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

Politics and the Street in Democratic Athens

A Gottesman

In his new book, Politics and the Street in Democratic Athens (Cambridge University Press, 2014, Print / Online), Alex Gottesman explores the informal political structures that helped to shape events in the more widely documented institutions of assembly, council, and courts in Democratic Athens. Identifying the cryptic utterances and odd descriptions of ancient Greek literature for evidence of puzzles not yet explained by historians, Professor Gottesman patches together patterns of interactions and associations that point to a public sphere centered around the Athenian Agora.

The boundaries between formal and informal political structures were rather porous and they changed over time. Professor Gottesman describes an ancient form of publicity stunts which raised awareness among the public of legal and political issues and procedures. These publicity stunts brought citizens and non-citizens, high born and low, men and women, and slave and free together in a complex network of informal association. Professor Gottesman then speculates on how these informal networks influenced the more famous democratic political institutions of ancient Athens.

I spoke to Alex Gottesman about his new book, Politics and the Street in Democratic Athens, on March 27, 2015.

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—Fred Rowland

What is fundamentalism?


David Watt


Khalid Blankinship


…..the New Oxford American Dictionary (3rd edition) gives the following definition of fundamentalism…..

fundamentalism /ˌfəndəˈmen(t)lˌizəm/

▶ noun

a form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.

  • strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline: free-market fundamentalism.


…..and the Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (2003) gives this definition…..


In general, a description of those who return to what they believe to be the fundamental truths and practices of a religion. It can thus be applied to this attitude in all religions (e.g. the resurgence of conservative Islam is sometimes called ‘Islamic fundamentalism’). But this use is often resented by such people, because of its more usual identification with those, in Christianity, who defend the Bible against charges that it contains any kind of error. More specifically, it denotes the view of Protestant Christians opposed to the historical and theological implications of critical study of the Bible.

To avoid overtones of closed-mindedness, Christians in the Fundamentalist tradition often prefer to be called Conservative Evangelicals.

The word (Arab. equivalents are salafiyya and uṣūliyya) is used of Muslims, when it refers to those who assert the literal truth of the Qurʾān and the validity of its legal and ritual commandments for modern people.


I’m guessing that my two guests, Temple University professors David Watt (History) and Khalid Blankinship (Religion) would have some problems with each of these definitions. I invited them to my office to speak about Fundamentalism: Perspectives on a Contested History (University of South Carolina Press, 2014, Print / Online) on March 6, 2015. This anthology, edited by David Watt and Simon A. Wood, presents multiple scholarly perspectives on the history, concept, and use of the term “fundamentalism” in the monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. David Watt is a specialist on Protestant Christianity and Khalid Blankinship on Islam.

For anyone who pays attention to the news, it’s difficult to make it through the day without hearing the word fundamentalism thrown around in many different ways and in many different contexts. Among scholars, some believe that this term captures a set of features and characteristics that generally hold across religious boundaries, while others assert that its use obscures diversity and collapses differences. While Fundamentalism: Perspectives on a Contested History contains perspectives from each side of this debate, my two guests belong to the latter group. Both have contributed chapters to the present volume.

This interview will provide listeners with a deeper appreciation of the diversity of beliefs and practices that lies behind the term fundamentalism. An understanding of its origin, transformation, and use will prompt consumers of the news to listen more closely, read more carefully, and ask better questions.

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—Fred Rowland

Library Prize Interviews, 2015

Listen to interviews with the 2015 winners of the Library Prize for Undergraduate Research! 

Bethany Burns-Lynch, “’The Widow Carried on the Business’: Elizabeth Willing Powel and Widowhood in Early National Philadelphia”

History 4997: Honors History Seminar, Spring 2015
Faculty Sponsors: Travis Glasson and Jessica Roney

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Patrick C. DeBrosse, “’Men of Instinct, Impetuousness, and Action’: Chivalry and the Anglo-Norman Invasion of Ireland”

History 4497: Honors Thesis Seminar, Spring 2015
Faculty Sponsor: Travis Glasson

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Katijatou Diallo, “Explaining Variations in Treaty Entry into Force Thresholds”

Political Science 4996: Political Science Honors Capstone, Fall 2014
Faculty Sponsors: Sarah S. Bush

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—Fred Rowland

Daniel Tompkins discusses Moses Finley

Daniel Tompkins interview

Classical scholar M. I. Finley (1912-1986) was involved in many of the momentous intellectual, political, and social issues and debates of the 1930s and 1940s. He came to the study of the ancient world by a circuitous route, graduating with a B.A. in psychology from Syracuse University in 1927 (at age 15), an M.A. in public law in 1927 and a PhD in history in 1951 (both advanced degrees from Columbia University).

Between his M.A. and Ph.D. Finley worked briefly at General Motors, was an editor of the groundbreaking Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, fought against Nazi race theories, and organized Russian relief during World War II. Finley was in contact and collaborating with thinkers like Franz Boas, Karl Polanyi, and members of the Frankfurt School at the Institute for Social Research.

When finally his dissertation, “STUDIES IN LAND AND CREDIT IN ANCIENT ATHENS, 500-200 B. C.: THE HOROS-INSCRIPTIONS,” landed him a faculty position at Rutgers University, he was forced out due to his left-wing political affiliations. He appeared before the McCarran Committee (United States Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security) in 1952 and pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked about his affiliation with the Communist Party.

Finley took a position in Classics at Cambridge University and eventually became a citizen of the United Kingdom. As a scholar, Finley brought his own contemporary concerns and interests to questions about the ancient world.  His research on ancient slavery and economy, and democracy and culture, resonate with the intellectual and social struggles of the mid-20th century.

Professor Daniel Tompkins is researching the life of Moses Finley. I spoke to him on December 15, 2015 in my office.

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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

Pop Culture Freaks!

Dustin Kidd image

It seems appropriate that I should be writing this on Black Friday, that frenzied day following Thanksgiving that kicks off the Christmas – Hanakah – Kwanza shopping extravaganza. Dustin Kidd published Pop Culture Freaks: Identity, Mass Media, and Society in 2014 with Westview Press. It’s a hybrid work that combines original research, theoretical and methodological perspectives, and some of the features you might find in a textbook, like infographics and recommended readings. Professor Kidd’s focus is on the popular culture generated by the concentrated corporate mass media, whose revenue model is dependent on rising consumption.

One insight that I found particularly striking in this interview was Professor Kidd’s analysis of the changes in TV programming over the past 25 years. In his opinion, sitcoms of the 1970s and 1980s – All in the Family, The Jeffersons – prepared young people for their eventual entry into the work world. By contrast, today’s programs prepare young people to fulfill their role as consumers. As the retail sector has become more important to the overall health of the economy, everyone must be encouraged to consume. Corporate popular culture creates the matrix within which individuals are conditioned to continually seek out new products, new adventures, and new identities. Shop until you drop.

Dustin Kidd analyzes the role that race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability play in popular culture, not only in the actual cultural artifacts, like TV programs and films, but also in their creation and then consumption. The fracturing of identity, the privileging of some identities over others, and the yearning for wholeness engendered by this phantasmagoria of identity turns us all into freaks. As our sense of inadequacy ebbs and flows, we search out something to buy in order to feel temporarily at peace. But it doesn’t last long.

I spoke to Dustin Kidd about his new book Pop Culture Freaks: Identity, Mass Media, and Society on November 18, 2014.

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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

Life and teachings of Jamgön Mipam

Douglas Duckworth image








Jamgön Mipam (1846 – 1912) is a representative of the Nyingma school, or “old school,” of Tibetan Buddhism. The Nyingma trace their roots to the earliest entry of Buddhism into Tibet in the eighth century of the Common Era by Indian Buddhists, including luminaries Santaraksita and Padmasambhava. The “new” schools – Jonang, Geluk, Sakya, and Kagyu – that developed from the eleventh century viewed the Nyingma with suspicion, charging that Nyimgma scriptures were not based on Indian originals.

Mipam’s great strength was his ability to synthesize currents from the different new schools into the Nyingma tradition. As a monastic who spent considerable time in meditation and a scholar versed in the Middle Way, logic, poetics, medicine, astrology, and tantra, Mipam was well-placed to bridge the gap between the scriptural and meditative approaches to enlightenment. His writings cover a vast range of topics and genres, all the more surprising considering that he spent so much time in meditative retreat.

Religion professor Douglas Duckworth is a specialist on Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. His 2011 book Jamgon Mipam: His Life and Teachings fills a need for an introduction on this important scholar, polymath, and mystic. Organized into three parts, it reviews Mipam’s life and the Buddhist traditions and teachers from which he drew, explores Mipam’s doctrines and philosophy, and then provides selected translations of Mipam’s works.

I spoke to Professor Douglas Duckworth on September 22, 2014 about his book Jamgön Mipam: His Life and Teachings, published in 2011 with Shambhala Publications.

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—Fred Rowland