November 15, 2012 Leave a comment
I heard about this project awhile back and it appears it has now come to fruition: Emory University has launched a new blog on religion and ethics. The blog is titled Spirited Thinking. Go check it out!
Religion. Politics. Social Ethics.
November 15, 2012 Leave a comment
I heard about this project awhile back and it appears it has now come to fruition: Emory University has launched a new blog on religion and ethics. The blog is titled Spirited Thinking. Go check it out!
February 13, 2012 3 Comments
I am, in the words of Michael Walzer, a divided self. I am bi-racial (my mother is a Korean immigrant, my father a white man from middle Tennessee). I come from a blue-collar background (father a soldier, mother a janitor/waitress) and live in a white-collar world (Ph.D. student). I am a member and have been a minister in a “Bible-believing,” what most folks would call a “fundamentalist,” Christian tradition (the churches of Christ, the conservative wing of the American Restoration/Stone-Campbell movement) who is immersed in the world of contemporary American liberal theology. I am a doctoral student but neither my parents nor their parents have college degrees. I live in a constant liminal – or hybrid, borderlands, in-between, gray, etc. (choose your adjective) – space. Living in this space is wonderful as it is a space of diversity, mutuality, and continuous learning. However, living in this space is difficult, confusing, and potentially self-destructive.
We humans long for stability and sameness. We enjoy comfort even if it often leads to stagnation. We dislike discomfort even if it often leads to growth and maturity. And life as a divided self is an intrinsically uncomfortable life. It provides many benefits that I would not give up or trade in, but this requires a constant negotiation of my own self-identity and the multiple identities various people ascribe to me. I have no choice but to be more than one person in a world that is more comfortable with black-white dichotomies than with gray (or brown or yellow) realities. I have no choice but to be a divided self in a world that divides me into pieces and refuses to interact with me except on the terms of those divisions.
Roughly a century ago America’s greatest sociologist, W.E.B. Du Bois, described such an existence as “double-consciousness.” Writing as a black man in early twentieth-century America, he found this double-consciousness so unbearable he eventually became a citizen of Ghana. Du Bois described double-consciousness in this way:
After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, – a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. – The Souls of Black Folk, Ch. 1
Now, I am by no means equating my status as a graduate student from a working-class background with the state of being black in America in 1900 (or 2012). As a bi-racial 1.5/second generation Asian-American, I’ve experienced my share of racial prejudice and seeing myself through “the revelation of the other world,” even if that world has no place for people like me in its dichotomies. And life as an “outsider” in the academy is not the same as life as a non-white person in America. However, the world of the academy does require folks like me (working-class, first generation college, conservative Christian heritage, etc.) to always be “looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.”
Adam Kotsko has done a wonderful job explaining some of the angst felt by those making the shift from wearing blue-collars to white ones. A former teacher of mine (Laurie Patton) described this experience as committing “cultural suicide.” At one of the several sessions on “professionalization” I’ve attended at Emory, she described a phenomenon she’d seen numerous times over her years of training graduate students. Those students who were first-generation college graduates or come from overwhelmingly working-class family backgrounds, she said, often feel that they have to abandon, reject, or even come to overtly “hate” said background to be fully accepted and integrated into their new social class and milieu. Or else they must be ready for a life of continual discomfort and feeling like an impostor.
This, it seems to me, is the easy way out. It accepts those black-white dichotomies that the embodied experiences of working-class graduate students (let alone multiracial people!) prove is blatantly false. In fact, even those who would like to make this move often find their “embarrassing” backgrounds creeping up to haunt them at the worst possible times. It is futile to try and be something you weren’t raised to be; you will always be, to a lesser or greater extent, your parents’ child and a product of your neighborhood.
However, living in double-consciousness as a divided-self is not easy to do. It is a lot of exhausting work. It hurts. It seems unfair. But it is. And that is okay. Most folks, in my experience, don’t actually want to give up their background to make a move up social classes and enter the academy and the privileged life of the mind. No one likes to feel like a sell-out. No one wants to lose relationships with people who have nurtured them and helped to make them who they are. Look, I’m a product of a conservative Christian home, the dreams of an immigrant mother, the work ethic of a father from rural Tennessee, and a neighborhood with a high school that hovered around a 50% graduation rate last year. In other words, I was raised by good, hard-working people with limited opportunities. In the past I have hurt some of these people with my dismissal and biting critiques of their theology, politics, or personal habits. And I’ve done it by drawing on the education that is reserved to certain classes. And I hate myself every time I do it. (But, like a good conservative Christian should, I know that the truth can hurt, and that such pain is better than living in falsehood. And so I try and balance truth-telling with sensitivity and often fail miserably.)
A simple, and humorous, example of this division in my life occurred when Kentucky Fried Chicken released its double-down sandwich. The level of commentary on my facebook timeline was a visual representation of the class divisions warring within my own soul. Friends I grew up with lined up to try it on the first day of its release, commented on its visual beauty, and preached its deliciousness with evangelical zeal. Friends from my current social circle decried KFC’s contribution to our growing obesity problem, lambasted them for their inhumane treatment of chickens, and gasped in disbelief that they could ever sell one of those disgusting balls of fat, with an even greater amount of zeal. (I assume they ate kale, quinoa, and organic sushi for dinner.) The thing was: I fully agreed with both groups of friends.
The longer I am in the academy, and live in university neighborhoods, the more comfortable I grow in being physically present in such circles. The feeling of being out of place is gradually drifting away, but it still shows up quite forcefully from time to time. I’ve decided that I am not going to commit cultural suicide, even if it is tempting at times. I still attend a church in my ecclesial tradition, and I try, as much as I am able, to stay “connected to my (immigrant, working-class, urban) roots.” I’ve chosen a life in a profession and vocation traditionally reserved for a social class “higher” than that of my parents, grandparents, and the majority of the peers of my youth. However, I strive to use the gifts, opportunities, and skills I’ve gained from being in such a place in service of those very people who nurtured me when the majority of those in my current class ignored the virtue, and even the existence, of said nurturers. And I try never to forget the lessons I learned from those people even as I learn the lessons of “great minds and important thinkers.”
January 15, 2011 Leave a comment
This semester is my fourth as a doctoral student at Emory. This means that come mid-may I am completely finished with coursework! Recently, I realized that this will conclude my eighth straight year of sitting in classes. I can not wait to be finished! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my entire experience of higher education, but I am ready to move on with the next step. You can only sit through so many classes before it’s time to move on to doing one’s own extended research. I have reached that point.
However, I’m still really excited for this semester. I’m enrolled in three seminars that are directly relevant to my areas of interest. The seminars I’m taking and required texts (minus articles) are listed below:
Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding with Edward L. Queen II:
This course will analyze the role religion has played (and does play) in violent conflict as well as the role that religious resources can bring to the amelioration of conflict and the processes of reconciliation. In undertaking this analysis we shall seek to advance the understanding of religions’ role in political processes and of how political and social factors influence religious thought and action. To achieve these goals we will examine social theory to see how people have attempted to understand religion and the problem of social order; undertake readings on conflict and peacebuilding to understand the frame and response of the issues; and ethnographies and case studies to understand cultural contexts and the mechanisms of ordering human life and what role they play in leading to violent conflict as well as in its resolution. Particular attention will be paid to the question of how varying models and approaches to peacemaking and reconciliation may be more appropriate at different times and in different contexts.
Gopin, Marc. Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East
Heft, James L., ed. Beyond Violence: Religious Sources of Social Transformation in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Jackson, Michael. In Sierra Leone
Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence
Kleinman, Arthur. What Really Matters: Living a Moral Life Amidst Uncertainty and Danger
Lederach, John Paul. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace
Sells, Michael A. The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia
This course will focus on the law of genocide and crimes against humanity from both a legal and a historical perspective using the Holocaust as the central paradigmatic example. Special attention will be given to the Nurernberg Tribunals and the Eichmann Trial in order to determine how they helped shaped/influence subsequent genocide related trials. Students will be expected to write papers on the law of genocide within the context of the Holocaust or on the law of genocide within the context of other examples including not but limited to: Rwanda tribunals, Cambodian trials, former Yugoslavia, and South African Truth and Reconciliation.
Questions to be addressed:
1. Status of Law of Genocide pre WWII: What was the reaction to the genocide of the Armenians? How did the crime get its name? What was picture in 1939 at the outbreak of WWII? How did international law function? What role did Raphael Lemkin play?
2. World War II: Who was systematically murdered? What do we know about the German decision to commit mass murder? What were the differences in Germany’s treatment of the following groups: Jews, Gypsies, handicapped, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gays, and political dissidents?
3. The Nuremberg Trials: How was the Nuremberg tribunal established? What legal and political obstacles had to be overcome? What were the key insights of the Nuremberg Trial regarding genocide? What changed as a result of Nuremberg and why is it important? How does Nuremberg deal with the persecution of the various groups that were persecuted by the Third Reich? Does the tribunal differentiate among them? If so, how?
4. How is Eichmann trial the same or different from Nuremberg? What is the impact of the defendant’s kidnapping by a country that did not yet exist at the time of the crimes with which the accused was charged? What is the impact of the decision to have victims testify? What legal issues did the victims’ testimony raise?
5. The Eichmann Trial aftermath: What issues about perpetrators of genocide are raised by Hannah Arendt? What is the meaning of the now catchphrase, ((the banality of evil”? What are the implications of Arendt’s claims about perpetrators? Have other subsequent similar trials raised questions about her views?
6. Frankfurt Auschwitz trial: 1963: What are the implications of this, the first major trial by Germany of perpetrators of genocide? What impact does this trial have on the evolution of an international approach to dealing with genocide? What type of trial was this and how was it different than the Eichmann trials?
7. A Reversal of Positions: David Irving v. Penguin UK and Deborah Lipstadt, 2000: What laws exist for the prosecution of those who deny genocide? Where permitted are these laws efficacious? How did this case, in which the Holocaust denier was the plaintiff, illustrate the challenge of dealing with genocide deniers?
8. Nuremberg’s Successors: Other Genocide Trials
a. Dumjanjuk v. the United States
b. Mai Lai
c. Rwanda tribunals
d. Former Yugoslavia
e. Truth and Reconciliation/Botha testimony
Power, Samantha. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
Lipstadt, Deborah E. History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier
Lipstadt, Deborah E. The Eichmann Trial
Pendas, Devin O. The Frankfurt Aushwitz Trial, 1963-65
In Pursuit of Justice: Examining the Evidence of the Holocaust
History of Christian Theological Ethics with Timothy P. Jackson
This course provides a critical look at a broad range of Christian moral theologies and theologians, from early in the fifth century to roughly the middle of the twentieth. It is meant to be a companion course to RLE 730, “Contemporary Theological Ethics,” which looks exclusively at twentieth and twenty-first century figures. We begin with St. Augustine and read selectively from Thomas Aquinas, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, Jacob Arminius, Soren Kierkegaard, and Etty Hillesum. Additional diversity of perspective will be provided, in part, by secondary essays – feminist, pragmatist, liberation¬ist, deconstructionist, or etc. – on these figures reported on by students.
Some of the enduring questions that concern us are:
• How are we to understand human nature and its virtues and vices?
• What is the nature of sin and the place of Jesus Christ in overcoming it?
• What specifically is the relation between Christ-like love, personal prudence, and
• What is the relation between God’s providence and human freedom?
• Is the Kingdom of God, a.k.a. “eternal life,” open in principle to everyone or only to the elect few?
• Does the Kingdom, esp. love and sacrifice, look different for women and men?
No claim is made to be comprehen¬sive; the object is to hit a few influential high points in a very rich tradition, noting continuity and change, as well as insight and error, as we go along.
Treatise on the Virtues, by Thomas Aquinas
Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas, ed. by Anton Pegis
The Works of James Arminius, Volume 2, ed. by James Nichols
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st Series, Volume V (“Saint Augustine: Anti-
Pelagian Writings”), ed. by Philip Schaff
Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork, ed. by Eva Hoffman
Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich
The Concept of Anxiety, by Soren Kierkegaard
Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, ed. by John Dillenberger
Again, I’m really excited for the semester. I’m finally taking – in my last semester! – the core seminar for my concentration in Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding, and I’m excited and interested to be taking a course at the law school and to be studying with Deborah Lipstadt who is kind of a celebrity in Holocaust studies. And of course, it’s appropriate for me to wrap up my coursework in Christian ethics reading Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Arminius. In many ways this semester’s workload embodies my work – an exercise in constructive and meaningful engagement with the most pressing issues in the world today through a particularly Christian identity and in the company of the mighty river of Christian thinkers who have come before me.
January 11, 2011 3 Comments
As many of you know, I’m currently one of the Peer-Review editors for the academic journal Practical Matters. The most recent issue of the journal was devoted to the topic Ethnography and Theology. Several people weighed in on the topic of the theological, ethical and methodological implications of ethnographers doing theology and theologians using ethnography (rather than simply reading books!) to talk about God and the world. I, personally, find the topic fascinating and believe it is an important early contribution to the field of theology and theological ethics. (Another, soon to be released, important contribution to engaging this question will be the book Ethnography as Christian Theology and Ethics.)
There are several good pieces in the issue (especially a roundtable discussion between ethnographers and theologians talking about the topic, but also pieces by John Senior and Annie Hardison-Moody), but perhaps the most important piece is an article by Notre Dame professor Todd David Whitmore entitled “”If They Kill Us, At Least Others Will Have More Time to Get Away”: The Ethics of Risk in Ethnographic Practice.” In this piece, Whitmore draws on his experiences doing ethnography in Uganda to begin formulating an ethic of ethnographic practice that includes commitment and solidarity on the part of the researcher with their research subjects.
In living out this ethic, Whitmore has recently released some documents that were passed along to him that implicate Uganda’s current president, Yoweri Museveni, of intentions of committing genocide against the Acholi people. This is a dangerous decision that could have unimaginable consequences for the Acholi people, the nation of Uganda and the world. In conjunction with Whitmore’s original article published in Practical Matters, and his release of the memo at a website of his own construction(www.musevenimemo.org), he has published another piece in Practical Matters explaining why he thinks the memo is authentic and reflecting on the ethics of releasing it to the public in the way that he did. The article is entitled “Genocide or Just Another ‘Casualty of War’?: The Implications of the Memo Attributed to President Yoweri K. Museveni of Uganda.” These pieces are all fascinating and have immeasurable implications for academic practice, public engagement, the relationship between researchers and their subjects and the role of ethnography in doing theology. Above all, however, these documents have life and death importance for the Acholi and Ugandan people.
All people – especially theologians, anthropologists, academics, and responsible global citizens – should read these reflections and take seriously the implications of the memo and the role of engaged scholarship in democratic society. Theologians and academics are often accused of being removed from the world and being of little relevance to the lives of real people. I believe that, while this accusation often has some merit, that scholarship at its best is immune to this type of critique. Theology matters. Scholarship matters. And in this case they both have very big, very concrete implications.
September 3, 2010 Leave a comment
Another semester is underway – and I’m already swamped! This semester I’m taking two doctoral seminars and a directed reading, TA’ing a course, working for the journal Practical Matters, teaching a course in philosophical ethics at Emory’s Oxford College campus and directing a servant leadership program for undergraduate students. So, don’t expect too much from me on this blog this semester. However, I will leave you with the descriptions and reading lists of my courses this 2nd to last semester of classes in my academic life.
Questions of War with Ellen Ott Marshall
Traditionally, ethicists refer to the debate over the moral justification of war as “the question of war.” Increasingly, however, ethicists find themselves addressing multiple questions of war, including but not limited to this classical formulation. During the fall 2010, we will focus on the question of Christian pacifism and responsibility, drawing on three classic figures (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, John Howard Yoder) and three contemporary figures (Stanley Hauerwas, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Michael Walzer).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
Reinhold Niebuhr, Love and Justice
John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus
John Howard Yoder, The War of the Lamb
Stanley Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader
Stanley Hauerwas, Performing the Faith
Jean Bethke Elshtain, Just War Against Terror
Michael Walzer, Arguing About War
Brunner and Mills, The New Killing Fields
Morality and Society with Steven Tipton
This course focuses on the sociology of morality as a field through readings and viewpoints that marshal thematically related works in sociology and social theory, moral and political philosophy, religious ethics, anthropology and related social sciences to address three interlocking questions: (1) How are the institutional structures of society related to its moral ideals and experience? How do they constitute one another culturally and practically? (2) What are the moral implications of social modernization, particularly for conceiving persons individually and evaluating their globally interdependent relations? (3) What categories permit analysis of contemporary American moral ideals in ways attentive both to their cultural coherence and to their social enactment, location and plausibility? Beginning with an examination of Plato as a moral architect of startling sociological subtlety, the course moves via the counterpoint of the classical polis, Jewish people of God and Christian ekklesia as moral ecologies to the political economy and moral psychology at the root of early modern society in Adam Smith and the culture of commerce. Then it considers key sociological theories across several generations (Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Bellah, Douglas, Foucault, John Meyer) and related social psychologies (Rousseau, Erikson, Kohlberg, Gilligan) before turning to studies of contemporary moral life and its problems. These include the institutional ordering, cultural codes and practical meaning of race and gender inequality, political participation and apathy, individualism and commitment, Islam and democracy, economic insecurity, romantic love, and public faith.
1. Plato, The Laws
2. Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
3. Robert Tucker, The Marx-Engels Reader.
4. Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society.
5. Hans Gerth & C. W. Mills, eds., From Max Weber.
6. Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries.
7. W. Walter W. Powell, Paul DiMaggio, eds., The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis.
8. Wayne Meeks, The Origins of Christian Morality,
9. Robert Bellah et al, Habits of the Heart.
l0. Robert Bellah et al, The Good Society.
11. Michael Walzer, Thick and Thin.
12. Mary Pattillo McCoy, Black Picket Fences.
13. Abdullahi An-Na’im, Islam and the Secular State.
14. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.
15. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures.
16. Robert Bellah, Beyond Belief.
Directed Reading on “Theology, Philosophy and Ethics of Forgiveness and Reconciliation” with Elizabeth Bounds
This course will examine theological and ethical accounts of forgiveness and reconciliation; the philosophical, biblical and theological ground of (and critiques of) restorative justice as opposed to retributive justice; philosophical accounts of political reconciliation in post-conflict societies; and historical accounts of several Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.
Christopher Marshall, Beyond Retribution: A New Testament Vision for Justice, Crime and Punishment
Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace
L. Gregory Jones, Embodying Forgiveness
Katongole and Rice, Reconciling all Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing
John de Gruchy, RECONCILIATION: Restoring Justice
“Reconciliation: Feminist Shadings” in International Review of Mission by Monica J. Melanchthon (2005).
“Peacemaking and Reconciliation: The contribution of African indigenous religious women in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa” in Journal of Theology for Southern Africa by Isabel Apawo Phiri (2005).
“Justice and Reconciliation in Post-Apartheid South Africa: A South African Woman’s Perspective” in International Review of Mission by Pulang LenkaBula (2005).
“The Ritual of the Red Carnations: Memory, Space, and Ritual in post-Pinochet Chile,” in Studia Theologica by Lene Sjorup (2008).
‘We Have Spoken So Long O God: When Will We Be Heard?’: Theological Reflections on Overcoming Violence against Women” in Theology and Sexuality by Aruna Gnanadson
Robert Rotberg, Truth v. Justice
Priscilla Hayner, Unspeakable Truths: Transitional Justice and the Challenge of Truth Commissions
Martha Minow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence
Barb Toews and Howard Zehr, Critical Issues in Restorative Justice
Dennis Sullivan and Larry Tift, Handbook of Restorative Justice: A Global Perspective
Johnstone and Van Ness, Handbook of Restorative Justice.
Fiona Ross, Bearing Witness: Women and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa
Liberian TRC report
Greensboro TRC report
And it begins again!
June 30, 2010 3 Comments
Yesterday I signed a contract for my first “official” teaching job. I will be teaching at Emory University’s Oxford College campus. My official title will be Visiting Instructor in the Humanities. Each semester I will teach an ethics and leadership course. I’ll also be the Director for a new Ethics and Servant Leadership Forum program – through the Pierce Institute for Leadership and Community Engagement – on campus that will be modeled after the EASL Forum program on the Emory College campus in Atlanta (of which I am working with the internship program this summer.)
I’m very excited for this opportunity, and think that in many ways it is a perfect fit for where I am now in my career and for preparing me for where I would like to be in the future. I’m sure my first time being the sole teacher of a college course will provide much fodder for blog-worthy insights – so stay tuned!