Culture Wars and Academic Freedom

I read with interest this morning a piece by Arlene Sanchez Walsh, a Pentecostal scholar, who shares the travails of service as president of what is supposed to be a scholarly organization focused on the Pentecostal Tradition.  As a former Pentecostal, I once was a member of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, attended one of its meetings (hosted at Fuller), and published an article on Aimee Semple McPherson in the pages of its journal. 

She shares her experiences as President of the organization, experiences that demonstrated that cultural dynamics impinged on the freedom of the society to gather and discuss with openness scholarly concerns.  She notes that denominational leaders complained about certain speakers, such as Tony Jones, who favor Gay Marriage (I guess I'd no longer be welcome as well).  Tony did speak, as I understand it, but apparently there was much hand wringing.  The organizers held the line, but as she writes:

It is truly scandalous that disagreements over academic freedom disintegrated into what amounted to schoolyard name-calling where the leadership of the SPS, it was inferred, at once supported bestiality, was partially responsible for the decline of the sanctity of marriage, and was to blame for driving a wedge into the once unified alliance of Pentecostalism. None of those leaders ever told anyone not to go to other academic meetings. But because this had “Pentecostal” in the name, and was being held at an Assemblies of God School, well, the culture war and the political grandstanding had to stay in place.

Arlene, Anthea Butler, and others have decided they've had enough of the culture wars dynamics that are impinging on the organization and thus are working to start a separate, scholarly group that will allow all to come.   

The issue raised by Arlene is one of great importance, because it speaks to the questions of academic freedom and our ability and willingness to pursue truth.  Even if we're postmodern and doubt whether we can attain knowledge of "the truth" doesn't mean we don't pursue it.  For supposedly scholarly organizations, by whatever name the go, presume to shut down the conversation before they start is not helpful (and that goes both right and left). 

So, if you're interested in Pentecostalism, you might want to keep watching out for a new organization called Global Pentecostalisms in the Americas, which will hold its inaugural meeting in November.


Richard said…
I have just posted a couple of comments on the article at my site.

Like you I welcome the new organisation but do think the Culture Wars aspect has been overblown. It is, far more an issue of academic integrity.

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