Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Feminist Professors Are Not Secluded Monks

In his column “Professors, We Need You!” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof charges that most university professors “just don’t matter in today’s great debates” and admonishes them not to cloister themselves “like medieval monks.”

Many academics and others took offense at what he has written. A Twitter hashtag

#engagedacademics sprung up and many have posted opposing views.

That Kristof imagines the professors who isolate themselves from the real world as “medieval monks” betrays his bias that the professors to whom he is addressing and the public intellectuals he longs to see are male (and possibly white)!

Kristof is an award-winning columnist who has written on sexual violence against women globally, human rights issues, and Chinese politics. Yet, he has overlooked that feminist professors have engaged in political struggles for decades and many have used Twitter and other social media to spread our ideas and further our causes.

Gwendolyn Beetham, an adjunct professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Brooklyn College, responds that Kristof has failed to take women and marginalizedgroups’ concern about public engagement seriously. Women’s voices are routinely neglected and those who dare to enter public debates are shunned or even threatened. Professor Brittney Cooper, an African American scholar, was physically threatened while speaking in a forum in New York and British classicist Mary Beard was threatened with rape and having her home bombed via Twitter.

The mainstream media marginalizes scholars in the field of feminism and religion. In debates such as the provision of contraceptives in health insurance, the future of the Catholic Church under Pope Francis, and gender violence associated with religion, we seldom hear the voices of feminist intellectuals in the mass media. Male scholars, conservative TV and radio hosts, and religious leaders have the large microphones.

Kristof has overlooked that many professors in religion who are women of color are closely related to their communities and have worked tirelessly to effect social change. The late Mujerista theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz is one shining example. She was very involved in the Women’s Ordination movement in the Catholic Church and she interviewed grassroots Latinas and included their voices in her ethical analysis. A new group “Women of Color Scholarship, Teaching, and Activism” has been formed at the American Academy of Religion to discuss challenges to women of color who want to be engaged scholars.

Many have pointed out that Kristof has only looked at publications such as the New York Times or the New Yorker when he laments the diminishing presence of public intellectuals. Had he looked wider, he might has noticed that feminist scholars, including those in religion, are actively blogging, tweeting, uploading pictures and videos in Instagram and Google Plus, and using other forms of social media. We have written op-eds and blogged on Huffington Post, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Studies in Religion, Religion Dispatches, Patheos, Center for American Progress, and other websites. Some of us post videos or appear in YouTube and have personal blogs. I have started a blog several years ago to share my ideas about postcolonialism and religion and to connect with my readers.

Kristof notes the pressure on academics to publish peer-reviewed articles and books. But he does not mention the underclass of adjuncts who earn $2,000 to $3,000 per class and can hardly make ends meet. According to the Coalition on Academic Workforce, adjuncts earn on average $21,600, while tenure-track positions averaged $66,000 a year. Some labor groups estimate that adjunct faculty make up to 75 percent of higher education positions. Women make up 61 percent ofadjunct faculty, according to the Coalition.

The scarcity of jobs in the field of religion and the growing use of adjuncts have made many feminist professors wonder whether they should encourage their bright female students to pursue a PhD. Some are concerned whether to encourage their PhD students to do research in feminism and religion, for fear that this will further narrow their marketability. Several trade presses in religion are publishing mostly textbooks and there are fewer venues for feminist religious scholarship.

I am convinced that the world needs feminist work in religion more than ever. The generation of feminist scholars in religion before us faced ridicule, censorship, and loss of employment when they charted a new territory and started a new field. They have laid a solid foundation for us to build on. It is important for us to discuss how the field will flourish and how feminist professors can continue their work as engaged intellectuals and help the upcoming generation.  
This article is cross-posted on Feminism and Religion.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Acu-yoga: Synergy of Shiatsu, Acupuncture, and Yoga

Yoga postures can activate energy centers of the body called chakras. Shiatsu and acupuncture can revitalize the body and clear blockages through activating particular points along the meridians on the body.

While traveling as a college student, I learned shiatsu, an ancient form of bodywork, from a Japanese friend. I practice yoga and have used acupuncture to relieve body pain. So when I heard about a workshop called Acu-yoga led by a yoga teacher and a shiatsu practitioner and acupuncturist, I was excited to learn more about how these ancient systems intersect.

This afternoon I attended the Acu-yoga workshop at a yoga studio at Boston’s famous Newbury Street. About two dozen people, mostly young women and men, paid the $45 fee to attend this special workshop. It was cold outside, with temperature around 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

Karma, the yoga teacher, began the workshop with gentle breathing exercises. She especially asked us to breathe into the belly and the back where the kidneys are located. Karma has long blond hair, a slim body, and a gentle voice, which is very soothing.

After several minutes of breathing, Zoe, who practices shiatsu and acupuncture, explained the location of the Bladder meridian. She asked us to form a fist and use the knuckle on the thumb to press on the space between the eyebrows. From there, we would use the knuckle to lightly knock along the meridian up the center of the forehead, across the head, and reaching down the back of the head to the sides of the spinal column. She said the meridian continues along the bottom to the back of the legs and all the way to the pinky toes.


As I was doing this, my body became more alive and I became more aware.

Zoe then explained the location of the Kidney meridian and demonstrated how to press on the relevant points. She said that the Bladder and Kidney meridians are especially important during winter time. The bladder regulates the nervous system, stores and excretes fluids, and balances the spirit. The kidney is a primary source of vitality and energy of the body and its energy can be drawn during times of stress.

Afterward, Karma led us through a series of yoga exercises that focused on the yang side—the active side. While we were doing this, she and Zoe would go around the room and use the technique of shiatsu to gently press on the students’ bodies. For example, Karma pressed along the sides of my spinal column when I was in the Child pose. Some time later, when I was doing the Downward Facing Dog, Zoe would come and press on my right leg and ankle.  

This was the first time that I had shiatsu applied when I was doing yoga. Since I had acupressure and massage before, I was not sensitive to people touching me. I would continue to hold the posture, while they worked on my body. The sensation from the body was quite different from that when I was lying on the massage table when a massage therapist worked on me. 

The yoga sequence then focused on the yin side—the passive and receiving side. There was much less stretching and bending. We had to hold our breath longer for each posture to allow our body open more. At the end of the yoga practice, Karma told us to find a comfortable position for savasana (the Corpse post) because we would lie in that position for a long time.  

Zoe and another acupuncturist went around and inserted needles on our bodies. Students could opt out if they wanted to. I had a needle inserted near my left eyebrow, and needles on both my hands and ankles. Afterward I rested for about ten minutes and felt very relaxed. 

I breathed in and breathed out following the chanting music that the instructors have selected. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I remembered the blessings in my life—a loving family, a four-month-old cute granddaughter, colleagues I have worked with for a long time, and students and junior scholars I have had the privilege to mentor. . . . 

I had come to this workshop with curiosity and I left, quite unexpectedly, full of thanksgiving and gratitude.