Friday, July 30, 2010

Tim Larsen on discrimination against Christians in academia

I was delighted to find an article from Tim Larsen in IHE this morning... anything by him is always a good read, whether it's a review essay in Books & Culture, an article in a journal, or a witty email sent out to colleagues.  His level-headedness and humor suites the touchy topic of religious discrimination perfectly.  Larsen discusses particular cases of discrimination on the basis of religious reasons in a student's and his own research, and calls for a closer examination of the presence of such discrimination in the academy, of public perception of it, and of how the problem can be addressed.

Larsen's article comes on the heels of news that Kenneth Howell has been reinstated to teach Catholic Studies at the University of Illinois, and the unfolding of discrimination accusations at Oxford from a convert to Anglicanism.  Apart from those deeply involved in the situation, I think we can set aside the discrimination case at Oxford for lack of information; at this point it seems impossible to tell from the perspective of the onlooker what exactly has happened.  The case of Prof. Howell, however, has been raised as a matter of anti-Catholic discrimination, and so perhaps is more relevant to Larsen's article.

I'm skeptical, however.  As I said on Wednesday, there's no reason to think that any crisis of anti-religiosity is demonstrated at UI.  If anything, the only reason why Howell has successfully been reinstated is because of the huge influence that Christianity maintains in our universities.  Other adjuncts have not fared so well.  If an adjunct instructor were dismissed for offending students with a Judith Butler reading, for instance, I can't imagine they would have received such support or had such luck in being reinstated.  The incident would have been another data point amongst many others and wouldn't have made any news. 

Larsen is similarly cautious in his article.  He's not out to claim that every supposed discrimination is actual, and he stays very close to his anecdotal evidence rather than making broad statements about the academy.  The point upon which he refuses to budge, however, is that this sort of discrimination is present at times, and we shouldn't simply ignore it.

The comment section has abandoned all modesty, however, and tried to make this into a battle of epic proportions.  Odd notions are circulating such as the idea that claims of discrimination are less impressive because they only come from "one brand of Christian".  On the other hand, "liberal Christians never seem to talk about the discrimination they face, even when they incorporate aspects of their religious beliefs into their scholarly work."  For the life of me, I don't see why this is relevant.  Presumably not all traditions of Christianity are equally well assimilated to all cultures of academic or other discourse.  It seems simply commonsensical to assume that certain denominations or political persuasions will sit more comfortably than others within the wider public.  That liberal Christians are (supposedly) doing well seems no reason to ignore Evangelical claims that their own community is not doing so well. At most this seems to be a criticism of Larsen's use of the word "Christian" in the title rather than being more specific, but I don't see this as all that much of a criticism.  And from the point of view of Christians themselves, I can't fathom the point of unnecessarily sub-dividing the Body when certain of our brothers or sisters feel unfairly treated. 

There also seems to be a good deal of unhelpful comparison between religious groups and women, or ethnic groups, etc.-- and this comparative tit-for-tat is being employed by both sides.  For some, discrimination against certain Christians just seems ridiculous in the face of more pervasive discrimination against minorities or those who are not a part of the ideological in-crowd.  For others, discrimination against Christians is the last acceptable prejudice:
Imagine if *Inside Higher Ed* posted an article on anti-black discrimination in the academy, and the commenters all took issue with black students and their supposed malefactions. This would justly be seen as disgraceful. Somehow, however, in regard to Christian students, it's open season.
Again, Larsen's zealous supporters and vehement detractors miss his point.  Does discrimination against religious reasons in the academy even need to be as shocking an injustice as racism or sexism for it to be acknowledged as a veritable problem?  Who cares how "impressive" his argument is- if there are cases of discrimination surfacing, it's worth trying to address them with the end of creating a better and more plural community of inquiry.  And on the other hand, what's the point of Christians in the comment section arguing "if this were a matter of racism, folks wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it"?  Is there any point in competing with other injustices for the limelight?  What does it accomplish to continually assert "You're blind to our plight, and you're playing favorites with other victims!" except to try everyone's patience and sound increasingly disingenuous in the face of other (usually more serious) instances of prejudice?

Larsen does make a comparison of sorts to other more recognized sources of discrimination, but I think he does so with a much different purpose:
Nevertheless, scholars ought to be concerned that Christians often report that the academy is a hostile environment. Are academics generally glad that such a perception exists? If not, how might it be dispelled? If it is based on genuine experiences, what can be done about a climate that tolerates religious discrimination? If the two stories presented here are merely assailable, anecdotal evidence, then why not gather information on this issue more systematically? Do academic institutions ever try to discover if their Christian students or scholars experience discrimination?

I am hereby calling for such an effort. This could be done through surveys, or focus group discussions, or even just by inviting people to tell their experiences and following up on them, seeing if certain patterns emerge. If these are not the best methods, just think of what you would do in response to reports that a university or academic society was marked by institutional racism or sexism and then apply those same strategies of listening, investigation, and response.
First, he makes clear that this is a matter of (relatively widespread) perception, but rightly argues that perceptions have reasons, and that it is worth investigating troubling perceptions that continue to carry weight with folks.  He also re-asserts the fact that his two examples are merely anecdotal, but continues to point out that precisely because they are anecdotal, more helpful information should be obtained about levels of discrimination in the academy.  This is all, for Larsen (and I think he is right), good enough reason in itself to address the problem of discrimination against Christians.  There is no attempt to argue that "you should pay attention to us if you're paying attention to other victims of prejudice!".  He only brings up the comparisons of sexism and racism as a suggestion for obtaining useful methods of information gathering: "If these are not the best methods, just think of what you would do in response to..." 

Another point that has come up repeatedly in the comment section is that of statements of faith.  While Larsen decries discrimination against Christians in academia, many point out that Wheaton itself, and other evangelical institutions, enforce dogmatic commitments of their own.  This topic was picked up by Adam earlier this month, although he doesn't bring it up in his own comment on the Larsen piece. 

I don't take dogmatic conformity within an institution to be problematic.  It seems to me that such norms are always functioning in communities, and that some norms are more explicit, more demanding, or more restrictive than others.  I don't see how this necessarily restricts free inquiry, however, unless one defines freedom in some flat sense of absence-of-all-constraint.  There will always be frictions and difficulties when these sorts of norms are in place and compete with personal conscience, or wider sentiment, or shifts in corporate perspective over time... in that sense I'm perfectly willing to recognize the imperfections of these systems, and I've often disagreed with the way that norms are enforced here at Wheaton.  I don't take this to be any sort of argument against the norms in themselves, though.  It's simply confirmation of the fact that folks disagree about things.

One can't convincingly raise these concerns against Larsen's discrimination article, however, without coming to the unrealistic conclusion that secular institutions of academic inquiry are meant to be truly "free" in the sense of being normless.  On the other hand, simply telling Larsen, "well, your own evangelical institution is dogmatic too!" doesn't answer anything, and worse, it undercuts any basis upon which one might justify non-discrimination in secular institutions of higher education.  It's simply a destructive argument that we're all guilty of dogmatism, and doesn't really do anything to counter (in fact it makes it easier to confirm) Larsen's single, and rather modest, point: that discrimination against Christians is perceived and at least anecdotally confirmed within academia.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Some more on universities, humanities, publishing, etc.

Related to recent discussions of Amazon as well as the non-renewal of Kenneth Howell's contract, I thought I'd mention a few items...
  • First, on Kenneth Howell.  I was asked elsewhere whether I thought the non-renewal of his contract (after an email concerning Catholic teaching on homosexuality came to light) was an isolated incident, or reflected a wider trend in the academy.  The answer to this depends very much upon one's perspective in asking.  If the question is whether Howell's firing represents a more pervasive intolerance to Catholic thought or certain stances of sexual ethics, then no, I don't think this is the case.  I doubt that even Howell's own situation involves such intolerance, much less acts as a representative of wider intolerance.  On the other hand, I do think that Howell's non-renewal of contract probably reflects the plight of contingent faculty more generally.  His story isn't at all unique-- indeed, I'm pretty confident that the only reason why it garnered so much attention and stirred up such opposition is because matters of religion were involved.  Other adjuncts, fired for reasons that are less interesting to the otherwise uninterested public, are not nearly so lucky as Dr. Howell.  Worth listening to on this are the thoughts of Cary Nelson from early 2008... Nelson is now the president of the AAUP, and is opposed to the action of UI despite also being quite opposed to Howell's doctrinal and ethical commitments.  The problem here is not one of any particular views being disallowed from academia; rather, the problem is controversy more generally, and a university's unwillingness to defend the freedom of its faculty to research and teach without constantly worrying about being fired the moment someone raises a petition against them.
  •  I ran across this through Jim West, and it's being re-posted all over the place today.  Eva von Dassow of the University of Minnesota offers a critique of administrative spending practices to the Board of Regents:
    • Thanks to Tim H. for passing on this article about university presses and the future of publishing, which highlights some discussions from the conference of the other AAUP... the Association of American University Presses.  Included is the usual fare of radical proposals and arguments for/against them, but I had a few random comments that I thought worth mentioning.  The article highlights the amount of disuse present in some university libraries:  
      "Publishers also experienced shock and awe at a session on demand-driven library acquisitions. Michael Levine-Clark,collections librarian at the University of Denver, reported that 47% of books acquired from 2000 to 2009 were never checked out, a phenomenon echoed by Stephen Bosch, in charge of budgets and procurement at the University of Arizona library, where over the past decade $19 million has been spent on books that were never used."
      While these numbers may seem shocking, I think a lot of caution is required in drawing policy implications from it.  In the context of a research library, at least, acquisition practices should have little to do with circulation statistics-- the whole point of a research library is that valuable resources are able to gather dust under the tender care of librarians, so that they are available for use perhaps only once every few decades.  If libraries begin to cut their collections based on usage, there will be no place to turn for obscure work that may be important to retrieve.  What's the point in putting effort into a library if it only amasses those books that everyone is already interested in?  Caveats are appropriate, of course- with limited budgets there is only so much that a library can buy, and cuts have to be made somewhere (although the best route would probably be to follow the lead of Eva von Dassow's speech above, and advocate for a larger library budget and a smaller football budget).  Also, this acquisitions strategy really only fits the research library.  A liberal arts library will have a much more restricted collection, directed towards the purposes of a four-year liberal arts education.  Such purposes may be just as much opposed to the usage-based model mentioned in the article, but it will be opposed in a very different way than research libraries.
      Another point on the article.  As much as I want to defend publishers, sometimes they are the problem.  Tim Barton of Oxford UP is featured heavily in the article, but the prices that companies like his set for books are part of the reason why libraries can't afford to maintain their collections.  Academic literature is always going to be more expensive than popular literature, but paperbacks over $40 and hardbacks over $100 begins to get rather excessive, and offer a difficult standard to ask our institutions to meet when they are charged with collecting hundreds of thousands of these books. 

      Ruth Franklin and Scott McLemee on Amazon

      Two more articles on Amazon out today... Ruth Franklin writes in defense of Amazon in The New Republic and Scott McLemee focuses on the relationship between Amazon and university presses in Inside Higher Ed.  Both articles are quite good and address some of the questions I raised last week, although I'm not sure McLemee offers so much new to the picture.  Franklin raises some important points:
      The real trouble with Amazon, it seems, is that nobody truly believes we were better off without it. This is where the often-made comparison of Amazon with other monoliths such as Wal-Mart falters. Wal-Mart is not known for its catalog of obscurities; the merchandise it sells is all available elsewhere. It put the mom-and-pop drugstores and hardware stores and grocery stores out of business by offering the same items that they sold, just at lower prices.

      This isn’t the case with Amazon. Before it appeared on the scene, if you lived in a part of the country that happened not to be served by a great independent bookstore, you were out of luck when it came to getting books other than bestsellers. As a child growing up in suburban Baltimore—not exactly a backwater!—I felt keenly the lack of ready access to the books that I wanted. (Remember the joke of a selection at your local mall’s Waldenbooks?) And with the quirkier independents—such as the great Louie’s to which I paid tribute above—you were at the mercy of the owner’s idiosyncrasies, which meant that you might find shelves stocked with contemporary poetry but nothing by, say, Tolstoy. Let’s not even get started on how difficult it used to be to get foreign-language books, which normally required going to a specialized store with stratospheric prices. It’s hard to complain too much about the shipping rates on sites like Amazon.fr and Amazon.de when they offer access to so many of the books of Europe.
       I think the problem of distribution is pretty serious in the U.S.; outside of university towns and cosmopolitan centers, it seems much more difficult to accomplish the sort of critical mass of a reading public that would be necessary for the sort of decentralized, independent book trade that Franklin rightly points out as something of a nostalgic ideal.  The point about Amazon.fr and .de also repeats a point that has been expressed by theology bloggers before- that Amazon provides access to books published elsewhere that might otherwise be inordinately expensive.  Speaking from the perspective of library acquisitions, even the large book distributors like Baker & Taylor don't offer great access to continental European titles... we receive these titles through Harrassowitz rather than Yankee Book Peddler, our normal distributor.  Mention of Amazon's non-U.S. branches also made me wonder how the publishing and book trade situation is faring overseas.  Are there any readers who could share their perspective on this?  Is the same sort of battle going on outside of the U.S.?

      These qualifications about the threat of Amazon to the book trade also shouldn't be taken as a critique of those who are calling for support of Indie sellers or reform of the system.  As Franklin herself points out, "if Amazon is truly endangering [publishers'] ability to bring out their books, it is their responsibility to take a stand against it."  Folks are free to make of the market what they will, and a decision to work with Amazon for financial reasons by either publishers or book consumers isn't much different than Amazon's own business decisions.  No one is coercing the current state of affairs, and nothing but the inertia of certain incentives is stopping anyone from doing things differently.

      Friday, July 23, 2010

      A few items...

      • The Warburg Institute is running into some trouble with University of London administrators.  At the same time, Peter Mack of Warwick has been chosen as the new director of the institute (you can hear an interview with him here).  W4RF continues to offer updates on the situation, for those who are interested.
      • The latest issue of Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses is out, and includes a paper on J.-M. Tillard's post-concilliar work in ecumenism, and specifically on work that influenced the 2007 Ravenna document.

        Wednesday, July 21, 2010

        Book habits

        I mentioned in my previous post on "The Trouble with Amazon" that I would lay out some practical ideas for engaging with the book industry.  These thoughts may be pretty loose and scattered, but they're simply an attempt to get down what I bring to the table on this matter, and something of an invitation for responses and ideas from others.
        • One of the most significant difficulties I run into in these discussions is that I'm thinking mostly in terms of academic research literature, and this is a very different thing than someone discussing novels, or poetry, or even much of the non-fiction that is published.  Academic work is such a niche market that its problems and solutions may be completely different than in other areas.  What might be helpful is a state-of-the-industry report that is more realistic for the scale we are talking about here, because there's no reason to think that books on Barth or Aquinas should behave in the same way as the latest works of fiction when they hit the market. 
        •  I think it's worth considering the relationship of used bookstores to those selling all or primarily new items.  We can probably all recognize the value of used booksellers, but I'm not sure what the relationship is between these sellers and the health of the industry as a whole.  If we are recycling one copy of a book that is still in print by the publisher and being sold new in local stores, what is the effect of our buying it?  This isn't to say, of course, that we shouldn't be buying books used- I think we should.  I simply want to recognize that a used bookstore plays a very different role for book culture than does the independent new-book seller.  Often I think the two can be unhelpfully lumped simply because they are both situated in contrast to the large commercial retailers. 
        •  I don't know about others, but a relatively common gift that I receive from a great aunt (or closer relations frustrated by trying to make heads or tails of my book interests) is a gift card to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Borders.  Because of the ubiquity of these three, it's an easy recourse for making sure that the right book gets got by the gift recipient.  Something like this would be great for smaller bookstores or for specific publishers, but the obvious problem is that none of these places are a one-stop ordeal where you can find virtually whatever you want... this is likely why only a few of such places offer gift cards, and why those that do (I'm guessing) don't do nearly as much business through these cards.  A solution to this dilemma that might bring a lot of business to smaller outfits during the holiday season, could be a co-operative venture for gift card arrangements.  Operating something like those community business discount cards that the basketball team or high school band sells you, participating publishers or booksellers could work together and accept a single card, making this sort of gift a more viable option alongside Amazon gift money.  The Booksense Gift Card operated like this, but has unfortunately just recently shifted to be effective in-store only, so that you can only purchase items from the place where the gift card was originally purchased.  I'm not sure what problems led to this change or how they might be avoided in the future; I'm also not sure whether such gift cards have been used by publishers (e.g., Eerdmans, Baker, IVP, and Paulist Press join together to offer a gift card redeemable at any of their websites). But it's an idea worth thinking about.
        • Encourage smaller stores to improve their web presence.  This could be as simple as a facebook page or a home at Blogger or Wordpress, but visibility and access seem to be a primary problem in getting to a greater diversity of stores.  When my wife and I took a short vacation the other week about a half-hour west of where we live, I looked up stores on Indiebound and found a small place that would have otherwise gone unnoticed (and missed out on the money we paid them for two books and lunch).  You can also add stores to Indiebound yourself, so even if a bookstore you know of isn't included or doesn't have any sort of web presence, it's an easy fix and a significant help to people who are looking for places in the future.  I recently added Black River Books (which I mentioned here last summer) and Second Story Books (which is a wonderful place for rare & used items... I was shocked that this wasn't already on their map, given its importance).  Encouraging publishers you enjoy to improve their updating system is also helpful.
        •  Amazon, apart from being a juggernaut with some troubling intentions, is also simply a good tool with a lot of good intentions.  You might as well use it to its utmost.  If you're going to buy something from there, use the student discount.  Keep in mind that Amazon acts as an easy marketplace for used books, which has nothing to do with its policies towards publishers on new ones.  Take advantage of the organizing capabilities of the site for wishlists and book searches, and incorporate non-Amazon items into this process through their Universal Wish-List.  You can also use Amazon to find out what books are forthcoming... this helps especially with regard to the last point I made in the last paragraph, about updating systems.  Often books are in Amazon well ahead of their publication date, even if the publisher itself doesn't have a user-friendly updating system... simply do a search in Amazon for what you want ("theology" or "ecclesiology" or "virtue ethics"... it's usually most helpful if search terms are pretty broad) and sort your search results by "Publication Date".
        •  Keep in mind that buying books still helps publishers, even if it's from Amazon.  For the sake of some perspective- another place that students and professors buy books is at academic conferences.  These venues are popular because of the significant discounts that are often offered.  But enjoying these discounts means that publishers are losing money too, perhaps a comparable amount as they would with deep Amazon discounts.  Often conferences are a net loss for publishers-- and they don't help brick-and-mortar stores any more than shopping on Amazon does, even though they provide the flesh-and-blood encounters that Amazon doesn't.  The point of this is to say that easy targets like Amazon don't have a monopoly on threats to the book industry.  And, on the bright side, even shopping at Amazon or at a discounted conference booth keeps books moving, and that is a good thing. 
        • A good deal of what people are trying to preserve with independent bookstores and a vibrant publishing environment is the wider discourse that is made available by print.  In keeping with this goal, part of the solution should be talking about books.  As a library cataloger, a student, and an academic blogger, I enjoy finding out what new work is being published.  I've especially come to enjoy periodical literature because of how varied and changing it is.  Within my own interests, I try to pass some of that along here on the blog.  I've also contacted many readers privately when I run across something that I think may interest them in particular.  In situations where there isn't a huge advertising blitz or general expectation from the reading public already in place, it's word of mouth and regular conversation that will keep literary communities functioning properly.  Indeed, literary communities are more likely functioning as they should when bombardment by advertising is less involved in what gets circulated, and more reasoned review and response stands as the norm.
        So these are a few scattered thoughts.  Consider this an open thread on book habits, or practical aspects of engaging with published literature, maintaining an eye to the health of the industry.

              Kevin Hector: Schleiermacher's Speeches on Religion

              The first of Prof. Kevin Hector's book projects is now listed on the T&T Clark website, and will be available in 2011.  Schleiermacher's Speeches on Religion will appear in the Reader's Guides series, and serve as a primer for students.  The volume promises to be a valuable introduction to Schleiermacher's thought- especially so, I think, because of the extent to which pedagogical concerns tend to be central to Prof. Hector's theological work.

              Hector is also working on a constructive book-length project in theology and a more historical account of modern theology.

              Tuesday, July 20, 2010

              The Trouble with Amazon

              Last night I read Tyler Cowen's 2006 article in Slate, "What are Independent Bookstores Really Good For?", which may be familiar to some of you already.  In it he made an argument against indie critiques of Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Borders, and similar larger booksellers.  In defense of the chains, Cowen pointed out the increased accessibility of books for customers, and argued that allegiance to independent stores wasn't much more than a matter of sentimentality--
              Our attachment to independent bookshops is, in part, affectation—a self-conscious desire to belong a particular community (or to seem to). Patronizing indies helps us think we are more literary or more offbeat than is often the case. There are similar phenomena in the world of indie music fans ("Top 40 has to be bad") and indie cinema, which rebels against stars and big-budget special effects. In each case the indie label is a deliberate marketing ploy to segregate, often artificially, one part of the market from the rest.
               There were some strong critiques of Cowen's article when it came out, and it's probably no surprise that I'm also unimpressed by his argument.  The article is valuable insofar as it points out that we can't simply have a knee-jerk reaction against large sellers and ignore the good things that they provide: greater access and visibility, algorithms that track buying in order to provide a bibliography of similar resources, and cheaper prices.  This isn't nothing.  But the gaping holes in Cowen's rosy picture also need to be addressed.

              This morning, as if by providence, Dennis Johnson of MelvilleHouse offers a bleak sort of response to the story written four years ago by Cowen.  In the publisher's blog Moby Lives (which you should all add to your RSS feed if you haven't already), Johnson points out some news on Amazon.com, including dropping stock, optimistic announcements from Bezos about e-book sales, and... most importantly... a devastating new essay from Colin Robinson in The Nation. 

              In "The Trouble with Amazon", Robinson discusses Amazon's relationship with publishers at length.  Anecdotal accounts of strong-arming tactics reveal the extent to which Amazon has created trouble for the sustainability of the book industry.  Included is the story of Dennis Johnson himself:
              Dennis Loy Johnson, co-publisher of the Brooklyn-based independent Melville House, is one of the few publishers who have dared to speak openly about Amazon's bullying. His story is far from atypical. In 2004 a representative of the retailer contacted Melville's distributor demanding an additional discount. Such payments are illegal under antitrust law, which precludes selling at different prices to different customers. Large retailers circumvent this restriction by disguising the extra discount under the rubric of "co-op," money paid to the bookseller for promotional services, often notional. In this case the distributor did not bother with such niceties, describing what Amazon was after as "kickback."

              Johnson resisted Amazon's pressure and complained to Publishers Weekly about what he saw as the retailer's capo-like tactics. What happened next evidently still rankles. "I was at the Book Expo in New York and two guys from Amazon came to see me. They said that the company was watching what we were doing and that they strongly advised us to get in line. I was shocked at how blatant the pressure was." Within a couple of days Johnson noticed that the buy buttons for his books had been taken off Amazon's site, making Melville's titles unavailable.

              In the end Johnson, faced with an offer it was nigh impossible to refuse, agreed to the co-op. His books' buy buttons were reinstated. Today Amazon is Melville House's biggest customer, and though Johnson still regularly flays the company on his popular publishing blog Moby Lives, he also concedes that it is highly effective at bookselling: "They make buying so easy. It's impossible to resist."
              There is also some interesting commentary about the extent to which broad access has actually decreased the diversity of reading among customers.  This problem is something that I think academics often fail to be aware of, because of the extent to which we are often the long end of the tail referenced below:
              Though the overall number of titles published each year has risen sharply, the under-resourcing of mid-list books is producing a pattern that joins an enormously attenuated tail (a tiny number of customers buying from a huge range of titles) to a Brobdingnagian head (an increasing number of purchasers buying the same few lead titles), with less and less in between.
               Few would argue with the fact that giants like Amazon provide a lot for the customer.  The question is, at what systemic cost?   If publishers cannot afford to stay in business or have to charge exorbitant prices for items with lower sales (in turn creating a mess for library budgets), what will the prospects for book trade look like years from now?

              Halden has brought up Amazon before, and I've also mentioned the problem of predatory pricing.  I have for some time, and will continue to always link books I mention to their publisher rather than to the Amazon page.  At the same time, a number of bloggers have recently mentioned the deal that Amazon is offering for students, and I confess that I signed up for it and plan on using it.  One has to balance what is feasible, and in any case I don't think there's too much sense in making Amazon out to be the devil.  There are good reasons, many of them financial, for buying from a large distributor (your library does, in any case, and usually at significant institutional discounts).  What is most important is to be aware of the wider issues in play for those who write, publish, sell, and acquire books, and to pursue practices that are balanced and supportive of a sustainable situation for the future.

              But how to do this?  What are some particular problems that present themselves in academic publishing?  What are some issues peculiar to the religious publishing niche that we should be aware of?

              I am hesitant to make this post too long by discussing some possible answers and suggestions for these questions, so I'll continue with some of my ideas in a future post, either later today or tomorrow.  In the meantime, do make sure to read Robinson's article in The Nation, subscribe to Moby Lives, and share some of your thoughts on what is happening and what can be done by individual readers, writers, publishers, and sellers.

              Monday, July 19, 2010

              From Church & State to Church & Inquiry to...

              Earlier this year, Kenneth Howell was told that his contract as an adjunct professor of religion would not be renewed at the University of Illinois (here's an article and commentary).  Howell's position was peculiar-- though teaching at a public university, the instructorship is paid for and its occupant approved by St. John's Catholic Newman Center.  The firing was precipitated by concerns about an email Howell sent to students in preparation for an exam that discussed homosexuality, which email has been criticized as offensive, inappropriately asserted (as "preaching" rather than "teaching"), etc.

              I'm not interested in discussing the merits of this particular case and whether or not Howell was unfairly treated by the administration.  In any case, there are a number of good discussions out there on both sides of the issue, and most everyone with an opinion has struck me as being pretty fair and reasonable in their points (and this state of the discussion isn't a small victory, given the perfect storm of sex, politics and religion that have come together here).

              What I find sort of odd... and worth considering more directly... are two articles at IHE written by Scott Jaschik on the 15th and the 19th of this month.  In "Teaching or Preaching?", Jaschik thoroughly lays out facts of the matter and discusses the varieties of opinion currently circulating.  In "The Real Scandal at Illinois?" there is further consideration of what exactly is the root of the problem at UI... here the Newman Center becomes the primary object of scrutiny rather than Howell himself, and concerns are raised about its history and legitimacy within a public university setting.

              In both articles, the oft-repeated concerns of church-state violations and protection of free inquiry are raised.  In the second article, however, these questions strike me as culminating in a weird amalgamation of reasons that raises more questions than it answers.


              Church & State

              Jaschik starts out by highlighting the differing standards of teaching religions at UI; while courses in Buddhism or Methodism or Judaism are taught by religion scholars acquired through normal academic review standards, the professor of Catholic thought is nominated and paid for by a Catholic institution (though presumably approved for hire by UI). This is apparently a Very Bad Thing:
              This arrangement has existed for decades, and been opposed by faculty members -- also for decades. Not only is it highly unusual for a college to give an outside group the right to screen and nominate candidates to teach, but the situation raises church-state issues at a public institution, presents issues of fairness when it is permitted for only one religious group at a secular college, and may undercut the values of the field of religious studies, faculty critics say.
              All of these worries are understandable.  An institution of higher education should be concerned about the quality of its religious studies courses and the threat of undue privilege offered to outside bodies with a decided interest in certain religious norms.  One could easily imagine a situation where a renegade proselytizer infiltrates a classroom of critical learning in a normal academic situation; the addition of a sectarian organizational backing only increases the likelihood of such a problem.  The privilege offered to professors of Catholic thought via the Newman Center would become a difference that actually makes a difference for free inquiry, and under such conditions the university would stand helpless before religious-studies-as-apologetics.  

              ...unless, somehow, the university could develop some kind of institutional review process and executive decision-making protocol... you know, like the ability to receive complaints and fire an adjunct professor as necessary.

              The odd thing about Jaschik's point, then, is that the Howell situation itself seems to present something of an argument against the concerns that led to it in the first place.  If the university can end the contract of this Catholic instructor as easily as it can any other contingent faculty, then it's not very clear what exactly everyone was worried about in the first place.  Does the Newman Center really exercise all that much influence, if Howell stands so decidedly at the mercy of the university?

              The reader of Jaschik's article continues to be taken in circles by Nicholas Burbules, and it's not exactly clear what the problem is, exactly:
              "This has never really been about just one e-mail," said Nicholas C. Burbules, a professor of education and former Senate president at the university. "This has been an arrangement that has been rife with potential for things to go wrong, and this seems to be an instance in which things did go wrong. This was foreseen and argued over for decades at the university, with faculty members and some administrators trying for years to change this arrangement."
               If this is not about the recent email, then it's about the long-standing arrangement.  But the arrangement itself is "rife with potential", and I can't imagine that Howell failed to have his contract renewed for being rife with any sort of potential.  Certainly his predecessors weren't fired for any such reason.  So what exactly is the problem?  Well, Burbules says "this seems to be an instance in which things did go wrong."  But is he talking about the email again here?  The concern seems to vacillate between an unsavory arrangement with a Catholic institution and some specific recent occurrences.  The only problem is that it's not clear why the Newman Center arrangement is anything more than "rife with potential for things to go wrong", which doesn't seem to be any sort of violation itself.  And if the current problem with Ken Howell is what is actually wrong (although Burbules says that it's not the problem just before he seems to imply that it is the problem), the decision not to renew his contract seems to relieve any concerns about the Newman Center's potential for trouble.  There's no question that UI is in the driver's seat here.


              Church & Inquiry

              The article goes on to discuss what "religious studies" should be, and offers concerns about the place of faith commitments within the field:
              Ann Taves, president of the American Academy of Religion and professor of religious studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said that defining religious studies as an academic field about religion, not one that seeks to promote a given religion, is a distinction that most often comes up in fund raising. But she said it was crucial to the field to maintain its independence. [...]

              Taves said that she does not make this distinction to denigrate the way various religions teach their faiths to fellow believers, but to note the differing roles of religions and of religious studies faculty members. "Religions have their own obligation to teach people what it means to be a practicing Catholic or Hindu or Jew, but that's not the purpose of a [nonsectarian] university," she said. "Our goal is to teach people about religious traditions, as we do in the humanities and the liberal arts." There is nothing wrong with what religions do, "but that's a different task," she said.
              As a mundane point about keeping inquiry critical, all of this is fine. I'm not sure, however, that Taves is exactly correct with her more extensive assertions.  To begin, I'm curious about Jaschik's bracketed adjective "nonsectarian" within Taves' discussion of "the purpose of a university".  Did this replace an originally less-clear word, or was it an editorial addition to a blank space?  In any case, is it even obvious that a non-sectarian institution shouldn't hold within its academic purpose the teaching of religious practices or beliefs?  There seem to be quite a few nonsectarian institutions that get along just fine teaching sectarian beliefs and practices within their walls.  The University of Chicago is nonsectarian and its Divinity School is recognized as an important contributor to the religious studies field, but it also teaches theology and offers ministerial degrees.  The University of Virginia is a public nonsectarian university that is well-known (and well-respected) for its religion department, though it doesn't at all shy away from engagement with religious arguments, norms, and interpretations as partners in religious studies inquiry.

              Further, Taves' comments seem odd coming from a president of the AAR.  This scholarly association, purportedly the primary representative of religious studies scholars in the United States, is crawling with sectarian and theological approaches to inquiry concerning religion (as is the SBL).  Conference sections for theology are among the most populated at yearly meetings, and if you close your eyes and point in any direction from inside the exhibit hall, you're more likely to be singling out a religiously-affiliated or theologically-focused publisher than anything else.  There are of course scholars who disagree with this interaction between religious and non-religious inquiries into religion in nonsectarian settings, but I don't quite understand why this disagreement should establish any particular ground rules for the field of the sort that Taves provides here.  Nor do Taves or others in charge seem to be very much concerned about enforcing such standards, whatever they say about the state of things. In the recent past we have also seen Emilie Townes and Jeffrey Stout holding the presidency, and the work of both involves either religiously-situated theological inquiry or traditionally informed normative and ethical arguments.  Next year, Kwok Pui Lan will hold the AAR presidency, another testimony to the fact that religious studies isn't nearly so distinct from religiously-normed inquiry as Taves seems to imply.


              From Church & State to Church & Inquiry to...


              Questions about the connection between a Catholic institution and a public university have centered around church-state violations and the legitimacy of the Newman Center's role in providing funding for Catholic Studies adjuncts at the University of Illinois.  Other questions about how religious studies should best be pursued moved on to the problem of church-inquiry relations, and analogous "violations" were identified for this new boundary. What seems to be missing... and might have provided a bit more perspective for the commentary that was offered by Jaschik... is the relationship between an institution's public status and its ability to pursue free inquiry.  Fixation on the church, that is, seems to have distracted from the state-inquiry relationship, which itself is "rife with potential for things to go wrong".

              Haven't we been bombarded over the past few years (decades, really, but recent economic crises have instigated a new wave) with apologias for the humanities disciplines and for free inquiry in the face of a capitalist political economy and the professionalization or commercialization of the academy?  Why do we move so quickly from such a struggle to what seems to be a naive conflation of the "nonsectarian" and the "public" in the current conversation about UI and Ken Howell?  The argument is that the funding for the Catholic instructorship at UI is highly peculiar because of its connections to a religious body.  Peculiar or not, though, does it really provide a threat to free inquiry that is very much distinct from the pressures put on universities by state budgets or more general societal standards?  Aren't these dilemmas rather consistently present in the university?  I don't see why the current case suddenly finds Howell's opposition jumping in bed with the "public", as if this is any protection against the compromising of free inquiry.

              My argument here isn't that public institutions are simply the secular equivalent of sectarian or religious institutions.  Nor am I trying to say that Howell should get his contract back-- indeed, some of my earlier points actually lean on the legitimacy of his firing in order to make their case.  What I have a problem with is the apparent need to make categorical arguments about what constitutes proper inquiry and decision-making in a public institutional setting or in accordance with modern research standards.  As far as I can tell, university and disciplinary standards are currently much more diverse, complicated, and ad hoc than many people seem to be implying.  An argument could surely be made that this is a bad thing, but doing so strikes me as embarking on a more general conversation and not one that has much to do with Howell's instructorship in itself.  It also strikes me as a rather ambitious conversation to initiate, given that current inquiry in religious and theological studies speaks so strongly against a more monolithic notion of secularity and the religions.

              Friday, July 16, 2010

              A few items...

              • Nathan Ihara's recent article in the LA Weekly laments the fact that “We are sold books the same way we are sold cell phones, as if the latest models deserve the most attention” and makes a case for a renewal of attention to older, better books.  Melville House brought the article to my attention, and is a part of the solution in its release of neglected gems.  Duke UP and Princeton UP have also taken the opportunity to mention the importance of publisher backlists.  Here at clavi non defixi I have tried to maintain these sorts of values as well.  
              •  Collectanea Augustiniana is an odd book series-- it has jumped back and forth between various publishers, has a rather spotty online presence, is published rather sporadically, etc.-- but it is worth the difficulty of following.  Newly published in the series is the first part of Frederick Van Fleteren's translation of the classic Life of Augustine, from Louis Sébastien's magisterial Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers siècles.  Sections of the Mémoires were translated into English during the 18th century (I have run across two volumes on Christ and the apostles and a volume on the Arian controversy), and most of the original series is available in fulltext on GoogleBooks (although I cannot find vol.xiii, here or in other digital libraries... please share if you have any information on it!).  There will be two more forthcoming parts of the English version of the Augustine volume, covering the Donatist and Pelagian controversies.  UPDATE: Thanks to Walter Dunphy for pointing out a fulltext version of the original Vie de Saint Augustin
              • More on the Martin Stone plagiarism situation, with some relevant commentary for academic publishing more generally.  Interesting to note, I did a search for Martin Stone because I remembered mentioning him in the past, and his work with John Doyle on Cajetan popped up.  Since that posting, KU Leuven has removed his faculty page, and apparently the Cajetan volume has even been changed.  Cornell UP (distributing for Leuven) has removed Stone as editor and replaced him with Victor Salas.  This strikes me as an odd correction to make... not the retraction of Stone's editorial role, but the addition of Salas.  Perhaps the project wasn't very far along, or Salas did a good bit of editorial work behind the scenes to begin with... but the update still seems odd.

                Wednesday, July 14, 2010

                Jeffrey Stout on the theological task

                This description isn't meant to be exhaustive, but it offers some helpful guidance as far as its three-sentence scope goes:
                "The vocation of theologians, as Hans Frei once said, is akin to the calling of Geertzian ethnographers.  Their main expressive task, of course, is to make explicit the commitments implicit in a community's practices as an aid to reflective self-understanding.  But their contribution to discourse outside of the church consists in a kind of thick description that allows fellow citizens to correct prejudice and misunderstanding concerning what believers think and care about." (Democracy and Tradition, 112)

                I imagine the purposes outlined in the second and third sentences could also be readily switched... that is, theological work can correct misunderstandings and prejudices of believers and can work to assist reflective self-understanding on the societal level.  It's also worth considering how theology acts as both a preface to discourse and/or as a technical discourse in itself (this distinction is probably valid for many other academic disciplines too.  I think it is quite related to current problems in the state of the humanities insofar as the relationship between discipline and discourse effects the values of disciplinary inquiry and the institutional structures that are formed or deformed in response to these values)

                Friday, July 9, 2010

                Sarah Coakley & a makeshift letterpress cross

                With Ben working on next week's Sarah Coakley Symposium and Anna discussing the importance of beauty in books, this seemed an appropriate discovery to mention for an end-of-the-week post.


                I was listening to a short documentary on Firefly Press of Massachusetts, a printer that has been a part of the recent American craft revival of letterpress. 

                About three quarters of the way through the film, there is mention of the centrality of type over image engravings for the work that the Press does... as the narrator says, "typography is always trump."  In one instance, the printer needed a Maltese cross and came up with an appropriately typographical (if cannibalistic) solution.  Four "I" blocks were cut, beveled, and joined to form a makeshift cross.

                The film then went on to show what the cross was for; it was a print announcing an upcoming ordination.  I was surprised to see the name of the ordinand as none other than Sarah Coakley.

                Poking around to confirm that this was the same Sarah Coakley, I found mention of a 2000 ordination in her T&T Clark author profile, rather than the July 1, 2001 date mentioned on the Firefly print.  I was undeterred, however, suspecting that the ordination of 2000 was to the diaconate rather than the priesthood.  It seemed a bit too much of a coincidence that two Sarah Coakley's would be ordained over such a small span of time as two years (although it is a bit confusing that there is a Dorchester, Massachusetts and a Dorchester in England, each close to where Coakley apparently assists in parish ministry in either country.  Coakley's Dorchester is presumably the one in England, however, as it is a separate diocese and has a Bishop Colin as mentioned in the print.  The prints must have been made in Massachusetts before shipping out across the Atlantic).

                In any case, I went on to look for proof of a 2001 ordination to the priesthood and found a brief mention of it by Coakley herself in a 2006 essay on "Theological Scholarship as Religious Vocation".  An excerpt is worth including here at length:

                "[...] in practice we all tend to lead schizoid lives of some sort or another: we “perform” here together, for instance (in the relatively protected realm of the Association of Theological Schools), with one set of semiotics that conform to the theology/ministry pole (using relatively pietistic language, or appealing to church experience without further methodological explication, for instance); and we “perform” somewhat differently, in the more critically hostile, or secularized, realms of the guilds of the SBL, AAR, American Historical Association or American Philosophical Association. We are all to some degree intellectual chameleons. But I have come to question, especially since my own recent ordination to the priesthood in 2001 (and my transition thereby into the public celebration of the sacraments at Harvard Divinity School), whether this accustomed schizoid dance of the church-scholar will any longer do [...]"
                 
                Someone at the symposium will have to speak with Professor Coakley during a break and ask whether she has seen the film and noticed her brief appearance.

                Thursday, July 8, 2010

                Round-up of some new journal issues, articles, and a CFP

                • In the July issue of The Journal of Religion, there is a 34 page review article of Taylor's A Secular Age divided into eight sections written by eight different professors from all committees of the Divinity School, each considering the work from the perspective of their field.  Taylor has also contributed a separate response
                • Scott Williams has an article in Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie Médiévales on the reception of Augustine's account of the generation of the Word through Thomas Aquinas, Henry of Ghent, and Duns Scotus. 
                •  Eugenia Russell, who edited a volume on Byzantine spirituality last fall, has two new articles out: "Two Greek excerpts of Johannes Cuno (1463-1513)" in Renaissance Studies publishes some texts of this Dominican that were concerned with the dissemination of the Greek language in the West.  "Nicholas Kavasilas Chamaëtos (c.1322-c.1390)" in Nottingham Medieval Studies offers a new examination of Kavasilas, attempting to place him within contemporary Byzantine disputes over the relationship between secular and spiritual wisdom, and in particular within this dilemma as it played out in the hesychast controversy.  The issue of Nottingham Medieval Studies does not appear to be online yet, although the link above provides ordering details for the hardcopy.
                • A longer-term CFP to consider, The Monist will have a theme issue on "Naturalizing Religious Belief", to be published in July 2013.  Submissions are due July 2012.

                  Tuesday, July 6, 2010

                  Vasileios Syros at the Martin Marty Center

                  I just noticed that Vasileios Syros has been announced as a senior research fellow at the Martin Marty Center of the Divinity School for 2010-2011.  I took a seminar with Prof. Syros on medieval political thought at the Committee for Social Thought, and a research paper for this seminar was the source of my upcoming article, "Melchizedek as Exemplar for Kingship in Twelfth Century Political Thought".  I've also mentioned Syros here before with regard to a book series that he edits on medieval intellectual history.

                  Syros's project is tentatively titled, "Jewish Political and Religious Thought at the Intersection of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period: The interaction of the Jewish and Christian political and religious traditions between the Mediterranean and the Alps." He is scheduled to present his work in a symposium on January 27th, which I'm sure I'll mention again closer to the date for those who are interested in attending.

                  A few items...

                  •  Some comments in light of last week's incident at Amazon.com, reflecting on the importance of diversity in book jobbers, stores, and other distributors.
                  •  James J. O'Donnell reviews the Kindle.  There are some good thoughts in his talk about the abominable state of metadata amidst the massive access to digital texts that we now enjoy, and I think I'll have to go deeper into this on another post in the near future.
                  • Another belated Independence Day reading... analysis of Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence has revealed an interesting change in terminology during the writing and re-writing of the text. 

                    Friday, July 2, 2010

                    Academic Toys... Tools

                    This is a guest post by Shawn Goodwin, a good friend who is currently working on an MA in Bible and the Ancient Near East at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He had previously done an MA at Wheaton in biblical exegesis, and I worked with his wife Beth here at the library.  Shawn knows a good deal about technologies for research, and he's graciously agreed to share his thoughts here at clavi non defixi. 


                    Academic Toys Tools

                    My new iPad gets a lot of looks when I pull it out. Its frustrating because many people assume that I have it for entertainment purposes. But if that is all it could do, I wouldn't have bought it. If a particular appliance or gadget doesn't fit into my workflow, I don't need it. I also don't think I can explain the iPad without also explaining how I do research and why I like the particular programs that I use. The reason I bought the iPad is because it fits into my broader workflow.

                    When I was in High School we had this old school English teacher. She had more than one loose screw, but along with all of her craziness she had a few brilliant ideas. The big project for her class was a twenty page research paper and along with the final paper, we also needed to include our research. We had to take notes on three by five notecards, and then we were to write the topic sentence of each paragraph for our paper on a different sheet of paper. Then, we sorted our notecards by which topic sentence the card went with. It was a great exercise. One I have never followed all the way through. Although it really helps me to organize my thoughts as well as take more specific notes, I found it to be time consuming and a headache. For one, it is a lot easier to type notes into a laptop than to write them out by hand. Another thing is that I can keep much of that stuff in my head and don't need to write it all out. Also, her method assumes a static outline. But for me it usually takes some research for an outline to develop that is usable for taking more notes, then filling out the outline more, then doing more research, then taking more notes, etc. My English teacher's method is a very linear approach that I have found useful as an exercise but not in the actual writing and research process. The last problem with this approach is that it was not designed in the age when I find most of the materials I am looking for online, through digital catalogues, databases, and google searches.

                    Up until this past year, I have used my English teachers instructions as a kind of model that I squeezed into a couple of Word documents. It worked, I suppose. But I found myself taking notes that I didn't need, losing notes that I wanted to keep, and from time to time struggling with the outline of the paper, as it was already in progress. When one of my friends started writing a thesis, he pointed out to me that the process I was using would not work for a paper much longer than 30 pages. I think he was right. I haven't yet written anything longer than that, but after rethinking the process, I am confident the system I have now will work well for a project of any length. I should note that most of the applications I use are Mac specific. I have a couple of suggestions for the PC, but I would love to hear your thoughts on them.

                    Every project I have begins with finding articles and books. I use Firefox because of the great apps, especially Zotero. Zotero works great as a tool for collecting a bibliography directly from the web browser. One of the other applications that I have is Papers. Papers has what I assume to be a great web browser as well, but the problem for me is that it logs into things like JSTOR with an EZproxy and my current school uses a Samba web VPN. This makes Zotero of less value and also Papers. But I hope that soon I will be able to search for articles directly from Papers and download the pdfs inside the program along with their bibliographic information. As it is now, I have to download articles and pdfs from my laptop, and then transfer them into Papers. Papers has a great feature that can help match the bibliographic info available online. That feature still works great even if I can't yet use the EZproxy. If a book is in the Library and not digital, I import the bibliographical info into Bookends (my preferred bibliographic manager).

                    After collecting pdf's and Library call numbers, I can then sync my iPad and leave the laptop at home. Papers also has an iPad app that syncs over the wifi network. The iPad is so much lighter than my laptop and the screen is better designed for reading. Taking notes on a pdf in the iPad version of Papers is not as seamless as I would like and not as wonderful as the full version for OS X. But it works well. I can also take notes on library books in Evernote (which is a great program and syncs with my laptop and my iPod through the internet: it is also free). After taking notes both in Papers and in Evernote, I come home and sync my iPad with my laptop. The notes from the iPad version of Papers are uploaded to the laptop and then I can highlight the references that I want and send everything over to Bookends. This is great. My notes and the bibliography were all collected in Papers and then just transferred to Bookends. From Evernote, I select and drag the notes that I took to their corresponding bibliographic item. This ties all my notes to a specific bibliographic reference.

                    With all of the notes that I took tied to a bibliographic reference in Bookends, I start composing in Scrivener. The programmer designed Scrivener to write a novel, but it works great for academic writing as well. With this program, I can use a more flexible version of my crazy English teacher's method. I can drag my notes into Scrivener (and they keep their bibliographic references!) and move them around and write text and change the order or the outline. Scrivener allows for both organization and composition. I compose my rough draft in Scrivener. I also have Bookends open the entire time I am working in Scrivener, and thankfully the iPad app Air Display allows me to keep Bookends open displayed on my iPad as a separate monitor while I compose text in Scrivener.

                    After the draft is composed, I export my Scrivener project as a word processing document. I use Mellel because it works with Hebrew and Arabic fonts better than anything else on the market, but other word processors will also work if you don't need to worry about Hebrew or Arabic. The word processor is necessary to format the text properly. Scrivener allows you to write, but if you are going to turn this in either as a manuscript or as a term paper, it really needs to be formatted. It is also at this point that I run Bookends to put the bibliographic references into the proper citation format: Turabian, SBL, Chicago or whatever is needed.

                    This process is really similar to the method that my English teacher encouraged us to use, but it has definitely been streamlined by new technology. Granted, it is a little expensive. If you are on a really tight budget you could do pretty much everything with Zotero, Evernote, and NeoOffice/Open Office (all free programs, and available for PC use as well). You could even get a netbook and hack it with OS X if you want a cheap and light laptop for dragging to class. This last solution would only work if you are a little tech savvy, don't mind a few glitches, and don't care about reading pdfs on a super small screen. The netbook would work a lot better for taking notes in class and even composing a paper. But for me, I wanted something light, on which to take class notes, and to read pages and pages of pdfs. The iPad fit what I was looking for. I have some complaints. It isn't as versatile as I was hoping it would be: there is no Hebrew keyboard (though there is one on the iPod and the iPhone); I can't use some of the other diacritics I need for writing Semitic languages; and the pdf reader doesn't allow for the level of note taking that I need. This will get better with time and if you can, I would suggest waiting on purchasing the iPad. Also, the workflow that you choose may be entirely different, and something like the netbook or a laptop will work better for you. I would suggest that you download trial versions many different programs, try them out and see which ones work best for you.

                    I have pretty much only mentioned the programs that I use. But there are others that are worth mentioning.

                    Skim is a fantastic pdf reader and it is free.

                    DEVONthink, from what I understand, is the gold standard for organizing and doing research. It works well for sorting and searching pdfs.

                    VoodooPad is a localized wiki program that has this great feature of automatically linking pages together. It was a lot of fun, but ultimately I found that it didn't fit into my own research.

                    This website has a more complete look at a large selection of Mac Academic programs.

                    The Hebrew Keyboard work around for the iPad - - - I use the free app Hebrew On. It is a web browser that has a built in Hebrew Keyboard. It isn't as good as a fully functional keyboard but it works.