There’s So Much to Do, Outside the Ivory Tower!

I am an independent scholar. Not independently wealthy unfortunately – I have to earn my bread – but I am one of the growing number of people with PhDs who, for a wide variety of reasons, are not pursuing a traditional career track of teaching and scholarship, but rather have day jobs that variously engage our talents – academic and otherwise – while we continue to engage in the life of the mind on our own terms.  I’ve only been on this path for a little over two years, since earning my PhD i … [Read more...]

We Are Special!: Religion, Historical Memory, and Regional Identity

Over the last week I’ve been re-reading Carol F. Karlsen’s book on witchcraft in Puritan New England and, strangely, this has reminded me how deeply religious traditions have shaped regional cultures and identities in the U.S. I grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, one of the centers of the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. We’d visit Salem and all the historical (and tacky) commemorations of that event. I assumed everyone knew a lot about the Puritans and witchcraft. And the Pilgrims and how they settl … [Read more...]

There Will Be Blood

On Saturday President Obama took to the podium in the Rose Garden and announced that he had decided that in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, resulting in well over a thousand casualties including hundreds of children, he believed that the United States “should take military action against Syrian regime targets.”  Acknowledging paralysis at the level of the United Nations Security Council and a lack of will even among our closest allies, he assert … [Read more...]

A Plea for Identity on the Internet

I recently watched a preview for The Fifth Estate, the new film about WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange.  At one point in the trailer, which seems to me to lean toward an image of a crusader for democracy and free speech, Benedict Cumberbatch earnestly portrays Assange as telling a hushed crowd, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. But if you give him a mask, he WILL tell you the truth.”I don’t buy it.Much as I have studied, discussed, and analyzed the questions surrou … [Read more...]

A Review of Darren Wilson’s “Finding God in the Bible”

"Read any commentary and it'll pretty much explain the symbolism. My question is much, much simpler than that." -- Darren Wilson, Finding God in the Bible, pp. 193-194The title is intriguing: Finding God in the Bible. It seems meant to work against what is now a several-centuries-old tradition of interpreting biblical texts without reference to God, without insisting that scripture is to have anything more than canonical weight. And Bill Johnson's foreword to the book would seem to confirm … [Read more...]

Old Stories and Familiar Tropes: Anti-Catholicism and the Female Body in Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’

In her post “Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’: An Eternal Return” earlier this week, my colleague Susanna Morrill observed that Dan Brown has a knack for telling familiar stories in a language of standard tropes. As Susanna showed, Brown’s work taps into a variety of American anxieties, and it reflects a number of movements in American thought. Susanna’s observations approached Brown with a wide-angle lens, and she ably illuminated the ways in which Brown’s latest whodunit novel featuring the intrepid “reli … [Read more...]

Dan Brown’s “Inferno”: An Eternal Return

I just finished reading Inferno, Dan Brown’s latest book. I’m no expert on Brown, though I have also read The Da Vinci Code. He is justly derided as a bad writer, but he is a good storyteller and sets his attractive characters in compelling locations. I think that Brown’s popularity also comes from his ability to touch on big cultural issues and questions—sometimes overtly and sometimes more indirectly—in familiar, reassuring ways. He touches on them, but doesn’t resolve them for the reader. He r … [Read more...]

Justice, Law, and Politics

Reflections on the Case of Edward Snowden Happy birthday, America!For all of you thinking about getting the country a gift, the good news is that you don’t have to worry about giftwrapping, since the government (and Google, and Amazon, and Apple) already knows what you’re going to give, when you got it, and how much you paid!The Edward Snowden case, following on the Bradley Manning and Julian Assange leaks and others in recent years, has opened a national conversation on the … [Read more...]


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