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This is the most up-to-date schedule for the 2023 AAR Annual Meeting. If you have questions about the program, contact annualmeeting@aarweb.org. All times are listed in Central Standard Time.

This panel explores how religion intersects with brain-machine interfaces, neuroenhancement, and related technologies. Analyzing advancements in AI technologies, embodied cognition, and psychology, panelists will delve deeply into questions about bioethics, identity, agency, and moral responsibility raised by these technological prospects.

  • Abstract

    Emerging neurotechnologies combine neuroscience with AI to collect and interpret human brain data, connect brains to machines or other brains, and modify neural functions. This paper explores questions about human and individual identity, agency, and moral responsibility raised by these technological prospects. From a Protestant Christian standpoint, these questions are addressed in light of two biblical and theological themes: the image of God and the body of Christ. The *imago Dei* is understood “performatively”: not so concerned with defining humanity as with “actively *seeking* humanity” (Alistair McFadyen) where the humanity of some is placed in doubt. In dialog with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I argue that a faithful performance of the *imago* will enact the vision of human sociality offered by the metaphor of the body of Christ: one of mutual interconnectedness without loss of identity, in which agency and responsibility can be shared and mutually supported without being lost or obscured.

  • Abstract

    In this paper I will explore the use of computer brain interfaces (CBIs) for moral enhancement. One of the types of enhancement that will be discussed is a reduction of violence. However, this raises questions about control and free will, so while there may be solid philosophical reasons to prohibit requiring this kind of moral enhancement, there may be compelling theological reasons why people might choose voluntarily to do so. The concluding section will focus on the relationship between moral enhancement and virtue. While there is not universal consensus, there does seem to be some agreement amongst scholars that using gene editing for moral enhancement cannot engineer virtue. The question posed here is whether CBIs and their use can bring about virtue, or if they simply allow people to act more morally. My tentative answer is that this is more complicated of an answer than with gene editing.

  • Abstract

    The ability to connect and exchange information facilitates the work of God. For many liberal theological traditions, this is the primary way God works in the world, through people and their relationships. The love of God is communicated through speech-acts among created beings. Consequently, in the postmodern conext of the Network Society and Information Age, theological interaction with technologies like brain-machine interfaces tends toward an affirmation of enhanced communication. Anything that may enhance our ability to connect honors our created nature as relational beings and the work of God in the world. Theologians generally recognize the importance of embodiment and the importance of embodied autonomy. Jeanine Thweatt, for example, suggests a contextual, compassionate somatic ethic that asks, “what can this body do? And what does this body need?”[1] Theologians affirm embodiment, but particularly in light of brain-machine interfacing, what matters about the particularities of embodied information and its flow?

  • Abstract

    This paper is concerned primarily with brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and the potential for harm when we seek more intimate communication and relationships through this emerging technology. Specifically, the theological insight of Thomas Aquinas and the philosophical work of Stanley Cavell are taken up to help us better understand our desire for community, the limitations of that desire, and the psychological violence that follows our crashing up against these limitations. It is argued that a goal of BCI technology for unadulterated communication and relationship is not only likely to fail but even be a source for psychological torment. The closer we as humans come to the inner life of others, the more we are faced with our perpetual separateness—a separateness that leads to violence both internally and, in extreme cases, externally. Such violence not only informs the current development of BCI in relation to disability but broader hopes for enhancement.

The term “fetish” originated in the 16th century when Portuguese merchants sought to describe the purported misvaluation of material goods by West African peoples they encountered on the Gold Coast. The fetish, then, has historically bound the religious with the economic, conjoining racialized ideas about value and sacrality with practices of exchange and ritual. Such religio-economic entanglements have often emerged in the context of colonial and imperial aims where justifications for resource extraction have produced and been produced by religious narratives. 

This panel features three papers that span geographic contexts, resource imaginaries, and extractive practices. However, they are joined in analyzing the imbrications of religious systems and colonial-imperial-economic power associated with energy and extractivism: a paper on the  “colonial myth” of clean energy, one on commodity fetishism and petroleum extractivism, and another on the history of Buddhist imperial power and gemstone mining in Southeast Asia. 

  • Abstract

    This paper theorizes contemporary discourse about fossil fuel extractivism, arguing that various enculturated ideas about the social power of petroleum are used to legitimate and maintain unjust systems of resource exploitation. The argument is constructed in three parts. First, I discuss ‘commodity fetishism’ and the relationship between colonial systems of resource extractivism and the development of racialized classifications of religion. Second, I consider “industrial religion” as an interpretive frame for contemporary discourses that attribute supernatural powers fossil fuels. Third, I conjoin these two strands of analysis and conclude by suggesting some of the implications for environmental humanities scholarship on extractivism.

  • Abstract

    This paper explores mining in Burma/Myanmar. With particular attention to the ruby and jade industries, this paper investigates the relationship between Burmese Buddhist imperialism and the exploitation of the environment and borderland communities. Myanmar has produced the world’s most valuable rubies, and Chinese courts have favored Burmese jade for centuries. These extraordinarily lucrative gemstones have ornamented powerful Burmese and Chinese ritual objects and enriched royal patrons of Buddhism. At the same time, mining practices have inflicted extreme harms on minoritized communities and non-human beings. This paper examines the ways that Buddhist authorities have justified mining violence in royal orders, public inscriptions, and ritual artifacts from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. It argues that these sources reveal a pattern of situating violence as a small demerit that is justified by a larger agenda of establishing Burma as the earth’s last remaining realm that protects the “pure” Buddhism (sasana).

  • Abstract

    Pushes for “clean” energy have raised the price of uranium to a point where the energy industry is looking to reopen mines across the American west. Historically the same corporations that mine uranium also extract fossil fuels, making this one industry, not two separate entities, relying on fetishized science and technological solutions. I consider how “clean” energy operates to perpetuate colonialism, obfuscating that all energy is extracted from somewhere, and offering a promise of salvation from the impending existential catastrophe of global warming. To do this I examine popular culture representations of scientists in the show *Manhattan* which paints scientists as atheist gods (obfuscating that most religious institutions in Los Alamos were founded by the scientific community), contemporary news reports on climate change, and social media memes about “believing in science.”  I argue that the concept of “clean” energy, understood as a fetish offering salvation, erases continued energy colonialism.

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  • Abstract

    This paper explores the roles of remorse and recollection as ethical resources apropos tragedy, particularly in reckoning with what constitutes tragedy and what does not. Firstly, I suggest that tragedy has often been eclipsed in favour of fatalistic or deterministic accounts of catastrophe, with detrimental, 'silencing' effects on ethical reflection. Then, I explore how remorseful recollection might help us to recognize and reflect on tragedy historically—which is to consider tragedy within its authentic, truthful temporal conditions without being trapped in deterministic evasions. To further elucidate this, I explore how 'rememory' in Morrison's Beloved serves as a type of remoresful recollection vis-a-vis tragedy.

    Finally, in mournfully recalling the tragic past, I consider how such (re)narrations of shared, tragic loss might also serve as ethical resources for articulating and engaging in an alternative, liberative reality through protest, repentance and repair, and forgiveness. 

  • Abstract

    This paper comparatively considers Judith Butler’s and Paul Ricœur’s respective engagements with Greek tragedy to argue that conversion by tragedy is vital for ethics. Paying particular attention to structural evil, I ask what tragedy teaches about ethical living amid the ruins of racism, sexism, classism, militarism, and speciesism. Reading Sophocles and Aeschylus with Butler and Ricœur, I argue that by bringing attention to the overlooked contradictions that characterize human identity and which inevitably complicate action, and by inviting witness to unbearable suffering wrought by superindividual forces, tragedy engenders a re-theorizing of oneself and one’s world that is necessary to nourish ethical responsibility. It does so by fostering sensitivity to vulnerability – one’s own and others’ – through a narrative-performative mode, which refuses premature resolutions, and instead “undoes” witnesses into wider perspective. I conclude by pointing to tragic theorizing’s potential to productively approach structural evil without proliferating shame, nihilism, or moral absolutism.

  • Abstract

    How can ethics account for appeals to tragedy in public discourse, particularly when it comes to rivalry between social orders? This essay traces the enduring ethical significance of Greek tragic drama while engaging with its critical reception in German philosophy and theology. It begins by analyzing G.W.F. Hegel’s influential criticism of fate in Greek tragedy, particularly through his treatment of Sophocles’ Antigone. It then engages with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own response to Antigone, situated within his broader criticism of Hegel, which involves his disavowal of tragic self-reference for resistance politics. Although there are significant differences between Hegel’s and Bonhoeffer’s ethical projects, I demonstrate how they each seek reconciling forms of thought and life that overcome an ultimately tragic clash between social orders. In light of their works, I argue that although responsible action may incur guilt, it need not also bear a sense of the tragic.

This special session will explore the use of alternative modes of academic expression in the study and communication of religious, theological, and philosophical topics. Centered on the “video essay” format, the three-person panel will involve three short video presentations of scholarly work, followed by discussion on both the intellectual ideas and the efficacy of the video essay as a medium of academic expression.