One of the many ways in which I was massively underprepared for my twelve year stint as the Graduate Program Director of the UMass doctoral program in Afro-American Studies was my blindness to the central role of religion in the American Black community. Although not a single one of my new colleagues exhibited the slightest tinge of belief in the divine, half or more of our doctoral students were seriously religious. One of the young men, who was married to a preacher, had a message on his answering machine that blessed you three times before you got to the beep. This failing on my part was brought home to me one rainy evening in the spring of 2000, four years after the launch of the program.
I had decided that the complete lack of mention of Marx in the departmental curriculum required fixing, so I announced a series of non-credit lectures on Marx, scheduled for the evening in order not to conflict with our regular courses. Quite a few of our students turned out for the series. One evening, we met during a heavy spring thunderstorm, which I ignored as I plodded through my exposition. At some point, for reasons I cannot now recall, I remarked as an aside, “Of course, there is no God.” At that precise moment, there was an enormous thunderclap. The next day, one of the students informed me that half of the class was absolutely convinced this was God’s expression of disapproval of my denial of Him.
Teaching in that department was a hoot.