Society

Gottschalk Featured in CBS Special ‘Faith in America’

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk, professor of religion, professor of science in society, was featured in a CBS special on March 28, “Faith in America: A History.” The program covered a history of Catholic, Jewish and Muslim intolerance in the U.S.

“The very understanding of who is acceptable in American society goes to the very heart of who Americans are, and who Americans can be,”said Gottschalk in his opening appearance. “So issues like excluding immigrants based on a religion test, which is against various laws in our country, not only threaten those who would like to come to the United States, but it threatens those who are within the United States”

“We find that folks like Thomas Jefferson and others were quite clear that there was going to be no discrimination whatsoever, and he very clearly stated that we need to be welcoming of Jews, gentiles, Gentoos, which is actually a word for Hindus, and Muslims. So just absolutely no interest whatsoever in any kind of delimiting notion of who can be American based on religion.”

Today, Muslims face the biggest threat from discrimination. Said Gottschalk, “This current president has capitalized on a nativist sentiment… As we saw in the 1920s, there’s concern about immigrants coming in, taking our jobs, and displacing our values and often not looking like us. So the nativism often has a racial premise as well as a religious premise.”

Gottschalk also is director of the Office of Faculty Career Development.

College of East Asian Studies Hosts Conference on Changing Boundaries of Asia and Asian America

During the 2017 College of East Asian Studies Student Conference, held March 30 in Beckham Hall, four panelists discussed “Inside/Outside: The Changing Boundaries of Asia and Asian America in a Divided/Globalized World.”

Photos of the conference are below:

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Panelists included Long Bui, visiting professor of American studies; Abigail Boggs, assistant professor of sociology; Kia Lor, assistant director of Language and Intercultural Learning; and Takeshi Watanabe assistant professor of East Asian studies.

Weber ’13 Named ‘Emerging Green Leader’ by Grist Magazine

weber-evan

Evan Weber ’13

Each year, as part of the series “Grist50,” the acclaimed environmental publication Grist honors 50 of the world’s most impactful innovators who are working to solve humanity’s biggest challenges with fresh, forward-thinking solutions. This year, Wesleyan alumnus Evan Weber ’13, co-founder and executive director of U.S. Climate Plan, has been recognized as an “emerging green leader.”

Connecting this year’s 50 green leaders is the theme “The Fixer.” Described by Grist magazine as, “bold problem solvers working toward a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck,” the list includes entrepreneurs, politicians, scientists and activists.

Not only do Weber and his team push for climate legislation on the national level and organize campaigns to support climate justice, but he also supports young activists by building partnerships between grassroots organizations, teaching statewide strategy plans, and advising college students. “It is how you build a generational front against climate change in Weber’s eyes,” according to Grist.

More on Weber, as well as the full list of environmental innovators and their work can be found on Grist’s website.

McAlister Writes Op-Ed on ‘Demystifying Vodou’

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, chair and professor of religion, is the co-author of an op-ed on CNN titled, “Haiti and the distortion of its Vodou religion.”

Together with her co-author, Millery Polyné, a Haitian-American professor of African-American and Caribbean history at the Gallatin School–NYU, she provides an introduction to the Vodou religion—the creation of African slaves who were brought to Haiti and converted by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. While Vodou shares much with Christianity, and its initiates must be Roman Catholic, it departs in its views of the cosmos. Vodou teaches that there is no heaven or hell, and humans are “simply spirits who inhabit the visible world in a physical body.”

They explain:

Historically, Vodou has been an emancipatory faith that enslaved people turned to when they were brutalized.

For that reason, French slave owners considered Vodou a threat and that is why it has been grossly misrepresented by white colonists and Haitian political and spiritual leaders alike.

Indeed, Vodou spirits inspired the revolution against Haiti’s French colonizers more than 200 years ago that established Haiti as the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States — and the first to abolish slavery.

It was during a religious and political gathering that enslaved Africans and Creoles mounted an insurrection against plantation owners in August 1791. This famous nighttime meeting — known as the ceremony at Bois Caïman — was a tremendous feat of strategic organizing, since it unified Africans assembled from different plantations and diverse ethnic groups.

At this clandestine ceremony, a leader named Dutty Boukman led an oath to fight for freedom. A priestess named Cecile Fatiman consecrated the vow when she asked the African ancestral spirits for protection during the upcoming battle.

Under a tree, she slaughtered a black pig as an offering.

Two weeks later, the rebels set plantations ablaze and poisoned drinking wells, kicking off the revolution.

Panicked slave owners throughout the Americas reacted by clamping down with extra force on all African-based religious practices.

They circulated stories that linked the religion with blood and violence, images that endure to this day.

McAlister is also professor of American Studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of Feminist, Gender & Sexuality studies.

 

Experts Discuss Fake News, Then and Now at History Matters Panel

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On March 7, the History Department sponsored a History Matters Panel on “Fake News: Then and Now.” Speakers included Courtney Fullilove, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of environmental studies, assistant professor of science in society; Ying Jia Tan, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of East Asian studies; and Erik Grimmer-Solem, associate professor of history, associate professor of German studies.

Students Learn about Jewish Culture by Making Hamantaschen

Chabad at Wesleyan hosted a hamantaschen making workshop March 1 in Exley Science Center. Hamantaschen (also called ozney Haman or Haman’s ears in Hebrew) are tasty, flaky treats with fillings that are often made during the Jewish festival of Purim. Purim is celebrated on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar (late winter/early spring). The festival commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from Haman the Agagite’s plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day,” as recorded in the Megillah (book of Esther). The points on the cookie may be symbolic of Haman’s three-cornered hat.

Chabad at Wesleyan opened on campus in 2011 with social, educational, recreational and religious programming for students and faculty. “Chabad is a home where all Jews are welcome no matter what affiliation, denomination or sexual orientation,” said Rabbi Levi Schectman. “We give you the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of your Jewish heritage. Most importantly, Chabad is a place where being Jewish is fun.”

Chabad at Wesleyan also hosts an annual challah bake, a shofar making, a Chanukah celebration, “Sushi in the Sukkah,” a matzah bake and more. The organization is affiliated with Wesleyan’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, which offers religious, educational, cultural, political and social activities for Wesleyan’s Jewish, Catholic, Muslim and Protestant communities.

Wesleyan also offers additional spiritual opportunities.

Photos of the hamantaschen making are below: (Photos by Jonas Powell ’18)

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Gottschalk Writes on the Sufis and Why They Threaten ISIS

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk

Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk recently authored an article, “Who are the Sufis and why does ISIS see them as threatening,” which appeared on Raw Story and The Conversation.

The Sufis, who have been the target of violent attacks in Pakistan in recent years, practice austerity “stemming from a sincere religious devotion that compelled the Sufi into a close, personal relationship with God, modeled on aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s life. This often involved a more inward, contemplative focus than many other forms of Islamic practice.” And, according to Gottschalk, though “many Muslims and non-Muslims around the globe celebrate Sufi saints and gather together for worship in their shrines,” these practices “do not conform to the Islamic ideologies of intolerant revivalist groups such as the Islamic State.”

Gottschalk argues that there are two reasons why the Islamic State violently opposes Sufis:

First, some Sufis – as illustrated by Rabia, the Sufi from Basra – deliberately flout the Islamic conventions of their peers, which causes many in their communities to condemn their unorthodox views and practices.

Second, many Muslims, not just militants, consider shrine devotion as superstitious and idolatrous. The popularity among Muslims and non-Muslims of tomb veneration alarms many conservative Muslims.

When a Sufi tomb grows in reputation for its miraculous powers, then an increasing number of people begin to frequent it to seek blessings. The tombs often become a gathering place for Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and people from other faiths.

Special songs of praise – “qawwali” – are sung at these shrines that express Islamic values using the imagery of love and devotion.

However, Islamist groups such as the Taliban reject shrine worship as well as dancing and singing as un-Islamic (hence their assassination of the world-famous qawwali singer Amjad Sabri). In their view, prayers to Sufis are idolatrous.

Gottschalk also is professor of science in society, and director of the Office of Faculty Career Development.

Fowler, Gollust ’01 Author Paper on News Coverage of Obamacare

Erika Franklin Fowler is co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Erika Franklin Fowler is co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler and Sarah Gollust ’01, associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, are authors of a new paper published Feb. 16 in the American Journal of Public Health examining local TV news coverage of the Affordable Care Act rollout in 2013 and 2014. Though television news played a key role in providing information about the ACA when Americans were first learning about the details of new insurance options open to them, this is the first analysis of public health-relevant content of this coverage during the ACA’s first open enrollment period.

In an analysis of 1,569 local TV news stories aired between October 1, 2013 and April 19, 2014, the authors found that less than half of the coverage focused on the health insurance products available through the law. They note that key policy aspects of the ACA were surprisingly uncommon even among these stories, with Medicaid mentioned in only 7 percent of them and the availability of subsidies mentioned in only 8 percent. More than a quarter of the stories in the sample focused solely on the politics of the ACA, not mentioning any information about health insurance products.

Fowler and Gollust note that journalistic coverage of the law tended to focus on which side was “winning” and “losing,” with attention to enrollment expectations and achievement, as well as problems with the websites, over policy substance. It also relied heavily on partisan sources, while few news stories included any public health, medical, research, or health advocacy perspectives. They argue that this framing of the law by the local TV media limited citizens’ exposure to the substance of ACA policy content, increasing the likelihood of the public perceiving the law through a politically charged lens.

“Coverage of strategy in news is nothing new, but I was surprised by how little coverage some basic information–such as mentions of subsidies being available–got in local television news,” said Fowler.

The research was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s SHARE program, which is managed by SHADAC (State Health Access Data Assistance Center). The project began in October 2013, and a group of about 25 students with the Wesleyan Media Project worked on coding local TV news stories from March to July 2015. Two students, Alison Mann ’17 and Courtney Laermer ’17, are acknowledged in the paper for their work developing coding protocols and training other students.

“This is certainly an exciting time to be doing research on the ACA and how the media has impacted it over the years,” said Learner. She is currently working on a senior thesis that is also looking at how local broadcast media (advertisements and news coverage) surrounding the ACA during the first open enrollment period influenced viewers’ opinions of the law.

“In my thesis, I am analyzing whether or not specific content within the media has an impact on viewers’ perceptions, so I am definitely looking forward to investigating this topic further and seeing whether or not the results are consistent and where differences are seen,” she said.

Weinstein ’17, Scruggs ’17 to Join Teach For America Following Graduation

Michael Weinstein ’17 will head to Milwaukee, Wis. to teach.

Michael Weinstein ’17 will head to Milwaukee, Wis. to teach.

Two members of the Class of 2017 and the Wesleyan athletic community have committed to join Teach For America after graduation: Michael Weinstein ’17 of Brookline, Mass. and Katie Scruggs ’17 of Vail, Colo. Teach For America recruits and develops a diverse corps of outstanding college graduates and professionals to make an initial two-year commitment to teach in high-need schools and become lifelong leaders in the effort to end educational inequity.

Weinstein, who is the captain for both the men’s rugby team and ski team, will teach middle school special education in Milwaukee, Wis. This will be his first experience living in the Midwest.

“I think Wesleyan, as opposed to any other liberal arts school, put me into contact with a lot of people who are really smart and conscientious,” Weinstein said, reflecting on how Wesleyan is preparing him for this experience. “They care about each other and about injustices in America. Any liberal arts school can provide a ‘well-rounded’ education, but Wesleyan students generally try to apply what they learn to real life issue. Hopefully I can do the same!”

teach-for-americaScruggs, who is a member of the women’s cross country team, will teach high school science in Boston.

According to Teach for America, more than 16 million children are growing up in poverty in the U.S. By eighth grade, they are nearly three years behind higher-income peers in reading and math and are 1/10th as likely to graduate from college as students from affluent communities.

Teach For America seeks to combat this problem by enlisting promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence.

Cervantes Expert Ponce-Hegenauer Joins College of Letters

Gabrielle Ponce-Hegenauer

Gabrielle Ponce-Hegenauer

Last fall, the College of Letters (COL) welcomed Gabrielle Ponce-Hegenauer to the department as an assistant professor of letters. Ponce-Hegenauer is an expert on the biography and works of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), author of Don Quixote.

She’s also interested in 16th-century translation theory and poetics; pre-Cartesian Renaissance philosophy; cultural and intellectual history in the Spanish Golden Age; early modern metaphysics; medicine and philosophy in 16th-century Spain; the history of the book and manuscript culture; Spanish theater; Renaissance and Baroque Spanish poetry; Spanish and Italian literary exchanges; the 19th-century imagination of the Golden Age; and 19th-century Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdós.

“I like locating the particularities of big ideas in specific texts,” she said. “I’m constantly moving between a microcosmic and macrocosmic perspective. Nuance, variation, paradox and metaphor: these are key.”

Ponce-Hegenauer, who is fluent in Spanish, Italian and French, earned a BA in rhetoric at the University of Illinois Urbana, as well as both an MFA in poetry and creative writing and a PhD in German and romance languages and literatures from The Johns Hopkins University. Her dissertation, published in April 2016, was titled Cervantes, Poet: Lyric Subjectivity as Practice in the Rise of the Novel in 16th-Century Spain.