Tag Archive for American Studies

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

  1. Inside Higher Ed: “Career Path Intervention–Via a MOOC”

An open online course by Gordon Career Center Director Sharon Belden Castonguay, which helps young people explore their interests and career options, is featured.

2. NPR: “Midterm Election Could Reshape Health Policy”

American Studies Celebrates 50 Years with Series of Speakers

Fifty years ago, Richard Slotkin, Olin Professor of English, Emeritus, founded American studies at Wesleyan University. As he recounted last year while speaking on campus, “We were doing what was not yet called cultural criticism: studying all the manifestations of American culture to understand the ideological fictions through which American nationality had historically been constituted. We were part of a revisionist wave that departed from the established form of American studies, which tended to celebrate American exceptionalism.”

American Studies at Wesleyan sponsored the first courses in women’s studies, cosponsored some of the first African American studies courses, and supported the development of film studies by sharing courses and faculty. Since then, the department has been at the forefront of interdisciplinarity with a focus on diverse topics of political urgency. In 2011–12, the Education Policy Committee approved the request that American Studies be elevated from a program to departmental status.

To honor the department’s anniversary, faculty have created an event titled “American Studies Takes on the World: Celebrating Wes AMST @ 50.” This event will celebrate the department’s legacy with select luminaries discussing the state of the field, and AMST alumni presenting their cutting-edge work.

“Celebrating Wes AMST” will take place from 1:30 to 6 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Powell Family Cinema.

The schedule is below:
1:30 p.m. Welcome and opening remarks, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, chair of American Studies

Kauanui Presents Paper at Decolonizing Anarchisms Conference

J. Kehaulani Kauanui

J. Kehaulani Kauanui

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, professor and chair of American studies, recently presented her research at a conference in Loughborough University on Decolonizing Anarchisms. The gathering was the fifth annual conference of the UK Anarchist Studies Network.

The purpose of the conference was “to stimulate discussion of colonialism and racism as forms of oppression that anarchists oppose, but which continue to be felt in anarchist organizing; and to welcome individuals, groups and communities who have not previously participated in ASN events. By recognizing the legacy of non-western and anti-colonial thought and action in the anarchist tradition, we want to strengthen the ties between contemporary anarchists and decolonial theory and practice in the struggle against oppression, and to use the recognition of racist and Eurocentric practices and mind-frames to open up the event to marginalized groups.”

Kauanui’s paper, “Anarchist and the Politics of Indigeneity and Sovereignty in Settler Colonial Context,” distinguished a diversity of anarchist practices to clarify common misunderstandings about indigenous nationalism often held by nonindigenous people in order to offer some initial thoughts on bringing together an indigenous sovereignty politic in relation to anarchist philosophy and activism.

McAlister in The Conversation: For Some Catholics, It Is Demons That Taunt Priests with Sexual Desire

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, writes about a lesser-known factor contributing to the abuse of children uncovered in the Catholic Church: In some strands of Catholic thought, priests who abuse children have succumbed to temptation by demons. McAlister is also chair and professor of African American studies, director of the Center for African American Studies, professor of American studies, professor of feminist, gender, and sexuality studies, professor of Latin American studies.

For some Catholics, it is demons that taunt priests with sexual desire

A Pennsylvania grand jury recently released a report on the systematic ways Catholic priests aided and abetted one another to sexually abuse children for 70 years.

It reveals once again how the strict patriarchal hierarchy of the Catholic Church gives rise to conspiracies of silence and allows for routine cover-up of crimes. Cover-ups are also encouraged by clericalism – the belief that ordained priests are inherently superior and closer to God than the laity. This much has been demonstrated by countless observers.

But there is another, lesser-known factor contributing to the abuse, that I want to point out as a scholar of spiritual warfare in some forms of Christianity. This factor lies in the realm of belief: In some strands of Catholic thought, when priests abuse children, it is because they have been tempted by demons, and succumbed.

History of demon beliefs

The Catholic Church invites priests to view sexuality as a battle in the war between good and evil. Spiritual warfare is one name for this view of the world and it has a long history in Catholic teachings.

The idea of demons has been around since antiquity – in the Mediterranean world, the Middle East and elsewhere. In Christianity, preoccupation with demons reached its peak in the Middle Ages. Demons were explicitly defined by the church in 1215 under Pope Innocent III.

Theologians worked to identify classes and ranks of demons who operated under the authority of the devil himself. Demons were seen as fallen angels who disobeyed God and worked to subvert God and goodness.

Demons are malevolent beings who lord over specific domains of sin. Christians are called to battle evil, including evil that comes by way of the demonic. The more pious one is, the more intense will be the attacks from the demons.

After the Second Vatican Council of 1964, demons faded out of focus and exorcisms were rare. But my research shows that the spiritual warfare world view is on the rise in the Catholic Church. This is despite the fact that demons and exorcisms are largely viewed by most American Catholics as remnants of a medieval past.

The return of demons and exorcisms

In 1999, Pope John Paul II brought back a focus on the formal rites of exorcism – the official ritual that priests use to rid a person from demonic affliction or possession. The pope later recommended that every diocese in the Catholic world appoint and train an exorcist.

The Catholic Church in the United States took up the call and in 2012 founded the Pope Leo XII Institute in Illinois to support “the spiritual formation of priests to bring the light of Christ to dispel evil.” To this day it serves as a “school for exorcism and deliverance” of the laity from demons.

The institute offers workshops for clergy such as “Angels and Demons, Natures and Attributes.”

Under this belief system, in the battle for souls, demons can establish relationships with people who open the door to them through sin and disobedience to God. If someone masturbates, for example, which is a mortal sin, they are opening the door wider to demons of more serious sexual perversion.

Such demons include figures mentioned in the Bible such as Baal, the ancient Phoenician sun God, and his consort Ashtoreth, now viewed as a force of sexual immorality and perversion. Jezebel, the ninth-century B.C. Phoenician princess, lives into the modern era as a demonic personality who encourages illicit sexual acts, violence and rape.

Devil and role-play in one church

Writing for Commonweal, an American Catholic journal, one ex-seminarian described a formation, or training, workshop sponsored by his seminary. He described how participants were given nametags with the names of demons on them and asked to play the role of demons to tempt one another. He explained how they would choose one person and “hiss and curse” to entice him to “watch pornography” and “masturbate.”

The point, of course, was to train the participants how to choose chastity and to stand strong against sexual desire.

To be clear, this is only one documented instance. However, I would argue that it points to the Church’s current preoccupation with evil spirits and the need for priests to ritually remove that evil.

It is sobering that one seminary should choose to offer those training for a life of service and celibacy, a role-play of hissing demon impersonators, as a way to govern their conduct.

Medieval practices in today’s church?

Ascribing sexual desire to demonic temptation takes away the blame from the perpetrators. It puts the cause, the consequences, and questions of accountability into an invisible world populated by angels and demons, sin and repentance.

Suggesting that the offending priests were afflicted by demons is a version of “the devil made me do it.”

There is a second heartbreak. Many of the abused report feeling guilty, as if they had sinned themselves. I have heard from my own research participants that because sinning opens the door to more demons and more sin, then some abuse survivors think of themselves as being in relationships with personal demons and more vulnerable to demonic attack.

As investigations continue into the institutional factors allowing for this horrific abuse, it may also be pertinent to look into some of the intellectual and theological elements at the heart of the Catholic tradition.

For some branches of the Church, this includes the medieval world of demons.

Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, Wesleyan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Kauanui Delivers Keynote Focused on U.S. Militarism and Hawaiian Decolonization

Attached is a photograph of Kauanui with two scholars who attended the gathering, Rebekah Garrison (a doctoral student in American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California) and Tiara R. Na'puti (Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Colorado, Boulder).

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, center, gathers with two other scholars who attended the “Archipelagos and Aquapelagos” conference. At left is Rebekah Garrison, a doctoral student from the University of Southern California, and Tiara R. Na’puti, assistant professor of communication at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, chair and professor of American studies, professor of anthropology, and director of the Center for the Americas, delivered one of two keynotes at a conference on “Archipelagos and Aquapelagos—Conceptualizing Islands and Marine Spaces.”

The gathering, hosted by the Global South Center at The Pratt Institute on March 30—April 1, focused on the need to reinvestigate and reconceptualize the nature of the aggregations of islands commonly referred to as “archipelagos” in order to produce more sophisticated understandings of them, along with the environmental, social, and transnational issues and impacts involved.

As the organizers of the conference, May Joseph, Luka Lucic, and Macarena Gómez-Barris—all based at Pratt’s new Global South Center—explained in the mission, “Archipelagos have become increasingly prominent in geo-political contexts with regard to national territorial boundaries, global migrancy and disputes over fisheries.”

Kauanui’s keynote, “Decolonizing Indigeneity: Hawaiian Sovereignty, U.S. Occupation and the Politics of Settler Colonialism,” focused on U.S. militarism and Hawaiian decolonization. As she explained, “since the purpose of the conference is to explore the interface of land and water ontologies and epistemologies facing vulnerable populations across different small island nation ecologies, looking at the Pacific Islands is instructive for understanding multi-dimensions of U.S. imperialism and settler colonialism, as well as persistent questions of decolonization.” Keeping this U.S. military expansion in mind, her talk explored decolonization in the Hawaiian context.

The other keynote was delivered by Philip Hayward, editor of online journal Shima, from the University of Technology Sydney.

Price ’20 Spends Spring Semester in D.C. as a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Intern

Anthony Price ’20, pictured here by the Washington Monument in Washington D.C., is half-way through a five-month internship on Capitol Hill.

Anthony Price ’20, pictured here by the Washington Monument in Washington D.C., is half-way through a five-month internship on Capitol Hill. “The internship will be a huge asset to the rest of my studies at Wesleyan and it’s a huge stepping stone to help me pursue a career in public service, or perhaps on the Hill,” he said.

As a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation intern, Anthony Price ’20 is spending the spring semester working on Capitol Hill, where he is learning about governing institutions and the inner workings of the U.S. Congress.

The CBCF’s internship programs “prepare college students and young professionals to become principled leaders, skilled policy analysts and informed advocates by exposing them to the processes that develop national policies and implement them—from Capitol Hill to federal field offices. Program participants receive housing, a stipend, office placements, and opportunities to meet and interact with professional legislators and leaders working in all branches of government.”

“Thus far, I’ve enhanced my leadership, adaptability and writing skills immensely,” Price said. “At the end of the program, I know I will have a better understanding of our American legislative process and the work that’s being done day-to-day within the branches of Congress.”

Research by Service-Learning Class Published in Archaeological Society Bulletin

Papers by Professor J. Kehaulani Kauanui and four of her former students are published in the most recent issue of the Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut.

Four former students who enrolled in the service-learning course AMST 250: Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown: Native Histories of the Wangunk Indian People—taught in fall 2015—are now co-authors of articles published in the Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut, No. 79, 2017.

Iryelis Lopez ’17, Tiana Quinones ’17, Abigail Cunniff ’17 and Yael Horowitz ’17 partnered with the Middlesex County Historical Society and spent their semester examining 17th- and 18th-century Middletown records that focused on the Algonquian peoples of the lower Connecticut River known as Wangunks. The Wangunks lived near the Connecticut River primarily in present-day Middletown and Portland, Conn.

In February 2016, self-selected students presented their class research papers to the broader Middletown community at an event held at Russell Library called, “Searching for Indigenous Middletown.” The gathering was organized by course instructor J. Kehaulani Kauanui. Kauanui is professor of American studies, professor of anthropology, chair of the American Studies Department and director of the Center for the Americas.

The Bulletin‘s editor, Lucianne Lavin, was in attendance and heard the students’ presentations. Lavin, who also directs the American Indian Studies Institute in Washington, Conn., later invited the young researchers to have their papers published in the Bulletin.

In addition to being published in the Bulletin, research by the students resulted in the first Wikipedia entry on the Wangunk.

The published papers include “Town Bills of Middletown: Material Histories of Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Erasure” by Yael Horowitz ’17; “Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown” by Iryelis Lopez ’17 and Tiana Quinones ’17; and “Militia, Security, and Smallpox in Middletown Settler Society as Related to the Wangunk People (1754–1785)” by Abigail Cunniff ’17.

The special issue contains five other pieces that emerged from an event Kauanui organized in December 2015 on campus at the Russell House, including “Challenging Settler Colonialism in the Recovery of Wangunk Tribal History” by Kauanui; “Pre-Colonial History of the Wangunk” by Lucianne Lavin; “A Brief History of the Wangunk Reservation” by Timothy Ives; “Indigenous Middletown: Settler Colonial and Wangunk Tribal History” by Reginald Bacon; and “Growing Up Wangunk” by Gary O’Neil.

Kauanui has since retooled the course as a “First Year Initiative” class that was taught last semester as a seminar for first-year students, called “Indigenous Middletown.” Besides focusing on the sparsely documented history of the Wangunk, students are introduced to the fields of settler colonial studies, the rapidly transforming field of critical indigenous studies, along with Native American history and historiography addressing southern New England. “And perhaps most importantly,” Kauanui says, “they learn that the Wangunk people continue to live into the 21st century.”

Kauanui Presents “Politics of Occupy Wall Street” Research in Qatar

J. Kehaulani Kauanui

J. Kehaulani Kauanui in Qatar.

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, professor of American studies and anthropology, chair of American studies and director of the Center of the Americas, spent part of winter break in Qatar. She was there to present her research on “Settler Colonialism and the Politics of Occupy Wall Street: Indigeneity and the ‘Other’ 1%” for a panel on “Against Exceptionalism.”

Kauanui joined a global roster of leading scholars in American studies, Middle Eastern studies and other closely related fields who were invited to speak as part of a conference held Jan. 8–11 at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies with support from the Qatar National Research Fund.

The conference, titled “From Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park: The Arab Spring and the De-Centering of American Studies,” was co-organized by Eid Mohamed, assistant professor of American studies and comparative literature at the Doha Institute, and Melani McAlister, associate professor of American studies and international affairs at George Washington University. Its aim was to “internationalize the study of America to enable critical consideration of where and what is America—particularly in relation to the Arab uprisings and developments in the global map of power.”

Presentations from the conference are slated to be included in an edited volume available in late 2018.

For more information on the conference program and participants, visit https://de-centeringamericanstudies.weebly.com.

 

Slotkin Writes About History of Integration in the U.S. Military

Richard Slotkin

In light of President Trump’s tweeted ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, Richard Slotkin, the Olin Professor of English and American Studies, Emeritus, writes in The Conversation about the long history of integrating minorities into the U.S. military.

The armed forces have long “played a vital role in shaping American social policy toward the country’s minorities,” Slotkin writes. He recalls how “fear and resentment” of African-Americans and immigrants from Asia and Europe “generated a political backlash,” resulting in oppressive Jim Crow laws and an anti-immigrant movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Then, “The crisis produced by American entry into World War I brought these movements up short. Suddenly the nation had to raise an army of millions from scratch, with the utmost speed. There was no way to achieve that goal without enlisting large numbers of African-Americans and immigrants or “hyphenated Americans,” a derogatory term for immigrants first used at the turn of the century. It was in this crisis that American leaders rediscovered the ideals of civil equality that late 19th-century ethno-nationalism had called into question.”

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.

 

Asian American Culture, Race Discussed at Roundtable

The Center for East Asian Studies hosted a “Roundtable on Race in Asian America” for students, staff and faculty on Sept. 29. Participants were encouraged to discuss what it means to be Asian American and share personal stories.

The Center for East Asian Studies hosted a “Roundtable on Race in Asian America” for students, staff and faculty on Sept. 29. Participants were encouraged to discuss what it means to be Asian American and share personal stories. Pictured is Takeshi Watanabe, assistant professor of East Asian studies. Watanabe teaches Japanese Culture through Food and Life in Premodern Japan.

Long Bui, visiting assistant professor of American studies, and Alton Wang '15 moderated the discussion. While at Wesleyan, Wang studied sociology and government, chaired the Asian American Student Collective and taught a course on Asian American history. He currently works in Washington D.C. engaging voters at Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote and serves on the Board of Directors for the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership.

At left, Long Bui, visiting assistant professor of American studies, and Alton Wang ’16 moderated the discussion. While at Wesleyan, Wang studied sociology and government, chaired the Asian American Student Collective and taught a course on Asian American history. He currently works in Washington D.C. at Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote and serves on the Board of Directors for the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership.

Dakota Access Pipeline, Global Healing to be Discussed at Oct. 7 Talks

Wesleyan will host two discussions related to the Dakota Access Pipeline Project on Oct. 7.

The Dakota Access Pipeline Project is a 1,172-mile pipeline that will connect the Bakken oil field in North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline would run through federal land less than half a mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation and the tribe’s opposition has inspired protests across the country. Although the pipeline construction has already begun, the project was halted in September after a federal intervention.

At 2 p.m. in Usdan 108, Wesleyan faculty will hold a rapid teach-in addressing key issues about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), its environmental costs, the indigenous sovereignty and other legal issues,