Beloved Community – Tributes to Doug & Margie Sturm
Lewisburg to Celebrate Good Neighbors
“Our Beloved CommUnity” Event
Hufnagle Park on Sunday
June 7th from noon to 5 pm
Would you like to enjoy eclectic music, eat delicious food, and join in lots of ativities while
learning how wonderful our community is? Come to our “Beloved Community” event to
celebrate volunteer activities and honor the the amazing work done by Doug and Margie
Sturm and by many members of our community.
The CommUnityZone in partnership with CARE (Community Alliance for Respect &
Equality) is organizing “Our Beloved Community”, with music, kids activities, and booths set up
by local agencies that will help inform you of all the wonderful initiatives already happening in
the Susquehanna Valley and offer people a chance to find the service activity that best suits each
of us in areas such as “Health Care”, “Education”, “Animal Helpers” and more. The day will
open at the gazebo with a ribbon cutting of the “Beloved Community” Kiosk dedicated to Doug
and Margie Sturm and will be followed by an afternoon of fun, good food and activities for all
Our hope is that “Our Beloved Community” event will mark the first of what will
become a yearly event encompassing a broad vision for bold, rigorous, volunteerism and a
multidisciplinary artistic expression that emerges from love for one’s community and a vision
for a better world.
Doug and Margie Sturm lived in Lewisburg for over 50 years. In that time, they
contributed endlessly of their time and compassion to the community. Their impact was felt far
and wide in the Central Susquehanna Valley. Doug passed away last April, and his beloved
Margie soon followed. They were committed to “the interconnectedness of all forms of
existence, and the responsibility each person bears for the welfare of the evolving community of
life.“ As a result, Doug allied himself with the traditions of democratic socialism, nonviolence,
and justice as solidarity.
The Sturms’ level of participation in the community is unprecedented. Margie was active
in the public library, Susquehanna Valley Women in Transition, Social Concerns Committee
(Beaver Memorial United Methodist Church), Susquehanna Association for the Arts, Related
Arts Committees (Lewisburg Area School District), Democratic Women of Buffalo Valley, and
the Union County Democratic Committee while serving as an English teacher in the Lewisburg
School District for 20 years Doug , a professor of in in the department of Religion at Bucknell
University was instrumental in creating the Institute for the Study of Human Values, as well as a
Medical Ethics Study Group, a Professional Ethics Program, a Social Theory Program, a Social
Justice College, and a Peace Studies Curriculum. Perhaps his most lasting local contribution
comes from his founding of the non-profit organization called Community Alliance for Respect
and Equality (CARE).
We belive in creating a place where all members of the community and organizations that
serve them share ideas, talents and resources that contribute to vibrant, caring and connected
communities. It’s a grand idea, we know but one that deserves more of our attention. While each
of us can make a difference, together we can make true and lasting change.
It’s a simple idea. How can I be happy? What is missing from my life? Good questions. While
there are no easy answers in life, there may be an easier path to happiness than you think.
There is this old Irish proverb: “God likes help when helping people”;
Albert Schweizer: “To work for the common good is the greatest creed.” A
Mark 10:44: “And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”
Albert Einstein to summarize: “Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living.”
417 Market St., Lewisburg, PA 17837
Douglas Sturm was born in New York on April 22, 1929, moving with his family many times given the effects of the Great Depression. In his philosophical and theological orientation, Doug was deeply influenced by process thought, particularly its principle of internal relations. That principle led him to stress the interconnectedness of all forms of existence, and the responsibility each agent bears for the welfare of the evolving community of life. As a result, he allied himself with the traditions of democratic socialism, nonviolence, and justice as solidarity.
After high school, Doug attended the Crane Hall of Music in Potsdam, New York for one year. A change in career interest led him to transfer to Hiram College in Ohio from which he graduated in 1950 with a major in religion and philosophy. He went to the University of Chicago Divinity School for graduate work, receiving a D.B. in 1953 and a Ph.D. in the interdisciplinary field of ethics and society in 1959. While at Bucknell, Doug served at various times as chair of the Department of Religion and acting chair of the Departments of Political Science and of Geography. In 1968 he received the Class of 1956 Lectureship Award for inspired teaching. From 1974-1980 Doug had the distinction of being a Presidential Professor.
Colleagues in the Religious Studies Department had this to say about Doug,
“Within the Religion Department, Doug taught in the field of religious ethics, offering a wide range of courses that both enriched the curriculum and garnered much interest from students. Doug’s inspirational and demanding teaching was legendary among students. Doug was passionately engaged
in numerous interdisciplinary projects and initiatives at the University, including the Institute for the Study of Human Values, the Social Theory Study Group, and the Social Justice College. His life-long commitment to issues of social (and particularly racial) justice, and his work at the intersections of religion, ethics, and politics inspired many leading colleagues from the Religion and Political Science departments to establish the Sturm Dialogue on Ethics and Social Justice, that was set up in 1995 by members of the Religion and Political Science dept. Doug had an amazing breadth of knowledge and wrote with incisive depth on a wide range of topics that reflected his desire to change our forms of consciousness and social practice in a manner more responsive to the needs of the twentieth-first century.”
Doug was also part of the Political Science Department and when asked about him, his colleagues commented,
“Doug was a long-time member of both the Political Science and Religion departments, and highly valued by both. He is well known in the larger community for his social justice activism, but for those of us who were his colleagues he was appreciated for his scholarly rigor and his devotion to his students. He remained a part of departmental life through his participation in the Sturm Dialogues, which brought together prominent scholars with diverse viewpoints to explore important public issues.”
Doug was very involved in the local community. He was the founder, leader, and visionary spirit behind the Lewisburg community organization CARE (Community Alliance for Respect and Equality). Doug also was part of the Union County Task Force on Diversity, Citizens Committee on Diversity, Center for Nonviolent Living and many similar organizations.
Margie Sturm was born in rural poverty on February 28, 1927 (Neosho, MO); Margie Jean (Anderson) Sturm was the seventh and last child of Charles Milton and Georgene (Wilson) Anderson. Her life was dedicated primarily to enhancing the lot of the human community.
Margie’s Sturm’s formal education began in a one-room schoolhouse. Subsequently she graduated from National College in Kansas City, and, for a brief time, served as director of religious education in a Methodist Church. Later, she entered into graduate studies at the University of Chicago from which she received a master’s degree in religion and literature.Throughout her adult years, Margie was active in community affairs. She joined the League of Women Voters in Chicago, continuing that association when she moved to Lewisburg. Along with her husband, she was part of the Democratic Federation of Illinois, a progressive caucus in the Democratic Party, and engaged in ward work for the Party itself. For a brief time in New York City, she was a community organizer for the East Harlem Protestant Parish and a volunteer in the offices of the World Council of Churches.
During Margie’s five-plus decades living in Lewisburg, she worked in multiple community associations, including parent-teacher groups; the public library; Susquehanna Valley Women in Transition; Social Concerns Committee (Beaver Memorial United Methodist Church); Susquehanna Association for the Arts; Related Arts Committees (Lewisburg Area School District); Democratic Women of Buffalo Valley; Union County Democratic Committee.
In her professional life during her earlier years, she occupied several positions, e.g., assistant town manager, Neosho, MO, Personal administrative secretary for the president of National College (Kansas City), personal administrative secretary for an oncologist in the University of Chicago Hospital System and, assistant to the Head of the Meetings Department of the American Bar Association (Chicago). She also served as an English teacher in the Lewisburg Area School System for twenty years (1973-1993). In that capacity, while she attended to the mechanics of writing, her dominant focus was to demonstrate how literature might bring students face to face with the great questions of life: good and evil, life and death, meaning and despair.
In that connection she introduced significant innovations in the English curriculum. She inserted a section on holocaust literature in a World Literature course. In American Literature, she began the course with oral traditions among indigenous peoples throughout the continent and writings from the time of the Spanish Conquest. She created and taught the initial Advanced Placement Course in the Lewisburg schools under the topic, “Search for Meaning,” directing students in a rigorous study of major literary works from Aeschylus to Toni Morrison. Overall, she enriched the entire curriculum by including women and minority authors. On her 75th birthday, Margie received a flurry of letters from an impressive array of her former students, all testifying to the importance and effectiveness of her teaching in their lives.
Across all these activities of her life, Margie’s presence has been marked with a warm personality, a probing mind, and a generous spirit. Her sons and husband, dedicating the recent renovation of the children’s resource area in the Public Library of Union County in her honor, depicted her as,
“teacher, community activist, wife and mother… committed in all things to Truth, Justice, and Beauty.”
Remembrances of Doug & Margie Sturm
No discussion or remembrance of Doug vis a vie CARE can be complete without first mentioning ABLE (Alliance for a Better Lewisburg) that Doug and a few others attempted in January 1993 and ended in August of 1994 after an unfortunate and dramatic failure of communication took place. However a spark of that vision remained and in the fall of 1994, and in response to the two horrific murders of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd CARE was formed. You will see the breadth of Doug’s voice runs throughout all of the organizations listed below.
Doug was of course involved and supportive of all attempts to make the world we live in a better place for all. The bright light of his amazing life is out but his presence shines brightly in all that have had the amazing opportunity to know him.
ABLE (Alliance for a Better Lewisburg) was a group of citizens concerned about the future of our community, sharing our visions – our dreams, hopes and intentions – of what Lewisburg might be like in the future. Some communities drift along with change, unexpectedly confronting tense and difficult times, forced to react with little forethought or without the benefit of planning. Members of ABLE wanted Lewisburg to avoid that. They instead wanted to build a community where everyone can worked, grow, learn, and play together. The purpose of ABLE was to give people a forum where they could talk about needs, and stimulate different community groups to follow up on projects of interest.
CARE (Community Alliance for Respect & Equality)
Is a group of Susquehanna Valley residents committed to the belief in equal treatment for all. We support and value the contributions of diverse individuals – men , women and children of every ethnic background, racial heritage, religious or spiritual tradition, age, sexual orientation, cultural affiliation, and socioeconomic background. We are given to principles of inclusion and diversity with the ultimate aim of creating the kind of community in which the rights of all people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are fully acknowledged. We promote understanding and connection among ourselves and the larger community.
And now we have the CommUnity Zone
“Each of us can make a difference.
Together we make change.”
What if somewhere there was a community of people who believed in the power of volunteering to enrich our lives and the world around us?
What if somewhere good people and good causes could come together to form relationships and collaborations that would better serve us all?
What if somewhere technology was being used to advance the values and partnerships that strengthen our civil society?
The CommUnity Zone brings this dream to our community. Already, we have experienced a great outpouring of goodwill and helpfulness from our neighbors. We continue to receive the guidance, inspiration and energy we need to continue growing.
We at the CommUnity Zone believe in the power of volunteering to enrich our lives and the world around us. We believe that to be strong, a community must be constantly evolving, active and diverse.
Our mission is to bring good people and good causes together. We believe that the health of our community can be measured by the relationships formed between volunteers and the non-profits they serve. Our aim is to help volunteers and non-profits find each other, work together and develop strong relationships.
None of us can build a community alone. We take partnerships seriously and seek to work with non-profits, business and community leaders committed to building stronger relationships with their constituents around volunteering and service.
This amazing and exciting adventure is an information center where people of all ages can learn about the amazing richness of our community. As many of us already know, our area is blessed with many small community organizations that quietly make large contributions to the social, cultural, economic and physical welfare of the valley. Many of these local organizations have come together to create partnerships that allow us to collaborate in ways not previously imagined, as we share space and resources in a visible downtown location next to the Campus Theatre.
Rev. Kerry Walters
Memorial for Doug and Margie Sturm/Saturday 12 July/Rooke Chapel, Bucknell University
A Different Kind of Bible Thumper
Peace be with you! I’m so grateful to celebrate with you today the remarkable lives of Doug and Margie Sturm.
One of the things I most loved and admired about Doug and Margie was that they were bible thumpers. I know that’s an expression that sticks in the craw of many people—it sticks in mine—but that’s because we’ve come to associate it with folks who have hijacked the Gospel to beat people. That’s not bible thumping. That’s old fashioned thuggery, dressed up in religious clothes.
Genuine bible-thumping, the kind exemplified by Doug and Margie, is utterly different. It’s to be so totally in rhythm with the moral vision of the Hebrew prophets and of Jesus that the vision becomes syncopated, like a continuous prayer, with one’s heartbeat. To bible-thump in this way is to pulsate at the core of one’s being with the prophet Amos’s call to let justice roll down like living waters, with the apostle James’ reminder that we prim and proper religious folks can hardly pretend to love God, whom we do not see, if we don’t love our fellow humans, whom we do see, and with Jesus’s dream of a beloved community firmly grounded in love and compassion.
Doug and Margie were in sync with this wonderful vision of the beloved community, and anyone who came in contact with them for even the shortest time could feel it coursing through them. They lived the vision and they taught it to others in high school and university classes, in civic groups, in activist organizations, in church. Additionally, Doug spilt a good amount of ink writing about it. For as long as I knew him, he struggled to express the vision of the beloved community in ways that were intellectually rigorous but accessible, that were grounded in the prophetic and Christian traditions but relevant for peoples of all or no faith, and that were always, always, thoughtful, civil, and generous.
Doug’s vision of the beloved community is holistic—not to mention holy. He was convinced that violence and injustice are consequences of a culture that encourages us to see one another as individualistic adversaries. What we desperately need to realize, he believed, is that although each and every one of us is a creative and unique person, we’re inseparably bound to one another in what Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whom Doug respected without qualification, famously called a “web of mutuality.” My well-being isn’t in competition with yours. On the contrary, it’s dependent upon yours, and yours upon mine. It’s not a question of me versus you, but of us. As another of Doug’s heroes, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, we don’t “be.” We “interbe.” We’re not isolated individuals. We’re interconnected relationships.
Sometimes Doug called the vision he and Margie shared “communitarianism,” and at other times he called it “relationality.” But regardless of which label he used, he wanted to offer an alternative social view to both liberalism, which he feared over-emphasized the individual at the expense of the community, and state-controlled collectivism, which he worried sacrificed individual creativity for the sake of monolithic conformity. Neither resembled the biblical model of the beloved community that served as Doug’s lodestone. The first fragmented what God had made whole; the second simplified what God had made beautifully diverse.
For Doug and Margie, cultivating the beloved community was the key to making the world a less violent and a more just place. Conflict, in the sense of disagreement about ideas and actions, is an inevitable part of social life. But in a community that recognizes that all of its members are bound up in a web of mutuality, conflict is less likely to lead to power struggles, injustice, and violence. This is because the realization of my interconnectedness with you encourages me to touch your suffering rather than stubbornly or angrily dismiss it. I empathize with you rather than repudiate you. Your suffering becomes mine. And as Doug says in what I think is one of his finest short essays, published nearly two decades ago in Bucknell’s alumni magazine, once I genuinely touch your suffering, the only way I can respond is with compassion and justice. And the ultimate expression of compassion, Doug writes, is love. To love all of suffering humanity—and, indeed, the suffering of the entire natural world, what St. Paul called the groaning and travailing of the cosmos—is the hallmark of membership in the beloved community.
It’s a beautiful vision, a prophetic vision, a Jesus vision. Doug and Margie came to appreciate and celebrate the fact that it’s also a vision embraced by all the world’s great religious traditions, as well as by people of good will who profess no faith. So it’s also a Buddhist vision, a Hindu vision, a Jewish, Muslim, Jain, and humanist vision. But for Margie and Doug, its wellspring was Hebrew and Christian scripture. And that’s what made them bible thumpers in the very best sense of the word.
I remember that for a few days after Doug’s passing, Lewisburg seemed uncannily empty to me. The same thing happened earlier this week, when I learned that Margie had joined her companion of so many years. Even when the sidewalks on either side of Market Street were crowded with people, I was haunted by the palpable absence of Doug and Margie. But I’ve come to realize that in fact Doug and Margie, although no longer with us in one sense, are present in another. Their participation in the great web of mutuality that binds us all together has left its mark, most immediately upon those of us who knew and loved them, of course, but also upon the wider community, both here and in places far away. With a vitality stronger than death, the echoes of their heart-syncopation with the Hebrew prophets and with that strange wild-eyed Galilean, Jesus, are still with us. And so is the dream of the beloved community which they cherished and modeled in their lives.
For that, I am more grateful than I can possibly put into words.
Carol Wayne White
I love Doug, and miss him dearly.
He was a very dear friend, avid conversation partner, supportive colleague, and shared dreamer of a just world for about 20 years.
When the Dept. of Religion hired me, Doug extended a very warm welcome, embracing me with one of his infamous email messages – one of many through the years – and stating his excitement and joy that I was joining the Bucknell community. Prior to this official welcome, I had first encountered Doug during a gracious invitation by members of the dept. to have lunch in the refectory, as they had heard that I was a young Ph.D. candidate in philosophy of religion who had just moved to Lewisburg. (I had come with my then partner (Laura), who had accepted a position at Geisinger Medical Center.)
It was during that first encounter with Doug that I gained my first — and lasting — impression of his wit, charm, and depth/breadth of intelligence. In the midst of my sharing about my training and interest in Process Theism and Philosophy, Doug waited until the right moment to respond with a pun – a witty play on the name of one of the early iconic figures of the early Chicago School of Empiricism.
While the joke was lost on the rest of the faculty members, it made me smile within and laugh outwardly, and it became an instant and symbolic moment of our shared love for process thought and its adamant sense of interrelatedness of all things…. This is a philosophical vision of reality that fundamentally supported and inspired Doug’s devotion to social justice.
Doug retired a year after I was hired, but both he and Margie continued to have a very important and active presence in my life. Their unyielding devotion to addressing social ills – esp. racial ones — was inspirational and led me to join them in their many community activities aimed at making Lewisburg a model of true community love and respect for all forms of human beauty. They often invited me over to their beautiful downtown stone house to have lunch and converse, checking in to make sure I was doing okay in Lewisburg and at Bucknell.
Through the years, Doug and I shared many lively and, for me, enriching conversations, discussing a range of topics from Whiteheadian-based religious philosophy, through the magnificence of Martin Luther King’s transformative vision for N. America and his eloquence in articulating it, to more recent ones on religious naturalism, nihilism among U.S. youth, and teaching social justice topics at Bucknell.
Of the many engaging conversations we had through the years, the ones I recall the most with great fondness were those in which Doug and I debated the usefulness of the concept of God. (I smile broadly thinking about these ongoing conversations.)
While Doug and I are both Process theorists, he remained enamored of the traditional Whiteheadian school of metaphysics; however, I had taken a poststructuralist and later atheistic turn, towards a more empirically-based naturalism. In short, Doug remained convinced that Whiteheadian theistic symbolic language was still important when imbued with the sheer force of social justice; I begged to differ, and kept asking him why he remained faithful to such idealistic, speculative symbolism. Anticipating my retort, he would then proceed to offer his fuller rationale for why he was still in favor of theistic language, supporting his explanation with witty aphorisms, discussions of etymologies, and citations of myriad works by other philosophers and theologians — all with that irresistible smile and twinkle in his gentle eyes.
In the last analysis, Doug and I never fully resolved the “God” conceptual quandary, yet we heartily agreed on the significance of religious values (whether garbed in symbolic theistic language or not) as useful mechanisms and tools for helping to transform this weary world. We also agreed that life itself, as well as purposive human activity within it, were much more complex and beautiful than any structured religious thought could ever grasp. Of course, I saw Doug as moving closer to my position — he, of course, would say I was moving closer to his….
Doug also called me his daughter…. During the early years of CARE, which Doug founded and encouraged me to join, he and I would visit different organizations and community venues (e.g., rotary clubs, high schools, etc.) throughout the Valley, to do presentations on diversifying the Valley. We spoke of the richness gained in creating and sustaining diverse communities in our small rural towns I central PA. Doug and I also discussed the rise of hate groups in the U.S., drawing attention to how various communities were successfully countering myriad forms of hatred and cultural violence in PA and throughout the country.
For our prospective audience, members, I am sure Doug and I presented a very odd, albeit arresting, pair indeed: he, an elderly, white male with glasses carrying one of his many tote bags containing pamphlets; me, a young black female with dreadlocks and a backpack….We called our community work the “Doug and Carol” show, and after each presentation would have lovely conversations about the surprise that often came across some of the elderly white community members when Doug would, with a mischievous wink at me, address me as his daughter during the introductions.
Religious scholars are a strange bunch! Some of our campus colleagues would even designate us romanticized dreamers in knowing that we envision our scholarly work, our daily choices, and reflective lives as crucial, contributing factors of transformative praxis in the world. In knowing Doug through these many years, I am sure he would laugh softly and unabashedly embrace such terms, qualifying them as he saw fit.
For me, Doug was the quintessential dreamer who sought to instill goodness and beauty in life. In his published work, Doug often advanced compelling views of our common life or the idea of the common good. Underlying this vision of the common good was a fundamental understanding about life or a philosophic vision, according to which or lives are intricately intertwined, the destiny of each caught up with the destiny of all.
In one piece, Doug wrote eloquently about this lofty principle, declaring “what we are is made up of a host of entangling and ever-changing relationships, all of which leave their traces on our life from beginning to its end. At the same time, we are, within the context of those relationships, creative agents, making a difference, great or small, in the lives of others in the immediate present and in the long-range future.”
I feel quite fortunate in having experienced Doug as a beloved friend and colleague. And, I cannot think of any better way to commemorate his remarkable, inspirational life than through my continued desire to help bring about his expansive vision of reality, often symbolized by the metaphor of relational love. I humbly seek to do so through my teaching, scholarly writings, and life choices…
Carol Wayne White
Professor, Philosophy of Religion
Dept. of Religious Studies
Meditation on Solidarity and Suffering
Douglas Sturm, Solidarity and Suffering: Toward a Politics of Relationality, 1998, State University of New York Press, paperback
A few days before Doug Sturm’s passing in April, I called a mutual friend in Lewisburg, Pa. I hoped to be in touch with Doug again, and was looking for his contact information. It was after our conversation, I heard the news of his death. I waited too long.
Now, a community of his loved ones, academics and activists are honoring his life and work. He had many close freinds, but he also deeply touched the lives of those of us, like me, who worked with him only briefly. I considered him a friend.
My instinct is to go to my bookshelf and pull my copy of his book, Solidarity and Suffering. There in the fly page is his inscription for me, dated March 2001.
These years later, I look over his book again. I remember how I wanted to write a review of it, but what I think now is perhaps an annotation, or better still, a meditation, both for him, as a way of living his work, but also, for political thinkers, for fellow pacifists and socialists, something I meant to write when I first read his book.
I heard of Doug before I ever lived in Lewisburg. I was newly released from Federal Prison for my role in a Plowshares action (anti-nuclear civil disobedience), and my mentor in Plowshares, Elmer Maas, was lifelong friends with Doug and his wife Margie. Elmer strongly recommended I find him when I arrived in Lewisburg.
I ended up working at the local Community Center, and while working on multicultural events, Doug first appeared, not as Douglas Sturm the political scientist and Bucknell Professor, but as Doug Sturm the organizer. He was the leading spirit of Community Alliance for Respect and Equality, and his book of contacts was open for me at every turn of planning events. An amazing book of contacts it was.
He invited me to a fancy restaurant, as he said, as support of the Plowshares action, and to hear about Elmer. This was the day he presented me with his book and inscribed it. Not only did we talk about activism, but it was clear he was a man in love with ideas- quick and intense with his thinking….from the history of U.S. civil rights, to utilitarians, back to Aristotle. I remember in the following days siting in Lewisburg cafes and reading parts of his book, intrigued by its philosophical aspects. At the time I had an idea to write a review, but in the fray of life, I never did.
In 2005, after I moved from central Pa to Philadelphia, our mutual friend Elmer passed away. In writing essays about Elmer’s own highly synthetic philosophy, I called Doug to ask about his memories of the young Elmer, and his recollections of Elmer’s philosophy. Trying to understand Elmer’s understanding of Plato’s politics, Doug referred me to Whitehead’s “sterling essay on the subject of Plato’s Republic.”
That was the last I spoke with him.
Now these days, dusting off his book, I regret I hadn’t written the review back then. As I look at it now, it opens so many questions, introduces so many authors. And….had I done this earlier, I doubtless would have asked him many more questions-how he encountered Process theology, how he came to write his book, how he applies his understanding of socialism to our modern globalized world.
This weekend I will go back to Lewisburg for his memorial. It’s the first time I’ll be back in Lewisburg in 12 years. In some spiritual preparation, on lunch breaks and after work, I disappear to cafes or woods to go through his book, this time much more carefully, in pencil mapping out my way with margin notes and underlines; then wandering to the Penn library to find the peri text and glance at the books he read.
To give a sense of this book, Solidarity and Suffering takes on a series of world issues as they relate to a core philosophy. It moves through topics of human rights, economics and democracy, the potential of religion, and the shadow of alienation in the politics of violence.
His prose is often tightly coiled and morally intense. A sample line I like to say out loud: “The relative efficacy of these transformative possibilities, however, is contingent on the development of a rigorous discipline of peacemaking.”
His style is highly organized and precise. He gives a strong outline of his proposed arguments, and elaborates in that order. In each chapter, he’s extremely generous with his sources. His usual style is to identify a series of authors and works relevant to his argument, and weave these texts into the fabric of his world view. In my recent reading, pencil in hand, I circled the authors and works he references….and the sheer number of circled names is formidable.
I can only touch on the cornerstones of his thinking, the threads of his philosophy which inform and haunt the subjects he explores.
These cornerstones draw from several sources, it seems. By way of the theologian John Cobb is an influx of the process metaphysics of Whitehead, and an ethical development of what was then the ascending ecology movement. By way of the historian Tzvetan Todorov, there is a profound entrance to the ethics of Self and Other, far beyond Fichte and Hegel, to the ethical interpretation of Levinas. Taking these threads together, we start to read the center of his work, from which the spokes of his subjects emanate.
These threads culminate in a sense of an ontology of the process of the pieces of a sacred whole of reality, and the ecology of the various pieces, affecting and interacting. This begins to get us to the background of his word “Relational.“
The subtitle of Doug’s book is ‘Toward a Politics of Relationality’. The “Relationality” of the title is a kind of culmination of these notions….and one who stands in this interdependent world, who witnesses the suffering, will be cast into a Sturmian cycle of witness and reply.
“Wisdom is the culmination of understanding. Compassion is the direct expression of wisdom. Justice is the Impulse of compassion. Or, in alternative phrasing, if we would understand the world, we must understand the world’s suffering, and in understanding the world’s suffering, we are driven to respond in compassion and justice.”
Not long after he adds a deepening of the above:
“We cannot, I have suggested, understand the world unless we understand the world’s suffering. And, given the depth of immediate experience, we cannot understand the world’s suffering unless we understand it as, in some sense, our suffering. That, I would assert, is the ground of compassion. Recall, at this point, the perspective I am unfolding; wisdom, which is the employment of knowledge to “add value to immediate experience,” is the culmination of understanding, and compassion is the expression of wisdom.”
He brings this, (and this is crucial for understanding Sturm’s thinking) to the heart of the New Testament.
“…at the heart and center of Christianity is the solemn symbol of the crucified Christ. Whatever else that image is taken to mean, it epitomizes the suffering love.”
“Compassion, in its extremity, is the willingness to die that others might live.”
And then, importantly, he moves to the same principle found in other major faiths. His New Testament spirit is deeply ecumenical.
“I would have us begin with the question of the anguish of the Self and the fate of the Self as an issue in social practice, but also as a proper claim upon-and therefore an accusation against-religious communities .”
The major faiths, for him, are both a resource and an obstacle in responding to the problem of the Self. He earnestly explores the 19th century critique of religion, from Marx and Nietzsche and Freud, almost compelled to examine these in full, Religion as a stumbling block to progress or an agent of injustice. But as another aspect of his search, he also looks at its obverse, the strands in primitive Christianity, and the left wing of the reformation which are revolutionary in character, ‘motivating the yearning of the dispossessed to press for revolutionary action.’
Religion, in offering ideals of justice, against which an oppressive society can be contrasted, can function as a powerful critique of oppression. In this way, he asserts there is an isomorphic relationship between these two, between the critique of Religion, and Religion as critique.
“The point at which these movements converge is where each address the problem of the Self, the history of suffering, the question of that quality of association in which and through which Self and Other in their linkage with each other both flourish because of their interaction.’
This gives some idea of his philosophy of Relationality, the threads of which find their source in what Sturm calls Koinonology (from the New Testament Greek with meanings of Fellowship and community). Koinonology is a form of ethics primarily concerned with the tenor of relationships themselves. Relationships between Self and Other, of mutual respect and reciprocity. He contrasts this to merely Teleological ethics, which seek ethical end, or mere Deontological ethics, concerned with mere rights and duties. Koinonology ethics, for Sturm, sees the dynamic of Self and Other as itself the concern of the ethical life.
This Levanasian ethics and ontology is the heart of his work in political science. His work toward a politics of relationality brings him to trace the dynamics of alienation and reconciliation, and these in the structures of political society.
The form this takes is a fundamental break with the so called Realist tradition of politics. His political conscience runs counter to the tradition of Hobbes which always seems ‘realistic’ in the short term, but on closer inspection is a path of self-destruction. These politics of the status quo he calls the Politics of Annihilation, with its chronic Nationalism, exploitation and Militarism. His philosophy of Relationality and Konionology brought into the political sphere is a counter power to Annihilation. Its Kantian maxim is “So act, that the life of the entire community and each of its participants might flourish.’
In the realm of political life, concerned as he is with ethical relationship, we can see him writing in the late 90s, when political ecology and multiculturalism were in full swing. His Relational politics rise out from a social ecology, and he is deeply concerned with institutional racism and all forms of bigotry. He delves again and again into a radical pluralism, but at each point he is careful to distance himself from the slippery slopes of relativism.
Again, from these same philosophical sources, he rejects the common tools of political violence, whether in established foreign policy, or as a tool of resistance. Violence, by definition, is destructive of the Other, and while intending to be for the benefit of Self, it destroys the matrix of society which makes the very life of the Self possible. He distinguishes between legitimate violence and illegitimate, between aggressive and defensive violence; but even in the Realism of legitimate and defensive violence, he explores the research of Gene Sharp–that is, the study of Civilian Defense, or mass nonviolent non cooperation in its myriad forms. He examines studies of historic revolutions where the violence of the establishment unleashes violent resistance, and from these, the birth of new forms of repression. He holds up nonviolent mass struggle as a potential way out of this cycle.
In exploring implications of his Koinonology he examines criminology, higher education, and other facets of state and civil society. But crucial to his book (and to my own interests in his thinking) is his work in economic relations.
His exploration of economics in political science, and in particular in the theory of property, is extremely thorough, and is prominently at the fore of his book. His chapters on The Meaning and Uses of Property, Corporate Governance and Democracy, and The Socialist Vision Revisited, one can easily see as a linchpin of his understanding of the political body, rising as it will from the Relational Politics and Koinonology, and radical Nonviolence.
He begins his economic study with the changes in the concept of property from the ancient world to the present.
His approach is radical, but has potential for entering into dialogue with others concerned with human rights as well as those who work on the nature of democracy. The very word Socialism can have the historical resonances of a harsh materialism, a formula of class self-interests, and a raw grab for power. It can suggest the dark specter of command economies, and political police states.
But Sturm approaches Socialism from his Relational politics, and draws on a radical tradition of democracy, civil freedoms, and economic participation. One of his sources is the economic historian R.H Tawney, whose humanistic and Christian inspirations are fitted to Sturm’s Relational views. I enjoyed that in his tracing of the history of property and economic relations, his work is thorough and convincing, and at the same time make almost no reference to Marx and Engels.
Growing up in capitalist societies, we are guided to see the unfettered market as proportional to the unfettered Self.
But in contrast to the Politics of Annihilation, Sturm looks again at the history of Property. We learn from our society that ‘Property’ is sacred to civil freedom….but Sturm stops to examine how the ‘root idea’ of property changes in different eras. He reviews distinctions made between personal vs corporate property, or Property for Use vs Property for Power.
Beginning with the medieval distinction between Imperium, or government ownership, and Dominium, the ownership in the private sphere into which officials can not intrude- he points to the tradition from Aristotle to Aquinas, which saw an antagonistic standoff between private life and government politics.
But arriving at the 17th and 18th centuries, he compares Hobbe’s concept of Property as purely a creation of law, to Locke’s alignment of individual property with the rights of the individual, and the protection of property as a crucial job of civil authority. In the modern politics of the status quo, Locke’s property is too quickly confused with Private Property as it is thought of in modern Capitalist society. But Sturm looks closer at the nature of Locke’s property, to its nature as essentially a labor theory of property, as an extension of the labor of one’s body intermixed with the land itself. He doesn’t seem to be claiming Lock as a socialist, but certainly not in line with modern capitalist property either.
By contrast, in line with what modern capitalism thinks of as Private Property, he examines the late 18th century development of ‘Absolute Property: the exclusive right of a person to possess, to use, to abuse, to dispose of a thing in any way one wishes.’
Tracking this concept of Absolute Property among modern conservative economists, such as Hayek, he notices they that fail to distinguish between personal property and the emergence of the modern Corporation. The latter he calls “a determinative reality in modern economic life, altering radically the meaning and forms of property.’ He points out that the Corporation is a form of property ironically destructive of the personal property in the name of which it justifies itself.
Of the various challenges to Absolute Property, he examines a 19th century minority Judge opinion that cuts to the heart of the matter, called ‘Judge Wait’s Doctrine of Property Effected with a Public Interest.’ This doctrine asks about private property that directly affects the public interest-for example, a private road which leads to a water source. This raises the question of whether absolute property in effect trumps public interest. Sturm sees this as opening a Pandora’s box for the democratic concerns of personal property for use vs Corporate Property for public power, and significantly, he points out, the doctrine was passed over by 19th c Jurisprudence.
In tracing the development from 18th c ideas of Individual property to modern capitalist ideas of corporate property in conflict with individual rights, Sturm examines a crucial distinction between three forms of property, these being
Common Property, (which is vested in the community, for egalitarian community use. Examples rang from the 17th c English Commons to to the modern public Library);
Private Property, (In which individuals have a legal right to exclude others from its use );
State Property, which essentially acts in the interests of a controlling State (Such as Military bases, Government Laboratories and Prisons.).
This tripartite distinction struck me as crucial for any discussion of Socialism, and it seems important for understanding the Soviet command economy. Reading this passage, it struck me that just as personal property should be seen as in conflict with modern Corporate Property, in the same way socialist Common Property can be seen as in radical distinction from much of the Soviet Police State, where Government property acted on behalf of a bureaucratic class, in the interests of the State itself.
Clearly in distinction from both sides of cold war, Sturm is in search of a theory of property which is Relational, in keeping with his concept of Koinonology, rising out from radical democracy and human rights. He examines proposals for workplace democracy, and insists that the main questions of property, how is it initiated, and who it benefits, is inseparable from the needs of the public, and inseparable from ethical discourse. It is Common property which he looks to as Relational, as democratic and, as he uses the word, Communitarian.
Exploring Whitehead on the progress of human dignity, he quotes him saying “Economic organization constitutes the most massive problem in human relationships.” One can see the grave concerns of economic violence throughout Sturm’s book, from beginning to end, and how industrial democracy must be a concern of all democratic struggles.
Professor Sturm, in his unfolding of political philosophy, brings us face to face with subjective life of the individual in community, the beginning and end of both economics and deliberation. The whole of his book is a way through the intellectual tradition, which tends, not toward abstract thinking, but to a direct encounter with the world as it is, and a refusal of the tools of the establishment if what they require is violence to the Other. He leads us to a building of an alternative praxis, based on solidarity with the suffering of others, where we come to understand our human dignity is bound with theirs.
He calls us to reflection and to resistance.