Tag Archive for Religion

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. The Morning Call: “Allen Student Wins ‘Hamilton’ Scholarship, Congrats from Lin-Manuel Miranda”

Anna Tjeltveit of Allentown, Penn., winner of the 2019 Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity, is profiled. She shares how her winning submission, a one-act play titled, “Five Steps,” came together at the last minute, and discusses her early career in theater as well as her plans for her time at Wesleyan.

2. WJLA: “Arlington Teen Wins ‘Hamilton’ Prize Gets a Shout Out from Lin-Manuel Miranda”

Cole Goco of Arlington, Va., who received an honorable mention in the 2019 Wesleyan University Hamilton Prize for Creativity, is interviewed. He discusses his years-long work on his winning web comic strip, “Billy the Pop,” and what it felt like to have Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 congratulate him by name on Twitter.

Gottschalk in The Conversation: Hate Crimes Associated with Both Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism Have a Long History in America’s Past

Peter Gottschalk

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, Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk writes about the history of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim movements in the U.S., and the confluence of the two. 

Hate crimes associated with both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have a long history in America’s past

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar tweeted recently that “Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are two sides of the same bigoted coin.”

Her comments came in response to media reports that the suspect behind the shooting at a San Diego synagogue was also under investigation for burning a mosque.

Hate crimes associated with both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have shown an increase in recent years. But is there an association between the two?

As author of “American Heretics,” I have found that American antagonism toward Islamic and Jewish traditions goes back nearly 500 years, and shares some unfortunate connections.

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.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The New Yorker: “The Shapeshifting Music of Tyshawn Sorey”

“There is something awesomely confounding about the music of Tyshawn Sorey [MA ’11], the thirty-eight-year-old Newark-born composer, percussionist, pianist, and trombonist,” begins this profile of Sorey, assistant professor of music. Sorey was recently featured in the Composer Portraits series at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.

2. The Register-Mail: “Video Slots Take Heavy Toll on Some Players”

In this article exploring the expansion of video slot gaming in a region of Illinois, Assistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson shares what he has learned through his research about how gambling affects our brains through the pleasurable release of dopamine. “You hear gamblers talk about chasing losses,” Robinson said. “Basically, they are talking about how gambling and uncertainty can even change how you respond to losing. It sounds counterintuitive, but for gambling addicts losing money triggers the rewarding release of dopamine almost to the same degree that winning does.”

3. The St. Thomas Source: “V.I. Studies Collective Asks, ‘What Is a Virgin Islander?'”

Professor of English Tiphanie Yanique, a core member of the Virgin Islands Studies Collective, recently led a workshop on St. Thomas at the Virgin Islands Literary Festival. A poet, essayist, and fiction writer who teaches creative writing at Wesleyan, Yanique comes from St. Thomas and has written fiction about life in the Virgin Islands.

4. The Forward: “8 Practical Tips on How to Lead a Progressive Seder This Year”

Asked for advice on leading a “progressive seder” for Passover this year, Wesleyan’s Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and University Jewish Chaplain David Leipziger Teva suggested adding a shoelace to your seder plate to express solidarity with the migrants fleeing their homes to cross into the U.S. “In thinking about the 92,607 migrants and refugees who in March of 2019 alone were detained after crossing the US Mexico border, I was struck by the fact that one of the first things that our US Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP) does is force these tired and vulnerable people to remove their shoelaces,” he explained. “Apparently anything, even the shoelaces of young children, considered ‘nonessential and potentially lethal’ is confiscated.”

5. Reading Religion: “Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Bias”

“Through the medium of cartoons, Gottschalk and Greenberg examine complicated concepts such as Islamophobia and stereotypes in a manner that is both accessible and comprehensive,” according to this review of Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment: Picturing the Enemy, coauthored by Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg ’04 and recently re-released in an expanded and revised second edition. “This book is accessible enough to include on an undergraduate introductory syllabus, but also specialized enough for readers who are familiar with the concept of Islamophobia, or the study of the Muslims in the United States, to benefit from.”

Alumni in the News

  1. PeabodyAwards.com: Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (PBS/WNET TV)”

Randall MacLowry ’86 is the producer and editor; Tracy Heather Strain is the filmmaker for this documentary, which PBS notes as “the first in-depth presentation of Hansberry’s complex life, using her personal papers and archives, including home movies and rare photos, as source material.” The couple cofounded The Film Posse, Inc., to work together in creating documentaries of high quality, and according to a press release, “spent more than 14 years raising money to develop the independently-produced film, which the couple produced with Strain serving as director and writer, and MacLowry and Chad Ervin as editors. Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and its television premiere on the PBS biography series American Masters in January 2018.”

2. Women and Hollywood: “Tribeca 2019 Women Directors: Meet Bridget Savage Cole [’05] and Danielle Krudy [’07]Blow the Man Down” 

“Wesleyan University graduates Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy met on a film set in Coney Island. They immediately bonded over a shared love of character-driven stories and juicy filmmaking styles. They have collaborated on numerous music videos, shorts, and writing projects. Blow the Man Down is their first feature-length film,” writes Gabriela Rico, who follows with the directors’ candid Q&A. Blow the Man Down premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 26.

3. Vanity Fair: Fosse/Verdon: 5 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets from the Cast and Creators”

Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones, who moderated a panel that included Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15, provided excerpts of the conversation: “‘I picked up a book off the shelf, and my job was to read the book and put it in Tommy Kail’s [’99] hand,’ said Miranda. The Hamilton creator had gone to Wesleyan University with Sam Wasson [’03], author of the 2013 biography Fosse—on which the FX series is closely based. In June 2016, Hamilton director Kail and Miranda began planning a way to bring Fosse back to the screen.”

4. Broadway World: “MCC Launches Season with Ross Golan’s The Wrong Man Directed by Thomas Kail [’99]”

The Wrong Man (“the wrong man meets the wrong women in the wrong place at the wrong time”) is a new stage musical, written by multi-platinum songwriter Ross Golan (book, music, lyrics), Tony Award–winning director Thomas Kail and three-time Tony and four-time Grammy Award–winning orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. Performances begin on Wednesday, September 18, 2019.

5. Boston Globe: “Cape Air on Course for Seaplane Takeoff in Boston”

Jon Chesto ’93 writes: “Dan Wolf [’79] needed to get his hands on an amphibious aircraft before he could fulfill his yearslong quest to bring seaplane service back to Boston Harbor.

“Now, the chief executive of Cape Air has an entire squadron.”

In this tale of Wolf’s acquisition of the seaplanes, Chesto notes some Wes-related history: “Wolf first learned to fly a seaplane at the Goodspeed Airport along the Connecticut River, while going to school at nearby Wesleyan University. That was nearly 40 years ago, but there’s a connection to this latest deal. Shoreline Aviation was run by John Kelly [MALS ’70], who taught Wolf during his college years. They obviously stayed in touch: Cape Air has used Shoreline planes during its Boston Harbor test runs.”

 6. MIT News: “Candid Conversation about Race: In MIT Talk, Beverly Daniel Tatum [’75, P’04, Hon. ’15] Urges Direct Discussion about Racial Issues at a ‘Polarized’ Moment in U.S. History”

Peter Dizikes, of the MIT News Office, writes: “Candid discussions about race relations are vital at a time of ‘pushback’ against social diversity in the U.S., said Beverly Daniel Tatum, the former president of Spelman College, in a talk at MIT on Thursday.

“‘It seems to me pretty clear we’re living in a pushback moment,’ Tatum said, referring to resistance against both political progress by blacks and a diversifying population. She added: ‘I think that today, most people would agree, we are more polarized than ever.’”

Tatum’s talk at MIT’s Wong Auditorium covered topics including the difference between race and racism, what is possible in the political arena, and the “long-running conditions of material inequality in the U.S.”

7. WBUR.org— “WBUR Announces Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize Winner”

From the website: “WBUR announced today that Hannah Dreier [’08] is the winner of the 2019 Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize. The winning segment was produced at This American Life in partnership with ProPublica, where Dreier serves as an immigration reporter.

“Dreier’s winning entry, ‘The Runaways’ is an hour-long investigative report that documents how the Suffolk County Police Department in New York failed to investigate a series of gang murders when the victims were immigrant teenagers. Days after the story aired on This American Life, the Suffolk County legislature forced the police department to conduct an internal investigation into how it had handled the MS-13 murder cases. ‘The Runaways’ proves that investigative reporting continues to effect change.”

Gottschalk, Greenberg ’04 Release Second Edition of Islamophobia

Peter Gottschalk, professor of religion, and history major Gabriel Greenberg ’04 are the coauthors of Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment: Picturing the Enemy, Second Edition, published in July 2018 by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. The duo released Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy in August 2007.

Islamophobia explores anxieties surrounding anti-Muslim sentiments through political cartoons and film. After providing a background on Islamic traditions and their history with America, it graphically shows how political cartoons and films reveal a casual demeaning and demonizing of Muslims and Islam from both sides of the political aisle. Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment offers both insights into American culture’s ways of “picturing the enemy” as Muslim, and ways of moving beyond antagonism.

“The new edition adds two new chapters and makes many changes to account for the rise of President Trump and mainstream white nationalism,” Gottschalk explains. The book also incorporates parts of Greenberg’s honors thesis at Wesleyan and features more than 50 images that highlight Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bias from conservative and liberal media outlets alike.

Gottschalk also is director of the Office for Faculty Career Development and coordinator of the Muslim studies certificate. His books, which include American Heretics and Religion, Science, and Empire, draw on his research and experience in India, Pakistan, and the United States.

Greenberg lives with his wife and kids in New Orleans. He is the congregational rabbi of a historic synagogue, and also serves as the rabbi for Avodah: New Orleans, a local service corps that seeks to address effects and root causes of poverty in the city.

Strong ’18 Presents Research at Notre Dame Human Development Conference

Alicia Strong '18 presented research at the prestigious Human Development Conference at the University of Notre Dame, held February 23-24.

Alicia Strong ’18 presented research at the prestigious Human Development Conference at the University of Notre Dame, held February 23-24.

Alicia Strong ’18, a government and religion double major, was invited to present her undergraduate research at the prestigious Human Development Conference at the University of Notre Dame, held February 23–24. The annual student-led conference, sponsored by Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies, is an opportunity for students from many academic disciplines to share their development-focused research and to network with other student researchers from across the country and the world.

Strong was one of about 50 students to present at the conference, and one of only 18 to receive a competitive grant from the School for International Training to attend. Strong conducted an independent research project in spring 2017 on the SIT study abroad program “Serbia, Bosnia, and Kosovo: Peace and Conflict Studies in the Balkans.”

Strong’s research project is titled, “The Patriarchy Knows No Bounds: The Intersection of Gender & Islam in Kosovo.”

Former Curator Feller Expert on Jewish Philosophy, Museum Studies

Yaniv Feller joined the faculty in 2017. He’s teaching religion courses this spring.

Yaniv Feller is the Jeremy Zwelling Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and assistant professor of religion. Feller specializes in Jewish philosophy, Jewish-Christian relations, post-Holocaust theology, material culture and museum studies. His current book project is titled “Leo Baeck and the Tradition of Dialogical Apologetics.” Prior to Wesleyan, Feller worked as an exhibition curator for the new permanent exhibition project at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

In this Q&A, Feller speaks about his time working at a renowned Jewish museum, the importance of incorporating the lives and histories of objects into his courses and woodworking. 

Q: You just joined the faculty at Wesleyan this year. What are you enjoying and how would you characterize your new academic home?

A: It is hard to believe that a semester has already passed—time flies by when you are having fun! Reflecting on the last couple of months, I realize that Wesleyan is indeed everything I hoped it to be: it is a passionate community of learners, and this is true of faculty and students alike. I obviously heard about how smart and engaged people at Wesleyan are, and it was a pleasure to discover that sometimes, positive reputation is more than justified.

Q: What courses are you teaching this spring?

A: I am teaching RELI 203, Jews and Judaism, and RELI 213, Refugees and Exiles: Religion in the Diaspora.

Q: Do you have a favorite course? (Or is that like asking a parent about a favorite child?) Is there one that seems particularly well received or apropos?

A: It IS a bit like asking for a favorite child. I like them all! I like to teach classes that examine Jewish history and philosophy as a springboard for larger theoretical questions, or ones that ask the theoretical questions through a series of case studies. Perhaps most relevant this semester is “Refugees and Exiles” in which we will examine contemporary discussions on refugees in light of philosophical, literary and historical perspectives. What do narratives about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, for example, have to teach us about today? More than you might suspect.

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.

Wesleyan to Offer Muslim Studies Certificate

muslimstyThe certificate, approved by the faculty on April 25, was proposed by steering committee members Peter Gottschalk, professor of religion, director of the Office of Faculty Career Development; Typhaine Leservot, associate professor of French studies, chair of the Romance Languages and Literatures Department, associate professor of letters; and Ioana Emy Matesan, assistant professor of government, tutor in the College of Social Studies.

“Students in the certificate program will gain an appreciation for the diversity among Muslims geographically, culturally, historically, and religiously,” Leservot said. “They will become accomplished in multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approaches to the study of Muslim communities and their expressions and productions. In an American setting in which stereotypes reduce the more than 1 billion Muslims around the globe to singular caricatures, this represents no small accomplishment.”

The Muslim Studies Certificate will mirror an existing certificate in Jewish and Israeli Studies. Students must complete six designated courses in a range of areas, including contemporary society and practice; literary, artistic and musical studies; and historical inquiry. Courses involving Muslim studies already offered by more than a dozen faculty members will be included.

“This new certificate will highlight Wesleyan’s remarkable collection of faculty, courses, and resources for students interested in studying the lives of Muslims around the globe,” Gottschalk said. “Our faculty teach and conduct research in fields as diverse as Arabic, art history, College of Letters, English, French, government, history, music, religion, and Spanish. As Muslims become increasingly prominent in the United States, the number of faculty and students alike interested in Muslim studies has expanded.”

“The certificate aims to maximize students’ education in Muslim traditions by providing a structured program to guide their studies,” he added. “This will require students to diversify their exposure across disciplines and divisions, period and place.”

At a time when American Muslims are becoming increasingly marginalized, the certificate “will also help our non-Muslim students better understand a set of groups and traditions increasingly the target of disinformation and prejudice,” Matesan said. “Meanwhile, it would signal to our Muslim students and potential applicants that Wesleyan recognizes the diversity and significance of Muslim traditions.”

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.

 

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.

Gottschalk writes on Islamophobia, Homophobia and Orlando

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk

In the wake of the unparalleled homophobic violence committed in Orlando this month, and the Islamophobic and anti-Muslim sentiments expressed only hours later (notably, by presidential candidate Donald Trump), Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk writes an op-ed for Inside Sources about the deep roots of all three in America.

He opens on a personal note: “As a boy in the late 1960s and 1970s, I knew there were few more destructive suspicions that could be voiced about me than those connoted by the label ‘gay.’ While the term might be flung at someone by friends as a joke, it could be a damning adjective if antagonistically and permanently attached to one’s name. […] Meanwhile — in an era that extended through two Israeli-Arab wars, the OPEC oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution — Middle Eastern politics reinforced longstanding American antipathies toward Arabs and Muslims. I grew up with the impression that all Muslims were Arab, violent and non-American. Of what others did one hear?”

Gottschalk goes on:

Raised in the United States, perhaps (killer Omar) Mateen’s homophobia stemmed, at least in part, from the same fears from which mine did. However, it seems significant that his father reported that Mateen’s outrage was piqued recently when the killer’s 3-year-old son saw two men kissing. In addition to whatever childhood antipathies with which he likely grew up, his homophobic-fueled fury seemingly also fed on fears that public gay life represented a threat to his family, if not to society in general: attitudes still expressed by too many Americans.

It is here that the homophobia still sadly endemic in America intersects with an Islamophobia that also has a long history. Donald Trump lost no time connecting Mateen’s horrible violence to his demand that all Muslim immigration into the United States temporarily cease. His speeches repeat tired stereotypes debunked too long ago to be accidental.

The Republican presidential nominee consistently uses “Muslim” and “Middle Eastern” as interchangeable terms, even though the overwhelming majority of Muslims live outside that region, which is also populated by sizable Christian and Jewish populations.

And Trump loudly insinuates that Muslims should be suspect not only because, as immigrants from conflict zones, they might bring violence with them. In his statement about Muslim migrants on Sunday, he claimed, “And we will have no way to screen them, pay for them, or prevent the second generation from radicalizing.”

An uncritical audience would likely ask why — if the children of migrants might radicalize — might not the third, fourth or 10th generation do so? Are not nearly all Muslims therefore suspect?

Read more here.

Gottschalk is also professor of science in society.