Sounding on the Academy for May 2, 2011

May 1st, International Workers’ Day, is my favorite holiday. I yearn for it all year long, and watch the sun set reluctantly in the evening, sad to see it leave.  May Day was yesterday, and here in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, we had flurries. God, apparently, hates parades.

There isn’t a lot of religious studies-field news this last week, so I’ve decided to focus, instead, on the academy.  There are lots of new changes affecting educational institutions across the US. Lots of us have various opinions about these changes, some of them quite complicated, but few have a sense of how things *should* change, or reasonably *could* change.  The winners in this transformative moment for the academy will be the group that manages to arrive at a consensus on these issues, and institutionalizes them on the basis of their collective power.  A few stories I’m watching. Both longtime readers will be thoroughly unsurprised that I have chosen to focus on class issues – both in terms of academic culture, and in terms of collective employee rights – as the most important changes to watch in the academy:

  • Why the United States is Destroying its Educational System, by Chris Hedges
  • How to destroy your political enemies with video the Breitbart way: lie
  • Separate and Unequal: two-tiers of instructors?
  • Is Being Transgender a Promotion Problem?
  • Why Academic Publishing Sucks, by Larry Lessig
  • Anthropology Professors reflect on Fieldwork
  • Take Better Notes! (please) Continue reading

Science And Religion Dispatch: Round 1, Plus Amy Bishop

I recently posted about SciFi writer Peter Watts, who I’ve begun to appreciate a great deal. He shares my obsession with science and what it means to be ‘human,’ or even ‘conscious.’ Unlike me, however, he’s actually a scientist. In a recent post on his blog, entitled “The Neurology of Transcendence,” he summarizes what appears to be a very important neurology study (conducted on willing patients dying of brain cancer).

In that study, the surgical removal of specific neurons in a specific part of the brain (go read the article, please) resulted in a sense of increased ‘spirituality,’ and a relative lack of awareness of self in space, leading to a sense of what I might call ‘cosmic feeling.’ The images below are ganked directly from Watts’ page, entirely without permission.

It’s an elegant little study, and another carpet-tack in the casket-lining of the supernatural — yet still we tread so very lightly to avoid giving offence, to reassure the world that we sit atop some pinnacle. “We’re dealing with a complex phenomenon that’s close to the essence of being human,”neurojock Salvatore Aglioti tells Scientific American, as though we’re the only species on the planet whose brain has a subroutine for keeping track of body parts. “They need to be very careful how they word things as they proceed,” warns one of the comments on the same page, “there are people who will take great offense otherwise. It’s going to be important to make clear the FEELING may be biologically based, and make NO comment on the stimuli leading to the feeling.” Even Urgesi et al refer to spirituality, in their introduction, as “a view of the human condition in transcendent contexts and in relation to unseen realities/supernatural agents” (italics mine). Continue reading