What responsibility do later generations have to remember and atone for the injustices of the past, even as they are perpetuated in the present? How do people come to feel compelled to act on this responsibility?
These questions are at once legal, ethical, political, religious, and financial. In this course, we will ask ourselves these questions in relation to a specific project of national public memory, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), which focused on what was called the “Indian Residential School” system, which ran from 1831-1996. Canadian residential schools were a collaboration of church and state intentionally designed as a system of cultural genocide to force Indigenous children to assimilate to dominant settler society and to believe their cultures were inferior to white, Christian culture. In this course, we will dig deep into the texts and context of the TRC, listening especially to the voices of survivors and Indigenous scholars. We will think hard about what it means practically and politically for a settler-colonial nation to use stories, public memory, and ceremonies to call itself to account for its systems of genocide and territorial dispossession. We will also think comparatively about the history of US boarding schools for Indigenous children, including Harvard’s short-lived “Indian College.”
This class will focus on how telling stories on paper, online, and on the land continue to make and remake North America and Turtle Island. Treaties, deeds of property, maps that survey a domain to facilitate resource extraction, sacred scriptures, missionary journalism, transcripts of Royal Commissions, and petitions from representatives of Indigenous nations are all textual modes that claim land, with greater or lesser force. Today, many digital humanities projects attempt to re-mediate these texts to forward a critical consciousness of the ongoing effects and assumptions of settler colonial stories of land (see the websites of the Yellowhead Institute or the Land Grab Universities project). The readings will focus on Indigenous/settler relations in Canada and the United States, with attention to book history, the materiality of texts, and diverse forms of mediation (e.g. newspapers, statues, websites, TikTok). We will also take field trips to archives and sites in the Cambridge area that help us to see and experience the interaction of texts, land, and memory in the making of colonial nations.
I teach both undergraduate and graduate students in larger classes and in smaller settings. In Fall 2019, I co-taught a First Year Foundations Seminar called “The Bible and Migration” (DTS199F) with my colleague, Prof. Naomi Seidman. Here is a brief description of the seminar:
How has religion—especially Judaism and Christianity—shaped the politics of human migration? Why do some people think the bible tells them to welcome refugees, while others think it tells them to build walls to keep them “out”? From the expulsion of Adam and Eve from “paradise” to journeys both ancient and modern to “the promised land”, biblical stories continue to play a complex role in modern literature and contemporary political debates about migration, refugees, and homelands. In this seminar, you will learn how to critically read and convincingly write about biblical narratives and their echoes with a focus on four themes: paradise, promised land, exile, and sanctuary. This course will orient you to studying at U of T, while also giving us all a chance to ask what it means to think and write about the bible and the politics of migration while studying in the Toronto region, the traditional territories of the Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee.
I have travelled regularly with students to the Rainy River First Nations, to consult with the community on the Kiinawin Kawindomowin Story Nations digital humanities project.
In April 2013, together with my colleague Amira Mittermaier, I brought three graduate students to a symposium on mediation, emotion, and religion, organized by Dr. Monique Scheer at the University of Tübingen. DSR grad student Matt King and I delivered a co-authored paper, “Suppressing the Mad Elephant: Missionaries, Lamas, and the Mediation of Sacred Historiographies in the Tibetan Borderlands,” which is now published in History and Anthropology.
On research trips to archives in Victoria, Vancouver, and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, I was accompanied by two students, Ph.D. candidate Amy Fisher and Religion/Philosophy undergraduate Sarina Annis, now a graduate of LSE’s Anthropology of Religion M.A. We were researching the life and times of Anglican Archbishop Frederick Du Vernet (1860-1924), who is a prominent subject of my 2018 book The Story of Radio Mind.
In February 2011, I led a DAAD Study Tour to Germany. I traveled with 11 Ph.D. students to four research institutes in four German cities: Berlin, Halle, Goettingen, and Heidelberg.