The Review: The New Intellectuals and the Academy; a Conversation With ‘The Point’ – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Posted: August 25, 2021 at 1:45 am

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Baskin: I think one part of the answer goes back to Social Thought this idea of a conversation through the ages about the moral life and the good life. Religious thinkers have played a huge part in that, and in the DNA of the magazine there is a respect for that tradition.

In recent years, one of the reasons we decided to do the What is church for? symposium was that I was reading an interview with Dean Baquet of The New York Times after the 2016 election. He said something like, Yeah, we really missed a lot of the story, and part of the problem was we just dont have enough reporters covering religion.

Covering religion thats what secular magazines do: Lets put a reporter out there and find out what these people are doing. This is a weird way to talk about 50 per cent of the country. Even many of us who consider ourselves secular have indisputable ties to a sort of Puritan-Protestant way of thinking. As a magazine that is secular none of the three of us who started it would say we were shaped by a religious upbringing or something like that we always did feel, especially in recent years, that this was a missed opportunity in a lot of secular media. Weve tried to be a place not just that covers religion, but where serious religious thinking happens where intellectuals that are in that tradition feel like they have a place to write in their own voice.

This could be sheer fantasy, but I sometimes wonder if defenders of the humanities would have a better shot at selling their argument if they pointed out more often to conservative legislatures trying to shut them down how intimately bound up the tradition of the interpretive human sciences is with religious thinking and religious textual practice.

Baskin: I think wed have an easier time doing that if the people in those departments didnt say vicious and condescending things about religion all the time.

Wiseman: Theres a great line in Chad Wellmons piece in our symposium where he describes his experience of coming to be a literary professor. Its not just the books he read or the teachers he had; it was seeing his father, who hadnt gone to college, do Bible study.

Baskin: The religious roots of the humanistic tradition theres a real question of how far it can go without those roots.

Wiseman: Theres an old joke about UChicago: Its where Jews teach Protestants about Catholicism.

I know that joke, but in a different context: Art history is where Jews teach Protestants about Catholicism.

Wiseman: I feel like thats relevant to The Point.

It should be your motto.

Baskin: Hah!

My last question is inspired by Jonny Thakkars essay on elite education, which we reprinted. Theres a lot of critique of elite meritocracy right now. Whats the little magazines role with respect to the university as an agent of elite-formation?

Baskin: Little magazines traditionally have also been places of elite formation and elite influence, going back to Partisan Review. I still remember the n+1 editorial where they talked about burning their degrees as somehow a way to level the field. I think thats wishful thinking. You cant wish away your own elite status.

I think Jonnys essay is honest about that. We are in an elite position, we produce elites in the university, and at some level little magazines are always going to be vehicles for influencing elite opinion.

All that said, I think that if you start by being self-aware about it, there are ways you can try and check some of the worst habits of elitism. Weve always tried to think very broadly about our audience about who we would like to invite into our community of readers. I would like to think, with all due awareness of how it can be wishful thinking, that there is a democratic element in what were trying to do, an attempt to broaden both the scope and the ethos of intellectual life. Intellectual life need not be people with the right kind of education lecturing to people with the wrong education. It can be a conversation.

Wiseman: I think a lot about a Mark Greif essay that The Chronicle Review published a while ago. He uses the Partisan Review to talk about what a good intellectual magazine can do: create an aspirational community of readers. In publishing a magazine like ours, you dont want to talk down to your readers. You want to assume that they can meet you.

There are lots of people who are very hungry for this kind of access to new ideas. Amid the crisis in the humanities, you have to create spaces outside of the university, like magazines, like book clubs, that give people an entry point into the humanities.

Baskin: Trusting that your readers can think is one way that elites can practice anti-elitism.

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The Review: The New Intellectuals and the Academy; a Conversation With 'The Point' - The Chronicle of Higher Education

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August 25th, 2021 at 1:45 am

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