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We Are Amphibians: Julian and Aldous Huxley on the Future of Our Species

by R. S. Deese

This guest post is part of a series leading up to the upcoming joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature in San Diego. Eight of our authors with recent and forthcoming titles on a range of topics will share the motivations and stories behind their research. We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for a new post every few days between now and November 21st.

I was drawn to study the works of Julian and Aldous Huxley because of their common interest in the religious implications of evolutionary biology. The idea that evolution is antithetical to religious feeling has never made sense to me, and I have always wondered why so many people have contested the theory of evolution with such passionate intensity. I can remember friends in elementary school who were told by their parents that the devil had planted fossils to fool human beings into thinking that “we came from monkeys.” Decades later, we can see that this fearful reaction to the scientific evidence regarding evolution is still commonplace, fueling school board fights about biology curricula across the country and even spawning new institutions (such as the Creation Museum in Kentucky) dedicated to promoting the view that the book of Genesis is not to be taken as a brilliant allegory about the human condition, but rather as a literal record of our material origin. In seeking to understand why so many people fear and reject evolutionary biology, I have come to the conclusion that the anxieties unearthed by Darwin have less to do with the origin of our species than with its future. As it has unfolded over the past century and a half, the Darwinian revolution has done more than challenge religious assumptions about how we came to be. More significantly, it has thrown open the question of what we may become.

My interest in the history of this question drew me to explore many works of speculative fiction published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Looking through the archives of Amazing Stories at Syracuse University, I found Julian Huxley’s 1926 story “The Tissue Culture King” to be particularly intriguing. Julian Huxley’s early depiction of biotechnology wedded to the mass production principles of Henry Ford clearly anticipated some key elements in Brave New World, even if it lacked the wit and cinematic style of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel. As I began to read the correspondence of Julian and Aldous Huxley, I found that, although they often disagreed about many of the most important political and social issues of their time, they were united by a common fascination with the future of our species, and a desire to reconcile the science of evolution with their own religious feelings. As the grandchildren of “Darwin’s Bulldog,” Thomas Henry Huxley, both brothers were possessed by an abiding interest, not only in evolutionary biology, but also in its philosophical and spiritual implications. The fact that they disagreed as often as they did made the research for this book both lively and engaging, but the fact that they cared as intensely as they did (not only about the future of our species but about the web of life on which our lives depend) made this expedition more inspiring than I could ever have expected it to be.

R. S. Deese teaches history at Boston University. His work has been published in AGNI, Endeavour, Aldous Huxley Annual, MungBeing, and Berkeley Poetry Review.

 

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In Memoriam: Jane Daggett Dillenberger

Jane Daggett Dillenberger with  co-author of The Religious Art of Pablo Picasso, John Handley

Jane Daggett Dillenberger with co-author of The Religious Art of Pablo Picasso, John Handley

UC Press is sad to announce the passing of Jane Daggett Dillenberger, who died at her home in Berkeley on November 11 at the age of 98. Dillenberger was professor emerita of art and religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and co-author of The Religious Art of Pablo Picasso, the first critical examination of Pablo Picasso’s use of religious imagery and the religious import of many of his works with secular subject matter. She studied at the University of Chicago and curated several exhibitions for the Berkeley Art Museum during the 1970s on spirituality and art.

A memorial service will be held for Dillenberger at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at 2300 Bancroft Way in Berkeley on Saturday, December 6, at 2:00 pm. Read more about her life and work at the Graduate Theological Union.

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Controlling Contested Places: Late Antique Antioch and the Spatial Politics of Religious Controversy

by Christine Shepardson

This guest post is part of a series leading up to the upcoming joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature in San Diego. Eight of our authors with recent and forthcoming titles on a range of topics will share the motivations and stories behind their research. We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for a new post every few days between now and November 21st.

I don’t think that my parents imagined me traipsing around northern Syria when they taught me to read maps and love the outdoors on our summer canoe trips through the Canadian arctic. But then — arctic wilderness, two young children — it’s hard to say exactly what they were thinking. All I know is, I wouldn’t have written this book thirty years later without them.

When I started my research on the fourth-century city of Antioch (Antakya, Turkey), I had become increasingly aware that I had not been paying enough attention to “place” in my study of early Christianity. I started to wonder what it would look like to trace Christianity’s increasing visibility in the fourth century not through the history of a particular writer or theological argument, but through the ways in which people interpreted and interacted with the physical places around them. So I turned to the major metropolis of Antioch, home to a rich variety of religious communities, an imperial palace, and two prolific contemporaneous authors, Libanius and John Chrysostom.

My book uses cultural geography and memory studies to reveal the role that physical and rhetorical contests over places played in the complex religious and political controversies of the fourth century. It is largely a study of the textual rather than the material evidence, not least because the continuous habitation of the city has impeded excavations and a project to develop a new map of the Roman city and another to study its early church buildings (Mayer/Allen, The Churches of Syrian Antioch) were already underway. My readings of the texts are, however, influenced by my research trips to Turkey and Syria. Standing on the main Roman road through Antioch, for example, I was struck that I was so close to the caves and ancient tombs on Mt. Silpius that called to mind the stories of early Christian ascetics who populated its slopes. This suggested to me that the rhetoric of these ascetics’ “withdrawal” was not primarily about physical distance from the city, which in turn led me to think more carefully about how to interpret other narrative representations of Antioch’s places.

But one cannot visit Syria in 2010 to write a book called Controlling Contested Places and remain focused only on antiquity. Museums that my colleague and I visited have been looted; buildings we saw are piles of rubble; and the generous people we met face unimaginable atrocities. First and foremost, I hope that this book makes a significant contribution to the study of the Mediterranean world in late antiquity and demonstrates the advantages of engaging with the insights of cultural geography. I also, though, hope that the book will reveal some of the mechanisms by which powerful places have been constructed and controlled, and serve as a reminder of the role that such physical and rhetorical manipulations can play in religious and political conflicts in antiquity as well as today.

Christine Shepardson is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

 

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UC Press at MESA 2014

University of California Press is exhibiting at the 2014 Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting. The meeting convenes November 22-25 in Washington, D.C.

Visit us at booth 43 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel for the following offers:

  • 30% conference discount and free worldwide shipping
  • Submit exam copy requests for course adoption for your upcoming classes
  • Win $100 worth of books! Join our eNews subscription

Our Middle East titles encompass a broad range of topics such as history, religion, and food studies, and are perfect for research and course usage.

Please see our conference program ad for our latest offerings.  Acquisitions and marketing staff will be available for your publishing questions.

Follow the Middle East Studies Association at @MESA_1966 for current meeting news.

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That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture

by David G. Hackett

This guest post is part of a series leading up to the upcoming joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature in San Diego. Eight of our authors with recent and forthcoming titles on a range of topics will share the motivations and stories behind their research. We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for a new post every few days between now and November 21st.

Trying to figure out where early nineteenth century men congregated led me to try to understand Freemasonry. While researching an earlier social history of Albany, New York I discovered that in 1830, 74 percent of that town’s male work force did not belong to a church, and 72 percent of the members of its churches were women. City directory lists of Masonic lodges and their officers suggested themselves to me as holding possible answers.

I initially read my way into the literature on Freemasonry while looking for the existence of a male world that might broadly complement the Protestant women’s sphere. As my research progressed, I saw larger implications. The fraternity’s legendary history and ceremonial practices were part of the larger world of wonders inhabited by colonial men and women. Revolutionary-era Christian, republican Freemasonry had an influence on the creation of the United States that rivaled that of Protestantism. The brotherhood’s private ceremonies were centrally involved in changing understandings of the body and sensory experience.

Moreover, at different times Masonic beliefs and practices paralleled, interacted with, and diverged from not only white, mainstream Protestantism but also the black church, Native American world views, and immigrant Jewish and Catholic communal understandings. Though not a religion to its adherents, Freemasonry played a considerable role in the American religious past. 

In That Religion in Which All Men Agree I argue that from the 1730s through the early twentieth century the religious worlds of an evolving American social order broadly appropriated the beliefs and initiatory practices of this all-male society. 

David G. Hackett teaches American religious history at the University of Florida.

 

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Mirage of the Saracen: Christians and Nomads in the Sinai Peninsula in Late Antiquity

by Walter D. Ward

This guest post is part of a series leading up to the upcoming joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature in San Diego. Eight of our authors with recent and forthcoming titles on a range of topics will share the motivations and stories behind their research. We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for a new post every few days between now and November 21st.

I first visited the Middle East as an undergraduate in 1998, when I helped excavate the archaeological site of ancient Aila (modern Aqaba), an ancient port on the Red Sea. As a student, I was struck by how little western food was available in Aqaba, other than junk food like potato chips or candy and sodas. There was only one western restaurant in town and that was Pizza Hut, though the Royal Yacht Club served Italian cuisine. By 2002 in the wake of several luxury hotel constructions, a McDonald’s was being planned in the center of town. When I last visited in 2007 while doing research for the dissertation that formed the basis of my book The Mirage of the Saracen, there was a McDonald’s, a Hardees, a fried-chicken place (KFC maybe?), a “Friends” café named after the hit TV show, a Quiznos, several pizza places, and probably a few more that I’ve forgotten. This explosion of western fast food restaurants in Aqaba struck me at the time as a particularly obvious sign of western cultural and economic imperialism.

As I continued working on my dissertation, I began to think about this type of imperialism in the past — I was writing about roughly the same region (Third Palestine – modern southern Jordan, Israel, and the Sinai) and several centuries earlier (fourth-seventh centuries). The entire region had been controlled by the Romans since 106 CE when the Nabataean Kingdom was annexed, so political and military imperialism was out of the picture for my period. As I looked further into the region in late antiquity, I noticed the steady pace of Christianization and increasing agricultural prosperity, especially in the Negev desert. I began to see this as cultural and economic imperialism, but in my dissertation, this is where I left it.

As I began revising for my book, I started to wonder if there was evidence that the Roman authorities or the Christians justified their actions. I began to read the Sinai Martyr Narratives not just as evidence of actual or fictive events, but as unconscious rhetorical justifications for the monastic “conquest” of the Sinai. This helped me frame what I wanted to the book’s main message to be — I argue that those justifications helped create an extremely negative association to the word Saracen, which was later used for Muslims for much of European history and perhaps has an importance today. Thus, my experiences over the past decade and a half in visiting the Middle East came to profoundly shape my research and interpretations of late antiquity, as well as being perhaps relevant for today’s transformations in the Middle East.

Walter D. Ward is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

 

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Sara Shostak Talks Environmental Health with Human Capital

Sara Shostak’s book, Exposed Science: Genes, the Environment, and the Politics of Population Health, recently received two huge honors from the American Sociological Association: the Eliot Freidson Outstanding Publication Award from the Medical Sociology Section and the Robert K. Merton Book Award from the section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology (SKAT). In this interview with Human Capital, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s blog, Shostak talks about what the awards mean for her, both personally and professionally. She also elaborates on the subject of her book, gene-environment interaction, and its ascendance within the field of environmental health science. The book’s central argument, Shostak explains, is that “scientists’ perceptions of and responses to the structural vulnerabilities of the field of environmental health science have both intended and unintended consequences for what we know about the somatic vulnerabilities of our bodies to environmental exposures.” 

Read the full interview at Human Capital.

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The Political Spirituality of Cesar Chavez: Crossing Religious Borders

by Luis D. León

This guest post is part of a series leading up to the upcoming joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature in San Diego. Eight of our authors with recent and forthcoming titles on a range of topics will share the motivations and stories behind their research. We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for a new post every few days between now and November 21st.

I grew up in California’s East Bay Area, in San Lorenzo. Even while my family was suburban, and not involved in farm work (my paternal grandmother and grandfather were farm laborers), Cesar Chavez loomed large in my cultural and political ecology. He once spoke at my high school. He seemed to be speaking for us, the Latina/os, at a time when I was aware of only negative and stereotypical media images of brown bodies. When I took a Chicano history course as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley I learned that Chavez was primarily a labor leader. As a doctoral student conducting primary source research in the Chicano archives at UCSB I discovered another Chavez—a distinctly spiritual and religious leader. I knew then that I wanted to uncover and tell that part of his story.

My hope is that scholars will discover a different Chavez, one who defies conventional classification, and encounter also a fresh way of narrating his work—one not insistent upon modernist notions of truth and subjectivity. The book is neither a history or biography, the focus is on the mythology—that is the myths he created about himself and those that were manufactured around him. I recognize that it is important to be factual about the research, but really I am writing about the record itself, rather than his actual life. In the words of Ruth Behar: “There is no true story of a life, after all. There are only stories told about and around a life.” Story telling is a political act, and Chavez was adept at telling very effective stories.

One of the turning points in the research was learning that Chavez was active in the struggle for LGBT civil rights. In 1987 he was one of the Grand Marshalls for the second annual march on Washington D.C. for Lesbian and Gay Rights. At the ceremony culminating the protest, he addressed a crowd of 200,000 people, claiming that his movement had been supporting gay rights for over 20 years. His activism on behalf of the LGBT community has been elided from the historiography; I came upon it through research in newspapers.

I consider my book as a contribution to an ongoing conversation. There is much remaining to be told about the late labor leader.

Luis D. León is Associate Professor in the department of Religious Studies at the University of Denver and author of La Llorona’s Children: Religion, Life, and Death in the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands.

 

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Join UC Press at ASC's Annual Meeting

Join University of California Press this fall at the 2014 American Society of Criminology. The meeting convenes November 19-22 in San Francisco.

Visit us at booth 14 at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis to check out our criminology titles and check out the following offers:

  • 30% conference discount and free worldwide shipping
  • Request exam copy requests for course adoption for your upcoming classes
  • Win an Ipad! Join our eNews subscription for eligibility

“Criminology at the Intersections of Oppression” is this year’s conference theme.  Please see our conference program ad for our latest offerings.  Acquisitions and marketing staff will be available for your publishing questions.

Follow @ASCRM41 for current meeting news.

 

 

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Migrating Tales: The Talmud’s Narratives and their Historical Context

by Richard Kalmin 

This guest post is part of a series leading up to the upcoming joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature in San Diego. Eight of our authors with recent and forthcoming titles on a range of topics will share the motivations and stories behind their research. We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for a new post every few days between now and November 21st.

I wrote Migrating Tales because my area of specialization, Babylonian rabbinic literature of late antiquity, is so often read two-dimensionally, against the background of other rabbinic literature. I wanted to read rabbinic literature three-dimensionally, against the backdrop of the literature and culture of contemporaneous non-Jewish groups. In addition, very often scholars of non-Jewish cultures ignore Jewish literature because they see it as too difficult, or too anomalous and bizarre, with the result that Jewish literature of late antiquity tends to be left out of the equation. Although it is becoming increasingly rare to find Judaism totally excluded from the study of late antiquity, it has yet to be fully integrated into the curriculum of scholars of other literatures and cultures. Scholars of Judaism are guilty of the same oversight but from the opposite side: too often they study Judaism, particularly Babylonian rabbinic Judaism, in isolation from the cultural production of other groups. Since it is so difficult to master the field of rabbinics, which demands a lifetime of constant study, scholars of ancient Judaism worry about spreading themselves too thin and take refuge in the confines of the one field in which they are truly expert.

There are those who do to try to break out of their narrow field of expertise, which is wonderful, but they seldom go far enough. They compare the Bavli—the Babylonian Talmud—with Zoroastrian Persian literature, find parallels, and consider their work done. Too often they neglect to ask whether the parallels they have discovered are evidence of a special relationship between Zoroastrian Persian and Babylonian Jewish cultures, or would they find, if they surveyed the evidence more broadly, that the phenomenon under study is symptomatic of late antiquity in general? Might the parallels result from similar cultures manifesting similar phenomena at comparable stages of development? Might they simply reflect the fact that we are dealing with two unrelated literatures that have incorporated similar or identical folk motifs that transcend cultural boundaries? For example, several scholars have concluded that a story in the Bavli about King Manasseh’s execution of the prophet Isaiah by sawing him in half originated in an ancient Persian compilation, the Avesta. Casting the net more broadly, I attempt to show that versions of the narrative composed in the eastern Roman provinces provide a much closer parallel and that the Avestan parallel is only superficial. The story turns out to say much about the relationship between Judaism and Christianity and nothing at all about the relationship between Zoroastrianism and Judaism. In brief, I have attempted to make it more difficult for scholars of Babylonian Judaism to study their subject in isolation from other cultures, and for scholars of non-Jewish cultures to studytheir subject in isolation from Judaism of late antiquity.

Richard Kalmin is Theodore R. Racoosin Chair of Rabbinic Literature at The Jewish Theological Seminary. He is the author of the award-winning Jewish Babylonia between Persia and Roman Palestine and several other books about the literature and history of the Jews of late antiquity. The research and writing of Migrating Tales was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

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