by Thorsten Wagner, Executive Director for Strategy and Academics
Dear friends and supporters of FASPE,
We are delighted once again to be able to present a fine selection of essays and other capstone projects produced by this year’s cohort of Fellows to you. As you will notice, they often both encapsulate very personal experiences and at the same time address some of the key aspects of FASPE’s quest and mission. You will witness a broad spectrum of perspectives, genres, and approaches, ranging from poetry (Amanda Fritz) and reflections on one’s personal position as defined by biographical and other factors (Jonathan Ort, Michaella Baker), to historical and contemporary analyses of the role and responsibility of professionals (Kevin Frazier). In addition, quite a few Fellows collaboratively created exciting and innovative projects such as podcasts and simulation games (Monica Chan and Jeffrey Ho; Leah Kaplan, Elodie O. Currier, Mohammed Omar, and Ornella Tchoumie).
The essays frequently highlight the significance of moral and other normative orientations as they are embedded in or expressed by particular narratives and are connected with specific interpretations of history. Heinrich Himmler’s infamous Posen speech in October 1943 constitutes a case in point here. Nevertheless, moral failure seems often to have been caused by surprisingly ordinary motives. As Sarah Vernovsky emphasizes: “I wondered: did each perpetrator really need a rousing story? Not everyone shot a gun; some people organized identifying documents in offices or leveraged Reichsmarks to pursue business opportunities and technological advancement. How many people yawned through signing papers to authorize death sentences? How many were bored at work? Could Holocaust perpetrators be bland? For those removed from slaughter and anguish, which stories did they detach from and attach to?”
The contributions often carry echoes of the powerful confrontation with the specific space and place of the crimes and their connections to professional complicity, which is such a crucial dimension of the Fellowships. Site names like Brandenburg, Grunewald, Wannsee, Sachsenhausen, and, of course, Auschwitz resonate throughout the texts. Within the framework of these site-specific reflections, particular contemporary challenges within respective disciplines are discussed: Kevin Frazier analyzes the tendency in legal ethics to move from an emphasis on republican virtue to an increasingly narrowly defined client advocacy, an approach that defines lawyering as business instead of as an acknowledgement of one’s responsibility to the common good as an officer of the court.
Fellows of the Design and Technology program highlight the (potentially detrimental) consequences of technological innovation and its often-myopic focus on scale and efficiency: pursuing innovation per se is not sufficient. Engineers and technologists need to pair technological with moral responsibility, and chasing the big impact often means ceding control over what the impact may look like: “We as technologists get to decide what we want our priorities to be. In an era of rapid innovation, we must choose to prioritize the impact of our work and the world we are a part of rather than innovation itself.” (Spencer Doyle, Leah Kaplan, and Emma Pan)
Several of the medical contributions touch on the promises and challenges connected with new technologies as well, particularly in the realm of genetic intervention and gene editing. Against the backdrop of medical complicity in Nazi crimes, the Fellows highlight the danger of physicians’ contributing to a bias against people with disabilities. Medical and other professionals need to be aware of their power, have to be wary of applying categories of “usefulness”, and ought to emphasize the shared humanity of others (Simrun Bal). The motivations and methods of past perpetrators warn of the risk of misappropriating rapidly advancing technologies in medicine; clinicians have a duty to preserve respect for persons with disease and disability and actively to avoid their devaluation and stigmatization, as many children will continue to have these diseases and the hereditary aspects of genetic disorders are so much more complex than often assumed (Michaela Reinhart).
The essays also touch on a broad spectrum of ethical issues in contemporary journalism, particularly in an era of decreasing trust in the press—issues such as transparency, fact-checking, and journalistic accountability. The example of George Orwell as a correspondent and combatant during the Spanish Civil War illustrates how taking sides in a very literal sense might seem necessary but potentially creates blind spots regarding the complexity of a conflict (Malone Mullin). Furthermore, the essays ask under what circumstances foreign journalists should step up to the plate when domestic journalists are forced into self-censorship. When is it time for both to leave? Nejra Kravić beautifully sums up the importance of FASPE fostering a sense of mutual support and trust: “I do, however, now have a community of journalists and fellows that face similar challenges, a group of people that is adamant about recognizing and confronting their roles as professionals. While I am still apprehensive, I do not feel isolated”.
Devin Ames, one of this year’s Protestant Seminary Fellows, succeeds in bringing together several central aspects of the program: moving beyond the identification with the victims to a focus on the potential for complicity and an emphasis on avoiding the temptation to perceive oneself as standing on the right side of history: “I thought about an image of a pastor blessing Nazi soldiers. I thought about how many Christians in Germany threw their support behind Adolf Hitler […] ‘Question Your Ethics,’ feels like a calling and a plea. A sometimes pain-filled and pressing plea in an increasingly divisive world, where we dig our heels in on issues so quickly and vilify those who disagree with us, seeing ourselves as champions of the ‘right way.’ What would happen if we consistently and honestly looked at our grounding principles, our ethical foundations, and considered how they may need to shift or change depending on their impact on other people?”
And Kingsley East Gibbs contributes with a sermon that masterfully weaves her FASPE experience together with a distinctly American perspective. Remembering the trees growing today at memorial sites such as Grunewald, Sachsenhausen, and Auschwitz, she asks: “Can you hear the trees screaming around us here in Waco? The lynching trees on our land are waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. Just this year, Waco erected a historical marker for Jesse Washington to memorialize “The Waco Horror,” when locals lynched this seventeen-year-old Black child in the year 1916. Historians say some 10-15,000 people came out to watch and participate in this lynching. 10-15,000 people from Waco and the surrounding areas, from largely Christian communities. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have justice.”
Let me end this introduction by quoting one more Seminary Fellow, Jonathan Ort. Referencing the complexities of his own family connections to Czech anti-Nazi resistance, he reflects on how a binary narrative, pitching the perpetrator against the heroic resistance fighter, does not capture the more fundamental and complex aspects of our own complicity rooted in privilege and power. Even clergy, journalists, and doctors who eventually mobilized the courage to reject the policies of Nazism, had often previously helped pave the way for its crimes: “I had hoped, even expected, that FASPE would ground me in moral bedrock. I imagined learning principles that could guide my decisions. I had it wrong: FASPE issued a call, not a credential—the call to be and to remain troubled, to recall the horror I felt at Birkenau, to remember that I am not so far removed.”