What initially drew you to your current field of study?
I think as an undergraduate I got interested in the Middle East. I had the opportunity to travel there when I was a junior. I studied in Germany many, many years ago.
So, what, if I may inquire, are your own personal religious beliefs?
Well, I was raised Protestant, although I haven’t really been involved with a church since I was an undergraduate and by now I am probably your generic religion professor who takes some spiritual sustenance and power from a number of religious traditions. One of the things that I think you forget pretty quickly, once you become a teacher of religion, is how important it is to be a part of the community and that kind of goes by the wayside. It is eclectic.
Is there such a thing as a stereotypical religion professor?
Um, yes, well, most of us at some point have probably had an active interest in religious issues. Probably a movement towards one particular tradition or another. Many people remain that way, others of us begin to look at the universal phenomenon of religion and then to figure out what’s going on in many of them. I think in the last generation it’s been very typical for people who have degrees to become ministers. Religion profs in my generation have really developed. That’s the less usual profile, but they’re still enough into religion that some motivating factor in your own life usually draws you into the power of religion.
Right, so do you see Williams as a sacred space or place?
Not particularly, no. I think probably I have cautious feelings about the tendency to make sacrality a substance in some ways to measure what you think the sacred is, is more complicated than that. Although I think it seems very natural to start assuming you can see it and define it.
So what inspired you to come here besides the gorgeous mountains?
I don’t think there was any point at which I had too much choice. I was offered a job, it was very attractive and I came. There was no planning involved.
So how long have you been here?
For 18 years.
Whew. Quite a lengthy stint of time.
It seems to me much less, but then I remember that when I got here, most of you weren’t born.
Yes, quite right.
Yes, well, I realize that it’s been a very long time.
Well, tenure gives you nice things like this very spiffy office view.
Yes, it does.
So what is the most bizarre religious belief that you have encountered in your field of study?
Let me take a moment to think about that.
Spanning centuries, across the globe.
I don’t know if it’s bizarre or not, but one of the religions that we deal with in Religion 101 are the flesh-eating aesthetics and I am attracted to the extremism of their practices and views and am certainly attracted to other similar extreme practices and other traditions. Not that I would do it myself, but…
Random: what is your view on the Dining Services?
That’s certainly random. From the sublime to the practical. I don’t have any strong opinions towards Dining Services. I was on the Dining Services review committee last year and I’m very excited about the facilities that are being built. I don’t eat there every day, so I don’t know…
You’re also on the Committee for Undergraduate Life. Could you talk about that?
Sure, sure. We’re the committee that’s responsible for all non-academic aspects of student life, including advising, and our agenda for the year has several focuses. Probably the main one that we’re thinking about is the government system, and our philosophy of helping, and if there’s anything we should possibly be doing differently, or the values that we ought to be articulating to ourselves more clearly about how to survive. In general, residential affiliation, which would be the main thing. The reason that many of our dining halls are organized the way they are, is that they were built to accommodate housing. Prospect housing, Greylock, is divided into four rooms to provide for the four different housing units. That kind of thinking in terms of residential houses has gone on for about five or six years, and good riddance, but what we have now is kind of unclear.
So you’re not sure what’s going to crop up exactly?
I don’t think that much has changed. The most important problem that we’re dealing with is that Mission Park was not a place where people wanted to live, for more than a year, and I think by now, we have a much better use of that facility as a residential system. However, what we have now is class segregated.
So what do you find are the finer aspects of having class segregated housing?
It builds a kind of community…. Beyond that I think the disadvantages are that people don’t necessarily have the opportunity inside class to interact a lot with people one or two years ahead of you, and the kind of mechanisms for handing down the greater wisdom that comes by a junior or senior are not very much in place. Senior advisors are in place for that, but it used to happen a little bit more automatically that people knew each other across classes in an academic way, but also outside of the classroom, but now that’s gone. Now that I think since we house our first years separately, it makes sense that we do that all the way through. As you can tell, I probably think that there are more disadvantages than advantages.
I think that one of the reasons that I picked upper level classes was for the social interaction, and I find that its actually helped, somewhat.
Yes, of course. If you don’t find ways in the dining halls, and your dorms. Anyway, I think more people should do that. On CUL, other things we are doing – that we are concerned about – are the size of the College, the size of classes, the houses, overcrowded housing, we’re worried about some aspects of the advising system, and we have a few other things on our plate, including the funds to support student events that we provide through CUL…to investigate and reflect on some aspects of the Honor System.