At Fort Meade

It took Tenabe Yehumariam and her sociocultural cryptography team nearly a week to sort through the transmissions. The basic material transmitted consisted of a series of yantras or mandalas. Image recognition software could not match them to any known exemplars. According to the unit’s academic consultants the general style was typical of work done in the fifteenth century in Central Asia, towards the end of the Silk Road Era, most likely from a monastery in the Tian Shan mountains, but it did not match precisely existing work from any known community, either in style or precise structure.

A routine steganography check indicated that in addition to whatever information the mandalas themselves were intended to convey directly, they were an encryption of a rather large library of texts. These fell, broadly, into three categories. The first was an anthology of key philosophical, theological, and mystical texts from across humanity’s principal civilizational traditions.

The texts were in themselves unremarkable. They might, of course, have turned up an any number of syllabi in philosophy or religion courses anywhere on the planet. But the combination, and the presence of two of the texts in particular –ibn Sina’s al-Isharat and Zhou Dunyi’s T’ai-chi t’u shuo—struck Tenabe as odd.

Then there was a series of astrological and alchemical texts, or rather of texts composed exclusively of astrological and alchemical symbols. Again, the unit’s consultants could not only not identify the texts but said that while the symbols themselves were quite ordinary that they were unaware of any other text of the kind. It was not even clear if the subject matter was alchemical or astrological or if the symbols were just a kind of code being used to encrypt yet another message at a deeper level, or both. But the initial cryptology reports came back insisting that the texts were just noise. This by itself would not be unusual. Hiding valuable information in the midst of noise was a well established steganographic techique. But this still left the task of finding what was being hidden.

Finally, there was a very short text which consisted of a mixture of Hebrew, Devangari, and Han script. All of the words seemed to be inflections –or at least modifications– of the Hebrew root yhwh, the Jewish name for God. But no one had ever seen anything like it.

It had been established that the transmissions were coming from a national forest site with minor archeological significance high the Sangre de Christo Mountains. The site was currently under investigation. Various members of her team with more extensive technical cryptological skills were at work on the tougher parts of the manuscript. It was her job, as Team Lead for the NSA’s first Sociocultural Cryptography Unit,   to pull all these details together and figure out what they meant. Tenabe decided to start with what seemed easy. Raising a glass of cardamom tea to her mouth, she opened Google and set it to run a search for documents containing both the name Zhou dun-yi and the name ibn Sina. She found that sometimes ordinary search engines “thought of” things that the more focused IC engines missed.

Most of the hits were spurious: they involved references to companies involved in trade between China and Iran. But she was surprised at just how many websites actually contained both names. Most were world religions anthologies or encyclopedias of philosophy. But three of the top ten attracted her attention. Two were syllabi for courses at Nizhoni College and the third a blog post praising essentially the same course (while complaining about the quantity of reading) offered a few   years earlier at Southern Methodist University.

The courses in question were taught by the same professor. She immediately pulled his file, which turned out to be rather thin –just a few references to contacts with revolutionary organizations more than 30 years ago. But he would be worth talking to. So she initiated a request that he be detained for questioning.

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Anthony Mansueto

Humanity is the desire to be God (Sartre, Jean Paul. Being and Nothingness, 1943/1993: 556). Being finite, we are aware of the infinite and seek it without limit. Being contingent, dependent on other beings for our existence, we seek the power of Being as such and seek it absolutely. Human history is fundamentally the history of this seeking, and of the distinct ways of being human to which it has given rise. Precisely because we are finite and contingent, our seeking takes place under definite material (physical, ecological, demographic, built-environmental) conditions which shape the ways which emerge, as well as the social structures through which we pursue them. As something set apart we call this power of Being the sacred but it is, in fact, the warp and woof of the world in which we live, driving secular projects as much as those which understand themselves as religious. My work is centered around an effort to engage the sacred analytically, interpretively, normatively, creatively, and practically. My scholarship is centered around an effort to restore theoria to its original sense as an encounter with the sacred which is empirical, analytic, interpretive and normative, and specifically to understand the diverse ways (including secular ways) in which humanity seeks (to be) God in the context of the material realities out which they emerged and the structures through which they operate while engaging these ways normatively, contributing to the transhistorical deliberation around what it means to be human. As an artist I work first and foremost with narrative, telling stories which, blending elements from magic realism, science fiction, and fantasy, highlight humanity’s engagement with the sacred. But I also create paintings, photo collages, and illuminations and am experimenting with alterealities, games which actually change the world, and which engage all these elements in an interactive context. And I work in the medium of food, creating alchemical cuisine which at once encodes meaning and transforms those who consume it —especially in community. My scholarly and creative work aims at charting a new way of being human, at making the sacred present to people in their day to day lives, and at helping people situate their lives and their decisions, individual and collective, in he context of the ultimate aims of human life. My practical engagements with the sacred cross the boundaries between teaching and mentoring, leading and organizing. As a teacher, it is my aim to cultivate free, creative human beings and engaged citizens with a mature spirituality who have the ability to make rationally autonomous decisions regarding questions of meaning and value, to understand their particular calling and how to realize it, to build and exercise power in service to the common good, to learn the difficult spiritual lessons that come from both success and failure in our lives, and thus to pursue and progress along the way they have chosen. In addition to teaching in formal academic and community based settings, I mentor individuals using a process which integrates deep listening with both traditional spiritual disciplines and secular insights drawn from organizing and business strategy. I cultivate both scholars and practitioners, and challenge my students to cross the boundaries between these two domains. As an academic leader I have worked to promote liberal education for students from working class and ethnic minority communities, to make the institutions I serve into centers for deliberation around questions of meaning, value, and public policy, and to restore (nonconfessional, pluralistic, but still normative) engagement with the sacred to its rightful place in the academy. I see this academic leadership as an extension of my broader work as an institutional organizer helping organizations and institutions find their way, and working to build, conserve, and transform them in service to the Common Good. My work as an organizer has also included significant contributions to interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, from building financial and institutional support for interfaith organizing through catalyzing public deliberation around questions of meaning and value across diverse spiritual and civilizational traditions. I bring to this engagement a substantial record of publications, including nine books and numerous articles in both scholarly journals and journals of public opinion setting forth my vision and strategy, decades of experience teaching the liberal arts to students from working class and ethnic minority communities, a history active civic engagement, primarily in interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, and a range of institutional leadership roles in the academy including department chair, program director, dean, and campus leader with responsibility for all community college functions for a large rural area. As I continue my formal institutional engagements as an academic administrator over the next several years, I am also looking to build support for my creative work and a consulting practice mentoring individual leaders and organizations across the academic, religious, and civil society sectors. Supporting my work through Patreon is a way to contribute to making this possible while getting a glimpse of my creative process, free or discounted artifacts from my alterealities, and the opportunity to benefit from my mentoring and consulting practice at much reduced rates.

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