Take a Wild Ride into Chapman Professor Peter McLaren’s Mind

Photo of Professor Peter McLaren: J McLaren/Wikimedia Commons

Taking classes from Chapman University’s Peter McLaren, Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, must be a trip. His email signature–which lists all of his many domestic international titles and pedigrees–is many times longer than than pretty much any email I’ve ever written.

Last month, we reported that McLaren was one of more than 100 education leaders who’d signed onto Bernie Sanders’s plan for education. But even that story, which included extensive quotes from McLaren, didn’t do justice to the man’s mind.

Yesterday, McLaren sent us one of his many papers, this one published back in June in the journal Postdigital Science and Education. This paper is different–not just from other stuff McLaren has written, but from all other academic papers we’ve ever read. Titled “God and Governance: Reflections on Living in the Belly of the Beast,” the paper explores evangelical Christianity and Trumpism through a revolutionary’s eyes. Its abstract refers to itself as a “uniquely written article,” but that doesn’t come close to doing the paper justice.

More a long stream-of-consciousness rant than a traditional paper from academia, McLaren’s article leaps from history to pop culture to his own experiences shaving Miss World’s leg with an electric razor to repeated (and brilliant) denunciations of President Donald Trump to extended quotes from John Wayne’s Playboy Magazine interview to that time McLaren randomly saw Sade in a Paris subway to a not-very-convincing ridicule of the whole “Russiagate conspiracy” to some idiotic Alabama newspaper publisher who openly called for the return of the Klan to monks using cellphones in China to Trump again and the Huckabee family to the Catholic Church and I’m not even close to joking. It’s a shame McLaren isn’t on Twitter, because there are like 3,000 viral tweets buried in this paper, which reads as though it’s two dozen pages of a smart guy’s usually funny, sometimes cranky blog. The paper is penetrating, brilliant, colorful, indulgent and full of name-dropping, but it’s also hilarious and often on the money.

Here are few choice excerpts, which (again) don’t even come close to summing up the paper’s wild power and fury:

The pastor of my church (actually a mega-church that seated hundreds) gave a sermon one afternoon and told us that, if Adolf Hitler had confessed his sins, repented, and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, he would have gone to heaven but all the Jews he tortured and gassed in the showers of the death camps would be suffering in hell because they did not accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. Immediately after he finished his vile proclamation, I jumped out of my seat and made for the nearest exit…

Which is worse, hate-based faith or faith-based hate? The former is the type of eye-for-an-eye fascist ideology fueled by faith in a God who will reward those warriors who protect the white Christian ethno-state and its symbols from all those who seek to undermine America—Muslims, gays and lesbians, immigrants, and refugees. They are more likely than most of us to believe that God made the world with fossils already in pace to test our faith; the latter reflects an understanding of eschatology locked inside a rear-view mirror comprehension of history that takes place in the future anterior. That we must face backward in order to move forward, that what once was will always be, despite the horror and wreckage sown by war, imperialism, settler colonialism, slavery, antisemitism…

I sometimes believe that I am cursed to know too much of humanity, poised precariously on the edge of a skyscraper like Damiel, an angel from the film Wings of Desire (Wenders ), who spends his hours on earth perched atop buildings high over the cityscape of Berlin, listening to the din of human thoughts below and taking notice of our puny movements, all captured in the sepia-toned black-and-white images of the angelic imagination…

What would Shakespeare have produced—if anything—if suddenly everyone were reduced to communicating through emojis?…

That a president who extols fascists as ‘very fine people’ is barely condemned by members of his own party provokes one to wonder if there will emerge from the contemporary din of political unthought a special military corps of Trump Youth who hanker to follow in the footsteps of their Orange-faced leader, twittering paeans to the will-to-power from their fraternity covens stacked with 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon wheat craft beer and operating out of the self-preservation and self-regard that has become the signature of the Ivy League…

The paper ends much like an old Fidel Castro speech, with lots of bombast and calls for new “regional blocs” and “constituent assemblies” to bring about revolutionary “victory,” but I much prefer this exultation, which occurs many pages earlier:

There is sometimes coherence even in death. I hope my students dance at my graveyard to the music from the film Zorba the Greek (Cacoyannis 1964)! I hope they remain skeptical of what they see transpire in the world of politics, but not remain cynical, and most of all not be betrayed by false optimism or the swindle of fulfillment. I hope they remain hopeful enough to laugh, sing, cry, and shout at the heavens, even though no one might be listening.

That’s just fucking poetry, and is exactly what those of us who are trying to imagine and articulate a better world than what we have now need.

Anyway, please click here to read it.

Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.

10 Replies to “Take a Wild Ride into Chapman Professor Peter McLaren’s Mind”

  1. This is an extremely full of shit, up his own ass, knucklehead:

    “ Perched atop skyscrapers like Damiel can dampen the spirit, so I have a habit of writing down whatever comes to mind, with the intention of figuring out what it might mean at some later date. Keeping daily observations and thoughts in a notebook surely helps writers like myself, since filtering your experiences through long-term memories might lead you to misrecognize crucial correlations that, in turn, might lead you to jumping to false conclusions based on your preconceived ideas, your untested predilections. It could pervert the actual feeling that you were experiencing at the time, and cause you to plant plums and apricots instead of grapes. Once I take stalk of my feelings, I find a style that best expresses their conjugation with ideas. I try to give a personality to those feelings—in fact, I must, in order to retain some psychological ballast. My sentences have their own personality, trapped in the excesses of the Renaissance, with breakouts here and there into modernity. That’s the best way I can integrate my feelings into my thoughts.”

    1. Good Afternoon:

      I was just finished reading the article about Dr. McLaren, and I noticed your response. While I respect your position, I do not agree with the name-calling. We need to bring back civility to our discourse. Whether we realize it or not, name-calling fuels our ability to dehumanize another person. Once we dehumanize another person, we exit a space for dialogue and perspective-taking and enter a space of internecine misunderstanding. Our perspectives (including mine) are not always correct and dialogue provides the impetus for learning. Over the years, I have learned to use inquiry as an alternative to making a statement. Therefore, I must initially enquire as to the possibility that there may be misperceptions with Dr. McLaren’s work. Thank you so much for reading my reply. Have a fantastic Sunday afternoon! 🙂

  2. As a teen I attended a church with my mother and the pastor made the same statement about Hitler. Thats when I decided I didn’t want to be partnof any church that believed that’s acceptable. Goodness I didn’t realize other pastors also preached such a sermon. I worked at Chapman almost years, I’m now bummed I never audited or took one of this professors classes.

  3. I have known Dr. McLaren for several years, and over the last several decades, he has dedicated himself to our planet as a Global Citizen. While I may not concur with your assessment, we must remember that words are powerful and have the capacity to wound. If it was your intent to wound, I would say you have been successful. If it was not your intent to wound, I would suggest that you use different language to convey your message in a peaceful way and avoid unintended consequences. Writing is an art of interpretation and the conveyance of courage. You may not like Dr. McLaren’s renderings as a writer, but I wonder if there is a more peaceful and kind way for you to convey your perspective? Have a great Sunday!

  4. McLaren is one of the best intellectuals of our time. He collects significant and complex ideas of that describe our dystopian neoliberal global economics, while offering us a rather unique hope. With his writings, we can see new ways to struggle against the conditions that enslave us. The common person wishing to gain a handle on why the world is so violent and miserable for so many, for those who wish to stop and understand suffering, can gain as much as the intellectual can from McLaren’s unique critique and offering of solutions to the problems of the modern world. I’ve loved the work of McLaren for some time. He is unique in the academy, in the spirit of Paulo Freire before him who was exiled and worse. McLaren is a brave soul.

  5. Dr. McLaren has a brilliant mind and his students and colleagues are thrilled to have the unique opportunity to learn from his interesting and though provoking lectures and writing. McLaren is recogniized as one of the most forward thinking scholars in critical education and is highly sought for presentations and publications. His books have been translated to many languages besides English and are read all over the world; and that doesn’t just happen by chance. Works are published in various languages only when they reach prominance in the field worthy of international dissemination. We are fortunate to have him in our midst and should be respectful and thankful that he shares his ideas openly and thoughtfully.

  6. Dr. McLaren is a distinguished professor at Chapman University. He generously shares his scholarship and critical pedagogy with his students and colleagues, and he has a wealth of experience as an advocate for liberatory pedagogy on an international scale. And, as the writer of this article points out, he has many cogent observations to make about the use of religious organizations to fuel hate-based beliefs. We’ve seen this before, when religious organizations denounced any possibility of people within the LGBTQ community having loving and civilly sanctioned relationships. And now we face other challenges. The wonderful thing about academic freedom of expression is the right to voice and substantiate a wide range of positions. I for one am grateful that Dr. McLaren continues to show us what an academically and politically engaged professor can do.

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