My recent textbook signing is a wonderful treatment of creativity by Robert Weisberg (Temple University). This book joins two other innovative textbook signings from earlier this year—one for the psychology of adjustment course by Robert Innes and a second for the testing and measurement course by Lisa Hollis-Sawyer. I’m particularly excited to be working with pioneering psychologist Ravenna Helson(Professor Emerita UC Berkeley) and coauthor Valory Mitchell on a book that traces the evolution of Helson’s groundbreaking Mills Longitudinal Study.
New proposals have been keeping me busy. From a new textbook for the psychology of religion course, to a thoughtful and innovative look at the evolution of the self in the digital age, to a much needed new text for the psychology of the self course. I really want to hear from authors interested in reaching audiences in undergraduate and graduate psychology courses.
Are you specializing in a particular area of psychology?
Absolutely! The UC Press has traditionally championed books that examine social issues: race, class, gender, conflict, poverty, social justice, the environment, etc. The topics are well represented in our world-class sociology, criminology, history, anthropology, and other catalogs. Psychological science sheds an indispensable light here and I’m eager to work with authors who want their research to influence the national dialog. To that end, I welcome proposals for related textbooks, scholarly works and trade books.
Join Us—Become an Author and Meet Christopher at SPSP!
Interested in publishing your work with Christopher and UC Press? Contact Christopher at firstname.lastname@example.org set up a time to meet with him at SPSP.
In this post, we speak with Heather Lukacs, a PhD graduate of Stanford University’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources. Dr. Lukacs’s work focuses on community-based natural resource management with and for underserved rural communities. Her article “Risk, Uncertainty, and Institutional Failure in the 2014 West Virginia Chemical Spill” in Case Studies in the Environment, co-authored with Nicola Ulibarri and Nik Sawe, lays bare the many and varied failures that led to, and compounded, the 2014 chemical spill that tainted West Virginia’s drinking water supply.
UC Press: Heather, you are originally from West Virginia, and you were finishing your PhD at Stanford when a Freedom Industries storage tank spilled 10,000 gallons of crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM)—a chemical used to process coal—into West Virginia’s Elk River. That river is a major source of drinking water in the state. What happened next?
Heather Lukacs: On January 9, 2014, the governor of West Virginia, Earl Ray Tomblin, declared a state of emergency and issued a “do not use” notice to residents across a nine county area. As residents watched the evening news, they were told not to use their tap water for drinking, cooking, washing, or bathing. Fumes of toxic licorice hung in the air in Charleston—the state’s capital—as restaurants closed before dinnertime, bottled water supplies ran out, some residents left to stay with relatives in unaffected areas, and hundreds began asking questions on social media. Local news sources revealed the culprit—MCHM—a chemical used in the coal cleaning process. The chemical leaked from a storage facility into the Elk River less than one mile upstream of the intake for the regional drinking-water system. My Facebook account lit up with speculation about this chemical and its potential risks. What is MCHM? How dangerous is it? Why can we not even wash our clothes in it? Who is responsible? Are my children going to be okay? US Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) called for a full investigation from the Chemical Safety Board, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies. As speculation on social media persisted, I asked myself—would this chemical spill have long-term consequences for the health of local residents or for government policy related to drinking water? Or would we awake on the morning of January 10, 2014, to find that the smell had gone away and be told that the chemical was not toxic and we could safely drink our water again. One interesting part of this case study to me is that there is still so much that is unresolved about this case and also about the long-term safety of drinking water in the United States.
UC Press: After the drinking-water ban was lifted in the affected areas, Governor Tomblin was asked at a press conference, “Should we be drinking the water?” He responded, “It’s your decision. If you do not feel comfortable drinking or cooking with this water then use bottled water. I’m not going to say absolutely, 100 percent that everything is safe. But what I can say is if you do not feel comfortable, don’t use it.” What does the governor’s response say about the larger issues at play here?
Heather Lukacs: How do we as individuals and as a society determine what levels of a contaminant are “safe” for consumption of drinking water? Governor Tomblin’s words are poignant in that he acknowledges that all the experts could not tell the general public that their water was safe. He put the burden of the decision about drinking the water on each individual resident and recognized that there was uncertainty. Federal and state regulations determine the legal levels of many contaminants allowed in drinking water, yet the chemical MCHM was (and is still) not a regulated chemical, so there was no established legal level.
UC Press: How did decide to distill what you learned about the WV chemical spill into a case study?
Heather Lukacs: During the first months after the chemical spill, I taught a version of this case study in a couple of different college classes related to risk perception and environmental ethics. Many of the broader themes resonated with different audiences. In the summer of 2014, I co-developed the written form of the case study with two fellow Stanford PhD students, Nik Sawe (now a Research Associate and Lecturer at Stanford University) and Nicola Ulibarri (now an Assistant Professor at UC Irvine’s School of Social Ecology) at a National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) workshop on teaching case studies. The workshop helped us refine our case, and afterward Cynthia Wei from SESYNC encouraged us to submit to Case Studies in the Environment. Ultimately, we wanted to spread the word about the systemic failures that created the conditions for a chemical spill to taint WV’s drinking water. We hoped others would learn from this case and prevent similar failures in the future and in other places.
UC Press: In your work on water-justice issues, you are both a researcher and an environmental practitioner. What benefits are there for practitioners in publishing their work as case studies?
Heather Lukacs: Sharing the on-the-ground work of community-based environmental practice, from the perspective of practitioners, is immensely important. As environmental practitioners, we understand the issues and are connected to affected communities in ways that outside researchers are not. We chose to publish our work in the form of a case study to add to the peer-reviewed literature on environmental policy and resource management in a way that is accessible and easy to digest. The peer review process added legitimacy to our analysis. The ultimate goal of publishing this case study is to highlight challenges and opportunities in the provision of safe drinking water, which is one of my primary motivations.
UC Press: Where are we now with the WV chemical spill? And outside of WV, are there more hopeful developments on the horizon?
Heather Lukacs: This whole process revealed the gaps in our governance system for safe drinking water. There are so many important questions raised by the events in WV: What are our perceptions of risk? How do we define safe water? Who defines safe water? And how are these risks and protections communicated effectively, in an environment where people increasingly mistrust their drinking water? We still have a long way to go as a society to ensure universal access to safe water. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, a deadline recently passed for claimants to join a class-action suit for damages to people and businesses affected by the spill. Where I now work in California, there is a movement to establish drinking-water standards for chemicals not regulated at the national level, such as the pesticide 1,2,3,-Trichloropropane, from agricultural runoff. And for the first time in its history, California now regulates groundwater at the state level through the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. That legislation provides local communities with the authority to establish their own groundwater agencies and implement their own regulatory schemes and monitoring. So there are glimmers of hope, but there is still a lot of work to do.
Case Studies in the Environment is a journal of peer-reviewed case-study articles, case-study pedagogy articles, and a repository for editor-reviewed case-study slides. The journal informs faculty, students, educators, professionals, and policymakers on case studies and best practices in the environmental sciences and studies.
What advice would you give to an author who wants to communicate broadly?
Think about the book that needs to be read, not just the book that you want to write.
Know your audience and write for that reader. Imagine your readers in terms of their experiences, motivations, educational or professional background, memberships, reading and writing habits. How are you going to engage them? How do you want them to think or act differently after reading your book?
And the book is obviously just one method of communicating to a particular audience. Join the conversation wherever it may be taking place: on Twitter or Facebook, op-ed pages, your regional society’s newsletter. Leverage your networks, speak and write widely, connect with your campus public relations staff—these are all strategies for accumulating visibility for your work as a whole, not just your latest book.
What are the ways that author and publishers define impact?
I love that this year’s ACJS conference theme is “So What?” It’s a question I always ask authors, not to be dismissive, but to get at solutions, which are at the heart of engaged scholarship. At UC Press, we strongly believe in the power of scholarship to achieve social transformation, and we seek to position our authors as change agents whose research can influence the ways we think and plan and govern.
There are lots of incremental and mutually reinforcing elements of “impact” beyond the traditional citation count. Authors work in a whole ecosystem of ideas brimming with countless potential amplifiers and influencers: news media coverage, blogs and social media, podcasts and Ted talks, legislative hearings…the list is endless. Last week alone our authors and books were mentioned in outlets that reached more than 60 million potential viewers, and each one of those hits can help shape public opinion or pave the way for better policies and practices around a host of issues.
Book reviews or sales might register some key indicators of impact, but they aren’t the whole story. We also think about impact across the academy (can open access business models drive awareness and usage of research monographs amid declining print sales and library budgets?) and in the classroom (can we develop a textbook that disrupts the way a class may have been taught, uncritically and unchanged, for years?).
What are some upcoming books that illustrate the real-world impact of your authors’ research?
James Garbarino’s Miller’s Children: Why Giving Teenage Killers a Second Chance Matters for All of Us takes us up close in the lives of people who have committed horrific murders while juveniles. Though sentenced to life without parole, they were granted the possibility a second chance when the Supreme Court ruled such sentences unconstitutional (Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana). Yet when Garbarino interviewed these young men written off as monsters, he discovered their extraordinary capacity for rehabilitation and redemption. Exploring the science of how young brains can be rewired for second chances, and offering an entire chapter on “Translating Hope into Law and Practice,” Garbarino clearly demonstrates how law and policy can chip away at cycles of violence.
Kathleen Fox, Jodi Lane, and Susan Turner’s Encountering Correctional Populations: A Practical Guide for Researchers promises to be a practical toolkit for academics and practitioners alike who are interested in research with people in jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities and on probation or parole. With soaring numbers of Americans caught up in the correctional system—and increasing difficulties for researchers seeking to gain access to them—it’s more important than ever to develop research that “gives voice to the voiceless.” This kind of step-by-step guide is filled with real-world examples, tips, and templates that readers can put to immediate use.
The list goes on, and we’re thrilled to count so many engaged and activist scholars on the list who relentlessly pursue a research agenda that can help to identify and eradicate social inequalities.
UCP: Dr. Nina Hall, you worked with a research team evaluating wind farm development in Australia. Renewable energy sources are broadly popular with the public. Given this support, why have wind farm development initiatives sometimes gone wrong?
NH: We investigated the many ways that companies developing and operating wind farms in Australia engage with local communities. Certainly many factors can influence the way that a community responds to a wind-farm proposal. However, we did find that over the long term, face-to-face communication and relationship-building activities through trusted representatives have a huge impact on the support that communities voice for local projects.
UCP: What concerns do local communities express about wind-farm developments, and how can those concerns be addressed?
NH: We found that understanding each community—each of which is different—was really important. And then it’s important to respond to community concerns in a collaborative way. For example, wind-farm developers can provide the community with a say in how decisions are made, being clear about how the community can influence the design or operation of a development. Also if developers give communities a stake in a project or some kind of ownership—financial or otherwise—such actions are big influencers in resolving concerns about a project. I should note that we saw some fantastic examples where companies had success by being flexible in their approach, taking a big-picture approach, and trying new ways of doing things that were focused on face-to-face communication and relationship building.
UCP: Your research focuses on wind development, but I was struck by the contrast between your formula for successful renewable energy development (context/trust/people/face-to-face interactions/community influence) and the approach that theenergy company Corridor Resources took with their secrecy and lack of engagement around an offshore exploration and development project in Canada’s Old Harry Prospect. Beyond renewables, do you think there are lessons for the broader energy-development sector?
NH: Sure. You are likely right in that many lessons from this research could be considered in other large infrastructure developments. In particular, one clear outcome from our research was that a large, visible project does not necessarily mean less community support. The way engagement is carried out and how you work with the local community can have a dramatic impact on local support and should not be overlooked. In our research projects, we saw that engagement that focused on openness, inclusivity, and less secrecy certainly yielded positive results.
Case Studies in the Environment is a journal of peer-reviewed case-study articles, case-study pedagogy articles, and a repository for editor-reviewed case-study slides. The journal informs faculty, students, educators, professionals, and policymakers on case studies and best practices in the environmental sciences and studies.
A version of this post was originally published in conjunction with the book’s publication date. This post is republished to reflect on Oprah’s speech at the 2018 #GoldenGlobes.
Have you heard the good news? If you’ve been at all exposed to popular culture over the last two decades, chances are you’ve heard it—the message of Oprah’s gospel, that is. For the UC Press Podcast, we interview Kathryn Lofton, author of the Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon. Lofton, a professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at Yale University, finds in Oprah’s empire—Harpo Productions, O Magazine, and her new television network—an uncanny reflection of religion in modern society.
In this podcast, Lofton shares insights about Oprah’s message (the star of your own life is YOU!), her cheerful collaboration with capitalism, and the historical moment that made her incredible acendancy possible. Lofton also ponders whether Oprah is a uniquely American phenomenon, examining women of other nationalities who purport to be their own country’s “Oprah”. Finally, she addresses what will come of the O media empire once Oprah herself is no longer around to spread the message.
In this post, Daniel Bourgault, professor and researcher of physical oceanography at Institut des sciences de la mer de Rimouski in Quebec, Canada, talks about the difficulties environmental researchers can run into when commercial interests withhold environmental data.
DB: We don’t really know, but it would be surprising that there would be significant amounts of oil naturally seeping out of the seafloor of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence has been studied and monitored for many decades by oceanographers, including chemists, geologists, biologists and physicists. If oceanographers had ever found any indications or had serious suspicions of the presence of natural oil in the seawater of the Gulf of St. Lawrence it would certainly have been reported. Yet, there is nothing in the scientific literature that points at any such evidence. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so the possibility cannot be completely ruled out either. The only indications we have are provided by the oil company Corridor Resources who have been stating for about the last 15 years in their publicly available annual reports that they have indications from satellite images that there are six sites around the Old Harry prospect that would naturally and permanently seep oil. Under some circumstances, satellite images may indeed reveal the presence of oil at the sea surface. Think for example of large incidents such as the Deep Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico where surface oil slicks could easily be detected from space. In some cases, the oil detected from satellite images could also come from natural seafloor seeps if the oil is light enough to float all the way to the sea surface and if the amount released is large enough to be detected by satellite images. However, while this information might be credible, it cannot be independently verified since the satellite data and analyses that Corridor Resources hold are kept secret in the name of “commercial sensitivity”. Unambiguously identifying oil seeps from satellite images is not a trivial task by itself. Plus, determining the source of the seeps and whether the source is natural or not is really difficult and can rarely be done with satellite images only. So we are puzzled as to how Corridor Resources could have concluded that there were six oil seeps around the Old Harry prospect based only on an analysis of satellite images.
What does it mean when data is “commercially sensitive?”
DB: The specific meaning of this expression varies from state to state, and it depends on how it is defined in laws and case law. But in general, it means that the industry, or government, considers that publicly disclosing the information may result in a material loss to, or a prejudice to its competitive position. Basically, it implies that the potential harm resulting from the disclosure outweighs the public interest in making the disclosure. In our case study, it’s not clear to us why the information is judged to be commercially sensitive by Corridor Resources or Airbus Defence and Space (i.e. the consultant who actually carried out the analyses and provided the data). What appears to us to be paradoxical is that Corridor Resources publicly discloses the main conclusion of their private study, i.e. that they have apparently found evidence that there are six persistent oil seep sites around the Old Harry prospect (they’ve even presented a map of the location of those six seeps), but can decline to – and indeed cannot be forced to – present the data and analyses that support this conclusion. We wonder what material loss or prejudice could result from presenting the data and the method that the conclusions wouldn’t already? One possibility could be that Corridor may lose potential investments and take a hit on their share value if the conclusion is demonstrated as false or weak.
From an environmental point of view, the information about whether or not the Gulf of St. Lawrence naturally seeps oil is fundamental to know. Such information is needed in order to construct a reliable baseline initial state against which any new man-made oil contribution resulting from eventual oil and gas development could be compared with, and impacts on the marine environment, ecosystem, and people be then truly assessed.
In this context, we propose that it might appear sensible to label some information as “socially sensitive” or “environmentally sensitive” to balance the existing “commercially sensitive” information.
What is the most surprising thing you found when communicating with Corridor Resources or with Airbus Defence and Space in order to gain access to the data behind their claims about Old Harry prospect?
DB: How long it took to obtain answers! The questions we initially asked were simple and straightforward and could really have been answered in a week or so. Yet, the process took 9 months, from 20 July 2015 until 26 April 2016.
For example, here’s an excerpt of the first email I sent to Corridor Resources:
20 July 2015
I recently came across a document published by Corridor in 2011 that tells that evidence were found from satellite images of oil seeps emanating from the flanks of Old Harry.
Corridor’s annual reports also tells that six such seeps had been detected. For example, we can read in the 2000 annual report that: “Six natural oil seeps have been detected on the ocean surface by satellite, emanating from the flanks of this prospect.” I find this information very interesting and very relevant and I’d like to learn more. Could you please send me more information? Could you please send me the satellites images that were analyzed as well as a report that tells how these images were analyzed and interpreted? That would be greatly appreciated.
I then had to send two reminders to finally receive a first response on September 2, 43 days later. I received a short response telling me that the data were proprietary information and that Corridor Resources was not at liberty to distribute them.
I immediately acknowledge the receipt and asked a few more questions on September 2. Again, I had to wait another 40 days to get a response (on October 12). It has been like this for 9 months.
But again, as I mentioned above, what I find most surprising is that Corridor Resources is at the liberty to publicly share the conclusion of the analyses but not the data or the method.
Does the public have a right to access environmental data?
DB: In general, at least in Canada and in the US, a lot of environmental data are publicly available. For example, the St. Lawrence Global Observatory (https://ogsl.ca/en) portal offers to anyone a lot of basic environmental data for the Gulf of St. Lawrence such as air temperature, wind conditions, sea temperature, salinity, currents, dissolved oxygen, sea level and much more. Some satellite images are also publicly and freely available from the US or Europe. However, some very specialized data sets and analyses are not always publicly available, especially when those data are owned by the private sector. For example, the oil seeps detection analyses carried out by Airbus Defence and Space for Corridor Resources on specialized satellite images are not publicly available.
In our paper, we introduce the idea that under some special circumstances of public interest, the public should have the right to access specialized environmental data in the name of an alternative concept we could call “socially sensitive” or “environmentally sensitive information or data.” This could balance the rights of the public to know and the right of the industry to secrecy. At the moment, the laws and regulations usually give precedence to the right to secrecy, but the balance sheet of the industry is not the only thing we should protect.
Case Studies in the Environment is a journal of peer-reviewed case study articles, case study pedagogy articles, and a repository for editor-reviewed case study slides. The journal aims to inform faculty, students, educators, professionals, and policymakers on case studies and best practices in the environmental sciences and studies.
Through December 31, 2017, all Case Studies in the Environment content is available free. To learn more about the journal, please visit cse.ucpress.edu.
The events in Charlottesville this past weekend drew international attention to the increasing number of hate groups in the United States, and left many wondering: what draws people into white extremist groups? What ideologies motivate these recruits? And finally, is there hope that people will leave these groups?
Michael Kimmel, the SUNY Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, is one of the world’s leading experts on men and masculinities. In his forthcoming book, Healing from Hate: How Young Men Get Into—and Out of—Violent Extremism, Dr. Kimmel examines young recruits of violent extremist groups, and unveils how white extremist groups wield masculinity to recruit and retain members—and also prevent members from exiting the movement. Watch an interview with Dr. Kimmel and hear his response to the tragic events in Virginia.
Based on in-depth interviews with ex-white nationalists and neo-Nazis in the United States, as well as ex-skinhead and neo-Nazis in Germany and Sweden, Kimmel sheds light on these young white men’s feelings—yet clearly make no excuses for their actions. Healing From Hate reminds us of their efforts to exit the movement and reintegrate themselves into society, and is a call to action to help others to turn around and to do the same.
The Official Book Series of the North American Patristics Society
This Q & A is the first post in a blog series related to Christianity in Late Antiquity and published in conjunction with the conference of the North American Patristics Society, which meets May 25-27 in Chicago. Stay tuned for more guest contributions from authors in the series. #NAPS2017
Christianity in Late Antiquity presents outstanding new scholarship on late-ancient Christianity in its various cultural contexts. The series represents the full range of approaches to early Christianity practiced by scholars in North America and internationally, combining the best of theological analysis and institutional history with newer approaches in social history, material culture, liturgical studies, and gender studies. Its geographical and linguistic purview includes the Mediterranean world, North Africa, Northern Europe, Arabia, and the Levant.
As the North American Patristics Society convenes this week in Chicago, we asked editor Christopher Beeley to discuss the series, his own research, and how these titles will contribute to the field of early Christian studies.
What inspired you to develop the Christianity in Late Antiquity series?
Several years ago I noticed that something important was missing. The field of early Christian studies was growing in very creative ways in North America, both numerically and in terms of new perspectives, but there was no standard, general series at an American press that one would immediately think of. So I proposed to the North American Patristics Society—our main academic association—that we recreate the Society’s official book series, which once played a vital role, to reflect the full range of methodological approaches being practiced by North American scholars, and to launch a new initiative with a major American university press. That led to the conversion of the Patristic Monograph Series to the new Christianity in Late Antiquity (CLA) series with the University of California Press. There was much energy among the senior membership of NAPS as well as younger scholars, and we have since seen a great deal of interest in the series.
Can you tell us more about your research interests and areas of expertise?
My favorite thing about the early Christian studies scene in North America is that, while we certainly have our squabbles and debates, people of different and often overlapping methodological approaches work alongside one another in what are usually creative and mutually-beneficial ways. This has not always been the case in other academic associations, regrettably. The interdisciplinarity of NAPS and the conversation we enjoy is an incredible asset, and the new series reflects that. As the series editor I work with authors with very different interests.
I have studied and taught early Christianity for over twenty years, and I am interested in numerous aspects of the period. Thus far I have concentrated on the development of early Christian theology, spirituality, and biblical interpretation, and I pay close attention to the construction of authority by theologians and church councils, the way early Christian writers position themselves rhetorically, and their nearly constant concern for practical matters of individual and social ethics. I have learned a great deal from my colleagues working in similar and different areas, and I am glad to have received their responses to my work as well.
What sets the titles in Christianity in Late Antiquity apart from other books in the field?
What distinguishes CLA from the other outlets is the broad and integrative quality of the work it represents. We don’t simply publish works that represent a wide range of perspectives individually, but we aim to present books that integrate them in new and creative ways. The first two volumes do this in spades.
Yonatan Moss’ Incorruptible Bodies examines the sixth-century debate over the nature of Christ’s human body—in particular, whether is was incorruptible prior to the resurrection or not—but it does so by examining how that question gets played out in the social and political configurations surrounding the major players. There are both old-school historical dividends and new-school theoretical perspectives involved. Moss shows not only that Bishop Severus of Antioch, the great patriarch of the non-Chalcedonian church in Syria, preferred to remain in alliance with the emerging Byzantine empire, despite his opposition to the fractious Council of Chalcedon—a fact that has eluded previous scholars—but Moss also sheds light on how the ecclesial bodies of the rival communities around Severus show different social dynamics in relation to their stance on Christ’s body. It’s fascinating.
Andrew Jacobs’ brilliant new study of the fourth-century bishop and heresy-hunter Epiphanius of Cyprus likewise gives us new details of Epiphanius’ life and works along with a very contemporary new perspective on the phenomenon of his wide influence. By attending to ecclesiastical power structures and making use of modern celebrity studies, Jacobs accounts for Epiphanius’ amazing success at network-building while also giving serious attention to his biblical interpretation and dogmatic theology. The result is a whole new picture of an important early Christian bishop who is typically overlooked as a person in preference for the otherwise lost sources by other authors that he transmits.
Our third volume, Melania, a collection of studies of the influential aristocratic ascetics Melania the Elder and Melania the Younger and their family and friends, opens new doors in the study of late-ancient Christian spirituality and social history. And we have several new books currently in production of equal promise: on early Christian Syriac poetry, fourth-century Greek ascetical theology, early Christian historiography, and Latin inscriptions.
How do you see the series influencing scholarship in your field?
I expect CLA is going to influence the field of early Christian studies—in North America and internationally—by presenting the sort of pioneering integrative scholarship that North American scholars have come to be known for. While we continue to practice the more traditional modes of study, such as historical theology and institutional history, we bring to these subjects new questions and new forms of inquiry that will yield insight in multiple directions. As the largest society among our international peers, the North American Patristics Society and our associates are poised to give new shape to the field of early Christian studies, and to make important contributions in several others fields as well, from late-ancient history to systematic theology to cultural studies.
Christopher Beeley is Professor of Christian theology and history and modern Anglican tradition at Yale Divinity School. He is the author of Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today, The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition, and Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God, which was the winner of a John Templeton Award for Theological Promise. An Episcopal priest, he has served parishes in Connecticut, Indiana, Texas, and Virginia, and he contributes to Berkeley Divinity School’s Anglican formation program.
In Shari’ah on Trial: Northern Nigeria’s Islamic Revolutionauthor and scholar of Islam Sarah Eltantawi gives a powerful account of how in 1999 Northern Nigerians reached a point of desperation that they took to the streets to demand the return of the strictest possible shari’ah law. Analyzing changing conceptions of Islamic theology and practice as well as Muslim and British interactions dating back to the colonial period, Eltantawi explains the resurgence of shari’ah in Nigeria and the implications for Muslim-majority countries around the world.
In this Q & A, Eltantawi discusses the case of Amina Lawal — the Nigerian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery — that inspired her to write the book, along with the fieldwork and research she conducted to understand the case, and her thoughts on the many perspectives of shari’ah law.
Muslim societies in African countries are generally understudied, which makes your scholarship all that much more important today. Can you tell us what led you to this project? How did Nigeria become the focus of your research?
Sarah Eltantawi: On one level, I took on this project because I could not get the trial of Amina Lawal out of my head. In 2002 when Lawal was first sentenced to death by stoning for extra-marital sex, I was working in Washington DC doing what I think of as “post-9-11 triage” for the American Muslim community. On one particular day I was in a meeting of major civil rights leaders when my phone would not stop ringing with media calls. The Lawal case had exploded in the US. Two things immediately struck me as noteworthy about all the attention this case was getting. The first is that this was the same moment the Iraq war was being prepared, and rather than having a sustained national conversation about the deaths that would surely ensure from that war, there seemed to be a collective refocusing on this one case of “African” “Muslim” barbarity against one woman. At the same time, those I consulted about this case and the stoning punishment in the American Muslim leadership seemed to totally dismiss the case as something that “just happened in Africa.”
I knew this could not be true (or was it?), because I knew stoning for adultery was legal under some circumstances in Islamic law (I would later find out that stoning for adultery was virtually unheard of in Islamic history until the 20th century — which is why I call stoning a post-modern/post-colonial phenomena). In short, I sensed that many different actors were projecting a number of interesting things onto this case and my fascination with it took hold and grew. Continue reading “5 Questions About the Resurgence of Shari’ah Law in Nigeria”→
Much of the most exciting contemporary work in American Studies refuses the distinction between politics and culture — focusing on historical cultures of power and protest on the one hand, or the political importance of cultural practices, on the other. We are excited to announce American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present, a series publishing titles that cover these political and cultural intersections, exploring the ways the events of our past continue to shape our present.
American Studies Now publishes short, timely books on significant political and cultural events while such teachable moments are at the center of public conversation.
We spoke with editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez to discuss the goals of American Studies Now and how these books can be usedin the classroom and beyond.
What inspired you to develop the American Studies Now series?
Lisa Duggan: We need new ways to publish and distribute the work of American Studies scholars. The monograph and the journal article have a crucial role in our field, but they aren’t serving us well in the undergraduate classroom. And they aren’t putting our work into circulation in the pressing, scary political present. This new series is one new way to address those needs — short, accessible books on Black Lives Matter, climate change, neoliberalism, BDS, the continuing urban crisis, indigenous politics, queer and trans issues, the crises in higher education and more. They are designed to provide timely, provocative analysis for teaching, for activism, and for engagement now.
The series is described as “critical histories of the present” — could you elaborate on what this means?
Curtis Marez: Given the constant rush and hum of information in our social media saturated worlds, it’s easy to get stuck in the here and now in ways that make it difficult to take a critical perspective on where we are and how we got there. So American Studies Now reflects not only the urgency of the questions raised by each volume in the series but also suggests what we mean by critical histories of the present — scholarship that helps readers think about contemporary problems in terms of their larger historical, social, and cultural significance.
Why the need to publish on a short schedule?
LD: We want to counter the long, slow publication process and relatively narrow circulation of most academic publishing with an option designed for speed and impact, on the timeclock of the political present. Offering broad context provided by deeply knowledgeable American Studies scholars, these books can contribute to classroom and public discussions on issues that matter now.
How will these books contribute to the field of American Studies?
CM: Each book brings American Studies concepts and methods to the analysis of vital contemporary social movements. Authors build on and rethink the field’s historical social movement focus by foregrounding a host of contemporary grassroots movements such as Black Lives Matter, student movements, and movements for sexual justice. At the same time, American Studies Nowpresents critical accounts of dominant social movements such asthe movement to privatize higher education and to silence dissent; the law and order movement supporting the expansion of police power; climate justice; and the movement for free market fundamentalism that informs contemporary state policies.