surprise

I was surprised to see this article in the Times yesterday. In a nutshell, the ACLU and a couple professional organizations are suing the government for not allowing a Swiss Muslim scholar entry to the U.S. One of organization in the suit is the American Academy of Religion to which I belong.

Their statement on the suit is here

I’m surprised by this because in the half dozen years or so since I’ve been a member of the AAR I have rarely seen them take a stand politically. The membership of the AAR is rather diverse, and I’d be surprised if it was overwhelmingly tilted either to the left or right. But organizationally, they’ve always felt a but conservative to me. Not “conservative” in the O’Rielly sense of the word but rather in the cautious sense of the word. In an effort to appeal to the widest set of religion scholars possible, they wouldn’t want to come off as either close-minded born-agains or militant Maoists.

On the other hand, why not? It has always seemed preposterous to me that in this post-9/11 world where we’re always so close to talking about religion no one’s really talking about religion. It would be like a group of genetic scientists excluding themselves from the recent debates on stem cell research because they don’t want to get involved in politics.

Like or not, the work of scholars of religion does has political ramifications, and who better to talk publicly about them than scholars of religion?

So this statement by AAR executive director Barbara DeConcini gives me some hope:

“Preventing foreign scholars like Professor Ramadan from visiting the U.S…. limits not only the ability of scholars here to enhance their own knowledge, but also their ability to inform students, journalists, public policy makers, and other members of the public who rely on scholars’ work to acquire a better understanding of critical current issues involving religion.”

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