The Public/Private Debate in Religious Studies (Part 2)

Sunday, October 21, 2020

Janice L. Poss

Religious Studies Scholarship as Public Intellectuals

1st Edition

Edited by Sabrina D. MisirHiralall, Christopher L. Fici, Gerald S. Vigna

Hardback: 9780815352549

pub: 2018-06-18


eBook (VitalSource) : 9781351139120

pub: 2018-06-13

Purchase eBook $54.95

12 Month Rental - $32.97

6 Month Rental - $27.48

(For Part 1 of this book review click here.)

These religious scholars are discussing topics such as fake news (Waggoner, 23; Keefe-Perry, 51; DelMonico, 71), making space for cultural hybridity (MisirHiralall, 8), biosphere-as-sacred-model (Crooks, 79-80), overcoming the academic “business model” (MisirHiralall, 9), what using Facebook and other social media means (Waggoner, 23), utilizing perceived dynamism (Crooks, 80), doing interfaith into transreligious dialogue in public arenas (Huber/Wax, 130), examining Turkey’s open borders to Syrian refugees as religious-based (Kara, 135), transgressional tolerance in Sufism (Mosaad, 159-62) and reMembering in the Anthropocene Age (Wolcott, 165).

Today, for example, we reel from the shock and sadness over the death of George Floyd manifested in the peaceful public protests going on in innumerable large and small municipalities across our nation, we are incredulous once again by callous public photo-ops that our President has undertaken in front of two Christian locations in Washington, DC—St. John’s Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic statue of Pope John Paul II.

Outrage has been expressed by the Rev. Mariann Budde and Bishop Michael Curry: “This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us,” Curry wrote. And Rev. Budde said, “Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence. We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.”[1] “The Catholic archbishop Wilton Gregory said, “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people, even those with whom we might disagree.”[2] Religion is interconnected to us as public and private. The classroom needs to reflect that.

So, more than ever, there is a public thrust for interreligious, inter-racial, inter-global, inter-gender and inter-local dialogue (Fici/Vigna, 198). Religion has the capacity to open doors and make sacred space for this dialogue. Religion can be the neutral ground from where we listen to our neighbor as we listen to ourselves (this is necessary because we cannot change systemic problems if we are not listening to what and how we say things to our neighbor, as innocent as it may appear). In doing so, we endeavor to reach deeper into our differences to find the common ground that unites us all within our differences. Is not this the public role of the intellectual of religion?

My one criticism of the book is that it does not include Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American and other indigenous religions, as well as any goddess centered belief systems, such as Wicca, neo-Pagan and eco-feminism. In addition, what about those who identify today as integrating more than one religion into their own practice, such as Raymond Panikkar, Francis X. Clooney, Paul Knitter, and myself. This reaches beyond mere interreligious dialogue as one maneuvers and is spiritually fed by more than one tradition. Perhaps this could lead to a second, or even a third volume.

Overall, I recommend this book as offering strong teaching solutions to viewing the classroom as a mirrored microcosm to survey the public reality of our lives today and where religion can and does intersect, indeed, is already reMembered into our lives, privately and publicly.

[1] Boorstein, Michelle, and Sarah Pulliam Bailey. “Episcopal Bishop on President Trump: ‘Everything He Has Said and Done Is to Inflame Violence.’” Washington Post, June 1, 2020.

[2] Bailey, Sarah Pulliam, and Michelle Boorstein. “‘I Find It Baffling and Reprehensible’: Catholic Archbishop of Washington Slams Trump’s Visit to John Paul II Shrine.” Washington Post. Accessed June 5, 2020.