Library Respect

I didn’t know what to do.  All my life I’d been told “library books aren’t your books—treat them like they belong to somebody else.”  And here I was with a checked-out library book with uncut pages.  This was in Edinburgh, and to make matters more interesting, it was an interlibrary loan book.  What was I supposed to do?  Finally I found the sharpest butter knife in the drawer and carefully cut the edges.  (This was before uneven pages became trendy again.)  Then, some time later I was reading another library book and I found writing in it.  Writing!  Who did this borrower think s/he was, writing in a book that belonged to someone else?  And what was more, the writing was done in ink.

Perhaps some readers get so caught up in a book that they forget it’s not theirs.  As for me, I’ve never been so bold as to think others would want my thoughts in a library book.  That’s what notebooks are for.  Of course, since that experience I’ve found many library books with writing in them.  These days when I have to buy books for research, not being affiliated any more, I tend to get them used.  From libraries often.  I look for the designation “very good” in the description since this specifies “clean” interiors, generally since they were library books.  I’m guessing that those who classify used books operate under the same delusion that I used to—people don’t write in library books.  The most recent three or four ex-library books I’ve ordered (all “very good”) have had ink writing and underlining in them.  You can see this at a glance.

The most recent one arrived the other day and on my initial thumb-through I found the now expected ink markings, but also two pages stuck together by a wad of gum.  This passes beyond the realm of unthinking behavior to criminal, at least in my mind.  Who sticks chewed gum between the pages of a book?  A book they don’t even own?   I did what anyone would do: I checked the book out on Internet Archive and wrote, in ink, the obliterated words in the margin.  I’m the first to admit I’m sensitive about books.  When I buy a new one I try to finish it with no sign that it’s even been opened.  No creases on the spine, no banged edges.  When I fail in this I feel badly, like I’ve hurt a friend.  At least I don’t have to worry about cutting the pages.  And even if I do, I know that it’s a trendy look these days.


The Addiction

I’m an addict.  It runs in the family.  My addiction, though, is learning new things.  Research, it seems, comes naturally to some and not to others.  Like any other activity, some people love it and others, well, don’t.  I think I knew this about my young self, but I didn’t have any context in which to frame it.  Jobs were seen as a kind of necessary evil—you had to do something so someone would pay you and you could buy food and pay the rent.  Nobody in my family could say, hey, that research interest of yours could become a career.  The impetus for even going to college came from a minister who changed my life in many ways, and his encouragement was seconded by several of my teachers.  Many of those I went to school with just stayed in the area and found jobs.

So I get onto a topic and begin to research it.  You soon come to know what Lewis Carroll meant about tumbling down rabbit holes.  It leads to Wonderland.  Always I’m surprised at how little I know.  I’ve learned some new things and that which I thought I knew proves to have been so minuscule that I wonder at my boldness of even trying to write books.  I guess I believe in giving back.  The other day someone asked me to write a follow-up to Weathering the Psalms.  As I told him, that was my plan when I was employed as a researcher.  What happened to my “career” led to my renewed interest in horror.  It just made sense in the light of circumstances.  When that happens, what can you do?  Research it.

There’s a sense, I suppose, in which you end up where you’re meant to be.  If I’d stayed in higher education I’d have had precious little motivation to write about horror and religion.  I had three or four vital research agendas, depending on where I might end up.  I’d have been happy to stay with my semitic goddesses.  I had a second book on that topic well underway.  Fully employed with an optimistic future, I’d given up watching horror.  So much so that I ignored The X-Files when it was running.  So the addiction changes specifics over time, but the drive to learn more underlies it.  Even this morning I learned some mind-expanding things, for me at least.  And I know I will keep coming back although it may cause problems for my career and it gets me nowhere in the larger scheme of things.  I’m helpless when I know my fix is as close as a book.


All About Blurbs

A book recently arrived.  It was unexpected, but when I saw the return address I knew what it was.  My young colleague Daniel Sarlo from the University of Toronto had kindly asked me to blurb his book The Solar Nature of Yahweh.  I’ve known Dr. Sarlo virtually for many years.  He’s engaged me a number of times on issues surrounding my research on solar worship in ancient Israel and Ugarit.  I had a book project in the works on the latter topic when other colleagues suggested going with something biblical for my next book, thus Weathering the Psalms was born.  Books, particularly academic ones, are in constant conversation with one another.  I’ve been writing on horror and religion now for over five years but my material on ancient West Asian religion is just now starting to get noticed.  It’s a funny old world.

One day I stumbled across a blurb lifted off my website for a book from Johns Hopkins University Press.  I was impressed.  First of all, that some author or editor had found my remarks on their book from this blog and that they’d liked them enough to cite them.  Getting blurbs can be a difficult task these days.  Academics are under a lot of pressure and time for such things is at a premium.  The payment is generally a copy of the book.  For some of us, though, it’s a thrill just to see yourself cited at all.  Once you’re no longer an academic you’re easily forgotten.  It has been a number of years since I’ve researched Yahweh and the sun, but someone, at least, still remembers.

Like book reviewing, reading a book for a blurb is one of those things you really can’t talk about pre-publication.  Book production is a slow process.  Like most things in life, it takes a complicated chain of events to lead to something as humble as a printed book.  And you need things like blurbs well before the release date.  As an author you often worry that—even in a field like ancient West Asian studies—your book will be outdated before it’s even published.  Some new find, or new idea might invalidate all that you’ve worked for.  Higher education should be one of the best venues for building humility in a person.  Your great learning is only one example among myriads of other scholars.  It’s a great accomplishment to get a book published in the midst of all that.  And this one, as the blurb indicates, is well worth reading.


Dark Academia

Over the weekend I “dropped” a new YouTube video on my channel (you can see it here, or by visiting my “YouTube” page in this website’s menu).  It ended up getting a little flurry of interest (1,800 views in the first three days), prompting a friend to tell me that if you pay attention to what’s hot on the internet, you can actually get attention.  That makes sense.  What’s so hot?  Dark academia.  Of course, my video really moves to dark academia adjacent, to what happens to real people when they try to teach religion and run afoul of “doctrine.”  There’s a real disconnect here because if you earn a good Ph.D. you’ll be taught to question everything.  If you’re a doctrinal believer, you’ll question nothing.

I stopped posting on YouTube a few years back because my cheap camera no longer worked.  It lost about three episodes I shot and, discouraged and too busy with writing projects, I gave it up.  I started again because I realized my phone was capable of recording and I had a holder that would stop it from slipping.  So why not?  Topics aren’t really a problem, but shooting and editing a video take a lot more than the eight minutes that result from it all.  Finding the time to edit, and learning how to edit in iMovie, are tasks in themselves.  And I’m an old dog.  Still, I miss that classroom audience.  I’ve been told that blogging is passé, and podcasts take even longer to record.

Some people make a living vlogging.  In fact, “YouTuber” can be a profession.  Those who succeed are often young.  And let’s be honest, a middle-aged white guy in a book-lined study is a tired trope.  Well, it is, in reality who I am.  A teacher at heart, I now try to imagine a virtual audience.  When I first started doing YouTube videos I had a very difficult time imagining an audience.  I fumbled a lot—I don’t script my videos.  If you’re interested in scripted I’ve got this blog right here.  The bump in interest in my dark academia post doesn’t translate to my other videos about my books or related topics.  Still, those are the things I know best and so it’s easiest to talk about them.  And possibly reinventing yourself.  I guess that’s what I’ve tried to do here.  Sloppily, stumblingly, but nevertheless, I’ve been changing my identity.  My YouTube channel’s not that active, but if there’s interest I can explore further reflections on dark academia.


Gift Books

The New York Times recently ran a story suggesting that books are not only the ideal gift, but that this has been the case for a very long time.  The article points out that treasured Roman Saturnalia gifts included scrolls, or the books of the time.  Books are the gift of knowledge—who wouldn’t want that?  Also, I’ve been reading about the fact that money can be any medium of exchange as long as it’s agreed upon.  Why not books?  Being an American, it’s often amazed me how intellectuals are held in such low esteem in this country.  We pay our teachers poorly, we mock those who read “too much” (as if such a thing were possible), and we dismiss what experts of many subjects tell us because we don’t like to admit others might be smarter than we are.

Reading, like arithmetic, doesn’t come naturally to people.  We evolved to survive and reproduce and our brains have that prime directive.  Along the way, however, we learned to communicate effectively and cooperate on large ventures.  These ambitions required wrapping our brains around things like advanced math and learning to interpret squiggles written by somebody else.  Kids, full of energy and needing to play, don’t want to sit down to learn these things.  At least most don’t.  In some parts of the world those who do take naturally to such things are celebrated.  Teachers are venerated.  Learning is revered.  Ironically, in this country where some of the best higher education is available, we want to belittle those who attain it.  We prefer to play with our guns.

Now that the holiday season is upon us, however, I think of reading.  I keep a list of books I would like to have.  It’s well over a hundred titles long.  In a good year I can read sixty or more tomes.  It’s an engine that requires a lot of fuel.  Although in all likelihood I’ll never be able to retire, I keep my books against that time when I fear I might become bored.  Or that my mind might start to slip.  Reading is mental exercise.  In my current writing project, I’ve been discovering new connections almost daily.  Often in unexpected places in books I learned about only in recent months.  I write these words surrounded by books.  There are more in the attic, and more in the next room.  I may not ever have enough money to retire, but if we ever decide that books should be currency—and even if we don’t—I’m wealthy indeed.


Split Personality

This may be the way to develop a split personality.  For the majority of my waking hours of the week I’m a biblical studies editor.  I do the usual, boring editorial work associated with that job.  Academics contact me supposing I’m just some Joe who majored in English and who has to pay the consequences.  Once in a very great while the person contacting me knows that I once was a professor as well, but that’s rare.  So I have one part of my life.  When I’m not at work I continue to research (in my own way) and write books, as well as this blog.  Being in “the biz,” I have a fair idea about how to get published in the academic realm.  Ever since Weathering the Psalms came out I realized I could use that knowledge to steer my books toward appropriate publishers, but all of this is very separate from my day job.

A third compartment of this personality is as the closet fiction writer.  I’ve had thirty short stories published (under a pseudonym, for work purposes) and anyone curious about that pseudonym’s life can’t really tap into this one because I have to keep them separate.  I’m also involved in a faith community.  Most of the people there are surprised that I watch horror and write about it, and even write it.  Only two have expressed any interest in reading what I write.  So it is that each of these discrete elements—and they’re not all!—prevent me from being an integrated personality.  I know other religion scholars who watch and write about horror.  Because they’re academics they can integrate it into their profiles in a way a mere editor can’t.  To be fair, they’re misunderstood too.

The possibility of living an integrated life is limited in the workaday world of capitalism.  Companies want you to spend as much time as humanly possible making money for them.  You shouldn’t try to shine any light on yourself, and if you do, well, keep the company name out of it!  Who wants to be associated with some horror pariah?  And yet, statistics reveal about half the population of the United States enjoys horror movies.  A significant number of those people attend religious services or belong to religious bodies.  So what’s a graphomaniac to do?  I write because that’s what I do, and have always done.  I started in fiction and moved to academic and now I blog.  Somewhere in there there’s a person and someday I may discover who he is.


Not Sleepy Yet

Working on a doctorate changes the way you think.  Or at least it’s supposed to.  Easy answers have to be examined closely, and sources critically scrutinized.  One of the side-effects of this is that many Ph.D.s tend to think that only others of that status are able to do good research.  An essential piece of research, however, is passion.  This part isn’t always logical and can’t always be explained.  A recovering academic, I first resisted Gary Denis’ Sleepy Hollow: Birth of the Legend because it was self-published.  I’ve had bad experiences with self-published books before but what I discovered here is that Denis is quite a capable researcher, driven with a passion for Washington Irving’s tale.  The execution may be a little rough, but the data-gathering is very good.  He tries to point out where accounts have problems and attempts, where possible, to resolve them.

Denis is driven by the question of what in Irving’s story is factual, if anything?  This is probably not a question an academic would ask, presuming that fiction is fiction.  Still, there is data.  The first four chapters are very good.  Here he lays out the background to the region, Irving, and stories of headless horsemen.  I learned quite a lot from it.  The final three chapters turn to the main characters of the story—Ichabod Crane, Katrina Van Tassel, and Brom Bones—asking who they might’ve been based on.  The best drawn of these is the first and there’s good reason to suppose Irving based Crane’s situation on that of his friend, Jesse Merwin.  The other two, however, are sketched rather hastily and lots of people have suggestions for who might’ve been behind them.

Clearly aware that authors borrow and make things up, Denis knows that Katrina and Brom may well be pretty much imaginary.  He also knows that Irving did indeed borrow much from previously known stories and legends.  Irving’s real genius was in the way he expressed these stories in colloquial English, making American literature a blend.  Although Irving wrote many books, his fame was largely due to two of his stories published early in his career.  One of those stories, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” has left quite a paper trail and Denis leaves no rock unturned in his efforts to collect data on it.  I’ve read a fair number of self-published books over the years—they’ve been easy to produce since the internet began—and I’m wary of them.  This book, however, is one that I’m glad I found and it serves as a useful reminder that good research isn’t limited to the privileged few in the academy.


Reflections of a Hermit

Although I acknowledge that Covid has made even more a hermit of me—I won’t deny it—and I often complain when I have to travel for work, I generally end up glad that I have.  (As long as I avoid Covid.)  Being at the AAR/SBL annual meeting is like being in a living library.  You meet and talk with so many smart, smart people and their ideas and yours begin to blend in an amazing kind of way.  I suspect that it shows that my books have been written by a guy in isolation.  That is, they could be improved by other eyes on them.  That’s what peer review is about, of course, but there’s something exciting about talking to my monster friends and engaging them about their ideas.  Frequently they will ask about mine.  I’ve even had colleagues mention that they’ve read some of my work.

The only real problem with how this unfolds is that I have so many meetings in a day that I sometimes lose track of the many ideas that crowd into my head.  Hastily-scrawled memos in my notebook—I’m too busy paying attention—mean that only fragments remain the next morning.  Each of them a gem.  (Fitting for Denver.)  When conversation comes around to what I’ve been working on, no matter how obscure it is, my monster friends know the root story and even have ideas that help shape my work.  No one scholar can read everything, and those of us who tend towards being hermits have the limited sources of one human imagination.  When imaginations get together, however, these ideas blossom.  I learn so much from these brief days that I think I might’ve been dangerous if I’d remained in the academy.  The man with an exploding head.

I sincerely hope that I give as well as receive at these meetings.  It’s really unfortunate that we don’t support humanities scholars in this nation.  These are some of the bright stars in our national constellation, yet they struggle with underfunding, and pressures such as “metrics,” as if you can quantify the influence on young brains and the potential future of our collective imaginative life.  Although I grouse, as is perhaps to be expected of an aging hermit, I can’t help but be enriched by the fertile minds I encounter, even if behind a Covid mask.  I’m never quite sure how to thank all these idea-conjurers properly.  I wouldn’t have met most of them had my career not taken the strange turns it has.  Now I realize that even hermits may have many friends.


Day Two

You have your suspicions when you first spot them, but you have to wait to confirm it.  You’re flying in mid-to-late November and they’re concentrated around one particular destination.  They won’t be the only ones going there, of course—families with kids, late vacationers, others traveling for business—but they will be among them and you can learn to spot them.  The attendees of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting.  Pre-pandemic there were reliably about 10,000—a biblical myriad—of them.  We’ll have to wait to get the figures on them this time around.  In any case, I make a game of spotting them at the airport.  Well, if you’ve got a connecting flight you need to wait until the final leg.  It’s possible some got on with me in Allentown, but I didn’t spot any likely candidates.

The male of the species is easier to identify at a glance.  Bearded, serious demeanor, slightly out of touch when it comes to fashion.  Incongruously sometimes they’re wearing jeans but you know that’s just their traveling raiment;  once they arrive and get tweeded up they’ll be easier to place.  Otherwise you can identify them on the path by their talk.  If they enter into discussion with a seat mate or someone walking to the baggage claim or getting onto the public transit, or even in restaurants, they will speak of strange things.  Their language will grow technical and their frowns will be discerning.  They are assessing, you know, assessing the ideas that don’t fit with their personal theories about samsara, or Origen, or Jeremiah.  And they don’t mind saying so, right out in public.

As important as I know religion to be, and as much as I know that to understand it deeply you must spend years and decades studying it, I sometimes wonder just how others must view us.  I still dress like them, although I travel in my tweed because it makes my suit-bag too bulky to pack it.  On the plane I read an actual book (likely about religion, but that’s not a guarantee), and once in a while someone who hasn’t realized that the conference is over will want to talk business in the airport while waiting for a flight when all I want to do is pull out a novel and try to get the shop talk out of my head for a little while.  This is the unusual experience of attending AAR/SBL.  I’m sure there’s enough material here for a sociological study, but I think the sociologists have conferences of their own to attend.


Remember November

I didn’t get his name.  I could have, because he was wearing a name tag.  I was too busy thinking, “that won’t be me.”  I ended up being wrong about that point.  He was sitting in that depressing place at the AAR/SBL meeting in Kansas City.  That room for those waiting to see if they’d scored any interviews.  “I’ve got publications,” he told me, “I’ve got years of teaching experience, but no interviews.”  Our capacity to fool ourselves should not be underestimated.  I was just sure that once I was in that place—publications, teaching experience—I would be able to find a professorship.  I did find one that lasted about fourteen years, but after that, my nameless friend, I have to say “you were right.”

I can’t help but think of that when I attend this conference.  It’s a place of lost dreams for me.  I can see my books on display here.  I can see literally hundreds of people that I know.  I’ve gone from a vocation to a job, and there’s no going back.  Sometimes I wonder if adjacent careers are a good idea or not.  I’ve put some books under contract from new Ph.D.s who eventually decide to disappear.  Not to be found anywhere in academia, their books left unpublished.  Perhaps they met my mysterious prophet.  Maybe they came to realize that working in a job right next door to where they want to be will only ever remind them of loss and regret.  We continue to the glamour of a conference that reminds many of what they never found.  El Dorado.

So as I sit here in Denver with my past.  I actually made it to Denver, which is, I suppose an improvement over last time.  There was snow, in Denver, but the locals seem to be fine with it.  Not many people are wearing masks these days, I’ve noticed.  There were a few stalwarts on the plane(s) and a few here at the conference who did.  The pandemic doesn’t bend to the will of people, not even religion scholars.  Viewing Denver from the airport (it’s a considerable way out), it looks so small and insignificant backed by the front range of the Rockies.  Maybe that’s what all of this is about: significance.  My association with this conference spans 31 years.  Perhaps there’s a bit of weariness here too.  The pandemic may never really end, not in any meaningful way.  I do wonder if my nameless friend ever found a job and if he still attends.  If he does I wonder what he would say about all of this.


The Denver Curse

I’m posting this early today because I’m flying to Denver for the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) annual meeting.  At least that’s the plan.  I don’t have a good track record with Denver and this conference.  I’d been attending AAR/SBL since 1991.  I can’t recall what year it was when I first attended in Denver.  I was still a professor then and had a paper to read.  I also had free time (something editors don’t have at conferences).  I decided to view the world-famous mineral and dinosaur exhibits at the Museum of Natural History the morning of my paper day.  While at the museum something very embarrassing happened—I got sick in public.  It was scene-from-a-cheap-movie bad.  Literally sprinting to a public waste can to throw up in front of strangers.  I’d never been sick at AAR/SBL before, despite the November timing.  When I went to read my paper that afternoon, the motion of my eyes made me sick again and I had to sit with my head between my knees while a bunch of biblical scholars looked on with what passes for concern in academic circles.

The second, and last, time I was flying to Denver  for the conference there was a small snowstorm.  I was flying out of Newark on an evening flight.  Because of the snow (which ended up being about two inches) my flight kept getting delayed and delayed.  They made the decision to cancel the flight after 11 p.m. by which time all local hotels were full from the earlier cancelled flights.  To make matters worse, there was no way out of the airport.  All public transit shut down.  Even if I could’ve caught a taxi where was I to go?  I live in Pennsylvania.  With no other choice, I slept on the floor of Newark’s Liberty International Airport.  I awoke early, having used my briefcase as a pillow (a step up from a stone, I expect) and found my way to Somerville, where we used to live.  My wife picked me up at the train station there and drove me home.  I missed the conference, needless to say.

And so you see that I’m a bit dubious about trying this again.  I have nothing against Denver.  Before getting sick I was enjoying my time there.  So, if things go according to plan, I’ll be on a plane headed that direction by the time I usually post my daily thoughts on this blog.  Will the Denver curse be broken?  Only the next few days will tell. Watch this space.

Photo by Acton Crawford on Unsplash

Cone of Silence

I still get asked occasionally.  Actually, I was never asked when I was employed as a professor.  Peer review is essential to the academic process.  Although I hung my shingle at Nashotah House for a decade and a half, nobody was passing by.  Now I get asked from time to time, to do some academic reviewing.  As an editor I have to ask people to do this on a daily basis.  It always bothers me when some privileged professor says, “I don’t do peer reviews; I’ve got my own writing to do.”  Well, professor, if everyone felt that way you would never be published.  We’ve got to pay our dues, no?  Getting a Ph.D. doesn’t necessarily make you humble (although it should) or considerate.  Although I’m hoping to move away from academic publishing to the more popular trade venue (believe me, I’m trying!), I know that holding a Ph.D. means I should review when I’m asked to.

Right now I’m reviewing a book manuscript that I really wish I could talk about here.  Problem is, peer review is either a singly or doubly-blind process.  The author doesn’t know who the reviewers are—that’s crucial.  And sometimes the reviewer doesn’t know who the author is.  Although this blog doesn’t get a big readership, it’d be just my luck that I’d be spouting off about some ideas I read and the author of said manuscript (I don’t know who it is, in this case) would happen upon my remarks.  That means I have to make this post about the process rather than the content.  Too bad too, because I’ve had a number of conversations about this very topic recently.  Ah, but I must keep my fingers shut.

Peer review isn’t a foolproof process.  I try to remind people frequently that nobody—and I mean nobody—has all the answers.  As the Buddha reportedly said, “Don’t take my word for it, check it against your experience.”  I used to tell my Rutgers students that same thing.  Don’t take my word for it just because I’m standing in front of an auditorium full of students.  Ask others.  Ask yourself, does it make sense?  And don’t believe anyone who claims to have all the answers.  That doesn’t solve my dilemma, though, of wanting to tell the world about the hidden book I’m reading.  It ties in so well with what I try to do on this blog.  And, really, it’s an honor to be asked.  Someone thinks I have knowledge worth sharing.  Only I can’t talk about it.

Photo by saeed karimi on Unsplash


What Lurks

One question that I get asked by those who don’t understand is “Why horror?”  The asker is generally someone that knows I’ve been “religious” all my life, or affiliated with religion—which people think means sweet and light—and who associates horror with bitter and dark.  I know Brandon R. Grafius has been asked such things too, because I’ve just read his Lurking under the Surface: Horror, Religion, and the Questions that Haunt Us.  Like me, Grafius has been writing books on the Bible and horror—I’ve reviewed a few on this blog.  As in my former life, he teaches in a seminary.  People find this juxtaposition jarring.  This little book is Grafius’ struggle with various aspects of this question.  He’s not anti-religion, but he’s drawn to horror.

For those of us familiar with Grafius’ other work, this offers a more detailed explanation of what one religion scholar finds compelling about horror.  Specifically, he shows how various films deal with similar issues to his Christian faith.  The book deals with that for about half its running time, and the other half discusses similar themes in horror.  You get the sense that Grafius has been at this for a long time.  Scooby-Doo seems to have been his childhood gateway to horror and it raised some deeper questions as he explored further along the line.  If you read this blog, or search it, you’ll find such things as Dark Shadows and The Twilight Zone in my background, but then, I’m a bit older.  The point is, being a religious kid doesn’t discount finding monsters fascinating.

As usual with books like this, I’ve come away with several films to watch.  And more angles of approach to that tricky question of “Why horror?”.  A recent post on a panel discussion titled “Religion and Horror” led to an online exchange about religion and fear.  Grafius deals with that here as well, but from a more distinctly Christian point of view.  Although he’s an academic, this book is written (and priced) for wider consumption.  I found it quite informative to hear the story of someone else who grew up with monsters and the Bible.  He had the sense, however, to start addressing this early in his academic career.  We each have different paths to walk and for some of us it will take a jarring experience to chase us back to our childhood monsters.  And being religious is no barrier to that, as this brief book demonstrates.


The Panel

More than one person pointed it out to me, so I guess I must be getting a (small) reputation.  During one of my campus editorial visits I stopped into the center for Religion and American Culture at that venerable institution known as IUPUI—Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.  I was immediately impressed and, of course, since I’m no longer in academia I’ve realized that the impact of religion on culture is my real interest in it.  What was pointed out to me, however, was an episode of their “Religion and” series.  This one was held via Zoom and has been posted here, so if you, like me, work, or are just finding out about it, can still see it.  I encourage that behavior.  This particular panel was “Religion and Horror.”

As the word “panel” indicates, it was a moderated group discussion.  The panelists were Douglas E. Cowan of the University of Waterloo, Erika Engstrom of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media, and W. Scott Poole of the College of Charleston.  The moderator was Melissa Borja of the University of Michigan.  What a great way to spend an October afternoon!  It is also good to know that I’m not the only one who’s noticed that religion and horror are similar and even address similar needs.  I’ve read books by Cowan and Poole and have even met the former a couple of times.  No longer a university employee, I largely work in insolation, so it’s great to hear conversation about the kinds of things in my head once in a while.  A number of refrains became obvious during this all-too-brief discussion.

We’ve been conditioned to think of religion as inherently good.  In general, we’ve also been conditioned to think of horror as inherently bad.  As with most black-and-white categories, both of these things get some key points wrong.  Religions, like everything else, have histories.  Those who study those histories learn that much of what’s passed along to believers is intended to make them into repeat, paying customers.  Try teaching in a seminary for a few years and then attempt to dispute that.  And, the panelists pointed out, horror is also a product, intended to sell.  This explains the endless parade of, for example, Halloween movies.  Just when you think you’ve purchased the last one you’ll ever need to buy there’s another.  There was so much squeezed into that one hour that I was glad I was taking notes.  But then, it was a recording—you can see it too, and I urge you to do so.


Former Education

Like most people I don’t have time to sit around thinking much about college.  Once in a while you’re forced into it, however.  This time it was by an NPR article.  I attended Grove City College for a few reasons: it was a Christian school close to home, it wasn’t expensive, and, perhaps most of all, I knew campus because the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church held its annual conference there.  I’d been several times during high school.  It didn’t hurt that I was a Fundamentalist at the time.  Grove City was a college of the Presbyterian Church and I loved having debates about predestination with professors who actually believed in it.  At the same time, I was encouraged to think things through, which liberal arts colleges are known for promoting. Is it now “conservative arts?”

Photo credit: The enlightenment at English Wikipedia

The NPR story my wife sent me was about how Critical Race Theory is disputed at my alma mater (sic).  I noticed in the article that Grove City is no longer affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.  It’s become much more right wing than that.  At the same time they ask me for money on a regular basis.  What made them think they had to go hard right?  Are they still educating students or are they indoctrinating them?  It reminded me of a sermon I heard at yet another conservative school I was associated with: Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary (or at least it was then).  The priest made an entire sermon about how it was right to be conservative, as if no matter what the issues there was some creed to get behind in staying behind.  As if virtue exists in never admitting you were wrong.

I suspect that my failure to attain a full-time academic position at a reputable school was because of what looks like a conservative outlook, despite the evidence of this blog.  Yes, I grew up Fundamentalist—you grow up the way you were raised.  Hopefully, however, you start thinking after that.  And experiencing.  And yes, using critical thought.  There comes a time when “because I told you so” just doesn’t cut it anymore.  For many of us that’s when we go to college.  If it’s a good one you’ll be encouraged to debate with your professors.  Not one of them has all the answers, I can assure you.  Education is, by its very nature, progressive.  We learn and we continue to learn.  We don’t stand still and say the 1950s was when God reigned on earth.  It wasn’t.  And it wasn’t any time before that either.  Now we know that Critical Race Theory should be taught.  We know Black Lives Matter.  What I personally don’t know is what became of a college that was once conservative, but at the same time, believed in education.