“Academe – Trade Wars: A Call for a Ceasefire,” By Meredith Gould

Posted on March 19th, 2010 | Filed under Faith and Politics, In Print: New Books, InterViews

This screed of mine might be categorized as “biting the hand that feeds,” except I haven’t had academic employment since the mid-1980s. Back then, the issue was that my work in the sociology of gender was too accessible to trade audiences.  That’s right, in addition to publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals, I sought and received publication in anthologies that could be found in regular bookstores. (Remember bookstores?)

Behold this academic death wish: I admitted wanting to be either Gail Sheehy or Faith Popcorn.  I thought their work was interesting, useful and sociologically valid without using a lot of big words.  What had I been thinking? Although I’d survived up the tenure voting food chain, this bit of indecorous behavior did not sit well with the top tier.  I did not receive tenure. I left academia.  I worked in state government, then an ad agency, then went freelance with all my glorious analytic and editorial skills.

Now, I pay the mortgage by translating medical and pharmaceutical jargon into readable content for the health care industry. For agape, I write books about faith, religion and the spirituality of daily life ─ for a trade audience. And yes, all these years later, I can still get worked up over the way academicians judge the work of we who write for people in the pews and those who minister to them.

My most recent empirical evidence comes from what happened while writing my latest book, a guide for laity to the Jewish roots of Christian worship. Given current sensitivities within the world of interfaith dialogue and thanks to academic training, I knew enough to have eight first readers ─ Christians and Jews; laity and ordained ─ checking my manuscript through multiple drafts.

I asked everyone to review my work for factual errors. Because I’d allowed myself some sociological theorizing about the deterioration of Catholic-Jewish relations in particular, I asked readers to scrutinize my text for too-weird-to-be-credible thinking.  I discussed Jewish "family [spiritual] purity" laws and practices with someone who actively observes them. I consulted with a Roman Catholic canon lawyer after one reader expressed concerns about how I explained transubstantiation. I welcomed counsel and counted ninety-eight percent of it joy.

And then, my editor sent a near-final draft of my trade book for regular folks to a Famous Scholar in Biblical Studies who went vituperatively berserk. No joke, I'm talking about personal attacks bloated with sarcasm and disdain. Famous Scholar dissed my Jewish upbringing, my academic training, and my scholarship; took umbrage at my humor.  Famous Scholar zoomed in on things like the alleged misspelling of “kodesh/kodosh to rant about my lack of qualifications.  I replied in kind by adding a snarky footnote about trends in transliteration and embedding snooty comebacks within the text itself.  I felt triumphant! It was so like being back in academia that I felt compelled to confess this egregious behavior during Yom Kippur (5070) and during the Sacrament of Reconciliation (2010) .

I mention my über-intellectual retaliatory behavior to make this point: we need to stop fighting with one another about who owns access to scholarly materials in the public domain and who has a legitimate right to convey their meaning.

Not everyone with rigorous academic training has remained in the academy.  Really, friends, we need to focus on furthering interfaith knowledge, education and dialogue among our readers whether they’re ungestupt with scholarly training or simply eager to learn more about what we’ve studied in esoteric texts, corporeal life or both.

Meredith Gould is a sociologist and the author of seven books, including Why Is there a Menorah on the Altar? Jewish Roots of Christian Worship (Seabury).  She writes about faith and everyday life at More Meredith Gould. You can find out more about her at: http://www.meredithgould.com.

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