Thursday, December 13, 2012

Interview with Michael LeMay, Author of Transforming America: Perspectives on U.S. Immigration

What prompted you to write Transforming America: Perspectives on U.S. Immigration? What "message" do you want to communicate?

I have previously authored eight books on the subject which I have been researching and writing about since 1980. In part I was prompted by a request from ABC-CLIO to consider doing a series of books. I was especially intrigued by the approach of many authors with different academic affiliations and disciplinary perspectives, and the opportunity to engage not only well-established scholars, but also to mentor and encourage younger scholars just beginning their publishing careers. I think the most important message for readers of this set of three books is that immigration is a very complex process, and immigration policy is a thorny and at times difficult policy arena within which to enact legislation to cope with it. I think, also, readers will begin to appreciate how and why it is challenging to “get it right” in enacting immigration laws, which inevitably have unforeseen and unanticipated consequences.

What was the highlight of your research? In the course of your research, what discovery surprised you the most? What surprises readers/others the most about your research?

I think for most readers, and to a great extent even for me, the most surprising aspect of my research relates to how intractable immigration policy remains to be; and how decade after decade, immigrant group after immigrant group, the issues and controversies tend to be the same despite many changes in the law dealing with the issues.

How did your research change your outlook on immigration?

I think the greatest lesson from my research pertaining to my own outlook on immigration is that as a scholar I must be extraordinarily careful not to fall into the trap of thinking I know what is best for policy and thereby to become a policy advocate; to prescribe policy options rather than to describe and analyze them. This realization as to the complexity of the issue that emerges from these volumes, and from my research, is a humbling experience. Even a long-time “student” of the subject learns something new every time one studies it, and learns to appreciate the fact that even a scholar who is relatively an “expert” on the issue does not have all the answers.

How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth? Is it what you hoped for, or is there more work to be done?  

I have not yet had reaction to this latest series of books. In the past, with regard to other books on the subject I have authored, I am gratified that they have been well received by other scholars and academicians, and that students have reacted to me by expressing how interesting the books have been—how engaging the topic is to them. Many have expressed sentiment to the effect that after reading one of my books on the topic, they appreciate how the “bumper sticker” or “sound bite solutions” to the problem so often offered by politicians, will simply not work. The issue is too complex to be resolved by any approach or idea that can fit on a bumper sticker!

What's next for you?

I hope to polish and revise a manuscript dealing with immigration policy and the rise of public health in the United States. My next research and writing project will be to explore other policy areas to which immigration policy is so inextricably related. I would like to expand to book length a few of the topics I covered in a relatively brief essay in this three-volume set. I would like to do a book-length treatment of immigration and industrialization. I would like to do a book relating the experiences of “exceptional immigrants” whose contributions have made “American exceptionalism.”  I would also like to co-author, with a particular industry expert or insider, the relationship between specific immigrant persons and groups and the development of their industry: for example, the wine industry, the brewery industry, the timber industry, the canning industry, and so on.

Michael LeMay is Professor Emeritus from California State University-San Bernardino, having retired as a full professor, former chair of his department, as Assistant Dean. He has previously sole-authored numerous books, for example: The Perennial Struggle, 3e. Upper-Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 2009; Illegal Immigration. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007; Guarding the Gates: Immigration and National Security. Westport, CT.: Praeger Security International, 2006. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Interview with Dale McGowan, Author of Voices of Unbelief

Are there various kinds of unbelief, such as atheism, agnosticism, and humanism? How do they differ, or are they fundamentally the same?

They are most often different aspects of a single person's unbelief. "Atheist" describes my opinion that God does not exist; "agnostic" adds that I (like most atheists) am not certain; and "humanist" describes the philosophy of mutual care and responsibility that flows from the idea that we are on our own. It's like a religious believer describing herself as a theist, a Christian, and a Lutheran. Each emphasizes a different aspect of belief or a different degree of detail.

Is unbelief any more common today than in the past?

It's hard to know whether unbelief itself is more common, but saying it out loud certainly is. Much of Europe has gone from majority religious to majority nonreligious in three generations. In Scandinavia and the UK, the numbers run as high as 2-to-1 nonreligious. In the U.S., nonreligious identification has grown from 8 percent in 1990 to 20 percent today.

Is unbelief something negative—that is, a lack of belief—or is it more a matter of belief in something other than traditional religion?

It's negative only in the way "nonviolence" is. In renouncing one thing, it affirms others. In the case of nonviolence, what remains is peace and tolerance. In the case of unbelief, what remains is the natural universe. As an unbeliever in religion, what I believe is that this natural universe is all there is, and that we can and should build meaningful lives within that reality.

Do you think that unbelief is a type of religion? Does it meet any of the needs fulfilled by traditional religions, and does it have an organized structure?

Unbelief itself is too minimal to qualify as a religion by almost any definition. It's simply the belief that no God exists. Even belief in God isn't really a religion, just a basic assumption from which religion begins. Likewise, unbelief serves as a starting point for humanism. And though most humanists do not consider it a religion, others (including Ethical Culturists) point to their own humanist communities as the fulfillment of the same human needs satisfied by religions. Community, meaning-making, ritual, and connection to something greater than ourselves—in this case, humanity—are all elements of religion, and humanism can provide a satisfying basis for them.

How do you see unbelief figuring in today's political climate?

In most of Europe it has become normalized and destigmatized, even asserting itself (through organizations like the British Humanist Association) in the major social debates of our time. In the U.S., unbelief still bears an exceptional stigma. This is certain to change rapidly now that one in five Americans identify as nonreligious. There has even been conjecture that the nonreligious are on the cusp of asserting the same dominance over Democratic politics that the Religious Right asserted over the Republican Party in the 1980s and 1990s.

Did you discover anything surprising when writing Voices of Unbelief?

Two things never cease to surprise me: that everyday people in times that were very unfriendly to religious doubt mustered the courage to voice their honest opinions, and that any of those opinions actually made it through to us. From inquisition transcripts to letters to the editor of a 1903 newspaper in Kentucky, it's these regular folks who continue to surprise and impress me the most.

Voices of Unbelief
Documents from Atheists and Agnostics
Dale McGowan, Editor
September 2012

Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics is the first anthology to provide comprehensive, annotated readings on atheism and unbelief expressly for high school and college students. This diverse compilation brings together letters, essays, diary entries, book excerpts, blogs, monologues, and other writings by atheists and agnostics, both through the centuries and across continents and cultures.

Unlike most other anthologies of atheist writings, the collection goes beyond public proclamations of well-known individuals to include the personal voices of unbelievers from many walks of life. While readers will certainly find excerpts from the published canon here, they will also discover personal documents that testify to the experience of living outside of the religious mainstream. The book presents each document in its historical context, enriched with an introduction, key questions, and activities that will help readers understand the past and navigate current controversies revolving around religious belief.


• Documents include book and diary excerpts, letters, blogs, and video and radio scripts, bringing historical settings and individual lives into focus
• A chronology helps place the writings and writers in history and in relation to each other


• Presents annotated documents by atheists and agnostics across 3,000 years and four continents
• Brings suppressed medieval voices into the conversation
• Widens the cultural scope beyond Europe and America by including documents from nonbelievers in China, India, Africa, and the Arab world
• Offers an accessible approach that will appeal to general readers as well as high school and university students

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Interview with Kim Kennedy White, Editor of America Goes Green

What prompted you to write America Goes Green?  What "message" do you want to communicate?

I’ve been interested in environmental issues for years and was heavily influenced by my hometown and my family. I’m from Boulder, Colorado, where opportunities for green living are easily accessible (unlike some other parts of the country).  My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and were frugal, leaving very little to waste.  And like many of my ancestors, we typically use and reuse items to death before buying new or gently used things.  I’m also inspired by my husband, who has an incredible eye for seeing the possibilities in seemingly useless items.

Another major influence was the time I spent living in Eugene, Oregon during graduate school. In volunteering at a local community center, I came to know so many amazing people who lived “off the grid,” dumpster-dived for usable materials, survived on the streets, and spent their lives treading lightly on the earth that went beyond recycling – from clothes, food, and various earth-loving spiritual traditions, to the companies they support (or don’t support).  It opened my eyes to different ways of thinking and living that minimizes our negative impact on the environment.

The overall message of America Goes Green is that environmental concerns and efforts, no matter how big or small, are critical to our survival and are underway across the country.  This work provides detailed information and resources on all things “green,” and will hopefully inspire readers.  Every American can do simple things that improve their personal life, their community, and our country, and that serve as a model for the international community.  Small changes make a difference.

What was the highlight of your research? In the course of your research, what discovery surprised you the most? What surprises readers/others the most about your research?

In my initial research for the project, I was surprised by just how pervasive eco-conscious activity is throughout American culture that goes well beyond recycling. Green concerns and eco-friendly efforts have impacted nearly every industry in some way.  The incredible wealth of knowledge and commitment demonstrated by the 150+ contributors who participated in this project attests to the tremendous impact of green culture in the United States, particularly over the past 40+ years.

How did your research change your outlook on eco-friendly culture?

We’ve become an even greener family, and I realize that eco-friendly living is really a way of thinking.  It’s a mindset about your lifestyle and your choices in addition to your actions.  We’re not perfect, and we can always continue to make green improvements. Americans, compared with the rest of the world, still bear a heavy carbon footprint.

How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth? Is it what you hoped for, or is there more work to be done?

People have been very supportive and believe that it’s important and timely information that needs to get out there to readers.  Lots of books are available on a wide range of environmental topics, but this one comes from a cultural point of view.  Our culture is constantly shifting, and “green” and “eco-friendly” concepts are now part of our language.

What's next for you?

I’m not sure what my next project will be yet.  I’m particularly interested in the environmental issues that impact those already struggling with poverty and other hardships, especially native peoples in the United States.

Kim Kennedy White, PhD, is an acquisitions editor for ABC-CLIO's The American Mosaic database and coeditor of ABC-CLIO's Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art