In its 10th Year, Journal about Culture Looks Toward the Future

May 6, 2008 — When you imagine the future, do your thoughts veer toward visions of apocalypse or utopia?

The Hedgehog Review, an interdisciplinary journal published by the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, presents a variety of views on "Imagining the Future" in its newest issue. Combining perspectives from history, religion, sociology, philosophy and literature on current events and concerns, the journal includes several essays, reviews, poetry, art and a bibliography on the topic.

Philosopher Richard J. Bernstein, a professor at the New School for Social Research, writes in his essay, "Democratic Hope," about the American Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement. "In the darkest of times it is absolutely essential to keep alive the cultural memory of what we have been at our best — not as a lament for a lost time, but as the basis for the hope of what might still be done." The same could be said for The Hedgehog Review — that it nurtures cultural ideas that shape the world in which we live, but for the benefit of today and tomorrow.

Most academic and literary journals don't last more than four or five years, but The Hedgehog Review has reached its 10th year and its editors show no signs of slowing down. Editor Jennifer Geddes, managing editor Kristine Harmon and others at the institute are working on several other issues beyond the one just hitting shelves this week.

The journal, which comes out three times a year, is a publication of 85 to 110 pages, nearly 7 inches by 10 inches in size, printed on glossy paper, and it wears a four-color cover that changes — like the theme — with each issue.

Past issues have focused on the purpose of the university, religion and violence, the fate of the arts, fear, and celebrity culture, among others.

In the Q&A below, Geddes, research associate professor of religious studies, talks about the publication she has guided, along with the journal's executive editor, James Davison Hunter, over the past 10 years to produce what continues to be a living, breathing collection of, as the subtitle says, Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture.

Q: What are the upcoming issues about?

A: In thinking about the issue topics for this year, we tried to come up with questions people might be thinking about, given that it's an election year. We thought people might be considering the future and what kind of changes a new president might bring. We also thought the role of the media in this election cycle was quite an interesting topic with the increasingly important role of the Internet. By the fall, we thought people might be tired of the political campaigns and election, but might be interested in thinking about what it means to be a citizen in the world today — how are people engaged in public life, both here and in other parts of the world? That's how we came up with the three issues for 2008: "Imagining the Future," "Politics and the Media," and "What Does It Mean to Be a Citizen?"

Our spring issue includes Richard Bernstein, a philosopher and public intellectual, on democratic hope; Krishan Kumar, chairman of U.Va.'s sociology department, on the history of utopia in Western literature; another utopian sociologist, Ruth Levitas, on the importance of utopian thought for public life as a way to help us imagine the world and ourselves otherwise; and a review of Francis Fukuyama's "Blindside" by Joshua Yates, one of the directors of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Paul Boyer and David Cook analyze the power of apocalyptic ideas in the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and how ancient writings are influencing religious fundamentalists today.

The summer issue on politics and the media will feature an interview with E.J. Dionne, the Washington Post political columnist, done by U.Va. professor Charles Mathewes.

Q: How do you put together The Hedgehog Review?

A: The editorial staff, institute directors and fellows brainstorm about themes, trying to think about what topics are of critical importance to people today. We decide on a unifying theme for each issue and try to present different ways of looking at it with essays, interviews, long and short reviews, photographs, art and poems.

We're always looking to pick topics that we feel are really important and relevant, and to present them in ways to help people think more deeply about the subject, deeper than sound-bite level.
On the inside of each cover of The Hedgehog Review is printed, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
— Archilocus

Q: What did you have in mind when you were deciding on what kind of journal to publish 10 years ago?

A: James Hunter, the executive editor, and I talked about what we liked and didn't like in what we read. Most journals have a range of articles, but they usually have little to do with each other. Also, most are written in a way that most people outside the discipline or outside the academic world cannot understand. The specialization of academic prose makes it very difficult for people to write in a way that non-specialists can understand. We wanted to have more of a conversation with leading scholars, writers and public intellectuals and their different ways of looking deeply at a topic and writing in an accessible manner.

Q: Who is your audience?

A: The audience is growing from mostly academics to include a wider public. Our readers include graduate students, faculty and intellectually engaged members of the broader public.

The journal tries to avoid being as obscure as a lot of academic writing, while still maintaining the depth of analysis of scholarly work. It also strives to be as readable as a magazine, but with more of a sense of the moral seriousness of what each issue is trying to explore. We want to be a bridge to broaden access to scholarly discussions on important topics, and we ask scholars, whose work we solicit, to write for a broad audience, to explain their terms and to bring the riches of their insights to those outside their disciplines.

Q: OK, where does the title come from?

A: It's a fragment from the Greek poet Archilocus. It's probably best known as being used by Isaiah Berlin for the title of his book, "The Hedgehog and the Fox." There are fox thinkers, who learn about a lot of things, and there are hedgehog thinkers, who specialize in one thing. We're actually trying to bring together the breadth of the fox with the depth of the hedgehog, but The Foxy Hedgehog didn't seem quite the right title!
In an age where knowledge is fragmented and academic discourse so specialized that communication across disciplines sometimes seems impossible, The Hedgehog Review offers a refreshing alternative. … The journal poses hard questions, pursues knotty controversies and pushes intellectual debates beyond their current impasses, making it a unique resource for those concerned with making sense of the puzzles, perplexities and promise of our times.

— from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture brochure

Q: What does the title have to do with the focus of the journal?

A: We [at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture] recognized a need for more depth in looking at issues of the day and for going beyond immediate ideas and reactions to them. Today, people have so little time for sustained thought about anything; we live with short attention spans and long lists of things to do. We wanted The Hedgehog Review to be a place where people could slow down and think more deeply.

We're also working against the fragmentation in the academic world. We want to break down some of the barriers between academic disciplines and put them into conversation. We draw from philosophy for clarity of thought, from history to get the context over time and from literature for attention to the way things are said.

Q: With increasing use of Web and e-mail publications, what is the purpose of having the print edition of the journal?

A: Many readers have commented that they like the feel of the issues, having them in their hands, and the look of the issues — we put a lot of work into making them visually engaging. The issues are used in classes, and people tend to keep them on their bookshelves. We sell back issues at a steady rate.

Q: Do you have a Web site?

A: We do:, and we are continually developing our Web presence. When our issues sell out, we put them on the Web site in pdf format. [Nine issues have sold out.] We also put all of the table of contents online and usually put up a few pieces from each issue.

Q: Anything else new for The Hedgehog Review?

A: Yes, we'll be moving into a beautiful, new building, a historic house on University Circle, Watson Manor, sometime in the next few months.