Systemic problems have systemic solutions: plagiarism edition

Last semester I had an inordinate number of instances of plagiarism. The majority of them came on papers that were almost wholly personal reflection, so I was really troubled by what had led to this occurrence. There’s no doubt that high schools (probably due to systemic problems like underfunding) are not teaching good writing practices like we all wish they should. However, there’s not much I can do to fix high schools. What I can do is setup my own students for success.

My strategy this semester was to put a couple of one page papers towards the beginning of the course, and I told the students that they must cite at least one source in their paper. So far, I’ve only had once instance where a student used a quote without attribution. But even then, I’m able to help them fix the paper which hopefully will prevent this from happening at the end of the semester on the final paper.

I’ll report back after final papers come in, but this strategy seems to be working so far.

The Trump endgame

Thank god the US media finally has the attention span required to pursue a Trump scandal for more than 24 hours. I’ve seen people on twitter lamenting the fact that the president sleeping with and then paying off a porn star got less coverage than an aide beating his wife. Yes, cover-ups are bad, but I, for one, feel pretty strongly that domestic abuse is far, far worse than consensual sex. Our national media sucks, but they’re right to pursue a domestic abuse scandal, and it finally seems like there’s some real traction to this scandal.

Of course, it could just all blow over like all the other scandals. Let’s assume, for a moment though, that this really is bad for the Mango Mussolini. In my mind, the end game to his administration is totally unclear. I think it’s pretty obvious that the GOP is moving closer and closer to Trump as all these scandals pile up rather than further away. The chance of even getting impeachment through the House until after the midterms is basically zero. Now, supposing the Dems win big in 2018, they only need a majority in the House to bring articles of impeachment. The odds of them reaching 60 senators in 2018, even in a landslide election, are pretty slim. That means the Dems could get impeachment through the House but would still likely fail to get enough GOP votes (let’s say 5-8 will be needed) in the Senate. Does that leave us with a lame duck Trump who just runs a zombie White House, unable to pass any legislation or confirm any positions for 2 years until he gets voted out in 2020?

My bold contention–assuming that this really is the best possible outcome– is maybe a zombie Trump admin would be better than a guilty Senate vote anyways. Democrats in Congress would finally have to impose checks on the executive branch, something they completely failed to do through the Bush/Obama years. Whoever the next president is would have less unchecked power. Am I way off here?

Understanding Religion Syllabus

Marika inspired me to post my syllabus for the semester: Understanding Religion. This is my second semester teaching introductory religion courses at Montclair State University, and I’m much happier with this syllabus than the one I put together for World Religions (I was a *very* last minute fill-in for a retiring professor). Some of the assignments this time were borrowed from fellow professors.

Anthony wrote a helpful post about teaching intro to religion with some great comments, especially by Beatrice and Amaryah, that helped a lot. I have the Herling theory intro book on hand and may assign some short pieces while we move through the fiction. Also, in the second or third class I showed the “Religion” episode of Master of None (Season 2, Episodes 3). It was a great way to challenge what students think of when they use words like religion and belief. The discussion of Get Out–which I’m putting right before Scientology for better or worse–happens Wednesday: excited to see what students make of it when they have “religion” specifically in mind.

Anyways, you can find the syllabus here.

End of Year Boredom: TV Open Thread

Hello fellow legacy media users, I’m at home procrastinating on finishing my syllabus for Intro to Religion for the Spring, so let’s chat TV. I won’t pretend to be a critic or anything and list out 10 shows, but here are my favorites from 2017 in no particular order:

  • The Young Pope – I seem to remember it was a hard sell to get Katie to watch this with me, but once we started we were both totally hooked. If the Cherry Coke Zero scene doesn’t immediately reel you in, it’s probably not for you. The last two episodes, especially, are beautiful and surprising. Also, maybe my favorite title sequence ever?
  • The Leftovers – Adam and I have had some chats about this show. We agreed that it captures something about what it means to be a fundamentalist that is never portrayed in TV or film–empathy towards religious fanatics while neither succumbing to liberal condescension nor romanticization. Truly great character studies.
  • Insecure – Issa Rae makes me laugh. This is another show that bursts through the typical Hollywood stereotypes. Also, along with Master of None’s portrayal of New York, I love the way that LA is a character in the show. Insecure’s camera work, both of people and places, is excellent.
  • Master of None – Probably doesn’t belong amongst these other shows, but I really liked this season. At times it seemed like Aziz could have pushed the characters a little further and gotten to a really interesting place, but the whole thing is worth it for the Thanksgiving episode.

Dear readers, what did you watch this year?

The Prince of This World event wrap-up

pid_23793My thanks to everyone who participated in the book event. This has been a fun and varied conversation about Adam’s excellent book. In case you missed it, Adam has responded to each post in the comments sections. The Anselm discussion below Linn Tonstad’s post was a particular highlight. If you’re coming to these posts after the fact, you might start with Dotan Leshem’s reflection which provides a nice summary of the text.

Some Seasonal Thoughts on the Passion of Torture by Bruce Rosenstock

Thinking, Willing, Blaming by Linn Tonstad

In the Shadow of Eleggua by Jared Rodríguez

Freedom, Responsibility, and Redemption by Amaryah Armstrong

After the Eschaton by Marika Rose

All Too Humans by Dotan Leshem


All Too Humans: The Prince of This World book event

This response in our book event on Adam’s The Prince of This World is by Dotan Leshem, senior lecturer in the School of Political Science at the University of Haifa.

The Prince of the World is a very ambitious and most welcome book. It offers an important contribution to the re-emerging literature that seeks to criticize the modern West by conducting a genealogy that traces its constitutive concepts in (Judeo)Christianity and in doing so forces the reader to rethink the present. Adam Kotsko does so by narrating a history of a (surprisingly) neglected figure in the abovementioned literature–Satan. In the first part of the book, Kotsko samples what he identifies as exemplary texts that capture the essence of seven different “paradigms.” Each comprises the pre-modern history of the devil, beginning with the deuteronomistic paradigm and ending with the medieval, of which the first six are the summarized in two tables (P. 44, 95). This historical narrative that follows the twists and turns of the role assigned to the devil in Judaic and Christian theology allows Kotsko to turn in the second part to a more elaborate discussion. This discussion deals, in most parts, with the problem of evil and free will of which the devil himself occupies a relatively small role in medieval Latinized Christianity with excursions into modernity. In his conclusion, Kotsko focuses on demonstrating how secularized modernity is very much trapped in a world molded in the middle ages, which for Kotsko, if one may use this term in a naïve way, is the source of all contemporary evil. Admirably, Kotsko goes one step forward from where most critical accounts in general–the genealogical ones in particular–stop and sketches some notes towards a new paradigm. Continue reading “All Too Humans: The Prince of This World book event”

Thinking, Willing, Blaming: The Prince of This World book event

This response in our book event on Adam’s The Prince of This World is by Linn Tonstad, Yale Divinity School. 

pid_23793Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of This World traces the subterranean logic by which the devil developed first as God’s opponent, then as God’s hench-fallen-angel/chief torturer in the bone-chilling settings in which the joy of the blessed in heaven is enhanced by their contemplation of the eternal torments of those who, unlike them, were not so fortunate as to have been the objects of God’s predestining, grace-filled will. Kotsko treats a wide range of figures in the book, offering creative reinterpretations not only of explicit treatments of the devil’s making and undoing, but of implicit ways in which a place for the devil came to be in Jewish and Christian imaginaries.

Kotsko is an admirably clear writer, organizing a stunning amount of material in accessible, yet never uncomplicated ways. I found the final chapter and the conclusion particularly interesting. Kotsko’s suggestion that one way to break the cycle of demonization in which we are trapped may be to allow even the devil to be redeemed strikes me as a promising option for reconfiguring the relationship between Christianity and hell-driven modernity, bent on the production of carcereal spaces and disposable persons. The interruption of various forms of production of the less-than-human is an urgent, indeed essential project, not only but certainly also in the current political climate in the United States. Continue reading “Thinking, Willing, Blaming: The Prince of This World book event”