Professor, Department for the Study of Religions
Are you reading anything that’s giving you insight or useful and usable distraction at this point?
To understand more about these emerging diseases, I just had to read Osterholm and Olshaker’s Deadliest Enemy. Who knew that MERS was transmitted by camels who became carriers by eating the same figs and berries as infected bats?! To balance things out also took up Thomas Merton’s beautifully written autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. Those were the days when students spent their free time editing a literary journal and composing poems. They even completed (unpublishable) 200 page novels during their summer vacation. For more uplifting thoughts, am also reading Melvin Konner’s Believers: Faith in Human Nature.
How about music? Films?
Have been watching Shtisel and Unorthodox, two series on ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups. After a while, it occurred to me that I really enjoyed the fact that most of the dialogues were in Yiddish. It reminds me of the way my grandmother spoke Dutch. Am watching the Hulu series Mrs. America, about antifeminist, anti-ERA activist Phyllis Schlafly. The atmosphere it portrays feels very similar to the culture wars we are witnessing today.
As for music: these days I love to listen to opera so let me just stop here.
What is the best website, twitter feed, or other source of information, humor, insight, or distraction that you’ve found lately?
Have been tracking the news here and in Europe via the BBC, Deutsche Welle and other outlets. It is fascinating to see the different reactions to the virus across the world. My entire family is in the Netherlands. Almost all of them go to work every day using strict distancing rules. April 27th was King’s Day or Koningsdag in honor of the King’s birthday. Under normal circumstances, the entire country would be partying in the streets but this year was renamed “woningsdag;” they had to stay in their woning (house) and celebrate by eating mille-feuille pastries with orange icing, the color of the royal family.
Am fascinated by all the homemade entertainment on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. Everybody is singing, playing music, or doing a craft. One of my former Indonesian students is a pastor in rural Sumatra. Every day he posts a short clip with his activities. This week he was digging a small pond using some medieval looking tool, and showed us how he makes a bow and arrow, On Sundays, he dons his black pastor’s robe and gives a sermon from his kitchen. Also really enjoy hearing and seeing what friends are doing these days.
What do you miss the most about being on campus?
I miss my students and colleagues. I especially miss the upper level class with mostly seniors who were all excited about graduating and starting graduate school or a career. It is hard not being able to catch up with them face to face especially now that they cannot celebrate and enjoy one last semester of celebrating and being with their friends.
That is a tough question. I do not miss all the sitting in meetings. It gives me backache and I prefer to work standing.
What research, scholarship, or academic meetings have you had to cancel or miss?
This summer was going to be busy with three international meetings in Italy, Germany, and Belgium. Was also planning to make a research trip to Indonesia in between. Everything has been moved to next year but am of a divided mind if that is a good or a bad thing since there were other meetings planned for 2021.
There is something liberating about all those cancellations though. Am finally able to finish some writing projects. Think it will greatly benefit my karma and pacify some angry editors who had almost given up on me.
Are you rescheduling any of the above, or . . . ?
Yes, I do plan to attend the meeting in Germany. It is the closing conference of a two-year project at a research institute in Bielefeld. Can’t wait to see the other team members.
Dropping the one in Italy. We are doing our panel on line and posting it to the conference site.
Hope to go to the Coptic Congress in Belgium; a weeklong fest of scholarly and cultural events that happens once every four years. You never see so many individuals in one place all dedicated to the same topic. Most of them are Copts interested in their own heritage who will use their vacation time to be there. We are a small but growing field and I am excited to hear about the emerging areas of research, and learn more about the latest archaeological discoveries.
What’s been the biggest challenge about working at home?
All this zooming wears me out. It also takes up lots of time.
And the lengthy missives with updates in the inbox. I have to read them several times before it all sinks in.
Picked up any new skills or hobbies, or revisited any old ones? (Zoom doesn’t count as a skill)
Have joined the crowds in baking my own bread. Why did I used to think it was hard? My father-in-law can barely cook an egg and with the diners now closed, we cook for him. Have tried out new recipes. Most of the time I don’t have all the required ingredients but my detailed accounts of how to adapt dishes using what is in the fridge inspired my neighbor to start cooking for the first time in six years. As it turns out, she is quite good at it. Not having a sewing machine, I also discovered a talent for making face masks using safety pins. And it is almost impossible not to pick up some new computer skills. Am learning how to edit Audacity files and setting up a new website.
Complete the following: “I can’t wait for summer, because then . . .”
I might see a homegrown tomato materialize. Have high hopes that it will be possible to take a road trip and visit our daughter in Florida.