Catharine Randall on "The Wisdom of Animals"

Senior Lecturer Catharine Randall's latest book, The Wisdom of Animals: Creatureliness in Early Modern French Spirituality, has just been published by the University of Notre Dame Press. Tom Conley, Abbot Lawrence Lowell Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard, comments, “Here is a book that breathes and inspires: terse and compelling, every page written with flair and force, The Wisdom of Animals reaches into the past to remind us that we are animals and that we must commit our faith to the world that, by no casual miracle, it is a gift for us to inhabit."

The Legacy of a Nazi Church

A group that includes an imam, a rabbi, and a minister plans to build a multi-faith prayer space atop the ruins of St. Peter’s Church in Berlin, but critics say the group is ignoring the site’s “horrific past,” The Atlantic writes.

Noted German historian Manfred Gailus has brought attention to the site’s history, says the magazine, including the notoriously anti-Semitic pastor of the church during the 1940s, Walter Hoff, and his role in the Holocaust.

Gailus’ academic colleague, Professor of Religion Susannah Heschel, who holds the Eli Black Professorship in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth, corroborates Gailus’ view of the pastor. Heschel tells the magazine, “Up until the 1980s, when American historians started to investigate the role of German churches in National Socialism, German church historians only focused on the resistance movement. Their story was that the Church was opposed to Hitler. And it wasn’t. Some members opposed Hitler, but many did not—many pastors actively backed Hitler.”

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.