Message from the Directors, 2018

Brandon Schneider News

Dear Friends of BCSR,

2017-2018 has been an extraordinary year for the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion. We’d like to give you a sense of our activities, current, and future, and thank you for helping to make this year such a success.

Our biggest efforts and events continue to revolve around the three-year, $1 million grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. The grant supports our long-term Religion in the World initiative by establishing a Berkeley Public Theology Program; we have just completed the second full year of the grant while successfully executing much of the grant’s objectives in education, research, and public outreach.

Under the grant’s umbrella, we were delighted to welcome our second postdoc, Yunus Telliel, for the 2017-2018 academic year. Yunus had a special impact on BCSR, most notably by planning and executing “Thinking about Science, Religion, and Secularism,” an all-day workshop of seven scholars from multiple universities. The goal of this workshop was to move beyond the usual framework of a “science and religion” debate, and facilitate a conversation that explored how certain concepts operate within, and between, these fields of inquiry.

Throughout the academic year, faculty members held bi-weekly meetings with eight New Directions in Theology students from the humanities and social sciences to share ideas across the disciplines and to introduce them to the wider world of religious studies at Berkeley. This year’s cohort was the second group of New Directions graduate students, while the third cohort—participating in the year-long seminar in 2018-2019—have just been named. They are: Patrick Delehanty, (English); Nick Gable, (English and Medieval Studies); Gideon Enz, (Asian Studies); Nick Gable, (English and Medieval Studies); Kristen Hook, (Italian Studies); Petra Lamberson, (Buddhist Studies); Jacob Liming, (Anthropology); Samuel Stubblefield, (History) and Allyson Tang (Chinese Language).

Our Summer Research Grant program, funded by the Frank and Lesley Yeary Endowment for Ethics in the Humanities to support excellence in graduate research, awarded four grants this year. Basit Iqbal (Anthropology), will conduct fieldwork in Jordan and Lebanon, studying  Islamic Humanitarianism with a focus on refugee support and settlement in the ongoing Syrian war, tracing the tensions which are reformulating Islamic ethical traditions. Muhammad Faruque (Near Eastern Studies) will travel to England to further his dissertation, “The Labyrinth of Subjectivity: Islam, Modernity and the Idea of the Self,” which investigates four paradigmatic theories of self and subjectivity in Islamic intellectual history. Craig Johnson (History) will visit Madrid and Florence to access archives of Catholic universities’ theology departments and seminaries as part of his research into South American and European Catholic right-wing engagement with the global Catholic sphere in the theological and political battle over the Second Vatican Council. Lastly, Candace Lukasik’s (Anthropology) work examines how migration to the United States has affected the political subjectivities and religious sensibilities of a Christian minority community from the Middle East. Her funding will take her to New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC to conduct research interviews.

In early fall, BCSR held a major workshop, the first of its kind and scale, “Ecumenical Protestantism and Post Protestantism in Modern America.” Twenty-five scholars from across the country, representing many different institutions, ranks, and perspectives, gathered for two vigorous days of discussion on how the so-called “mainline” Protestants became increasingly ecumenical, separating themselves from evangelical Protestants, while influencing the lives and careers of many men and women who left the churches.

The second Theology and the Public University workshop, “Theology and Its Publics,” took place in March. Ten participants from the US and Canada gathered to consider two distinct, though often converging, lines of inquiry: first, the diverse publics to which theological discourse is addressed, and second, the theological dimensions inherent to various forms that the public and publicity can take.

The Berkeley Lectures in Public Theology series was particularly active this year, offering the opportunity to hear from Travis Zadeh (Yale); Dominic Erdozain (scholar and author); Mary-Jane Rubenstein (Wesleyan University); Victoria Smolkin (Wesleyan University) and Robert Orsi (Northwestern University).

Other BCSR events completed a full calendar. The Berkeley Seminars in Art and Religion, held semi-annually, took place in September with Israeli artist Nira Pereg and again in January with renowned poet Linda Gregerson, a faculty member at the University of Michigan.

In April, Washington University’s Leigh Eric Schmidt spoke at the annual Berkeley Lecture on Religious Tolerance. Professor Schmidt’s talk, “Are Atheists Tolerable? Nonbelievers and Irreligious Freedom,” examined the far-reaching intolerance for atheists during the mid-century (and even today) despite laws supporting the principle of neutrality toward believers and non-believers.

Throughout the year, BCSR was delighted to co-sponsor events with the Departments of Rhetoric, History, English and the Graduate Theological Union. Our unit was also fortunate to host four visiting scholars this year.

The 2017-2018 academic year is now over, but we’ve already begun to set next year’s events in motion, including a major conference in February, “Theology and the Public University,” that will assemble a group of talented and creative thinkers who we believe are pioneering new ways of imagining theology. Along with our programming, BCSR only gets more dynamic as a campus center. We are delighted to welcome to Berkeley, and to BCSR, three new affiliated faculty whose work on religion will bring new strengths to our fantastic research community: Robert Braun, a sociologist with special interests in religion, civil society, violence and toleration; Ethan Katz, an historian of modern France and modern Jewish history; and Ronit Stahl, an historian of modern American religion and religious pluralism.

None of this would have been possible without tremendous support from others. Our faculty advisory board—Karen Barkey (Sociology), Charles Hirschkind (Anthropology), Niklaus Largier (German) and David Marno (English)—were generous with their time, creativity, and guidance. The Consortium for Interdisciplinary Research (CIR) continues to serve as a magnificent administrative home for BCSR. Under the leadership of associate director Khai Thu Nguyen, its staff provided wonderful support and assistance: Breana George, Rebecca Dizon, Patty Dunlap, Brandon Schneider, graduate student researcher Timothy Wright, and student assistants Beverly Yan and Grace Mosher collaborated on every event that we organized this year.

Thanks to the support of the deans of Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences, and to the immense generosity of our donors, rigorous, creative, and trans-disciplinary scholarship on religion is flourishing at Berkeley. We hope you will continue to join us next year, and consider a contribution to BCSR through Give to Berkeley now or in the future.

Jonathan and Mark

PS: As always, you can stay abreast of BCSR happenings by looking at our website, by following us on Facebook and Twitter, and by joining our mailing list. You’ll also find BCSR interviews and recordings of past events on YouTube and SoundCloud.