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An Open Letter from the Department of Religious Studies in Response to the Events of August 11th and 12th

The Department of Religious Studies denounces the violence and terror perpetrated by the gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA on August 11th and 12th, 2017. As a faculty, we are particularly horrified that our University Grounds were used to promote this agenda and that students, who were exercising their constitutionally protected right to protest, were physically attacked a short distance from their dormitories.

The Department of Religious Studies rejects the white supremacist ideology of intolerance and its practice of hateful speech, as well as the violence it engenders. We stand in solidarity with the victims of these events and with those who courageously resisted the hate groups and their virulent messages; we stand with the community of Charlottesville and with all those at whom hate continues to be directed. We cherish the diversity of our student body and commit ourselves to supporting students who are targeted by hate groups. We promise to be available to students who seek support from us, even as we actively develop new initiatives to support them.

As a department, we advocate for no single religious faith or political point of view. Our faculty comprises scholars who practice different religions or no religion at all. Our professors, all of whom serve the Commonwealth of Virginia, hold a range of political views. Those who are American citizens vote their consciences individually in elections, for a wide array of political parties. Amid this political and national diversity, we stand united in our unanimous and unequivocal condemnation of those who promote hate, by way of violent speech and action—the white supremacists, the neo-Nazis, the neo-Fascists, the anti-Semites. And we regard this condemnation as the expression of a simple, moral truth rather than a political statement.

We must not hesitate to name and condemn the intimidation, terror, and violence that convulsed and profaned our city and university this weekend. We consider the groups who organized and participated in the “Unite the Right” rally to be hate groups. We do not take their views to represent a legitimate, alternative political perspective: they are dangerous, and they perpetuate what is universally condemned by all the world’s religions and ethical systems. We feel morally compelled to call out those who afflicted our community with their night-time mob on the University’s Grounds and with their violence on our city’s streets the following day. Burning torches, aggressive chanting, and racist, homophobic, and antisemitic slogans echo the symbolism, and messages, of Nazi-era Germany and of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. This is not a time for equivocation. We stand firmly and explicitly against the views and actions of those espousing hate, terror, and violence in Charlottesville over this past weekend, and any other day.

The final episode of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly features Professor Vanessa Ochs reflecting on religious practices and rituals.

Professor Charles Mathewes was selected to be a College Fellow in UVA's College of Arts and Sciences College Fellows Program. He joins Religious Studies Professors Janet Spittler and Ahmed al-Rahim, who were selected for last year's inaugural class of fellows. See this announcement for more information.

In January 2017, the College of Arts and Sciences and Contemplative Sciences Center at UVA will partner with Kohala Institute in Hawai'i to offer an opportunity to study a unique environment and culture from two very different disciplinary perspectives- Environmental Sciences and Religious Studies - with a strong emphasis on highly experiential education and of self-understanding. The Ecological & Contemplative Landscapes course, which will be offered at UVA in Hawai'i as a two week J-Term course, is an immersive education program designed and taught by Manuel Lerdau from Environmental Sciences, David Germano from Religious Studies and Leslie Hubbard from CSC. 

This course integrates unique and highly experiential blends of learning activities integrating environmental science, religious studies, and contemplative sciences. It is based at Kohala Institute on the Big Island in Hawai’i, a remarkable property proceeding from the ocean to mountains, which constitutes a traditional Hawai’i land unit on environment, economic, social and political grounds - an ahupua’a.  The class brings together classical scientific approaches to human/land/sea relations, and integrates these approaches into traditional humanistic perspectives on humans, their cultures, religion, and environments.  The class blends historical, philosophical, and natural science views of the world and explores this blending in the context of traditional and modern Hawai’ian culture and environment.  The class will also explore cognitive, affective, and somatic contemplative practices of self understanding and development, and integrate these into the broader themes of the profound interdependence of culture and environment.

See here for more information and here for registration.

Congratulations to Martien Halvorson-Taylor, associate professor of religious studies, who was recently honored with an All-University Teaching Award. Professor Halvorson-Taylor, who teaches Hebrew Bible and related topics, was among the nine faculty members from across the university recognized for teaching exellence. 

Professor Jennifer Geddes delivered the 22nd Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Annual Lecture at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on November 1st. Professor Geddes's work focuses on ethics, evil, and Holocaust testimony. 

Professor Jennifer Geddes delivered the 22nd annual Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Lecture at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC on November 1st. Read more about the lecture series and Professor Geddes's work on ethics, evil, and Holocaust testimony here

It is our pleasure to announce that Professor Ben Ray has been elected to be a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society for his outstanding contributions to our knowledge of the Salem Witch Trials. This is a great honor for Professor Ray, and one that the Department of Religious Studies is proud to be a small part of. Founded in 1791, the Massachusetts Historical Society is an independent research library and an invaluable resource for American history, life, and culture. For more than 200 years, the MHS has depended on its Fellows, a core group of elected supporters made up of distinguished scholars and civic leaders who have the privilege of shaping the Society. They not only represent the legal body of the Society by voting on the admission of new Fellows, the election of Officers and Trustees, and the revision of the Society’s by-laws, but they are also our best ambassadors, dedicating their time and expertise by serving on committees and participating in scholarly programs. MHS founder Rev. Jeremy Belknap described the ideal Fellow as a “doer,” and today’s Fellows certainly embody that standard. Congratulations Ben!

The winner of the Brewer Prize is Matthew S. Hedstrom, Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. Hedstrom’s book is entitled The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century. The publisher is Oxford University Press (2012).  Hedstrom will receive the prize at the Winter Meeting of the ASCH in January 2014.  http://www.churchhistory.org/newsletter/

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