Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Interview with Dave Pruett, Author of Reason and Wonder: A Copernican Revolution in Science and Spirit

What prompted you to write Reason and Wonder: A Copernican Revolution in Science and Spirit? What “message” do you want to communicate?

Humans have two very different ways of making sense of the world. Let’s call them head knowledge and heart knowledge. Many, particularly in the West, struggle to effectively integrate these seemingly disparate modes of knowing. Because of the dynamics of my upbringing as the son of a very rational father—a physician—and a very intuitive and religious mother, that struggle was acute. On the one hand, I majored in engineering, loved mathematics and science, was a child of the space race, and eventually worked for NASA for a decade. On the other hand, I have a “poet nature” and over the years had learned to listen carefully to the still small voice of intuition. Well into my thirties, these two aspects often seemed in conflict. The journey that culminated in Reason and Wonder was initially a journey for personal integrity.  But along the way, I came to suspect that the roots of the conflict were societal and universal. At the societal level, the tension between the rational and the intuitive plays out as the conflict between science and religion that has dogged humankind since Descartes and Copernicus.

Reason and Wonder has many subtexts.  But the primary one is that science and faith don’t have to be adversarial.  They can be complementary.  The individual who embraces both is more whole, and the society built upon the wisdom of both is saner.

What was the highlight of your research? In the course of your research, what discovery surprised you the most? What surprises readers/others the most about your research?

Reason and Wonder represents a radical departure from my conventional academic research in applied mathematics. History was never my strong suit, yet I had to awaken an inner historian to complete Reason and Wonder. What surprised me most was that, with enough digging, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and other iconic scientists—the patriarchs of our scientific legacy—came alive. They’ve become my friends and mentors. I have the utmost respect for what these men (and women, e.g., Rosalind Franklin) accomplished for science and humanity, often under the most taxing or even crippling personal circumstances.

Reason and Wonder is a patchwork quilt of individual stories stitched together to tell the big story of the cosmos and of our place as humans in it. What readers seem to appreciate most is the richness and wonder of that story.

How did your research change your outlook on the subject?

It is too often assumed in our polarized society that one must choose between science and faith, a choice that Nobel laureate in chemistry Ilya Prigogine calls “tragic.” Therefore, it surprised me, and it may surprise the reader, how key to their discoveries were the religious impulses of the greatest scientists our species has produced. Einstein may have put it best: “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical,” he said. “It is the source of all true art and science.”

How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth? Is it what you hoped for, or is there more work to be done?

This is my first book for the general public. It took twelve years, six full revisions, and two good editors before it was deemed ready for public consumption. And even then, I had to read the final print edition from cover to cover before I felt confident that I’d succeeded in telling a coherent story. Public reaction thus far has confirmed my highest hopes.  People from many walks of life have found the story compelling, the prose “elegant,” and the science accessible. I’m beginning to think Reason and Wonder has very broad appeal, broader than anticipated. There seems to be something for every inquisitive reader, anyone who wants to better understand her or his genealogy in a cosmic sense.

What’s next for you?

Giving birth to Reason and Wonder was a long, slow process.  It began with a vague sense of direction, gradually took shape, and then attained clarity.  For me, writing is perhaps what sculpting is for an artist: the belief that somewhere inside that block of marble rests an object of beauty.  On many occasions I nearly gave up.  The encouragement and contributions of numerous friends, students, and acquaintances ultimately brought the book to fruition. The process doesn’t end with publication. The story has been written, but its healing message still needs to be heard. That’s my job for the present.  Perhaps I have another book in me.  Perhaps not.

Dave Pruett, a former NASA researcher, is an award-winning computational scientist and professor of mathematics at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Interview with Douglas R. Page, Co-author of Plural Marriage for Our Times

What prompted you to write Plural Marriage for Our Times: A Reinvented Option? 2nd Edition? What "message" do you want to communicate?

My involvement co-authoring this book came about because I wrote an article about changing family structures for a local parenting magazine in Massachusetts, called baystateparent.

As I was researching the article, I realized, given the popularity of the show “Sister Wives,” that we needed something about plural marriage, often referred to as polygamy.  I conducted a “Google” search for polygamy experts and came across Phil Kilbride’s CV. 

I called Phil’s office and left a message. A day or two later, I called him back and we talked at length about his research into plural marriage, the first edition of his book, and where marriage and divorce stand today. 

I was very impressed with Phil. He had great energy and loved the topic. I also came away with the impression that this was a man who loved to teach.

The article appeared in the February 2011 edition of the magazine and I sent Phil a link to the article so he could read it. 

And read it, he did!

He also printed it out and used it in some of his classes, he told me. At about the same time, he contacted me and inquired if I’d be interested in joining him as the co-author on his book. 

Part of my interest in this topic stands from the fact that I witnessed my parents’ divorce when I was 21. Theirs was a marriage that, on the surface, seemed perfect. There was never an argument, and they appeared to love one another dearly. Little did I know that there were some long-simmering problems between them.

Their divorce left an indelible mark on me. I’ve been married now for more than 20 years, but I continue to think about my parents’ divorce. Divorce is one the most detrimental events any child can experience, especially when they’re young but even when they’re into their adult years.  For any child, I believe, divorce is as traumatic an event as the death of a parent. 

And so when Phil mentioned his thesis—allow adults a plural marriage option instead of forcing them to divorce when things aren’t going well in the marriage—I thought he was onto something.

Our opinions and thoughts on marriage and divorce often come from wives, husbands, marriage counselors and the clergy.  But the voices of the people most impacted by divorce – children – are rarely heard from if ever at all. In fact, if you think about it, they’re pretty silent.

Phil had also experienced divorce. I’m not sure how long he and Janet were married but their union produced a daughter. And while I never met Phil face to face, based on our many telephone calls, I came away with the impression he was upset about the breakup. I think what bothered him the most was that he felt he’d let down his daughter. I’m also under the impression that, in spite of their differences, Phil and Janet made their daughter their priority and made it known that she was very much loved and accepted by both of them.

We live in a society that’s very different from the one I knew as a kid back in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s easy to look around a high-income suburb in the United States and see society as it’s always been—filled with stay-at-home moms, dads at the office and rarely a fractured family.

But if you travel not far from where I live in Massachusetts, to, say, Framingham, or parts of South Boston, you see a very different society, one that’s often filled with young, single mothers and, sometimes, a father no where to be seen. 

Or, sometimes, we read about, as we did earlier this year in The New York Times, women in their 20s giving birth even though they have no intention of marrying their child’s father. 

If the children of these unions never see their mothers marry, will they marry themselves? What impression will they have of love and commitment if their mothers and fathers remain single? 

This is what we need to consider. How will today’s babies born to mothers and fathers who remain single view childhood, marriage, love and commitment? 

These situations—and the many more we wrote about in the book—made Phil and I ask if the current laws prohibiting plural marriage in the United States serve the nation’s children well. As we see it, they don’t. 

Marriage is about more than just love. It’s also about money, jobs, healthcare, property rights, inheritance, living conditions, children, extended family members, religion, schools and likely much more. It’s also about the kind of society we want, not only today but, with our children, well into the future.

So if this book has a message it’s this:  Plural marriage is a way to augment family life in America, care for our kids so they can come to know and understand marriage, help women, especially mothers, and, hopefully, put a dent on the number of fractured families. This is not—let me repeat —not a sexual system.

What was the highlight of your research? In the course of your research, what discovery surprised you the most? What surprises readers/others the most about your research?

There were four things:  First, reading the many legal arguments that will likely be made on behalf of plural marriage, especially when “Sister Wives” reality television star Kody Brown and his wives challenge the constitutionality of Utah’s laws prohibiting polygamy in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court in January 2013; second, the material I read and interviews I conducted about African American family life. Many of the problems associated with African American family life can be attributed to slavery and racism; third, the data on marriage and family life from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows traditional families on the decline; fourth, the fact that many Native American tribes, well before they saw their first European settlers, engaged in a variety of family structures, including plural marriage.

These issues seem to surprise some of the people I’ve spoken to who have read the book.

How did your research change your outlook on the subject?

Phil’s research gave me a better appreciation and understanding of the “wife-in-law” or “husband-in-law” trap that sometimes second wives and husbands experience. I’ve seen some of this with my dad who has remarried twice since divorcing my mother. I’ve also had friends and colleagues share their experiences of being the “wife-in-law” and also have to weigh in on how children are brought up. My father, for that matter, has experience in bringing up the children of his two other wives.

How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth? Is it what you hoped for, or is there more work to be done?

So far the reaction has been positive, but I’m sure someone will take us to task over what we wrote. After all, we’ve taken a very provocative yet nuanced stand toward plural marriage. 

Let me also make something clear:  It would have been much easier to write a book that dismisses the arguments for plural marriage.  In other words, intellectually speaking, it would have been, I believe, very easy to say plural marriage doesn’t work in the United States for a variety of reasons and here they are. I believe, and Phil did too, that it was much harder for us to prove our point, which is that plural marriage can be an option. If the U.S. Supreme Court is ever given the opportunity to rule on plural marriage – and let’s say they rule it’s a constitutional right—then it wouldn’t be the first time the United States has changed its marriage laws.

What's next for you?

I’m writing a novel. It has nothing to do with plural marriage. I also continue to write and report for baystateparent magazine and, on occasion, News & Tech, a trade magazine for the global newspaper industry.

Douglas R. Page, MBA, is a freelance writer and reporter. His work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Journal-Gazette, News & Tech, and Bay State Parent.

Tragically, co-author Philip L. Kilbride died about two weeks after the book was released. He came down with cancer back in August and died four weeks later in mid-September.He was 70 years old and left behind a wife, and three children. 

Phil’s passing is a profound loss not only for Bryn Mawr College, where he taught for more than 40 years, but also for the worldwide anthropology community. He was a terrific man, great teacher, great dad and, as one of his colleagues said, “intellectually fearless.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

President Obama's Recent Dedication of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument

In the commentary below, historian Roger Bruns reflects on President Barack Obama's recent dedication of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. Notably, Bruns draws out parallels between Chavez's activism on behalf of farm workers and President Obama's work as a community organizer—both of which had roots in Chicago's South Side—as evidence of the labor leader's continuing and inspiring legacy.

On October 8, 2012, President Barack Obama dedicated a new national memorial—the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, California, at La Paz, the headquarters of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and final resting place of Chavez, who passed away in 1993. At the dedication ceremony, President Obama said that when Chavez began his farm worker movement, "no one seemed to care about the invisible farm workers who picked the nation's food—bent down in the beating sun, living in poverty, cheated by growers, abandoned in old age, unable to demand even the most basic rights." The president said, "Cesar cared. . . . In his own peaceful and eloquent way he made other people care too." President Obama has an abiding respect for Chavez. The president also shares with Chavez common historical roots.

In the early 1950s, Chavez, a farm worker and Navy veteran, began work with the Community Service Organization (CSO), a Latino civic-action and self-help group that became highly successful in registering new voters and establishing citizen involvement in social issues. The CSO traced its founding to the work of Saul Alinsky, called by many the "Father of Community Organizing." In Chicago's tough neighborhoods of the 1930s, Alinsky, a graduate of the University of Chicago and a man who had grown up in the city's Jewish ghetto, began his life's work of helping ethnic groups, unions, and others organize themselves to take on governments and corporate interests that had wielded power over them. In 1939, Alinsky established in South Side Chicago the Industrial Areas Foundation to help reform declining urban neighborhoods. His approach was to unite and organize ordinary, struggling citizens. He taught such techniques as house meetings, marches, and communication strategies to help them become effective forces for change.

Fred Ross, one of Alinsky's protégés, became the leader of CSO, and it was Ross who became Chavez's mentor. By building Mexican American economic power and voter strength, Ross sought to improve living and working conditions; to promote educational and youth programs and community outreach; and to protest violations of human and civil rights. It was under Ross's tutelage that Chavez learned the techniques of community organizing.

When Chavez decided in the early 1960s to found a labor union to help Mexican American farm workers in California, it was these methods that he used to organize a group of workers long deprived of fair wages and working conditions and even human dignity. His cofounder of what eventually became the UFW was Dolores Huerta, another of Ross's CSO workers.

Although the UFW never ultimately achieved great lasting gains as measured by traditional labor unions, it did, for a time, attract much international recognition for its struggle against agribusiness interests to win union contracts. It helped win the first state law in the country granting agricultural workers the right to organize. It taught organizational techniques and led many Latino voter registration drives and other actions to gain empowerment.

Chavez and his lieutenants struck away at the defeatism and convinced large numbers of people that they could fight back. Not only for farm workers but for other Mexican Americans, the movement became an exciting struggle. People for the first time in their lives joined picket lines in front of grocery stores, passed out leaflets, registered others to vote, sang songs and chants of protest, and gained a new awareness that they could actually make a difference.

The farmworker movement contributed to a more general drive for civil rights among Mexican Americans during the 1960s and 1970s. It helped inspire a new generation of urban Mexican American youths to organize their communities and become active in social and political programs. As the Chicano movement grew, the picture of Cesar Chavez became one that hung on the walls of Latino homes.

In 1985, at a time when the UFW was engaging in boycotts and launching various campaigns to help farm workers, 23-year old Barack Obama took a job in Chicago as a community organizer in a neighborhood in South Side Chicago, the general area that had been a proving grounds for Saul Alinsky's community organizing methods. Obama worked with the Calumet Community Religious Conference, created by several local Catholic churches to combat the poverty and dislocation resulting from the closing of Wisconsin Steel and other industries. He helped build the Developing Communities Project, an organization devoted to after-school programs, drug prevention, and voter registration.

In his three years as a community organizer, Obama, in these distressed Chicago neighborhoods, adopted the same methods used by Chavez in the harvest fields of California—the house meetings and other organizational structures that stirred local collaboration and political participation. He taught empowerment techniques to help grapple with problems stemming from racial and religious bigotry, poverty, and homelessness.

Looking back, Obama credits the three years of work in the neighborhoods of South Side Chicago as important as any educational experience in his life. It taught him, he said, to put aside predetermined agendas, to listen to people, and to understand their struggles. Cesar Chavez had often expressed the same feeling.

Unlike Chavez, Obama went on to pursue a career in politics. In 2008, when Obama decided to run for President, he enlisted some individuals with whom he had worked in his days as a community organizer. They taught new campaign workers and volunteers techniques they had used years before in Chicago. Those new team members would form the nucleus of what became the most powerful grassroots organizing group in the history of American politics: Organizing for America. Its members continue to use, along with increasingly sophisticated computer and social media tools, the same basic methods that both Chavez and Obama used as community organizers. And when his presidential campaign of 2008 needed a rallying slogan, Obama looked to the history of the UFW.

In 1972, during a campaign in Phoenix, Arizona, to rally Mexican Americans to fight against Republican legislation denying farm workers the right to organize, Cesar Chavez and his UFW forces had waged a relentless voter registration drive that helped Latinos for the first time to gain a degree of political power in the state. On makeshift tables and even ironing boards, volunteers set up registration sites in heavily trafficked areas across Arizona, especially shopping centers. They marched from door to door. In only four months, 100,000 new voters had put their names on recall petitions and, most importantly, registered to vote. It was during that 1972 campaign that, in response to some who said no se puede ("it cannot be done"), Dolores Huerta insisted that from now on they would never say it could not be done. From now on, they would say si se puede ("yes we can do it"). Si se puede became a battle cry for the Arizona fight and others that followed. In 2008, candidate Obama used that same battle cry in his presidential campaign: "Yes, we can!"

In 2010, President Obama declared March 10 to be Cesar Chavez Day. He mentioned the rallying cry: Si, se puede or "Yes, we can," inspires hope and a spirit of possibility in people around the world. His movement strengthened our country, and his vision lives on in the organizers and social entrepreneurs who still empower their neighbors to improve their communities.

In May 2012, President Obama presented Dolores Huerta the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the East Room of the White House, the president again mentioned the slogan, quipping, "Dolores was very gracious when I told her I had stolen her slogan, Si, se puede—'Yes, we can.' Knowing her, I'm pleased that she let me off easy. Because Dolores does not play."

And so, in 2012, as President Obama dedicated the Chavez Memorial, he reflected upon the power of organizing that had meant so much to Chavez and to him: "Every time somebody's son or daughter comes and learns about the history of this movement, I want them to know that our journey is never hopeless. Our work is never done. . . . I want them to remember that true courage is revealed when the night is darkest and the resistance is strongest and we somehow find it within ourselves to stand up for what we believe in."

Roger Bruns is a historian and former deputy executive director of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. He is the author of many books, including Negro Leagues Baseball (Greenwood, 2012) and Icons of Latino America: Latino Contributions to American Culture (Greenwood, 2008). He is the author of the forthcoming Encyclopediaof Cesar Chavez: The Farm Workers' Fight for Rights and Justice (Greenwood, March 2013).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Clash of the Superpowers

Fifty years later, the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis remains the closest the world has come to full-scale nuclear war. At the time, the event represented the convergence of several trends in U.S. foreign policy, including the Cold War policy of containing global communism; the post–World War II U.S.-Soviet competition for the loyalties of the developing world; and the nuclear rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. The crisis also represented what many observers believe to be President John F. Kennedy's finest hour. This excerpt from the introduction to Priscilla Roberts's Cuban Missile Crisis: The Essential Reference Guide discusses the ending of the crisis and its impact on the remainder of Kennedy's presidency.

Several tense days ensued, during which Soviet antiaircraft batteries on Cuba shot down . . . a U.S. U-2 reconnaissance plane. Seeking to avoid further escalation, Kennedy rejected Taylor’s advice to retaliate militarily and deliberately refrained from action. After some hesitation, Khrushchev decided not to challenge the naval quarantine and acquiesced in the removal of the missiles. Simultaneously, his ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, secretly obtained an unpublicized pledge from Robert Kennedy that his brother would shortly remove Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Italy.
Recently released tapes of conversations among President Kennedy and his advisers reveal that to avoid nuclear war, he was prepared to make even greater concessions to the Soviets, including taking the issue to the United Nations and openly trading Turkish missiles for those in Cuba. In so doing, he parted company with some of his more hard-line advisers. Showing considerable statesmanship, Kennedy deliberately refrained from emphasizing Khrushchev’s humiliation, although other administration officials were privately less diplomatic and celebrated their victory to the press.
Newly opened Soviet documentary evidence has demonstrated that the Cuban situation was even more menacing than most involved then realized. Forty-two thousand well-equipped Soviet soldiers were already on the island, far more than the 10,000 troops that U.S. officials had estimated. Moreover, although Kennedy’s advisers believed that some of the missiles might already be armed, they failed to realize that no less than 158 short- and intermediate-range warheads on the island, whose use Castro urged should the United States invade, were already operational and that 42 of these could have reached U.S. territory. Castro also hoped to shoot down additional U-2 planes and provoke a major confrontation.
The Cuban Missile Crisis had a sobering impact on its protagonists. On Kennedy it had a certain salutary maturing effect, making the once-brash young president a strong advocate of disarmament in the final months before his untimely death in November 1963. His stance induced the Soviet leadership to agree to establish a hotline between Moscow and Washington to facilitate communications and ease tensions during international crises.

Priscilla Roberts, PhD, is associate professor of history and honorary director of the Centre of American Studies at the University of Hong Kong. She read history at King's College, Cambridge, where she also earned her doctorate in history. She has published numerous books and articles, among them Window on the Forbidden City: The Beijing Diaries of David Bruce, 1973–1974; Behind the Bamboo Curtain: China, Vietnam, and the World beyond Asia; and Lord Lothian and Anglo-American Relations, 1900–1940.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New October Release from Praeger: Underground Dance Masters

From Michael Jackson's unforgettable moonwalk to the dance moves of today's pop stars like Usher and Justin Timberlake, all aspects of modern pop dance—and consequently pop culture—are derived from the inspired, unsung heroes of an underground urban dance movement that dates back to 1967.

Underground Dance Masters: Final History of a Forgotten Era is a comprehensive history of urban street dance and its influence on dance, fashion, and pop culture. It is the first—as well as the definitive—history of urban dance. The book features famed director/choreographer Kenny Ortega and the collective of legendary dance masters of urban dance. The renowned groups Chain Reaction, Electric Boogaloo, Lockers, Rock Steady Crew, Starchild La Rock, and Granny & Robotroid are recognized for their historical contributions.

Urban street dance—which is now mistakenly referred to across the globe as "break dance" or "hip-hop dance"—was born 15 years prior to the word hip hop ever existed. Unfortunately today, the dance innovators from "back in the day" have been mostly forgotten, except when choreographic echoes of their groundbreaking dance forms are repeatedly recycled in today's media. Those moves were honed by urban dancers from the late 1960s to the 90s on the streets of Reseda, South Central Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Fresno, and the Bronx.

In Underground Dance Masters, Thomas Guzman-Sanchez, a legendary urban street dancer who was not only witness but a key part of the scene since the early 1970s, sets the record straight, blowing the lid off this uniquely American dance style and culture. This text redefines what is referred to as "hip hop dance" and the origins of a worldwide dance phenomenon. It exposes for the first time the origins of the classic urban dance forms of Funk Boogaloo, Locking, Crossover Locking, Popping, Roboting, Zig-zag, Punking, Posing, Krumping and B-boying—the most important developments in dance history that directly affect today's pop culture worldwide.

• Includes coverage of all of the creators, pioneers and innovators in urban street dance
• Places current dance phenomena in a historical context that stretches half a century
• Includes interviews and photos to further bring the rich history of urban dance to life

To watch a short video on this topic and the forthcoming documentary, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75kmV3jSFZ8

Thomas Guzman-Sanchez, a Southern California native raised in Reseda, is an OG (original generation) dance master and a cofounding member of the legendary dance group Chain Reaction. Since 1973, he has been an originator and pioneer of the dance forms of Crossover Locking, Zig-Zag, Popping, and Funk Boogaloo, which have influenced millions worldwide in Hip-hop dance. He has choreographed and performed in countless TV shows, videos, commercials, and feature films. This includes choreographing James Brown in the Heroes of Rock’n Roll and a featured dance performance with Gene Kelly in Olivia Newton John’s 1980s classic Xanadu. In 1984, he formed the United Street Force and became the only urban street dance company to have ever performed at the White House. His study, which began in 1993 has been adopted by numerous universities as the accepted authority on Urban Dance Studies in the late 20th century, and he is also a proud member of the advisory board for the American Heritage Dictionary Fifth Edition, responsible for 23 new words and definitions in the new American vernacular. He has taught outside studies for UCLA, Cal Tech and is the 2008 recipient of the Christena L. Schlundt Lecture Award in Dance Studies at U.C. Riverside. He continues touring the world teaching and inspiring young dancers. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Interview with Carlos Vargas-Ramos Author of Blessing La Politica: The Latino Religious Experience and Political Engagement

In the interview below, Carlos Vargas-Ramos, co-editor with Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo of Blessing La Politica: The Latino ReligiousExperience and Political Engagement in the United States, discusses the highlights of their research for the book, which includes a refutation of the widespread notion that Latinos are less likely to participate in politics due to their largely Catholic faith.

What prompted you to write Blessing La Política? What "message" do you want to communicate? 

There was a clear need to address the impression that Latinos are less engaged in political activities because they are, by and large, Catholic. See, traditionally there had been the opinion and perception in popular culture and academia that Latinos were less politically active because they had a political culture that was less conducive to democratic participation as a result of a lack of a democratic tradition in the Latin American countries where many Hispanics find their origins as well as the dominant Catholic faith which presumably nurtured a fatalistic or compliant attitude towards authority, be it civilian, military and/or religious.

More recently, however, with the work of Sidney Verba, Kay Schlozman and Henry Brady, which focused on the linkages between socioeconomic status, institutional recruitment, skill-building qualities of associational affiliations and political participation, there was a shift in explaining that Hispanics were relatively less engaged in politics than the population as a whole or some other groups in American society (e.g., African Americans, non-Hispanic whites) because belonging to the Catholic Church, they argued, short-changed these Latinos in skill-building and mobilization opportunities for political engagement. Shifting from cultural to institutional explanations for reduced Latino political involvement nevertheless maintained the onus on being Catholic, and this just did not seem to square with what we collectively understood those reasons to be.

Latinos do exhibit lower levels of involvement in some political activities, particularly those that are most visible and common: voting and contacting elected officials. However, this relatively lower level of Hispanic engagement in the political system in the United States is not the result of being Catholic.

What was the highlight of your research? In the course of your research, what discovery surprised you the most? What surprises readers/others the most about your research?

One of the most noteworthy features of our collective research is how consistent the findings are. Catholic Latinos are not anymore disengaged from those Latinos who are not Catholic. Indeed, Catholic Latinos may be more engaged in some forms of political activity than other Latinos, depending on the context and on the issues around which people mobilize.

Another aspect about the volume readers may find relevant is that Catholics in general and Latino Catholics in particular are not homogeneous. Rather, there are significant differences among them in terms of attitudes, orientations, and policy positions, as well as religious devotional practices—singularities that make a difference in the political arena. For instance, the Charismatic tradition is very vibrant and extended among Latino Catholics.

As described in Blessing La Politica, about one quarter of the Latino Catholics who turned out to vote in 2008 identified as born-again or evangelical Christians. This proportion often surprises readers given that in popular discourse being born-again or an evangelical Christian is perceived as a Protestant experience. That such a large proportion of Latino Catholic voters also identifies as born-again or evangelical Christian will surprise many readers. Indeed, other surveys show that nearly 40% of Latino Catholics identify as born-again or charismatic. Their positions on social justice, abortion, the death penalty, gender relations, etc., are distinct and varied. Positions some Latino Catholics hold coincide squarely with the teachings and dogmas of the Catholic hierarchy, while the positions of other Latino Catholics may be at odds. This makes for very interesting dynamics in making political appeals to Latino Catholics based on the position of the Catholic hierarchy or some subset thereof.

How did your research change your outlook on Latinos, politics, and religion?

We as scholars need to increase our attention to the role of religion and communities of faith on politics and political activity, and not simply among those hew closely to the teachings and practices of specific denominations. Rather, we as students of politics need to incorporate front and center the ideological and institutional role of religion in models that explain political activity and governance.

How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth? Is it what you hoped for, or is there more work to be done?

Reception has been very positive. There’s a hunger for this type of focus and analysis. Certainly this volume is but one piece of a larger research field that needs to be explored and engaged fully. There’s a lot of work to do.

What's next for you?

I am currently working on the impact of transnationalist practices on political participation in the United States and the country of origin of Latin American migrants. I am contrasting a migration paradigm that is very much in vogue (i.e., transnationalism) with more traditional approaches to migration (e.g., assimilation).

Carlos Vargas-Ramos is research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at the City University of New York, Hunter College. He is author of Migration and Political Behavior: The Political Incorporation of Puerto Rican Return Migrants; and the articles "Black, Trigueño, White … ? Shifting Racial Identification among Puerto Ricans" in Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race and "Caribbeans in New York: Political Participation, Strategic Cooperation and the Prospect of Pan-ethnic Political Mobilization in the Diaspora" in Caribbean Studies.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Latino Religious Experience and Political Engagement in the United States

In the essay below, Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, co-editor with Carlos Vargas-Ramos of Blessing La Politica: The Latino Religious Experience and Political Engagement in the United States, discusses the effect of religion on voting patterns among Latinos. In particular, he examines perceptions of trends related to Latino Catholicism and Protestantism within academic circles and how the book resulted from his initial desire to "set the record straight" on this important topic.

The academic community had been fascinated with the rise of membership in Protestant Evangelical denominations for the better part of the decade when George W. Bush ran as the "first Hispanic president." Based in part on trends in Latin America, the evidence was clear that a Catholic monopoly over religion could not be presumed. As a long-time scholar of religion among Latinos and Latinas and with a solid background in Latin American studies, I found too much "drama" in these research conclusions. I say "drama" because the Protestant and Evangelical presence had been constants for Latinos and Latinas within U.S. borders in the immediate aftermath of the invasions and annexations into the Mexican Southwest, including Texas and California and then later into the island of Puerto Rico. As the unofficial "establishment" Christianity, Protestantism utilized its influence with the state to ensure that the previous patterns of Catholic dominance were replaced in the public schools, in political organization, in civic associations and social life. In other words, Protestant and Evangelical leadership was a century-old reality among those Latinos and Latinas living in the United States.

The Latin American phenomenon after the late 1980s had operated on a different set of premises. For one, liberation theology had made progressive Catholicism a target for reactionary politics after Ronald Reagan. Uncomfortably, Reagan's people had defended the business and military class in many South and Central American countries, including organizations like Arena in El Salvador that had been linked to the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the rape and murder of Maryknoll religious women. Perhaps a larger reason for the rapid rise in Evangelical membership in Latin America was the division in the Catholic Church where a conservative Vatican censured its own clergy. Finally came the process of urbanization in which the traditional forms of "inherited" Catholicism for agricultural communities were destroyed in migration to sprawling Latin American cities. A typical result was a search for supportive social groups such as in the tight-knit Evangelical churches.

By conflating these two related but essentially different trends, academia had projected an "Evangelical tide." Aided by a secular media eager for anything "new" and an aggressive policy from within the Pew Foundation to foster research supporting the rise of Pentecostalism, it was frequent to encounter predictions that Evangelical growth among Latinos and Latinas would produce a majority population in the United States for Protestantism.

In fact, however, in less promoted research there was abundant data to confound the idea that there was an inevitable Evangelical tide. Blessing La Politica was motivated by a desire to set the record straight. The immediate stimulus came from the findings by Sidney Verba and his colleagues at Harvard in their study of volunteer leadership connected to faith-based institutions. Verba confirmed the premise that Hispanic Protestants and Evangelicals were more politically engaged than Hispanic Catholics. Partly because of the high reputation of Dr. Verba and partly because of the importance of the finding to community organizing, several research projects had focused upon the same trends. In fact, the Program for the Analysis of Religion Among Latinos/as (PARAL) Study which I directed employed exactly the same wording in the questionnaires in order to test the validity of Verba's finding of a political superiority for Latino Evangelicals. In the PARAL Study, as well as in others, Verba's findings were not replicated.

Operating first as academics, PARAL organized a panel of scholars representing diverse sectors of the Latino community to present findings that challenged Verba's conclusions. I was motivated to make these presentations into a cohesive book that would go beyond the narrow and often unpleasant task of refuting another scholar. I hoped that we could explore not just statistical reports on surveys but also inject readers into the internal workings of Catholic organizations where political mobilization was frequent and well-developed. There were all kinds of obstacles that arose to the book project such as the lack of interest in some publishing quarters for a book that had no "sensational" edge. The vagaries of academic life—marriage, mobility and the like—also forced us into reshuffling the contributors to the volume.

The side benefit in all of this was that each election cycle confirmed the initial realization that religion really made an important difference in voting by Latinos and Latinas. In fact, we found data for the 2004 election that being Catholic or Evangelical was more predictive of voting patterns for Democrats or Republicans than the stock-in-trade distinctions of Mexican or Cuban. At the heart of the matter was the Catholic inclination to make social justice issues more important in election decisions than the matters relating to abortion, stem-cell research and homosexuality. Our researchers had highlighted how immigration reform mobilized Catholics, and in 2006 and 2008 the Evangelicals had changed course from identification with Republicans and joined Latino Catholics in voting for Democrats. It appears that in 2012 these trends are being repeated as Democrats have promoted reforms like the DREAM Act while Republican candidates have rejected them emphatically. Moreover, the media has caught up to the defining role that new Latino and Latina voters have in changing the color of traditionally red states like Colorado into blue havens for Democrats. As in other regions of the country, the electoral map is now tilting in favor of the Democratic Party.

This book does not claim the sort of "sensational" label that characterized popular assessment of Evangelical religious identity among Latinos and Latinas. In fact, the book was written to combat such facile flag-waving. In making the case that the drama should be drained away from political assessments, the book provides a historical background to the public understanding of the Latino impact on U.S. politics. There is no inevitability either to Latino assimilation as the "latest immigrant group" or to the notion that one is more American if one is Protestant. The modern principles of democracy, volunteer organization, and individual conscience are not the exclusive property of Protestants. Contrary to the assertion of Verba that Latino political power in the future would follow Protestants, Latino Catholics have been the ones providing the leadership. The current mobilization for the party of social justice sets the pattern rather than fixation on the sexual and gender issues of the Republican Party. The book Blessing La Política tells the reader why this has happened.

• Examines the key statistics on how Latinos and Latinas vote and explains how many come to political decisions because of what they hear and learn in the churches
• Demystifies the preconceptions that all Latinos and Latinas are becoming Pentecostal or that Catholics are deficient in sophisticated modern political commitments

• Combines political science with historical and anthropological perspectives of how and why religion "works" at the local level in forming political opinions

• Discusses Latino politics within a framework of understanding the social and cultural dynamics that shape political mobilization rather than simplistic, static categories of voting results

Anthony Stevens-Arroyo is professor emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino studies at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College. First president of the Program for the Analysis of Religion Among Latinos/as (PARAL), he was also founder and director of the Center for the Study of Religion in Society and Culture (RISC) at Brooklyn College where he conducted the PARAL Study. Stevens-Arroyo is author of the landmark of Catholic studies, Prophets Denied Honor; was editor of the four-volume PARAL series on Latino religion; coauthored Recognizing The Latino Resurgence In U.S. Religion: The Emmaus Paradigm; and has published more than 40 scholarly articles.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Celebrating Banned Books Week: Herbert N. Foerstel on Book Banning and Curriculum Censorship

What prompted you to write your book Banned in the U.S.A.: A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools?

As a professional librarian, I have always believed in the Right to Read.  Some years ago, while serving on the Maryland Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee I interviewed a number of proud censors, individuals motivated by a religious conviction that America's children were being perverted by public library books that mention Halloween, witches, homosexuality, evolution, and a world of other topics.  I was driven to discover the origin of the major bookbanning controversies around the country and the responses of banned authors.

Many readers are familiar with books that were famously banned in decades past. But is book banning really still a major problem in the United States?

In some ways, "book banning" is a misnomer.  Today, books are "challenged" by religious groups, after which school or library boards sometimes remove the books or restrict access to them.

In your forthcoming book with Praeger Studied Ignorance (Apr. 2013), you've shifted the focus of your research away from book banning toward what are perhaps less conspicuous tools of censorship—curriculum design and the textbook adoption process. What drove you toward these new paths of research?

I have discovered that the silent self-censorship by textbook publishers is more insidious than direct bookbanning.  Even when pressure groups fail to force direct censorship of textbook content, timid publishers excise the challenged content in subsequent editions of their texts.

What has surprised you about your new research?

Curricular censorship is a growing problem in American schools, often resulting from the same religiously motivated censors who challenge library books.  The removal of courses on evolution is the best example of this.  But a relatively new form of curricular censorship has emerged from the "teaching-to-the-test" requirements of No Child Left Behind.  Today, schools across the country are removing courses on social studies, music, art, physical education, and a variety of other subjects in order to concentrate on the only subjects covered in mandatory standardized tests: reading, science, and math.  The result is a restricted national curriculum that leaves students under-educated, teachers threatened with dismissal, and schools closed if test scores are inadequate.

What banned book would you like to recommend to your readers this year in celebration of Banned Books Week?

A look at the appendices in Banned in the USA reveals that most banned books are those written for children, but several standard literary works appear on banned book lists every year.  They include titles like Of Mice and Men, Slaughterhouse-Five, Native Son, and To Kill a Mockingbird.  I would recommend them all.

Herbert N. Foerstel is the retired Head of Branch Libraries at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD. He has Masters degrees in mathematics and library and information science. He currently serves on the board of the National Security Archive, located at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is the author of numerous books, including, Banned in the USA: A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools; Refuge of a Scoundrel: The Patriot Act in Libraries, and the forthcoming Studied Ignorance: How Curricular Censorship and Textbook Selection Are Dumbing Down American Education.

Banned in the USA: A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools

"Simply put, Banned in The U.S.A is a straightforward and fact-filled resource which should be found on the shelf of every academic and public library in the country."

-Midwest Review

"A valuable reference tool for librarians who are dealing with censorship. ... Librarians and teachers need this book, but patrons who want to better understand the threats to their First Amendment rights should be led to it as well."

-School Library Journal

"This is the most important book this reviewer has read this year—and the most frightening. It succinctly details the latest effort by the U.S. government to undermine the rights of Americans to free expression and privacy, with a particular focus on libraries and librarians. ... Foerstel's impressive documentation proves that despite the book's brevity, it covers the subject fully and deeply. Highly recommended."

-Library Journal