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Online Program Book

The AAR's inaugural Online June Sessions of the Annual Meetings were held on June 25, 26, and 27, 2024. For program questions, please reach out to annualmeeting@aarweb.org.

This is the preliminary program for the 2024 in-person Annual Meeting, hosted with the Society for Biblical Literature in San Diego, CA - November 23-26. Pre-conference workshops and many committee meetings will be held November 22. If you have questions about the program, contact annualmeeting@aarweb.org. All times are listed in local/Pacific Time.

A23-101

Theme: New Members Breakfast and Annual Meeting Orientation

Saturday, 7:30 AM - 8:45 AM

TBA

A23-107

Theme: Bridging the Gap: Public Scholarship in Religious Studies and Its Career Impacts

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

This session will explore public scholarship in religious studies, showcasing scholars who have made significant impacts in engaging broader audiences via popular media outlets and multimedia platforms. Attendees will gain valuable insights into the career paths, motivations, and challenges associated with engaging the public. Additionally, the session will highlight Intersections, a dynamic digital platform curated by the Social Science Research Council and generously funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. Intersections features many public-facing projects, including those of our esteemed panelists, and serves as an essential platform for discussions on religion and international affairs. Its mission is to act as a resource for researchers, policymakers, media professionals, and the wider public, by supporting scholarship on the changing role of religion in the world.

A23-105

Theme: Authors meet Respondents, Fire Dreams: Making Black Feminist Liberation in the South

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

Fire Dreams: Making Black Feminist Liberation in the South is a social movement ethnography of the New Orleans-based Black feminist collective Women With A Vision (WWAV) focusing on their rebirth after an arson attack destroyed their headquarters in 2012. Laura McTighe and WWAV's Deon Haywood weave together stories from their founders’ pioneering work during the Black HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s and their groundbreaking organizing to end criminalization in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with other movements for liberation around the globe. They share WWAV’s own world-building knowledges as well as their methods for living these Black feminist futures now. This roundtable will emulate a "front porch talk" and showcase responses that address the themes of social organizing, Black feminist liberation, collaborative scholarship, ethnography, the context of the American South, and other facets relating to Fire Dreams.

A23-106

Theme: Animals at/as the Margin Between Violence and Non-Violence

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

Anyone examining justifications for violence and motivations for nonviolence quickly encounters both animals and religion — and often both at the same time. This session draws together explorations of animals and religion at the watershed moments between violence and nonviolence in a range of traditions and practices—from discussion of cats and witchcraft in Yoruba Pentecostalism in Nigeria to premodern Islamic teachings about human and animal skins, from aspiration toward ahiṃsā / nonviolence in Jain and Hindu traditions to contemporary North American discussions of hunting rituals on Reddit. In all of these cases, animals are caught up conceptually and bodily in human questions about violence, dominance, difference, and virtue.

  • Skin-to-Skin Violence and Intimacy: Animal skins and human/animal relations in premodern Islamic rhetoric, law, and practice

    Abstract

    Using skin as an analytical tool (Ahmed), this study explores how, when, and to what ends premodern Islamic jurists, physicians, and religious thinkers affirmed or troubled customary divisions that separated humans from animals. Close readings of the rhetoric, laws, and practices surrounding the uses of animal skins for water consumption, medicine, prayer mats, disguises, travel accommodations, or parchment reveal ongoing declarations of human uniqueness and dominance, but also the tactile intimacies and health dangers that subverted those claims. Case studies examine several junctures at which Sunni and Shi’ite scholars asserted likeness over difference, or difference over likeness, between human and animal skins to trace deeper considerations of human/animal relations. In deliberations of what skins could touch what parts of whose bodies, under what conditions, and in what ways, we find unresolved tensions over the volatile lines separating humans from animals, and debates about how dis/similitude might best be determined.

  • The Intersection of Witchcraft Accusations, Femicide, and the Demonization of Cats in Nigerian Yoruba Pentecostalism

    Abstract

    This proposal examines the links between witchcraft accusations, femicide, and cat vilification within Nigerian Yoruba Pentecostalism, exploring how religious beliefs and cultural traditions contribute to violence against women and animals. In Yoruba communities, cats are often associated with witchcraft, leading to their persecution and the targeted killing of women accused of witchcraft. Utilising symbolic interactionism, this study aims to understand the social dynamics and stigmatisation driving these acts, focusing on the interplay of religious interpretations and cultural attitudes. It highlights the urgent need for interventions to address these harmful practices, contributing to discussions on social justice, gender equality, and animal welfare. By investigating these issues, the research underscores the impact of esoteric beliefs on societal development and the importance of challenging these beliefs for more inclusive, equitable societies.

  • Nonviolence, Solidarity, and Animals

    Abstract

    Abstract:

    Contemporary political debates diverge on whether multispecies solidarity can occur *with* or only *on behalf of* more-than-human beings. The South Asian concept of nonviolence (*ahiṃsā*), notably developed in the Jain tradition, challenges this either/or approach. Jain cosmology, emphasizing universal sentience with karmic difference, offers a foundation for solidarity *with* other beings. Its account of reciprocal suffering and responses of carefulness and compassion provide a foundation for solidarity *on behalf of* other beings. Moreover, the Jain view provides a third alternative—solidarity *as* other beings—through religious practices of cosmic merger missing in political accounts that presume a subject-centric “I think” as their onto-epistemic ground. Jain accounts of rebirth memory and fasting unto death provide modes of *un*selfing and *un*knowing necessary to support costly multispecies solidarity. Importantly, the Jain view maintains a clear sense of anthropocentric privilege, paradoxically occurring and reaching full expression only through multispecies nonviolence.

     

  • "Animals Will Go To Heaven"--Justification of Animal Sacrifice in the Legal Treatise in Hinduism

    Abstract

    As a form of religious violence, animal sacrifice is a contentious but deeply rooted element in religions generally and in Indian religions specifically. Despite the overarching principle of non-violence, as espoused in Hindu theology, there exists a complex discourse wherein theologians endeavor to justify sacrificial violence towards animals. This paper examines the apologetics of violence in the Manubhāṣya (ca. 9th century), the exegesis of the Mānavadharmaśāstra (ca. 200 BCE-200 CE), which is the most influential legal treatise in pre-modern India. Through textual analysis, this paper scrutinizes how the exegesis defends sacrificial violence by highlighting the spiritual benefits accrued by the sacrificial animals and plants, although animals and plants are deemed incapable of actively seeking liberation. By analyzing this rhetoric of benefits, this research investigates how legal scholars in medieval India understand the spirituality of animals, their potential for liberation, and the notion of their hypothetical consent in sacrificial rituals.

  • “I Don’t Mean to Harm the Animal Because I’m not Sadistic”: Violence, Intimacy, Suffering, and Compassion in US Settler Hunting

    Abstract

    Through a net ethnography of the r/Hunting subreddit on the social media website Reddit, I uncover the intricate ways white settler hunters imagine themselves in intimate relationships to human and non-human animals because of the violence they enact on their kills.  For hunters on r/hunting, the moment of violence–euphemized as “harvesting”–is at once the point, and superfluous to it, serving as both the node of intimacy with the harvest animal as well as a necessary evil to be necessarily minimized: true hunting, they argue, is about limiting suffering–anything else is just sadistic killing.  Indeed, this moment of violence, I show, anchors ethical scaffolding as well as religious cosmologies.  Hunting, then–even white settler hunting–is the implicitly intimate moment where violence meets compassion, where life meets life, where humans are honest about the death they bring into the world.

A23-108

Theme: Contemporary Iconography

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

This session explores modern and contemporary developments in religious iconography, both within and beyond Eastern Orthodox Christianity, especially as these developments relate to iconography as a mode of social engagement and resistance to injustice. Specific topics that will be discussed include the imagery of Black Madonnas as a tool for resistance to the multidimensional oppression facing Black Christian women; the iconographic work of Russian Orthodox priest Fr. Teodor Zinon as an alternative to the religious and social vision currently dominant in Russian Orthodoxy; the military features of the divine feminine in the Ukrainian Javelin Madonna mural and Hindu representations of the goddess Durga; and the history of the modern and contemporary Anglican engagement with Eastern Orthodox iconography.

  • Black Madonnas: A Womanist Approach to the Aesthetics of Liberation

    Abstract

    Religious iconography can be essential to political movements. Through imagery of hope and resistance, new theological imaginations are developed. This paper examines the imagery of Black Madonnas as a tool for resistance to the multidimensional oppression facing Black Christian women. Drawing on the works of theologians Kelly Brown Douglas, Albert Cleage, James Cone, Michelle Wolff, and philosopher Paul C. Taylor, among others, I will argue Black Madonnas both re-affirm the *Imago Dei* found in brown skin and represent the liberative vision at the heart of womanist theology. Through an examination of two works of public religious art, the *Black Madonna* in the Shrine of the Black Madonna #1 in Detroit and *Madonna and Child of Soweto* in Soweto, South Africa, this paper demonstrates the political power in these iconic works of art.

     

  • Iconography as Alternative Social-Religious Vision: Fr Zinon (Teodor)

    Abstract

    Fr Zinon (Teodor) is widely regarded as one of contemporary Russia’s most important—and controversial—iconographers. This paper argues that his work offers an alternative social-religious vision to that which is currently dominant in the Orthodox Church in Russia. The paper explores, in particular, the opportunity that Fr Zinon had in 2012–13 to realize his theological and artistic vision most fully, when he designed and executed the icons for the lower church of St Petersburg’s Feodorovskii Sobor. Fr Zinon asserts that the design of the lower church realizes what makes the church a loving community in which all members know themselves to be valued and in which they are able to participate actively in the Divine Liturgy and in loving service to others.

  • Virgin Mary and the Goddess Durga: The Sacralization of War and the Ambivalence of Divine Feminine Iconography

    Abstract

    The Russo-Ukrainian war has prompted the creation of a great deal of marian iconography, where the Virgin is depicted as protecting and fighting. A notable example is the Javelin Madonna mural, with Mary carrying an anti-tank weapon, which was criticized by Ukrainian religious leaders as blasphemous. Although this critique rightly resists the politicization of religion, the accusation of blasphemy ignores the military symbolism within religious art of various traditions. I use Eastern Christian iconography of the Virgin Mary (which I compare with the Hindu representations of the goddess Durga), to illuminate some of the military features of the divine feminine. The key question I am trying to address is: what does a marian, i.e. feminine, military representation add to our understanding of religion and violence. Mary as Sophia, the Church/Polis and Women of Apocalypse allows us to keep the sacred and mundane together, and avoids an easy de-politicization of religion.

  • Icons of Resilience: Theosis as Social Holiness in an Emerging Anglican Theology of Iconographic Practice

    Abstract

    This paper posits an Anglican theology of iconographic practice, tracing shifts in Anglican engagement with Eastern Orthodox icons from 1888 to 2020, with reference to the Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue. It highlights a growing openness to iconography, reflecting a convergence with Orthodox theology on a range of theological topics over the past 50 years.  This culminates in the work of Rowan Williams, whose life-long interest in Eastern Orthodoxy lays a foundation for a uniquely Anglican interpretation of the icon.  The paper concludes with a case study of "Icons of Resilience" in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, General Theological Seminary, NYC. A trio of icons, depicting Alexander Crummell, Florence Li Tim-Oi, and Pauli Murray, both inspire students and promote practices of remembrance and repentance, rooted in Anglican baptismal theology. The Anglican appropriation of Orthodox iconography at General Seminary reveals a theology where theosis is intertwined with social holiness. 

A23-109

Theme: Asian American Shinto and Christianities

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

This paper session investigates the depth and breadth of Asian American religious life from an interdisciplinary perspective, covering Asian American Shintoism to a variety of Christian expressions in Hmong American, Korean American and Indian American contexts. 

  • The American Daijingu: Shinto in Pre-World War II Los Angeles

    Abstract

    Shinto shrines often form a component of the nation and its extension; consequently research surrounding Shinto is primarily undertaken within the borders of Japan. This paper challenges the traditional view of Shinto as geographically bound to the empire in the early 20th century through an examination of the American Daijingu (grand shrine), established in Los Angeles in 1909. Discussion of the American Daijingu considers religion in public, troubles the categories of religion and the secular, and, in a larger frame, invites challenges to the transnational historiography of religion in the United States and Japan. How and why the erasure of the American shrine after World War II happened in historical accounts engages Eiichiro Azuma’s transnational history of Japanese Americans and Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s theory of power and archival silence. This paper suggests that the absence of shrines in the material world delimits Shinto scholarship’s understanding of the tradition in transnational spaces.

  • The Messianic Figure and the Political State Broker: Competing Paradigms of Transpacific Hmong American Leadership

    Abstract

    Following historical analyses comparing the relation between the Hmong messianic figure and the Hmong political state broker and their positionality to the state, this paper considers the dialectic of these two figures as a single site of examination for interpreting Hmong diasporic and Hmong American history. This paper contends that the political state broker’s assassination of the messianic figure reveals their competing leadership along the porousness of political and religious Hmong American identity. Subsequently, the paradigm of the political state broker continues to discipline the transnational political and religious imaginations of contemporary Hmong Americans. How this takes form domestically across various religious Hmong American communities will be the site of future research.     

  •   The Legacy of W.A. Criswell and Indian American Christianity

    Abstract

    Indian American Christianity is at a crossroads in the current socio-political order. One in five Indian Americans identifies as a Christian, and most embrace American evangelicalism. During the 2021 Capitol Hill riot, an Indian American waved the tricolor flag in support of Donald Trump. Although being a catholic, he identified himself as an evangelical in his faith and beliefs. Indian American Christianity had formed a tryst with white American evangelicalism post-1960 immigration reforms. In 1974, K.P Yohannan, one of the pioneers in Indian American Christianity, was appointed as the international POC pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas under the invitation of W. A Criswell, popular for his segregationist and divisive policies.  In this context, the paper examines racist and casteist imagination idealized through capitalism, racism, and xenophobia. This paper also interrogates ratifications of white working-class economic anxieties, misogyny, anti-black prejudice, fear of Islamic terrorism, and xenophobia in Indian American communities.

  • ‘Heathen’ Feminism: Korean Women's Religion and Marriage Immigration in the Early Twentieth Century

    Abstract

    This paper explores the discursive consciousness of Korean women who became picture brides in early twentieth century America, an area which has often been overlooked in scholarship of religion and race in a transpacific migratory context. Engaging with Korean women’s writings that began to appear in late nineteenth-century print media in Korea and Korean picture brides’ oral interviews, the paper suggests that Korean women reshaped the concept of ideal womanhood that was promoted to them by American women missionaries. Through reinterpreting a theological understanding of gender equality, Korean women utilized the picture marriage system to achieve goals for education and political empowerment in America. Although the picture marriage system was considered backward in American society, Korean women’s use of this system challenges the Western ownership of the New Woman label.

A23-110

Theme: Single Mothering as Critique and Vision

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

“Single Mothering as Critique and Vision,” is a roundtable session on single mothering as an ethical, theological, philosophical, and historical act from which to challenge contemporary systems and theories of social reproduction and to imagine alternatives. We ask what it means to single mother under white supremacist heteropatriarchy and capitalist ableism. Single mothering serves as a binary breaker against the hierarchies constructed under contemporary systems of social reproduction: mother/whore, straight/queer, independent/dependent, mature/immature, able/disabled, and productive/unproductive. Hence, rather than the single mother representing lack, we offer theological, theoretical, and religious visions of single mothering as a force for more just approaches to social reproduction. Scholars have long pointed out the gendered, raced, and classed dynamics of care labor, and offered alternative visions of family. However, lacunae exist in terms of single mothering as a theological, theoretical, and political frame. This roundtable addresses this absence.

A23-150

Theme: New Research in Buddhist Studies on Landscapes and Children

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

This omnibus session showcases work by newer scholars in the field of Buddhist Studies. Papers address two common themes: Buddhist landscapes and children in Buddhism. Topics include contesting the ‘decline’ paradigms of Indian Buddhism by attending to built landscapes, autogenous phenomena (or rangjön) and monasteries as pilgrimage sites in Tibet, quiet and pure sensory experiences on Mount Putuo in contemporary China, the soteriological capacity of children in medieval China, and contemporary Japanese lay Buddhist childcare programs in the Tendai tradition.

  • Deciphering the Decline: Assessing the Medieval Buddhist Landscape in Eastern India

    Abstract

    This paper challenges the prevailing notion of an abrupt termination of Indian Buddhism in the thirteenth century CE. It does so by examining material culture from archaeological contexts of identified Buddhist monasteries in the Magadha region. The paper primarily relies on the data collected during a systematic village-to-village survey conducted during 2021-22. In addition, a variety of textual and epigraphic sources have also been used to reconstruct the social and political context of the region during the long period between the eleventh and seventeenth century CE. The study of changes in both continuity and discontinuity in the Buddhist landscape of Magadha after the alleged decline offers a unique insight into the medieval history of Indian Buddhism in the region.  Through this micro-regional approach, the study provides a nuanced perspective on the history of diverse religious traditions in eastern India, contesting the ‘decline’ paradigms surrounding Medieval Buddhism in India.

  • Ganden Monastery’s Autogenous Miracles (rang byon): A Study in Tibetan Pilgrimage, Material Culture, and Discursive Construction

    Abstract

    As one of Central Asia's most popular pilgrimage sites, Ganden Monastery in Tibet is renowned for the autogenous phenomena (or rangjön) found along its circumambulation route. These rangjön depict deities and other phenomena thought to have spontaneously and miraculously manifested in the rockface. The goal of this paper is to describe the significance and function of Ganden's rangjön. Analyzing pilgrimage guide texts related to Ganden, it argues that rangjön are complex phenomena that are best understood as both material and discursive constructions with implications in the social, religious, and geographic spheres. And that the presence of rangjön represents a method by which a manmade monastery became a sacred place, one that then played a key role in the growth of the Tsongkhapa devotional cult and the rise of the Geluk tradition. As a corollary, I argue for the thus far overlooked importance of monasteries as pilgrimage sites in Tibet. 

  • Sensing the Purity of Guanyin’s Abode: The Meanings of Qingjing and its Logics as an Ideal Sensory Experience for Visitors at Contemporary Mount Putuo

    Abstract

    This paper examines qingjing, a Chinese expression referring to the quiet and pure sensory experiences, in contemporary Mount Putuo, the abode of Guanyin (a compassionate deity) in China. While existing studies have focused on red-hot sensory experiences and sociality in Chinese contexts, this paper emphasizes qingjing as a sensory experience that is opposite to red-hot but ideal in Chinese religious life. Through ethnographic fieldwork, this paper argues that qingjing is based on the presumably strong efficacy (ling) of Guanyin and Mount Putuo to respond to visitors’ wishes and related to a reverse sensory experience: xianghuo (incense fires). Though seemingly contradictory, qingjing and xianghuo both represent the efficacy of Guanyin and Mount Putuo and thus constitute each other. This paper specifies three logics: qingjing in the “absence”, “complementation”, and “distraction” of xianghuo. Beyond the perspective of sociality, this paper contributes to the general understanding of sensory experiences in Chinese religious life.

  • Little Devotees: Children’s Ritual Efficacy and Soteriological Capacity in Medieval Chinese Buddhism

    Abstract

    In Buddhist thought, do children have the capacity to attain enlightenment? Or are they bound by their ignorance, unable to ascertain the Dharma until they develop a certain level of discernment? This paper examines concepts of children’s ritual efficacy and soteriological capacity in medieval Chinese Buddhist miraculous tales and hagiographical accounts from the third to tenth centuries CE.  It considers in what circumstances, in what capacities, and for what purposes children appear as religiously agentive in accounts of Buddhist practice in medieval China. Reflecting indigenous Chinese concepts of biophysical and moral development, medieval Chinese Buddhist miraculous tales and hagiographical accounts ascribe ritual efficacy and soteriological capacity to children from roughly six-years-old (seven sui 歳) onward. By exploring portrayals of children’s religious practice in medieval Chinese Buddhism, my paper invites scholars in Buddhist studies to reconsider how historical and cultural notions of childhood shaped basic tenets of Buddhist thought.

  • Caring as Serving: Lay Buddhist Childcare as Reflective Responses to Societal and Organizational Expectations

    Abstract

    This paper examines contemporary Japanese lay Buddhist childcare through a case study of the Tendai-derived lay Buddhist organization, Kōdō Kyōdan, and its childcare programs. Against the backdrop of Japan’s low birth rate, Kōdō Kyōdan established its three childcare programs at its headquarters in the city of Yokohama at the turn of the 21st century to address demographic concerns at both the national and organizational levels. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted since 2018, this paper explores lay Buddhists’ understanding and practice of hōshi (serving) in their relationships with the religious organization, family, and society in the context of public caution against religious proselytization. This paper argues that by reflectively responding to societal and organizational expectations, the childcare staff members at Kōdō Kyōdan negotiate their religious and social identities in a dynamic context marked by changes in their parent religious organization and in Japanese society at large.

A23-113

Theme: The Nexus of Migration and Buddhism - Methodological and Theoretical Reflections

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

As do humans, Buddhist agents, materials, traditions and practices migrate. Between ethnic groups, crossing borders and travel overseas. This round table engages in a critical investigation of theory and research methods in the study of the migration of Buddhism in relation to contemporary Chinese societies. By coming together and sharing different approaches the panelists in this roundtable will reflect on the richness and complexity of this broad topic. In this session, Buddhism is treated broadly and inclusively, and looking at Chinese societies in their multiplicity.
Unpacking the different facets of this nexus, our session aims to share hands-on methodological tools and relevant theoretical considerations that scholars are facing when doing research in the nexus of migration and Buddhism. The session will therefore focus on research practices, challenges in collecting data, positionality, data and theory triangulation, and other particular demands related to research on communities, institutions, and agents of Buddhism in Chinese areas and overseas Chinese communities. A second aim of this roundtable is to critically question normative definitions of migration and the manner this concept is pertinent in describing the modern migration of Buddhism in Chinese societies.

A23-114

Theme: Affordances in Theology

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

The idea of ‘affordances’ is catching the imagination of a growing number of theologians. First proposed by psychologist James Gibson, the notion highlights how living beings perceive and draw upon their natural or designed environments in terms of what they offer or ‘afford.’ On our panel, theologians discuss how the notion of affordances allows us to rethink our work with texts and traditions, doctrines and communities, spaces and places, people and things. In discussion with one another and the audience, we explore new avenues of thought, pitfalls and potentials.

A23-115

Theme: Typologies of Violence in Contemporary Television

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

In times of apocalyptic despair, notions of grief (for worlds or possibilities lost), modalities of violence (structural and discrete, epistemological and concrete), and prospects for change (whether revolutionary or kinds of therapeutic resignation) have emerged as central focal points for how popular visual culture represents, thinks through and responds to political, environmental, moral, and spiritual catastrophe. While conceptualizations and archives of grief, violence, and change have long histories in established domains within visual art, television engages with these in increasingly novel ways, deploying well-worn televisual techniques, ranging from melodrama to procedural to comedy to parody. In this transdisciplinary roundtable, we are interested in the typologies and modalities of violence that stretch across disparate portrayals within television series and popular culture. By foregrounding a sort of continuum of violence, from the discrete (particular acts) to the structural (systemic violence), this roundtable aims explicitly to think about how notions of loss, revolutionary change, epistemological uncertainty, and therapeutic coping each respond to a broader archive of violence. Especially, we are interested in the increasingly bimodal and bidirectional way in which representations of violence are themselves sites of violence and sites of violence are themselves already somehow representational or theatrical in nature.

A23-116

Theme: Holy Waters: An Interdisciplinary Examination of Religion and Alcohol

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

The contributors on this panel look at a wide range of examples from many traditions with varying approaches to alcohol studies to supply the discourse on religion and alcohol with a religious studies perspective. The contributors look to many places we can see “religion” and “alcohol” intersect. The panel includes contributions on a variety of religious traditions as well as the “not-religion”. The panel is based on the forthcoming (Routledge) volume that spans historical and geospatial contexts from Ancient Israel to contemporary Nigeria, topics from the uses of alcohol in cultural festivals to the uses of religious imagery in modern marketing of alcoholic products, and methodologies from ethnography to scriptural analysis. The panel will demonstrate the ways religion and alcohol are used to create boundaries that form group identities, reject and subvert dominant imperial powers, and other ways religion and alcohol are used to construct social formations and identities.

A23-117

Theme: Creative Research Methodologies in Practical Theology

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

Practical Theology and qualitative research methodologies presents a rich terrain for exploration and discovery. We invite scholars, researchers, and practitioners to participate in a dynamic session focused on creative qualitative research methodologies, including in contexts of teaching and learning, and creative ways of combining/integrating/interpreting theological perspectives with social scientific research methods in Practical Theology. This session includes eight 10-minute interactive presentations and discussion that include digital media, qualitative and quantitative research methods, cooperative narrative approaches, participatory action research, artistic production, decolonial practices, community displacement, womanist theology, trauma-sensitive theology, theological education, and homiletics. 

  • Teologando Abuelita-mente (Abuelita Theology): A Participatory Action Research (PAR) Methodology of the Classroom

    Abstract

    This paper presentation explores Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology in a creative undergraduate course titled *Abuelita Theology* (Grandma Theology). This course integrates sources from U.S. Latina/x and Mujerista theologies and uses *Abuelita Theology* as a metaphor for understanding grassroots wisdom and everyday practices (lo cotidiano) as a theological source. In this course, students are active participants who learn and create new knowledge. In addition, students are encouraged to correlate the class sources with their own lived experiences, social locations, and faith identities as a liberatory practice. This presentation will provide examples of a creative participatory and reflective action practice (praxis) of storytelling used within the course. By Engaging the people as active participants, as they articulate and reflect theologically on their practices, we can reimagine and bring new insights and action to practical theology, the church, and the larger community in the twenty-first century.

  • Decolonizing Methodology in a Study on Decolonial Practices: Member Checking as Co-constructed Knowledge Creation

    Abstract

    Member checking, also known as respondent validation, is a common qualitative research practice that involves presenting written data to participants in order to receive feedback and check for inaccuracies. While often cited within longer lists of techniques for validating research, member checking holds the potential for bringing researcher and participant together toward the co-creation of knowledge. This not only adds new insights to the research itself, but also cultivates a methodology that is decolonial in praxis, not seeking to extract from but to partner with in the analyses and interpretations of experience beyond researcher re-presentation. Drawing upon a current research project to understand practices of decoloniality among pastors of color, I apply the practice of in-depth member checking in the analysis and writing phase, thereby opening up my own interpretations to possibilities and realities that further center the lived experiences, practices, and knowledges of participants.

  • Interrogating the Place of Practical Theology through the Sermons of Displaced iTaukei Communities

    Abstract

    There are currently forty-two Fijian villages slated for relocation because of environmental catastrophes and rising tides.  The majority of these villages are iTaukei Fijian communities that are part of the Fijian Methodist church.  The sermons of these Indigenous communities describe rich and complex relationships with place (i.e. vanua) as a theological, biblical, and ontological category – often in response to place’s loss. They also resist reductive, colonial understandings of place that continue to haunt Western practical theological methods. In attending to the theological and ethical questions raised in iTaukei sermons, this paper interrogates approaches to place in practical theology that continue to marginalize displaced communities and argues for the environmental significance of the ecclesial practices of communities displaced by the climate crisis.

  • Surprise! Abduction as Theological Method: Making Space for the Holy Spirit

    Abstract

    This presentation introduces abductive analysis as a qualitative research methodology that ought to be adopted as a means for theological reflection.  Abductive analysis orients the researcher to surprises in data that might provide explanatory potential outside the study’s initial parameters. It helps generate new theories based on unexpected findings that abduct or lead the researcher away from their preconceived notions and generally accepted norms toward possible new insights.  Using abductive analysis as a theological method provides researchers in theology and qualitative research a way to create space for the work of the Holy Spirit amidst supposedly predictable empirical realities.  Assuming God’s presence is real and active in human experience, orienting one’s analytical attention toward unexpected surprises creates space for the Holy Spirit to disrupt and realign our research and our faith.

  • A Digital Womanist Practical Theological Approach

    Abstract

    A womanist practical theological approach sets the departure point at the lived experiences of Black women and other marginalized groups and speaks to the love of all persons and the commitment to the survival and wholeness of all people. A womanist practical theological methodology explores a praxis-reflection-analysis-theory-praxis circular model approach. Through this model, research begins with the lived experiences of Black women and other marginalized groups' praxis or practice with the researcher, then uses theological reflection, which incorporates hermeneutics, scripture, and practices of the world, to reflect and analyze the practice. The analysis is then discussed with theory to describe, articulate, and call to the forefront the observed liberatory practices that can inform faith leaders and academics in their practices and engagement with the world. 

  • By All Means Touch the Work – towards a tactile textured theology

    Abstract

    This paper will consider creative methodologies as a means for theological inquiry, identifying how a/r/tograhphy and creative research methods might be used to deepen researcher understanding and dissemination of work. Highlighting the approach as cognitively demanding, holistically integrated and accessible to a wide variety of people, the presenter will explore practical examples and broad theological traditions. This paper emphasizes the importance of multimodal methodologies as a way to highlight voices that are traditionally marginalized using modes that are academically neglected. Sharing performance poetry, textiles, and academic scenarios where room is given for creative expression will mean this paper is offered as a living exemplar of ways in which creativity and intellectual rigor are in harmony with one another and enrich theological inquiry as a discipline. Theological work is a work of heart, hands and head, and the paper seeks to make this explicit as a research practice.

  • Stories of Uprising: A Project with Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, 2020

    Abstract

    This paper outlines a collaborative ethnographic story project conducted at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN, focusing on the experiences of leaders, members, neighbors, and volunteers during the aftermath of George Floyd's murder in 2020. The project examines how the church, situated in the heart of the uprising, transformed into a vital community resource hub amid the sudden goods, services, and resources desert that befell the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. The paper details the innovative research methodologies employed, including a paper and digital workbook, small story-sharing groups, one-on-one interviews, an audio recording booth, and photo exhibit. Digital resources, such as social media posts and virtual worship recordings, were compiled to enrich the historical archive. The project aims to illuminate how the lived theology of Holy Trinity continues to shape the church's ongoing narrative and foster a broader understanding of community resilience and faith in times of crisis.

  • Is there an ‘I’ in (embodied) research?

    Abstract

    As a survivor of sexualized abuse, I do research on the topic of sexualized abuse in Christian contexts. I take my body, with her stories and experiences, into the field to meet other bodies with their stories and experiences. For this presentation, I am inspired by the work of Adriaan van Klinken, who has interlaced his description of fieldwork with personal interludes in which he reflects on personal experiences of researching and writing (Van Klinken 2019). Taking examples from the work of Nina Hoel and Adriaan van Klinken, in this presentation I explore both reasons and ways to bring the ‘I’ in (embodied) research to the fore. Interlacing this methodological discussion, there will be several interludes in which I dive deeper into my own lived experience which I bring to the field. With words and visual artwork, I convey my own positionality and my embodied involvement in creative ways.

A23-118

Theme: Violence, Non-Violence and Peacemaking Churches

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

This session explores the idea of violence and nonviolence in relation to borders, global migration and Christianity. Borders are spaces of death and life. Established identities are stretched, at times inciting conflict and at other times transformation. New identities emerge. The papers in this session will cross the issues of migration and Catholic Social Teaching, as well as indigenous peoples and ecclesial membership.

  • Anabaptist Martyrs and the Ambivalence of Mennonite (Non-)Violence

    Abstract

    Contemporary Mennonites link their theological commitments to nonviolence, peacemaking, and non-Christendom ecclesiology with the witness of the 16th-century Anabaptist martyrs, executed by collaborating church and civic authorities. Yet, interpreting Anabaptist deaths in a martyrdom paradigm implies the denunciation of the Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed persecutors who acted in “hatred of the faith,” an implication typically denied or forgotten, yet one which resurfaces in Mennonite theologies and practices in problematic ways. In this presentation, I argue that a confessional martyr tradition cannot itself sustain a nonviolent witness without a more direct reckoning with its own complicity in church division. While Anabaptist martyrs may inspire peace practices, their legacy may also foster self-righteousness, sectarianism, settler colonialism, the denial of violence within Mennonite communities, and resistance to external critique. Mennonite theology must reflect more deeply on how its martyrdom identity is implicated in patterns of violence.

  • Fellowship of His Suffering: An Anabaptist Exploration of Cruciform Ecclesiology in Light of Gendered and Sexual Violence

    Abstract

    This paper critically examines Anabaptist political ecclesiology, beginning with the assertion that willingly accepting suffering at the hand of one’s abusers is salvific, redemptive, and transformative. This approach, known as “revolutionary subordination”, has been devastating to victims of sexual and gendered violences in Anabaptist ecclesial communities. Given that Anabaptists root political theology in the suffering of Jesus on the cross, “revolutionary subordination” can be challenged with historical and theological analyses of the crucifixion as an act of imperial violence, one that strips victims of their dignity and humanity.  If we begin to understand violence as the imposition of “shame” on crucified and penetrated bodies, we can better understanding the cross's fundamental rebuke of violent self-aggrandizement, including that of colonization, patriarchy, racial capitalism, and spiritual abuse. Then, we will better articulate both peace and cruciformity as radical identification with the suffering and rebuke of their abusers.

  • Power in Dialogue: Mennonite Decision-Making and the Virtues of Dissent

    Abstract

    The familiar rationale for Mennonite consensus-finding is that it evenly distributes power among all members. By resisting the tendency toward hierarchy, the reasoning goes, Mennonites foster traits that are conducive to peacemaking: a sense of responsibility, practice expressing their views, and the skills needed for dialogical problem-solving. Thus, church meetings where everyone sits in a circle and bickers about the budget play a role in forging the traits necessary for standing up for peace in a violent world. This familiar explanation has come under some criticism, however, about its naivete with regard to power. This paper surveys these critiques—and makes some of its own—before arguing that Mennonite ecclesiology can nonetheless foster virtues of dissent and an alternative moral imagination that calls into question the antagonistic, zero-sum assumptions that sustain and escalate violence.

  • The Significance of Early Quakerism for Contemporary Ecclesiology

    Abstract

    This paper will draw upon the historical events of Mary Dyer, along with Anne Hutchinson, and their conflict with the Puritan community, to suggest that five themes were going forward in the emerging Quakerism vis-à-vis Puritanism. These themes remain relevant today: (1) a challenge to the notion of religion as ethics; (2) a challenge to the scapegoating tendency of certain religious attitudes; (3) a priority given to the role of experience as foundational to religious understanding; (4) a rise in the authority of women’s voices in religious matters; and (5) an ecclesial understanding of friendship.

A23-119

Theme: Technology as an Existential Threat

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

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  • Comparing the Existential Threats: Nuclear Weapons vs. Artificial Intelligence through the Lens of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian Realism

    Abstract

    This paper contends that Reinhold Niebuhr's Christian realist approach, developed in response to the emergence of nuclear weapons and the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, offers a valuable framework for understanding and addressing the ethical concerns of both nuclear weapons and artificial intelligence (AI). While distinct in nature, both threats demand nuanced approaches that acknowledge our limitations, promote responsible action, and strive for a future guided by love and justice. This requires ongoing dialogue, national and international cooperation, and the development of ethical frameworks to ensure these powerful technologies serve humanity's flourishing, not its destruction.

  • The Threat of Extinction and the Value of Humanity: Re-reading Hans Jonas The Imperative of Responsibility in Light of AI

    Abstract

    This paper mines Hans Jonas’ response to the ‘existential’ risks posed by nuclear technologies, The Imperative of Responsibility, in order to account for why humanity’s extinction ought be resisted in the first place and to argue that something like Jonas’ mode of responsibility is necessary to generate the types of moral relationships with future generations that would prompt us to take such existential risks seriously. This paper will argue that Jonas’ path toward caring about future generations does not arise from intuitions about the need to create happy people or the final value of humanity. Rather, he begins with a concept of responsibility that is iterative which grounds a responsibility to perpetuate the existence of the race. Such an account has a number of advantages over contemporary efforts to defend the value of future generations, which this paper will elucidate. 

  • OH DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING: MEDICAL AID IN DYING AS AN ARS MORIENDI

    Abstract

    Before the rise of the medicalization of death, more often than not, death is thought of as a sort of darkness that claims its victims. Borrowing from Christian theology, death is considered the final curse to be broken. “Oh death, where is your sting?” the Scriptures taunt as they envision the final resurrection and the ushering in of everlasting life. “Oh death, where is your victory?” In a paradoxical turn of events, the legalization of “Medical Aid in Dying” gives those who are willfully choosing to die the opportunity to taunt death, despite death's inevitability. Why is this the case? In this paper I will argue that medical aid in dying acts as a perverse ars moriendi, engendering a false sense of control as it relates to the uncontrollable, i.e. death.

  • Creative Friction: Holmes Rolston III on the Role of Struggle and Resistance in the Moral Life

    Abstract

    The philosopher Byung-Chul Han claims, “The smooth is the signature of the present time.” The social imperative to reduce resistance and struggle in human life is so ubiquitous as to be nearly imperceptible. It is present in trivial ways (e.g., the aesthetics of the iPhone, the experience of Amazon Prime delivery) and non-trivial ways (e.g., the rapid rise of GPT as a substitute for the writing process, the prospect of widespread biomedical moral enhancements). This paper draws on the work of environmental philosopher Holmes Rolston III–specifically the evolutionary biological concept of “dialectical stress”--to provide a positive account of the role of struggle, resistance, and friction in the intellectual and moral life and an alternative ethico-aesthetic paradigm for our age.

  • Simone Weil's Analogical Philosophy of Labor for the Automated Workplace

    Abstract

    What is the future of human labor in an increasingly digital workplace? The data make abundantly clear that if we continue measuring our work chiefly in terms of efficiency, then we will begin displacing ourselves in the workforce. In response to this crisis, this paper attempts a renewed vision and corresponding criteria for measuring the value of human labor by turning to Simone Weil. Weil critiqued Taylorism for divorcing thought and action in factory labor, but her solution is somewhat obscure. I argue that, by reading it alongside her theological-mystical writings, her analysis of liberated labor emerges as fundamentally analogical, imitative. I apply this theological reading of Weil’s philosophy of labor to today’s “Digital Taylorism,” arguing that, to respond to the labor crisis posed by AI, we must reckon with the fact that labor is imitative and thereby, above all else, valuable as a kind of identity formation.

A23-120

Theme: Fieldwork Entanglements in Today's India

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

This roundtable invites scholars to reflect on ethnographic research in India as it relates to India's current political climate and nationalist narratives about Indian history and religion. Our first participant reflects on queer belonging by asking how “transgressive” researchers might confront risks of reprisal. Focusing on narratives of trauma and belonging among new generations of Indian Muslims, our second participant discusses how ethnographic devices such as reflexivity become especially fraught in the current political climate. As a scholar considering Hinduism and politics, our third participant outlines difficulties in the research process – from research visa applications to overcoming skepticism from fieldwork participants. Our fourth contributor considers the ethical implications of ethnography when one's work depends on fostering relationships with pro-Hindutva religious leaders. Finally, our fifth participant looks at how their research on the management of Hindu temples in Himachal Pradesh connects to complex and contested relationships between regional and national politics.

A23-121

Theme: 1964 Civil Rights Act: Religion, Politics, and Aftermaths

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

The 1964 Civil Rights Act provided a historic breakthrough for the enshrinement of racial equality under the law in the United States on several levels. By some measures, it represents the legislative highpoint of the midcentury Black freedom movement, particularly the nonviolent wing of the international campaign’s activists. Those activists, predominantly Christians, often relied on their faith to persuade their fellow Americans to support the bill at local, state, and national levels. Fascinatingly, the reality that these activists had to persuade so many of their fellow Christians to support the Civil Rights Act reveals the many Christianities actively being practiced in the United States after World War II. Figures who used their moral authority and appeals to their Christian faith to fight for and against racial equality appealed to their religious identities and logics. Christianity has never been a monolith. Neither has the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

A23-122

Theme: Collecting Religion: Media, Material Culture, and Museum Violence

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

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  • They are Taken from the Earth: Nahua Collecting in the Early Modern Period

    Abstract

     This paper proposes an elaborate process of Native collecting based on information gathered from colonial Nahuatl-language sources and available material culture from archeological sites, in particular Teotihuacan, Tollan, and Tenochtitlan (1325-1521). The paper connects oztomecameh “disguised traders,” members of the telpochcalli “house of youth,” and calpixque “caretakers of big house.” Together they ensured that precious goods—like those the ancient left behind—arrived safely back to their city-states, where they were subsequently stored, classified, and directed to their appropriate destinations in the Nahua market economy.

  • Ordering Religion: Museum Classification & Cultural Evolution

    Abstract

    This paper will focus on the methods of categorization that Cyrus Adler (1863-1940), the Smithsonian’s first curator of religion, and others at the Smithsonian used to sort religious objects from different communities and religious groups. Adler was charged with conserving objects that had some sort of religious significance. He specifically focused on monotheistic traditions, while objects relating to Indigenous traditions of the Americas, Africa, Australia, and elsewhere were not under his purview. These objects were held separately, in anthropological collections. I will be exploring the rationale for this method of classification, and the implications of museum categorization for understandings of religious hierarchies. During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, museums like the Smithsonian often distinguished between Indigenous and “world” religions based on a racialized system of cultural evolution. This led to uneven treatment of Indigenous and non-Native religious objects.

  • A Debt to Decay? Envisioning Decolonial Ethics and Indigenous Materialism in the Museum

    Abstract

    In this paper I think from and with a contested collection of thousands of Maya offerings from the sacred site of México which have been housed at Harvard’s Peabody Museum for over a century. This assemblage of materials can be understood as populated by powerful entities in relational networks both past and present. For Mesoamerican peoples these material bodies, like human and animal bodies, are imbued with life forces—they are active and essential participants in cycles of life and death, fertility, regeneration, and beyond. Yet, in coming to the museum they are treated as inanimate objects. Here, I attend to materials which “fall through the cracks” of conventional repatriation and thus will remain, for the foreseeable future, in museum storage. What are the ethical obligations of preservation or of decay to these Indigenous belongings? This paper interrogates traditional assumptions and explores alternatives for life and death in the anthropology museum.

  • ‘It’s Giving … Colonization’: Challenges to Mental Resilience, Spirituality and Storytelling for Indigenous Pacific Youth

    Abstract

    Indigenous Pacific Island youth living in the diaspora, particularly in Aotearoa New Zealand, increasingly express difficulty in grappling with the role Christianity has played in colonization and how this impacts their self-identity and wellbeing. This paper will explore perspectives of indigenous storytelling shared on popular social media accounts and streaming platforms which celebrate pre-Christian indigenous Pacific spiritualities and practices, as well as question and criticise forms of Christianity that continue to colonize Pacific communities. Cultural and spiritual identity and a sense of belonging to place are key to the mental resiliency of Pacific youth. Further, Pacific Island youth do not necessarily have access to decolonized Christian theologies in their church communities, or know that this type of theology exists. I reflect on how authentic storytelling is key for challenging media stereotypes for indigenous Pacific youth, especially on the topic of how pre-Christian spiritualities sit alongside Christian theology in everyday life.

A23-123

Theme: Critical/Intersectional Hindu Studies: Where do we go from here?

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

Over the past six years, this seminar has brought together racialized scholars of Hindu studies to critically examine the state of the larger field and ways in which this field reifies Islamophobia, casteism and white supremacy. This examination has led to new innovations in disciplinary formations, pedagogical interventions and scholarly trajectories. During the roundtable, Critical Hindu Studies scholars will reflect on the interventions of this seminar, delineate what still needs to be examined, and propose some new directions for this new field.

A23-124

Theme: Authority as Guidance: Studies in the History of Sufism

Saturday, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

The papers in this panel explore the varying dimensions and nuances of authorities, such as women’s authority, ascetical and renunciant, political authority, particularly through the prism of mahdis, ‘awliyas, and imams. These modes of authority are explored using various textual (hagiographies), hermeneutical traditions, and more. The discussions in these papers unsettle normative assumptions of guidance in Islamic mystical movements, from Sufism to Shi‘ism, across space and time and its continued legacies today.

  • Female Religious Authority in Central Asian Sufism

    Abstract

    This presentation introduces the recently published critical edition (Brill, 2020) and monograph (Cambridge University Press, 2024) on the legacy of the sixteenth-century female Sufi master from Bukhara, celebrated as Aghā-yi Buzurg, along with the hagiography Maẓhar al-ʿajāʾib dedicated to her by her male disciple Ḥāfiẓ Baṣīr.

  • From Fear to Love: Celibacy and Nuptial Mysticism in the Accounts of ʿĀmir b. ʿAbd Qays

    Abstract

    It is widely held by scholars of early Sufism that Sufism developed out of ascetic and renunciant traditions (*zuhd*). In this view, Sufi ideas about the love of God and about union with the divine Beloved enriched, or in some cases, replaced earlier ideals of renouncing the world, fear of God, and fear of divine punishment. This paper reconsiders our understanding of a transition from ideals of fear to ideals of love by examining the seventh-century ascetic of Basra, ʿĀmir b. ʿAbd Qays. ʿĀmir was remembered for his lifelong celibacy, which he defended as an act of “betrothal” to God. I argue that ʿĀmir’s biographers saw him as an early exemplar of love mysticism, saw no conflict between his fear of God and his engagement to God, and understood him as articulating the value of celibacy for Muslims as a form of spiritual marriage.

  • Normalizing the Mahdī: Ibn ‘Arabī’s Khātim al-Awliyā’ as a Constitutional Principle

    Abstract

    Recent studies on Islamic mysticism in the early modern period have explored the influence of Muḥammad ibn ‘Arabī (1165-1240) on political theory and social movements in Asia. However, to what extent did Ibn ‘Arabī see himself as contributing to Islamic political theory. This paper explores the ways in which Ibn ‘Arabī bridges the classical Ṣūfism of the Islamic East with a native, Andalusī-Maghribī mystical tradition (I‘tibār). I argue that the political dimensions of texts like The Meccan Revelations and the Bezels of Wisdom represent draw heavily on caliphal and mahdist ideologies from the Islamic West (Fāṭimids, Umayyad Córdoba, Almohads) that are absent from classical Ṣūfism. I further argue that Ibn ‘Arabī’s “Seal of the Saints” (khātim al-awliyā’) recasts the mahdī as a transhistorical, mystical influence on awliyā’ across time and functions as new constitutional principle for a caliphate that incorporates the mahdī’s  power to create post-prophetic sunna.

  • The Hidden Imam in the Teachings of the Early Niʿmatullāhiyya: Sufi Shiʿism and Communal Autonomy in Iran before the Safavid Empire

    Abstract

    This paper is about how borrowings from Shiʿism shaped ideas of mystical and political authority among the Niʿmatullāhiyya, a major Sufi order of medieval and modern Iran.  Roughly a century before becoming Iran’s official religion and political instrument of the Safavid Empire, Twelver Shiʿism provided inspiration for the Niʿmatullāhiyya’s founder Shāh Niʿmatullāh Walī and his successors in their formulation of a decentralized view of collective identity that gave nominal recognition to worldly sultanates, while teaching complete loyalty to a Sufi shaykh and ascribing ultimate authority only to the Hidden Imam.  I present evidence for these Sufi Shiʿite teachings for the first time in scholarship, considering their significance as a quietist alternative to the centralizing imperial messianism of the Sunni Timurids.  I argue that Niʿmatullāhī teachings reflected the order’s social and political reality as a loosely incorporated, transregional network with economical and political autonomy on the margins of imperial power.