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Mary-Jane Rubenstein Discusses Multiple Universes on Studio 360

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Professor and Chair of Religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein was a guest on PRI’s “Studio 360” to discuss the history of scientific thinking on multiple universes. Though scientists today are becoming increasingly interested in thinking about multiple universes, the idea actually dates back about 2,500 years to the Atomist philosophers of Ancient Greece. Rubenstein discussed how the Atomists arrived at a theory of multiple universes:

For the ancient Atomist philosophers, the most desirable thing about what we’re now calling the multiverse was that it got rid of the need for a god. If it is the case that our world is the only world, then it’s very difficult to explain. How is everything so perfect? How is it that  sunsets are so beautiful. What the Atomists believed was that religion and the belief in these kinds of benevolent gods actually caused people to behave terribly to one another. so they wanted to find a different explanation. so their explanation was that it’s not the case that some anthropomorphic god or gods made the universe so that it was just perfect the way it is. but that actually our world was just one of an infinite number of other worlds that looked totally different from our world, and that worlds were the product just of accident, of particles colliding with one another and randomly forming worlds ad infinity… It sounds a lot like modern physics.

Host Kurt Andersen also asked Rubenstein how this theory, as it becomes popularized, will affect the way people think about their lives. She replied:

It’s a great question. Every major development in modern Western science since Copernicus has been advertised as this radical de-centering of our importance… Copernicus takes us out of the center of the solar system, and then Darwin takes us out of the garden of Eden, Freud takes us out of control of our own psyches — as science progresses, we learn that we are less and less important than we thought we were. That’s one argument. But of course, it doesn’t seem to be the case that these purported de-centralizations of the importance of the human have in any way contributed to our feeling like we’re insignificant. We still tend to think that we run the planet.

Rubenstein is also professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. Listen to the full interview here.

Rubenstein, Taylor ’68 Collaborate On Essay Collection

ImageProfessor of Religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein recently co-authored an essay in collection titled Image: Three Inquiries in Technology and Imagination alongside Mark C. Taylor ’68, professor of religion at Columbia University.

The book, published in September 2021 by the University of Chicago Press, explores how visual elements function in relationship to humans and technology.

“Modern life is steeped in images, image-making, and attempts to control the world through vision,” the book’s description reads. “Mastery of images has been advanced by technologies that expand and reshape vision and enable us to create, store, transmit, and display images. The three essays in Image, written by leading philosophers of religion Mark C. Taylor, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, and Thomas A. Carlson, explore the power of the visual at the intersection of the human and the technological.”

Rubenstein also is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe (2009), Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse (2014), and Pantheologies: Gods, Worlds, Monsters (2018). Taylor, too, has written several books, including Disfiguring: Art, Architecture, Religion (1994), Mystic Bones (2007), and Abiding Grace: Time, Modernity, Death (2018).

Rubenstein Discusses Theories of the Multiverse on Studio 360

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Professor of Religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein was a guest on WNYC’s “Studio 360” recently, in a show titled, “The Theoretical Physicist Wore a Toga.” She addressed existential “what if” questions and the idea of multiple universes—an idea, she explains, which “is about 2,500 years old.”

“For the ancient Atomist philosophers [in Ancient Greece], the most desirable thing about what we’re now calling the multiverse was that it got rid of the need for a god. If it is the case that our world is the only world, then it’s very difficult to explain. How is everything so perfect? How is it that sunsets so beautiful?” she said. “What the Atomists believed was that religion and the belief in these kinds of benevolent gods actually caused people to behave terribly to one another, so they wanted to find a different explanation. So their explanation was that it’s not the case that some anthropomorphic god or gods made the universe so it was just perfect the way it is, but that actually that our world was just one of an infinite number of other worlds that looked totally different from our world, and that worlds were the product just of accident, of particles colliding with one another and randomly forming worlds.”

“It sounds a lot like modern physics,” she added.

What are the practical effects of such theories?

“Every major development in modern Western science since Copernicus has been advertised as this radical de-centering of our importance. […] As science progresses, we learn that we are less and less important than we thought we were. That’s one argument. But of course, it doesn’t seem to be the case that these purported decentralizations of the importance of the human have in any way contributed in any way to our feeling like we’re insignificant. We still tend to think that we run the planet.”

Rubenstein is also professor of science in society, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Finn, Rubenstein, Roberts Honored with Binswanger Prizes

John Finn, Mary-Jane Rubenstein and Andrea Roberts and are the recipients of the 2017 Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

From left, John E. Finn, Mary-Jane Rubenstein and Andrea Roberts are the recipients of the 2017 Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Wesleyan President Michael Roth is pictured at right. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

During Wesleyan’s 185th commencement ceremony on May 28, Wesleyan presented three outstanding teachers with the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. These prizes, made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the university’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.

Recommendations are solicited from alumni of the last 10 graduating classes, as well as current juniors, seniors and graduate students. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee of faculty and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee.

This year, Wesleyan honored the following faculty members for their excellence in teaching:

John E. Finn, professor of government, has been a member of Wesleyan’s faculty since 1986, serving as chair of the Government Department in 2007 and from 2009–11. He has a BA in political science from Nasson College, a JD from Georgetown University, a PhD in political science from Princeton University, and a degree in culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute. Finn is the author of three books on constitutional law, including Peopling the Constitution (2014), and numerous articles and book chapters. Finn’s scholarship also encompasses the study of food, recipes and politics, and includes his most recent book, The Perfect Omelet: Essential Recipes for the Home Cook (2017). At Wesleyan, Professor Finn’s courses have included American Constitutional Interpretation, The First Amendment, The Judicial Process, and Culture and Cuisine. He is the recipient of five distinguished teaching awards at Wesleyan, including two Binswanger Prizes, two Caleb T. Winchester Awards for Excellence in Teaching, and the Carol A. Baker ’81 Memorial Prize. He is retiring from Wesleyan this year.

Andrea Roberts, associate professor of the practice, chemistry, began teaching in Wesleyan’s Chemistry Department in 2004 as a visiting instructor while pursuing her graduate research at Wesleyan. She earned a BA in chemistry from Cornell University, an MS in polymer chemistry from Polytechnic University, and a PhD in organometallic chemistry from Wesleyan, where she studied under the direction of Professor Emeritus Joseph Bruno. She has written two theses, is the author of several publications, and holds more than 30 U.S. and international patents. In July 2010, as a graduate student, Roberts rewrote the entire organic chemistry lab curriculum, making it safer and more relevant for students and greener for the environment. Using her 15 years of experience in the industry, she has developed curricula for the general, organic, and the advanced integrated laboratory courses. She also teaches science outreach classes that introduce STEM lab activities to Middletown-area school children. In 2016, Roberts was awarded a teaching and pedagogical grant from the Andersen/Rosenbaum Teaching Endowment, which she used to create a tutorial for graduate and undergraduate students interested in teaching and curriculum design. The result was the development of a new introductory chemistry lab manual, which was piloted this spring.

Mary-Jane Rubenstein, professor of religion, joined Wesleyan’s faculty in 2006. She also is a core faculty member in the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, and an affiliated faculty member in the Science in Society Program. She holds a BA in religion and English from Williams College, an MPhil in philosophical theology from Cambridge University, and a PhD in philosophy of religion from Columbia University, where she also received a certificate in comparative literature and society. Rubenstein’s courses at Wesleyan include Christianity and Sexuality, and Worlding the World: Creation Myths from Ancient Greece to the Multiverse. Her research interests include continental philosophy, theology, gender and sexuality studies, and the history and philosophy of cosmology. She is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe and Worlds without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse, as well as numerous book chapters, magazine articles and online essays. She serves as cochair of the Philosophy of Religion Section of the American Academy of Religion and on the Smithsonian Institute’s advisory board for the study of science and religion.

Previous Binswanger recipients are online here.

Rubenstein’s Book is Reviewed

Mary-Jane Rubenstein’s new book, Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse (Columbia University Press 2014), is reviewed on the site “New Books in Religion”:

In Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse (Columbia University Press, 2014), Rubenstein wonders why there is a proliferation of multiverse theoretical cosmologies by contemporary scientists. While the cosmos are generally considered to be singular and finite many well-respected physicists explain the universe’s complexities as evidence of a multiverse. These explanations argue that our world is just one of the infinite number of universes existing simultaneously.

Read the entire review here. Rubenstein is chair and associate professor of religion, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Rubenstein’s Worlds without End Published

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Book by Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Mary-Jane Rubenstein, associate professor of religion, is the author of Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse, published by Columbia University Press, 2014.

“Multiverse” cosmologies imagine our universe as just one of a vast number of others. While this idea has captivated philosophy, religion and literature for millennia, it is now being considered as a scientific hypothesis—with different models emerging from cosmology, quantum mechanics and string theory.

Beginning with ancient Atomist and Stoic philosophies, Rubenstein links contemporary models of the multiverse to their forerunners and explores the reasons for their recent appearance. One concerns the so-called fine-tuning of the universe: nature’s constants are so delicately calibrated that it seems they have been set just right to allow life to emerge. For some thinkers, these “fine-tunings” are evidence of the existence of God; for others, however, and for most physicists, “God” is an insufficient scientific explanation.

Rubenstein also is the author of  Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe.

Rubenstein Appointed 2013-14 Distinguished Teaching Fellow

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Mary-Jane Rubenstein, associate professor of religion and chair of the Religion Department, has been appointed  Wesleyan’s 2013-14 Distinguished Teaching Fellow. She also is associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Established last year by the John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology Rob Rosenthal, the Distinguished Teaching Fellowship honors Wesleyan’s most outstanding teachers and gives them the opportunity to teach a course outside their usual departmental offerings. The inaugural fellowship was awarded to Andy Szegedy-Maszak, Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek, professor of classical studies.

“It is no surprise that Mary-Jane is Wesleyan’s second Distinguished Teaching Fellow: she is known across campus for her exceptional teaching and innovative pedagogy,” said Ruth Striegel Weissman, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “She is deeply engaged in scholarly and pedagogical initiatives on campus.”

Rubenstein has served as co-director of the Certificate in Social, Cultural and Critical Theory, regularly giving talks on campus including for the Wesleyan Thinks Big series, the Theory Lecture Series, the Humanities luncheon, First Year Matters, the Center for Humanities, the Division II Seminar and more. Her scholarship commands strong interest: she gives many invited lectures, recently giving addresses at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, Princeton Theological Seminary, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the London School of Economics, and Yale University.

She is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, as well as articles on Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Derrida, negative theology, political theologies, global Anglicanism and contemporary cosmology. Her next book will be published in February: Worlds without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse. This work puts recent theories of the “multiverse” into conversation with ancient “many-world” cosmologies.

As Distinguished Teaching Fellow, Mary-Jane will teach “Kierkegaard: an Advanced Seminar in Absurdity” this spring.

Rubenstein’s Article on the Nothing and the Sovereign Published

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Mary Jane Rubenstein, associate professor of religion, is the author of “Cosmic Singularities: On the Nothing and the Sovereign,” published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 80, No. 2, pages 485–517, in 2012.

Until very recently, the paper explains, “the creation myth of secular modernity has been the hot big bang hypothesis: the explosion of our single universe out of a single point. Physicists concede that in its traditional form, this story performs an uncanny recapitulation of Christian creation theology: the universe bursts forth suddenly, in a flood of light, out of nothing. As many contemporary thinkers have argued, however, the ‘nothing’ of Christian orthodoxy is neither scripturally nor doctrinally self-evident; rather, it is the product of ontopolitical efforts to secure the sovereignty of God.”

The article traces the twinned concepts of sovereignty and nothingness through theological and astrophysical sources, arguing that “even rabidly atheistic appeals to the ex nihilo end up enshrining a figure of absolute power.” Ultimately, it suggests that far from supporting an absolute beginning, quantum and multiverse cosmologies undermine the logic of nothingness and sovereignty by means of chaos and entanglement.

Rubenstein also is the author of “The Twilight of the Doxai: Or, How to Philosophize with a Whac-A-Mole™ Mallet,” published in The Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, Issue 24, pages 64-70, in 2012.

This article evaluates the hermeneutic value of the category of belief from the perspective of a broadly “continental” philosophy of religion. From Socrates’s dismantling of his interlocutors’ doxai to Pseudo-Dionysius’s un-saying of the divine names to Kierkegaard’s noetic divestment to Derrida’s aporetic genealogies, it argues that “belief ” is the target, rather than the telos, of philosophic scrutiny. For the authors engaged here, beliefs are phantasms—uninterrogated positions that uphold a kind of routine political, psychological, or theological order—whose unraveling opens the possibility of difference, and thus of thinking itself. Read the article online here.

Rubenstein Leads Senior Voices Baccalaureate Address

Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Mary Jane Rubenstein, assistant professor of religion, assistant professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, presented the “Senior Voices” baccalaureate address:

Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence
Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides.
I am here
Or there, or elsewhere.
In my beginning.

T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets all cycle around the theme of beginning with a kind of solemnity that’s both attentive and introspective. He looks out as the dawn points—out to the almost-day to feel the wind wrinkle and slide. He looks in and finds himself here, or there, or elsewhere.

Rubenstein Guest Panelist at Global Politics of Sexuality Conference

Mary-Jane Rubenstein, assistant professor of religion, assistant professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, was a guest panelist at a conference titled “Christianity and the Global Politics of Sexuality” held Oct. 21 at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, New York University.

Focusing specifically on sexuality, Rubenstein and other panelists discussed the ways in which transnational and non-governmental Christian organizations have an impact on legal and social policies in different areas where Christians may comprise a small minority or a larger percentage of the population. In addition, sexuality continues to rankle and even divide Christian churches themselves, as evidenced by the recent tensions in the Anglican Communion over LGBT clergy members. This panel explored debates about sexuality within Christian churches and the global reach of Christian claims about sexuality.

Rubenstein is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, and of numerous articles and chapters on continental philosophy, negative theology, and the crisis over sex and gender in the global Anglican Communion.

Rubenstein Author of Strange Wonder

Mary-Jane Rubenstein, assistant professor of religion, assistant professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, is the author of the book, Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, published by Columbia University Press, March 2009. Strange Wonder confronts Western philosophy’s ambivalent relationship to the Platonic “wonder” that reveals the strangeness of the everyday. On the one hand, this wonder is said to be the origin of all philosophy. On the other hand, it is associated with a kind of ignorance that ought to be extinguished as swiftly as possible. By endeavoring to resolve wonder’s indeterminacy into certainty and calculability, philosophy paradoxically secures itself at the expense of its own condition of possibility.

Wesleyan in the News

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

Wesleyan in the News

  1. NPR: “Book Review: ‘The Movie Musical!’ Is a Symphony in Praise of the ‘Razzmatazz’ of the Genre”

“Encyclopedic in scope, but thankfully not in structure, The Movie Musicals! is a downright delightful read,” this NPR review of Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, Emerita, Jeanine Basinger’s new book proclaims. The Movie Musicals! truly “dazzles” for its insight into the roles these films have played over the 20th century and into the 21st, the review states, noting, “And throughout the hefty volume, Basinger addresses—both directly and indirectly—the essential question at the heart of musicals: What compels us to suspend disbelief and accept, if not wholly enjoy, the fantastical idea of people spontaneously breaking into song? What does this sorcery say about the immersiveness of film, and the power of song, and the mechanism of the human imagination?”

2. BBC: “Galileo’s Lost Letter”

Professor of Religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein is interviewed on “Discovery” from the BBC about the historical conflict between religion and science. “The notion that religion is somehow a backward, authoritarian, anti-rational opponent to science really comes at the end of the 19th century,” she says. There is a misperception that science and religious belief have to always be in conflict, but in actuality, Rubenstein says, it is “a battle between Protestants and Catholics that gets grafted onto and renewed as some sort of dispute between the secular and the religious.” Rubenstein comes in around 15:44 minutes.

3. PBS Newshour: “Why Haitians Say They Won’t Stop Protesting”