Sunday, October 22, 2017

Age before beauty

A few blocks away from our place, on the way to the Botanic Garden, is the burned hull of a building. It's been vacant as long as I've been here (a decade now); apparently insurance issues were never resolved. In recent years, the fence around it has been replaced by big boards which local artists are invited to use. A new suite went up this weekend.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Thursday, October 19, 2017

HASK not

During our monthly vestry meetings, there's often an event or a music rehearsal going on in main . church building next door. Today nothing was planned, so everything was prepped for tomorrow's Soup Kitchen.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Hearing voices

Have I told you that, as part of a new curriculum of "one text" courses, I'll be spending half of next semester reading William James' Varieties of Religious Experience - just the Varieties - with a small group of students? The model comes (unsurprisingly) from the Philosophy Department, but I'm looking forward to giving some undivided attention to Varieties, which, truth be told, I haven't given a thorough reread since graduate school.

Varieties was on the bill in "Theorizing Religion" today - first of two days, where we're reading two clumps of lectures. As I've been doing for rather longer than I realized (时间都去哪儿了?), today's class was centered on reading aloud some of the many testimonies James includes. He read them aloud when delivering the lectures (although all of them were written texts before he vocalized them...), and hearing these strange words, in his voice, must have been a significant part of the experience of the Varieties. So students chose a half dozen of the long quotations and read them aloud. I had them consider the generosity of James' lending his voice this way  - surely, his reading wasn't mocking or distancing but a demonstration of a will to hear if not to understand others' experiences, he was a sort of spirit medium for others.

Later in the class I performed one of his acts of possession, quite emotionally rendering the famous account of the person overwhelmed by a sense that the gauziest film kept him from the catatonic paralysis of an "Epileptic patient" he'd seen in an asylum, unable to function or even move. It's shattering, heart-breaking. (No small number of students at our school know comparable experiences of anxiety and depression.) We lingered in it for a while, then I let them know that this was in fact James' own experience, though he never says so. Varieties isn't a view from the mountaintop of religious consolation and empowerment, but from farther down, by someone who's never been to the summit and is, indeed, "constitutionally incapable" of getting there. (He doesn't claim legitimacy from a personal experience of the depths, either.) What a feat of generosity the Varieties now seems, acknowledging the value of experiences he himself had not had! The class was awed...

And I was not a little pleased to have done for James, lending my voice to him, what he did for so many others. What a pleasure it will be to give Varieties of Religious Experience even more time!

(And yes, that edition was blurbed by James' student Horace Kallen.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Inside the block between 12th and 13th Streets, Fifth and Sixth Aves.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Museum mile

Inspired by reports about the soon-to-open Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, and some of its conceptual challenges, I decided to ask the students in "Theorizing Religion" how they might lay out a museum devoted the scriptures they'd just learned about in the MOOCs. For fun (and because I'm part of a committee rethinking the college's uses of spaced) I gave them a cutaway of the original uses of our buildings as a model. So here are Israel: The People's Museum, The Museum of Dharma, The (...) Museum, and the Shakti-Bhakti Museum. It's a fun way to get at people's sense of what's important, how things should be introduced - and what the MOOCs included and weren't able to.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Step by step

Going through some old boxes of files from my Princeton days, I found this quite detailed account of how "Schleiermacher's romantic theology" emerged... not sure if this is a plan for a blackboard graffiti sprawl or a reconstruction of an inspired sprawl that happened. More likely the latter! Fun! Fun in a different way was discovering that these notes were written on the back of an old cover letter applying for a job I didn't get! (I've turned it right-side up for ease of bemused reading.)

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Shambling toward an essay on 'Anthropocene' and religious studies - which seems barely to have noticed the discussion - I was delighted today to happen on the interdisciplinary "Anthropocene Curriculum" which has been assembled through the Haus der Kulturen der Welt since 2013. Germans know more about theology than Americans, if less about religious studies, so I was hopeful. But what their cool visual search (the array is different each time) offered on the term "Religion" was just this.
It looks like religion is a player but it's not. Most links are circumstantial and there's no line of "relation" with "Anthropocene" at all! Is religion so obviously off the map? Are the religions dismissed without further ado as creatures of the now destabilized holocene (causes of anthropogenic effects but no use in understanding or combatting them), scholarship on religion as the study of sterile where not toxic fantasy? Are they human-all-too-human at a time where we need to rethink everything about what it does and doesn't mean to be human? Give us a chance!

Friday, October 13, 2017


A particularly destructive week, as the dotard of the adult day car center on Pennsylvanias Avenue destroys where we cannot build. The slimy half-measures on the Iran agreement and the Affordable Care Act are part of it, his reneging on a pledge to protect the DACA kids, his winks and nods on Puerto Rico, the gutting of clean power regulations, the ever shriller whining about the power of the free press, the idolatry of the flag. But particularly disturbing is his going all-in with the culture war of the increasingly marginal Evangelical right, with so broad a defense of the "paramount" right of religious freedom as to render all other civil rights conditional. (Indeed, you're able now to discriminate on sincerely held "moral" grounds, too, a shabby and unprecedented legal invention.) Beyond mortification that the worst pseudo-Christians should again have seized the public flag of religion, I sorrow at this further undermining of the moral imperative of our shared life, with its commitment to the work of tolerance and civility, its acceptance if not indeed celebration of a pluralistic society. Pray for us.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Season change