Summer Reading: On Education and Encounters

The blog has been on hiatus for the summer. Most of the department faculty have been away on research trips or vacation, or buried deep in research. Summer is also a good time to catch up on reading, though; over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring brief recommendations on great books and articles that we’ve recently enjoyed. 

This week’s recommendations are all by Will Katerberg.

no-longer-invisibleRecently I’ve been doing some reading about religious diversity and higher education, related to a committee I’m on and to my work as a dean. No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education is a solid overview of religious diversity in public, private, secular, and religious schools and how they are addressing it. This book and people who work in this area tell me that it’s the next big issue in higher education. A good example of “best practices” at a public university is the Center for Spiritual & Ethical Development at Penn State University. A good example of how a Christian university with a religiously diverse campus thinks about and practices both its defining Christian heritage and religious diversity is Benedictine University in Illinois.

The religious diversity at schools like Calvin and Wheaton in the CCCU generally is more limited—intra-Christian mostly. But LeTourneau University in Texas, which still requires chapel several times a week, has actively recruited non-Christian international students. I’ve not read anything about LeTourneau, but enjoyed a panel (at the IAPCHE conference at Calvin in June) on the challenges the university and its international students have been working through. A Hindu student from India who spoke on the panel said that his experience of an integrative Christian education at LeTourneau, and his relationships with fellow Christian and non-Christian students, helped him to better understand his own Hindu tradition and foster a stronger commitment to it.

gods-other-childrenAnother book that I’ve recently read recently, in a similar vein, is God’s Other Children: Personal Encounters with Faith, Love, and Holiness in Sacred India, by Bradley Malkovsky, who teaches theology at Notre Dame. He specializes in the Hindu-Christian encounter. Malkovsky first traveled to India in the 1980s, to work on his dissertation. While there, he met and married his wife, a Muslim who became a Christian, and immersed himself in Hindu thought and yogic practices and in Buddhist meditation. He takes seriously the religious insights and spiritual practices of all three traditions, and at the same time remains deeply rooted in his own Roman Catholic tradition of Christianity. He says, in the epilogue, that his experiences enriched his Christian faith and led him to appreciate his own Christian tradition more. His story and journey are fascinating, and his encounters, experiences, and theological reflections challenge readers to take seriously both fidelity to their religious tradition and openness to the insights and experiences of other traditions.

sacred-groundMy next book in this area will be Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, by Eboo Patel of the Interfaith Youth Core. He has worked hard to help colleges around the US do better with conversations about religious diversity by taking differences and disagreement seriously rather than by smoothing them over and assuming all religions impulses are basically about the same thing. For stories on his work and an interview with him, see here and here. Patel will be speaking at Calvin in 2016 in the college’s January Series.

 

What are you reading right now? Drop us a line in the comments to recommend.

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Summer Reading: On Politics and Puritans

The blog has been on hiatus for the summer. Most of the department faculty have been away on research trips or vacation, or buried deep in research. Summer is also a good time to catch up on reading, though; over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring brief recommendations on great books and articles that we’ve recently enjoyed. 

book coverDog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism & Wrecked the Middle Class by Ian Haney Lopez

Recommended by Dan Miller: I just finished reading Dog Whistle Politics, by Ian Haney Lopez. The subtitle: “how coded racial appeals have reinvented racism and wrecked the middle class,” pretty much summarizes the book’s thesis. The author describes how, beginning with Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964, political conservatives became ever more effective at weaving subtle appeals to white voters’ racial anxieties (e.g. “states’ rights,” “welfare queens,” “Willie Horton”) into their electoral appeals. When challenged on the tactic, conservatives would deny that they had said anything at all about race and then go on the offensive, attacking their accusers of “playing the race card.” Lopez sees the Republican Party as the primary user of this tactic, which explains why in recent elections it has become overwhelmingly dependent on white voters, but he notes that Democrats have also sometimes adopted dog whistle politics (Clinton’s support of “three strikes” legislation, for example) to retain their shrinking portion of the white electorate. More commonly, Democrats embrace “color blindness,” promoting policies that favor the white middle class while downplaying efforts to address poverty and refusing to talk about the ways in which America’s racial history continues to shape our economic and social lives. The results, says Lopez, have been disastrous for people of color (e.g. mass incarceration) and for political liberalism generally because it has persuaded a large majority of white voters to support conservative politicians even though their policies (lower taxes on corporations and the rich, reduced funding for education and other public services) are antithetical to their own interests. What’s needed, he says, is a progressive movement that links efforts to address the continuing effects of racism to the broader concerns of middle- and lower-class Americans and is not afraid to denounce dog whistle politics.

 

puritans12“Our Puritan Heritage” by Jim Sleeper for Democracy Journal

Recommended by Jim Bratt: The Puritans were objects of scorn and dismissal already in their own day, much less in historical reputation. Yet they tend to experience comebacks, at least on the American side, when things start getting tough. It happened in the 1850s, in the 1930s, and might be happening again today, if this article is any indication. The author, Jim Sleeper, is a long-time leftie journalist, a teacher at Yale, and something of an heir to the New England Puritan tradition, just as were the voices in those earlier rehabilitations. He sounds the same themes that his predecessors did too—the sacrificial and communitarian aspects of Puritan life and thought. We’re used to hearing that from the Right more recently. So maybe our conventional categories are about to get stirred around a bit—always a good thing, and a typical result of historical thinking. Enjoy.

 

Check back in two weeks for our next summer reading installment. What are you reading right now? Drop us a line in the comments to recommend.

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Summer Reading: On the Great Lakes and Gibson Guitars

The blog has been on hiatus for the summer. Most of the department faculty have been away on research trips or vacation, or buried deep in research. Summer is also a good time to catch up on reading, though; over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring brief recommendations on great books and articles that we’ve recently enjoyed. 

book coverThe Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas by Jerry Dennis

Recommended by Bruce Berglund: I binge-read this book while on vacation at the Lake Michigan shore last summer. The main thread of the book is the author’s journey, as a deck-hand, on a small schooner making its way from Traverse City to Maine, via the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal, and Hudson River. The ship’s voyage makes for a great sea story, with tensions between crew members, tense battles against storms, and near-misses with larger ships playing the seaway. Interspersed in this story are other episodes from Dennis’ life on the Great Lakes: his childhood visits to the Leelanau Peninsula, his first outing as a deck-hand on the Chicago-to-Mackinac sailing race, and a trip aboard a voyageurs’ canoe along the northern shore of Lake Superior. These anecdotes are openings to lessons about the geography and history of the Great Lakes. Having grown up on the shores of Lake Superior, I knew something about the maritime history of the lakes and its unique climate (the phrase “colder by the lake” is a fact of life in Duluth). But in reading Dennis’ book, the Great Lakes opened up in a whole new way. Yes, there are accounts of shipwrecks, but I also learned about water chemistry, fish life, pollution, weather patterns, history and folklore. The book was engaging throughout, and I reacted audibly is several places at some new nugget I discovered.

 

book coverKalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson’s “Banner” Guitars of WWII by John Thomas

Recommended by William Van Vugt: This is an amazing book about Gibson acoustic guitars made during WWII by women. When the men went off to fight, women replaced them as the luthiers, and made all the guitars (25,000) from 1942 to 1945 (the famous “Banner” J45s–I now have one from 1943, and it blows me away–maybe the finest guitar I have ever played. It’s enough to make a serious guitar player like me weep for joy.) Gibson later said they stopped making guitars from 1942-1945; they disavowed the Banners made by women–said they made no guitars during those years! They said this never happened! And now I’m learning from this new book that the women made the guitars differently, “more refined”, better, more delicate, responsive….And when the troops returned after the war, and shoved out the women from Gibson, the men started to make them different again–and not nearly as good: they lost what the women luthiers had accomplished. Women were superior luthiers. This book is just incredible–not just about American guitars, which is more important than anything, with the possible exception of cats–but of American women’s history. This is far more interesting than Rosie the Riveter.

 

Check back in two weeks for our next summer reading installment. What are you reading right now? Drop us a line in the comments to recommend.

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