Community attends January installment of History Speaker Series, “Connecting Race, Religion, and Ethnicity”


Ben Rafal, Staff Writer

“Difference isn’t a problem — it is an opportunity to self-enlighten and grow,” Dr. Anthony Pinn said during the second installment of the Upper Division Speaker Series: “Intersectionality: Connecting Race, Religion, and Ethnicity” on Wednesday night. Professors Pinn and Eric L. Goldstein explored how culture, religion, and race intersect. History teachers Dr. Ellen Bales, Dr. Emily Straus, and Peter Reed moderated the event along with Lauren Conner (12) and Sam Weidman (12). 

Goldstein is an Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies and the director of the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University. His research primarily centers around Jewish history and culture in the United States. Goldstein’s most acclaimed book, “The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity,” has received honors such as the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature Choice Award and the 2006 American Jewish Historical Society’s Saul Viener Book Prize. The book examines being Jewish in a nation focused on racial inequity. 

Goldstein also works on the editorial board of “American Jewish History,” a publication of the American Jewish Historical Society. He has spoken at various universities and museums, and has also appeared on CNN. 

Pinn is a Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies at Rice University, specializing in the intersectionality of African-American religion, culture, and humanism, the belief in the importance of human reasoning over divine thought. Pinn has written and edited over 35 books, including the 1995 book “Why, Lord?: Suffering and Evil in Black Theology,” which explores the concept of theodicy through the mention of African-American music and literature as real-world examples. 

Pinn founded the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning at Rice. He is also an editor of “Religious Studies Review” at the Institute for Humanist Studies Think Tank in Washington D.C. Pinn’s work has been acknowledged by awards such as the 2006 Harvard University “Humanist of the Year,” according to the speaker series website.

The speakers discussed the importance of intersectionality since not everyone fits under one description of religion or race, they said. 

As with both Jews and African-Americans, individually unique life experiences and backgrounds contribute to a different meaning of what it means to be part of a minority. Lenny Lane (10) feels that watching the event helped him to view others differently. “I think it’s important to always assume complexity. When talking about the identities and histories of certain groups, you need to think about it from multiple perspectives,” he said.

Andrew Ziman (9) and Logan Scharlatt (9) were struck by the recent displays of violence within places of worship discussed by Pinn and Goldstein. “I think the attacks show the vulnerability and unprotectedness of religious minorities,” Ziman said, “It’s a real wake-up call.” Scharlatt feels that periodic incidents like these show that the United States still has a long way to go to achieve an entirely just society, he said.

A common theme discussed was the loss of one’s cultural heritage through assimilation. Bales was struck by how Goldstein’s research demonstrated that Jewish immigrants lost aspects of their religious identity as they attempted to integrate into white American culture. “The important idea for these immigrants is are you Russian or are you Jewish. Then, they arrive in the United States and discover that those categories are not the ones that are considered meaningful here. I think that the way he handles that is very interesting and really subtle and nuanced,” she said.

Weidman believes that having speakers such as Goldstein and Pinn is valuable because they can provide the “I” perspective when discussing issues pertaining to groups with which they self-identify, he said. “Personally, I’m Jewish, and at Horace Mann, I don’t always have as many options as I would like to explore the connection between Judaism and the world around me,” he said, “I chose to look into how Judaism intersects with other disciplines as I also wanted to learn about other religions and how it relates back to Horace Mann.”

Weidman found Pinn’s belief in analyzing cultures through multiple lenses and examining different types of sources thought-provoking, he said. Goldstein shared this perspective when discussing the necessity of accounting for all time periods and demographics when learning about the journey of a certain group. Pinn said, “You can’t build a house with just a hammer.”