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Online Program Book

All Times are Listed in Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Theme: Committee Meeting

Sunday, November 29, 10:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

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Theme: Pandemic Rituals

Sunday, November 29, 11:00 AM-2:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This workshop will be concerned with rituals or ritualized practices linked with the Covid 19 pandemic and lockdown. Some new ritual practices, such as the daily 8 o’clock PM applause for health workers in France, are easy to identify. Others, consisting in subtle yet systematic shifts in behavior that reconfigure social relations (disinfecting, handwashing, masking, social distancing, the accelerated circulation of jokes and videos on the Internet, etc.), or in new forms of collective interaction (“virtual” classes or meetings), are more difficult to pin down. One of the theoretical issues raised by these new practices has to do with the differences that are worth making (or not) between habits and rituals, and more generally, between ceremonial performance and equally conventional everyday activity. How can taking these recently introduced Covid 19 related practices into consideration shed light on these questions and others? Panelists will provide detailed accounts of such practices from their own observations and self-observations, and offer speculative interpretations. All participants will be expected to contribute both material of their own and to get involved in discussions.

Theme: ARC Committee Meeting

Sunday, November 29, 12:00 PM-3:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Academic Relations Committee meeting

Theme: Committee Meeting

Sunday, November 29, 12:00 PM-3:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This is the annual in-person meeting of the Status of LGBTIQ Persons in the Profession Committee. The Committee will review current work and plan new projects.

Theme: Committee Meeting

Sunday, November 29, 1:00 PM-3:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

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Theme: Motherhood and Religion: A Comparative, Interdisciplinary, Matricentric Feminist Approach

Sunday, November 29, 1:00 PM-4:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

The intersection of motherhood and religion remains rarely studied even within research on gender in religious studies. Yet, under the influence of matricentric feminism, topics on motherhood and mothering (as institution and experience) or parenting are being brought to the foreground in religious studies and in theology, with references to contemporary maternal theory and recent developments in motherhood studies. This workshop will offer participants the opportunity to discuss their on-going work and to network with other researchers in religious studies or theology who focus on common research themes such as alternative forms of motherhood and mothering in religion, divine and human mothers, or (non-religious) feminist perspectives that consider both the patriarchal institution of motherhood and religion as oppressive. Designed from a comparative and interdisciplinary approach, this workshop will also give an opportunity for networking to scholars, including emerging researchers, specializing in a variety of religious contexts and using different methodologies.

Theme: Public Scholarship and Practical Impacts Workshop: Media Training and Work Outside the Academy

Sunday, November 29, 1:00 PM-5:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Join the Applied Religious Studies Committee for this two-part workshop that will empower scholars of religion to communicate about their work in the public sphere. During the first session, a panel of experts will discuss the ways that several scholars of religion are engaging with the general public, emphasizing social impact. During the second session, panelists will join registrants in small groups to discuss registrants’ current projects. This workshop is designed for those seeking an opportunity to talk to experienced public scholars about reaching general audiences through various media. We will pay particular attention to challenges faced by scholars off the tenure track and outside the academy who are committed to communicating about the relevance of religious studies scholarship to interdisciplinary and general audiences.

Theme: Business Meeting

Sunday, November 29, 2:00 PM-2:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

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Theme: Reading Religion Editorial Board Meeting

Sunday, November 29, 2:00 PM-3:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

The annual meeting of the Reading Religion Editorial Board.

Theme: Regional Officers Breakfast

Sunday, November 29, 2:00 PM-3:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Annual meeting of regional officers

Theme: Mapping Malcolm's Boston

Sunday, November 29, 2:00 PM-3:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This presentation will provide a virtual tour of my digital humanities project, Mapping Malcolm's Boston: Exploring the City that Made Malcolm X. Participants will be introduced to sites within the Greater Boston area that were important to Malcolm X's political development between 1941 and 1953. Through showing what these sites looked like when Malcolm X was alive and what they look like now, I will discuss the role that gentrification and urban renewal has played in shaping Black Muslim life in Boston. This presentation will also provide participants with tips on how they can engage in digital humanities and incorporate it into their classrooms.

Theme: Centers for Religion and Public Life Workshop: Continuing Collaborations

Sunday, November 29, 2:00 PM-5:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This annual gathering of leaders and members of our global network of centers working, in some capacity, on religion and public life seeks to find common cause, share best practices (and pitfalls), and discuss the future of our work and build strategic collaborations. The meeting is open to everyone who is involved in the leadership, management or support of one of these centers.

Theme: AAAS/DoSER Racism and Anti-Racism in Science and Theology

Sunday, November 29, 3:30 PM-5:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

The Dialogue on the Science, Ethics, and Religion Program (DoSER) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) invites religious scholars to join us in discussing the role of racism in the past and present of science and theology. How have racist ideas affected the development of both scientific and theological thought, and how does that history affect how the intersection of the two subjects is discussed today? After presentations by several scholars on the topic, the panel will open a moderated discussion about pedagogies, practices, and goals for moving forward. Topics will include climate change, evolution, and public health. We hope to see you there!

Theme: Alumni Reception

Sunday, November 29, 7:00 PM-8:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

An Online Opportunity to Learn • Current events at the College and the PSGS from President Andrew Rehfeld and Provost Andrea Weiss • Information on recruitment from our Recruitment and Leadership Development Associate, Rabbi Ari Ballaban • Updates from the PSGS Director, Dr. Richard Sarason • Updates from the PSGS Alumni Association President, Dr. Hélène Dallaire • And most important: Breakout sessions will be set up for conversations with your fellow alumni and graduate students. R.S.V.P BY November 25, 2020 Email: gradschool@huc.edu Join Zoom Meeting https://huc-edu.zoom.us/j/92460976471

Theme: Bodies Divine: Art, Agency, and Body in Daoist and Buddhist Images

Monday, November 30, 9:00 AM-10:30 AM (EST UTC-5)

This panel brings the emerging discourse on images and objects as ritual agents into concert with theorizations of the body and agency. It consciously builds upon the successes of prior AAR panels of the last three years that address the role of objects and object agency in Daoist articulations of presence and power. By framing the concern in terms of “divine bodies,” the current panel furthers that discourse by problematizing the question of agency as it relates to images and their active role as ritual agents. Through a collaborative effort between scholars of Daoism and Buddhism, we demonstrate how multiple conceptualizations of the body relate to images and objects across mediums and periodization, including Tang *mandalas*, Yuan landscape paintings, and Song ritual scrolls. In so doing, our papers engage with relevant theorizations on ecologies of materiality and body ontologies to address the challenge of agency in emerging discourses of material and visual cultures in Chinese religions, and demonstrate how the study of Daoist and Buddhist images further contributes to discussions within the broader Humanities.

  • Ritual Assemblages: Esoteric Bodies and the Problem of Agency

    Abstract

    Esoteric ritual manuals rendered in Chinese during the Tang dynasty (618-907) lay out complex bodily practices by which practitioners identify with powerful and/or awakened beings. As Charles Orzech has shown, these rituals liturgically construct social subjects within a community that includes human participants and the maṇḍala’s deities. Given these texts’ treatment of *maṇḍala* deities as embodied actors in their own right, esoteric ritual seems like a good fit for exploring non-human agency through bodies, which can be both subject and object, spirit and matter. However, the concept of agency is limited in its connotations of individual will and its masking of human perception, which still determines which entities exercise agency. I propose to follow Jane Bennett in conceiving of a ritual assemblage that encompasses human participants, physical location, material objects, invoked deities, and ritual text. Examining how ritual texts and images produce human and divine bodies within this assemblage bypasses the problem of agency to show how esoteric bodies develop through a range of forces and objects, rather than only developing through individual will, whether human or divine.
  • About Face: The Body Multiple and Icon Agency in Zhou Jichang’s 周季常 (fl. 12th c.) “Lohan Manifesting Himself as Eleven-Headed Guanyin”

    Abstract

    This paper looks at bodily transformation in the well-known painting of “Lohan Manifesting as Eleven-Headed Guanyin” (*Yingshen Guanyin* 應身觀音, ca. 1178) as a means to address the problem of agency in the phenomenological assertion of objects as ritual agents. “Lohan Manifesting as Eleven-Headed Guanyin,” now housed in Boston's MFA, is one of a set of 100 ritual scrolls by the Song artist, Zhou Jichang’s 周季常 (fl. 12th c.), presents the popular narrative of Guanyin’s face(s) emerging forth from the monk Baozhi’s 寶誌 (418–514) neck as attendants look on. The paper will focus, in particular, on the attendant shown to be painting the scene as it is occurring in real-time. This self-referential moment within an image frames our inquiry into how Zhou Jichang’s painting can offer new insight into the active relationship between multiple bodies—human, divine, and icons—that that goes beyond the Buddhist purview. Building on Annemarie Mol’s ontology of the “body multiple,” this paper challenges dominant Eurocentric interpretive models of “likeness” and “presence” by bringing the discussion of object agency into conversation with indigenous discourse of iconized bodies.
  • Truth of Daoist Visualization: Transforming Inner Alchemical Vision into Landscape Painting in Huang Gongwang’s 黃公望 (1269-1354) *Nine Peaks After Snow*

    Abstract

    This paper aims to reconsider the role religion plays in landscape painting within the Daoist tradition, especially on the relationship between the Daoist inner alchemical visuality and the art of landscape painting, by focusing on Huang Gongwang’s 黃公望 (1269-1354) painting *Nine Peaks after Snow*. By analyzing this painting’s resemblance with inner alchemical graphs from the Daoist Canon, this paper tries to argue that Huang, as a Daoist literati painter, has transformed his inner alchemical vision into landscape painting, and used landscape painting as a proper vehicle to access to the truth and reality of Dao. In so doing, the current study questions the conventional boundary between graph and painting, as well as the agency of painting in ritual context. It also reinforces the significance of religious ideals in deciphering the symbolic meaning in Chinese landscape painting studies.

Theme: New Members' Welcome and Virtual Annual Meeting Orientation

Monday, November 30, 9:45 AM-10:45 AM (EST UTC-5)

New (first-time) AAR members in 2020 are cordially invited to a welcome event hosted by the AAR Staff and Board of Directors, including a brief orientation to the AAR Virtual Annual Meeting.

Theme: Bonhoeffer's Ethics

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

The papers in this session revisit aspects of Bonhoeffer's posthumously published *Ethics*, demonstrating its continued relevance for the contemporary world.

  • "Confessing its Dangerous Concessions": Bonhoeffer's Problematization of the Sacred Autonomy of the Church

    Abstract

    The goal of this paper is show how, on the one hand, Bonhoeffer problematized the secularization of Christianity and, on the other hand, how he problematized the Christianization of the secular. As such, it will unfold in three parts. The first part will consist of the historical context offered above, albeit in a slightly expanded form. The second part will focus on Bonhoeffer’s oft-overlooked critiques of Weltanschauungen [worldviews] in his early academic theology. The third section will turn to Bonoeffer’s Ethics, especially the manuscripts, “Christ, Reality, and Good.” I will highlight how Bonhoeffer constructively works out what he takes to be the theological basis for the union of the sacred and the secular—namely, God’s reconciliation of the world in Christ. By way of conclusion, I will consider Bonhoeffer’s surprising solution to the problem of the sacred-secular divide in “Guilt, Justification, Renewal”—namely, a call to repentance on the part of the church.
  • Resistance Beyond the Two Kingdoms: Can Bonhoeffer's Theology of Resistance Speak Today?

    Abstract

    This paper asks whether Bonhoeffer’s resistance theory holds value today. As recent scholarship has shown, Bonhoeffer locates all political life within the space of preservation. This means the two kingdoms and the mandates that structure social life serve as the framework for all resistance activity. While this descriptive work gives historical texture to Bonhoeffer’s thinking, it also accentuates his distance from us. His distinctly German vision of a well-ordered and hierarchical world isn’t ours. Yet precisely this political world shapes his theology of resistance. So we ask: can Bonhoeffer speak constructively today? This paper suggests he can. By distinguishing two modes of resistance in Bonhoeffer’s work—one temporal and the other eschatological—we can retrieve Bonhoeffer’s resistance theory. While his account of resistance in a temporal mode remains situated within traditional Lutheranism, his account of resistance in an eschatological mode points toward more radical possibilities. Resistance, on this latter reading, isn’t an occasional practice to adopt when our desired vision of culture crumbles but the very posture of Christian life this side of God’s coming reign.
  • Navigating a Road Through Law, Faith, and Justice

    Abstract

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s discussion of the relationship between law, justice, and love in his 1940 letter to the constitutional lawyer Gerhard Leibholz, extended a discourse from the 1920s that mapped out the direction for his work on *Ethics* which he began in 1940, and gave it enduring relevance. For Leibholz the ideal of law revealed justice and grounded equality in the principle of *suum cuique*. And the difference between “correct faith” and “faith in the law” determined in political reality the difference between dictatorship and democracy. For Bonhoeffer not positivist law could solve the antitheses of the concepts but only obedience to God’s proclaimed love in the revelation of Christ’s justice. Divinely bestowed justice focusses law not on *suum cuique* but makes it a tool towards justice within the reality of creation. Bonhoeffer’s insight is an important contribution to the discourse between the constitutional lawyers Carl Schmitt, Leibholz, and E-W Böckenförde and to today’s search for an integrating justice in a time of migration and globalization in which populist-autocratic and democratic theories compete for the authority to define law, justice, and equality.
  • The Unnatural in Bonhoeffer's _Ethics_

    Abstract

    In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s _Ethics_, the natural life sanctions ethical existence and emphasizes the lordship of Christ. Scholars of Bonhoeffer’s “Natural Life,” however, have overwhelmingly neglected the category of the unnatural, in spite of its vital role in Bonhoeffer’s theological ethics. In this paper, I briefly reconstruct the rudimentary elements in Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the natural in Ethics as a critical category for Protestant theology. Then, I attend to the unnatural through its comparative tension with the category of the natural. For Bonhoeffer, the dialectical relationship borne by the unnatural and the natural implies, or directly enjoins, a host of ethical commitments. Lastly, I consider one aspect of this ethical construction of Christian identity within the dialect of natural and unnatural. How does the unnatural discipline embodiment and sexuality, and how are queer sexual bodies narrated in this disciplinary schema of the unnatural? If answer is far from liberative, as I suggest, the paper concludes by inquiring whether queers can trust Bonhoeffer’s theology.

Theme: Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time (Shambhala, 2020)

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Joanna Macy, scholar-practitioner of Buddhism, systems thinking, and deep ecology has inspired hundreds of thousands of people around the world to act on moral principles in support of a healthy planet. Her half century of dedicated work has addressed nuclear and ecological concerns, the grief work of planetary loss, and gifts of deep time vision. A high-profile speaker and prolific writer, Macy coined the phrase “despair work” for addressing the psychological challenges arising from long-term impacts of nuclear weapons and environmental contamination. Her writing and teaching are based in the principle of “mutual causality,” integrating insights from Buddhist thought and modern systems theory. *A Wild Love for the World: Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time* (2020) is a new collection of writings by leading spiritual teachers, deep ecologists, and diverse writers and activists honoring the major facets and significance of Macy’s lifework. Panelists will comment on the book’s contributions and address Macy’s role in engaged Buddhist studies, with thoughts on future directions in light of today’s challenges for sustaining life on the planet.

Theme: Author Meets Critics: Celebrating Ronald Hutton’s Contribution to the Academic Study of Religion

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Ronald Hutton (Professor of History at University of Bristol, Fellow of the British Academy in Archeology and Early Modern History) is one of the most eminent historians of religion, magic, and witchcraft across a broad swath of time, from ancient practices through early modern demonology to contemporary instantiations. Over the course of his career he has coupled rigorous historical method and engagement with diverse disciplines, including archeology, folklore, ritual studies, and anthropology. Moreover, his interests in continuities and evolutions in religious categories, worldviews, and practices have put him in productive conversation with contemporary practitioners of new religious movements, including Paganism, Shamanism, and feminist Witchcraft. This roundtable brings together scholars from across the AAR to discuss wide-ranging contributions of Hutton’s scholarship within their subfields and to explore ways that his work can be fruitfully brought into wider conversations within the academic study of religion.

Theme: Accountability as a Theological Virtue

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

The contemporary world talks a great deal about holding others accountable, whether in the classroom, the courtroom, or at the ballot box. Moreover, human accountability is a topic of perennial theological interest for those -- Jews and Muslims as much as Christians -- who believe that God has called humanity to a relationship with him shaped not only by love, but also by responsibility. Too often, however, discussions of accountability are solely backwards-looking, treating it simply in terms of appropriate institutional mechanisms to identify and punish failures to act well. Those reflections are necessary and valuable, but it is equally worthwhile to reflect on accountability as a forward-looking condition. There seems to be an individual virtue of accountability, in the sense of a stable and deliberate disposition to recognize oneself as accountable to others, and to embrace being held accountable under appropriate circumstances. All of the papers in this panel reflect on accountability as a theological virtue, a key ingredient not only in our natural capacities for reasoning and moral deliberation, but also in our calling to lives of holy friendship with God in Christ.

  • Accountability and the Fear of the Lord

    Abstract

    This paper treats one of the more puzzling aspects of the Hebrew Bible for contemporary minds, namely the high status given to the “fear of the Lord,” which is regarded as “the beginning of wisdom” and seen as a great good. It is difficult for most people today to understand how fear of anything can have this status. This paper ventures the hypothesis that the fear of the Lord is closely connected to what we might call the virtue of accountability. Many humans, including people of many faiths and no religious faith at all, have a deeply engrained sense that they are accountable for how they live their lives. One way of understanding this human sense of accountability is to see human life as lived “before God,” the “one to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13). If the one we are accountable to is one who is “slow to anger, abounding in love” (Exodus 34:6), then we can perhaps understand how being accountable in this way is a good that enables a person to live wisely. Interpreting our sense of accountably in terms of a God who is loving opens up possibilities for grace and forgiveness that may be lacking if accountability is understood in impersonal ways.
  • A Baptismal Theology of Accountability

    Abstract

    This paper concerns the conditions for the possibility of giving an account of oneself to God. In contemporary discussions of accountability, the emphasis is often placed on the role that an individual plays in offering a justificatory account of who they are to an authority before whom they are called to give their account––an authority who can rightly judge an individual according to a set of criteria that they possess. If, however, we are thinking about a theology of accountability, an interesting question arises: what is involved in offering a justificatory account of oneself to God, if God knows who one is (and what one has done) better than one could ever know for oneself? This paper will consider the role that the baptism of Jesus plays in addressing this question. More specifically, in viewing Jesus as the one who comes to be with persons as their vicarious representative, I consider what it means for Christ to stand in for us, in his baptism, and offer a new account of who we are to God in a way that redefines how we should think about humanity’s relationship to God.
  • "The Doers of the Law Will Be Justified": Resolving a Pauline Dilemma

    Abstract

    This paper begins from an apparent Pauline objection to embracing accountability before God for one’s life as a whole: after all, isn’t it the case that “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:24)? Things are more complicated than they might initially seem, however, since Paul wrote this just one chapter after insisting, “It is not the hearers of the law who are just before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (2:13). I propose a new resolution of the tension between these two passages, drawing on a neglected proposal, first advanced by Lloyd Gaston, to read “works of the Law” as a subjective genitive, “the Law’s works” rather than “works in accord with the Law.” Though Gaston and his few heirs seem not to have noticed it, this reading allows us to reconcile Paul’s denial in Romans 3:24 with his affirmation in Romans 2:13 – there is no contradiction between Paul’s claims that “doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13) and “by works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Rom. 3:20), because he understands “works of the Law” as in the first instance “what the Law does,” which is to “kill” those subject to it (cf. Rom. 7:11, 2 Cor. 3:6).

Theme: New Books in Hindu Studies

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This Roundtable highlights four recently published books in Hindu studies with the aim of both exposing scholars in the field to new theoretical interventions, and of providing concrete ideas about how to incorporate those interventions into scholars' own pedagogies. The authors of each of the books are grouped in pairs according to subject matter. The members of each pair will then respond to the other author's book. The first two books focus on the realm of Sanskrit, ritual, and prayer in the context of pre-modern South Asia. The second two are grounded in the contemporary context, focusing on transformations to ritual, aesthetics, and bureaucracy in urban temple settings. Spanning diverse locations from Kashmir to Kolkata to Bangalore, languages including Sanskrit, Bengali, Kannada, and Tamil, and both textual and ethnographic methodologies, these books provide a snapshot of the breadth of the field of Hindu studies.

Theme: Movement Chaplaincy

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This roundtable will feature contemporary spiritual leaders reflecting on the emerging vocational role of movement chaplaincy. Movement chaplains offer accompaniment to those in social change events, organizations, and movements. Panelists and a respondent will focus on considering the training, networks, and structures of accountability movement chaplains need to be purposeful, resilient spiritual practitioners. The essence of this roundtable will center on how movement chaplains are trained, how they accompany diverse individuals including those with no religious affiliation, and how chaplaincy coalesces as a professional field, especially in the area of social justice movements, its leaders, and organizations.

Theme: Blackness, Indigeneity, and the Arts in North American Religions

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Through papers that consider art in different mediums, including poetry, film, and public installations, this panel asks about the ways in which the stories, relationships, and more-than-human presences that form Black and Indigenous religion move and translate across mediums, about how Black and Indigenous arts destabilize the religious underpinnings of colonial and racial structures, and about how centering Black and Indigenous artwork pushes us as scholars to reconsider the terms by which we study and categorize "experiments in being human" across the North American contexts.

  • Blue Humanities, Blue Religion

    Abstract

    David Chidester’s Religion: Material Dynamics (2018) suggests the ocean as “a “crucial unity of analysis” for exploring the intersections of colonialism and religion. However, the ocean remains in his work a kind of "aqua nullius" (DeLoughrey 2017), a space significant only to the extent that it can be crossed. Located at the intersections of religious studies, black studies, and the “blue humanities,” this paper turns to contemporary Afrodiasporic religio-cultural works that wrestle with the ocean as materiality entity—fluid, wet, mobile, more-than-human—to argue that the study of religion should also explore what lies beneath the surface. Whereas Chidester conveys the ocean as the symbolic locus for the development of and discourse about contested religious objects, these works—a selection of artworks by Ellen Gallagher and M. NourbeSe longform poem Zong!—harness the material qualities of the ocean itself to speculate about the possibility of radically innovative “experiments in being human" (to use Chidester's term).
  • From Discovery Park to Pimisi Station: Public Art and the Spiritual Politics of Commemorating Colonial Violence and Indigenous Survivance in the City

    Abstract

    Thinking with two case studies from across two different Indigenous land bases that I inhabit as a scholar, who lives and works in San Diego, California and whose family is based in Ottawa, Ontario, I consider how art performs the censorship and reparation of public memory surrounding the genocide of Indigenous Peoples in Turtle Island. I outline the conflicting politics of commemoration at work in the Kumeyaay Peoples’ petition to rename Discover Park and replace a Christopher Columbus statue that sits at its center and the process Algonquin Elders, artists, and community members undertook to produce the Màmawi: Together art installation at Pimisi light rail station. I suggest that public art has the power to promote religious ideals and tell spiritual stories that in certain instances work to re-inscribe colonial violence and Indigenous erasure, and in other instances, work towards redressing the past through Indigenous revitalization and relationship building. I ask how public art can encourage pedestrians and commuters to view the urban lands on/through which they transit as Indigenous and inhabited by other earth beings and entities, like water, eels, and moose?
  • The Flesh, the Blood, and the Spirit: Afro-Supernaturalism in Black Horror Films

    Abstract

    While some critics suggest that this era in film making marks a renaissance of Black horror cinema, there’s a long history of films produced by African Americans that invoke the ‘supernatural’. Even further, these films specifically engage Afro-Protestant religious and spiritual formations as well as Conjure and Vodou. In this paper, I suggest that Afro-Protestantism, Conjure, and Vodou underline conceptualizations of the ‘supernatural’ in black horror films and argue that contemporary films, such as the work of directors Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us), Rusty Cundieff (Tales from the Hood), and Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) engage in Afro-spiritual discursive work, parsing between discussions on religion and secularism. Framing contemporary Black horror films as the cinematic descendants of Black religio-horror films of the 1930s and 1940s, my paper makes its way into debates concerning secularization and African American religions by posing the question of how ‘supernatural’ religious phenomenon informed by discourses on Afro-Protestantism, Conjure, and Vodou translate across time and from oral to visual mediums.

Theme: 25 Years On: Re-Imagining, Expanding, Enriching Nancy Eiesland's "The Disabled God" (Abingdon Press, 1994)

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Nancy Eiesland’s pioneering work "The Disabled God" (Abingdon Press, 1994) issued the challenge to encounter and embrace the disabled God, and to recover symbols and rituals from a disability justice perspective. The papers in this session offer critical challenges and continue Eiesland's risky theological imagination: Atonement and the crucifixion are critically investigated in light of systematic and intimate abuse of persons with disabilities; a Christology is constructed in which a disabled Christ's atoning work transforms the believer by substituting the lie of hegemonic normalcy with the truth of humanity’s proximity to disability; a vulnerable receptive Christ frames God as disabled post-crucifixion and establishes theological ground for interdependency within God, including an interdependency with humanity; persons with disabilities challenge and expand notions of church leadership, time, sacraments and ethics.

  • This Body Executed for You: The Crucifixion of Jesus and the Murder of People with Disabilities

    Abstract

    Feminist theologians have developed substantial critiques of traditional theories of atonement, recognizing that these theories have perpetuated systems of abuse. But, while their critiques have focused heavily on abuse of women and children, theologians have paid little attention to the abuse of people with disabilities. It is estimated that, once a week, a person with a disability is killed by a family member or caregiver in the United States, yet these are statistics that theologians and ethicists are yet to grapple with beyond a surface level condemnation. The liberatory theology of disability outlined by Nancy Eiesland in The Disabled God provides a framework within which this problem can be discussed. This paper will take Eiesland’s pivotal work and query how it can be held alongside feminist interpretations of atonement to construct a liberatory theology that takes into account the perpetual and systemic abuse of disabled people in the United States. Content Warning: This paper will include references to the abuse of people with disabilities and may touch on themes of sexual violence and child abuse.
  • Moving Beyond *The Disabled God*: Christology in Disability Theology

    Abstract

    Since the publication of Eiesland’s *The Disabled God,* engagement with Christ as disabled and/or as suffering with the disabled abounds in disability theology. Departing from Eiesland's use of the social model while maintaining her identification of Jesus with disability, I use the cultural model of disability to construct a Christology of the Disabled Christ, focusing on atonement as a locus through which one can identify disability in the person and work of Christ. My approach draws on dialogue between the cultural model and work from other disciplines--Girard's mimetic theory, disability biblical studies, and Julian of Norwich's *Showings*—without denying Eiesland’s ultimate liberatory goals. I begin by constructing an understanding of atonement in which the mimetic contagion revealed in Christ’s Passion corresponds to hegemonic normalcy. Then, I explore the relationship between the Disabled Christ and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. Out of these reflections, I construct an alternative understanding of substitutionary atonement that reimagines Christ’s atoning work as resistance to hegemonic normalcy and transformation toward diverse embodiment as expressive of the imago Dei.
  • Queer Crip Christology

    Abstract

    This paper advances Nancy Eiesland’s claim that God is disabled by further developing her nascent Christology. Engaging feminist disability theory in its critique of the ableism of feminist philosophy and theology, I draw from one type of kenotic Christology to propose that the divine nature in Christ is receptive and vulnerable to the human nature. Drawing from the insights of Henderson-Espinoza, and her “Decolonial Erotics,” I consider how the receptivity of the divine in Christ upsets the heteronormative, patriarchal, and ableist assumptions about receptivity and agency.
  • Liturgical Imagination: Leadership of Ministers with Disabilities

    Abstract

    Liturgical theologian Saliers calls for liturgy to embody humanity at full stretch before God and neighbour. In recent decades liturgical leadership has been stretched to include women, people of colour, and queer people. Disabled clergy are beginning to stretch leadership practices, but overall ministers with disabilities remain the “un-imagined” and the “essentially excluded”1 in pastoral ministry, as we were when Eiesland penned *The Disabled God* (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994). The imaginative power of good liturgy can support imagining leadership by people with disabilities through imagining beyond ideas of perfection, imagining liturgical time as “crip time”2 and imaging a nonconventional body presiding at the sacrament of communion that celebrates the nonconventional disabled body of Christ. This paper explores how liturgy can support the celebration of disabled leadership. 1 Tanya Titchkosky, *The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning*. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division, 2011), 39. 2 Alison Kafer, *Feminist, Queer, Crip*. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), 27.

Theme: Interreligious Reflections on Forced Migration: Memories, Histories, and Willful Ignorance

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

The session features papers focusing on religious and theological engagements with and reflection on memories and histories of forced migration such as crossing various kinds of borders and walls, geographical, cultural, religious and disciplinary. Papers will highlight constructive engagement with the religious notions of compassion, justice, integration, and dialogue from the perspective of theological/religious analyses and critiques of willful ignorance toward the predicaments of refugees and asylum seekers. Alongside analyses of the U.S.-Mexico border situation this session will also probe the initiatives undertaken by various European communities of faith in response to the complex challenges that migratory processes present in Europe. Papers will also address the spiritual and theological practices originating from within migrant Protestant Latinx communities in dialogue with critical theories.

  • Borderland Religion and A World of Neighbours

    Abstract

    The Swedish Archbishop Antje Jackelén (Church of Sweden) launched the initiative *A World of Neighbours* . The initiative is a program to develop a common international and interreligious commitment for refugees. It is built on networks and the experiences of different agents is collected. The aim is to highlight how religious communities and related organisations work for and with refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and internal refugees in Europe and the Middle East. The Church of Sweden’s objective with the program is to contribute to peaceful co-existence and a diverse, humane, and socially sustainable Europe. The paper aims to devlop a discussion of the initiative in dialogue with the concept of *Borderland Religion* (Machado/Turner/Wyller: 2018), to explore ways in which religion challenges the contestations of the border. The main focus of the paper will focus on the everyday life, lived civil society practices, often challenging, opposing and resisting public discourse and policy makers, building on feminist and spatial theologies.
  • Borderland Religiosity: The Subversive Religion of Immigrant Communities

    Abstract

    Current events have brought renewed attention to the harsh realities of the U.S. Mexico/Border, a geopolitical space that daily witnesses the literal bloodshed of two worlds colliding. Gloria Anzaldua writes about this border as an open wound where “the Third World grates against the first and bleeds." However, this space not only separates mothers from children, husbands from wives, and loved ones from each other, but it also separates religious expression. In the construct of the border wall, "evangelical" meets "evangélico"; praxis meets theory. This paper argues that the psychological and geographical warfare of the borderlands space and drive for survival in the face of alienation and uncertainty creates a defiantly distinctive religious subversiveness. This borderland religiosity is one which is informed by the experiences of migration by Protestant Christian Latinxs, exhibiting a modus of survival which involves worship, community, theology, and symbolism derived from the culture and traditions of the many homelands represented in migrating bodies.
  • The Bones in the Sonoran: Law, Violence, and the Political Afterlife of the Dead

    Abstract

    In 1994, the US Border Patrol deployed an enforcement strategy that portrayed the Sonoran Desert as a conflict zone, where alien subversives attempt to infiltrate and undermine US institutions. Within this frame, migrants are cast as criminals or belligerents but never asylum-seekers. This strategy insulates national self-determination from external constraint but costs the lives of thousands of migrants. Drawing on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, I argue that the right reading of law requires a supplement that encounters with the stranger provide. In this encounter, the legal order is delimited and transformed by a good that exceeds it. Just as the Samaritan’s compassionate attention to the beaten stranger reveals how properly to read Levitical law, attending to asylum-seekers’ demands must lead us to a more compassionate interpretation of our own laws. Our border strategy attempts to occlude such encounters, reducing thousands of migrants to bones. However, I conclude that these bones attain a political afterlife. Without identity, they confound titles like “criminal” or “belligerent.” They arrest our attention and challenge the legitimacy of the law that took their lives.
  • Examining the Role of Willful Ignorance and the Christian Church’s Silence on the Human Rights Violations at the US-Mexico Border

    Abstract

    This paper examines how willful ignorance contributes to silencing a faith-based response of compassion for refugees seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Based upon qualitative and quantitative data collected from Christian churches in greater San Antonio that do or do not support, assist, or advocate for compassionate welcome for refugees seeking asylum at the southern border, this paper investigates the (invisible) stumbling block of willful ignorance to discern how this interferes with a faith community’s compassionate, vocal, and necessary theological response. It also considers the prerequisites, or steps to take, to assist a religious community to engage more actively in its theological-ethical response.

Theme: Book Review Panel, John J. Thatamanil's Circling the Elephant: A Comparative Theology of Religious Diversity (Fordham University Press, 2020)

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This important book review session assembles an esteemed panel of experts on comparative theology, constructive theology, religious diversity, and interreligious engagement to reflect on the publication and contributions of John J. Thatamanil's Circling the Elephant: A Comparative Theology of Religious Diversity (Fordham University Press, 2020). Following the panel's remarks, Prof. Thatamanil himself will respond. Christian theologians have for some decades affirmed that they have no monopoly on encounters with God or ultimate reality and that other religions also have access to religious truth and transformation. If that is the case, the time has come for Christians not only to learn about but also from their religious neighbors. Circling the Elephant affirms that the best way to be truly open to the mystery of the infinite is to move away from defensive postures of religious isolationism and self-sufficiency and to move, in vulnerability and openness, toward the mystery of the neighbor. This book importantly argues for the integration of three often-separated theological projects: theologies of religious diversity, comparative theology, and constructive theology.

Theme: Trust in Polyphony: Four Disciplines in Debate About the Nature of Christian Trust in God

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

The attitude & act of trust are integral to Christian faith, but the scholarly literature on trust in God is still relatively small. What does exist, moreover, has been developed in different disciplines with little reference to, or even knowledge of each other. Now a major new project brings together philosophers, theologians, biblical scholars & psychologists to study trust in God in dialogue. In this session, project members present some of their current research, focusing particularly on how their different perspectives are informing, challenging & changing each other. Among the topics discussed will be whether the biblical *’emunah* and *pistis* lexica map onto any defensible theological or philosophical model of trust in God; whether trust in God can, or must be analogous to intra-human trust in at least some ways; how psychology’s definition of trust in God is changing in dialogue with philosophy and theology; how a psychological measure of trust in God derived from New Testament *pistis* concepts compares with existing measures influenced by modern evangelicalism; & how investigating New Testament *pistis* historically compares with developing a NT theology of trust.

Theme: Self-Promotion, Collective Promotion

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

In a time when presses are scaling back their marketing departments and the job market is as cutthroat as ever, many of us are being told to self-promote in whatever way we can. But what are the best ways to do this, especially for people without degrees in marketing? Which forms of self-promotion are effective and which backfire – and how is the line between the two shaped by gender, race, gender expression, sexuality, and other factors? How can we address these challenges through collective promotion of each other’s work, and what limitations might this approach have? This panel brings together women scholars from a range of positions in the academy for a practical conversation about promoting ourselves and our work in the 2020s.

Theme: Tillich and Health

Monday, November 30, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Is health merely the absence of disease? Paul Tillich engaged the idea of health with respect to such diverse topics as the health of the nation and society, mental health, illness, and depth psychology, among others. His engagements with contemporary psychologists and psychotherapists are well-known but perhaps inadequately explored. This session explores Tillich's work and method to engage the topic of health broadly, with foci on OCD, substance abuse, psychotherapy and self-help, black maternal mortality, and psychological resilience.

  • Tillichian Courage as Theologically Foundational to the Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

    Abstract

    Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a genetically based neuropsychiatric disease and chronic anxiety disorder in which the brain generates false messages intertwined with an existential and apocalyptic sense of terror. Such anxiety-laden thoughts are known as obsessions. The temptation to either mentally or physically do something to negate the false messages and so alleviate the terror is quite strong; such mental or physical actions are known as compulsions. By attempting to refute the new obsessions with more compulsions, patients biochemically “lock” the brain into a thought stream of constant and potentially debilitating obsessions. So how may the brain be “unlocked,” and how may patients reduce the instances of the brain’s being “locked” again to a minimum? The answers given by psychologists and psychiatrists specializing in OCD are ontologically grounded in the reality that Tillich identified as courage. This paper demonstrates how the theological truths Tillich delineated in The Courage to Be (1952) prove foundational to the treatment of OCD. There Tillich recognized that attempting to argue anxiety away places patients in a mental labyrinth. Likewise, Tillich contended
  • A Tillichian Analysis on Substance Abuse

    Abstract

    In this paper, I propose a theological framework for understanding addiction using the systematic work of Paul Tillich. I integrate Tillich’s ontology with dislocation theory of addiction, heavily relying upon the work of psychologist Bruce K. Alexander. I outline Tillich's approach to ontology, sketching out his understanding of essence and existence and analyzing how the ontological polarities operate in his work. I then move on to discuss dislocation theory of addiction, highlighting areas of overlap between dislocation theory and Tillichian theology and arguing against brain disease models of addiction. My final section integrates Tillich's theology with dislocation theory, using the testimonies of recovering addicts to argue for a new paradigm for understanding and responding to substance abuse. It is my contention that Tillich's theology offers the perfect starting place for understanding the intimate connection between existential wholeness, dislocation, and substance abuse.
  • “New Being” After Crisis: Paul Tillich’s Contribution to Current Research on Resilience

    Abstract

    Situations of crisis are characterized by a pressing need for resilience along with extreme difficulties in communicating meaningfully. For example, patients in situations of palliative care often fervently seek “hope against hope” but struggle to express themselves, for there is seemingly nothing left to say. Analysis of ways of dealing with such crises from perspectives in religion and spirituality promises to offer deeper understanding of this phenomenon: The aim of the proposed paper is to discuss how Tillich’s psychologically informed re-interpretation of dogmatic topoi and biblical narratives may offer ways to cope with complex experiences of adversity. In particular, Tillich’s structure of “in spite of” and the dichotomy of “old” and “new” can offer people in “border situations” meaningful ways of coping. Therefore, the first, interdisciplinary objective of the paper is to show the merits of analysing Tillich in order to further the discourse on resilience. The second, transdisciplinary objective of the paper is to generate expressions, narratives or figures of speech from Tillich that can subsequently be transferred into interventions in palliative care.

Theme: Cultural Evolution and Cognitive Historiography

Monday, November 30, 1:00 PM-3:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This paper panel features scholars who are using cognitive approaches to identify cultural evolutionary processes (e.g., social change, gene-culture co-evolution, transmission of information via social learning, imitation, prestige-bias, etc.) throughout history, especially in antiquity and the ancient near east.

  • The Cultural Evolution of Early Christianity via Prestige-Biased Transmission of Cooperative Norms

    Abstract

    This paper focuses on early Christianity under the Roman empire, and in particular the emergence of Christian social networks and helping/care behavior exhibited by Christians during the Antonine Plague (165-180) and the Plague of Cyprian (251-266). This case study of religious pro-sociality illuminates the possibility of prestige-driven cooperation, in that followers were motivated to imitate the cooperative and virtuous behaviors practiced and taught by central Christian figures (Jesus, Paul). This example stands in contrast to "Big Gods" theories about religious cooperation, which claim that religious cooperation is mostly motivated by fear of supernatural punishment. Such examples of apparent prestige-driven cooperation and the subsequent success of religious groups have thus far been neglected by scholars of the evolution of religion, yet these examples are important for understanding how human cognition (i.e., prestige psychology) drives cultural evolution.
  • Mister Worldwide? Areal Prominence in the Prestige of Ephesian Religious

    Abstract

    It has been suggested that the well-connected religious experts of Christ groups thrived because they were able to transmit universal truths in a new world favoring global traditions over local ones. On the other hand, research related to voluntary associations has questioned this claim. This line of argument has emphasized that other associations besides Christ groups had translocal links, too. Furthermore, the universality of early Christianity might have been overestimated because of Christianity’s later developments. I will evaluate these claims through sources describing religious experts of Ephesus. My examples are from epigraphy and longer sources (especially Polycrates and Acts of John). I aim to clarify the role of wider prominence in the reputation management of the experts. In this analysis, I focus especially on the mobility of letters as well as the recent cognitive science approaches on human prestige and social learning.
  • Constructing Heaven: The Cultural Adaptation of Afterlife Belief

    Abstract

    In evolutionary studies the term niche identifies the state of stability between the resources and threats in an organism’s environment and the behaviours available to the organism to interact successfully with those factors. Often, the environment exerts pressure on organisms so that they adapt to better match their environmental conditions. However, some species successfully modify their environments in ways that actually construct new niches and, hence, adapt the environment to the nature of the organism. (For example, the activity of earth worms alters soil structure to the benefit of the worm.) This paper presents the case that the early Christian embrace of belief in an afterlife is an example of just such niche construction. In the instance of early Christianity, the “environment” was altered to include life-after-death and to extend beyond physical conditions. The test of this claim is that the new niche facilitated risk-taking and altruistic behaviours among Christians that contributed to higher rates of physical survival during the devastating epidemics of the 2nd and 3rd centuries and subsequent spread of the movement.
  • The Rise of Rabbinic Judaism in Light of Cognitive and Cultural Evolution

    Abstract

    In my presentation I will tackle the issue of change in cultural evolution, asking how we can account for the velocity in which cultures change, in comparison to biological processes. The solution, which lies in the nature of human cognition, benefits from studies and concepts that were developed in the study of culture, more than concepts from the realm of biology. The first part of my presentation will lay out the theoretical basis: starting with the cognitive-semiotic Decoupling theory, that explains the innovative nature of human cognition, and building on Merlin Donald’s theory of the evolution of human cognition and the cultures that these cognition created. The place of cultural change has to do with the interaction between the cognitions laid out by Donald, especially the transition from the fringes to the institutional, and from the mimetic to the theoretic. In the second part of the presentation I will discuss a case study - the crystallization of the rabbinic Judaism and its rise to hegemony from a cultural-evolutionary perspective, building on the theoretical approach described in the first part of the paper.
  • Cultural-Evolutionary Analysis of the Reception of the Gospels of Luke and John

    Abstract

    The paper applies a cultural-evolutionary model in the analysis of the reception and relative popularity of the Gospels of Luke and John in the first centuries CE. The spreading and reception of early Christian gospels provides an interesting case for cultural evolutionary analysis and testing of analytical models, since gospels were frequently copied, widely distributed, and it is known that some of them were more popular than others, and some did not survive at all. The analytical model of the paper lists key characteristics that are required of a gospel in order to become widespread in an emerging religious movement that seeks to form its distinctive social identity: 1) formal cognitive characteristics such as attractiveness, memorability, relevance; 2) network discourse and community control; 3) identity discourse, and 4) ritual discourse. The model predicts the likelihood of survival and popularity of the gospels by analyzing how well these characteristics are represented in them.

Theme: Annual Meeting

Monday, November 30, 1:00 PM- 4:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

A celebration of the publication of "Deep Understanding for Divisive Times: Essays Marking a Decade of the Journal of Interreligious Studies" edited by Lucinda Mosher, Axel Takács, Or Rose, and Mary Elizabeth Moore. Join editors past and present along with contributors to this new volume for a conversation about engaging interreligiously in a time of upheaval. Join Zoom Meeting: https://bostonu.zoom.us/j/92827003792?pwd=YUdGN0l6T3lzRXJpZFNtUnUzSkdwZz09

Theme: Public, Political and Material Religions in Contemporary West Africa

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

This panel examines the public, political and material dimensions of contemporary religion in one specific country, Ghana. The national focus allows for an in-depth and comparative insight into the contested and politicized religious manifestations in Ghanaian society. It also presents Ghana as a testing ground for studying and understanding religion in Africa more generally, as each of the case studies thematically and/or methodologically has a much broader continental resonance.

  • Jesus in the Apple Icon: Vehicle Decals and Ecologies of Value in Urban Ghana

    Abstract

    This presentation focuses upon a specific line of vehicle decals that began to be commonly applied to the bodies and windows of taxis, mini-buses, and motorcycle-taxis in urban Ghana within the last few years: images of (white) Jesus that have been outlined and cut in the shape of the Apple icon. For many years, both (white) Jesus and Apple icons have separately occupied prominent places in urban Ghana’s visual culture landscape. What are we to make of the recent combination of the two? What can these Apple-Jesus decals tell us about popular culture and religion in Ghana? About consumption, and the production of value? About identity construction and self-making? In this paper, I consider a city’s material and visual culture to be both reflective and generative of social norms, identities, and conceptions of world (and cosmological) order. Therefore, although I focus primarily upon Apple-Jesus decals, I situate these decals within a much broader visual and material context. In so doing, I explore what Apple-Jesus decals can reveal about Ghanaian popular thought and values, as well as what kinds of cultural, economic, and theological work they may be accomplishing.
  • Framing Debates About Homosexuality in Ghana (2006-2018): The Multiple Modernities Paradigm?

    Abstract

    This paper explores the role of religion in framing nationalist discourses that seek to regulate homosexuality in Ghana. Specifically, it focuses on the ways in which Christianity is deployed, in part, in anti-homosexual discourses and also, in pro-homosexual advocacy by select dissident voices. Elsewhere in Zambia, Adriaan Van Klinken (2014) proposed an alternative reading of controversies regarding homosexuality in Africa as emerging from "conflicting visions of modernity." Building on Van Klinken (2014), this paper probes the potency of the "multiple modernities" paradigm in capturing public discourses on homosexuality and sexual minority rights in Ghana
  • Religion in Public Spheres: Exploring Religious Education and Religious Diversity in Public Schools in Ghana

    Abstract

    Ghana is arguably one of the religiously pluralistic societies in Africa. Unsurprisingly, religion is increasingly considered as a primary identifier and an important factor in the social, cultural, political and economic lives of its citizens. The multiplicity and vitality of religion has engendered an increased awareness of religion in the public sphere. Although religion and the state are technically separated by the nation’s fourth republican constitution, they are in practice, not completely divorced. For instance, religious studies is a mandatory part of the educational curriculum in public schools from elementary to secondary level. The subject is prominent in public schools, a situation in sharp contrast to what pertains in some western countries. In addition to serving as a way of responding to the increasing religious diversity in the country, religious education in schools can be a means by which we deepen our understanding of religion in the public sphere. Based on ethnographic data from selected public schools in Accra, this paper explores how the discipline of religious studies is taught in Ghanaian public schools and how the teachers treat religious diversity.
  • Theorizing the Local and the Global of Religion in the Niger Delta: A Pragmatic Account

    Abstract

    How, precisely, do “global” encounters shape African religions at local levels? How do “local” practices, beliefs, and cosmologies continue to hold sway in transnational communities? How do the “local” and the “global” interact in ways that allow practices, beliefs, and cosmologies of a given African religion to remain a cohesive whole? While a fair amount of scholarship studies how “global” and “local” dynamics shape African religions, drawing from the work of pragmatic social practice theorists, this is the first paper to offer a working theory that answers these questions by interrogating the principles that undergird how African religions adapt to global and local phenomena to meet the needs of their practitioners.

Theme: New Work in Buddhist Studies

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

An omnibus session of the best individual papers submitted to the Buddhism Unit this year.

  • Is Buddhism Democratic? Discourse from Postwar Japan

    Abstract

    In the aftermath of Japan’s surrender to Allied Forces in 1945, the new occupation government oversaw a process of democratization that extended to religious organizations. As a democratic constitution was prepared for the nation, new legislation was passed placing increased power in the hands of Buddhist laypeople to secede from their sects. Expectations rose that Buddhist organizations would democratize their administrations and grant a greater voice to laypeople. This paper examines an array of Buddhist responses to these pressures to democratize. First, it examines a conference of prominent religious leaders assembled to discuss how democratization of religious organizations ought to proceed. Second, it considers one Buddhist administrator’s attempt to implement democratic reform through a training program for laypeople. Finally, it turns to Jōdo Shin scholars’ increasing attention to the question of the nature of an ideal sangha. Together, these cases reveal a considerable gap between the democratic ideals and processes introduced by Japan’s American occupiers and Japanese Buddhists’ own visions of how Buddhist communities ought to be structured.
  • No Pure Lands: Theological Understandings of Impurity from the Perspective of Tibetan Lay Women

    Abstract

    One of the most popular prayers in Bongma Mayma, a nomadic area of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Region, is a prayer to be born in Amitabha’s pureland called Aspiration for Rebirth in The Pure Land of Sukhavati. In religious households, this prayer is usually recited in the evening after dinner. For those households with a recently deceased member, it is often recited multiple times throughout the day. The prayer details the benefits of being born into a pureland and how one might accomplish this goal. A condition of rebirth in the pureland is a male birth; a woman cannot be born into Amitabha’s pureland. The first time I encountered this prayer was during an Amitabha festival which was attended, almost exclusively, by women. In this paper, I explore how women themselves understand the relationship between a female body and pureland practices in contemporary Tibetan Buddhism. What is impure about a female birth and what benefit is there to a male body in a pureland? Why do women participate in such high numbers in pureland practices? Drawing on three years of ethnographic interviews, I seek to explicate a theology of pureland aspiration based on the theories of lay women in Yushu.
  • The “Lustful Nun”: Sexual Transgression Committed by Buddhist Nuns in Nineteenth-Century Chongqing

    Abstract

    It is well-known that monastic celibacy is a norm in Chinese Buddhism. Nevertheless, in the late imperial era, the “lustful nun” was a stock figure in various genres of anti-Buddhist polemical writings. This paper will draw on Qing local court archives to uncover locally situated knowledge regarding nuns’ involvement in sexual relations. In particular, it will highlight how social embeddedness, kinship network, and economic logic, played a pivotal role in fostering, facilitating, and maintaining sexual relationships between nuns and their male partners. Furthermore, it will highlight several problematics specific to nuns. First, nuns’ sexual activities were more easily exposed to the public due to pregnancy and childbirth. Moreover, unlike monks, nuns were frequently accused by their adversaries of “abandoning husband for religious life.” This was due partly to the fact that marital dissolution was not a prerequisite to the monastic life. In sum, gender differential was constitutive of the female monastic’s experience of sexuality.
  • Repressed Modern Buddhism? Gong Zizhen (1792 - 1841)’s Buddhist Thoughts and Praxis

    Abstract

    Since the early 20th century, many scholars of Chinese literature have noticed that Gong Zizhen (1792 -1841)’s poetry marks a watershed between the traditional and the modern and that his political thoughts inspired plenty of revolutionaries in the years to come. Yet, his Buddhist faith has not been examined in depth. This paper first offers a holistic analysis on Gong’s Buddhist thoughts and practices, trying to unravel the relations between its various aspects, such as his pronounced preference of Tiantai Buddhism, diligent dharani recitation, and audacious critical-historical analyses of scriptures. Subsequently, it compares them with the understandings of Buddhism by Eugene Burnouf (1801-1852), a contemporaneous scholar of Buddhism in Europe. This comparison leads to the argument that the concept of “repressed modernity, ” which David Der-wei Wang considered Gong to represent in the history of Chinese literature, may also apply to Gong’s Buddhism. In other words, Gong experimented a kind of Buddhism that was radically innovative and in the meantime independent of the Western imaginations of the religion.

Theme: Spiritual Dimensions of Memory

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

This session reflects on how the creative practice of writing can help those who suffer from the memory loss of Alzheimer’s disease to enhance their spirituality and sense of self, and it examines the relationship between remembrance and forgetting, while exploring the way in which we are anchored in God.

  • Dangerous Memory? TBI, PTSD, and the Nature of Forgetfulness and Remembrance in Paul Ricoeur’s Thought

    Abstract

    For a society that prizes information and focuses on its acquisition, accessibility, and even monetization, little can be more scary than the loss of the ability to retain information – in a word, forgetfulness. But is this fear justified? Could the problem lie, not in forgetfulness, but rather in human memory itself? This problematic will be assessed through attention to the dialectic of remembrance and forgetfulness found in Paul Ricoeur’s *Memory, History, Forgetting* as well as the author’s personal experiences of problematic remembrance and forgetfulness associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. Insights will culminate around the theme of the intentionality of memory, which stresses the role of the agent of human forgetfulness/remembrance and highlights the need for narratives of memory beyond that of the individual.
  • Writing as a Spiritual Practice for Those with Alzheimer’s Disease

    Abstract

    I explore the results of recent writing initiatives for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in order to show that non-traditional forms of writing can nourish an individual’s spiritual life. Using Henri Nouwen’s work on spirituality as an interpretive lens, I analyze the reports of various AD writing groups and storytelling programs in the United States over the past decade. In virtue of this examination, I contend that writing initiatives for individuals with AD may creatively open up dimensions for spiritual expression and growth in ways that dignify the individual and meet spiritual needs. Additionally, I examine the challenges encountered in these programs and consider whether an individual’s spirituality could be negatively impacted by the obstacles that AD presents to verbal expression. In conclusion, I argue that evidence supports writing initiatives as a vehicle for enhancing the spiritual lives of those who suffer from AD, and I advocate for the growth of these initiatives.

Theme: Jewish-Christian Comparative Theology: Engaging Ideas of Divinity, Love, and Eschatology

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

While the entire field of comparative theology is still relatively young, Jewish-Christian comparative theology is particularly ripe for a much fuller development. This panel, composed of Jewish and Christian theologians deeply engaging elements of the religious thought of the other—particularly models of divinity and eschatologies—seeks to model new possibilities for this important area. While maintaining his or her positionality, each author will present close readings of texts from the other tradition, placed into dialogue with texts and perspectives from his or her “home” tradition. Without the constraints of polemic, the studies seek to develop fresh constructive theological insights. How may our “own” understandings of God and scripture be enriched by such work? Do some of the hermeneutical practices, including interpretations of history and visions of the eschaton, found in each tradition resonate or illuminate those of the other? In what way? The panel aims to demonstrate some of the rich potential, together with the unique challenges, of this particular area of comparative theology.

  • A Jewish Understanding of the Trinity

    Abstract

    Jewish theology has generally shied away from thinking about the Christian concept of the Trinity. When Jews did think about the Trinity, the historical context of polemics led to an automatic dismissal of the concept. This paper reopens the discussion by offering a Jewish reflection on the Trinity without the polemics. The focus is constructive theology, demonstrating that a new understanding can be gained for Jewish thinking about divinity after further familiarity with Christian thought. A brief comparative reflection on the Trinity in 20th century Christian theology will focus on the specifics of the Trinitarian thought of Jurgen Moltmann, whose positions have been noted as being further from Jewish categories than other 20th century formulations of the Trinity. Although Moltmann borrowed Jewish terms such as Zimzim and Shekinah, he gave them new meaning in his Trinitarian system. The paper interrogates Moltmann’s usage for what it can teach Jews about the manifestation of the divine, interdivine structures, and divine immanence. Can it inspire new Jewish understandings of Kabbalistic emanation schemes? What can modern Jewish theologies of God learn from such a study?
  • Can God love All of Us? Reading Origen’s Song of Songs Commentary from a Jewish Theological Perspective

    Abstract

    Origen’s influential homilies on the Song of Songs see it as a play with many different characters, each with significant and theologically important relationships with each other: the bride has important relationships with the bridegroom’s friends and the bridesmaid, and all the maidens and daughters of Jerusalem will eventually follow the bride into the bridegroom’s chambers. For Origen, this shows how many different churches are in relationship with Christ. Origen's Christ-centered reading also includes the Jewish people in the romance as teachers of the bride and lovers of the bridegroom. In imagining Jewish and Christian love for God as different voices in one story, Origen provides some of the groundwork for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s dual-covenant theology in his _Many Religions, One Covenant_. Jews and Christians share one covenant with God, are part of one story of Divine-human love. I will think from a Jewish perspective about how we can imagine Christian love for God. I will argue that Song of Songs interpretation shows a way forward, as multiple Divine-human love stories can take place at the same time, and Origen’s exegesis helps us to read it in this way.
  • A Thomistic Reflection on the Biblical Eschatology of Nahmanides

    Abstract

    Scholars of the Catalonian Talmudist and kabbalist, Nahmanides (1194-1270), have explored his conception of history and redemption as well as his appropriation of typological interpretation of scripture in his biblical exegesis. Nahmanides’ biblical and theological interpretations of Jewish history helped the Jewish apocalyptic tradition to regain legitimacy in the thirteenth century. Nahmanides’s rich exegesis and eschatology provides important avenues for comparative theological reflection that is attentive to doctrines of first importance within the Jewish apocalyptic tradition. This paper examines the character of the messianic era, the time of redemption, and the resurrection of the dead in the world to come in Nahmanides’s paraphrases of biblical and midrashic sources. The essay presents a reading of Nahmanides’ eschatology and his theological interpretation of history as one step in the larger task of building understanding among Christians of the complexity of Jewish perspectives on history. It then presents a theological reflection on how Nahmanides’ insights might illuminate eschatological concepts in the thought of one of his contemporaries, Thomas Aquinas.
  • Hermeneutic Hope in Judaism and Christianity

    Abstract

    Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity each developed with traumatic and despair-inducing events central to their religious imaginations: the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the crucifixion of Jesus, but also—and closely related in the eyes of many authors from each tradition—the communities’ subsequent experiences of powerlessness, persecution, and martyrdom. Hermeneutic strategies were developed which to interpret forth hope from both painful events and harsh verses. Polemicists, meanwhile, argued that the events which occurred to the Other proved the falseness of the Other’s hope. The trope of the Other as “blind” to the truth began to form. I bring rabbinic sources about scriptural (and historical) interpretation into dialogue with Orthodox theologian John Behr’s articulation of “the Scriptural Christ” to reveal the hermeneutic nature of hope in both religions. I argue that the trope of the Other who interprets differently as “blind” serves, in fact, to blind the hubristic interpreter from recognizing his own profound participation in that which he claims to see. This has implications for dialogue, but equally for the understanding of the nature of theological discourse.

Theme: Bringing Back the Social into the Sociology of Religion (and Religious Studies) (Haymarket Books, 2019)

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

In her award-winning book, From Yoga to Kabbalah (2014), and her recent co-edited volume, Bringing Back the Social into the Sociology of Religion (2018), sociologist Véronique Altglas has argued that recent sociologists of religion focused on topics and methods such as rational choice theory, spirituality versus religion, lived religion, and religion as consumption have shifted away from what should be sociology’s foremost focus: the power of the social world and its institutions to push, propel, enable, and constrain us; to dynamically mold our comforts, discomforts, desires, repulsions, and the religious activities and ideas we embrace or reject. In this roundtable, we ask four scholars (two from religious studies and two sociologists of religion) to reflect on and assess Altglas’ argument, their own work, and the current state of sociology of religion and religious studies. These presentations will be followed by a response from Véronique Altglas and then audience discussion.

Theme: A Public-Focused Religious Studies

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

Religious studies scholars have often lacked clear outlets to broader audiences in times when contestations were pressing about a range of local, national, and international issues. More nuanced understandings about the functioning of religious traditions in varied public arenas too often remains locked within an insular field of inquiry, in part due to the conceptualization of contemporary academic religious studies. Bridging that gap by bringing the scholarly voice into the public realm could not be more urgent in increasingly polarized times. This "structured conversation" will use a series of conversation prompts to explore some of the theoretical and practical challenges to doing public scholarship and to consider how both to encourage change in the institutional structures that support religious studies scholarship and to open up different venues for this work.

Theme: Global British Methodism and Nonconformity in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

This session highlights the research of recent Visiting Research Fellows of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre. The first presentation will focus on increasing global awareness in British Methodist hymnbooks published in the 19th century. A case study of the theological convictions on liberty and justice of six persecuted Methodist agricultural labourers who founded one of the first British trade unions in 1833 is the subject of the second presentation. The final presentation will explore Methodist and wider Nonconformist efforts to offer aid to persecuted Ottoman Armenians in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. Collectively the presentations serve as examples of the wide-range of research possibilities on Methodism that may be undertaken utilizing resources in the UK (particularly in Manchester).

  • "Desarts Shall Rejoice with Singing": Global Awareness in British Methodist Hymnody

    Abstract

    The major changes occurring in the Wesleyan movement shortly after the deaths of Charles and John Wesley are reflected in the hymn books published in the 19th century. One of those changes was the increasing global awareness stimulated by greater participation in the Protestant missionary movement with the establishment of the Wesleyan Missionary Society. Correspondingly, the supplements and changes introduced into John Wesley’s 1780 hymn book show an increase in songs devoted to the theme of missionary work around the world. Another significant change was the fragmentation of the movement and the rise of new groups such as the Methodist New Connexion, the Primitive Methodists, the Bible Christian Church, and other groups. All these published their own hymn books and also included sections devoted to the topic of global missions. An examination of the hymns included shows an increasing willingness to include songs not written by Charles Wesley and a shift in theology from a focus on intercession and millennial expectations to exhortations to use human agency and other means to accomplish the evangelization of all nations.
  • Liberty and Responsibility in the Spirit of Wesley: A Case Study of Methodist Agricultural Labourers in the 19th century

    Abstract

    This paper focuses on Methodist agricultural labourers who founded one of the first British trade unions in 1833. Six of them—including three Methodist local preachers—were convicted of taking an unlawful oath on joining the union. In consequence, they were sentenced to seven years’ transportation to Australia. The public outcry was immediate, and this led to a full pardon being granted to them three years later. Drawing especially on writings of the group’s spokesman, George Loveless, the presentation will demonstrate the labourers’ Wesleyan understanding of God’s liberating grace that motivated their actions and commitment to social and religious liberty and justice.
  • "Not Being Past Feeling": Practical Christianity for Ottoman Armenians and International Conciliation (1894-1915)

    Abstract

    While relief efforts initiated by the American missionaries (through the Near East Relief fund) in the wake of the 1915 Armenian Genocide have long been written about, Christian aid to Ottoman Armenians in the previous episode of mass violence, the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1896, remains less well-known, in particular, the British contribution. This paper seeks to redress this. Building on insights by David Bebbington, Stewart J. Brown and late Michael Watts, it will address how the 1894-1896 Armenian massacres spurred a long-lasting ethical turn that further sanctified practical Christianity in the most socially-aware section of British Non-Conformity, especially amongst those who gravitated in Radical Holiness circles, Methodist or otherwise. The paper will contend that no matter how widespread some key Nonconformist figures wanted it to be in the long term, support to Ottoman Armenians remained a focal issue mainly to those who had mobilised in 1894-1896. However, to these, the legacy of the 1890s Armenophile mobilisation was a long-lasting one which spurred transnational exchanges with Protestant figures of a similar mind (especially German missionary Johannes Lepsius), especially with a view to explore a more ethical form of world governance (underpinned by conciliation) in which ‘the Church’ would play a leading role thanks to inter-religious/inter-denominational/ inter-national dialogue.

Theme: Women Shaping Theology and Religion in the Nineteenth Century: I

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

This session is one of two sessions sponsored by the Nineteenth-Century Theology Unit on the roles of women in shaping the development of theology and religion in the modern world from multiple perspectives. One paper examines how the publications of Rahel Varnhagen—perhaps the most famous of Jewish salonnières, who hosted Germany's most influential theologians, philosophers, and artists—advanced a radical theory of the self. Another uses performance studies to analyze the theological contributions of popular women preachers in America, such as Rachel Baker (Presbyterian/Baptist), Jarena Lee (AME), and Florence Spearing Randolph (AME Zion). The third explores how Virginia Woolfe, a quintessentially 20th-century writer in England, can be understood as a religious thinker, grappling with the religious and literary legacies of Emily Brontë, Matthew Arnold, and Walter Pater in the wake of the Victorian loss of faith.

  • “Rahel Varnhagen as Radical Theorist of a Distributed Self”

    Abstract

    Rahel Varnhagen was perhaps the most famous of the 19th-century Jewish women salonnières who hosted social gatherings in which many of the most influential German theologians, philosophers, and artists worked out their ideas in intimate conversation. I take up the suggestion of Barbara Hahn that Rahel’s publications, which consist entirely of networks of correspondence between her and her circle of friends and acquaintances, put forward a radical theory of the self. I make explicit and analyze this theory by looking at it through the lens of recent scholarship on identity and selfhood in the study of religion.
  • Enfleshing the Spirit: Performances of Objecthood in 19th-Century Women Preachers

    Abstract

    This paper takes up recent work in performance studies to re-think the subject-object relationship in 19th-Century women’s preaching. In performance art, the subject/artist fashions herself into an object/art. I stretch the disciplinary boundaries of the performance art genre to include popular preachers such as Rachel Baker (Presbyterian/Baptist), Jarena Lee (AME), and Florence Spearing Randolph (AME Zion)—women who preached to hundreds of followers with varying degrees of ecclesial authorization and whose theological contributions have been neglected in accounts of American preaching. I argue women have strategically performed objecthood to navigate gendered and racialized constraints in Christian proclamation. The lens of performing objecthood opens up theological understandings of how the Spirit works in a world marked by social sin (sexism, racism). Contrary to theologians who describe submission to the Spirit as self-effacement, I show how submission to the Spirit can counter worldly authorities, enabling women preachers to transform perceptions of gender and race in liberative ways.
  • Virginia Woolf, the Long Nineteenth Century, and the Ministry of Women

    Abstract

    In her critique in THREE GUINEAS of the 1935 Report of the Archbishops' Commission on the Ministry of Women, Virginia Woolf appeals to the nineteenth-century novelist and poet, Emily Bronte, as a practitioner of the "profession of religion," arguing that the "profession of religion" shares its roots with the "profession of literature." This paper attempts to explore Woolf's move further--what is the relationship between religious and literary work for Woolf? In what way does she understand that relationship to open space for the ministry of women? What resources do nineteenth-century religious and literary thinkers like Bronte, Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater offer Woolf as a religious thinker herself working in wake of the Victorian loss of faith? How is this quintessentially twentieth-century thinker shaped by nineteenth century writers as she does her own creative religious work?

Theme: The Search for Communal Identity and the Making of Digital Hindu Publics in North America

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

Digital platforms (apps, mobile messaging, ritual websites etc.) have become integral to Hindu worship practices, helping produce transnational, virtual devotional communities. However, the ways in which Hindu identities, practices and beliefs are negotiated in these digital spaces have largely been neglected by scholars in the West, particularly in North America, where Hindu communities shape discourses on public religion in new and important ways. Digital applications, including “Daily Satsang” spark questions of religious modernism, accessibility, and ritual efficacy. Hindu identity formation through social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram raise concerns about insularity, radicalization, and echo-chamber extremism. An emerging Hindu elite in Silicon Valley demonstrates the complex relationships between tradition and modernity that lie at the heart of American secularism. This panel aims to address these gaps in digital religion studies by establishing ethnographic focal points and theoretical parameters to examine the unique features of Hindu praxis in digital media and its implications for Hindu religious identity both in North America and beyond.

  • Digital Media and Religious Programming in the Swaminarayan Sampraday During the Covid-19 Pandemic

    Abstract

    This paper examines the ways in which digital media shape conceptions of sectarian identity in the diaspora through a case study of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a denomination of the Swaminarayan Sampraday. I employ Heidi Campbell’s religious social shaping theory to examine the creation and reception of digital religious rituals and programs during the covid-19 pandemic. Based on an analysis of content and ethnographic data, digital religious programs offer devotees with a greater degree of immediacy and accessibility to the guru, augment domestic and public forms of worship, and sustain community especially when temples are closed. I contend that digital programs support an individual’s devotional aspirations and become technologies that shape conceptions of the self in the Swaminarayan Sampraday.
  • From Digital Hindu Nationalism to the Construction of Material Hindu Identity: Facebook and Hindu International Student Communities in North America

    Abstract

    The paper explores how social media influences the emergence of a new Hindu identity among Hindu international students from India living in North America. Through interviews about their engagements with various Facebook posts, I argue that these students are reconstructing their Hindu identity by authenticating it through a Hindu nationalist lens that foregrounds an essentialized intersection of national, political, cultural, and religious ideas. This lens offers a Hindu identity that is palatable to immigrant Hindu communities since it supports the need for an inclusive space for Hindus that have been isolated; a space often elusive for Hindus in the diaspora. However, this lens also clashes with Western democratic and progressive values that many diasporic Hindus hold, which eschew discrimination and downplay the caste violence and exclusion that characterizes savarna communities in India. To demonstrate how this Hindu nationalist lens is constructed and reinforced, this paper examines Hindu international students’ search for online community through their engagement with posts on Narendra Modi’s official Facebook page and “Hindu 2.0,” a community page on Facebook.
  • Technical Traditions: Public Hinduism and American Secularism in Silicon Valley

    Abstract

    This paper interrogates the role of Silicon Valley in shaping new understandings of American secularism and public religion. Capitalism, secularism, and technological development have long informed discourses of Western modernity, and in America, Silicon Valley is the hyper-rationalist space in which these variables converge. This global hub for technology is famous for generating a culture driven by data, productivity and innovation, but less so for generating vibrant networks of public religion. This paper focuses on the figures behind the success of Silicon Valley, a formidable ground of Indian/Indian-origin Hindu entrepreneurs, founders and CEOS who work to propel American modernity while retaining strong links with their own religious identities. I examine how these figures mobilize their wealth and power to safeguard Hindu identity in the US and how their investment in tradition is inextricably linked to their faith in technology. Using this analysis, I highlight the “traditional” underpinnings of Silicon Valley’s modernity and ponder the implications of this relationship for the future of American secularism.
  • Why Hindu Techies Post: Tracking Islamophobia from Silicon Valley Back ‘Home’

    Abstract

    This paper studies the transnational, discursive construction of an anti-Muslim ideology by studying the intersecting media ecology in WhatsApp groups of the Indian Hindu diaspora based in the Silicon Valley. The Silicon Valley is the most important Indian diaspora population with significant contribution to the political landscape of India and that of the USA. This study is located among the tech workers of the Silicon Valley, working in multinational companies such as CISCO and Google, originally from mixed caste, rural and urban backgrounds from India who live in a gated community in Dream Valley, California [name changed]. The analysis will use the concept of WhatsApp groups as “digital living rooms”(Williams et al. 2019) to see how the virtual living room extends between a town in California, to the tech-metropolis Bangalore, and then to two towns/villages in India, thereby creating a transnational Hindu discursive space that intersects with White Supremacist discourse in North America.

Theme: Psychology, Religion and Politics: Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic and Presidential Election of 2020

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

In this roundtable discussion, four leading figures in the study of religion, psychology and culture will address the dynamics and impact of both the pandemic and the presidential election of 2020. They will address these major cultural moments by considering their effects on immigration/immigrants, mental health of citizens and elected officials, the exponential rise in racialized violence in the U.S. and around the world, the economic impact on marginalized groups and the economy overall. They will also offer analysis of the religious and psychological dynamics of strained and collapsing healthcare, political and economic systems.

Theme: Queer Secularities

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

Utilizing a range of methodological and theoretical frameworks, this panel considers and contends with the intersections of the secular and the sexual, broadly construed. More specifically, it explores questions and topics surrounding secularity in conversation with queer studies and/or from a queer lens. Panelists’ papers include the following topics: contemporary popular music, highlighting the roles of queer secularity and homonationalism in the production of feminist and queer theoretical analyses; a nineteenth-century legal battle over disseminating pro-birth control tracts, analyzing the relationship between modern secularity and “good” sexual subjectivity; and how anti-establishment secularization queers the social body in ways that challenge Christian nationalism. Through these historical, theoretical, and sociopolitical explorations, this panel spotlights the diverse ways that queer studies in religion both contributes to and benefits from scholarship on secularisms.

  • Sexularisms

    Abstract

    Sexularism refers to the relationship between the perceived notion that secularism supports sexual liberation and feminist agency. In “Intimacy Surveilled: Religion, Sex, and Secular Cunning,” Mayanthi Fernando argues that tensions within French secularism exacerbate the issue of boundaries in public and private spheres, particularly for Muslim women. Fernando’s analysis not only raises key questions about secularism’s claims to promote religious and secular freedom, it also highlights the complicated relationship between Western ideals of freedom, liberty, hetero- and homo- normativity, and secularism. Joan Scott terms “sexularism” as a signification whereby sexual freedom and sexual equality are seen as the defining features of secular citizenship and democracy. Working with Scott’s concept and adapting it to address a politics of affect that highlights the roles of queer secularity and homonationalism in the production of feminist and queer theory analyses, I examine Angel Haze’s performance of “Same Love” as a notable example of sexularism. Sexularism is an essential signifier being used in the U.S. today to obfuscate the connection between sex, religion, and politics.
  • “To Excite Agreeable Sensations”: The Knowlton Affair, the Victorian-Era Secularist Movement, and the Shaping of Sexual Subjectivities Within Modern Secularity

    Abstract

    When famed freethinkers and self-described Secularists Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh were arrested in 1877 for reprinting a pro-birth control tract, a legal battle ensued gripping Great Britain for over a year. This paper seeks to argue that the Knowlton Affair—as the trial came to be known—offers an invaluable window into the ways in which concerns of sex, gender, and sexuality were being negotiated by those who self-consciously viewed themselves as advancing secularism during the Victorian era. By first exploring the ways in which the nineteenth-century Secularist movement helped shape many of the attitudes, epistemologies, and subjectivities described today as characteristic of modern Western ‘secularity,’ it will highlight the significant role the Knowlton Affair played in framing Secularists’ understandings of sexuality and sexual self-expression. Drawing from this, it will further argue that queer studies scholarship on secularism could benefit from increased attention to Secularist discourse and the ways in which the movement helped furnish modern ‘secularity’ as an epistemic condition with influential notions of what constitutes a ‘good’ sexual subject.
  • Secularization and the Queer Social Body

    Abstract

    Anti-establishment secularization queers the social body. Employing a trans-theoretical perspective, the paper reimagines the metaphor of the “body politic,” arguing that a pluralist democratic body politic is a queer, defined by a fluid and dynamic morphology. Anti-democratic/anti-pluralist movements, represent dysphoric responses to such a social body—affective, vitriolic reactions imposing or maintaining the social body’s normative morphology. Christian nationalism represents the most significant of these dysphoric movements within the contemporary United States. For Christian nationalists, “true” Americans are White, cishet, accepting of a patriarchal social structure, US citizens, speak English, and accept the US as a “Christian” nation. By countering cultural and religious developments that queer the social body, revealing its fluid, dynamic morphology, Christian nationalists hold that that the federal government should privilege Christianity over other religious expressions or even declare the US to be a Christian nation. Anti-establishment secularization preserves the social body’s fluid and malleable morphology by allowing for the emergence of novel social identities.

Theme: New England, Thanksgiving, and the American Context

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

Cognizant of our annual meeting location, this session looks to the connections between religion and food and the widely-conceived New England context, which includes Native and non-Native engagements with the topic, and the ongoing place of Thanksgiving within American civil religious life.

  • "Myths, Micro-Practices, and Identity in The American Civil Religious Meal Ritual: What’s Cooking for Thanksgiving Now?”

    Abstract

    I propose a contemporary reconstruction of Thanksgiving meals as depicted in Gurinder Chadha’s movie _What’s Cooking?_ (2000) in light of recent work on African and Native American food histories and foodways, vegan and vegetarian studies, and sustainable eating in view of the climate crisis. I will both review their implications for re-telling and re-making the Thanksgiving story at our tables and in our kitchens, and draw upon examples of my own experiences as a participant-observer making contemporary Thanksgiving meals. Working with the premise that as rituals of American civil religion, Thanksgiving meals are “quasi-religious American foodways,” to borrow the term Benjamin Zeller uses in reference to vegetarianism and locavorism (2014), I will show how Thanksgiving meals thus reconsidered can intentionally constitute performances of what Graham Harvey defines as religion per se: material expressions in everyday life, concerned with “doing violence with impunity,” and about respecting relationships between human and non-human persons (Food, Sex, and Strangers: Understanding Religion as Everyday Life, 2013).
  • Norman Rockwell, Alice Brock and Arlo Guthrie Walk into a Bar…What’s on the Menu for Conversation?

    Abstract

    Norman Rockwell, Alice Brock and Arlo Guthrie Walk into a Bar…What’s on the Menu for Conversation? This paper discusses the American holiday of Thanksgiving, and specifically Thanksgiving in our current location of Boston –a subject that might have been the topic of conversation for the three figures mentioned in the title. What is it that connects them all? One odd connection is a small town about three hours east of here named Stockbridge. In a sense, religion links them as well, or more specifically, the intersection of food, religion, and American history dating back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Drawing from archival cookbook documents, historical research on early colonial life and culture, and popular culture artifacts from the 20th century, this paper will explore how our nostalgia for Thanksgivings past, whether in the form of our memories about ingredients, types of preparation, methods of serving, or importance for establishing family and community relationships, can be researched in the context of American food and religious history.
  • “Not-so Forbidden Fruits”: Wild Apples, Thoreau, and the Tasteful Sacrament of Healing

    Abstract

    This paper examines Henry David Thoreau’s New England-tinged sacramental theology, specifically his understanding of consumption as both spiritual and physical healing as mediated through the sensation of taste. Thoreau’s understanding of taste as the physical source of spiritual healing aligned in various ways with Catholic Eucharistic theology. The physical host as the body of Christ and as an extension of God’s grace worked upon the soul, marred by sin, and redeemed the flesh of the body. By tasting of Christ, one soothed the bruises from Adam’s Fall. For Thoreau, no fruit was held in higher regard for its saving and healing properties than the wild apple, a fitting symbol for Thoreau’s theological understanding of taste. However, instead of dooming humanity to a sinful existence, to eat of the wild apple was to be redeemed—to once again harmonize the wild and domestic halves of the human soul.

Theme: Religion, Memory, and the State: Commemorating Power from Inquisition to Empire

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

This panel examines the interplay of religion, memory, and the state in four different contexts: the Spanish Inquisition, fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Iran and Central Asia, twentieth-century Palestine, and contemporary Java. The first paper examines ghostly displays of penitential habits called sambenitos which bore symbols to indicate their crimes in Spain and the Spanish Americas during the Inquisition. The second paper examines hagiographies of the saints thought to be interred in *mazārs* (saintly shrines) as sites where the agendas of the state, patronage projects of the elite, and practices of Islam intersected. The third paper examines how Palestinian-Christian liberation theology applies the concept of “witness” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and describes Palestinian Christians as eyewitnesses to the resurrection. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in the city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the fourth paper examines how young traditionalist Muslims often pray at the grave of Ahmad Dahlan, the founder of the modernist organization Muhammadiyah, even though traditionalist and modernist Muslims in Indonesia are in an uneasy relationship.

  • Ghostly Effigies, Suspended Shame: Assemblages of Garments of Shame in Churches During the Spanish Inquisition

    Abstract

    During the Spanish Inquisition throughout Spain and the Spanish Americas, those convicted of crimes against the Church were sentenced in spectacular public Autos de Fe. Vested in penitential habits called sambenitos which bore symbols to indicate their crimes, they appeared before dignitaries and large jeering crowds to learn of their conviction and punishment. After these events, the Inquisitors recovered the garments of shame from penitents to amass them and hang them from rafters and on walls of churches in cumulative assemblages on permanent public display. The sambenitos of families, friends, neighbors, officials, clergy, foreigners and even children fluttered together whenever a breeze blew made its way through the church buildings. Some of these ghostly exhibitions grew to include hundreds of garments that remained in place for more than two centuries, covering walls in cloisters or hanging from ceilings in the naves of churches to haunt their descendants as ghosts of shame. The Inquisitors documented their sambenitos with careful records, restorations, and replacements to ensure the completeness of these repetetive ghostly texiltes of perpetual stain on the community.
  • Saintly Shrines in Timurid Iran and Central Asia: Issues of State, Religion, and Collective Memory

    Abstract

    This paper will examine ideas of religion, memory and the state through the lens of the 14th and 15th century Timurid *mazār* (saintly shrine) in Iran and Central Asia. The *mazār* was a site where the agendas of the state, patronage projects of the elite, and practices of Islam came together. This paper will make use of the hagiographies of the saints thought to be interred in these *mazārs* in order to make clear what kinds of shared memories of the past were created. By examining these hagiographical sources and the interaction between state and religion, I bring forward the ways in which the state, religion, and memory were intertwined in this period. The imaginings and memories of the past helped the state in various ways, including bolstering their position as protectors of the faith. However, a shared memory of the past also played an important role in creating identity and solidarity amongst the Timurid populations across Iranian and Central Asian cities. It helped them find ways of belonging to a mythic past as well as to their geographically situated present.
  • Witness in the Holy Land: The Formation of the Palestinian-Christian Narrative

    Abstract

    When Palestinian-Christian liberation theology – that was developed from the late nineteen eighties – use the concept of "witness" to address themselves, they utilize it with a dual meaning: First, as evidence of the suffering and injustice of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Their suffering has meaning since through it they become moral witnesses, and even more so – living martyrs. The testimony of suffering allows them to promote a different discourse on Divine Election: not similar to the Zionist one on Judaism as the Chosen people, but that of divine election as an election that is based on God's preference for the weak and oppressed. But, Palestinians Christian theologians add another dimension to their witnessing: They are not only witnesses by their suffering, but also, historically – as the original inhabitants of the Holy Land, and the successors of the first Church's – eyewitnesses to the resurrection. Thus, as the holy places in Christianity are understood as the "fifth gospel," another pillar of the New Testament apostles' testimony, the Palestinians place themselves as the "sixth gospel."
  • The Agency of Memory: Modernism, Traditionalism, and Islamic Graves in Java

    Abstract

    Although traditionalist and modernist Muslims in Indonesia are in an uneasy relationship, young traditionalists often come to and pray at the grave of Ahmad Dahlan (d. 1923), modernist Muhammadiyah’s founder. This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork among traditionalists and modernists in the city of Yogyakarta, a Muhammadiyah stronghold where Dahlan lived and was buried. Focusing on traditionalist discourses on grave visitation (*ziyārah*) and prayers for the dead (*tawassul*, *tahlīl*), I conceptualize such rituals as memory practices that reconfigure and activate bonds with a normative past and challenge binary outlooks that separate the living from the dead. Through ritual memory practices at Dahlan’s grave, traditionalists not only appropriate Muhammadiyah’s founder, but on the authority of his memory they also resist modernist ontologies and ethics according to which memory is only ethically relevant as it educates or inspires a morally and ontologically autonomous subject: in traditionalist discourse, memory practices have an agency of their own as they establish bonds with the pious predecessors and make their power and blessings manifest and operative.

Theme: Ricoeur, Feminism and Intersectionality

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

Paul Ricoeur is not typically considered a liberationist thinker, but his hermeneutical theory has been foundational for a number of writers who deal with class, race and gender. This panel will look at liberationist applications of Ricoeur's theory of metaphor and symbol. How does the theme of the opacity of the symbol apply to race? How does Ricoeur's hermeneutics address questions of intersectionality? How do a feminist theological and a liberal protestant appropriation of Ricoeur's metaphor theory differ?

  • Ricoeur, Opacity, and Intersectionality: Multi-Dimensional Pathologization of the Symbol

    Abstract

    The strength of Ricoeur is to think through problems with a productive dialectic; in the matter of the symbolics of gender and sexuality, then, I wager that an intersectional approach will be most enriching. In thinking with Ricoeur first about the symbol, race, and opacity—and the pathologization of the symbol’s opacity into blackness as a symbol of evil—we are then able to think about the dual pathologization of race and gender/sexuality as bound together. Seeking to put Ricoeur and womanist Emilie Townes in dialogue, I will briefly trace a narrative of the racial pathologization of the symbol’s opacity, first through Charles Long (who is indebted to Ricoeur), and then J. Kameron Carter. Coming to Townes, who continues to think about race as symbolized through the logic of defilement but now also as bound up with gender and sexuality, I will show the promise of a Ricoeurian take on intersectionality and his continuing unique contributions to critical theory. In conclusion, I will sketch out a tragic-critical thought that recognizes the pathologization of opacity in this way and seeks to de- and re-mythologization with the hope of the fecundity of the symbol’s depths.
  • Concepts of Metaphors – Liberal-Feminist and Hermeneutical Readings of Paul Ricœur and Their Consequences for a Concept of Religious Innovation

    Abstract

    Confronted with rapid religious change, it is necessary for theology to reconsider the understanding of the change of religious language. With this in mind, it is worthwhile to pay attention to Paul Ricœur’s (1913–2005) influence on different thinkers in Europe and in the United States. Sallie McFague (1933–2019) and Eberhard Jüngel (*1934) are two radically different exemplary readers of Ricœur who draw upon Ricœur’s theory of metaphor in order to understand religious language. The aim is to show that Sallie McFague’s Liberal-Feminist approach helps to understand contemporary religion and the proper task of theology in the face of religious change. Jüngel’s interpretation of Ricœur is not only highly influential in continental theology to this day. It is also pervasively conservative and apologetic in character. If we have to learn “to speak God from scratch” (Jonathan Merritt) it will be more useful to turn to McFague’s reading of Ricœur than to reiterate the apologetic and conservative spin of Continental Hermeneutics.

Theme: Catholicism and the Formation of Conscience

Monday, November 30, 1:45 PM-3:15 PM (EST UTC-5)

The “formation of conscience” has long been a special preoccupation of Catholic theologians, pastors, and teachers. For much of modern Catholic history, this discourse has elevated issues of reproduction as areas of primary or even sole concern. As a consequence, many have tuned out Catholic “conscience talk” as irretrievably narrow or myopic. But Catholic thinking about conscience in fact extends beyond issues of reproduction and offers resources for contending with contemporary problems of the most basic significance.

  • "A Presumption of Injustice": Franz Jägerstätter, Gordon Zahn, and the Formation of Conscientious Resistance

    Abstract

    In 1956, Gordon Zahn came upon the story of an Austrian Catholic named Franz Jägerstätter who had been executed in August 1943 for refusing induction into the Nazi army. Jägerstätter grounded his refusal on the belief that Hitler’s wars were unjust and so to participate in them would be sin. In 1964, Zahn published *In Solitary Witness: the Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter* as an attempt to account for the fact that Jägerstätter appeared to be the only member his village (and one of the few Catholics he knew of anywhere) who had resisted the Nazi war-effort. Jägerstätter also faced almost overwhelming pressure from family, neighbors, pastor, and bishop to give up his refusal. While Jägerstätter was in one sense a solitary witness, Zahn pointed out that he did not come to his objection alone. Indeed, Jägerstätter’s refusal was the result of long process in which his conscience became formed in Catholic tradition, practice, and teaching in such a way as to enable him to recognize the evil of the Nazis and develop the fortitude to maintain his refusal even to the point of death. This paper will argue that a similar kind of skepticism is needed in this day and age.
  • Conscience as Metaphor: Breaking Open the Dialogical Nature of Moral Formation

    Abstract

    This paper explores the idea that the word conscience points to a complex process of moral discernment and practical reasoning to make ethical decisions. Conscience functions as a metaphor pointing to the interconnectedness of the moral agent’s formation, the demands of discipleship, conversion of thought, word, and deed, the need to attend to the elusiveness of the moral agent’s intentions or motivations for judging moral behavior Conscience understood as a metaphor focuses attention on the need for both naming all manner of communal sins and seeking redress. Furthermore, conscience seen as a metaphor within a complex system of other metaphors such as the body of Christ, provides a venue for moving conscience from describing the individual’s practical judgement re: a right course of action to a communal consideration of practical judgement, including the need for communal conversion toward and action for justice.
  • Forming Consciences: A Modern Consideration for Conscience as a "Dimension of the Self"

    Abstract

    Ann E. Patrick presents conscience as a “dimension of the self." She further defines conscience as a “personal moral awareness, experienced in the course of anticipating future situations and making moral decisions, as well as in the process of reflecting on one’s past decisions and the quality of one’s character, that is, the sort of person one is becoming." This paper will explore how the concept of conscience as presented by Patrick can be used as a guideline for conscience formation among children, adolescents, and adults. The need for sound consciences is obvious in today’s world. How can the Catholic concept of conscience help empower individuals to be participants in their own holiness? How can considering conscience as a “dimension of the self” highlight the need for ongoing conscience formation among all ages? And how can ongoing conscience formation expand the Catholic understanding of the conscience beyond only something to do with the so-called “sexual sins” and toward a more life-giving purview which will help Catholics navigate the murky waters of today’s world - racism, economic inequality, bullying, etc? This paper seeks to shed light on these question
  • Toward a “Restorative Church:” Moral Injury, Conscience Formation, and Restorative Justice in Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse

    Abstract

    In the wake of the clergy abuse scandal, material on restorative justice, moral injury, and conscience-malformation is limited. This paper draws on data collected with a new moral injury assessment tool that more adequately accounts for differences of race and ethnicity, sex, gender, and sexual orientation, as well as class and social/institutional context. By exploring the extent of moral injury to survivors, bystanders, and others impacted by the clergy sex abuse scandal, this will shed light on what restorative justice demands on the personal, relational, and structural levels. Moreover, it will also inform a reevaluation what needs to be learned and unlearned in the process of conscience-formation (since previous approaches proved inadequate to the task of prevention, transparency, and accountability). This paper proposes what it means to become a “restorative church” by taking full account for moral injury, prioritizing conscience-formation as a way to resist personal and social sin, and advance restorative justice that heals wounds and rebuilds trust, restores agency and repairs relationships, and revises policies and restructures institutions.

Theme: African Diaspora Religion, Embodiment and Survival Amidst an Eshu/Legba/Anansi Moment

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

Drawing on African Diaspora embodied thought practices that center on body value, this embodied experiential encounter offers an exploration of African Diaspora expressive modalities to inscribe critical joy and beauty into (living and dead) Black bodies and communities. Through both mapped and unmapped experiences of connection between human breath and wind as interrelated essential forces; between water and the fluids (blood, water/fluid) that flow through human bodies and sustain life; the pulse of feet, hands, and hearts engaged in collective and individual productive labor; and the rise and fall of breath and bodies responding to and re-claiming, repossessing, and restoring wholeness, this session guides participants through encounter and collective reflection, healing and holiness in our current world.

  • Fall/Rise...Repeat: Bringing Down Babylon, An Embodied Exploration of African Diaspora Spiritual Resilience as Warfare Against Oppression

    Abstract

    Drawing on African Diaspora embodied thought practices that center on body value, this encounter offers an exploration of African Diaspora expressive modalities called into play to inscribe critical joy and beauty into Black bodies and communities. As technologies of resistance and nurturing critical joy and beauty work to immunize bodies against and re-coup from the weight and harshness systematic day-to-day oppression (Babylon). Calling on Barry Chevannes’ (2006) concept of 'prophetic remedy', the prophetic call to creatively respond to injustices as a core principle; Clinton Hutton's (2007) 'rituals of repossession', the re-claiming of commodified bodies from the market place, Deborah A.Thomas' (2002) 'body as temple', the prayed up and ritually soaked body, this encounter invites bodies to discover and re-discover embodied joy and beauty.

Theme: Buddhism and Animal Ethics

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

Animal Ethics has recently emerged as a focus of philosophical and religious inquiry. Scholars have debated how much responsibility humans have for animals, how best to promote animal welfare, and what the precise difference between human and non-human animals actually is. Buddhism has ideas and perspectives that can contribute to all of these questions. This panel explores Buddhist perspectives on Animal Ethics in both historical and contemporary philosophical perspectives. On the historical side, some contributors examine how Buddhist thinkers have understood animals and animal ethics at specific times and places. On the philosophical side, other contributors will suggest ways in which Buddhist perspectives might respond to and influence contemporary philosophical debates over animality and Animal Ethics. Taken together, these papers reflect the diversity of Buddhist approaches to animal ethics, as well as some of the ways Buddhism might help shape ongoing debates over animals.

  • American Buddhist Ethics and the Search for Unknown Life Forms

    Abstract

    Multiple scientific searches hunt for unknown life on both Earth and Mars, yet the ethics of such searches in terms of fossil and possible extant life have not been sufficiently delineated. In response, in this essay I propose a tripartite ethic for searches for unknown life that consists of default nonharm toward potential living beings, default nonharm to the habitats of potential living beings, but also responsible, restrained scientific harvesting of some living beings in limited transgression of these default nonharm modes. Although this multifaceted ethic remains secular and hence adaptable to scientific research settings, it arises from a qualitative analysis of Buddhist scriptural ethics from the Pāli Vinaya in tandem with the quantified ethnographic survey voices of contemporary American Buddhists. The resulting tripartite ethic provides ethical direction for the scientific study of unknown life on Earth as well as Mars.
  • Toward an Integrated and Engaged Buddhist Vision of Animal Ethics

    Abstract

    This paper will develop an analysis of how the modern movements of Buddhist feminism, engaged Buddhism, and ecodharma might fruitfully intersect to offer an interconnected vision of animal ethics. Each of these movements provides key ethical guideposts that can inform how humans relate to our nonhuman kin, yet they each have ethical and political lacunae that limits their vision of liberation. A synthesis of these traditions can thus offer a more comprehensive ethical framework. This paper will place particular focus on three key ideas that emerge from this synthesis. First, an integrated Buddhist ethics requires a shift away from the language of “dehumanization” when critiquing injustice; instead, we must challenge de-animization, which I define as the process by which sentient beings are denied a sense of their innate worth, sanctity, and right to freedom from harm. Second, this synthesis brings a gender-aware lens that recognizes both the gendered ways in which people engage issues of animal ethics, and the ways that female and male animals are exploited differentially. Third, an integrated perspective emphasizes that Buddhist praxis vis a vis animals must move beyond personal e
  • Dissolving Anthrocentrism through Impartiality: Shabkar’s (1781-1851) Contribution to Tibetan Buddhist Animal Ethics

    Abstract

    Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol’s (1781-1851) collected works present one of the most sustained treatments of vegetarianism and animal ethics in Tibetan literature. Shabkar participates in the major arguments and debates found in animal ethics and the promotion of vegetarianism in the nineteenth century. Still, Shabkar’s greatest contribution to animal ethics in Tibetan Buddhist thought lies in the way in which he reframed the relationship between humans and animals through narrative description of his encounters with them based on rimé philosophy. The major thrust of Shabkar’s arguments for treating animals kindly and abstaining from meat is, at heart, an extension of his rimé philosophy. In this paper I engage in close readings of several passages in his autobiography that demonstrate how Shabkar sought to reframe the prevalent anthropocentric perspective found in Tibetan Buddhist animal ethics.
  • Protecting Life in Taiwan: Can the Rights of Nature Protect all Sentient Beings?

    Abstract

    The Taiwanese Buddhist nun Shih Chao-hwei (1957-) has long advocated for animal rights and environmental rights from the perspective of the Buddhist concept of “equality of life”—the idea that all sentient beings are equal. Environmental rights generally refer to the human right to a healthy environment. They are rooted in human rights theory that traces back to Christian defenses of human equality, most notably in John Locke. For John Locke (1632-1704), the equality of humans was based on their God-given capacity of reason, which set humans apart from nature. For Chao-hwei, equality derives not from rationality, but from dependent arising—the fact that all life arises from causes and conditions. Suffering is the standard for ethical consideration without distinction between humans and other forms of life, so her standard does not accept an ontological distinction between nature and humans. Chao-hwei sees environmental rights as protection for all things that support both nonhuman and human life, which corresponds with the emerging rights of nature movement. I evaluate how the legal rights of nature may be applied in an ontological system that does not include nature.
  • Protecting the Mind, Civilizing the World: Buddhist Pro-Animal Activism in Republican China

    Abstract

    Facing criticisms from cultural iconoclasts as "backward" on the one hand, and stiff competition from Christianity on the other, reform-minded Buddhists sought to consolidate and expand their followers. Through the Geneva-based poet and philanthropist Lü Bicheng (1883-1943), who championed abattoir reforms and scientific vegetarianism, Buddhist leaders such as Taixu (1890-1947) discovered the European animal welfare movement. Taixu seized upon animal welfare as a critical issue in his rebranding of Buddhism. Soon, a series of institutions launched the "Life Protection Campaign,” featuring mass rallies, media compaigns with cinema and pop music, and support from leaders like Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975). Recasting their traditional practices of animal release and meat avoidance as ethically anticipating the animal welfare movement in Europe, Chinese Buddhists claimed to be morally more "modern" than their Western counterparts. In this way, Buddhists claimed a critical affinity to modernity in partnership with the state. However, the nationalist undertone of Buddhist animal protectionism compromised the campaign during and after World War II when the political climate changed.
  • Re-Thinking Buddhist Perspectives on the Human / Animal Divide

    Abstract

    At the heart of many issues in animal ethics lies a question about what, exactly, is the difference between a human and a non-human animal. Buddhism has opinions on this question, generally suggesting that while there is no rigid, categorical division between human and non-human animal, humans nonetheless enjoy significantly higher status. Buddhists have usually explained this elevated status by claiming that we are more intelligent than animals, and therefore are able to use our human lives to advance religiously. Animals, with their inferior intelligence, are not able to do so and have, therefore, a much lower status than humans. This view of animal intelligence, however, is now challenged by several decades of scientific research showing that many animal species are actually quite intelligent, both in terms of reasoning ability and emotional complexity. In this paper, I argue that, in the light of this emerging evidence about animal intelligence, Buddhism should re-evaluate its stance on the superiority of human over non-human animals, elevating the latter and, therefore, taking animal needs more seriously than Buddhism has traditionally done.

Theme: On Brown and Yellow Labor: Immigrant Bodies in/and US Religious Traditions

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

This session engages the intersections of race, gender, class, and nationality by examining three case studies of labor, in various forms, that immigrant communities of color do in and with their religious traditions. Two of the papers consider present-day practices, and the third looks at an example from the early 20th century. The papers allow us to consider multiple racialized perspectives concurrently and to see how a multi-dimensional concept of labor is a useful tool for interpreting the religious/moral practices of racialized communities.

  • Labor Negotiations at the Home Shrine: Analyzing Bengali American Hindu Women's Home Shrine Care as Reproductive Labor

    Abstract

    This paper utilizes ethnographic research I completed over two years with Hindu women in the Bengali American community of greater Chicago about the home shrines and home shrine care traditions they have developed since immigrating to the United States. I profile four women's approaches to home shrine care traditions and argue that the creation and maintenance of a home shrine functions as reproductive labor, drawing from and expanding beyond feminist thinker Silvia Federici's meaning of this phrase. I show how each of these four women strategically interprets (and sometimes rejects) home shrine care traditions in ways that enable her to negotiate the feminized duties and domestic labor divisions of her household, and I demonstrate how essential women's oft-ignored approaches to domestic religious labors are for the maintenance and remaking of Bengali Hindu traditions in the United States. Thus, I show how the use of labor as an analytical category can help scholars illuminate and value immigrant Hindu women's participation in U.S. religious traditions, and understand how gendered religious labor can be both shaped by and respond to broader gender norms and labor inequalities.
  • Orderly Bodies, Orderly Souls, Orderly Citizens: Reforming the Racialized Immigrant Through Physical Discipline

    Abstract

    In his letter to YMCA’s John Mott, Teddy Roosevelt expresses America’s need for “[s]trong, well-rounded Christians immune to both ‘hysteria’ and ‘sentimentality’” to “cope with… recent overseas acquisitions, and with the ‘unhealthy drift’ toward the city.” (Putney, 2001: 100) The country requires people of good character to counter the influx of non-white immigrants and the chaos that they bring to urban centers. Left unchecked, the effect of their inherently disordered presence threatens to corrupt the entire country, reducing it to social, spiritual, and moral savagery. This paper is a theological reflection on the social reformation project that emerges in response to the ‘crisis of character’ thought to plague the United States at the turn of the Twentieth Century. According to reformers of this time, the labor of physically disciplining the immigrant body has the capacity to correct the cultural and moral disorderliness of non-white peoples. This wholistic conversion becomes a means by which such people can be reordered and, thereby, ready themselves to participate productively as good citizens within Western modernity’s civilized (white) Christian society.
  • Moving From the Table to the Streets: The Solidarity and Promise of Interfaith Organizing

    Abstract

    This paper contributes to the conversation around resetting the Interfaith Table in a concrete way by highlighting the need go beyond the “table” itself. I will argue for moving interfaith work from the table to the streets, highlighting an interfaith organizing effort for immigrant justice in Los Angeles, where I played a role as a clergy-person and organizer. I will explore the concept of deep solidarity as it developed internally and externally among a multi-faith clergy and lay organizing committee, among partner labor and immigrant rights organizers, and among the wider community (religious and secular) that participated in many direct actions centered around multi-religious public rituals. I will make the case that this is a much needed form of “interreligious dialogue” based on taking action together. Rooted in the principles of community organizing and movement-building to leverage collective power, I argue that this type of interfaith organizing serves as an alternative model of interfaith work that transgresses theological, political, ethnic/racial, class, gender, citizenship, and other boundaries, yielding a multi-layered solidarity that challenges oppressive systems.

Theme: Participation and Life in God

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

This ninety minute session on theologies of participation focuses on different approaches to the notion of participation in Christian theology in relation to life in God. The three papers deal with participation, theosis, and deification; participation and friendship with God; and participation, sacramental presence, and meaning in the life of Christ.

  • Participation, Theosis, and Deification, All Yes: A Modest Proposal

    Abstract

    Kathryn Tanner notes that improperly articulating divine transcendence also denies creaturely efficacy. Tanner gives rules to better designate both tenets, including a prohibition against the language of deification. Is deification theologically specious? Does participation provide a better alternative? This paper maintains that no such notion of participation can, for Christian theology, properly exist. *Theosis,* and yes, deification, too, best describe Christian theology’s specific claims. The argument proceeds by examining recent Protestant proposals to substitute participation for deification references. To counteract these efforts, I call attention to deification’s historical development as well as to recent work on metaphor and religious language. I track how Catholic and Orthodox models of beatitude and deification, at times bitterly opposed, nevertheless maintain metaphysical commitments to *theosis.* Finally, I turn to Pseudo-Dionysius to show why Christian claims entail naming participation as *theosis* and deification. I conclude that following Tanner’s rules entails editing one of her initial conclusions.
  • To Share Life with God: Participation as Friendship

    Abstract

    Contemporary theologians who employ the language of participation often do so in doctrines of creation, or of communion with God, that draw on neo-Platonic metaphysics. In this paper I argue that theologians would do well to attend to a less metaphysically loaded sense of participation: participation in interpersonal relationships. Specifically, I argue that participation in God’s life is fruitfully understood as friendship with God. I begin with Aquinas’s insight that sharing life together is central to friendship, but I suggest that he did not develop this insight with enough detail. I start to develop a fuller account of sharing life by drawing on Alexander Nehamas’ distinction between doing something together and being together. I then expand upon this distinction by considering the importance for friendship of mutual recognition, shared attention, and certain types of speech acts. This analysis can then be applied analogously to divine-human friendship, which affords a more fine-grained account of communion with God than some contemporary “ontological models.” I conclude by gesturing toward the implications of this account for Christian spirituality.
  • Repraesentatur et Efficitur: Sacramental Presence, Participation, and Meaning in the Life of Christ

    Abstract

    The field of sacramental theology today tends to be polarized between symbolic and ontological approaches to the sacraments. This paper proposes a series of systematic structures for renewal and integration. The paper begins by clarifying the dialectic between meaning and being in medieval sacramental theology, and highlights the emergence of such a dialectic in Catholic conciliar documents such as Lumen Gentium. The paper then argues that the sacramentum et res of each sacrament constitutes a unique participation in a mystery of Christ’s life. This historical foundation anchors the sacramentum et res of each sacrament in the originating (incarnate) meaning inaugurated by Christ himself. Consequently, concrete participation in the mysteries of Christ’s life is mediated by the sacramentum et res of each sacrament. With respect to the res tantum, a sevenfold structure of basic or ecclesial symbols is proposed. Such notions express the elemental meaning of the sacraments and thereby provide an explanatory structure for the spiritual effects (res tantum) conferred by each of the sacraments, that is, these are mediating symbols whereby the Church communicates her shared intention.

Theme: Analyzing Doctrine Book Panel

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

"One of the main architects of analytic theology, Oliver Crisp, has published a new volume, Analyzing Doctrine: Towards a Systematic Theology. This marks a significant contribution to the field because it is the first attempt to construct something close to an entire systematic analytic theology. Although it is not yet a complete systematic theology, Crisp draws upon theological and philosophical literature to establish the elements that will form the foundation of a completed study. The fact that this is the first attempt by an analytic theologian to put together a systematic theology demands a response. Moderator: Christopher Woznicki, Fuller Theological Seminary Panelists: Ross Inman, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Thomas McCall, Asbury Seminary Gray Sutanto, Reformed Theological Seminary Jordan Wessling, Lindsey Wilson College Respondent: Oliver Crisp, University of St. Andrews"

Theme: Explorations of A Post-Queer Worldly Aesthetic

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

This session explores the aesthetics and performative gender and sexual expressions in a possible post-queer world. Spanning the borders of Western thought of sexual identities, scholars reimagine and reshape theoretical frameworks and notions of queerness, queerdom and queerhood. The first two papers discuss “ex-trans” rhetorics in Australia and normativity in LGBTQ inclusive congregations in Taiwan respectively, while a third paper argues for a queer “anti-doctrine of embodiment.”

  • Being Ex-Trans in Australia? Gender in LGBT Conversion Ideology and Practice

    Abstract

    Conflicts between religion, sexuality and gender identity have dominated Australian public debate since the passage of federal marriage equality legislation in 2017. Trans and gender diverse people’s rights have become a particular focus of debate, and “ex-trans” stories and ideologies are being promoted by religious and social conservatives. There is no published research on the “ex-trans movement” in Australia, and little internationally. It is therefore difficult to tell if the present promotion of “ex-trans” ideology and practice represents a rise in anti-trans pastoral and psychological efforts, or if it is a rhetorical and ideological pivot to gender for social conservatives in the face of the increased acceptance of sexual diversity, represented by popular support marriage equality. This paper analyses the grey literature of the religious LGBT conversion movement in Australia from the early 1970s to provide a genealogy of gender in LGBT conversion ideology. It indexes this history against life history interviews with ten trans and gender diverse survivors of conversion practices to provide the first critical history of the ex-trans movement and ideology in Australia.
  • Challenges to the LGBTQ-Identical Churches in Taiwan in the Post-Equal Marriage Era

    Abstract

    This paper investigates the developments of LGBT-identical congregations and their relationship to mainline denominations in Taiwan in the past seven years (2013 to early 2020). The first section reviews a survey in 2015 of five independent LGBT-identical congregations. The survey argues the uncomfortable factors are homonormativity, patriarchy, a shadow of perfection. The second section of this paper summarizes the debate on marriage equality in Taiwan, which was made equal in 2019 as the first country in Asia to legalized same-sex marriage in 2019. Dislike some LGBTQ communities in the US, most of the LGBTQ communities and LGBT-identical congregations got involved in this equal campaign. The third section of this paper investigates the post-equal marriage era and puts into question “the path of liberation and equality for all,” which was the theological statement. This paper argues, after the legalization, those LGBT-identical congregations became (1) more Right-Wing Christianity orientation (2) churches institutionalized monogamy (3) an identical shift from independent congregations to small groups within mainline denominations.
  • The Queer Eschaton: An Anti-Doctrine of Embodiment

    Abstract

    The codification of a doctrine of eschatology forecloses on possibilities beyond our own theological imagination, and casts a vision which places limitations upon human embodiment. This makes eschatology into an establishment of norms via a telos toward which all of humanity is (expected to be) oriented. This paper aims to 1) explore the ways eschatology affects embodiment through a case study presented by Althaus-Reid, and 2) offer a theological method that opens eschatological discourse to a divine possibility which supersedes our own. This queer envisioning of eschatology hopes to liberate humanity from its own dogmatic self-conception—to free it from its own law—and to envision the eschaton as an event which interrupts and transforms human possibility in order to open up new possibilities beyond our own imagination. Drawing from Brintnall, I propose an “anti-doctrine” which resists the formation of eschatological idols—a telos to which we must conform. This is not elimination of doctrine for its own sake, but for the sake of allowing human embodiment and flourishing to be freed from the boundaries of our doctrinal and eschatological imagination.

Theme: Book Panel, John D. Caputo’s Cross and Cosmos: A Theology of Difficult Glory (Indiana University Press, 2019)

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

In his recent book, John D. Caputo turns his creative work to none other than Martin Luther’s theology—from Luther’s reflections on the life of a theologian of the cross to God’s hiddenness, Deus absconditus. Pointing towards the Heidelberg Disputation (1519), Caputo expresses a desire: “My hope is to let this revolutionary text speak to us anew.” In that way, Cross and Cosmos offers a rich reflection on Luther’s theology but also presses creatively into places where Luther might not have imagined: a radical theology of the cross, were the “passion of the cross is the figure of compassion” that extends out to, in fact, a theology of creation. Thinking about the complexities of reconciliation, cosmology and the poetics of the cross alongside the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, Jacques Derrida, James Cone, Delores Williams, Catherine Keller and others, Caputo’s book produces a theology of “difficult glory” that enhances his earlier writing in The Weakness of God (2006) and The Insistence of God (2013). This book review panel assembles a global panel of Luther scholars and theologians with John D. Caputo himself responding.

Theme: Guarding Virtue and/or Garnering Respectability: Holiness Dress Codes and Female Pentecostal Bodies

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

Many girls and women in Pentecostal churches have been formed in an ethos in which holiness was most often associated--in many cases, equated-- with a carefully delineated code of behavior and dress. For these female Pentecostals, the weight of that code was heavy, and was often freighted with expectations about guarding not only themselves but boys and men; girls and women were tasked with keeping men from falling into sexual sin and violence. However, in some communities, especially those in African-American Pentecostal churches, particular modes of dress were actually empowering, giving women both respectability and authority. This roundtable consists of scholars of/from several different North American Pentecostal traditions; each of the participants will present research from within one of those groups: predominantly white (COG, IPHC, Foursquare), white Apostolic (predominantly UPCI), black Pentecostal (Mt. Sinai Holy Church of America, Inc.), and Latinx Pentecostal. It is expected that these diverse of research perspectives and findings will shed light on the following: the intersections of culture, race, and gender as they come to bear on matters of dress in Penteco

Theme: Political Theology and Imagination

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

A great deal has been written on political theology and power, but the importance of political imagination is often overlooked. This panel gathers four panelists who will reflect on the relation between political theology and imagination in several traditions - Islamic, Confucian, Christian, etc.

  • Embodying Islamic Political Theology: Towards a Theory of Theological Imaginary

    Abstract

    This paper contributes to the study of political theology in a global context through an analysis, based on ethnographic research, of the theological underpinnings of Nur students’ political action in contemporary Turkey. The Nur are a Sunni Muslim community founded by Said Nursi, a scholar who preached Qur’an to lay people in the Ottoman Empire/Turkey from ca. 1890 to 1960. Through a focus on the community’s understanding and practice of democracy, the paper explores the socio-cognitive process through which Nur students’ internalize Nursi’s political theology during sohbets (collective readings of Nursi’s Qur’anic exegesis) and subsequently put it into practice. Drawing on the work of Charles Taylor (2003), the paper describes this process as the production of a theological imaginary that is, the transformation of theology into the deep normative notions that enable rank-and-file believers’ practice of society. The proposed approach bridges the apparent gap between Islamic theological teachings and Islamic political behavior, moves the analysis beyond the epistemological domain of Western political thought, and leaves space for an embodied Islamic political theology to emerge.
  • To Speak with Scorched Tongues: Denise Levertov’s Revolutionary Theopoetics

    Abstract

    In this paper I will demonstrate the theological dimensions of Denise Levertov’s political poetry, emphasizing in particular the decisive Ignatian themes. Though some recent commentators have discussed Levertov’s “poetics of faith” in theologically significant ways, this remains an underdeveloped aspect of the literature. But Levertov is also an underutilized resource for theologians concerned with questions of speech, critique, and political action. Levertov believed that poetry had revolutionary potential—namely, the potential to create new relations between persons and to disrupt implicit cycles of violence. But a recurring subject of her work became the difficulty of rendering words responsibly. Her notions of how to overcome this difficulty—that is, of how to find one’s voice—are unavoidably theological, as I will argue in this paper. In Levertov, then, one finds a nuanced account of poetry and theology as organic poiesis—a truthful and truth-making expression of the prior Trinitarian dialogue.
  • Reimagining Cosmopolitanism with Tianxia 天下: A Pluralizing Confucian Political Theology

    Abstract

    Zhao Tingyang is a contemporary political philosopher who is offering a creatively political reading of an ancient Chinese conception of the political—"all-under-the-heavens" (tianxia 天下). Zhao's political vision is not only relevant for thinking about world politics within modern China in a global context, but can also be consulted for reimagining geopolitical paradigms based in a Westphalian consensus model wherein sovereign nation-states and ideologies of possessive individualism, both at the basis of the provincial European enlightenment thinking, are conceived of as discrete, foundational and final entities the only possible source of political legitimacy. I will be presenting here an appreciative synopsis of Zhao's tianxia thinking, suggesting that it might offer a more alluring and edifying conception of the world political to be working with in intelligently reimagining cosmopolitan governance in the precarious present for a sustainable future.
  • Liberation Without Reform? Mawdudi’s God and the Theopolitics to Decolonize the Muslims of India

    Abstract

    Should Muslims reevaluate their theological understandings about Islamic political history in their postcolonial moment? Abul A'ala Mawdudi, an influential thinker from Muslim India, criticized the postcolonial political approach of Muslims on ethical and theological grounds. My paper has two arguments, a) Muslim political activism against the British, and their (postcolonial) decolonization movements exhibited theological understandings which demarcated different political flanks inside India and b) Mawdudi’s critique of Islamic history and Muslim societies was, in fact, a critique of the theological passivity of Muslims. Mawdudi disagreed with the theological as well as historical paradigms of Islam. He argued that the failure of Muslim societies and the defeat of the Islamic empire was a result of the failure of Muslims on an individual level. This paper demonstrates how theological reflection and religious history became key premises for political debate in the decolonization moment of Muslims of India and beyond.

Theme: Reformed and Always in Need of Reform

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

“Reformed and always in need of reform” (*reformata semper reformanda*) is a recurring refrain in many strands of Protestantism, and is particularly prominent in the Reformed tradition. However, the meaning and implications of the phrase are far from universally agreed. This session presents a series of papers considering the ways in which trajectories of theology within the Reformed tradition have sought and still seek to attend to the complexities of this necessary dialectic of continuity and change, tradition and innovation.

  • Searching for Continuity Amidst Change: Scottish Reformed Theology at the Turn of the 20th Century

    Abstract

    This essay explores themes of continuity, change and innovation within the Scottish Reformed tradition at the turn of the 20th century. In particular, it examines the United Presbyterian Church’s Declaratory Acts of 1879, the Free Church’s Declaratory Acts of 1892, and the United Free Church and Church of Scotland’s attempts at formulating new statements of faith in the 1920s and 1930s, respectively. In doing so, the essay draws attention to how Scottish theologians during the period, such as Hugh Ross Mackintosh, began to view confessional statements more as summaries of piety reflecting the living faith of the church during a particular age rather than as expressions of orthodoxy requiring faith’s assent, a shift which allowed them to hold onto their tradition while simultaneously embracing change and innovation. In the end, the essay suggests that the key to Scottish theology’s vision is striking a balance between methods of retrieval and revision when formulating fresh statements of faith, and offers some reflections about what Reformed theology in the present day might learn from the Scottish tradition in achieving such a balance.
  • Reforming the Reformers: Karl Barth's Reading of the Lord's Prayer, the Kingdom and Its Coming

    Abstract

    From his reluctance to assume the post of lecturer in Reformed dogmatics at Göttingen, to his willingness to revise received understandings of Protestant dogmatics, Barth’s relationship to the theology of the Reformers is ambiguous and unpredictable at best. His tendency to disagree vehemently with those who stood closest to him is reflected in this tenuous relationship to the tradition of Protestant theology. Yet, arguably, Barth’s continuous revision of Protestant dogmatics is itself a testament to his reliance on the tradition and its commitment to continual reformation. Barth’s disagreement with Luther and Calvin on their exegesis of the Lord's Prayer is ultimately emblematic of the reformed commitment to holding its theology loosely, though no less seriously. In light of this, Barth's offers one meaning of *semper reformanda* as the commitment to fearlessly correcting the identification of human history, even that of christians and the Church, with the new and revolutionary activity of God. Yet as it does so, Barth’s understanding of the kingdom of God expands rather than contracts the theological imagination concerning Christian hope.
  • The Dangers of Being Reformed and Reforming

    Abstract

    *Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda* is a refrain that most closely fulfills Reformed visions of the church’s catholicity and yet, it elicits strong responses and disagreements because it embodies the possibly-irresolvable tension between the church’s oneness in Christ and the multiplicity of faithful expressions of the same Christ. Hence, Eddy van der Borght laments that there is a lack of *sensus unitatis* among Reformed bodies and churches that leads *ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda* to become *ecclesia semper rumpenda*. It is necessary to re-form the dialogical and tensive bridge between *reformata* and *reformanda* without defaulting to an ecclesial pining of the “good, old days” imaginary. This presentation argues that a way forward in promoting creative and constructive tension (as opposed to a destructive one) is to resource Johann Baptist Metz’s concept of dangerous memory to construct an understanding of *reformata semper reformanda* as being a space of dangerous critique. In other words, the notion of being Reformed and always reforming functions as a dangerous space that casts a healthy and faithful suspicion on theological categories of thought and praxis.

Theme: Orthodox Christianity, Human Rights, and the State

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

This session brings to light trends and critiques within Orthodox Christianity relating to states and their governing structures, human rights concerns, and religious thought. One paper critiques a strand of Orthodox thought that exalts the religio-ethnic state at the expense of both universal Christian values and human rights. A second examines the relationship between dignity, sin, and human rights in Orthodox thought, taking the specific case of the Russian Orthodox Church, which produced important human rights-related documents two decades ago and continues to engage those documents as well as political developments. The third compares the work of two North American Orthodox theologians as they both appeal to, and critique, human rights and liberal democratic ideals. The panel will provide insight into a religious tradition with robust dialogue around human rights issues, that is nevertheless often overlooked by scholars of religion and human rights. At the same time, it furthers conversations on human rights, both in the Orthodox tradition and in human rights scholars’ conceptions of how human rights ideas relate to religion and governance of states.

  • Ethno-Theology, Human Rights and Orthodoxy in Romania

    Abstract

    This paper examines ethno-theology in Romanian Orthodoxy with reference to anti-Semitism prior to WW II and the Romanian holocaust. Religious ethnonationalism articulated by Romanian clergy and theologians provided the ideological backdrop for anti-Semitic measures prior to and during the war, underpinned the ideology of a violent fascist organisation, the ‘Iron Guard’, and fostered an ethos which allowed Orthodox faithful to rob, beat, torture, rape and assassinate Jews. Fr Dumitru Staniloae, a leading exponent of ethno-theology, argues that ethnic nations are an aspect of God’s plan for humanity; as ‘divine thoughts’, they are intrinsically good. The theological status of nations and nationalism is questionable. Are nations ‘part of God’s plan’ for the salvation of humanity, or are they an aspect of sinful humanity? Are ‘nations’ more akin to Babel or to Pentecost? The exaltation of exclusive religious-ethnic-state identification is fraught with inherent dangers, threatening the universality of the church, the gospel, and charity. Orthodoxy has yet to find a balance between national exclusiveness, universal Christian values, and human rights.
  • The Russian Orthodox Church on Human Rights, Dignity and a Dignified Life – A Critical Analysis

    Abstract

    The paper presents an analysis of the intricate relationship between dignity, sin and human rights in relevant documents and statements from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and its senior leaders as well an analysis of some of the criticism of these positions from within and without the Orthodox tradition. In 2000 and 2008 ROC published documents that present its official teaching on human rights. One of the central arguments concerns the relationship between rights, dignity and sin. The church teaches that human rights arise from God-given dignity. The documents appear ambiguous, however, concerning to what extent human beings can lose their dignity through sin. On some occasions, the documents distinguish between “dignity” and a “dignified life”, linking the latter to morality. On other occasions arguments concerning dignity, sin and freedom suggest that only such rights that (according to the church) furthers dignity are legitimate. With ROC’s growing role as a supporter of the Russian political establishment, its official teaching on human rights deserves close attention.
  • “Liberal Democracy, Human Rights, and Eastern Orthodox Christianity"

    Abstract

    An extended exchange between North American Orthodox scholars Aristotle Papanikolaou and Vigen Guroian has highlighted points of tension in their respective accounts of the relationship between the spiritual and moral ethos of Orthodox Christianity and that of western democratic social orders. Analysis of their larger argument provides a shaping context for examining their contrasting understandings of appealing to human rights as a dimension of the public engagement of Orthodox Christians with the political realm. While neither completely rejects appeals to human rights, neither claims that such rhetoric manifests the full truth about the dignity of the human person according to the theological anthropology of Orthodox Christianity. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople , Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos of Albania, the statements of the Council of Crete (2016), and several other contemporary Orthodox voices similarly place appeals to human rights in a theologically nuanced context that affirms their legitimacy while refraining from identifying them with the fullness of the moral and spiritual vision of Orthodox Christianity.

Theme: Roundtable: The Futures of Postcolonialism and Religion

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

In this round table, past and present leadership of the Religion, Colonialism, and Post-Colonialism Unit will discuss the present and future of postcolonial studies and its interfaces with the study of religion. We welcome contributions of new ideas, suggestions for new directions, and new unit members and are interested in opening up a discussion with the audience.

Theme: Building A “Public-Focused" Future for Non-Sectarian Undergraduate Religious Studies Programs

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

This "workshop" session will focus on forging new teaching and scholarly paradigms for a more "public-focused" religious studies. Participants will engage in small groups focused on topics such as developing innovative publicly directed assignments geared both to typical lower and upper division religious studies courses; creating tools for a more publicly engaged scholarly profile; and building interdisciplinary teaching and scholarly efforts around key public issues on the home campus. Participants will be asked to contribute actively to the group(s) they select. Participants may opt to ask for input with specific concerns related to their own work such as a teaching assignment, increasing the effectiveness of a public project or site, or concerns about raising one's public profile. Each team leader will bring handouts (or links to handouts) to help participants consider what it takes to make changes in their own pedagogical and scholarly practices.

Theme: Structural Reform for a New Epoch

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

The Second Vatican Council sought to reform the church for a world on the threshold of a new era. The social, cultural, technological and environmental changes of the late twentieth century continue their advance on a global scale and at an accelerated pace today. Observing that we are living through a change of epochs, Pope Francis has called for a renewal and reform of structures and practices. We invite critical reflections on need for and efforts to implement structural reform into the life and practice of the Christian community in the present context. Topics might include: synodal processes in church governance; reform of the Roman Curia; increased participation of women and laity; new forms of ministry; pastoral care of divorced and remarried persons; procedures for the investigation of bishops, priests, and pastoral agents in cases of abuse, etc. Priority is given to papers that attend to reforms inspired by the orientations conciliar teaching and respond to the unfinished business of Vatican II.

  • “Concerns About ‘Sharing the Concerns’: A Critical Re-Examination of the Office of Auxiliary Bishop”

    Abstract

    Of the Second Vatican Council’s sixteen major documents, only one – *Christus Dominus* – speaks about the office of auxiliary bishop, and when it does, it argues that, primarily, these bishops “are called to share the concerns of the diocesan bishop.” Even at the council, though, objections that the proliferation of auxiliary bishops undermined the principle of the mono-episcopacy arose from multiple quarters, most notably from several African bishops. This paper retrieves these interventions and undertakes a critical re-examination of the office of auxiliary bishop. In the end, the paper makes two claims. First, it is advantageous for the primary function of this office to be performed by someone who is not a bishop; and second, the practice of ordaining priests to become auxiliary bishops ought to be halted. As calls for greater involvement of the laity, especially of women, in the governance of the church resound so loudly, now is the perfect time to initiate this re-examination, which, ideally, would result in the welcome of a wide variety of the faithful to share the concerns of and to form something of a “kitchen cabinet” to lend support to the diocesan bishop.
  • Vatican II, Reform & Continuity of Tradition: As We have [Not] Always Taught

    Abstract

    This paper argues that resistance to many needed reforms in the church today are resisted in part because many people still rely on ahstorical imsges of Tradition that obscure the complexity of development in the history of the church, and allows arguments that neglect to account for the way erroneous teaching in one area makes negative impacts on others. In response to this problem, the paper explores theological images and insights from the theologies of Johann Baptist Metz, James Alison, and Yves Congar to develop ways of thinking deeply about how the church acccounts for its sins and failures that allows a more rigorous reckoning with history .
  • The Missionary Body of Christ: Merleau-Ponty and Postconciliar Ecclesiology

    Abstract

    Since his election to the papacy, Pope Francis has called for a renewal and reform of ecclesial structures and practices. His papacy stands in contrast to the papo-centrism and ecclesial triumphalism of previous centuries, trends that were supported by metaphor of the church as a body—the mystical body of Christ—because the body was primarily understood as a visible organism subordinate to a head and independent of all other bodies and the world. In spite of the reforms initiated by Vatican II and advanced by Francis, the metaphor of the church as a body has not been critically developed to resist the monarchic and triumphalist ecclesiology of the past. I argue that the metaphor of the church as a body, when reinterpreted through the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, can support and advance these reform ecclesiologies, especially Francis’ desire for a missionary church. For Merleau-Ponty, an embodied subject is united as a dynamic whole only when it is ‘toward the world’ and engaged in meaningful action. In this light, the metaphor of the church as a body emphasizes the church’s missionary nature and the indispensable role of the entire body in its mission and identity.

Theme: After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-5:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

A 90 minute online conversation with Dr. Willie James Jennings, moderated by Dr. Nancy Lynne Westfield, with Dr. Craig Barnes, Dr. Kwok Pui Lan, and Dr. Shawn Copeland. The conversation will consider the implications of Dr. Jennings' book After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging for teaching and learning in North American college, university, and theological school contexts. The session will begin and end with comments by the author, Dr. Jennings, about his book and its implications for pedagogy in the 21st century. The bulk of the session will involve a conversation among peers, moderated by Dr. Nancy Lynne Westfield, about how the book raises specific questions about contemporary higher education practice and the implications of these questions for the future of higher education, particularly as it relates to theological education. In the book, Dr. Jennings asserts, “Theological education has always been about formation: first of people, then of communities, then of the world. If we continue to promote whiteness and its related ideas of masculinity and individualism in our educational work, it will remain diseased and thwart our efforts to heal the church and the world. But if theological education aims to form people who can gather others together through border-crossing pluralism and God-drenched communion, we can begin to cultivate the radical belonging that is at the heart of God’s transformative work.” (Eerdmans.com)

Theme: Theoretical Sufism and the Lived Human Experience

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-6:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This panel explores connections between the theoretical elaborations of influential Sufi figures and the concrete engagements of lived human experience—from the way Ibn `Arabi’s concept of the unity of being (wahdat al-wujud) has practical meaning for the personal struggles of spiritual wayfaring, or the political struggle of a 15th century Ottoman rebellion, to how `Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani’s view of Satan as a tragic, fallen lover can teach the spiritual seeker something about lived experience of love. The variable meaning of Sufi ideas for the engagement with other religions in the world is also examined, from the connections between Islamic and Jewish lettrism in the religiously diverse social milieu of Andalusia, to early engagements between Muslim and Christian ascetics in remote borders of the Islamic world which eventually give way to an increasingly distinct conception of Islamic piety. While the theoretical and practical aspects of Sufism are often treated separately, and theoretical Sufism is sometimes accused of being too disconnected from the world of human experience, these papers demonstrate the significant relationship

  • Religious Pluralism and the Philosophy of Wahdat al-Wujud in Bedreddin’s Revolt

    Abstract

    This paper examines the ideological underpinnings of Şeyh Bedreddin’s (d. 1420) revolt and associated movements during the Ottoman Interregnum (1402-1413). While pious warfare (gaza) and chivalry (futuwwa) are important to address, scholars agree on--but rarely explore--the impact of a particular Sufi philosophy: the “Unity of Being” (Ar. Wahdat al-Wujud). Examining this philosophy reveals that it carries a strong message of religious pluralism that has been attractive in the early modern and modern periods for its Monist claim toward a “Unity” reached by multiple paths. That said, further examination reveals that this philosophy was far from pacific; it also carried serious claims of spiritual elevation and authority in the figure of the “Axis” (qutb) who could inspire revolutionary fervor and mobilize a diverse population.
  • Fallen in Love: 'Ayn al-Qudat's Satanology in Context

    Abstract

    The writings of the great Sufi martyr ‘Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani (d. 1131) in many ways anticipate some of the major trends that characterize the post-Avicennan Islamic intellectual tradition. Yet modern scholarship has failed to come to grips with the far-reaching implications of his teachings, many of which are framed in terms of the symbolic language and imagery of the Persian Sufi school of passionate love and the defense of Satan’s monotheism. The focus in this talk will be upon this latter aspect of ‘Ayn al-Qudat’s Sufi worldview. Upon closer inspection, his Satanology turns out to not only be concerned with Satan as a tragic, fallen lover of God; it is also intimately related to our author’s robust theodicy, as well as his theory of human freedom and constrained action. But ultimately, ‘Ayn al-Qudat uses his Satanology to argue that philosophical and theological discourse are inadequate for explaining the importance and lived experience of love. This is best retold through the story of Iblis, who, as a compelled actor and a wilful agent, had fallen in his love precisely because he had fallen in love.
  • Nearness to the Real: Sainthood as Ontological Proximity in the Thought of Dawūd al-Qayṣarī

    Abstract

    This paper explores the concept of sainthood (walaya) according to Dawūd al-Qaysari (d. 1351), a notable interpreter of the Sufi thought of Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn ‘Arabī and seminal theorist of waḥdat al-wujūd or the “Oneness of Being.” While the few studies of Qayṣarī show the heart of his thought to be his ontology, I argue that closer examination shows sainthood to be one of his main preoccupations, and helping his readers to attain it one of the main goals motivating his writing. To substantiate this, I refer to Qayṣarī’s discussions of Sufi wayfaring, showing how his account of the experiences on the path to sainthood reflect his major metaphysical ideas in detailed, concrete terms easier to envision than a purely conceptual discourse. Of these ideas, the most important, which I call “ontological proximity,” allows Qayṣarī both to chart the progress of the wayfarer on the path to God, and to clearly delineate the extent of God’s identity with and difference from creation, solving an important problem posed by his ontology. This close reading of Qayṣarī’s concept of walāya thus improves our understanding of how he and others like him saw the world and their place in it.
  • The Letters of Creation in Judaism and Islam

    Abstract

    This paper argues for a comprehensive approach to the study of lettrism, by offering a comparative reading of the role of the alphabet in Islamic and Jewish philosophical mysticism. This paper will place the chapter on letters in the "Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya" ("The Meccan Openings") by Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240) in conversation with a commentary on the "Sefer Yetsirah" by Saʿadia Gaon (d. 942). By looking at the roles of breath and articulation in these two philosophical mystical works, this paper argues that a comparative approach to mysticism in Islam allows for deeper understanding of the comprehensive milieu in which these mystical traditions are shaped. Placing one prominent mystical Islamic source into its comprehensive cultural context—namely, within a dynamic conversation of Jewish and Muslim sources—allows new insights to emerge regarding the understanding of that text: reading Ibn al-ʿArabī and Saʿadia Gaon together brings to light the significant integration and re-coding of philosophical-linguistic concepts in the lettrist theory of Ibn al-ʿArabī.

Theme: Annual Meeting

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-6:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This meeting is open to anyone interested in teaching courses on Native American Sacred Traditions. The meeting format is informal discussions on ideas, materials, and strategies.

Theme: Lives and Afterlives of Texts: Translation and Reception of the Tiruvāymoḻi--Round Table Discussion of Endless Song: Tiruvāymoḻi by Archana Venkatesan

Monday, November 30, 4:00 PM-6:30 PM (EST UTC-5)

Translation has long been one of the most important vectors of reception of sacred texts, and thus provides a rich avenue for the exploration of questions of canon formation, both within a specific religious tradition and beyond it. In this panel, we use the complete English translation of the 1102-verse Tamil Tiruvāymoḻi as a case-study, to examine two aspects. First, what can the study of a text’s translation history text reveal about its significance both within its own tradition and beyond it? Second, what avenues do translations open up for the study of texts and their associated traditions? How does the reception of a text differ when it is a linguistic translation as compared to a commentary, or if translation is itself framed as a kind of commentary? How do such perspectives, and the dominance of translations of sacred texts into English in the 20th century, affect the trajectory of the academic study of religion?

Theme: Beyond Kami and Buddhas: Demons, Ghosts, and Vengeful Spirits in the Study of Japanese Religions

Monday, November 30, 6:15 PM-7:45 PM (EST UTC-5)

What does the academic study of religion marginalize or exclude? How is the disciplinary boundary of the American Academy of Religion demarcated? What subjects of study fall outside of such a boundary? This panel reflects on these questions through case studies from Japan, specifically by examining ghosts, vengeful spirits, demonic forces, and other supernatural agents often trivialized in Japanese religious studies due to its traditional focus on Shinto kami and Buddhist divinities. The panel analyzes an array of examples from different historical periods, including the role of vengeful spirits in a medieval Buddhist ritual; the worship of oni (demons), dragons, and peasant ghosts in early modern Japan; and the genealogy of jibakurei (earthbound spirits) in modern and contemporary Japan. The papers demonstrate the need to approach non-kami/non-buddha entities as subjects of serious academic inquiry not only to further nuance the existing kami-buddha paradigm, but also to complicate the basic parameters of the study of Japanese religions. More broadly, the panel situates Japan as a lens for scholars of religion to reflect on their methodological assumptions at this year’s AAR.

  • Addressing the Spirits of the Heian Capital Through Buddhist Doctrines and Rituals of Salvation

    Abstract

    This paper will examine a ritual space established in 1206 by Tendai Buddhist priest Jien (1155-1225) at the “Temple for the Rites of Great Repentance” (Daisangehōin), located in the proximity of the Heian capital (present day Kyoto). This ritual space, designed specifically for the purpose of pacifying vengeful spirits (onryō), was established during a time of great political uncertainty among the capital elite who had witnessed the growing influence of the military government in Kamakura. This study serves as a case study to illustrate how supernatural entities, specifically those of “vengeful spirits” and “spirits of dead soldiers” (bōsotsu), were conceptualized, negotiated, and incorporated into Buddhist ritual practice. Through an analysis of the structure of the ritual program and doctrinal expositions regarding its practice as expressed by Jien, it will illustrate how an analysis of Buddhist ritual programs serves as a valuable site to examine the intersections between the discussions of the supernatural, the role of Buddhist rituals in maintaining social order, and concerns regarding the Buddhist soteriological view of universal salvation.
  • Beyond and Betwixt: Situating the Demonic and Dragonesque in Japanese Religions

    Abstract

    Oni, and to a lesser extent, dragons have largely evaded the study of Japanese religions. They do not fit neatly into the dominant binary of buddhas and kami or within the traditional analytical avenues of religious study focusing on institutions and doctrines. Yet a look beyond the typical purview reveals the appearance of the demonic and dragonesque in a wide range of ritual contexts, popular worship, and places of practice. The case of Mount Togakushi offers one example of their historical, and often overlapping, presence in situ. Togakushi’s earliest origin account (from the Asaba shō) foreshadows the conversion of a resident nine-headed oni into a dragon deity. Both beings intermingle in legend and worship through the Edo period, as thrill-seeking pilgrims visited the region and new forms of spirit veneration emerged. More often than not, these beings overshadowed the buddhas and kami enshrined at the site. Exploring the roles that oni and dragons occupied in practice on the ground, this talk will offer a poignant example of how non-buddhas and kami featured in Japanese religions and more broadly, how they disrupt lingering paradigms in the study of religion.
  • Fearing the Powerless: Sakura Sōgorō and the Rise of Peasant Onryō in Early Modern Japan

    Abstract

    In 1653, a peasant by the name of Sōgorō was executed in the Sakura domain (present-day Chiba) for leading a tax protest. Shortly after the execution, Sōgorō transformed into a vengeful spirit to haunt the domain lord and his wife, tormenting them into insanity. This paper examines the emergence of peasant onryō in the early modern period with a focus on the legend of Sakura Sōgorō, one of the best known onryō tales from Tokugawa Japan. The paper argues that the increasing prominence of non-elite vengeful spirits signified a shift in the construction of supernatural authority between the medieval and early modern periods. The possibility of transforming into a potent spirit was no longer reserved for aristocrats and warriors; ordinary villagers were now empowered to wreak postmortem vengeance on bakufu authorities and could even be deified. The Sakura domain lord, in fact, dedicated a shrine to uphold Sōgorō and ordered local Buddhist temples to perform commemorative rites to placate his spirit. Utilizing domainal documents as well as local shrine and temple records, this paper illuminates a “popular” turn in the conception of the supernatural in Tokugawa Japan.
  • Transformations of Earthbound Spirits: The Japanese Reception and Adoption of Jibakurei from Spiritualism to Masukomi to Modern Ethnography

    Abstract

    This paper will examine the recent adoption of jibakurei in new realms of Japanese discourse, specifically its appearance in discussion of disasters and modern ghost tales, in the 21st century. Jibakurei, a literal translation of “earthbound spirit,” is a concept developed in Spiritualist writings in English from the turn of the twentieth century. Although jibakurei is considered by some authorities to be a popular term, easier for a general audience to understand than more technical terms, the use of this word by various authors masks the divergent range of nuance and concepts being employed. Where jibakurei typically marks a dangerous and malevolent force in its classic appearance in spirit photography literature, in ethnographic analysis of ghost tales from northeastern Japan after the tsunami, the term marks a disoriented, even desirable presence. Through the usage of jibakurei and related concepts, this paper will discuss the influence that mass media, minzokugaku scholars, and religious professionals all have had on each other, and how this complicates received ideas of discrete religious traditions and of influence.

Theme: A Conversation About the Historical Jesus

Monday, November 30, 7:00 PM-8:30 PM

Rafael Rodriguez (Johnson University Tennessee) Jesus Darkly: Remembering Jesus with the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2018. Ken Cukrowski (Abilene Christian University) “An Ethnography of Virtue in Luke’s Gospel.” SBL International Meeting. Helsinki, Finland. July 30-August 3, 2018; “The Grammar of Lukan Emotions.” SBL International Meeting. Helsinki, Finland. July 30-August 3, 2018. SCJ invites friends and colleagues from all streams who identify with the Stone-Campbell Movement tradition for fellowship and interesting conversation. For additional information contact William Baker (scjeditor@aol.com)

Theme: London School of Theology PhD Opportunities

Monday, November 30, 8:00 PM-8:30 PM

London School of Theology is one of Europe's largest Evangelical Theological colleges. We have an outstanding PhD supervisory and publication record stretching back decades and on par with some of the best universities in the United Kingdom. Our community of researchers enriches and encourages students in their work through one to one supervision. We are proud to provide a range of research supervisors to train students in cutting edge research from proposal to publication. Join our webinar to find out more about our PhD opportunities as well hear from our postgraduate faculty members and students.

Theme: The Concept of Zhen 真 (True, Real) and Its Potential Contributions to Ritual Theory: A Roundtable on Poul Andersen’s The Paradox of Being: Truth, Identity and Images in Daoism (Harvard University Press, 2019)

Tuesday, December 1, 9:00 AM-11:00 AM (EST UTC-5)

The concept of true/real (*zhen* 真) plays a central role in Daoism. It frequently appears in Daoist ritual manuals expressing the efficacy and outcome of ritual practices. In this roundtable, we explore the question of whether the term *zhen* may have conceptual relevance beyond Daoist Studies. To do so, we discuss Poul Andersen’s new book, titled *The Paradox of Being: Truth, Identity and Images in Daoism*, which engages in the paradoxical nature of the concept *zhen* in Daoist textual and visual cultures. By pairing scholars of Comparative Religion, Theology, and Confucianism with specialists in Daoist Studies, the roundtable accentuates Andersen’s unapologetically universalist approach that reads Søren Kierkegaard’s idea of truth (*sandhed*) vis-à-vis the Daoist concept of true/real (*zhen*). Hence, Andersen’s *opus magnum* will function as an excellent starting point for a transcultural dialogue between Daoism, Existentialism, Ritual Theory, and the wider field of Religious Studies.

Theme: Graduate Student Committee Business Meeting

Tuesday, December 1, 10:15 AM-10:45 AM (EST UTC-5)

Attention graduate students! We encourage you to attend the meeting, connect with your regional AAR student directors, and share your requests, concerns and/or suggestions for AAR’s 2021 Annual Meeting with the Graduate Student Committee. If there are items you want to be sure are discussed, email Aarti Patel, AAR Student Director, before the meeting: aartipatel16@gmail.com.

Theme: Strategies for Creating Successful Religion Programs

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This session asks: what does it mean for a religion program to be successful? What kinds of programs generate positive attention from students and administrators? What are effective strategies for recruiting students to courses and programs? How can we partner with non-academic units on campus to increase departmental visibility? Especially with COVID, how can we use online tools most effectively? Join us to explore ways that religion departments are maintaining and increasing their viability and visibility during at a time of instability in higher education.

Theme: Buddhism and Racism Across Asia, Europe and North America

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

The study of the intersection between racism and Buddhism has been developed often in ways that have simply subsumed racism into issues of nationalism and colonialism. On one side, the co-existence of parallel but separate Buddhist communities distinguished on racial-ethnic base has led to a disputed categorization of a “white” Buddhism versus an “ethnic Buddhism.” On the other side, historians who have analyzed the intellectual genealogy of the modern concept of Buddhism have shown its racial assumptions. This panel will put in dialogue these two approaches, and it will shed light on an understudied aspect of the modern history of Buddhism: the essential role played by racist discourses in the contribution of Buddhists to nationalist ideologies. It will foster a dialogue between scholarship on Buddhism in the West and on the modern history of Buddhism in Asia. The presentations will investigate four case studies from different areas, covering both Asia and the West, but also show how the circulation of ideas and migration represented shared experiences among these areas. The connections between the presentations will restate the transnational nature of the topic of this panel.

  • The Buddha as an Aryan Samurai: Julius Evola's Spiritual Racism and its Legacy on Italian Buddhism

    Abstract

    Research in the intellectual history of the establishment of modern Buddhist studies has shown the racial biases implicit in the categorization of Buddhism as a world religion based on linguistic taxonomy. These assumptions have been at times openly redeployed in support of discriminatory ideologies often supporting the nation state, as in the case under study in this presentation, the interpretation of Buddhism popularized in Italy since the 1930s by the Traditionalist thinker Julius Evola (1898–1974). Evola’s reading of Buddhism was informed by transnational Buddhist modernist ideas and was aimed at the recovery of an Aryan spiritually superior doctrine. Its characterization as “spiritual rather than biological racism” has been used by Evola’s appreciators to defend him from the accusation of having fueled the Aryanism of Nazi ideology, but at the same time it has left a deeply problematic intellectual legacy among both Italian Buddhists and Traditionalist and esoteric circles. This presentation will shed light on Evola’s racially charged interpretation of Buddhism, and on his controversial legacy in Italy and beyond.
  • Race, Ethnic Nationalism and Power in Modern Japanese Buddhism, 1880-1945

    Abstract

    Among prominent Japanese reformers and Buddhist nationalist ideologues during the period of 1880-1945, the Western concept of race was adopted to both resist Darwinist hierarchies imposed on non-white peoples during the age of imperialism, and was also enthusiastically embraced for a range of agendas. Among them was an ethnic nationalism laden with racial concepts used to justify and guide Japan’s imperialist project in which some prominent Buddhist clerics and layman actively participated. Nevertheless, among these same networks was a strong dedication to spreading Buddhism globally. To clarify the role of ethnic nationalism and race in modern Japanese Buddhism, I will specifically analyze the thought of the network centered on the Engaku-ji temple of Shaku Soen, prominent for his role in promoting Buddhism to the West and yet held strongly nationalistic and even racialist views. I will seek to explain that spreading Buddhism represented a form of power, but that racialism and ethnic nationalism had become highly flexible could potentially coexist with other seemingly incompatible religious views and aspirations.
  • Multiculturalism and the Racialisation of Buddhism in Australia

    Abstract

    Since its arrival to Australia from at least the mid 19th century, Buddhism has undergone many changes to the way it is lived, taught, practiced, and understood. Yet with regard to its racialisation as an Asian religion, very little has changed since the mid 19th century. This paper traces the development of Buddhism in Australia from the reception of Chinese labourers during the Gold Rush, to the introduction of the ‘White Australia’ Policy at the beginning of the 20th century, through to its replacement with multiculturalism in the 1970s. Drawing on historical accounts as well as recently conducted research on experiences of belonging among young Australian Buddhist practitioners, this paper explores how Buddhism has been othered, exoticised and racialized, both historically and in the present. It argues that Buddhism paradoxically remains racialised through Australia’s multicultural policy, which respects yet preserves Buddhism as a distinctly ‘Asian’ religion that lies eternally outside dominant articulations of Australia as a White, Christian nation.
  • Shades of Whiteness in American Buddhism

    Abstract

    The associations of American Buddhism with whiteness range from implicit assumptions of whiteness as the default normative subject, to explicit articulations of a white Aryan Buddhism. On the one hand, whiteness in American Buddhism is evident in the way that whiteness has been presumed to be unmarked and standing for humanity in general. The other end of the spectrum is exemplified in an online community of self-identified alt-right Buddhists. These Buddhists articulate a fundamentalist “Buddhism beyond modernity” that critiques the liberal, secular, progressive nature of Buddhist Modernism in exchange for a masculine, militant, conservative Buddhism. Both types of Buddhist whiteness are indebted to a long history of racial discourse contributed to by both scholars and practitioners. While one ostensibly rejects race-thinking by adopting a “color-blindness” approach to the dharma that marginalizes people of color, the other willingly embraces a return to the imagined Indo-Aryan fundamentals of Buddhism. Both, in the end, support an interpretation of “true” Buddhism as white.

Theme: The Ethics of Critique and Care

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Critique and care are often thought in opposite registers, the latter a practice of love and the former a mode of antagonism. But what if there is more that overlaps between them than it might at first seem, as anthropologist Mayanthi Fernando recently asked in a commemoration of the mentorship of Saba Mahmood? The papers on this panel ask a similar question through exploring Islamic traditions and the shared intellectual space that critical inquiry and community service occupy in its legal, philosophical, and exhortative literatures. Through looking at debates in multiple geographic sites (Uzbekistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and Indonesia) and in four key inquiries that straddle critique and care (on Islamic Unity, on martyrdom, on academic criticism, and on engagement with elders) across Sunni and Shi‘i traditions, this panel will offer a forum to test this hypothesis. What resources have Islamic thinkers offered to think care as a kind of friction and critique as an act of generosity?

  • The Islamic (Sunni-Shia) Unity and the Contemporary Mujtahids, (Case Study of Ayatollahs Mohseni and Salehi Najafabadi)

    Abstract

    A big gap seems between inter-religious and intra-religious dialogues in the Middle East as the sectarian conflict is growing up aimed by the hate politic of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Many opposite voices cannot be heard; voices which call Sunni and Shia Islam for unity, not merely politically, but also theologically and jurisprudentially. This paper examines the works of two Twelver Shia Mujtahids who advocated ecumenism in contemporary Islam. Ayatollah Salehi Najafabadi (1923-2006), from Iran, and Ayatollah Muhammad Asif Mohseni (1935-2019) from Afghanistan who applied a critical approach toward widely accepted doctrines by Shia ulema. Salehi was of Qum and Mohseni of Najaf school. This study analyses two works: Salehi’s “Islamic Unity” and Muhsini’s What are the differences between Shia and Sunni? written in Farsi and published in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Explaining their vary approaches, I will show what they mean by unity and how they contribute to the issue on jurisprudential (fiqhi) and theological (kalaami) which dominate public areas of Islam, not a mystical (sufi) and political and philosophical (falsafi). I will use the original documents and secondary literature.
  • Adab and Elder Care: Islamic Values of Elder Care in Central Asia

    Abstract

    Since Qur’ānic verses and the Prophetic traditions urge to take care of parents, eldercare responsibilities are defined in religious terms in Muslim societies. From the perspective of morals that are "commonly felt and done" and ethics that is "appropriate and rational" (Siddiqi, 1997) elder care entwined with Islamic moral and ethical responsibilities in secular Uzbekistan as well. This paper concentrates on the influence of Islamic values in eldercare responsibilities and its performance in Uzbekistan. It specifically analyses the role of the Qur’an and Hadith in instilling responsibility for taking care of elderly parents. By closely studying public didactic TV shows, it argues that eldercare and Islamic ethics are included in the upbringing of children from early years through public discourse and character development in schools and in families.
  • Martyrdom, Messianism, and Sectarianism in the Contemporary Twelver Shi’ism: The Case of Martyred Shrine Defenders

    Abstract

    The recent Syrian crisis caused a relatively new development in the Shī‘a understanding of martyrdom. In Iran, the new martyrs, known as martyred Shrine Defenders, are considered to be beyond national heroes and thought as the protectors of the legacy of the Prophet’s family. Unlike the martyrs of the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, who are regarded as wronged martyrs, the Shrine Defenders had the upper hand; they somehow acted as the awaited al-Mahdī is supposed to do in his promised cosmic battle with the forces of Satan at the end of the time, that is, making the wrongs right and avenging the blood of Ḥusayn and other wronged martyrs of the Shī‘a. In this paper, I will examine this new development in the concept of martyrdom focusing on Iran. I argue that martyrdom is now framed by the Iranian regime in terms of messianism.
  • Black Feminist Theory and Analyzing Contemporary Muslim Ethics on Race and Gender

    Abstract

    This paper uses black feminist theory as an analytical lens to trace the ethical discourses that guide two Muslim organizations’ use of the Qur’an and Islamic religious knowledge to support their feminist and anti-racism activism, the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality & Equality (WISE) and the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MARC). By drawing on their community facing online resources, WISE and MARC demonstrate that their contributions to contemporary Muslim ethics are not fully encompassed within frameworks that approach Muslim ethics as solely concerned with moral regulation or distinguishing between right and wrong conduct. Instead, MARC and WISE’s ethical contributions to contemporary Muslim thought are better framed as a commitment to “visionary world making” of oppression-free futures guided by an “ethic of mutual vulnerability” and an ethic of non-oppression (Cooper, 2015; Nash 2018). In tracing the ethical discourses at the center of WISE and MARC, this paper argues that black feminist theory makes legible feminist and anti-racism activism as a site of contemporary Muslim ethics that has a distinct approach towards Muslim discourses of ontology and epistemology.

Theme: “Things That Go Bump in the Night”: Folklore, the Supernatural, and Vernacular Religion

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Prophecies, apparitions, hauntings, visions – the study of Religion often requires scholars to engage with the category of the Supernatural, particularly as it informs theologies, rituals, taboos, belief narratives, etc. Folklore Studies has long been concerned with the human propensity to think about, talk about, and create expressive forms related to the *other than ordinary*. The papers on this panel treat such diverse topics as the supernatural experiences of US combat veterans, material culture in Brazilian UFO religion, race representation in 19th century American Spiritualism, ghost beliefs in present day Estonia, and vernacular rituals involving St. Joseph and the sale of real estate. This research challenges limiting models that oppose “official” and “unofficial” categories of belief and behavior, instead arguing for the profound meaning made through creative negotiations, innovations, and compromises of people trying to integrate the supernatural or spiritual with other aspects of quotidian experience. This panel interrogates the intersection of the otherworldly with the worldly, and the ways “ordinary” people creatively incorporate the “extraordinary” into everyday life.

  • When Legends Die: Local Lore and the Spiritualist Resurrection of a Renowned Black Bostonian

    Abstract

    One of the more notable revenants reputedly channeled by Boston-based Spiritualist Frances “Fanny” Conant (1831-1875) during her long career was Richard Seaver. One of Boston’s most famous black residents during the first decades of the nineteenth century, Seaver was a professional sailor and boxer who died the same year as Conant’s birth. His legendary physical stature, pugilistic skill, and authoritative presence made him the subject of much local lore during his life. After death, his renown spread more widely through tales about his larger-than-life personality and fantastic exploits disseminated through a variety of media. This paper explores how the seances of North American Spiritualism enabled white practitioners to build on rumor, legend, and personal experience narratives in their representations of Richard Seaver’s afterlife existence. By critically examining how Conant and other leading Spiritualists performed blackness through channeling Seaver, I hope to demonstrate how closely aligned this vernacular religious tradition was with other textual, graphic, and theatrical modes of racial representation embedded in the landscape of American folk and popular culture.
  • Enchanted Landscapes: Materializing the Imagined World of Brazil’s Valley of the Dawn

    Abstract

    The Brazilian religion called Valley of the Dawn (*Vale do Amanhecer*) is an international new religious movement known for its eclectic cosmology and collective rituals performed by adepts dressed in ornate garments. Its adherents claim to be the spiritual descendants of a race of extraterrestrials originally sent to Earth with the mission of advancing humanity's spiritual evolution. Over the succeeding millennia, they believe that they have passed though multiple lifetimes in different historical eras and places, incarnating as Spartan warriors, Egyptian royals, Russian gypsies, South American Indians, and colonial Brazilians, among others. My paper examines how episodes within the group’s transcendental mythological heritage are materialized in rituals, costume, specialized architecture, and other built environments constructed by the community over the last thirty-five years.
  • Ghosts and Disenchantment: Vernacular Strategies and Theories of Dealing with the Supernatural in Contemporary Estonia

    Abstract

    On the one hand ghosts and hauntings belong to the world of traditional narratives, on the other hand to extraordinary phenomena that contradict our usual perception of the world in their striking otherness. Such experiences become meaningful in religious ontologies but problematic in the secular world of materialism and (quasi)scientific rationalism. Ghosts tend to be discursively controlled by fictionalizing them as manifestations of folkloric fantasies, de-essentializing them as illusions produced by subjective experiences, or pathologizing them as symptoms of mental illness. In contrast, vernacular strategies of dealing with the supernatural offer a flexible array of discursive contexts and practical devices. The paper discusses ghostly experiences in Estonia: a secular society traumatized by violent history and fifty years of state imposed atheism as part of communist ideology. Narratives about ghosts often include information about effective ways to repel or pacify the supernatural. These beliefs and practices at the margins of the rational worldview also mark the limits of rationalism, which cannot accommodate the totality of human lives and existential experiences.
  • “The Best Place to Bury St. Joseph”: American Vernacular Religion, the Plastic Votive, and the Power of Intercession in Residential Real Estate

    Abstract

    One of the primary benefits of the study of vernacular religion are lessons learned about “informal,” “unofficial,” “unsanctioned” ways of knowing employed by humans and observed in a variety of religious and secular contexts of belief and practice. Such ways of knowing and acting often contrast with (and sometimes complement) the normative views promulgated by scientific, governmental, scholarly, or religious functionaries and authorities. One such example of informal religious knowledge is the tradition of assisting sales of real estate by burying statues of, St. Joseph, upside down in the front yard beside the property’s For Sale sign. Pressed into service in moments of economic distress by adherents of disparate religions, this real estate tradition is promulgated by a community of believers in on-line chat rooms, on amazon.com, and by word of mouth. This paper discusses this tradition: its origins and expression as a votive ritual of punishment and public veneration, and its place within a still-potent vernacular Catholic culture of sacramentality. It remain way of informal American Catholic knowing, in an era of diluted denominational knowledge,participation, and adherence.
  • The Extraordinary Spiritual Experiences of Combat Veterans and the Future of Supernatural Belief

    Abstract

    Since the Enlightenment scholars have tried to explain why certain people hold supernatural beliefs, when such beliefs have largely disappeared among modern, educated people. The central problem in this research is its basic premise: *such beliefs have not largely disappeared among modern, educated people*! Theories based on the notion of such disappearance have led to explanations of supernatural belief based on ignorance, extreme religious beliefs, and psychiatric illness. The puzzle of “supernatural” beliefs is a non-rational product of modernity, not of irrational folk tradition. Scholars have assumed that the cardinal difference between modernity and its naïve predecessor is disenchantment: the absence of spirits. Abundant data shows that spirit experiences, from afterlife journeys to visits from the dead, remain common among educated and sane modern people. My recent study of the extraordinary spiritual experiences of combat veterans strongly supports these conclusions. My simultaneous study of military healthcare professionals' reactions to such experiences clearly shows that modern misunderstandings of supernatural belief do great clinical harm.

Theme: The History of Religion in U.S. Elections

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

In this joint session of the Religion and Politics and History of Christianity units, panelists engage the history of Religion in US Elections. In the political and cultural life of the United States, religious ideas, ideals, symbolism, and rhetoric have long and complex legacies. These contested legacies have shaped the nation’s public and private institutions, delimited citizens' freedom, and even play a deciding factor to whom the protections of the civic contract and citizenship are extended. The papers in this session will reflect on the ways in which Evangelicals, through political mobilization, satire, and bringing religious ideas to bear in the public sphere, have contributed to shaping the outcomes of various elections since the turn of the twentieth century.

  • William Jennings Bryan, Evangelicals, and the Democratic Party

    Abstract

    For a contemporary audience who assumes that Southern, white evangelicals have always identified with the Republican Party, the candidacy of William Jennings Bryan as the Democratic Party nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908 deserves deeper scrutiny. Not only is Bryan the most famous defender of fundamentalist Christianity because of his role in the Scopes monkey trial, his economic liberalism is related to his fears that social Darwinism could be used to justify callousness towards poor, elderly, and sick citizens. Contemporary evangelicals are so afraid of embracing the atheism of Karl Marx that they often embrace the policies that Bryan once associated with social Darwinism. This presentation will explain the transformation of evangelical Protestantism from the early 19th century, through the Southern strategy of Richard Nixon, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the pivotal role Ronald Reagan played for inverting the electoral college map in 1980, and the populist campaign of Donald Trump.
  • The Election of 1976: The Year of the Evangelical and its Ongoing Implications for Religion and Elections in the U.S.

    Abstract

    In this paper I argue that the presidential election of 1976 represented a watershed moment in the history of religion and politics in the United States—one in which there were profound changes afoot in both popular and scholarly discourses about religion and political identity. I furthermore suggest that, to better understand the relationship between religion and electoral politics in the contemporary United States, it is imperative to understand some of the developments that took place during the 1976 election cycle. Finally, I go on to argue, specifically, that the evolution in the ways in which scholars and journalists identified, described, and conceptualized evangelicals during and after the 1976 election offers the clearest example of its far-reaching implications for religion and elections in this country.
  • "The Religion Thing": The 1988 Presidential Election and the Shaping of Conservative Evangelical Political Activism

    Abstract

    The 1988 presidential election heralded the coming normalization of new approaches to connecting conservative religious views with political activism. In spite of the failure of his campaign and possibly because of it, Marion G. "Pat" Robertson’s presidential bid became a transitional moment for conservative evangelical political activists in terms of their goals, strategies, and expectations. It led to the establishment of new political actions groups, aided the rise of future Trump enablers, forced moderate Republicans to adopt conservative language, and opened the door for prosperity gospel and spiritual warfare theologies to influence conservative politics. This presentation will provide insight into the growth of these now familiar aspects of our political and religious discourse with the goal of understanding how they became so deeply embedded in our public life. The presentation will conclude with some suggestions regarding how scholars can act on that understanding to address those elements of these political and religious traditions which contribute to dysfunction in American cultures.
  • Laughing with God: American Evangelical Political Satire and the 2020 Election

    Abstract

    This case study of evangelical Christian news satire site The Babylon Bee focuses on the Bee's coverage of the 2020 election. It makes the case for humor as a window into the values, themes, and concerns surrounding American evangelicals' political engagement. What can "taking humor seriously" reveal about American evangelicalism that has been overlooked in other studies that focus on the use of fear or indignation in that subculture? Through a rhetorical analysis of the Bee's political coverage since January 2019, I will consider how humor in media serves as a tool for policing boundaries of identity, subverting or reifying hegemonic structures, and drawing (and redrawing) the line between the "pure" and the "profane." This paper joins together the fields of media studies, evangelical studies, and affect studies to shed new light on how we understand religious groups' political engagement. More specifically, it furthers attempts in evangelical studies to deal with the ubiquitous but amorphous evangelical concept of “worldview.”

Theme: Rising the Feathered Serpent: A First Flight Over Indigenous Contemplative Traditions

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

The emergent field of contemplative studies draws inspiration mostly from Buddhist-derived meditation practices. These practices have been secularized to be easily adopted in the West as a popular source for health-related benefits mainly related with stress reduction and focused attention. These benefits do not represent the higher resolve of realization of spiritual development and the structure of ethical goals. Moreover, studies on other religious contemplative traditions have been scarce. Indigenous religious traditions have likewise engaged in a diversity of contemplative practices with spiritual impact. With the intention of expanding the circle of inclusion, this panel is the first at AAR to include Indigenous religious traditions in the conversation of contemplative science and practice. We invite dialogue among contemplative Indigenous practices and Buddhist-based practices, as we reclaim Indigenous traditional wisdom and validate its position as similar keepers of profound sophistication and variety. This dialogue creates inclusive and diverse ways of knowing and enriches the impact of these practices to engender social change for social and environmental justice.

  • Divination, Conception of Time and Body Among the Mexica

    Abstract

    There are only a handful of studies on the divinatory practices of the ancient Mesoamerican —which are abundant and highly sophisticated. Scholars of religious codices at the end of the 1900 and the first half of the 20th century mainly deciphered calendars, identified deities, and the symbolism of the iconography, generally interpreted in astral terms. Other divinatory techniques mentioned in historical sources have been briefly described, but they are yet to be analyzed thoroughly. Finally, anthropologists have documented several divinatory practices among Mesoamerican Indigenous peoples today, but studies are still scarce and—with some exceptions—they are generally descriptive. It is convenient to study these important ethnographic testimonies, confronting them with historical sources, since both materials clarify each other. I share some data on the use of the divination calendar in the framework of the complex relationships that linked humans to divine forces. From the use of ropes, maize grains, and especially ashes for mantic purposes, the second part of this work is devoted to the analysis of the links between divination and Mexica origin myths.
  • Weaving Indigenous Traditions and Contemplative Research in Colombia

    Abstract

    The growing field of contemplative studies is overdue for a deeper engagement with non-Buddhist contemplative traditions. This paper explores potential bridges between the contemplative studies field and the contemplative knowledge and ways of knowing of indigenous peoples of the Americas. As a case study, this paper examines practices employed by indigenous Colombian healers and practitioners for investigating and transforming mind and body and discusses ways in which these practices are rooted in embodied knowledge and collective experiences that blur the boundaries between the human and non-human natural world. Drawing from this case study, other avenues for exchange with other indigenous practitioners are proposed. A specific focus is given considering ethical frameworks that can guide this work towards healing and address the erasure and marginalization of indigenous knowledge without perpetuating the harms of domination and colonization by North American and European institutions.
  • Familiarizing Consciousness with the Unfamiliar World: Death Rituals Among a Tibetan Refugee Community in Mundgod, Southern India

    Abstract

    This paper examines the significance of death rituals in Tibetan Buddhist culture based on 18- months of ethnographic study in a Tibetan refugee community in southern India. One unique feature of caring for a dying/deceased person among Tibetans is safeguarding the person’s consciousness. The paper illustrates how protecting person’s consciousness drives and motivates the act of ritual through ethnographic cases I observed in the field; and how death rituals are culturally orchestrated as a collaborative project between Tibetan medical doctors, Buddhist practitioners, and family members, and how they negotiate when conflict arises. The collaborators employ variety of culturally-prescribed means to introduce psychological changes at the time of death; and feelings and emotions these changes could generate to a dying person. I show this by paying particular attention to two main components of Tibetan funeral rites: the use of Buddhist text, bar rdo thos grol (The Tibetan Book of the Dead) and the practice of pho ba (guiding consciousness to the next life). Further, I argue that death rituals provide a dialectical tool to communicate with the dying person as well as death.
  • Mictlan, Our Shared Home: Funerary Rites, Ethics of Belonging, and Contemplative Science in Indigenous Mexico

    Abstract

    This paper makes the point that Indigenous funerary rites of the Nahua pre-contact period were practices of embodied ritual and contemplative qualities to attain an integrated emotional-psycho-spiritual space. I use this basis to develop my thesis on the “ethics of belonging”, which is the sense of responsibility and connection with self, community, and environment that is engendered from compassionate action, ethics, and prosocial behavior. I argue that the spaces of communal ritual dealing with grief helps us find meaning in relation to loss; and open the possibility of release and regeneration, while reestablishing a sense of belonging to land and community. Reintegration comes from a conscious choice to face heartache through a non-verbal articulation of loss that reconnects the individual to a fundamental chthonic quality in its cultural identity and social role and responsibility. This ritual participation empowers the capacity for healing and resilience by regulating psychosocial disorders. Specifically, this communal ritual offers a vessel of contemplative practice that supports dealing with loss through facing impermanence, and finding a transcendent sense of belonging.

Theme: Rethinking Navaratri

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This paper session combines three papers that reflect on the ways that communities are rethinking Navaratri to create novel celebrations and commemorations that align with their identities and values. From Vaishnavization of the lesser studied spring Navaratri festival to indigenous reimaginings of the festival and its mythological foundations to constructions of an indigenous theology, these papers help us to rethink Navaratri and how its shapes meaning for those who celebrate it by reconsidering many of our assumptions about the festival itself.

  • Celebrating Vasant Navaratri: Kaila Devi, ‘Vaishnavization,’ and Divine Polarity

    Abstract

    This talk discusses Navaratri as a festival in Vasant, the spring season, when the goddess Kaila Devi is celebrated at her temple in eastern Rajasthan. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Rajasthan, a different Navarati is emphasized in Sharad, the fall season. This latter Navaratri is commonly identified with ritually pure Vaishnava deities, such as Ram and Hanuman, under the patronage of merchants. Kaila Devi, being located in a rugged region, has maintained a ritual niche among non-merchant castes in which the goddess represents the wilder side of divinity in contrast to the pacific Vaishnava deities. Although Vaishnavization—the reconfiguration of deities to conform to Vaishnava doctrine, with its disapproval of blood sacrifice—has affected Kaila Devi, it has not entirely supplanted her fierce side. This presentation considers a broad regional tradition of representing goddesses and some other deities as dual images in which one represents pure rituals while the other is associated with more demonic forces. The talk uses this model of polarity to theorize how the Vasant Navatri of Kaila Devi is maintained as a kind of ritual opposite to the Vaishnava Sharad Navaratri.
  • From Demon to Deity: The Changing Iconography of Mahishasur

    Abstract

    During Navaratri, when goddess Durga, the slayer of the “demon” Mahishasur is worshipped all over South Asia, indigenous communities in different parts of India, alongside caste rights activists, publicly venerate the “demon” while claiming that the goddess was a honey trap sent by the scheming Aryan gods. This paper will focus on the forging of a new iconography for Mahishasur, a "demon" in Hindu mythology who was reclaimed by indigenous communities both as a ‘god’ and as a champion of their political autonomy. The public political ritual of venerating Mahishasur was deemed blasphemous by the Hindu nationalist party in power. Among clay-modellers of Bengal, the dominant “demon” image of Mahishasur embodies the highly-valued skill of Naturalistic sculpture; but the movement needed a new benevolent image. Through interviews with image-makers and organizers of this political ritual in several villages of West Bengal, I will show how local aesthetic ideals of masculinity, virtue, and political ideology are expressed in the new aesthetic form(s) and iconographies of this emerging hero of Indian politics.
  • Men Embodying Women: Using Navarātri to Invent an Indigenous Theology and Ritual in Ahmedabad

    Abstract

    It is common to connect Navarātri with the classical Goddess theology. However, we pay little attention to how Navarātri can be used as a framework in the invention of an indigenous theology and a ritual connected to a local female deity. Based on an ethnographic study, I explore the invention of an indigenous theology and a seemingly obscure ritual performance by the male members of the Bārot community of Sādu Māta’s Pol in Ahmedabad (Gujarat, India). These men wear female attire, play *garbā*, and venerate Sādu Māta, a local female deity on the eighth day of the Āśvina Navarātri, to atone for a two hundred years old curse. I argue that while this ritual performance appears obscure in the broader context of how Navarātri is celebrated in Gujarat, it demonstrates the Bārot community’s use and local interpretations of Navarātri to invent the indigenous theology of Sādu Māta, the local female deity who they venerate as the Divine feminine.

Theme: White Supremacy, Race, and New Religious Movements

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This panel explores the intersection of new religious movements and the ideologies of racism and white nationalism, with particular attention to their resurgence since 2016. These four case studies examine how the idea of “whiteness” and racial identity are constructed and negotiated and how this process dovetails with the religious imagination.

  • African Americans in the Israelite House of David and Mary's City of David

    Abstract

    The Israelite House of David arose in the early 20th century as a utopian communal group in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The group (which split into two, creating Mary's City of David alongside the original colony) did not allow African Americans to join based on their beliefs about racial separation. However, some African Americans maintained a religious interest in the group and in some cases sought to join. I argue that African Americans sought to join Israelite groups because they found them religiously compelling despite this prohibition, and in the case of those who lived alongside Mary’s City of David, that they did this because they found this religious draw to overpower the fact that they were not truly considered members of the group.
  • American Völkisch: White Nationalism and the Performance of Religion in Heathenism

    Abstract

    Norse Paganism, called Heathenism or Asatru, has been dogged by issues related to far right politics, racism, and white nationalism. How did this happen? This paper examines the role of religious performance in the work of one Heathen practitioner. He has brought together Heathen religiosity, extremist ideology, and ritual performance in a way that has proved very successful in building a white nationalist network. We will look at his carefully crafted performances and think about how performing religion may be more effective than writing a manifesto in the process of radicalization.
  • ‘Straight But Not Narrow:’ Greg Johnson on Gay Inclusion and Masculinity Within Academic White Nationalism in the United States

    Abstract

    The proposed paper provides a critical discursive analysis of the written and recorded works of Dr. Greg Johnson, *Counter-Currents* editor-in-chief, regarding the inclusion of white cisgender gay men, as a case study by which to investigate the fractiousness of white nationalism in the United States. Despite the popular (mis)conception that American white nationalism is strictly tied to both Christiainity and homophobia, contempoary ‘academic’ white nationalists are fracturing over the inclusion of gay men in their apartheid fantasies. Johnson’s philosophy is here analysed in light of arguments that Christian Identities are not the only racist theologies that have arisen out of, and continue to thrive within, the American ethos. The proposed presentation calls into question the role of religion in academic white nationalism(s) by providing details on Johnson's campaign for gay inclusion as well as the responses to it. This work questions how whiteness, or rather, the myth of whiteness, performs religiosity, and in doing so, will contribute to the process of understanding the variety in white nationalists’ complex, concerning, multi-faceted, growing movements.
  • “Engendering the ‘Transparent Race’: Mazdaznan in the Context of *Lebensreform*, Aryanism, and the International Eugenics Movement”

    Abstract

    Mazdaznan, a new religious movement founded in 1900, has received scholarly attention primarily due to its embrace by Expressionist artist Johannes Itten, its most prominent disciple, who introduced its practices at the Bauhaus school of design in the 1920s. In many art historical accounts, Mazdaznan appears as an obscure and eccentric sect, and Itten’s fervor for it rather inexplicable. A closer look, however, reveals that Mazdaznan was neither especially obscure nor eccentric. By 1920, it had gained a significant international following, with teachings that were entangled with numerous strands within Euro-American countercultures, including health reform, esotericism, and interest in Asian religions. More troubling are its advanced teachings, offering a systematic program of eugenic practices to hasten the final stage of human evolution, in which the white “Aryan” race gives rise to the “transparent race.” Here too, Mazdaznan mirrored the preoccupations of its time in an era that saw widespread support for the international eugenics movement and the rise of the National Socialists, making a closer study of the movement both overdue and, in the current political moment, timely.

Theme: Teaching Science-Engaged Theology

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Science-engaged theology is an emerging sub-discipline, distinct from the study of science and religion. It seeks to integrate studies and theories from the natural sciences into the theology classroom. Numerous research groups and large grants are driving an increase in the research in this area, but how should this research impact our teaching? This session will introduce and discuss good practice in teaching science-engaged theology, drawing on the views of experienced teachers. For more information: https://set.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk .

Theme: 2020 AAR Award-Winning Religion Journalists: Covering the Religion Beat in an Election Year

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

The 2020 AAR Best In-depth Newswriting Award winners will engage some of the most provocative news and religion-related stories of 2019. Emmy Award-winning Correspondent Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald will join the three award recipients. Charles’ celebrated reporting on the Caribbean has brought attention to issues of health, migration, and natural disasters, especially in the Republic of Haiti. Given the importance of religion in contemporary U.S. politics, the panel will also discuss religion reporting and campaigning in 2020, the presidential election, and religion-related “hot topics” that may emerge in the coming year. First-place finisher Peter Smith, religion editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is part of the Post-Gazette team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre. Smith’s winning submission includes articles about the Amish community, sexual abuse in the Mennonite community, aftermath of the Tree of Life shootings, and Notre Dame’s fire in Paris. Second-place finisher Jaweed Kaleem, a national correspondent at the Los Angeles Times, writes about how race, ethnicity, and faith shape the evolving understanding of what it means to be American. Kaleem’s series takes readers on a ride along a Punjabi American highway while seamlessly integrating the story of the trucking industry with substantial and much-needed education about Sikhism. Third-place finisher Kalpana Jain, a senior editor, who heads the ethics and religion desk at The Conversation, writes on religion and rise of Hindu nationalism in India. Jain offers articles surrounding a study of women warriors within the Durga Vahini movement, Interreligious Resilience, and the path of Kabir, a 15th century mystic, and the attraction of India’s millennials to him. At the beginning of the session, the AAR will hold the 2020 award ceremony.

Theme: Issues in Qur'anic Interpretation

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This panel features presentations exploring diverse issues in Qur'anic interpretation.

  • The Use of the Qur’ān in the Brethren of Purity’s (Ikhwān al-Ṣafā’) Conception of Theurgy and Magic

    Abstract

    Magic and theurgy have been part of Islamicate society from its beginning, but generally have not been associated with Qur'anic and theological discourses. However, earlier philosophical works, such as the proto-Ismāʿīlī Mother of the Book (Umm al-Kitāb) or the Ismāʿīlī Treatises of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwān al-Ṣafā’), explicitly employed and associated theurgical and magical practices with respect to the Qur’ān. This paper examines the presence of the Qur’ān in the Brethren’s conception and use of “magic.” It shows how the Brethren combined Qur’ānic symbols with Neoplatonic ontology and Hermetic theurgical practices and argues that their approach to the Qurʾān brings the human being closer to God. I show that by integrating the Qur’ān in this way, the Brethren of Purity forged a new way of thinking about magic that was to become influential in Islamic philosophical thought.
  • Al-Māturidī’s Typology of Waḥī: Towards a Nuanced Understanding of a Central Islamic Term

    Abstract

    This paper uses al-Māturidī’s (d.944), Taʾwīlāt al-Qur’ān to analyze the meaning of the term, waḥī, often understood to mean the revelation of God’s speech in the form of the Qurʾān. There is, it seems, no clear cut definition as to what constitutes waḥī. Is the term synonymous with the Qurʾān? Or does it have a broader meaning that extends beyond the Qurʾān? To date, most attempts to define waḥī by the likes of Toshihiko Izutsu and Daniel A. Madigan have been based on analyzing the usage of the term in the context of pre-Islamic poetry and the Qurʾān, but with little to no attempt to trace its conceptual development over the course of Islamic intellectual history. To fill this gap, I attempt to document the conceptual nuances of the term as they came to be developed in the context of al-Māturidī’s Qurʾānic commentary. I infer from al-Māturidī’s glosses on waḥī that the term eventually came to denote certain indirect forms of communication that have distinctive theological implications, ranging from the paradoxical immanence and transcendence of the Islamic God to the infallibility of the Prophets.
  • Islamic Mary: Between Prophecy and Orthodoxy

    Abstract

    This paper will explore the neglected refutation of Ibn Kathir of Ibn Hazm’s idea of female prophecy, especially that of Mary/Maryam being a prophet. The secondary literature focuses on Ibn Hazm’s opinion but does not discuss why his opinion never became mainstream. I contend that it was the refutation of Ibn Kathir within his Qur’anic commentary (tafsir) which made Ibn Hazm’s ideas obsolete. Ibn Kathir’s tafsir would eventually become the most popular in the modern period since it became a “madrasa” tafsir which would influence various study circles and seminary curriculums. Thus the rise and fall of the idea of female prophecy is connected to the development of modern exegetical orthodoxy.

Theme: Religion and Ecological Futures

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This session presents three papers that reflect on the role religion plays in imagining or constructing ecological futures. Using a case study of coal mining and Shamokin (an ecojustice community that sees the God-given creation of coal), the first paper draws on ethnographic research to suggest how faith and fossil fuels support certain “cultural strategies of life” in Pennsylvania. This case study complicates Christian ethics, suggesting the need to map some of the existential complexities and material circumstances of local contexts. The second paper looks at Christian Zionism and the Jordan River. The Jordan is the site of great meaning and extensive ecological damage. Christian Zionists are complicit in this destruction, while also driving tourism and pilgrimage. Through this analysis, the author suggests necessary ethical practices for pilgrimage based on solidarity. The third paper looks at race, religion, and agriculture in South Africa, which is contested in light of how land use, race, and class have historically intermingled. Examining the “Farming God’s Way” movement, the author shows how this Christian movement gives an alternative to aspects of contemporary commercial agriculture, but does not fully address the colonialist and apartheid past of South Africa. In spite of differences in geographic location and methodology, these papers work together to show the complicated interplay between religion, ecology, present and future.

  • By Faith and Fossil Fuels: Cultural Strategies of Christian Life

    Abstract

    Through ethnographic research in the coalfields of central Pennsylvania, this paper investigates contextual practices of Christian social ethics. Drawing on Willis Jenkins’ model of “theocentric pragmatism” to interpret how a coal miner aligns his work in fossil fuels with his Catholic faith, I show how “cultural strategies of life” secure precarious existential conditions. This depiction of religious culture poses a challenge to practices of theological ethics that start by defining moral values and worldviews. However, it also complicates the narrative of contextual theologies that aim to help religious cultures reinterpret cultural symbols and reform characteristic patterns of action, a role that I suggest is culturally untenable. In conclusion, and with reference to my case study, I suggest that contextual theology can participate in social change through a preliminarily descriptive function by learning to map a broader range of existential conditions, theological as well as economic and other material circumstances of cultural life.
  • Baptism in the Jordan: Christian Zionist Theology Perpetrating Environmental Injustices

    Abstract

    The Jordan River, as the location of Jesus’s baptism, is a sacred site for Christians worldwide while also serving as a major source of water in the West Bank. The river is also a site of environmental injustices including wastewater pollution, water flow diversion, and disproportionate usage between Israelis and Palestinians. I argue that Christian Zionism, an evangelical movement prominent in the US which believes mass Jewish migration to the holy land and conversion to Christianity will usher the second coming of Jesus, is complicit in these environmental injustices. This complicity exists in Christian Zionist support for settlements that exploit the Jordan River, their upholding of exploitative settler-colonial theologies of domination of natural resources and land such as manifest destiny, and their support of pilgrimage and tourism industries that perpetrate environmental injustices on the groups. In response to this Christian complicity, I develop a response for pilgrims concerned about environmental injustices based on ecologically-aware theologies of baptism, grassroots solidarity with water justice activists, and ethical pilgrimage options.
  • Restoring the Divine Order of Creation? Christian Food Production, Class and Sustainable Profitability in South Africa

    Abstract

    Food production in South Africa is a highly contested field linked to a history of tensions around the use and access to land that produced class along racial lines which still influence the South Africa nation by being one of the most unequal countries globally. This work addresses the intersection between religion, farming and class via Evangelical/Charismatic Christianity and the promotion of a biblical model for producing food named “Farming God’s Way”. Based on six months of ethnographic research in South Africa the analysis addresses how the interplay of biblical knowledge, conservation agriculture and management skills are enacted to address poverty, health and food shortage, before turning to assess how these embodied technologies (methods, management, and life-style) are gendered. The paper argues for seeing Christian engagements with food as a discourse of change, in which land managements recaptures a regime of (white) male experts that gloss over aspects of history, culture and race, while stressing hard work, (faith) commitment and endurance as a means of restoring divine order by expanding God's kingdom in the agricultural domain.

Theme: 100 Years After Prohibition: Temperance and Alcohol in Popular Culture

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This session considers the role of alcohol in Christian popular culture. Offering a historical perspective on religion and popular culture, the papers in this session examine Christianity, sobriety, and intoxication. The first paper examines theological cases for and against distillation in nineteenth-century Britain shaped debates about temperance in the U.S., where preachers and temperance groups dramatically urged sobriety in songs, sermons, and plays. Examinations of Billy Holiday's "Booze" Sermon and the theatrical plays of the Coldwater Army (a youth Temperance Movement) demonstrate how dramatized narratives of drunkenness won popular support for prohibition. The temperance movement has continued to influence popular culture after the repeal of prohibition, as with the radical sobriety of the Straight Edge Punk movement, which started in 1981. Collectively, these papers challenge us to think about how popular religious movements shape government policies, markets, and entertainment culture on the 100th Anniversary of the enactment of Prohibition.

  • Christian Responses to Spirits: Medicine or Poison?

    Abstract

    In Christian tradition, alcoholic spirits may be viewed, using the image of the *pharmakon*, as both medicine and poison. Christian critiques of alcohol in general, and of spirits specifically, are well known. Much less familiar is the theological case made for distillation, and its theological interpretation through Christ’s incarnation, passion, and resurrection. I first trace the introduction of alcohol distillation into Christendom and its theological interpretation. Distillation was accompanied by prayer and ritual action, and spirits were believed to prolong and enhance life, improve character, foresight and wisdom, purify the body, increase cognitive and perceptual powers, and protect from disease pandemics. I then examine Christian temperance in Britain, which became a movement during the nineteenth century, under the influence of 1850s state-based prohibition in the United States. Christian opposition to alcohol in general, and to spirits especially, was provoked by the social problems they precipitated and by concerns, including among church leaders, that it made British factories less efficient than those of the US. I end with a theological appraisal of spirits today.
  • "Booze"

    Abstract

    Billy Sunday’s sermon “Booze” is among the most popular and consequential in all of American history. Delivered in various revivals, public events, rallies, local churches, and other venues during the run up to Prohibition, “Booze” was not so much spoken as performed and embodied by Sunday, who leaped about the stage, gesticulated, and postured as he challenged “the liquor traffic” and pleaded for support for temperance. Sunday regularly served “Booze” to large audiences, including at a celebrated series of revival meetings in Boston in 1916, and the text was regularly reproduced in other media like newspapers and magazines, ensuring an extensive footprint in popular culture. This presentation will revisit “Booze” and its popularity, arguing that modes of studying popular culture, i.e. attention to sources, performance, and audience reception, afford new insights into how a particular religious vision of alcohol, as demonic contagion, became socially and politically potent as the nation contemplated the 18th amendment.
  • John Barleycorn Must Die: The Trial and Execution of Alcohol in Juvenile Temperance Literature

    Abstract

    This paper examines dramatizations and trials of a personified effigy of Alcohol in youth temperance literature to examine the relationship between drunkenness, the state, and the nuclear family unit in the early nineteenth century. Focusing on these trials and literature produced by The Cold Water Army, a youth’s temperance group, I show how Temperance Trials were not the hopeful stories of reformed drunkards, but fear-based-narratives that detail the dangers of drunkenness and the eventual end that drunkards would face should they choose a life of drinking over service to God, one’s family, and the nation. Youth temperance literature juxtaposes upstanding figures from both biblical and recent American history presenting children with a stark, but obvious choice, to join ‘The Drunkards Army’ or the ‘Cold Water Army,’ to serve God and Nation or the Devil and Anarchy. Using images and extracts found within early temperance literature, I will discuss how these sources present and model a type of sober and virtuous citizen critical to the endurance of the American nation; a kind of citizenship that begins and endures through the institution of the nuclear family unit.

Theme: Faith, Knowledge, and Rational Freedom: A Roundtable on Jürgen Habermas’ Also a History of Philosophy (Suhrkamp, 2019)

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This panel explores philosopher and social theorist Jürgen Habermas’ recently published two-volume work on philosophy and religion, Auch eine Geschichte der Philosophie [Also a History of Philosophy, Vol 1: The Western Constellation of Faith and Knowledge; Vol 2: Rational Freedom. Traces of the Discourse on Faith and Knowledge] (2019). In this work, Habermas “traces how philosophy successively disengaged itself from its symbiosis with religion and became secularized,” moving from the Axial Age through modernity to the present. Habermas also reflects on “the function of a philosophy that adheres to the rational liberty of communicatively socialized subjects.” The panel will examine the extent to which this new work revises and expands his theory of communicative action and connect this to his view of religion’s place in society. Panelists, all scholars of Habermas, will situate this new work within Habermas’ long career and his contributions to sociology, philosophy, and religious studies.

Theme: Catholicism, Colonialism and Ambulant Devotion in the Global Imperial Church

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This session is a roundtable discussion on colonial Catholicism in Latin America. Two recent works will take center stage: Karin Velez's, The Miraculous Flying House of Loreto: Spreading Catholicism in the Early Modern World (Princeton 2018) which won the AAR best first book award for 2019, and Jessica Delgado, Laywomen and the Making of Colonial Catholicism in New Spain (Cambridge, 2018). These works together consider way that the expansive power of the global imperial church plays out in the specificity of local contexts and ordinary faiths. Themes explored in discussion will include, global mobility and contagion, the role of lay people in relation to colonial religious institutions, the place of devotion and sacramentality as historical categories of analysis in relation to structures of power, the intimacies engendered by the reproduction of architectural space, and so on.

Theme: Responding to COVID-19: A Comparative Religion & Healing Perspective

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

In the early months of 2020, a novel coronavirus spread across the globe, causing schools and businesses to shut their doors and utterly transforming countless lives. As the numbers of confirmed cases and reported deaths grow, we face questions about why this disaster is happening and what we can do to limit its spread. In the words of Arthur Kleinman, “The problem of illness as suffering raises two fundamental questions for the sick person and the social group: Why me? (the question of bafflement), and What can be done? (the question of order and control)” (1988, 29). In this roundtable, we will address these questions across diverse times, spaces, and cultures. By comparing religious understandings of the COVID-19 pandemic across different traditions, we will demonstrate the importance of religious cosmologies, narratives, and ethics in the human encounter with contagious disease. Panelists: Marcus Harvey, Africana Religions William A. McGrath, Buddhism in Tibet Matilde Moros, Latinx traditions Amy Derogatis and Isaac Weiner, American Religions Rahimjon Abdugafurov, Islam Shin Kwon Kim, Christian New Religious Movements in Korea

Theme: Strategies of Ritual Performance

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This session will include three 15-minute presentations, each one followed by a 10-minute response. The session concludes with 15 minutes of conversation with the audience.

  • Revisiting Ritual in Public Protests in the Light of Recent Hong Kong Protest Movements and Confucian Perspectives

    Abstract

    Ritual studies commonly affirms that ritual has a positive role in public protests. However, this optimistic view of ritual has been strongly questioned in the recent Hong Kong protest movement. The valiant protesters claim that the ritualization of the protest movement is nothing but an impediment that needs to be overcome. This paper addresses this tension by bringing ritual theories and the objection of the protesters into dialogue. It will examine theories of political ritual, including Émile Durkheim’s functionalist perspective and Victor Turner’s notion of liminality, with the public protests in Hong Kong and vice versa. The central argument is that while there is an overt de-ritualization of the protests in Hong Kong, a covert re-ritualization is also taking place. Therefore, we may better look for a revision of theories of political ritual rather than uncritically accept or totally reject them. In this paper, I will attempt to work on this task by referencing the Confucian view of ritual which is highly relevant to both the Hong Kong experience and the discussion of political ritual.
  • Roman Strategies of Ritualization and the Performance of the Pompa Circensis

    Abstract

    Ancient Roman civic religion’s well-known precision has often dismissed as fastidious ritualism or, by contrast, read as a form of spirituality. What has been overlooked, however, is the work performed by such punctiliousness. In ancient Rome, exacting execution was, I argue, a key strategy of ritualization—one way to differentiate ritual from other kinds of activities, following Catherine Bell’s definition of ritualization as the process by which quotidian actions are made different by a variety of culturally specific tactics. For example, Roman strategies of ritualization, which overlap significantly with Roy Rappaport’s definition of ritual, transformed a stroll through the center of Rome into the religious procession (*pompa*) that kicked off the chariot races in the arena (*circus*). Moreover, these forms of ritualization produced a dazzling performance, in a full sense—the proper rite (the correct ritualized practice) must be performed at the right time during the ceremony, and it must performed in the proper way. In the end, an examination of strategies of ritualization offer insights into what one might call the Rome’s tenets of ritual theology.
  • Disruption, Improvisation, and Resonance: A Productive Frame for Theorizing Ritual

    Abstract

    One way religion becomes a meaningful category is through ritual. Scholars are attuned to this insight, but their analyses have often been predicated on an implicit and unquestioned assumption—that those who desire to perform rituals have the means to act on their intention in regular and routine ways. Drawing from ethnographic research on various Muslim ritual practices in contemporary Jerusalem, this project asks: what happens when rituals are disrupted and the routine ability to perform them cannot be assumed? The study argues that when rituals are disrupted, Muslims are forced to improvise. Religious rituals—like the performances of skilled jazz musicians—are spontaneous and dynamic but also practiced and deliberate. Spontaneously, they adapt, making physical and discursive adjustments. Practiced, they draw from an established repertoire of themes to make meaning. Resonance enters by explaining improvisational effect: why some ritual improvisations connect culturally or emotionally, and others cause dissonance. Looking beyond Jerusalem, this paper considers the comparative utility of the jazz-inspired metaphor for theorizing ritual.

Theme: Old Paths and New Directions in Zen Studies: Celebrating Over Four Decades of Scholarship by Steven Heine

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

Join the Society for the Study of Japanese Religions as we raise a virtual glass to celebrate the scholarly contributions of Steven Heine upon his retirement this year. Five leading scholars of Japanese and East Asian religions will focus on selected works from his oeuvre of 35 books and edited volumes, and reflect on how they have influenced the field in terms of interregional flows, historical period studies, and methodological approaches. Following these prepared remarks and Dr. Heine’s response, online participants are welcome to offer their own brief tributes that speak to Dr. Heine’s scholarship, mentorship, and continued influence in the field. A final toast will close out the session (we encourage you to prepare your own drink of choice at home in advance!)

Theme: Creating and Teaching Seminary Courses Online: A Workshop

Tuesday, December 1, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM (EST UTC-5)

This will be a workshop for theological educators thrust into online and distance teaching by the COVID-19 crisis in the spring. Dr. Ken Stone, professor of Hebrew Bible at Chicago Theological Seminary, is an experienced theological educator who has been developing and teaching online courses for the seminary for ten years. He describes himself as an online skeptic-turned-convert, and will lead participants through the process of developing and conducting a course online, especially geared toward students in theological education. In the workshop Dr. Stone will focus on key differences between online and in-person curriculum, and provide practical instruction in online course development, teaching, evaluating, and student participation. He will lead the participants through his own process of course development from beginning to end, focusing on the practical wisdom he has gained through trial and error. Participants may be asked to bring laptops to do some work on their own syllabi in a workshop format.