The festive season is a time when we’re confronted with the best and worst of ourselves as a society. But for academics, and particularly for those of us still toiling away in graduate school, the chance to reconnect with friends and family brings with it a formidable challenge—the perennial task of explaining, to the satisfaction of your interlocutor, what exactly it is that you study anyway, huh?
With the world more globalized and fields more interconnected than ever before, there is room for a détente between religion and academia. However, in my experience that has not been the case. In the two countries where I have interacted with and been a part of the academy, it is sometimes very clear that most academics, at least in the social sciences and humanities, tend to view religion with suspicion.
Several years ago, during a tenure-track search, I asked two questions – two questions which I ask of every scholar applying for a position with our institution. The first is innocent enough: “How important is racial/ethnic diversity in your scholarship and teaching?” Not surprisingly, all enthusiastically answer in the affirmative. Then I ask my second question: “Which scholars and/or books from racial and ethnic minorities do you include on your syllabus and why?” Here is when the squirming begins, revealing the candidate’s lack of academic rigor.
I have found that academia can offer a lower-class West Virginian from a single-mother family the chance to live an illusion. I have been able to travel countries, gain audiences of affluent scholars, and been given a platform for my voice that I would not have received outside of academia.
The university stands at a crossroad, and a decision is needed as to which direction it will go, whether it will cast off its foolish consistency in preserving the hegemonic forces that have arrested the development of the mind or renew itself as the last place to question and possibly upset the status quo.
I had found my calling. I wanted to be an academic. Little did I know that, more than a decade later, I would leave the profession because, like my time in Hollywood, I was not willing to play the game of sexual harassment or intimidation to accelerate my career.