2017-2018 Alumni Newsletter is here!

2017-2018 Alumni Newsletter is here!

From the Department Head

In addition to our faculty accomplishments, we are especially pleased to see our students’ success both at JMU and beyond. Students in Dr. Kilby’s classes were able to visit a local Buddhist retreat center; Dr. Hawk helped prepare two students for an Ethics Bowl competition; and numerous faculty supervised students as they pursued independent research projects. It is our time with you over the years that has given us some of our greatest memories of JMU, and we are lucky to have (and to have had) such a dedicated and inquisitive group of majors and minors.

We are also happy to welcome two new faculty members: Dr. Rahel Fischbach is a specialist in Islam, and Ms. Liseli Fitzpatrick is a Preparing Future Faculty fellow who is finishing up her dissertation at Ohio State while she does some teaching for us. We introduce you to both of them below.

There is some sad news as well, unfortunately. Dr. Iain Maclean passed away this summer, and Dr. Kirk’s thoughts on our colleague and friend are shared below. Though he no longer fills the hallways with his stories and laughter, Iain’s presence lives on in many of us.

We wish you the best for the new year, and we hope things are going well for you.

Chip Bolyard, Department Head
In Memoriam
The Department was saddened by Prof. Iain Maclean’s death this past summer. He was a beloved colleague and teacher, and a vital contributor to the flourishing of JMU’s academic mission.

Prof. Alan Kirk writes:

Iain was an effervescent presence in our department, beloved of students and faculty alike – certainly for his keen wit and self-deprecating humor – but also for his genuine love of people and a selflessness evident in his profound kindness and generosity to all who came in contact with him.

Behind Iain’s endearing shambolic ways and twinkling eyes was a brilliant, extraordinarily learned man. He had language facility in Afrikaans (a dialect of Dutch), Dutch, Zulu, German, Portuguese, and French, as well as ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Born to Scottish parents in Durbanville, South Africa, as a young man Iain entered the University of Cape Town, graduating with degrees in English and Greek in 1976. Sensing a call to Christian ministry, he went on to earn his BD degree (equivalent to the Master of Divinity in the U.S.) in New Testament and Theology at Rhodes University, subsequently receiving his ordination in the Presbyterian Church of South Africa. In 1985 he earned a masters degree in theology at Princeton, a year later a further bachelor’s degree in Greek and Latin from the University of South Africa, and then in 1996 his doctorate in theology from Harvard Divinity School.

During his time in South Africa, Iain also served two years as chaplain in the South African Army, at the rank of colonel. It is perhaps a little known fact that during his training Iain qualified as a sharpshooter. Years later Iain had his Browning rifle shipped to him, and – in a classic “Iain moment” that those who know Iain will immediately recognize – after picking it up at Dulles Airport ambled through the terminal holding it.

After graduating from Harvard Divinity School in 1996, Iain held visiting professor positions at Roanoke College and Washington and Lee University. In 1998 he was appointed to his position at JMU, where for nineteen years he taught courses in the department on the history of Christian thought as well as a range of courses on religion and society. Iain served as the Department’s pre-seminary advisor and tirelessly supervised many students in their religion internships. He also became famous university-wide for his “High Teas”, his attempt to bring some British class and culture to his North American colleagues.

We also remember Iain as a man of deep Christian faith. He was one of the once common but increasingly rare breed who seamlessly combined in his own person and professional life love for the academy and love for the Church. As a student in South Africa he was involved in groups such as Youth for Christ, and while a Th.D. student in Boston he pastored and revitalized an inner-city church that had been decimated by “white flight”. Over the past ten years, in addition to working full-time as a professor, he served tirelessly as minister in the Presbyterian parish in Fincastle, Virginia, preaching weekly, founding and leading a youth group, and visiting his parishioners.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer described Christ as “the man for others.” Iain Maclean was a man for others. We will miss him. May he rest in peace.
New Scholar in Islam
The Department is very pleased to have Dr. Rahel Fischbach join the Religion faculty as a tenure-track scholar of Islam. A recent graduate of Georgetown University, Dr. Fischbach originally hails from Germany, where she graduated from the Free University of Berlin. Her research specializes in Qur’anic studies, hermeneutics, and interreligious dialogue. Most of her research focuses on Lebanon and Syria, but she has also undertaken research in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. A particular passion of hers is the ambiguity of pre-modern Islam and the impact of modern epistemologies, colonialism, and imperialism on Muslim thought, practice, and social organization. She is currently finalizing her book, “Politics of Scripture: Discussions of the Historical-Critical Approach.” She teaches courses on the Qur’an, Islam, religion and violence, gender and Islam, writing and reasoning, and world religions. Welcome Rahel!
New Fellow in Religion
Liseli Fitzpatrick is with the department this year as a Preparing Future Faculty Fellow in Religious Studies. She is a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University, where she is studying African Diaspora religions in the Caribbean. More specifically, Professor Fitzpatrick’s research topic, “Sexuality through the Eyes of the Orisa: Ifa and the Sacredness of Sexuality in Post-colonial Trinidad & Tobago,” explores the inter-connectedness of spirituality and sexuality in Yorùbá cosmology and philosophical thought. It examines concepts of gender within the African Diasporic spiritual system of Ifa/Orisa and the pantheon of deities in post-colonial Trinidad and Tobago. Orisa is a syncretic Afro-Trinidadian spiritual system rooted in the West African Yorùbá sacred tradition of Ifa (located in present-day Nigeria). She will teach a course on African Diasporic Religions in the Spring of 2017.
Debrot's Debut
Frank Debrot, Philosophy, has published a novel, Journey to Colonus: A Novel of Race, Espionage and Redemption (Silverwood Books, 2016). “It is the summer that man first walks on the moon, the Vietnam War is dragging into its sixth year and riots are breaking out in American cities. At a black pride university two young men on opposite sides of the racial divide come to know an elderly and enigmatic teacher with the reputation of an Uncle Tom. Through the power of Professor Doswell’s character and the unfolding of his mysterious past, their lives are transformed. Inspired in part by the true story of Whittaker Chambers, this novel is grounded in meticulous research based largely on discoveries from the previously undisclosed Venona Project as well as KGB files opened to Western scholars following the fall of the Soviet Union.” Debrot has plans for two additional novels, The Love Experts and Grandpa’s Gift.
Faculty Awards
Department faculty have received several awards this past year. Chip Bolyard was a recipient of the 2017 Madison Vision Teaching award, given to faculty members at JMU who “excelled in encouraging engaged learning in their students.” Unique at JMU, the recipients are selected entirely by students from the SGA. Andrea Veltman received a Provost Award for research. Emily Gravett received a JMU IDEA grant ($4,000) to pilot a “Preparing Faculty to Be Inclusive Teachers” Fall 2017 Institute with Dr. Andreas Broscheid and Dr. Matthew Lee. She also won the 2017 Christine A. Stanley Award for Diversity and Inclusion in Research at the annual conference for the Professional and Organizational Development Network in October, for an article entitled “Educational Development as Pink-Collar Labor: Implications and Recommendations” (2016), co-authored with Dr. Lindsay Bernhagen (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point). And we would be remiss not to note that Andrea Veltman was promoted to Full Professor this year. Kudos to all!
Buddhism in the Valley
In April of 2017, students from Dr. Kilby’s Tibetan Buddhism course journeyed through the picturesque farms of the Shenandoah Valley to the Mindroling Lotus Gardens retreat center. A gleaming gold statue of the Buddha Maitreya, standing twenty feet tall, greeted them beside a pond brimming with lotus blossoms. The main temple, bedecked in vibrant color, housed large-scale canvas tangka paintings of Buddhas and great Tibetan lineage masters. A faint scent of medicinal incense hung in the air. We removed our shoes and made the ceremonial circuit clockwise around the worship space.

Their goal in visiting Lotus Gardens was to observe how Tibetan Buddhism--a tradition rooted in landscapes and lineages far across the globe--has adapted to the North American context. While Buddhism has always presented itself as a universal religion, infinitely adaptable to diverse languages, cultures, and dispositions, the realities of adaptation are often surprising.

First, they attended a meditation session in the Künzang Gatsal Shrine Room. The meditation instructor emphasized mindfulness and tranquility, topics quite accessible to a western secular audience, but she avoided discussing the wrathful female dakini spirits whose support in meditation is central to the Tibetan tradition. After experiencing a walking meditation outdoors, we queried the instructor about the presence of local gods in the mountains, rivers, and trees, who form an integral part of Tibetan religious cosmology and daily practice. The instructor related that their center has reimagined local deities in terms of American Indian conceptions of the spirit life of the earth.

Had Tibetan Buddhism become an “indigenous religion” of the Shenandoah Valley? We left Lotus Gardens with plenty of questions to contemplate back in Cleveland Hall.
Freakonomics of Food
Freakonomics was first a book on the unusual aspects of human economic activity, written by award-winning Univ. of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner. It has since morphed into a small cottage industry, which includes a media presence, Prof. of Religion Alan Levinovitz, author of The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat, was interviewed recently for a broadcast on, in a segment entitled “The Demonization of Gluten.” The transcript/recorded broadcast can be found here.
Faculty Engaged
Thomas Adajian was Chair of the APA Colloquium on Metaphysics (Pacific Division) on the subject, “How Sparse Properties Save Nicod’s Principle.” He also served as commentator on Thomas Leddy’s “The Dilemma of Everyday Aesthetics Resolved in a Pluralist Way” at the American Society for Aesthetics (Pacific Division meeting) and on Michel-Antoine Xhignesse’s “Social Kinds and Meta-ontological Revisionism” at the American Society for Aesthetics (National meeting).

Chip Bolyard has an article forthcoming, “Augustine on Error and Knowing That One Doesn’t Know,” in Andreas Speer et al. (eds.), Irrtum (Miscellanea Mediaevalia Series XXX). He presented two papers at international conferences: “Hexis and Haecceitas: John Duns Scotus and the Stoics on Unity and Individuation,” at the ATINER 12th International Conference on Philosophy (Athens, Greece) and “Henry of Harclay on Quantity and Multiple Location,” at the Congress of the Société Internationale pour l’Étude de Philosophie Médiévale (SIEPM) in Porto Alegre, Brazil. He was also the faculty “learning partner” for a student-led Alternative Spring Break trip to St. Joseph's Bay, Florida, where he spent a week helping with the upkeep of a nature preserve.

Mike Brislen presented a paper, “Two Kingdom Theologies, the Religion/Secular Dichotomy, and Interfaith Dialogue: Contesting Categories,” at the Believers' Church Conference at Goshen College in Indiana; he also taught a 2-week intensive course, “Globalization,” at the University of Burao in Burao, Somaliland.

Robert Brown published “The Bible in the Seventeenth Century” in The Oxford Handbook of Bible in America. He also published two encyclopedia articles, “Messiah” and “Language (Hebrew, Greek) in The Encyclopedia of Jonathan Edwards (Eerdmans). His long-labored critical edition of Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana (Vol. 9) is slated for publication after the new year. He continues to serve as the Associate Head of the department, and as a First Year Advisor.

Rahel Fischbach published “Rereading the Qur’an – Challenging traditional authority: Political implications of Qur’an hermeneutics” in the Journal of the Middle East and Africa. She also received a research grant from Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa for research on the article “Battling Extremism with the Qur’an – New Pluralist Qur’an Hermeneutics in Lebanon,” the results of which she presented at the 10th annual ASMEA conference in DC this past Fall.

Dan Flage presented a paper entitled “The Querist: Social Engineering and Natural Law” at the Berkeley conference in Galway, Ireland.
Frances Flannery gave an invited lecture at the “Torture, Abuse, and Desecration in the Name of Religion” Workshop at Brown University, entitled “Theorizing the Social Function of Torture and Torture Narratives: In-Group/Out-Group Formation as a Commitment Mechanism.” She was interviewed along with Rodney Werline on With Good Reason (National Public Radio) on “Policy Debates and the Bible” (Airdate: January 14, 2017).
She was also the respondent for the session “Dreams and Visions and Religious Experience” for the Religious Experience in Antiquity Section, Society of Biblical Literature National Meeting in Boston. She co-wrote curricula with Pat Marshall for the Society of Biblical Literature Education Resources and Review Committee, which is developing curricula for high school history and literature classes in Georgia that are informed by academic biblical scholarship, as part of a grant with the Newseum in Washington D.C.

In her role as Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Terrorism and Peace, she organized a Listening Café Workshop entitled Safe at Home: Immigration and Security. This event brought together over 40 faculty and students from JMU and Eastern Mennonite University with local leaders from immigrant communities and national practitioners, including two Guests of Honor: Arjun Sethi Singh and James Patton. She continues to participate in the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Policy Conference Call series. A personal highlight was meeting Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright at the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy's Faith-in-Action Awards. Finally, she continues to mentor CISTP undergraduate Student Research Interns: Lauren Brittigan and Maxwell Titus are preparing papers for publication on a Systems Dynamics Model for Refugee Creation and Resettlement. Catie Robertson and Sarah Baker-McEvilly are working on the Friendly City Cultures Collective, a public education project on immigration and refugees for the City of Harrisonburg in conjunction with Mayor Deanna Reed's office, for which they just procured a Student Government
Association Grant.

Emily Gravett received funding from the College of Arts and Letters to pilot a Fall 2017 student teaching observation program, in collaboration with Dr. Pia Antolic-Piper in Philosophy. She published the article “Tracing a Developer’s Development: A Self-Study in Teaching” in the International Journal for Academic Development, and was named to the Editorial Board of the journal To Improve the Academy. She presented at Virginia Tech’s Conference for Higher Education Pedagogy, JMU’s Diversity Conference, the University of Virginia’s Pedagogy Summit, and at the Lilly Conference for Teaching and Learning in Asheville, NC. She also served on the Provost’s Faculty Diversity Council at JMU.

Bill Hawk continues to serve as the Director of the Madison Collaborative, JMU’s program for student ethical learning, the very model of engaged learning. This year JMU fielded its first Ethics Bowl team at a competition in New York. Two Philosophy & Religion majors, Ben Culpepper and Scott Ingram, participated. In addition to overseeing the “It’s Complicated” program, and helping other faculty to include ethical reasoning in their classes, he directs presentations to or workshops with the regional Rotary International, a national teachers’ conference, Virginia housing counselors, international faculty workshops in Brussels, Indonesia, Japan, professional mediators, fraud examiners, the Chamber of Commerce, and social work agencies. They are also doing workshops for all 700 employees of a company that sets up biological research and clinical trials.

Steven Hoeltzel presented a paper entitled “Fichte and Kant on the Ends and Ideas of Reason,” at a conference in Seoul, South Korea. He spent much of the year editing The Palgrave Fichte Handbook (forthcoming), which offers a comprehensive and in-depth overview of Fichte’s philosophy (comprised of 23 new essays from leading scholars in North America, Europe, and Asia). In the spring he published “Fichte, Transcendental Ontology, and the Ethics of Belief” in a volume that he co-edited: Transcendental Inquiry: Its History, Methods, and Critiques (Palgrave Macmillan). He also served on committees for several (non-JMU-affiliated) scholarships that were endowed by his father before his untimely death. These include the Harvey Hoeltzel Memorial Scholarship (for first-generation college students, as was Mr. Hoeltzel); the Harvey Hoeltzel Architectural Scholarship (for graduate students in architecture at the Univ. of Michigan, his alma mater); and the Nancy Hoeltzel Early Education Scholarship (for college students going into early education, which was Steve’s mother’s field).

Alan Kirk gave a paper at a conference on the Gospels at Leuven University, Belgium. While there he led a graduate level class at the University that was studying his recent book, Q in Matthew: Ancient Media, Memory, and Early Scribal Transmission of the Jesus Tradition. The most recent issue of Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus was dedicated to a review of his book. Four scholars wrote article-length reviews, and he contributed a response. A session at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston in November was also devoted to a consideration of the book: two papers were given on the book, followed by Kirk’s response, followed by a discussion among the panel, with questions from the floor. Next year Dr. Kirk will serve as Faculty Member in Residence at JMU's Semester in London program.

Alan Levinovitz has a new book under contract with Beacon Press entitled One Nature Under God: How to Make the World Sacred Without Hating Ourselves. It will consider how the concept of what is “natural” has been used in politicized debates about the nature (no pun intended) of the good society.
Sushil Mittal’s article “Comparative Religion: Its Failures and Its Challenges. An Exploratory Essay” was published in The Muslim World (Volume 107, Number 2, April 2017). It explores from a Hindu perspective the success, failures, and challenges of the comparative study of religions, especially as applied to Hindu “dialogue” with Christianity and Islam, and discusses the Gandhian experience in relation to the comparative study of religions. The essay raises issues that are typically not part of academic discourse.

In June he went to India for three months (1) for meetings at Utkal University of Culture in Bhubaneshwar in East India; (2) to participate in a six-week program on nonviolence under the auspices of the International Summer School for Jain Studies in Delhi and several other North Indian cities; (3) to give a series of lectures at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University in Kolkata in East India; (4) to give a series of lectures at GITAM University in Visakhapatnam in South India; and (5) to conduct fieldwork and research on “The Gandhian Model and Practical Comparative Religion.” Dr. Mittal was invited to give a plenary address at the international conference on “State and Social Order in Dharma Dhamma Traditions” at Nalanda University in India, but he declined the invitation due to other commitments.

In the Spring Professor Mittal worked on and submitted the second, revised edition of his book, Religions of India; and in the Fall, he read and corrected its proofs. Routledge will publish the book in three editions (North American, European, and Indian) in 2018. Dr. Mittal edited and submitted for publication two issues of the International Journal of Hindu Studies (Volume 21, Issue 3 [December 2017] and Volume 22, Issue 1 [April 2018]). Dr. Mittal serves as the founding editor of the International Journal of Hindu Studies. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Dr. Mittal, after nearly a decade, cleaned his office!!!

Mark Piper served as the acting Speaker of the Faculty Senate in Fall 2017. He published “Justifying Oneself,” in the European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 13:1 (2017): 27-38, “Mass-Audience Interactive Narrative Ethical Reasoning Instruction,” in the International Journal of Ethics Education 2:2 (2017): 161-173.

Anne van Leeuwen continues to sponsor the Philosophy & Film Club, along with Prof. Steve Hoeltzel. This past year she co-edited a volume, Differences: Rereading Beauvoir and Irigaray (Oxford Univ. Press). This volume examines the work of Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, and the critical dialogue between them. She also published an article in the Blackwell Companion to Simone de Beauvoir, “Simone de Beauvoir and the Dialectic of Desire in L’invitée.” This article argues for the importance of her early literary works for understanding her subsequent major philosophical writings.

Andrea Veltman was awarded a Provost Research Award this past year. She also published a piece entitled “Meaningful Work” in the Springer Encyclopedia of Business and Professional Ethics, and she presented a talk entitled “Autonomy, Oppression and Universal Basic Income” at the Midwest Political Science Association. She was also promoted to Full Professor.

Anne Wiles presented a paper to the Academy of Philosophy and Letters at Villanova University in June, 2017. The title of the paper was “Jefferson and Madison on Natural Law and Natural Rights.” As advisor to the JMU chapter of Phi Sigma Tau, the national honors society for philosophy, Dr. Wiles oversaw a Spring 2017 conference on “Hermeneutics: Language and Meaning in the Liberal Arts.” It featured lectures from prominent philosophers across the country, including the Catholic University of America, Villanova, Seattle University, and Boston University.
Majors and Minors, Past and Present
After majoring in Philosophy and Religion, Brian Bradford (’82) went on earn an MFA at Fairleigh Dickinson. He is now Professor and Co-Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Warren County Community College in New Jersey. He published his first novel in 2015 – Greetings from Gravipause (Jaded Ibis Press).

In future editions of the Newsletter, we hope this section will be filled with pictures and stories from all of you. Our graduates have gone on to do interesting work in interesting places. This is your opportunity to let your classmates and professors in Philosophy and Religion know what you’ve been up to. We’d love to hear from each of you!

Published: Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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