History, Identity, and Memory: The ‘Melting Pot’ is Bubbling Over!

The recent flap over the January 27, 2017, official White House Press Release of President Trump’s Statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and its egregious omission of the primary victims of the Nazi genocide—the Jews—instead identifying and honoring “the [unnamed and unreferenced] victims, survivors, and heroes” beggars logic.  Coming as it did on the heels of the “Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists Entry into the United States”—and attempting to temporarily ban legitimate refugees from seven predominantly Muslim-majority countries [Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen]—only compounds the absurdity of the Statement and reveals the astounding ignorance of those seemingly hard at work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  More to the point, however, one may also perceive the Statement as part of an overall commitment to whitewashing—yes, the word is pointedly chosen! —religious, ethnic, historical, and racial differences and diversities which remain unique to this experiment we call the United States in favor of a false homogenization whereby we are all alike, even though we are not.  Taken to its absurd extreme, it may yet prove to be but one more example, early on, of the President’s pandering to his own electoral base of primarily disgruntled white males on the economic fringes (both the haves and the have-nots) as a not-so-thinly-disguised attempt to re-paint American society in only one color and only one set of identifying labels (white, male, citizen, hard-working, Protestant, and/or what have you). Continue reading

Second Sabbatical: First Thoughts

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For those other than academic colleagues—primarily our students and our non-academic supporters—a sabbatical is a special benefit every seven years, upon application and approval, awarded to those of us who teach, for “time off” to purse sustained research and sustained writing without the additional responsibilities of teaching, grading, committee meetings and the like.   In my case, spring, 2015, is my second opportunity to take full advantage of this award to pursue two special projects, the first on my mind for a long time, and the second which recently came about:

  • I had previously published two articles in the Journal of Hate Studies out of Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA, addressing the question of the relationship between the socio-cultural construct we call “religion” and the mega-murder we call “genocide” “The Last Uncomfortable Religious Question”, 3[1]: 2003/04—133-143 ; and “Genocidal Religion”, 9[1]: 2011/11—221-235). (My argument in both pieces is that “religion” is a “participating factor” [my term; positively and negatively] in all genocides, past and present.) Upon re-reading these two pieces, and using them in my class REL 410 “Religion and Genocide”, it has regularly occurred to me that, together, they are, in truth, the nucleus of a book-length manuscript—with the now-important addition of looking at the scientific literature whether to not we human beings, as biological creatures, are thus prone to collective group violence. Hence, Project #1.
  • Quite recently, I agreed to be one of four authors, by invitation, for a new—and different—introductory textbook, already under contract (Cognella Press, CA), for courses in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. What makes this project unique, and why I agreed to participate, is its orientation: To introduce students and beginning instructors in a comparative manner to the other historic literatures, civilizations, cultures, civilizatons, and empires of the ancient Middle/Near East. To the best of our collective knowledge, there is no other such textbook available. This international team are all colleagues who already teach such introductory courses, and have agreed to “field test” the manuscript in our courses once it becomes available. (Publication date is the end of 2016, and has been tentatively entitled The Scriptures of Ancient Judaism.) Hence Project #2

I will also be revising at least one article already accepted for publication.

BTW, I have also accepted two other invitations: (1) To serve as the External Reviewer for the MA Program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Richard Stockton College, Pomona, NJ, in April, 2015; and (2) To present a paper tentatively entitled “The State and Fate of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire and the Early Republic during World War I: A Necessary Part of the Conversation” at a conference in New York City in May, 2015, entitled “World War I and the Non-Turkish Minorities in the Ottoman Empire: Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks”. (2015 is the 100th Anniversary of the second Armenian Genocide; the first took place under the Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the last Caliph of the Ottoman Empire prior to World War I; and the second under the so-called secular Republic under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk.)

So my advice to myself now that 2015 has begun and my sabbatical has started: Time to get busy! And I promise to keep you updated as I proceed.

Rant, Screed, or Valid Critique?

The Study of JudaismDictionarily, the difference between a screed and a rant is the difference between written and oral discourse. What joins them together is a certain angry compulsion to “get the word out”, “wake up the lethargic” and/or, not without a certain brazenness, “right the wrong”. All-too-often, the words chosen are themselves hostile, and, rather than engaging the reader or listener, they serve to close the very doors they were originally intended, perhaps, to open.

Not so with Professor Aaron Hughes’s latest commentary on the, for him, sad state of Judaic Studies, my own subfield in the academic study of religion. Hughes, Ph.D. Indiana University and Philip S. Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Rochester, wrote a piece “Jewish Studies Is Too Jewish” in The Chronicle Review of The Chronicle of Higher Education on March 24, 2014, and which, in many ways, was an all-too-brief summary of his recent book The Study of Judaism: Authenticity, Identity, Scholarship (Albany: Suny Press, 2013; 1672 pages). Both the book and article have evoked fascinating responses from, among others, Michael Satlow (Brown University), and Zachary Braiterman (Syracuse University). More on this in a bit. Continue reading