A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 2: Academic Freedom

wisconsinplaqueThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

The first of the thirteen bullet points that comprise the main part of the draft document reads as follows:

academicfreedomShould we follow Marx, then we’d make the relatively uncontroversial prediction that every institution contains contradictions that, if unaddressed, threaten its existence as a uniform whole. And here, in the opening item, I think that we see some evidence of this — correction, we do not see it for, as will all such contradictions, it is not identified and thus there is no need to manage it. For the document is completely silent on the fact that the AAR, by design, houses a number of members who are decidedly not free to research as they see fit and thus cannot honor what the document describes as the highest ideals of intellectual inquiry.

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Just What Are “The Humanities”?

So, just what are “the Humanities”? We know that, at the University of Alabama, the 23 or so Departments that comprise the College of Arts & Sciences are divided among three divisions: The Humanities and Fine Arts; the Social Sciences, and the Natural Sciences and Mathematics. The Department of Religious Studies, like the Departments of English, Theatre and Dance (the British spelling is not a typo), and the School of Music, are grouped together in the Humanities, to name just a few of the others. The Department History, which, throughout the history of the European university was commonly placed within the Humanities–such as in the Alabama Humanities Foundation‘s description (below)–is, however, classed on our campus within the Social Sciences, along with such Departments as Psychology, Anthropology, Criminal Justice, and New College, to name but a few Social Science units–though, come to think of it, New College describes itself as an “interdisciplinary liberal arts program,” which complicates things further, for we now need to inquire into the relationship between the liberal arts (sometimes known as the liberalizing arts) and the Humanities. More on that below. Continue reading