sarahpessin@sarahpessin.com

Hope & Responsibility

Sarah’s research centers on hope and responsibility, including themes of political coexistence, ethics, civic response, memory, and meaning-making.

  • Her research on “civic responsibility” is antiracist and interfaith in its approach; and it takes on the question of better futures by exploring the virtue of tolerating discomfort in politics.

In this spirit, Sarah lectured on “making interfaith uncomfortable” as part of a 2016 Everding Distinguished Lectureship appointment (co-sponsored by Iliff School of Theology and St. John’s Cathedral in Denver, Colorado).

This grew into a larger project on “uncomfortable virtues,” including an unusual virtue that she calls “to hate and protect.” In a nutshell, it’s the idea that in civic life, we are called upon to feel responsible for even people whose views we hate.

You can hear some of her early thoughts on this in her interview on Colorado Public Radio here.

In her more recent work, she contextualizes this unusual p.o.v. within an anti-racist and interfaith-affirming frame committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion and shaped by something she calls “the paradox of race and religion.” In short, in healthy socio-politics, we are called upon to be both open and closed in our comportment to others…

On the closed side: We are called on to exclude racist and other hateful points of view. On the open side: we are called on to be inclusive when it comes to religious perspectives that differ from our own. We don’t often focus on the unique tension of being called to in this way become both closed and open; in fact, we don’t even have a name or a word for this particularly essential–and particularly uncomfortable–tension at the heart of good civics.

In this spirit, she is currently working on a book called Uncomfortable Virtues: Seven Paths to Responsible Coexistence where she offers readers cross-cultural resources for thinking about political health in some new unexpected ways.

  • She also writes about politics, hope, and human meaning-making on Medium.com.
  • In her various roles from ACE Fellow to Interfaith Chair to professor of philosophy, she is working on a series of micro-documentary interviews and multimedia installations featuring neighbors with wide ranging personal and political points of view.
  • Sarah also takes civic service seriously. She was the 2017 recipient of her campus’ Faculty Service award, and in 2022 received an Excellence in Shared Governance Award which the campus established in her honor. She also takes seriously the role of higher ed in cultivating better civic futures.
  • Read more here about some of her accomplishments around Shared Governance and DEI in her role as Faculty Senate President (2020-2022).
  • She is currently working on a book called Hope/less Pardon (Panui Press).

This study invites readers to explore a sense of pardon that is far more vulnerable than the more confident approach to pardon that dominates contemporary culture.

Where we often find ourselves certain that others should forgive us and even that we can, if we so desire, forgive others, Hope/less Pardon draws on a wide range of traditions to help readers to a more fragile point of view: Ethical life is about living with the reminder that we are not the kind of creatures who can forgive at will and (relatedly) we are precisely the kinds of creatures who can often not be forgiven.

Drawing on figures from Kierkegaard to Martin Luther King, Jr., Gloria Anzaldua to Judith Butler, Franz Kafka to Franz Rosenzweig to Frantz Fanon, and Martin Buber to Emmanuel Levinas, Hope/less Pardon reminds us that real hope is a kind of fragile hope-in-hopelesness, not an upbeat sense of bright-eyed optimism. Ironically, too much “hip hip hooray” optimism can make relationships with neighbors worse not better. While hope/less pardon is not a one-stop-solution–we must, of course, also implement structural reforms at the systems level–it is a better way of comporting towards and connecting to neighbors as we work towards better socio-political futures.