On February 16, I had the pleasure of thinking aloud at Hamilton College. And a what great place to be! In the morning I guest taught in Brent Rodriguez-Plate’s course, Religious Diversity in the USA. We looked at The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley as a pilgrimage journal. This was especially a joy to teach because I remember first thinking about pilgrimage when I took a course (of what would ultimately total to three) with Plate during my undergraduate years at TCU. I guess this is fitting as pilgrimages are not just a journey but a journey that brings you full circle and leaves you changed. In the afternoon, I hung out in the archives to look at artifacts related to Alex Haley. Although Haley’s known for his Tennessee roots, the writer was born in Ithaca and spent time at Hamilton College during the late 1960s. The area provided him space to guest lecture on black history and creative writing. There he also chipped away at the mammoth project that would become Roots: The Saga of an American Family. There’s something about digging into the world of your subject that enthuses the research process. And I look forward to sharing my findings this coming year.
Later that afternoon, I gave a talk called, “The African American Bible: Bound in a Christian Nation.” We looked at how the slave plantation, the March on Washington, the White House lawn, and the streets of Ferguson illustrate the complicated ways black persons’ fate has been tied to the Bible. As we explored the relationship between America and the Good Book, I argued that scriptures are not just the stories we read, but the ones that read us back. I’m still reeling from the great Q&A and all the insights from the audience. From start to finish, I had a wonderful time. Many thanks to Brent Rodriguez-Plate, Hamilton College, the Daniel Burke Library Archives, the Days-Massolo Center, and SCRIPT for sponsoring my time there. I learned a ton.
Richard Newton, PhD is curator of Sowing the Seed and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College. His scholarship focuses on the anthropology of scriptures.