Faculty in the Media: On the Backlash to Police Abolition, and Understanding Religion through Storytelling

BISR faculty Geo Maher recently sat down with Doug Henwood of the Behind the News podcast to talk about the state of policing in the US since the summer of 2020. He notes what he terms an “open counter-insurgency” on the part of police (and police unions) in response to the defund-and-abolish movement—one that takes all sorts of forms, from open bullying and harassment to lobbying efforts to the enshrining into law of arbitration processes that make the disciplining of police impossible. “Policing is a political project…and it’s no secret,” Maher argues, pointing out that no part of this backlash has facilitated public safety. They discuss the legal obligations of police, whether these match the broader community’s expectations of what public safety entails, and whether ensuring public safety is in fact the job of police. Maher reminds listeners that “abolition”—of any sort—“must always be a reconstruction,” a slower and complex process of rebuilding (in this case our notions and mechanisms of public safety) on different foundations.  

And, for The Revealer, Kali Handelman talks with novelist, historian, and Curator of Religion at the National Museum of American History Peter Manseau about his understanding of religion in America, as “ultimately concerning collections of stories.” This point of view, he explains, is attributable in no small part to the fact that his work involves the organization of religious objects. Their conversation ranges over, among other things, Manseau’s recent historical novel, his own religious upbringing, his early interest in archaeology, and the way that archaeology continues to figure as a metaphor for his work as writer, curator, and historian: “The stories we take for granted, and which all our assumptions rest upon, are the ground beneath our feet. But the ground can be deceiving. We tend to see an empty field and think it has always been an empty field. To find out otherwise you either need to ask questions or you need to dig.”

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