National Capitol Region

Sarah Winthrop looked around her office at the National Cathedral. It was small. Though a canon and thus a full member of the cathedral chapter she was not technically on staff here, given her status as a member of the Senior Intelligence Service, currently serving as National Intelligence Officer for Global Cultural Issues. But she preferred to work here, where she could be surrounded by images which reminded her of what her work was about, rather than in the drab, bureaucratic office she was forced to maintain at NIC headquarters, so as not to press too obviously her family’s aristocratic history. There she kept pictures of her family (two nieces –she was not married) and a small library of works on religion and politics. The only painting (and it was quite an indulgence) was a Rothko that had been in her family for 50 years.

Here, on the other hand, were the artifacts which marked her family as one of the leading forces in the English Reformation: first editions of the first Book of Common Prayer and of Richard Hooker’s Learned Discourse on Justification and Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, but also of John Winthrop’s Collected Works and those of Jonathan Edwards.

Sarah was related to all of them –to the Puritans on her father’s side and to the latitudinarian Anglicans on her mother’s. She was, in fact, a lineal descendant of both John Winthrop and of “the judicious Hooker” himself.

Like that of most members of the Anglo-American elite, her own outlook was –intentially– difficult to categorize. She had studied divinity at Harvard and sociology of religion at Berkeley, where she was one of Robert Bellah’s last students, writing a dissertation on Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations before the book itself was actually published. Huntington had been a friend and mentor in her undergraduate days at Harvard, but she had always sparred with him. He shared his early drafts with her while she was at Harvard Divinity School. And she wrote sharp critiques, arguing that Huntington, enchanted by Weber’s obsession with Puritanism, had failed to understand the latitudinarian Anglican contribution to the Anglo-American project, and ultimately the centrality of pluralism to the specifically American identity. But he had always assumed that after she satisfied her intense desire for Anglican orders, she would become his student in the Department of Political Science at Harvard. Then she stunned him by choosing to work with Robert Bellah on the other side of the country, eventually writing a dissertation which tried to use de Tocqueville to correct her old mentor’s Weberian “errors.” Theologically she was an Anglican with liberal and even Catholic leanings. But her soul was Calvinist, each act scrutinized for what it revealed about her character, every waking moment devoted to proving that the position of privilege she enjoyed was well used even if she could not claim it was actually well deserved. So many of her friends from grad school –many of them scholars as good or better than she was — were still in “adjunct hell,” while she sat here in her office at this great cathedral, with another just a few miles away at Foggy Bottom.

An evangelical friend once challenged Sara’s focus on effective, inner worldly action.

–God doesn’t want your resume, he had told her. He wants your heart.

Sara had considered the challenge seriously. He knew that the young man in question certainly wanted her heart and that she did not feel she could give it. But on reflection she had concluded that God was, in fact, far more interested in her resume. It had been a life defining moment for her.

The truth is that even with her doctorate from Berkeley and her family connections the best job she had been able to land after finishing was at an eastern liberal arts college. It would have been heaven for most people, but it was not what she wanted. She turned it down and, stunning her leftist friends in Berkeley, took a job with the Central Intelligence Agency –in the National Clandestine Service, nonetheless. Her family’s history of service to the State Department and her outstanding language skills had netted her fast track postings: Kunming and Llasha, Cuzco, Baghdad, Cairo, and Tehran, Sana’a, New Delhi and Moscow, and finally Rome.

After a dozen years she was exhausted and anxious to settle down and look for a partner. And her outlook had changed. She had found herself in what really was, if not a clash of civilizations, at least a war of position rather than the dialogue she had called for in her dissertation. Her reports wove thousands of individual meetings and interviews conducted by herself and the teams she led with a subtle analysis drawing on Gramsci and de Tocqueville as well as Weber, of the complex cultural factors which made Dar-al-Islam and China, and to a lesser extent India and Latin America, foundationally resistant, if not overtly hostile to democracy and pluralism. Her superiors at the CIA and the State Department (the latter had provided cover for her as a political or cultural officer) valued her insights and, when she wanted a respite from the field, offered her an appointment to the National Intelligence Council, a post more often reserved for analysts than operatives. But then she was Sarah Winthrop …

Soon she found herself mired in the internal politics around the emerging discipline of sociocultural intelligence, which was, it seemed “owned” by the Army’s Human Terrain System even if she had been doing it, and doing it better than they did, for more than a decade. Yet another war of position –this one bureaucratic— to try to bring together the diverse constituencies with an interest in this vital work, which had become her work, and create a coherent organization which could actually help the West win its civilizational struggles.

It was a struggle she thought worthwhile, but unlikely to be successful. The entrenched interests at the Army and the CIA were too powerful. NSA wouldn’t even talk to her. But then the Tien Shan manuscript appeared. Human Terrain was already involved, since it was one of their officers who had first intercepted it. So was NSA, which had resolved the initial images of mandalas into a large corpus of natural language and encrypted manuscripts. CIA was involved because they alone had the HUMINT collection capacity to match the manuscripts’ obviously wide cultural reach. Just why the President had suddenly decided to do the right thing and force fully one third of the intelligence community to play nicely in the same sandbox when previous crises of seemingly rather greater proportions had not elicited anything more than tentative moves in that direction was unclear.   But this, it seemed, was Sara’s moment, and she was going to make the most of it.

The fact that she had been named to assemble and provide oversight for the first Minerva team, did not, however, mean that she would actually control it. The team would likely be the locus of an ongoing bureaucratic war of position. NSA, furthermore, had been in possession of the manuscript for days and so they were undoubtedly way ahead in the attempt to decipher it. The struggle would begin with NSA in the strongest position. What Sara could do is to use her HUMINT skills and relationships to get a head start on finding the authors who, she was convinced, were just another very ordinary religiopolitical sectarian group.

Fortunately, President Clinton had insisted that the manuscripts be shared with the various agencies which would be involved in Minerva immediately. Sara soon had in her possession an enormous collection of yantras as well as a long manuscript that included, in roughly equal measure, a long list of well known but very important philosophical and religious texts, an text encrypted in what was obviously an artificial language of some kind, and a another written in a some kind of astrological/alchemical script that she could not decipher.

Sarah looked out through the pointed arch of her Gothic window on the rainy Washington autumn day, the brilliant yellows and golds, oranges and reds of the trees, now at peak, muted by the dismal skies. Then she opened her tablet and sent off an email to the woman she had chosen to lead the first Minerva team.

Published by:

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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