“Satan, be gone!”

This is the last post I wanted to write, but it has become clear that if I do not write it, I will never write anything else.

So here goes.

This time last year I was preparing my file to submit to my department in expectation of being promoted to full professor.

I probably don’t need to say any more, you can all check my title on the department web page now—go ahead, I’ll wait—although as one benefit, as part of the review process I did have to write statements about my research and teaching which I have posted on my academic home page as introductions to my method and goals.

I got the news—I kid you not—on Friday the 13th.

In April.

Seven months ago.

Since when, I have been living a lie. Or a half truth. Or...oh, fuck it, it sucks.

Because it is nonsense, of course. I deserve to be promoted to full professor.

I have published a second major monograph with a prestigious academic publisher (our standard in the department, barring an outside offer from another university) that has been described in the flagship journal for my field as a “magnum opus” likely to be a “game-changer” in the long-overdue reassessment of Vatican II’s deficient Mariology.

I have held fellowships from the Mellon Foundation (twice), the American Council of Learned Societies (twice), and the Guggenheim (you only get one of those per lifetime).

I have won the oldest award in the country for excellence in undergraduate teaching (the Quantrell Award) as well as a Provost’s award for my teaching.

I have designed and taught now thirty different courses for undergraduates and graduates in the twenty-five years since I was hired at the University of Chicago as a newly-minted Ph.D. (Syllabi here.)

I have written over thirty reviews of books in my academic field and published sixteen substantive peer-reviewed articles, with additional pieces under contract and in press.

My first monograph won the prize from the Medieval Academy of America for a first book published on a medieval subject “judged to be...of outstanding quality,” as well as a prize for the best book in intellectual history published in 2002.

I have done all the appropriate service to my profession and my university as a reviewer, committee member, conference participant, and colleague.

And on Friday, April 13th, of this year, I was told that my scholarship was not good enough for the University of Chicago to promote me to full professor.

I will let that sink in for a little bit.

My department chairs and deans have bent over backward these past seven months assuring me that there was nothing political in their decision to deny my bid for promotion at this time.

It was the outside letters they received, they said. It was the outside letters that judged my work to be not of sufficient scholarly merit—although on what basis, my chairs and deans will not say.

It is insane.

But then the world is insane—and its ruler is the Father of Lies.

How do I know this? Because in all these months since the horror descended—“Your work is not sufficiently scholarly,” my chair told me—I have never once looked at my book in hate.

Which is interesting.

After I got tenure on the strength of my first monograph, it was years before I could look at it without wanting to rip it to shreds. Okay, maybe not rip it to shreds physically, but metaphorically—tear it apart for not being the book that it should have been if only I hadn’t been so afraid.

Don’t get me wrong, my first book is outstanding. It fully deserved the awards and reviews it received.

But it is wholly an academic book, making no claims on the reader as an exercise of faith.

With my second book I was bolder.

It is right there on the first page of the Acknowledgments: “I am grateful to Mary, for choosing me to write this book on her behalf and trusting me, a cradle Presbyterian, with the recovery of the devotion with which medieval Christians prayed to her.”

Mind you, at the end of the acknowledgments, I also thank my dog Joy—but clearly my colleagues were not fooled.

I am a woman of faith.

Of all of the criticisms I have received over the past two years in my writing about Milo, perhaps the most telling is a letter that twenty-nine of my colleagues in the Divinity School signed, distancing themselves from my toxic insistence on the importance of studying theology.

Okay, that is not quite what they said.

They said: “Professor Brown promulgates a view of religion and theology that is not widely represented among the Divinity School community’s diverse views”—which is telling, given that what I had argued in my account of “why Milo scares students and faculty even more” was that students need practice talking about religion as religion, not just as a lens for talking about something else.

In my words:
It is much easier to call Milo names than to accept the challenge he presents. Milo’s tour has made clear how high the stakes are. If you drive out explicit theology from public education, you get not no theology, but only bad theology, theology never properly examined as such. It is a mistake not to teach religion as religion.
Imagine if my colleagues in the Biological or Physical Sciences divisions refused to teach biology as biology or mathematics as math.

Religion is the only discipline in the academy that is required by the academy to deny its own truth claims in order to be considered “scholarly.”

Historians teach students history as history.

Sociologists teach students sociology as sociology.

Physicists teach students physics as physics. 

Scholars of literature teach students literature as...no, never mind.

But try teaching religion, correction, Christianity as something other than an outdated cultural artifact of Western civilization (if that even exists), never mind as a possible repository of truth, and you are sitting in your department chair’s office on Friday the 13th being solemnly assured that you are not a scholar.

Maybe it wasn’t that.

Maybe it was that I argued in my book for a continuity of the Christian tradition going back to antiquity, thus challenging the iron-clad periodizations to which historians and scholars of religion are professionally obliged to adhere. (I mark them in my footnotes as “dragons,” transitions across periods about which there is significant scholarly disagreement. See pp. 519n46, 520n66, 525nn134 and 147, 528n199, 531n253, 539n21, and 557n208.)

Maybe it was that I introduced each chapter in the book with a short second-person exercise, inviting the reader to imagine him or herself saying the Office of the Virgin as a medieval Christian might have prayed. (I support these exercises in the footnotes with detailed references to the primary sources on which I draw.)

Maybe it was that I suggested there is a scriptural basis clearly articulated since antiquity for the devotion to the Virgin Mary as the temple of God, the place in which the Lord took on flesh so as to become visible to the world, grounded in the ancient expectation that the Mother of the Lord was the one who anointed him as king and stood beside him on his throne. (See chapter 3, where I trace this tradition from the early Christian reading of the psalms as speaking of Jesus as “LORD” to the recitation of the psalms in the Marian Office.)

Maybe it was that I wrote my book in a style that even members of my new parish describe as enjoyable and accessible to readers of faith. (I gave a presentation a few weeks ago as part of our 150th Anniversary speakers series, and some had copies for me to sign.)

Maybe.

But I doubt it.

And the reason I doubt it?

Because I do not hate my book.

I was having coffee on Wednesday this past week with a young woman in my neighborhood who had been reading my book.

She came to our meeting with a notebook full of questions about Milo, my book, and my blog, but in the course of the conversation it became clear that there was one question which mattered above all.

“Do you believe what you wrote in your book about Mary?”

I assured her, “Yes, yes I do.”

And she said: “I am so happy. I could not bear to think that you had written what you did simply as an academic exercise. I could not bear to think you did not believe it was true.”

Hail, Mary, full of grace. The LORD is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

Fuck you, Satan. Be gone.

I will never betray my LORD and Our Lady for you.


You can buy my book here. You can read chapter 2 on the Ave Maria here. Thank you for reading!

Comments

  1. The world is bad, & getting badder, sure, & doubtless we faithful Catholics are in for far greater injustices & much more suffering etc etc. Hang in there! In mundo pressuram habebitis sed confidite ego vici mundum.

    Am still making my way through Mary and the Art of Prayer but bought the first monograph just now, a small token of appreciation.

    Nos cum prole pia benedicat Virgo Maria.

    Marc

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  2. Dudette Brown,
    You have so many things going against you in academia; your traditional Catholicism, your political conservativism, you fondness for Milo, not to mention your common sense, and your ability to recognize the ridiculous and not call it sublime or "revolutionary." You are a dangerous woman, and I'm surprised that you haven't been given the Maid of Kent treatment from that bunch of time serving navel gazers. And, in a sense, you are what T. Roosevelt called, The Man in the Arena -- a battler and a spectacle at the same time. You are our own sort of Joan of Arc on campaign.
    You often praise Milo. But I really do think that you should be giving yourself a pat on the back and a toast for challenging Big Uni from the inside, especially from the inside of the liberal arts department.
    You've been done wrong and the people who did you wrong know that they did you wrong. It was a matter of self-defense for them. You are a dangerous woman to them because you don't go along with the program. You're a burr under the saddle, a stone under the horseshoe to that bunch; they were happily galloping along like Cavaliers expecting victory at Nasby, and you are a company pikemen all wrapped up into one woman.
    If I, as a random layman, could do anything to get you a full professorship I would do it. But I don't think whacking about with lead hammers trying to physically knock sense into academic noggins would do any good.
    Be of good cheer. Your day will come.
    Dude Dave

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  3. I love your writing and interviews, and the connection to Mary, which was part of my youth but has been absent for a long while. I'll see where it goes. You may not have your full U of Chicago Professorship but you're professing the hell out of things as few full Professors do. I have to say I'm grateful because I don't think I'd have heard of you otherwise.

    And I really liked your smart comeback to Satan, a nice original seque from the Hail Mary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! But the meme isn’t mine—it is out there on the internet! Our Lady, keeping the devil under control!

      Delete
  4. I'm a Mary and I love you and I bet the other one does, too! You just keep pluggin'. Professorships won't mean a thing in heaven, but the favor of Our Lady will mean everything.

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  5. Love that! When finishing my doctoral thesis at a major North American university, it slowly became clear to me I would never get a permanent position (in my supervisor's words: you don't toe the party line). Of course, I was good enough for several temporary positions, as students came to my courses in large numbers and I had great evaluations. Knowing I wouldn't be able to use even a little bit the Marxist jargon creeping into my field (so I was doomed anyway), I felt free to criticize the scholarship on early virgin martyrs in my thesis (which was on ancient Greek virgins and virginity!). It was still too timid, I would say now, but I did not lie. Five days after my defense I boarded a plane back home in my Eastern European country. Feels good not to give up on your faith and truth, no matter the consequences! Looking forward to reading your monography.

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    Replies
    1. What you did took courage, to walk away. Good for you!

      Delete
    2. vichi and Rachel,

      Kathleen Norris wrote her break out book The Cloister Walk in which she devoted a full chapter to “The Virgin Martyrs,” and much of a review is still posted online at The Publisher’s Weekly site that remarked of the writer there was “no doubting her conviction, exemplified in her defense of the much-maligned Catholic ’virgin martyrs,’ whose relevance and heroism she wants to redeem for feminists. What emerges, finally, is an affecting portrait—one of the most vibrant since Merton's—of the misunderstood, often invisible world of monastics, as seen by a restless, generous intelligence.”

      That was a hard chapter to read. Kathleen Norris is most moving.

      Delete
    3. In The Cloister Walk Kathleen Norris devoted a full chapter to “The Virgin Martyrs.” Much of that book’s review is still posted online at The Publisher’s Weekly, remarked of Ms Norris there was “no doubting her conviction, exemplified in her defense of the much-maligned Catholic ’virgin martyrs,’ whose relevance and heroism she wants to redeem for feminists. What emerges, finally, is an affecting portrait—one of the most vibrant since Merton's—of the misunderstood, often invisible world of monastics, as seen by a restless, generous intelligence.”

      That was a hard chapter to read. Kathleen Norris is most moving.

      Delete
  6. “Your work is not sufficiently scholarly,” Hah!! What a moving target!
    Honest scholarship and the will to stand by it all is too intimidating for timid department chairs and deans.

    Robert

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    Replies
    1. I am an expert at hitting moving targets—I am a fencer, after all! ;)

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  7. Your fighting fervor is a thing of beauty, Rachel!

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  8. I recently discovered your interview with Professor Bauerlein. How refreshing to pour through your blog the last few days as well. Wonderful thoughts! A real trove of great insights. I have just bought your book as well. Hopefully, a Catholic university faithful to the Magisterium makes a big offer to you. Someplace that emphasizes real scholarship of Truth Goodness, and Beauty. A strong Fencing program would be a plus. You're too good for Hyde Park and that is coming from a former Chicagoan...

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    Replies
    1. *pore, not pour. A dreadful embarrassment. Apologies.

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    2. Thank you for listening! And for reading both my blog and my book! And for the kind words of encouragement—laughter and war!

      Delete
  9. In the past few months I have learned about Bret Weinstein, Jordan Peterson, Milo, and through Janice Fiamengo, you. There is evil afoot. Thank you for being one of the brave ones speaking truth in spite of the consequences. I look forward to reading your book about Mary. It's on my Christmas wish list. I'm a 52 year old cradle Catholic who never understood Marian devotion. I'm hoping your book helps me to "get it"... I love the meme. It reminded me of something that happened about 5 years ago. My father was in a nursing home. Late stage Alzheimer's. There was a very old blind lady who sat in a wheelchair in the lobby. She would shout out repeatedly, "Hail Mary, full of grace, punch the devil in the face". I remember finding it funny at the time. Your meme makes me wonder if there was a history behind it. It happened in a very Catholic area of central Kentucky. Near the Trappist Monastery of Gethsemane.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for reading! How interesting about the lady in the nursing home—I had just assumed that the phrase was invented for the meme!

      Delete
  10. Send your resume to BYU. A couple of schools still permit faithful scholarship (and don't seem to mind which faith perspective the scholar comes from).

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  11. I love your perspective on Mary. I am a singer in a renaissance schola cantorum and am at odds with a singer there for refusing to agree to revamp the great sacred Music of Palestrina. Oddly enough, the person willing to rewrite sacred music works at U of C. I would take it as a compliment they are not approving of your writing. It is too good and that means you have to find a better University to give full credence to your work.

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    Replies
    1. Bless you! Now, of course, you have me curious about who your eager revamper is! ;)

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  12. Unknown at 1241, How is someone proposing to 'revamp, rewrite, Palestrina'? God help us! The whatdoyoucallthems, the contemporary so-called regisseurs who e.g. stage Dialogues des Carmelites in a brothel and insert pop songs by Madonna (I made that one up but...) I have heard or seen how they do their 'work'. How is it possible to 'revamp' the Kyrie or Gloria of a Mass?

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  13. The time has come to read, re-read, and re-read many times St. Louis de Montfort’s priceless
    “Letter to the Friends of the Cross,” along with Jacques Phillipe’s golden little book entitled Searching for and Maintaining Peace of Heart. Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum.

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  14. I met my second brother-in-law while visiting my sister at Uchicago where he was an Assistant or Associate professor and I can't keep them straight. He had his Ph.D out of UCBerkeley and was teaching the kind of things people who mock the MLA teach in which my sister was a student. Right about the time you appeared on the same staff at the same UCHI, he read the writing on the wall at University of Chicago and he parlayed his expertise to get the hell out. He turned into a full prof at UMD and then ran the volley ball court as director of something or other at Stanford before getting hired as Dean elsewhere.

    It's weird. In the timeline you give I got promoted five times to 06 so I got some fairly steady strokes of good fortune. I ruined it all by getting married when I was 42. It was all good right up to then.

    You should consider a legal act. I cannot hardly barely rite lawsuit. And, oh yes, I know how to spell those words.

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  15. Odd they should talk about "diversity", where they really intend a total lack of diversity. Apparently only one viewpoint is allowed - and that isn't diverse. I'd find another place, one where they know the meaning of words and can use logic. “Professor Brown promulgates a view of religion and theology that is not widely represented among the Divinity School community’s diverse views” - That's an argument in favor of granting you full professorship, not against, because to *have* diversity, views which are not widely promulgated must be *preserved*, not eliminated.

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  16. I dare say that had Prof. Rachel Fulton Brown done all those things she did with respect to her Christian religion --

    "that I introduced each chapter in the book with a short second-person exercise, inviting the reader to imagine him or herself saying the Office of the Virgin as a medieval Christian might have prayed...

    "...that I suggested there is a scriptural basis clearly articulated since antiquity for the devotion to the Virgin Mary as the temple of God, the place in which the Lord took on flesh so as to become visible to the world, grounded in the ancient expectation that the Mother of the Lord was the one who anointed him as king and stood beside him on his throne...

    "...teaching religion, correction, Christianity as something other than an outdated cultural artifact of Western civilization (if that even exists), never mind as a possible repository of truth..."

    (for which she found herself "sitting in [her] department chair’s office on Friday the 13th being solemnly assured that [she is] not a scholar")

    -- couched in terms of an **Islamic faith** the outcome would have been entirely different: she would have been showered with accolades, prizes and an eternal Full Professorship (and maybe even a parade).

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    Replies
    1. Erich, is this not the same as what happens in Islamic teachings. You are not allowed to interpret or provide arguments that are outside current accepted teachings. So in fact the Divinity school is perpetuating the process of literal interpretation as the only acceptable means of practising faith.

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  17. Re-reading that quote from Prof. Brown's 29 colleagues at the Divinity School --

    “Professor Brown promulgates a view of religion and theology that is not widely represented among the Divinity School community’s diverse views”

    -- I realized that would be a great example of a paradox for use as an exercise in a Logic 101 class. You'd think a view that is "not widely represented" among the "diverse views" would be a view that would logically contribute to the "diversity". I.e., any minority view (particularly a lone voice like Prof. Brown's) is automatically and logically part of a "diversity" of views. I need to take an Excedrin, my head hurts from trying to think like a Leftist...

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  18. I just learned of you from the Patrick Coffin interview. I look forward to investigating your writings. A lifelong Catholic, I had maintained a post Vatican II ambivalence about Mary until recently. God had other ideas. In the past three years I have come to a whole new knowledge and appreciation of her role in our salvation. I think being introduced to you and your work will open another chapter in this exploration of, learning about and appreciation for the Mother of God.

    As concerns the academic world. I have been an associate professor of undergraduate law courses at a community college for nearly forty years. I have observed the growing darkness as anything holy, Christian, Western, is being systematically suppressed. On the other hand, I have also seen the growing desire for truth in many of my students. My classes are usually made up of working class, part time, post teen-early twenties folk. A result of twenty years of war, I also have the honor of teaching to many veterans. There are few snow-flakes among this group. Hard, reality based, life has made them hungry for real learning and given many of them incredibly accurate BS indicators. We have had some very interesting discussions. Because of my lowly status I am apparently not seen as a threat to anyone and can fly below the radar of the thought patrols.

    My sympathies are with you in your situation. Our culture and its institutions are every day becoming more and more like the old Soviet state. Truth is irrelevant. Conservative Catholic and Christian belief is being pushed into oblivion. Only those with the proper, left leaning, credentials are allowed to succeed. In the face of this, we are called to fight the good fight. To be the small light in the darkness. To offer a whisper of hope to those whose hope has been stripped from them. In the eyes of heaven, the comments from the young woman who was looking for truth in your writings are worth more than the praise of a thousand academics.

    I will pray for you. The battle is engaged. Fight the good fight.

    JT



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  19. That title meme is absolutely amazing. What a clever little jingle of a prayer.

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  20. Please find a lawyer who can advise you on how to sue them for false advertisement, and violation of Equal Employment laws (based on creed?)

    I'd expect the lawyer to ask you to record your department heads saying that they had to not promote you because of outside letters. It's so terrible.

    The discrimination against people of faith is an "open secret", and has moved into the demonization phase. It needs to be fought against, with real victims like yourself fighting against it.
    Please fight; tho fighting smart is important.

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