On Mark Regnerus and Research about Same-sex Child Rearing

I am on the fringes of a few circles in which there has been some flapping about “thought policing,” “witch hunts,” and “inquisitions” over the case of a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin. Mark Regnerus is being investigated by his university over questions of scientific integrity following an article he published that included data showing that adult children of same-sex couples have more emotional issues than children raised by heteronormatively “standard” couples.

I’m not really writing here about my stake in issues of academic freedom, or about the best way to characterize the investigation, and any comment I might make about the scientific integrity of the data would be speaking way, way outside my expertise. Rather, I’m writing about some of the assumptions that seem to underlie both sides of the conversation, assumptions that I noticed myself conspicuously not-sharing from the moment I read about the story.

Perhaps it shows just how long it’s been since I drank the critical-theory humanities kool-aid, but my first response upon reading about the whole thing was to wonder why people are so cranked up over this data in the first place. Both the de-bunkers and the defenders seem to share the premise that data of this kind (if not this data) could really show us whether same-sex couples ought to be raising children or not. Science will peel back the veil on nature and we’ll (finally) see for certain what sort of familial arrangement is most conducive to healthy children. That’s a falsely constrained and reductive view of “nature” and the “natural.”

The results of the study at hand just don’t seem all that surprising to me, given that our broader cultural context contains a lot of adamant voices insisting that same-sex couples raising children are not only statistically rare, but morally aberrant. Why should we expect kids to grow up without some maladjustment to society at large when, minimally—assuming that they aren’t bullied or otherwise excluded—their default awareness of the “way the world is” includes the knowledge that a significant segment of mainstream culture believes that their home and the love shared by their family is verboten? Or, on the other side, why should we be surprised when a study shows that growing up in a stable home with two parents grow up to be better adjusted than kids raised in less-stable single parent homes—irrespective of the orientation of the parents?

If it feels as if I’m being dismissive about the discipline of sociology generally, that’s not at all my intention. On some level it’s the nature of our cynical politics that wherever science touches down in issues such as this, it functions (for either side) largely as a political bludgeon, something concrete to lob at one’s ideological opponents. I get that. I think that the point of my frustration with the heat in this conversation is directed at: a) people’s expressions of surprise and anger that data like this should exist; and b) people’s convictions (whether stated or not) that data of this sort is not only a measurement of how things are, but is capable of telling us what we should do, how we ought to arrange our society. There seems to me to be a measure of pretense in the former, and a measure of backwards thinking in the latter.

On Stolen Laptops and the Banal Perils of Graduate School

There are greater tragedies in the world than this, obviously; losing one’s laptop and parts of one’s dissertation are the worst thing that can happen to a graduate student, but I’ve been joking to people that being a graduate student is already one of the worst things that can happen to a person, so the glass is half-empty either way. There’s a certain amount of truth to that: this experience has forced me to think about ways I can interface with the world not through a computer screen, and that’s important; I’m going to make this experience into something healthy, a way to re-focus my intellectual energies. But it’s also kind of a bitter joke. Being a graduate student is much more stressful and anxious than people often realize. The psychic and physical toll you pay is significant there are those costs again!, and the end when you face the seemingly non-existent employment prospects can be rough. I tell people starting out that they should expect to fuck up their backs, to maybe need or go on some kind of anti-anxiety medication, and to spend their twenties intimately aware of the price of peanut butter. Your ability to be a graduate student for the next 7-10 years will be totally contingent on finding new strategies to keep yourself healthy.

via A Breather — zunguzungu.wordpress.com

One of my favorite blogger-commentator-mandolin playing-manic-superheroes is drastically re-focusing his life after getting his computer stolen in the midst of writing his dissertation. But his explanation for his hiatus gives an excellent picture of the sorts of scars and troubles that one can expect from “the life of the mind”—at least the part where the mind is in grad school. My strategy (if one can call it that) of late has been more or less resignation. There are lots of kinds of “work” in the world, and I’ve chosen a good path with its own unique challenges. Graduate school—and academia more generally—has changed me in many ways, and many of them not for the better. But it’s good work, I’m at least reasonably proficient at it, and anything else I could do would likely only carry a different set of scars and neuroses. There is a kind of existential tyranny that can be overcome by thinking about a “job” rather than a “career.”

Postscript: If you’ve appreciated Aaron’s writings, you can pitch in to buy him a new laptop.

TODAY!: Of Miracles and Machines — Derrida and Religion

I should have thought to post this earlier, but if you in the NYC area today and looking for a good conversation, you should come by Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus for the following symposium on Derrida and Religion. The symposium is centered around a recently published book, Miracle and Machine by Michael Naas, who will be one of the speakers, along with Penelope Deutscher, Sarah Hammerschlag, and Martin Hägglund. There are, apparently, other things to do in New York City this afternoon, but this one will be hard to beat.

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Of Miracles and Machines

A Symposium on Derrida and Religion

Thursday March 22, 4:15–7:00 pm

12th Floor Lounge, Lowenstein Building ● Fordham University Lincoln Center Campus 60th and Columbus, New York City

To mark the publication of Michael Naas’s Miracle and Machine: Jacques Derrida and the Two Sources of Religion, Science, and the Media (Fordham UP, 2012), this symposium brings together four leading scholars from across the disciplines to debate Derrida’s continued relevance for religious thinking.

Speakers

Penelope Deutscher, Northwestern University ● Sarah Hammerschlag, Williams College

Martin Hägglund, Harvard University ● Michael Naas, DePaul University

Contact

Samir Haddad, sahaddad@fordham.edu

Sponsored by the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Theology, the Deans of the Arts and Sciences Council, and Fordham University Press.

This event is free and open to the public.

For More Information Miracle and Machine Jacques Derrida and the Two Sources of Religion, Science, and the Media Michael Naas

432 pages 978-0-8232-3998-6, paper, $30.00 $20.00 (Promo Code: Naas12)

To Order: http://www.fordhampress.com ● 800-451-7556

Sacred Topographies (or) Parks and Revelation

I would encourage you to distribute the following CFP far and wide, and put in a proposal yourself. This year’s conference promises to be an excellent event.

Photo by Angela Lau

Call for Papers :: 2012 Fordham Graduate Theology Conference

 “Places do not, of themselves, defile us, but the things done in the places (by which even the places themselves are defiled).” ~ Tertullian

“Places are fragmentary and inward-turning histories, pasts that others are not allowed to read, accumulated times that can be unfolded but like stories held in reserve, remaining in an enigmatic state, symbolizations encysted in the pain or pleasure of the body.” ~ Michel de Certeau

The Greek word for “place” – topos – carries with it all the ambiguities that modern theorists have come to see as embedded within the concept.  It is both the physical location and one’s orientation to it.  It is both the structural building and the office one holds within it.  And it can be both a reference to a particular part of the human body as well as an occasion or opportunity for that body to act.  Michel de Certeau distinguished the static, stable quality of a place (i.e. the sidewalk) from the malleable, productive, and performative quality of space (i.e. the pedestrian whose walking re-creates this “place” as her own “space”).  Put simply, topos represents the interplay between place and space.

The 2nd Annual Fordham Graduate Theology Conference seeks to investigate the ways in which religion both produces and has been produced by its understandings of space/place. The Theology Graduate Student Association at Fordham invites submissions from graduate students in the disciplines comprising religious studies and theology (and cognate fields).  Students whose research is primarily textual/biblical, sociological, historical, philosophical, ethical, or constructive are all invited to submit and attend. Examples of topics within the scope of the theme include (but are by no means limited to):

Shifting topographies: i.e. What are the ways in which immigration, forced migration, multiculturalism, empire and globalization impact religion’s construction of/by its spatiality? How does human embodiment and its topographical setting inform and give meaning to one another?

Structural topographies: How has religion been influenced by and contributed to an understanding of “constructed” space?  (e.g. the relationship of art and architecture to ritual and religious practice/identity; the appropriation of non-religious – “secular” or “profane” – space for “sacred” use; the mutually determinative relationship between religion and geography, etc.)

Abstracts of 500 words or less should be sent via email to fordhamtgsa@gmail.com by Monday, May 21st.

The conference will be held on Saturday, October 20th at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus in Manhattan. Papers of 15-20 minutes will be given by graduate students. The keynote address will be given by Professor and Chair of the Religion Department at Barnard College, Dr. Elizabeth Castelli. Complete conference schedule, keynote address theme, and other information to follow. Questions may be directed to fordhamtgsa@gmail.com.

Complete conference schedule and program to follow. More information available at the conference website

What is the Good of Education?

The argument in the piece below is considerably overdrawn at points—not least inasmuch as it carries out an impressively erudite level of analysis and social criticism which must be due, at least in part, to some pretty extraordinary educators. Aside from biting the hand from which food once came, Harris raises important questions about what education does. Specifically, he called into question two paradigms in which I freely admit that I am fully immersed. The first—actually a point made by the book under Harris’ review (Class Dissmissed by John Marsh)—is that education is a socio-political force that works toward equality. The assumption runs thus: if you are fed up with structural injustices that play out along race, class, or gender lines, then funding and supporting education is one of the best ways to begin to level the playing field. The second—a point which belongs to Harris himself—is that education teaches the critical reasoning skills that prevents bullies and tyrants from perpetrating terrible acts. Again, I think that Harris overdraws his argument a bit—surely things would not have been better in the run up to our invasion of Iraq if fewer people in the States were well-educated, but his point stands that education mostly allowed the enlightened left to cry wolf while the war machine rolled right on by.

Marsh, who depicts himself as a veteran of left-wing politics, should know better than to put much stock in teaching students to be critical media consumers. Recognizing and exposing the Bush administration’s falsehoods — as brash and obvious as they were frequent — didn’t do the left much good: It didn’t avert or halt the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, it didn’t stop the tax cuts for the wealthy, and it hasn’t forced us to confront climate change. With more public access to information than ever before, fact-checking can be a cinch, and well-funded nonprofit organizations and popular television shows have devoted themselves to exposing public lies using primary-source documents. But the plutocracy is as bad as ever. In a time when, as Marsh admits, the facts about inequality won’t make a bit of difference on the policy front, how does reading Macbeth help students protect themselves against tyranny?

via School’s Out Forever – The New Inquiry.

I commend the whole piece as a goad for further thought and reflection—mine included.

Fordham Graduate Theology Conference

If you happen to be a person who will be anywhere in the vicinity of New York City on April the 30th, I’d like to encourage you to attend the conference that I’m helping to organize on behalf of the graduate students of Fordham’s Theology Department.

In addition to the information in the flier above (which I’ve pasted below for those who don’t want to squint at the tiny, tilted text) there is a website for the conference which has been recently updated with lots of information—including the conference program and paper titles.

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Continue reading “Fordham Graduate Theology Conference”

Call for Papers :: Fordham Graduate Theology Conference

I’m helping to organize a regional graduate student conference that will take place at the end of April at the Lincoln Center campus of Fordham University, midtown Manhattan.

The call for papers is below; if you know of anyone who might be interested, please pass this along or print off a copy for yourself by clicking here: FGTC call for papers.

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:: Call for Papers ::

Marginal Persons and the Margins of Personhood

 

Fordham Graduate Theology Conference

Saturday April 30th, 2011

Fordham University, Lincoln Center, NYC

Keynote Address: Virginia Burrus (Drew University)

The Theology Graduate Student Association at Fordham warmly invites submissions from graduate students in the disciplines comprising religious studies and theology. Students whose research is primarily textual/biblical, sociological, historical, philosophical, ethical, or constructive are all invited to submit and attend. Examples of topics within the scope of the theme include:

The dynamics of marginalization: the involvement of religion in economic, political, or colonial exploitation/liberation; religious hybridity or self-location at margins; boundaries drawn with religious rhetoric—past and present; the exclusion and erasure of people from the historical record; the value, function, and criteria of orthodoxies and heresies.

The notion of ‘personhood’ in religious contexts: the definition and significance of personhood as a category; the propriety of conceiving of God as personal; controversy over the “persons” of the Trinity; the relation of animals and angels to personhood; the unique rights of persons, and the politics of recognizing personal rights; religion as a “personal matter,” not a public concern; personhood as rhetoric or ontology.

Abstracts, no longer than 350 words, should be sent via email to fordhamtgsa@gmail.com by Monday, March 21st.

Presentations will be 15-20 minutes, with subsequent time for questions/discussion. The conference will conclude with a keynote address from Virginia Burrus. Professor Burrus is a scholar of late-ancient Christianity at Drew University. She is a former president of the North American Patristics Society and the author or editor of eight books, including Saving Shame: Martyrs, Saints, and Other Abject Subjects and The Sex-Lives of Saints: An Erotics of Ancient Hagiography.

Complete conference schedule and further information will be available at the conference website (click here).  Questions may be directed to fordhamtgsa@gmail.com.