Monthly Archives: January 2011

Five Questions for James Davis

James Davis is an associate professor of religion whose main interests include religion in the public square, church-state issues, the Puritan legacy in American culture, and contemporary bioethical debates. Beginning on February 1, he will add a new line to his title: Assistant Provost.

1. Decorum dictates that one should never talk about religion or politics, but you talk about both in your recently published book, In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us. How can the average person discuss political or religious matters without degrading the conversation?

With all due respect for the dictates of decorum, we can’t help but talk about religion and politics if we are going to be engaged public citizens. I don’t think the topics themselves degrade conversation; quite the contrary, talking about them in a forthright way enriches our public discourse. But the secret is in how we talk about religion and politics. To me civility requires that we engage in public conversation with patience, integrity, humility, and mutual respect. If we hold to these virtues, we’ll be able to discuss even these sensitive subjects fruitfully.

2. It’s no secret that “The West Wing” is your favorite television show. However, that show has been off the air for several years. What are you watching these days to take its place?

My favorite TV show right now (and perhaps of all time) is Sons of Anarchy. It’s an amazingly scripted drama about an outlaw motorcycle club in California that runs guns but also keeps its hometown, Charming, relatively peaceful and free from drug traffic. As an ethicist, I love a show like Sons that features morally gray characters as the protagonists, forcing you through the power of the narrative to root for people that society says are bad guys. As a motorcycle enthusiast, I love all the Harleys.

3. A Religion Department alumna looking up midrash in the library wants to know: if you could practice any religion for a day, what it would it be and why?

If I could pick a religion to practice for one day, it would be the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I know it holds the Truth, because I found it on the internet (, and as we all know, everything on the internet is true. Besides, I am naturally attracted to a religion that allows me to combine food and devotion. My own Christian tradition has a meal at the center of its liturgy, but overeating the body and blood of Christ is frowned upon. In the graceful eyes of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, everyone is entitled to seconds. So for one day I’d like to be a Pastafarian. May we all be touched by His Noodly Appendage. Ramen.

4. We’ve seen your hair styles range from near-buzz-cut to borderline-mullet. Why so much change? Do the different styles express changes within yourself, perhaps?

I have been prone to radically shifting hair styles, which I think reflects an allergy to the status quo. I get bored easily, and sometimes the best way to inject change into one’s life is to cut one’s hair. But I strongly reject the suggestion that I have ever had a mullet (at least since high school). The American Mullet Association has strict standards governing the length of hair required on the top and back of the head for a mullet. My barber has flirted with those standards but has never met them. Not that I would look bad with a mullet if I chose to don one; I am from Appalachia, after all.

5. What natural gift would you most like to possess?

I don’t know what counts as a “natural” gift, but I really wish I could play the guitar. I know there’s a blues singer in me, but I can’t find a band. If I could play the guitar, I wouldn’t need one, and my night life would improve significantly.

The Juice Bar Lives! (Or Will Soon)

Good things come to those who wait . . . . That’s the underlying message of our Juice Bar competition, and I am sure the people looking to buy food and drink in the space once known as the Juice Bar hope this mantra applies to them as well.

So here is the update: as I reported on December 10, our selection committee reviewed nine strong applications, and then interviewed three of the finalists.   We have now settled on our winners, and are very excited about the vision and menus they will bring to the erstwhile Juice Bar (whether it gets a new name remains to be seen).   What’s interesting about their proposal is that it prominently features food options that the Grille does not currently offer (some might call these options healthy alternatives).  In fact, almost all of the proposals stressed the need for healthy/nutritious/local food options on campus.  Which isn’t to say that the Grille doesn’t offer healthy alternatives–only that we could easily expand the possibilities in this area.

So what does this new vision of the Juice Bar look like, and who won the competition?!   You will have to wait until tomorrow (that is, Thursday the 20th) for the answer because I promised the CAMPUS that they could break the news.

Update: you can read the CAMPUS article here, which nicely covers all the salient points.

Also, on behalf of our selection commitee, I want to thank all the students who sent us such creative Juice Bar proposals.  Kudos to the students who will be launching their venture this spring:  David Dolifka, Kate Strangfeld, Ben Blackshear, Jessi Stevens, and Sarah King.

Five Questions for Carl Roesch

Carl Roesch is the manager of 51 Main, an eclectic social venue where people can come together for music, conversation, art, and food.

On January 28, we will be profiling James Calvin Davis, Associate Professor of Religion.  If you would like to ask James a question, please send your submission to  In February, James will become Assistant Provost.

1. What do you find to be most rewarding about your work at 51 Main?

Knowing that I have been a part of something unique to the area and making it work, and also that Middlebury is now host to an eclectic group of people whom I would not have had the opportunity to  meet unless I worked at 51 Main.

2. You have lived and worked in many places around the world. What is your favorite location?

This is a difficult choice. I have taken away many different experiences from many different places that have each in their unique way contributed to my career and growth as an individual.  But  that feeling you get when you are in another country and you know you are someplace else would have to be Turkey.

3. As we send you these questions, there’s a blizzard raging outside. So, what’s your favorite thing to do in the summer?

Be outside. Swimming.   I can stay in the water for hours.  I also like hiking with my wife and dogs and now baby Violet.

4. 2010 was a big year for you: you and your wife welcomed your first child, Violet. What are you looking forward to in 2011?

To just enjoy every parental experience by watching my daughter learn and grow.  She is amazing.  I notice something new every day. My sister is expecting her first in March so 2011 is pretty huge for my whole family.  I wish for good  Health and Wealth for 2011 and beyond.

5. If you could only eat one 51 Main menu item every day for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

“Poutine.”   It probably wouldn’t be very good for me health wise, but it is just so good. Fries, cheese curds and brown ale gravy–it just sounds good.