Professor of Women’s Studies Betty Bayer was recently awarded a Senior Fellowship at the Martin Marty Center for the Study of Religion at the University of Chicago.
Bayer will join a handful of senior and junior fellows at The Martin Marty Center from across a number of disciplines for a year of rigorous interchange on questions of religion inside and outside the academy. The Martin Marty Center is the pre-eminent center both nationally and has served for years as a place to bring scholarly attention to public questions of religion, and, to turn a wider lens onto one’s own scholarly pursuits and questions.
During her tenure, Bayer will prepare her book, “Revelation or Revolution? Cognitive Dissonance and Persistent Longing in an Age Psychological.” The project entails a history of the 1956 book “When Prophecy Fails” by social psychologists Leon Festinger, Henry Reicken and Stanley Schachter and its place in the longer and larger history of debate amongst religion, psychology, spirituality and science on the soul or psyche.
Even if people have not heard of the book “When Prophecy Fails,” they generally are well familiar with the phrase “cognitive dissonance,” a concept and theory first introduced in this book. This book has all the attractions of what would be considered the makings of a great Reality TV (or “unscripted life”) show today, says Bayer.
A group of social psychologists aided by a number of graduate students join a small group of end-timers to watch up close what will happen amongst believers on the night of their predicted prophecy. What will happen? What does happen? What does it mean? But there is so much more to this book than its exciting allure of secret identities, undercover social psychology, hearing voices, automatic writing, waiting out a prophecy channeled to a mid-twentieth century housewife, new age spirituality and a theory emerging on a night of failed prophecy called “cognitive dissonance.”
Writes Bayer: Situated in mid-1950s America, “When Prophecy Fails” enters the scene amidst cybernetic science, a time of reframing religion to become “newly psychological,” a shift in psychology toward cognition and away from behaviorism, and the stirrings of new age spirituality. One can see the significance of this moment in today’s debate as well on whether god is ‘all in the mind.’ The book as the theory it introduces was poised at one significant crossroads in this debate for academic disciplines and everyday life, a moment telling of a much longer and larger struggle between forms of faith and forms of reason; a struggle over the parameters of soul/psyche among psychology, religion, science, and spirituality running as far back as the founding of American psychology.
This fellowship allows me to engage with religious studies scholars alongside scholars of other disciplines to explore further how matters of the mind and consciousness are entwined with religious studies and spirituality, which will sharpen the project’s concerns.”
As a senior fellow, Bayer joins fellows in a series of fall seminars, and then, beginning in the winter quarter, she and her fellow scholars will enter into a series of workshops focusing on one another’s research. This is a wonderful opportunity, says Bayer, to receive critical feedback on her project, most especially about how science, psychology and religion have shaped so many everyday forms and terms of conscious life. Senior fellows also deliver a public lecture and contribute as public interlocutors to the Marty Center’s online journal Sightings.
“The intent of the program is to foster rigorous interdisciplinary interchange amongst scholars and to enlarge public interchange on relevant topics,” says Bayer. “The program was designed not only for scholars to come together, but also for scholars to enter into an exchange well-grounded in their respective approaches and critical analysis.”
When the academic year comes to a close, Bayer will deliver a public lecture on her history of cognitive dissonance and When Prophecy Fails.
“I am honored and thrilled to be a part of this program; it’s a great opportunity for me,” explains Bayer, “The research I have been working on is well grounded in the history of psychology and science, but now I will able to look further into its relation to religious studies to speak to a broader audience, and to deepen the work I’ve done.” Bayer will also take advantage of history of science workshops and her association with the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Chicago.
Serving the Colleges in the Women’s Studies Department, Bayer has most recently taught a seminar on revelation or revolution, and offers courses on feminist theory, the body politic, psychology of women, peace and ecofeminism, as well as core courses such as “Introduction to Women’s Studies.” Recognized for her outstanding teaching ability, Bayer received the Colleges’ prestigious Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award in 2004 and the Community Service Award in 2009. She has served as the chair of the Women Studies Program since 2001 and directed the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men from 2002 to 2009. Bayer earned her Ph.D., M.A. and B.A. in psychology from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.
Her recent publications include “Enchantment in an age of occupy” (2012, Women’s Studies Quarterly), and two essays on critical history and theory of feminism and on spirituality (forthcoming, SAGE). This year she is working on her book tentatively titled “Revelation or Revolution? Cognitive Dissonance and Persistent Longing in an Age Psychological.”