Updates from the Exciting New Grad School

The Global Center for Advanced Studies is offering a one-credit course on contemporary philosophy of religion. It will consist of four class sessions team-taught by John Caputo, Clayton Crockett, and Creston Davis, with special guest lectures by Thomas Altizer, Jeff Robbins, and Pete Rollins — a rare case of having more professors than class sessions. Despite this surplus of instructors, however, it appears that they were unable to find room for a single woman or person of color for either the teaching docket or the reading list.

In a blow against neoliberal hegemony, the class will consist of video lectures supplemented by online discussion sessions — i.e., it is distinguished from a MOOC only by the fact that they’re charging. In a bold stand against corporate domination of the university, those discussion sessions will be held on Facebook and Google+, and the textbooks (which mainly consist of the writings of the professors themselves) are made available through links to Amazon.

Under the section on credit, the syllabus specifies that “This course is designed to be as rigorous academically as any graduate (upper level under-graduate) course.” And it shows — students are expected to write a five-page research paper that cites at least two sources. Those of us who suspected that GCAS would amount to little more than an American version of the European Grad School can feel a certain vindication, given that this section also reveals that the GCAS will be piggy-backing on the EGS’s European accreditation for the time being.

This course may very well prove to be informative and helpful for the participants on some level, but I don’t think any but the most blinkered advocates can claim it adds up to anything revolutionary or paradigm-shifting. People have suggested various theories for why I’m so skeptical of this venture, including personal animus toward the school’s founders or jealousy at not being invited to participate. I think that a careful reading of this syllabus can lay those speculations to rest. I’m skeptical of this venture because the gap between the insane hype and the lackluster reality is a yawning, nigh-unfathomable abyss.

24 thoughts on “Updates from the Exciting New Grad School

  1. When one of the lecturers was confronted today on twitter with the problem of only including white males in syllabi, he was taken aback and resorted to attacking the person who raised the objection. Obviously the point is not to arbitrarily, retroactively insert women into the foundations of modern discourse on religion (which would be a covering up of the oppression in the tradition), but that women and POC have some of the best critiques. However, it seems that these guys have no clue about the difference.

  2. While the blinding whiteness of the reading list is a major concern, I’m honestly almost more offended that they so obviously put zero thought into the way this course was supposed to work pedagogically. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the material was cut-and-pasted from the boilerplate parts of someone’s undergrad syllabus. For a distance-learning course, you have to be more organized and clear than for a live class.

  3. You, of course, will surely by now have been vilified for saying any of this. I anticipate, for example, somebody saying, “Of course there are problems, but . . .” — as if actually to name those problems, to say them out loud, and in doing so calling them egregious, is somehow beyond the bounds.

  4. Taking into account that the author of that piece is 1) very young and 2) coming out of the same abusive denominational education system that formed us… it is still disappointing to read “It is easier to callously dismiss than to support attempts to think academia differently.” The whole point of your critique is that endeavors like GCAS, once your strip away the empty revolution rhetoric, are not thinking academia differently or responding to the real problems. They’re reproducing the neoliberal order. But then again, I shouldn’t say anything unless I get another letter threatening a lawsuit.

  5. I used to think I understood what “begging the question” meant, but only since I started engaging in discussion with defenders of the GCAS have I really known what it means, on a profound ontological level.

  6. How, exactly, is this model any different than anything else out there? It looks like you pay for web-based lectures and discussion, you write a paper and get transferable credit. As far as I can tell from the rhetoric, the part that is different is their passion, or emotion, or commitment to their political project. In other words, the base remains the same, but the superstructure is supposed to be different?… Perhaps I’m not understanding. Anyone with more knowledge of this program care to comment?

  7. I had not read the last hundred or so comments from that thread. Thanks for showing me the third, or maybe fourth, level of hell. After slogging through many of them, the answer given to the question “how are you different” seems to be “we will have a very large rotating faculty, like EGS.” I can’t find anything else that is different.

  8. Though, again, these faculty are not instructors in any meaningful pedagogical sense. I mean, I got to meet some famous or important intellectuals before too. At conferences. Which is what this is tantamount to. And that seems fine! If that’s what you want to be, be that! But, the revolutionary rhetoric is disingenuous and worse than that a marketing scheme meant to bring in those with a will to believe but without the critical faculties to be honest about the endeavour. Education is hard. Many of the people giving these lectures (not courses) know that, because they’re paid by universities (not enough) to do that hard work. Or they’re at a research institution…

  9. I would like to quote Jim Hightower, the well-known progressive Texas political maven: “The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.” I am always amazed at how many academics, especially those who consider themselves hip but are actually well-fed and secure in their positions, fit this profile.

  10. Wanna compare bank accounts, waist lines, conference support, and class loads, Carl? This bullshit rhetoric of writing off critics as comfortable, instead of responding to the criticism, is yet another form of obfuscation. Name how GCAS is radical and defend it or come off it.

  11. Its all fucking sad. I am, I think, part of demographic that could benefit from *something* like this model. I do not live in a major center where conferences or ad hoc opportunities for critical engagement are readily available. I also think I am *critical* enough to see through or navigate the ‘snake oil’ if there is any. I try to drum up what I am able in my context but would certainly be interested in more focused engagement.
    Of course all that being said I would also venture that realistically I am not sure (given *my* situation) something like GCAS would be any more formative than AUFS has been. So while I don’t have much interest in *how* you guys have engaged the debate on this one, I would state clearly that many people underestimate or under appreciate what actually has been offered here . . . for free.

  12. Yes, I think if something along the lines of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities or what happens at Cerisy in France would be valuable and to think that along a relatively open platform would be an actual improvement over what is offered at those places. I mean, aside from the real issues about gender and race which run incredibly deep into our discipline, I very much could understand why someone would want to sit-in on lectures from major figures like Badiou, Zizek, Alitzer, Critchley, and Caputo. And I also think people want to engage in the work of younger figures in the field like Jeff Robbins and others. That should be celebrated and if an open, relatively affordable if not free platform was there, it would be a gain.

    The fact that GCAS insists it is the answer to the contemporary problems in the university while both trying to present itself as a “real university” (through attempts at accreditation, the granting of degrees, claiming without evidence that credits will transfer to actual graduate programs, etc.) and presenting itself as the revolutionary overturning of the present order of things is the problem. Regarding the claims of the second, it just clearly isn’t that and the pedagogical model is clearly weaker than the traditional university and the claim it is somehow free of neoliberal constraints while essentially being a neoliberal model is… well… do I have to say? Without going into the reasons that people so want to believe this is some radical new thing or the reasons the founders even set up the place in the first place, I do wonder why they didn’t just make it a rolling conference structure that takes advantage of certain technologies.

  13. I agree with Anthony. As a “rolling conference,” GCAS is a great idea. Yet I fear that the insane propaganda will keep it from effectively achieving even that modest, worthwhile goal.

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