You are here

Online Program Book

In-person sessions begin with an A-prefix (i.e., A20-102), whereas Virtual sessions begin with an AV-prefix (i.e., AV20-102)
All Times are Listed in Central Standard Time (CST)


Theme: Addressing Issues of Gender Bias and Knowledge Equity

Friday, 9:00 AM-12:30 PM (In Person)

Convention Center-215

The 1000 Women in Religion Project – a major initiative of the AAR/SBL Women’s Caucus – works to raise up the underrecognized work of cis and trans women and non-binary folx, important to the world’s religious and wisdom traditions. We do this by adding biographical information onto the Wikimedia platform. This workshop focuses on women of color, especially LATINX but if you are passionate about a particular unrecognized woman, bring your project along. Participants will sign up as wiki-editors, learn the basics of editing, do hands on editing that improves existing articles and more. THIS IS NOT FOR THE TECHNOLOGICALLY ELITE! We will walk you through the process one easy step at a time. Join us in this practical effort to address issues around knowledge equity by raising up the work of women in religion in ways that reform the gender biases that shape our systems of knowledge production. Registration is $50.


Theme: Business Meeting

Friday, 9:00 AM-1:00 PM (In Person)

Convention Center-224



Theme: Regions Committee Meeting

Friday, 9:00 AM-3:00 PM (In Person)

Convention Center-211

Annual meeting of the Regionally Elected Coordinators of the ten regions of the AAR.


Theme: Secondary School World Religion Teachers Event

Friday, 9:00 AM-4:00 PM (In Person)

Grand Hyatt-Republic C

This annual, one-day meeting brings together scholars and upper school religion teachers from around North America to make contacts and hear about new developments in the study of the major religious traditions of the world. Scholars will share their latest research, and school teachers will share information about projects they are working on and classroom activities. This year's gathering will feature presentations by Dr. Simran Jeet Singh and Dr. Sajida Jalalzai.


Theme: THATCamp 2021

Friday, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM (In Person)

Convention Center-205

THATCamp brings together scholars to explore the role of technology in humanities scholarship. This is not a conference for techno-elites, it is a conference for every one of all skill levels. If you are new to digital humanities, come and learn. If you are a seasoned pro, come and share. Lunch is on your own.


Theme: NViTA Science-Engaged Theology Autumn Workshop

Friday, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM (In Person)

Marriott Riverwalk-Riverview



Theme: Life-Giving Teaching: When Classrooms Are Not Cloistered Away from The World

Friday, 11:00 AM-12:00 PM (Virtual)

What if rather than teaching about the world as if it is a distant land to be grappled with after graduation we teach as if the world was our classroom? In order to create courses which are relevant meaningful and life-giving what would it mean to decenter the tried-and-true disciplinary tactics and instead place the joys sufferings perspectives and cultural meaning making apparatuses of students as the keystone of the course? Too much of our teaching is siloed away from the worlds and the realities from which our students leave and to which our students must return. This session is a discussion with colleagues who have a proven track record of seamlessly keeping the classroom connected to the world and vice versa i.e. praxis education. With intention and creativity these colleagues design courses which extend the classroom learning into connect with and operate in the world.


Theme: Session 2: DANAM Annual Book Launch- Beacons of Dharma: Spiritual Exemplars for the Modern Age, Christopher Patrick Miller, Michael Reading, and Jeffrey D. Long, Eds. Lexington Books, 2019.

Friday, 11:00 AM-12:45 PM (In Person)

Marriott Riverwalk-Alamo A



Theme: HTI Consortium - Member Council Meeting (Private)

Friday, 11:00 AM-3:00 PM (In Person)

Hilton Palacio del Rio-El Mirador



Theme: Religion, Media, and Ecology: Built Ecology, Built Environments, and Religious Belonging

Friday, 11:00 AM-6:00 PM (Virtual)

From devastating hurricanes to near-apocalyptic wildfires, we undoubtedly live in an environmentally precarious time, especially in the COVID-19 era. We are not, however, passive recipients of the world around us but cocreators of our diverse contexts. Given the fragility of our shared planet, scholars are acutely aware of how important it is to theorize and act now. This day-long workshop investigates and interrogates the relationship between built ecology, built environments, and religious belonging by attending to relationships between religion, media, and ecology. Rather than traditional paper presentations, we will utilize shared readings, conversation, and invited speakers to question the roles of high-tech capitalism, race, gender, and justice in understanding how media and ecology shape religious worlds and practices. We will interrogate media as ecology, media, and ecology, religion as media and religion as ecology as primary to the diversity of approaches and voices in this urgent conversation.


Theme: Media Training and Work Outside the Academy

Friday, 12:00 PM-4:00 PM (Virtual)

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 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: Deans and Chairs Luncheon Sponsored by the North American Division of SDAs

Friday, 12:30 PM-1:30 PM (In Person)

Grand Hyatt-Presidio B



Theme: Flash of the Cool Spirit: Honoring Robert Farris Thompson's Black Atlantic Sacred Arts Legacy

Friday, 12:30 PM-2:30 PM (Virtual)

Robert Farris Thompson has devoted his life to Africana religious philosophies and sacred arts, and was in fact the first to coin the foundational concept of the Black Atlantic (1983). His writings reverberate with a vibrating spirit, as he muses, "If ecstasy is a formal goal of [Africana] religions, when all enthusiasms converge and--cassé--you are broken by pleasure ... and pushed to the level of the lwa, or orisha, or minkisi--if that's the goal, then how dare one even consider studying these cultures without a modicum of enthusiasm" (Cosentino 1992). This panel examines Thompsons vast oeuvre, considering his contributions to Black Atlantic religion and art history, and also interrogating his positionality as a white scholar trained in Western academic disciplines. With transdisciplinary perspectives in religious studies, performance studies, art history, and ritual dance studies, these papers and artistic interpretations examine Thompson's study of graphic writing systems, sacred arts as doorways to indigenous knowledge and decolonial thought, deep comparison and sacred arts as devotional praxis, and dance as embodied ritual knowledge and mediation of life, death, and rebirth.

  • Abstract

    In his 2016 piece entitled "God," Atlanta based painter Fahamu Pecou depicts three Black women in stark-white garments with relaxed faces and composed expressions whose bodies become a medium for "itutu," or coolness. Specifically, the pieces in DO or DIE: Affect, Ritual, Resistance, from which "God" is taken, is meant to "examine and incorporate the power of creative expression and ritualparticularly those found in Yorube/Ifa spiritualityinterpreted through various art mediums." (Pecou 139) While Thompsons work and popular discourse of "the cool" typically focuses on Black men, I center Black women and the Yoruba concept of coolness. Inspired by Pecous work with Egungun in DO or DIE, I develop what I call fluid ancestrality, or the ongoing, flowing process of ancestorhood with each soul that transitions of out the material plane and moves to the immaterial realm. I draw parallels to diasporic notions of water/the oceanic and the realm of ancestors in a reflection on coolness of water and spirit.

  • Abstract

    An African American reverend once mused about Robert Farris Thompson, 'He's like the Sun Ra of Black Studies. He really studied ' Cosmic Blackness.' This paper considers Robert Farris Thompson's legacy in the field of Africana sacred arts with attention to how African and African Diaspora religions illuminate the depths of Black aesthetics. In introducing the term Black Atlantic (1983), Thompson has modeled an interdisciplinary method of what I identify as Africana deep comparison. With attention to Africanisms (and transformations) in the Americas (Herskovits 1937), Thompson historicizes Yor'b' and Kongo art traditions in the Americas, analyzing Egungun masquerades in Nigeria as well as Brazil and sacred bundle lineages in Congo-Kinshasa as well as Haiti. His work has inspired a new generation of comparative sacred arts scholars (Mart'nez-Ruiz 2013, Hume 2018) to rigorously pursue the study of African languages and Black Atlantic religions in order to do justice to the religious arts. Finally, in my own work, I share how sacred art studies have become a devotional praxis in which, as devotees, we pursue scholarship and artistic fashioning as service to the spirits.

  • Abstract

    This paper explores how within African diaspora cosmological orientations, Death is never finite. Death marks the passage of time, a cycle that punctuates the movement of emotion. In rendering esoteric knowledge intelligible to those beyond sacred systems, we use hypertheorizations that take us out of the body, that place of feeling and deep knowing. One of Robert Farris Thompson’s enduring legacies within Africana religions and sacred arts is his intimate engagement and honoring of the different ways communities inhabit and disseminate knowledge. As a scholar, dancer/choreographer and also one who serves the divine in Black Atlantic sacred systems, I too speak from multiple realms of knowing. Straddling these different ways of being, I appreciate that knowledge is not acquired or transmitted monolithically. This paper is an embodied meditation on how we memorialize the dead through collective enactments of dances that move the dead and the living on different aesthetic and emotive registers and how ultimately joy, play and pleasure temporarily eclipse the pain of loss, trauma and sorrow.

  • Abstract

    Robert Farris Thompson’s Flash of the Spirit, for my 19-year-old Haitian-Dyasporic self, was the door to a forbidden world. The text captured the ritual art forms and sacred rites left undiscussed and silenced in my Protestant home. The book has become one of my holy texts, revisited every few years with new information gleaned after reading. Yet, it has also caused me to question my politics of citation—the diasporic imperative to honor the scholarship (textual, embodied, and sacred) of Black-identified scholars. At times, unfairly to Thompson, I find myself frustrated with the white cultural gatekeepers of Africana sacred studies. In this work, I attend to these visceral responses to Thompson's oeuvre through a diasporic and performance optic in the hope of answering the question: How can these lessons create new doorways that uncover languages and sacred practices long-buried within Christianity's colonial projects? Ultimately, this project engages with performance ethnography and diaspora studies to reinvest and (re)turn to the sacred arts as doorways to indigenous knowledge(s) and decolonial thought.

  • Abstract

    This lecture is inspired by the approach to African art taken by Robert Farris Thompson. In his work on African art and culture in the Diaspora, Thompson not only recognized the direct links between the aesthetic of the black Americas and artistic expression and visual style on the African continent, but was the first scholar to study written symbols, body signs, and religious or artistic objects as components of a single cultural system. This inclusive theory, and its focus on connections over divisions, had broad implications for the field of African art history and has defined the terms of this study. While Thompson succeeded in expanding the study of African influences, I seek to explain and extend his contribution by temporarily narrowing the field again so to more closely examine a single category of visual traditions. The study of African graphic writing systems provides an in-depth look at the way one culture understands and expresses meaning over time and across the space of two continents.


Theme: Author Meets Critics: Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World by Zakiyyah Iman Jackson (NYU Press, 2020)

Friday, 12:30 PM-2:30 PM (Virtual)

This panel engages the significance of Zakiyyah Iman Jacksons Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World (2020) for scholarship in religion, theology, and ethics. Panelists critically examine the centrality of sentimental affects empathy, compassion, vulnerability, biophilia to the study of religion, especially scholarly and activist engagements with animals and the environment. Religion has served as a dense site where the significance of human and nonhuman animals has been claimed and contested through appeals to sentimental affects. Yet Jacksons work shows how sentimental affect relies on racialized hierarchies of feeling, morality, and reason. Panelists will ask: What role have sentimental affects played in religion scholars accounts of ethical relations to nonhuman animals, the environment, and creation? How does sentimentality inform the production and valuation of the category of real animals? What are the risks and liabilities of sentimental affect for nonhuman and nonwhite lives? What is the relation of empathy to the powers of whiteness, antiblackness, and Enlightenment Man? Jackson and J. Kameron Carter will offer responses to the papers.

  • Abstract

    This paper considers the liability of sentimental affect in theological postures toward nonhuman animals. Using the phenomenon of charismatic megafauna as an ecological and theological point of entry, this paper engages the viral event of Cecil the Lion to build on Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s interrogation of sentimental affect in anthropocentric critique. Following Saidiya Hartman, Jackson identifies sentimental affect’s role in racial regimes constructing certain notions of the human, nonhuman, and humane. Variously comprising empathetic identification, sentimental ethics, and sentimentality rhetoric, sentimental affect works to enshrine hierarchy, rather than destabilize it. Using these insights, this paper questions theological reliance on the rhetoric of charismatic animals, a key conservation strategy—employed by zoos, the media, and consumer entities—seeking to cultivate sentiment to secure salvation. By analyzing the viral 2015 killing of Cecil the Lion alongside contemporary theological literature (Wallace 2018) proposing a “biophilic” posture toward nonhuman creation, this paper shows how rather than secure nonhuman and nonwhite lives, sentimental affect keeps them at risk.

  • Abstract

    Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s Becoming Human argues that racialization builds upon human-animal distinctions, not as the foundational form of exclusion by which nonwhite people are relegated to subhumanity, but as the model by which Black(ened) people are included in a mode of humanity burdened with animality. Following one thread of Jackson’s argument, this paper argues that empathy sometimes operates as an assimilative power of this sort. The paper offers readings of David Abram, Aldo Leopold, and James Baldwin in order to critique white empathy as a driver in the co-evolution of the discourses of race and species.

  • Abstract

    This paper brings together Zakiyyah Iman Jackson and Julia Kristeva to articulate the ways in which white Self dispossession from the antiblack logics of liberal humanism figures mystical experience qua abjection – what Kristeva understands as a “jouissance of infinite displacement.” Specifically, it argues that since liberal humanism stabilizes the white subject as such, the philosophical and embodied, political disarticulation of liberal humanism may not be reducible to, but also may not be articulable apart from, abjection. Insofar as Jackson sees spiritual potential in a reimagining of the human arising from a sociogenic destabilizing of the humanimal and real/fantasy binaries, this paper argues that if such potential is not to be a sentimental affair for the white subject, then abjection of the self seems to figure as necessary in the movement from self-possession to receptivity and affectability.

  • Abstract

    This paper brings Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s work to bear on an account of human-animal ethics in which an encounter with one’s vulnerability vis-à-vis an animal makes possible compassionate relations. Using Derrida’s work as representative, I demonstrate the limitations of this approach by drawing out its imbrication with what Jackson calls sentimental ethics. First, I compare Derrida’s ethically-productive encounters with nonhuman animal vulnerability to the logics of Enlightenment Man found in Kant’s sublime. The relationship between vulnerability and mastery in Kant offers caution to a Derridean ethic based on an encounter with vulnerability. Thus, I extend Jackson’s work on how sentimental ethics sustains racialized orders of feeling. Second, I glean alternatives to sentimental ethics, drawing on Jackson’s reading of the historically contingent potential of negative affectivity. Instead of assuming that an encounter with one’s vulnerability will produce compassionate ethics, the noninnocence of Jackson’s negative affectivity holds the domain of ethics open to question.


Theme: Author Meets Critics: Sharon A. Suh's Occupy This Body: A Buddhist Memoir (Sumeru Press Inc., 2019)

Friday, 12:30 PM-2:30 PM (Virtual)

This interdisciplinary panel discusses and debates Sharon A. Suh's Occupy This Body: A Buddhist Memoir. In this work, a leading scholar of Buddhism confronts the heavy burdens of silence and invisibility, as well as the living trauma, that ensnare Asian American women in contemporary America. Panelists will discuss this memoirs critique of racism and sexism but also its rich insights about meditation and mindfulness. The publication of Suh's memoir also occasions fresh questions for the field of Buddhism studies and religious studies more broadly: How might we disrupt the public-private, insider-outsider, and scholarly-activist binaries by skillfully using the memoir genre? What are the challenges but also opportunities of autoethnography as a methodology in religious studies? What types of Buddhist philosophies and praxes are generated when we center marginalized bodies?