BA/MA Ohio University, Philosophy
MTS Harvard Divinity School, “Christianity and Culture”
PhD Princeton, Religion, Ethics and Politics. Dissertation: “At the Common Altar: Political Messianism, Practical Ethics, and Post-War Jewish Thought”
Background and Areas of Interest
I have been interested in the intersection of philosophy, politics and religion since I was an undergraduate. In what ways does religious thought and practice seek to answer philosophical questions? What do religious practices have to teach us about the logistics of ethics and social justice? What is the relationship between saintliness or “moral perfectionism” and utopian communal strivings? How do project of profound evil—slavery, racism, the Holocaust—change the ways we think about our own responsibility to others? These themes reoccur throughout my courses.
These themes also animate my intermittent activism and organizing with national and international groups concerned with global health justice, labor rights, anti-racism, and Israeli-Palestinian coexistence.
At Temple University, where I have been teaching the last few years, I taught courses in religion and race, including “Race and Poverty in the Americas”, “Race and Judaism”, and courses in the study of secular Judaism. Over the last decade, at Rutgers, Villanova, Vassar, and Lehigh I have taught courses on practical ethics, philosophy of religion, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Holocaust and other genocides. At Swarthmore I have taught courses on liberation theology, Martin Luther King, Hebrew Bible, Christian theology, Jewish thought, and problems of evil. Teaching is—for me—the most important part of academic life and I hope to leave students with some concrete skills: the ability to write for public audiences, the tools to discuss religion and ethics, to provide a sense of the landscape of intellectual areas, the vision to integrate the classroom with the social quest for justice and one’s own inner struggle for goodness.
My current writing project, Becoming the Other, examines the phenomenon of “downpassing”—when writers and activists go undercover to investigate the conditions of the oppressed other. My work considers the ethical, religious, and political issues of these experiments. What is it that a white, middle-class person experiences when they are disguised as black? Or live homeless? Or pretend to be gay or Jewish? My project explores the meaning of solidarity, the role of these narratives as a form of ethical tutelage, and, using the work of Michel Foucault, consider the practice of “becoming” the other as a discipline of the self.
I am also working on articles about the interwoven role of race between American Jews and Blacks, and between Israelis and Arabs; an article on race in American Judaism; on Palestinian liberation theology; and a project on political forms of “ethical perfectionism.” My next book project will probably be on the intellectual influences on Martin Luther King Jr. Tentatively titled Mighty Streams, I delivered an overview of this project in the MLK Day address at Swarthmore in January 2013.