There has been a great exchange about my recent book with Clayton Crockett on the blog An und für sich at http://itself.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/a-synthetic-manifesto-a-review-of-religion-politics-and-the-earth-the-new-materialism/. It includes two reviews of the book. The first from Anthony Paul Smith and the second from Joshua Ramey.
Enjoy the philosophical holiday wisdom from Dr. Valgenti: http://www.lvc.edu/News/index.aspx?newsid=88521c6b-e037-47bf-a28c-36d127169dfc&HeadLine=Keeping%20Calm%20During%20the%20Chaotic%20Holiday%20Season
Here is the most recent story from the LVC homepage about some of the innovative courses we are offering in the department: http://www.lvc.edu/News/index.aspx?newsid=d36b4884-b41e-4f19-8e26-db94cff99843&HeadLine.
So far we have been extremely pleased with the class. It has been challenging and rigorous, but also very rewarding. Several students from the class are planning to present on their research at the North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion and Philosophy in March. We are also planning to create a publication at the end of the course that contains all of the student papers.
It has been a stimulating week with the visiting Woodrow Wilson fellow Robert Shetterly on campus. Shetterly has illustrated more than 30 books, as well as the Maine Times, Audubon Adventures, and a collection of his own drawing and etchings, “Speaking Fire at Stones.” He is also a painter, and his collection “Americans Who Tell the Truth” has been traveling around the United States for five years and features more than 120 portraits of courageous individuals–figures who model the values of engaged citizenship and have the courage to work for social justice.
Shetterly has given three public lectures as a part of the college colloquium on HAPPINESS. He has also visited numerous classes and social and service clubs on campus. Within our department, he visited my One Nation Under God? during which he gave a powerful testimonial to Native American views of religion and the connections not only between religion and politics, but more fundamentally, between religion and nature. He also visited two sections of Dr. Valgenti’s Ethics classes, and two sections of Dr. Hubler’s Introduction to Philosophy classes.
This has been a tremendous opportunity for us not simply to hear from Shetterly and about his work, but also to talk with him, to have him hear about and comment on the work we are doing here at LVC, and about our own students’ views of happiness, service, and citizenship. This was certainly what took place yesterday during our departmental lunch with Shetterly. He sat down with students and faculty from the department and engaged us in a probing dialogue about the purposes of a liberal education, and the very real opportunities that we all have to put an education in Religion and/or Philosophy to use in order to make a difference in the world.
You can check out my blog post for the college’s election portal at http://www2.lvc.edu/election/2012/10/24/dont-look-now-on-religious-liberty/.
Next Tuesday, October 2nd at 7pm in Neidig Garber 203, Professor John Caputo will be giving a public lecture on the future of Continental Philosophy of Religion. Caputo, formerly of Villanova University and Syracuse University, is a leading commentator on Jacques Derrida and on religion, deconstruction, and postmodernism, and perhaps the world’s foremost Continental philosopher of religion. His visit to LVC is being made possible by the Arnold Program for Experimental Education as a part of the yearlong Symposium on a Living Philosopher that is being offered by the Religion and Philosophy department.
In addition to the public lecture at 7pm, Professor Caputo will also be meeting with students in the Symposium course at 3:30 in order to speak about the work of the philosopher Catherine Malabou. Caputo has hosted Malabou on two separate occasions as a part of his biannual “Religion, Postmodernism, and Culture” conferences. He also has a critical essay on her work in the most recent issue of the academic journal theory@buffalo vol. 16, which was a special issue entitled “Plastique: The Dynamics of Catherine Malabou.”
Caputo’s public lecture at 7pm will be a philosophical and theological reflection on contemporary cosmology, making the argument that physics is the new wonder—or more provocatively, that the new science is the future of philosophy of religion. It is a model of interdisciplinary engagement, one that not only speculates on the future direction of philosophy of religion, but that proves the contemporary relevance of Continental philosophy of religion.
This will be Caputo’s second public presentation at LVC. In fall of 2004 he participated in a debate with the radical death-of-God theologian Thomas J. J. Altizer as a part of the “God in the 21st Century” college colloquium. That event sparked the eventual publication of the book After the Death of God (Columbia University Press, 2007), co-authored by Caputo and the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo.
I just received an email alerting me to the fact that September is “Teaching and Learning Month” at the American Academy of Religion. The celebration involves the naming of the recipient of the 2012 Excellence in Teaching Award (congratulations to Marth Reineke of the University of Northern Iowa) and a national survey being conducted by the AAR about the teaching of religion. It also includes a useful bibliography for any of you interested in the current state of higher education in the U.S., and the particular role of Religious Studies within the higher education landscape:
- Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
- Association of American Colleges and Universities. College Learning for a New Global Century. Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2007.
- Nussbaum, Martha. Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.
- Prothero, Stephen. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn’t. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008.
Our students here at LVC should already be familiar with this book by Stephen Prothero. It has been an assigned text in REL 110 for the past several years. A quick glance at the AAC&U link above might look familiar as well. LVC has fashioned its general education program according to the recommendations made by the AAC&U. And when it comes to the core competencies in general education–things such as critical inquiry and analysis, ethical reasoning, intercultural competence, oral and written communication–these are precisely the sorts of learning outcomes that are interwoven throughout our Religion & Philosophy curriculum.
The AAR provides one more helpful list of references–specifically, these are books to help students make the case for the value of the liberal arts education they receive in such disciplines as Religion and Philosophy:
- Brooks, Katharine. You Majored in What?: Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career. New York, NY: Viking Press, 2009.
- Curran, Sheila, and Suzanne Greenwald. Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2006.
- Nadler, Burton Jay. Liberal Arts Power. Lawrenceville, NJ: Peterson’s Publishing, 1989.
Noelle and I are deeply grateful for all of the heartfelt condolences, sympathy and support from everyone within the department and at the college over the passing of her father.
His public memory has been well noted in obituaries from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and from his many students and colleagues at http://religion.syr.edu/About/In%20memoriam%20Vahanian.html and http://gabrielvahanian.blogspot.com/. What I regret, however, is how nearly everything that has been written about him in the public media has focused almost entirely on his first book, published over fifty years ago. The Death of God: The Culture of Our Post-Christian Era (1961) was undoubtedly a landmark work in cultural theology. It gave the name to what would become a major theological movement, a movement that reached its cultural apogee with the Time magazine cover story “Is God Dead?” from 1966.
While this first book might have secured Gabriel Vahanian’s legacy, it should not be allowed to define a theological and academic career that spanned over half a century. Shortly after The Death of God, for instance, Vahanian published Wait Without Idols (1964), an exploratory work in literary criticism that helped to establish the subdiscipline of Religion and Literature within the academic field of Religious Studies. It was in that book where Vahanian’s lifelong preoccupation with secular culture first came to the fore. It modeled a new kind of theology cognizant of the displaced centrality of religion within contemporary culture. In it, he turned to novelists such as Melville, Faulkner, Dostoyevsky and Kafka, and poets such as Eliot, Auden, and Perse in order to mine the depths of our spiritual condition. In so doing he proved the point that for contemporary theological thinking to be relevant, it could not confine itself within the walls of the church, but must be engaged with this world, our one and only world. Now, some fifty years later, this once radical and iconoclastic claim has become commonplace. As Vahanian wrote then, “Today’s iconoclast may be tomorrow’s saint. And tomorrow’s religion may be today’s atheism.”
That lifelong preoccupation with secular culture manifested itself in several different ways. After his foray into literary criticism he turned his attention to the issue of modern technology and our religiously inspired utopic dreams for society in God and Utopia (1977). Rather than denigrating technological society as many religious and philosophical thinkers of the twentieth century have done (think Heidegger), Vahanian saw in technology a celebration of the humanness of this world, a world of our own making by which God bears his stamp, and gives God’s unqualified affirmation, on our future. Likewise in his book Tillich and the New Religious Paradigm (2005), his was not just an exposition on a theological forebear, but a grappling with how one man’s theological vision inaugurated something new and different within our religious orientations, alerting us to the felt sense of ultimacy within the everyday and the mundane.
But most of all, what I wish to be remembered—if only because I heard him say this so often about himself over the past ten years of his life—is that this man who fifty years ago provided a defining cultural commentary on the pervading sense of loss and uncertainty within contemporary culture and then went on to mine this fundamental insight by exploring a wide array of cultural forms was someone who became a cultural figure in his own right. Or perhaps better, what I mean to say is that this theologian who provided an early sociological and literary analysis of secular culture actually became a prophet and a poet of the secular. More than an academic, his writings were the expression of a lived faith, a faith in this world, and in a God for this our one and only world. If he began his career as a critic, he ended as a poet providing an integrative theo-poetic vision that testifies to a desire for God that runs even deeper than the death of God.
Here is the story from the LEBANON DAILY NEWS about the Sustained Interfaith Dialogues being hosted by LVC and led by Dr. Matt Sayers this semester.