the bases clockwise & inconceivable to do so   my sister is a Red Sox fan  a glove should feel like an extension of yr hand   my dad used to say    an experimental poet, everyone reads even the kids   Bill Lee, Mark Fidrych, Harry O’Neill  rewriting history is is pretty much what baseball is all about   in 1964 the mets began playing at shea stadium   walking through the Italian Market Paul stunned it was light   in 1945 a throw by athletics outfielder hal peck hit a pigeon flying over fenway park   does my sister know this, how could she   our world is just a hanging curveball   bill lee sd   the eephus is a quaker pitch   read, listen, extras, subplots edgar alllan poe   in most reckonings the world begins in thinking   & action is a derivative miracle   Kevin Varrone made history when he spoke to Fred Rowland   & then god said when did it become night

[bolded italics by Kevin Varrone, plain print by Fred Rowland]

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—Fred Rowland

 

Bury Me In My Jersey

Writer Tom McAllister

 

 

 

 

In 2010, Tom McAllister published a memoir entitled Bury Me in My Jersey: A Memoir of My Father, Football, and Philly (Villard Books) in which he describes the critical role that the Philadelphia Eagles football team played in the shaping of his young years. Like many who spend Sundays watching football, this ritual helped him to cement bonds with family and friends. Unlike many, it become an obsession that, as I was to learn, took many years and one book to untangle. The fateful 39th Super Bowl plays a central role in his narrative, an event that few Philadelphia sports fans will ever forget. (It was February 6, 2005, and we were finally going to win what had been denied to us for so long…) In addition to leading us through his career as an Eagles fan, Tom also reflects on the role that his father played in his life, sometimes but not always tied to their mutual devotion to the Eagles. Bury Me in My Jersey is full of very funny, unlikely, and sometimes disturbing stories, as well as thoughtful meditations on the search for identity.

Tom is also the non-fiction editor of Barrelhouse magazine and the co-host, with Mike Ingram, of the podcast Book Fight: Tough Love for Literature.

I interviewed Tom McAllister on October 23, 2013.

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 —Fred Rowland

Samuel and the Shaping of Tradition

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The deuteronomistic (or deuteronomic) history is a scholarly theory about the way in which Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1 and 2), and Kings (1 and 2) were redacted into a narrative describing the rise of Israel from a loose grouping of tribes and cults into a monarchy. The biblical figure Samuel plays a significant role in this story, from his early priestly training in the temple of Shiloh to his later, profound influence on the kingships of Saul and David. Temple University religion professor Mark Leuchter has recently published a work on Samuel entitled Samuel and the Shaping of Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2013), in which he examines Samuel’s “liminality” in his different roles as priest, prophet, and judge. In the course of discussing his own theories and perspectives on Samuel, Professor Leuchter also explains the deuteronomistic history, redaction, liminality, and the chronology of ancient Israel.

I spoke with Mark Leuchter on September 12, 2013.

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—Fred Rowland

 

 

Pleasure in Ancient Greek Philosophy

david wolfsdorf

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spoke to David Wolfsdorf on June 12, 2013 on his new book, Pleasure in Ancient Greek Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2013).  He is an associate professor of philosophy at Temple University specializing in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. This new work examines the views of Plato, Aristotle, the Epicureans, the Old Stoics, and the Cyrenaics with regards to pleasure. At the end of this work, he also touches on modern treatments of pleasure in philosophy. For the ancient Greeks an understanding of pleasure was a necessary part of appreciating what constituted the “good life”, an important focus of their ethical and moral theorizing. Professor Wolfsdorf’s previous work includes Trials of Reason: Plato and the Crafting of Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2008) and many articles in leading classics and ancient philosophy journals.

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—Fred Rowland