Proposed Treatment for Genetic Diseases Raises Issues

Research that some believe could lead to the creation of “designer babies” has raised a number of ethical issues, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has scheduled a hearing later this month to consider them, NPR reports.

The research in question would make changes to some of the genetic material in a woman’s egg, and thereby, the scientists hope, prevent genetically transmitted diseases from being passed down through the generations, NPR reports.

To address some of the ethical changes raised by the research, NPR turns for comment to Dartmouth’s Ronald Green, a professor of religion, the Eunice and Julian Cohen Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values.

Black-Jewish Relations at Their Best

In a story about the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, The Washington Post takes a look at how recent events commemorating the 1963 march have evoked memories of the relations between African Americans and Jews, groups closely aligned in the early days of the civil rights movement.

Dartmouth’s Susannah Heschel, who attended the 50th anniversary event on August 28, tells the Post that the movement’s shift since the 1960s has affected relations between Jews and African Americans.

The two groups’ relations have changed from one based in churches to one active mostly in courts and legislatures, reducing the “religious dimension,” she tells the Post. “It was the religious dimension that brought us together. What does it mean to link arms and sing We Shall Overcome? Is that political or spiritual?”

Heschel, the Eli Black Professor in Jewish Studies in Dartmouth’s Department of Religion, is the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a philosopher who marched with King in Selma, Ala.

The March on Washington: Promise and Reality

In an opinion piece published by the Valley News, Professor Randall Balmer says the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington celebrates “the high-water mark of the civil rights movement” while pointing out how much remains to be done to banish discrimination and achieve racial equality.

Balmer, chair of the Department of Religion and the Mandel Family Professor in the Arts & Sciences, says that 50 years later, racial equality remains elusive.

“The March on Washington was a transcendent moment in American history, a day marked by celebration and determination and soaring rhetoric. Fifty years later, however, we still have a long way to go to redeem Martin Luther King’s dream,” he writes.

A subscription is needed to read the full opinion piece, published 8/25/13 by the Valley News.

Professor Calls Pope’s Comments on Gays ‘Significant’

Pope Francis drew huge crowds during his recent visit to Brazil, and then made headlines for saying he had no right to judge homosexuals, a remark he made during an 80-minute press conference aboard the flight back to Rome.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said, using the English word “gay” though speaking primarily in Italian. Photos taken on the papal airplane showed the pontiff looking relaxed as he added, “the tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem.  . . . They’re our brothers.”

While Vatican experts pointed out that Francis’ comments did not advocate acting on homosexual tendencies, and were not a departure from the church’s official views, Chair of the Department of Religion Randall Balmer says the pontiff’s remarks are noteworthy.

Professor Ohnuma on Buddhism and Nature of Mothering

It was while researching stories about the Buddha literally giving away his body parts to humans in need that Reiko Ohnuma began to think about motherhood. A mother herself, Ohnuma, associate professor of religion at Dartmouth since 1999, says the stories of extreme self-sacrifice struck her as “very similar to the intensely physical nature of mothering.”

In fact, she characterizes motherhood as the “most appropriate metaphor” for the Buddha and his teachings. Mothers represent love, self-sacrifice, and compassion. Yet, because mothers direct these feelings toward their children rather than all people, they represent the very opposite of the Buddha’s exhortations to love everyone equally. This contradiction is at the heart of Ohnuma’s book Ties That Bind: Maternal Imagery and Discourse in Indian Buddhism, published last year by Oxford University Press.

Professor Heschel Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

Susannah Heschel, the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies in Dartmouth’s Department of Religion, and Cleopatra Mathis, the Frederick Sessions Beebe ’35 Professor of the Art of Writing in the Department of English, are among 175 scholars in the United States and Canada who have been awarded 2013 fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

The Guggenheims are frequently characterized as “midcareer” awards. Heschel and Mathis were selected from a group of nearly 3,000 applicants “on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise,” according to the foundation’s website.

Adrian Randolph, associate dean of the faculty for the arts and humanities, says he was delighted that the Guggenheim Foundation chose to honor two of Dartmouth’s esteemed teacher-scholars.

A Snapshot From St. Peter’s Square

Professor Christopher MacEvitt, an associate professor of religion, is in Rome this week preparing for a spring course he is teaching on sacred cities. He was in St. Peter’s Square on March 17, 2013, to hear Pope Francis deliver a Sunday prayer and greeting from the balcony of the papal apartments and he sent to Dartmouth Now his impression of the day:

“I attended today’s Angelus prayer at St. Peter’s, along with thousands upon thousands of other pilgrims and Romans. The piazza was entirely filled, with people lined all the way down the Via della Conciliazione.

“The Angelus prayer is a short one, and his own remarks were equally brief, but the crowd was enormously excited to see him.  People had brought flags and banners to wave, and some broke in to tears as he spoke.

“The Angelus coincided with the running of the Rome marathon, so the whole city was out on the streets for one event or another.  I am attaching a few pictures so that you might get sense of the crowds and atmosphere!”

Papal Conclave Takes New Route to the Ancient Ways

Editor’s note: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was picked Wednesday, March 13, 2013, as the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. The first non-European pope in 1,200 years, he will be called Pope Francis.

In the days before the Conclave entered the Sistine Chapel to choose a new pope to succeed Benedict XVI, the first pope to resign his office in nearly 600 years, Dartmouth’s Randall Balmer, the Mandel Family Professor of Arts and Sciences and chair of the Department of Religion, and Christopher MacEvitt, an associate professor of religion, talked with Dartmouth Now about the process of picking the new pope.

With Cardinals entering the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope, the spectacle of the conclave merges a centuries-old script with spur-of-the-moment improv, but the likelihood of a radical reformer emerging from the gathering is very slim, observers say.

Faculty Forum: Randall Balmer

Faculty members share their insights on current events with Dartmouth Now in a question-and-answer series called Faculty Forum. This week, Randall Balmer talks about the role of religion in the presidential race.

A prize-winning historian and Emmy Award nominee, Professor Randall Balmer chairs the Department of Religion. He taught at Columbia University for 27 years and was a visiting professor at Dartmouth before joining the faculty full-time on July 1, 2012. Balmer has published widely in both scholarly journals and the popular press, and has written more than a dozen books.

Medieval Academy of America Awards Book Prize

Christopher MacEvitt, an associate professor of religion, has been awarded the Medieval Academy’s John Nicholas Brown Prize for his book The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance.

The John Nicholas Brown Prize is awarded annually for a “first book or monograph on a medieval subject judged by the selection committee to be of outstanding quality.” The recognition from the Medieval Academy was an honor and an unexpected surprise, says MacEvitt. “The fact that so many other truly wonderful books have won the same prize in the past is quite humbling.”

MacEvitt, who specializes in the history of medieval Christian communities, developed the framework of the book through his travels and reading.  “Wherever I went in Jordan, Syria, and Turkey I found castles, cities, and churches remaining from the crusader period, and clustered nearby were still-vibrant Christian communities,” he explains. “I began to wonder how these two groups of Christians viewed each other, one group coming from Europe as conquerors, and the other a deeply-rooted local community.”