"Dumb me!" one says or thinks at least this one does when awakened to knowledge of what one's sleepy eyes and consciousness had long overlooked. For a half-century, I, like the colleagues of my generation among American religious historians, could babble for thousands of hours and write thousands of pages and yet show little awareness and make slight mention of Muslim-Protestant relations in this nation. Change for me began in 1988, when we started the "Fundamentalism Project," a great self-educational experience. Still, as we studied Islam more than before, few of us sighted Muslim-Protestant contacts.
A former Southern Baptist spends her or his post-Baptist years trying to make sense of, and sometimes fighting, the past, and seeing what elements of it might be resources for the future. Former Southern Baptist Edward O. Wilson makes no effort to minimize his transformation: "I am a secular humanist." Winner of two Pulitzers and wearer of the National Medal of Science, Harvard biologist Wilson in the New Republic, where too few people will see it, writes a friendly letter to an imagined Southern Baptist pastor (September 4; see "References," below). Subjects: Creation. Nature. Endings.
Readers of Sightings through most of a decade may have noticed that the concept driving it is "pedagogy," not "ideology." What José Ortega y Gasset called being a "civic pedagogue" is appealing as a vocation. Some subscribers, to most of whom we cannot respond even as we learn from them, ask for "other," meaning "more." Being a self-appointed pedagogue itself can sound arrogant and condescending, so we have to hope readers will keep in mind Whitehead's definition of a teacher: an ignorant person learning. I was that with students and now with many sources, including those with whom we interact electronically. Another way to put this approach: Colleagues and I ordinarily try to frame issues, not parking our commitments and beliefs at the door, but being aware of them.
Summer travels off the interstate highways and onto byways, where vestiges of earlier American civilization(s) linger, often lead to passing visions of neglected, boarded-up, or refashioned Masonic Lodge buildings. Just as numberless Catholic church buildings have been deconsecrated, demolished, and remade into clubs and bars, or, most creatively, into churches for African-American congregations that are at home in inner cities, so these buildings speak of a lost past. And just as great numbers of mainstream Protestant church buildings meet similar fates because their congregants have moved on, to suburbs or to nowhere, so these edifices are abandoned. Masonry, though a secret society, made a public splash in countless communities; it now falls out of public consciousness to an unanticipated degree.