This is the most up-to-date schedule for the 2023 AAR Annual Meeting. If you have questions about the program, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. All times are listed in Central Standard Time.
Breakfast for department chairs and program coordinators.
New (first-time) AAR members in 2023 are cordially invited to a welcome breakfast hosted by the AAR Staff and Board of Directors, including a brief orientation to the AAR Annual Meeting.
A time for connection of Presbyterians and friends committed to theological education and religious vocation across the PC(USA). We will join in morning prayer and conversation. A light breakfast will be provided. This event is sponsored by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship, the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities, and the Committee on Theological Education.
At Interfaith America, we’re building communities of practice committed to unlocking the positive potential of religion in health-related settings. From undergraduate and graduate health professions programs to health-focused faith-based organizations to health system and public health leaders, we’re inspiring, equipping, and connecting those who are poised to bridge the gap between religion and health to promote individual and community flourishing.
Interfaith America seeks to convene faculty involved in religious studies and are interested in working alongside health fields on their campuses to integrate religious diversity curriculum into pre-health programs. We will hear from faculty from select institutions who have developed successful models and how they can be implemented at your campus.
By invitation only, new teachers will join together for breakfast and directed table conversations about the first three years of teaching. If you know of someone whom we should invite or you are in your first three years of teaching, please send us a name and email address. Include the academic discipline, institution, and the number of years teaching full-time. Send nominations by September 18th to: Sarah F. Farmer Associate Director of the Wabash Center email@example.com
This co-sponsored session will be an interactive, skills-based offering tailored to address the needs, experiences, questions, and hopes of graduate students, some of whom are already teaching and looking ahead toward careers as teachers in classrooms and communities. The topics to be addressed include: equity-minded and trauma-informed course design, crafting an effective cover letter, teaching religion in independent high schools, developing courses outside of religious studies (such as first-year seminars), and alternatives to final papers that can boost student engagement (and potentially thwart ChatGPT). Unlike a traditional session, panelists will be asked to offer brief presentations on their topics so that the remainder of the session can be used for in-depth breakout conversations and networking. Attendees will have the chance to ask questions, explore additional materials provided by the presenters, and otherwise dive deeper into one or more of these topics. This interactive session is open to all members of the AAR who would find it useful, regardless of career status.
Course design has long been a structure of inequity in American higher education, privileging certain languages, persons, and ways of knowing. Unfortunately, we often replicate these inequities uncritically in our classes by passing down syllabi, re-using test banks, and grading in the same ways we have "always" been graded. These practices do not ensure rigor, as some claim, and certainly do not allow equitable access to education. Instead of unthinkingly replicating harmful design in religious studies courses and curricula, we need to work critically and intentionally to address aspects that may be sites of trauma and oppression. In this presentation, we will discuss four features of equity-centered, trauma-informed education that are key to course design, analyze potentially useful examples from courses in religious studies, and workshop one aspect of a current or imagined course and receive feedback on potential changes.
As students shift away from humanities majors (including religion), it is likely that religion faculty will be asked to teach fewer specialized courses and more general eduation classes. Additionally, data from the AAR/SBL jobs report shows that almost 2/3 of job positings ask faculty to teach five or more course per year. This has two major implications for graduate students preparing for careers in higher eduation: first, they need to prepare to teach a broader array of courses than might have been expected a generation ago; and, second, they need to be prepared to teach a large number of classes. I will review data and show how I come to these conclusions.
Drawing on my experience of over six years as the Dean of Faculty at a small (1,000 student) liberal arts college when I supervised over three dozen faculty searches, I will discuss how to write a cover letter that might make it past the selection committee's first cut. I will identify some specific strategies that applicants can draw upon and note some all-too-common mistakes.
Teaching religion in independent high schools offers a meaningful and a viable mode of teaching for scholars of religion that can be accessed by graduate students across fields of study with key, manageable steps. There are good jobs to be had, if one: 1) effectively navigates the structures of secondary education in the US and the ways in which the study of religion is often framed in each; 2) demonstrates competent understanding of adolescent development; and 3) presents a teaching portfolio that evidences examples of assessment practices, which are equitable, differentiated, creative, and oriented to clear objectives. This presentation provides a schematic overview of these three requirements, in conversation with key resources, chosen for the resources’ ability to anchor an initial exploration into adolescent education and their relevance to current conversations among educators. An annotated bibliographic resource sheet will be available for interested attendees.
In this presentation I will share with graduate students (and others) how their training in religious studies ideally prepares them for teaching and leadership roles outside the are of religious studies. I will also include practical advice for using the skills and knowledge of a religious studiese scholar to develop courses that can be taught as first-year seminars; how knowledge, training, and experience in religious studies can be drawn upon when applying for positions in first-year experience programs; and how a grounding in religious studies can used to lead and develop first-year experience programs.
I spent several years on the job market before getting onto the tenure track, and I now have been teaching full time for almost two years at a small, regional four-year college. I will share some of what I have learned in the process, and what I wish I had known when I started. Specifically, I will talk about developing alternatives to final papers that can boost student engagement and potentially thwart ChatGPT.
The papers in this panel explore a comparative analysis of Chrisitian ideas on African Ancestral Traditions and Chinese Religions, Black being in the contexts of Afrofuturism, Afropessimism, and Africana religions, and the meanings of burial rites in the Ivory Coast.
This paper critically evaluates ways in which ancestor traditions (what Paulin Batairwa Kubuya calls “ancestor religion”) have been interpreted in both Chinese and African settings. The aim is not to recover notions of an a priori universalism for comparative inquiry into two traditions as polyvalent as Chinese and African ancestral traditions, which are diverse in each case, but, by exploring patterns of “Christian conversations” on these traditions (fraught, controversial, or constructive - ranging from the political, to the proselytizing, to the intimate, to the conciliatory, and the theologically constructive) found in historical ethnography (including empirical findings), to critique how Christian ethnography has pronounced upon the ancestral rite across cultures. The comparative reconstruction of this conversation conceives of ethnography as a joint negotiation among insider-informants and non-insiders acting as cultural translators and interpreters, albeit with their own agendas, rather than the imposed interpretations of the cultural outsider alone.
The paper explores the intersections of Haitian Vodou and structured injustice against black bodies and communities in the USA. Haitian migrants in Miami-Florida who practice Vodou live in two parallel worlds as far as questions of criminality and justice are concerned—one world is informed by Vodou discourse and the other by the culture of the American legal and criminal justice systems with the institutions designed to enforce them. The research considers ways ritual agents, especially, Mambos deploy models in Haitian Vodou in contesting ‘blackness’ in the USA —an effect of the structural injustice and violence of black bodies and communities.
The research involves fieldwork among members of the Vodou Holistic Center in South Florida, living in Pembroke Pines and Little Haiti. These religious agents perform their religions under imperial duress whereby the hegemonies under which they live as migrants criminalize their bodies and practices, even describing some as criminal.
This paper explores how farmers in the village of Bakayo maintain peace and solidarity with their migrant neighbors through mutual funeral participation in Post-conflict Cote d’Ivoire. Violent conflict struck Côte d’Ivoire from 2002 to 2011, charged by nationalist discourse and xenophobia against immigrants. This paper takes us to the village of Bakayo, home of Bété-speakers. Beginning in the 1960s, the Bété-speakers gave uncultivated land to immigrants from Burkina Faso, namely Mossi, through a system of land-sharing known as “tutorat.” One of the main stipulations of this system is that the Mossi must help Bété with their expensive and elaborate funerals. Based on my fieldwork in Cote d’Ivoire from 2022-2023, I argue that the inter-ethnic participation found at funerals in Bakayo provides us all a new means of looking at peace and conflict, as the people of Bakayo build peace their own way, finding reconciliation through death in Post-conflict Côte d’Ivoire.
In this paper, I explore the relationship between Afrofuturism, Afropessimism, and Africana religion. I maintain that while Afrofuturism, Afropessimism, and Africana religion arise from similar ontogenic, sociogenic, and egogenic impulses, there has been a lack of engagement across their literary and theoretical domains. Such a state of affairs has meant a missed opportunity to imagine innovative and potentially liberative ontologies.
Rebekka King’s The New Heretics: Skepticism, Secularism, and Progressive Christianity (2023) is the culmination of a three-year ethnographic study of North American Christians who embrace their religious identities while simultaneously questioning the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, and the accuracy of the Bible. King proposes the concept of “lived secularity” as a category with which we can examine the ways in which religiosity is entangled with and subsumed by secular identities over and against religious ones. King’s theoretical framework provides insight into the study of contemporary religious and cultural hybridity, emergent groups such as “the nones,” atheism, religious apostasy, deconversion, the ethics of belief, and multi-religious identities. In this session, three respondents with ethnographic expertise and affiliation with the Anthropology of Christianity, Secularism Studies, and the Critical Theory for the Study of Religion will discuss The New Heretics, followed by a response from the author, Rebekka King.
This panel explores works of art and texts inspired by sacred scriptures from different religious traditions. The first presentation features the work of Islam calligraphy masters from Jordan, Turkey, Iran, and China. As ambassadors, creators, and teachers of sacred scripture, these masters’ art engages with cultural and political challenges. The second presentation examines the poem Pater Noster by Marguerite of Navarre as a hospitable scene of composition that invites further Scriptural reflection and creative responses. The third paper pays attention to the revelatory capacity of sacred and fictional texts in short stories by Flannery O’Connor engaging with the Christian tradition. The fourth presentation analyses the classic Moby-Dick through the lens of Romantic irony to argue that Melville’s novel involved a re-writing of the Holy Bible. At large, questions explored in this panel will include how and why modern artists and writers reinstate, question, or renew the function of sacred scriptures.
Using the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, this paper will consider why an author might engage with sacred scriptures by examining the revelatory capacity of sacred and fictional texts. By employing the concept of the world of the text established by Paul Ricoeur, a common referential function emerges between sacred and fictional texts. A dialectic of revelation and imagination is used to solidify this function, and a dialectic of explanation and understanding is used to suggest that an author may engage with sacred scripture to extend its referential trajectory. This extension constitutes a unique instantiation of referential activity as a means of imaginative understanding. This reading, limited to texts associated with the Christian tradition, is beneficial to the extent that it can be adapted to account for fictional texts with differing intentions, whether that be in accordance or discordance with the scriptures to which they refer.
This paper examines an early poem of Marguerite of Navarre as a genre-blending response to Scripture that both performs its own self-authorization and invites a community of writers to further reading and literary production. Written in the early years of the reform movement (1520-1527), Marguerite’s Pater Noster was likely an early project toward her lifelong project of vernacularizing the Bible in France, as Luther had done in Germany. This paper, however, endeavors to bracket better studied questions of Marguerite’s historical context in favor of examining this text in terms framed by its genre(s): i.e., as a work that actively configures a loquacious relationship with Scripture, drawing on gendered generic codes and on the voices of biblical and visionary women. In closing, this paper suggests that Marguerite’s Pater Noster may be fruitfully read as a hospitable scene of composition, one that invites further Scriptural reflection and creative response
Just as the frightened Pip of Melville’s Moby-Dick jumps overboard in pursuit of the whale, one also feels scared shipless when interpreting this whale of a novel. Recent scholarship on religion and Moby-Dick has addressed the book’s obsession with theodicy, while others have focused on the story’s irreducible religious meanings. Romantic irony, I contend, is a more appropriate frame of interpretation for Moby-Dick because Melville, like other Romantics, is not bemoaning just the lack of justice or stability in the world, but also a lack or absence of the divine. Romantic irony, and the resulting disorientation, vertigo, and seasickness constitute the greatest moments of divine intensity in the novel, whereby Melville fuses moments in which high themes meet the low and the divine meets chaos. In doing so, Melville anticipates modernist James Joyce, who re-wrote one cornerstone of Western literature, The Odyssey, as Melville too re-writes another, the Holy Bible.
This presentation explores exceptional dimensions of Islamic calligraphy as practiced by selected masters from Jordan, Turkey, Iran, and China and reassesses their roles as religious cultural ambassadors. Distinguished in their respective countries, these calligraphers have also developed reputations abroad: their works figure in major collections; each has made seminal contributions to their field; and each is a scholar as well as instructor of their art. Of particular interest, they have attained recognition in the genealogical system of Islamic instruction by obtaining ijazas (authorizations) from recognized masters, and they have also earned doctorates or similar degrees from state institutions of education. They are therefore doubly authoritative wherever they practice, and they effectively perform roles of international outreach. They augment this in publishing original studies in which they reproduce Islamic genres of text and scripture, some in multi-lingual formats. Closer to home, their work may present them with unanticipated cultural-political challenges.
These papers explore racial and theological hybridity and contested notions of ethnic purity and impurity as it relates to Christian theology, human bodies, and Afro-Judaism. Ten years ago, Mulatto theologizing was hailed as the “New” Black theology that constituted a significant theological shift in its development. This panel will explore the impact of this “shift” ten years later.
In this paper I will discuss a problem unique to the study of Afro-Jewish communities, the problem of ortho-ethnicity (proper people). For practitioners and scholars of African American religion, questions of orthodoxy (proper belief) and orthopraxy (proper practice) have been leveled at particularistic interpretations of Abrahamic traditions regarding their beliefs and practices. Regarding the existence of Afro-Jewish traditions, the additional phenomena of ortho-ethnicity (proper people) emerges as a response to Blacks as Jews that renders orthodoxy and orthopraxis secondary. In essence, the level of ritual observance and adherence to accepted doctrines are inconsequential if the Black as Jew in question is regarded as unacceptable according to rabbinic law (halakha). I am arguing that rabbinic law (halakha) itself has been racialized and the appearance of Blacks as Jews necessitates a need to authenticate individuals or entire communities on the presumption that Blackness in of itself raises suspicion.
The theme, La Labor de Nuestras Manos, can evoke for those of African descent, the desire to make visible contributions that, although critical and life giving, have been invisiblized. Afro-Latine peoples, especially those born in the U.S. are empowered by the continuity of critique and scholarship present in African American work/labor. Black theology, together with Latinx, Latin American and other liberation theologies, inform their self-understanding within Christianity in the U.S., and have implications for their engagement in theological reflection in faith communities, especially as these communities participate in social justice movements in the U.S. What are the risks and possibilities of an engagement between Black theology and Latinx theology centered in Afro-Latine realities? What methods can be utilized if Afro-Latine realities have been concealed/erased from Latinx and Latin American Theological reflections?
Ten years ago, in an article for The Christian Century, theologian Jonathan Tran heralded the work of three black theologians—J. Kameron Carter, Willie J. Jennings, and Brian Bantum—as inaugurating a “new black theology.” According to Tran, these three thinkers represented “a major theological shift that [would]—if taken as seriously as it deserve[d]—change the face not only of black theology but theology as a whole.”
Now that ten years have passed, this paper asks: Has it? And arguing that it has not, I offer reflections on why it has not. My central my argument is a critique of the way Carter and Bantum offered their revised understanding of racial identity and hybridity by reimagining the identity Jesus through mulatto/a identity. I conclude by suggesting that the appeals made by their colleague—Willie J. Jennings—to “land” and “language” point toward a more constructive path forward.
The papers on this panel explore the limits of normative notions of the body.
This paper explores how the body bereft and body credit work in India's Traditional Dalit Religious Knowledge (TDRK)systems. Conceptualizing body bereft as the social condition of the negative symbolic value of body representations in the casteist society. Dalits are body bereft. By body credit, it is meant the creative reclaiming of symbolic value and agency of the subaltern by discrediting the hegemonic imprints through ritual performativity. To illustrate the body bereft and body credit in the TDRKs, the paper focuses on two TDRKs in South India, Pottan Theyyam and Prathyaksha Raksha Daiva Sabha(PRDS).
The relationship between identity, self-actualization, and religion can be a tumultuous one depending on how closely someone’s body aligns with the expectations of society or their faith. Is there a way to decenter normative constructions of identity so people can live a life being more authentic to themselves and others? Using a qualitative approach to bring together feminist and religious scholars with grassroots queer discourses, the ways people think about gender for oneself and for others can be reimagined to embrace the inherent fluidity of human identities in challenging ways to hegemonic expectations. This antireal gender ontology not only changes individual embodiments in liberative ways by repositioning the body as its own unclassifiable form but can affect religious studies by refocusing how certain gendered doctrines, theologies, and interpretations of sacred texts are understood, hopefully in ways which reduce harmful power dynamics in academia and subvert religious expectations for identity.
What difference does embodiment make in the study and praxis of pastoral/spiritual care, particularly as this relates to connection/reconnection with the self, others and God? Recently, feminist, womanist and intercultural scholars of pastoral/spiritual care have emphasized the importance of attention to embodiment in healing, notably in the healing from trauma. This insight becomes increasingly important in the wake of a global pandemic. While therapeutic modalities that center the body are gaining traction in the realm of psychology, approaches that integrate the body are currently underemphasized and undertheorized in the field of pastoral/spiritual care. This paper argues that what is needed is not simply the integration of the body in pastoral/spiritual caregiving, but a move to place the body at the center. A body-centered approach to pastoral/spiritual care will provide a pathway for the physical, emotional and spiritual reconnection of people and communities.
Feminist philosopher, Elizabeth Grosz, engagingly probes the various ways in which feminist theory holds the potential to generate concepts that “enable us to surround ourselves with the possibilities for being otherwise” (2012:13-14). The Anthropocene, although a troubling concept in itself – locating humans at the center of being and belonging – denotes our current time of anthropogenic ecological disruption. The Anthropocene requires us to engage critically, think imaginatively and creatively about the study of religion. This paper uses insights from Anthropocene feminism to think creatively about bodies and religion. It explores through empirical material, the various ways in which the bodies we study, embody and perform can hold ‘possibilities for being otherwise’.
 Grosz , E. ( 2012 ), “The Future of Feminist Theory: Dreams for New Knowledges”, in H. Gunkel , C. Nigianni, and F. Soderback (eds), Undutiful Daughters: New Directions in Feminist Thought and Practice, 13–22, New York: Palgrave, Macmillan.
This panel compares logics of ritual efficacy that guide the hands-on practices of Buddhist craftspeople and ritual experts. In a clash of interdisciplinary perspectives, regions, and historical eras, these papers eschew the symbolic and the performative in favor of the procedural, the substantive, and the “becoming-with” of ritual. This panel is specifically motivated by Tim Ingold’s (2013) call to abandon abstracted notions of “materiality” in favor of bounded practices of making use of particular materials. Accordingly, each paper engages a specific material or object—the Gobi Desert, a rare Green Tārā image, ritual cloths, salt, mercury, milk, medicinal herbs, living rooms, and ritual implements. Attending to what each does (not just represents)—and does not do— “sensory forms” (Meyer 2009) and “material affordances” (Keane 2003) emerge as vastly understudied models of causation and agency in Buddhist rituals, societies, and histories.
The Gobi is not a consensual idea. It is a contrarian stage of desire and repulsion, of mobility and obstruction. Forged in the negative space of sea, sky, and land, the material Gobi has long been a membrane of past and the present; so much sand blowing and settling atop the longue durée of its ecology. How were those who sought to overcome the absence that marks its vast topography—whether Buddhist philosophers or paleontologists, prophets or botanists, tantric hermits or archaeologists—made anew in time by working with and through the planes of its geologic media?
In Kathmandu, Newar women, known as dyaḥmāṃ, while possessed by the Buddhist goddess Hāratī and her children perform ritual healings and divinations for clients in their living rooms. On possession days, clients come seeking solutions to their problems. Devotees chant in unison, the dyaḥmāṃ inhales smoke, then she sits on her throne, and the event ends with her swallowing a burning piece of string. The solutions to client’s problems involve substances such as rice, incense, and water, and implements such as a vajra and a broom. Throughout the session, these items are manipulated and deployed by the dyaḥmāṃ in various ways. How do these concrete items participate and how are they used in the discourse of ritual success and failure? Using ethnographic data, this paper will consider the role of these materials in constructing the intersubjective notion of ritual success, and ritual failure, especially as it pertains to healing rituals.
The Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa (Mmk) outlines in exacting detail the labor-intensive crafting of the ritual cloth (paṭa). However, the text also offers an easier abbreviated ritual without compromising on efficacy. Anticipating a degenerate future when performing elaborate rituals would be impossible, the text allows us to explore the changing relationship between practitioners and ritual material. Focusing on the role of ritual objects in early Buddhist tantra, the paper examines the flexibility that the Mmk envisions for ritual material. The crafting process employs oral (mantras), visual (painting) and tactile (grasping the cloth where the practitioner’s image is painted) means through which the practitioner is transformed and transported from the periphery of the paṭa to the center. The paper complicates the transformational potency of the paṭa by analyzing the dynamic crafting process, which straddles the specialized ritual sphere as well as the public space of the fabric bazaar where the paṭa is born.
This paper examines a rare mural painting of Green Tārā with a meditation-band (sgom thag, yogabhanda) in Yulin Cave 4, alongside two other paintings of Green Tārā with meditation-bands from Kharakhoto and Bengal, and textual evidence for Tārā’s evolution as a major independent Buddhist deity. It shows that the meditation band, which is used by yogins to provide postural support for subtle-body yoga, is mostly seen in images of Mahāsiddhas and yogins, and not with Tārā. It argues that images like the one from Bengal may have traveled from India to Yulin and Kharakhoto, possibly bypassing Nepal, Tibet, and China, raising questions about what this type of image might tell us about the complexity of Tārā’s development as a visual form, and what the specific iconographic detail of the meditation-belt might tell us about different contexts of Tārā practice across Asia.
This paper considers questions of ritual expertise and efficacy by examining Tibetan Buddhist bodily preservation practices and the hands-on work of transforming the corpses of Tibetan lamas into whole-body relics. Instructions for how to handle the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s (Thubten Gyatso, 1876–1933) remains are detailed in a little-studied embalming treatise by the Gelugpa scholar Phabongkha Dechen Nyingpo (1878–1941). In the manual, three potent mortuary substances emerge as primary active ingredients: corpse salt (pur tshwa) as an embalming agent and quasi-relic; mercury (dngul chu) as a purgative (sku sbyong); and milk (’o ma) as a litmus test of efficacy. Mapping the lifecycles of these ingredients alongside technical inflection points in Phabongkha’s text, this study considers what signs of ritual success look like in materially embedded—and embodied—terms for Tibetan caretakers who specialize in and preside over the “special dead.”
This paper examines how the inclusion of medicinal botanical substances with purgative and cleansing properties in the Tibetan Treasure revealer Guru Chöwang’s (1212–1270) Buddhist relic pill known as the “maṇi pill” could have contributed to its sense of efficacy and popularity in thirteenth-century Tibet. The discussion traces in particular the material properties, histories, and valances of two substances that figure as key ingredients in Guru Chöwang’s maṇi-pill tradition: tarnu (thar nu) and takngu (rtag ngu). It relates the properties of these botanical substances to details in Guru Chöwang’s maṇi-pill consecration liturgies, which feature Avalokiteśvara and his mantra, and promise that consumption of a pill will result in rebirth in his pure land. In so doing, it argues that the pharmacological properties of these substances worked hand in hand with liturgical imagery and aims to produce an embodied sense of efficacy above and beyond the sum of its parts.
This roundtable on Jingjing Li's *Comparing Husserl's Phenomenology and Chinese Yogācāra in a Multicultural World* brings six Buddhist philosophy scholars together with the author to discuss and reflect on the book’s contributions to the fields of Yogācāra studies, Buddhist philosophy and comparative philosophy/philosophy of religion. We will discuss the book's comparative methodology, its comparative notions of intentionality, its advancement of the concept of non-conceptual yet intentional mental states, its sophisticated comparative treatment of essence, particularly in relationship to the later Yogācāra exposition of emptiness, and its innovative treatment of Yogācāra conceptions of intersubjectivity, agency, morality, and a socially oriented emancipatory path of practice.
This panel explores the role of Daoist- and Buddhist-based movements in contemporary China in providing resources for spiritual seekers concerned about a loss of authenticity in contemporary social life. From popular films to restorative health classes to organized religious institutions, an increasing array of groups and activities aim to help contemporary Chinese persons develop a healthy inner self amid what many perceive as the superficiality of contemporary Chinese social life and the potential bodily and psychological harm engendered by a one-sided drive for money and success. Drawing on multi-disciplinary perspectives, the panelists critically explore these new movements, their potential to transform contemporary Chinese life, their ambivalent relationship to the market, and their precarious existence under the watchful eye of the state.
What role does Daoism have for a competitive middle class in China? How are Daoists shaping curricula for a consuming public to solve contemporary concerns? This paper examines how one Daoist academy in Wudangshan pursued a reinterpreted Daoist ideal of the “Authentic Person” (zhenren). It analyzes how, through course lectures and informal social events, Daoist teachers led their individualistic, middle-class students to use this Daoist ideal figure as a framework for personal, social, and spiritual authenticity. These Daoist masters and students suggested that the world in which they lived was morally suspect and “false” (xuwei). Developing a form of Daoist authenticity and acting from it were presented as means of healing an over-worked self, solving social problems, and ensuring success in life. Within this process, the masters of Wudang performed “authentic” traditional sociality through cultured, convivial behavior that was interpreted by students as evidence of the success of Daoist cultivation.
In the People’s Republic of China, "nourishing life" (yangsheng) refers to both an ancient longevity principle and a major economic trend. On the one hand, yangsheng has been discussed from the foundational texts of Daoism as a means to attain immortality through techniques such as meditation, dietetics and calisthenics. On the other hand, "nourishing life" refers to a general idea of longevity and well-being that expresses itself in huge markets of self-help literature and wellness classes. This presentation explores how religion and the consumer-based economy merge in the form of "nourishing life training classes" (yangsheng peixun ban) held within the Medicine King Temple of Mt. Qingcheng, a sacred Daoist mountain. Anxiety about authenticity occurs both on the part of participants who fear that practices are over-commercialized and organizers who fear that too little commercialization may arouse the concern of the state that the practices are too religious in nature.
Many urban Chinese citizens, particularly the young and well-educated, are turning to Buddhist-based meditation practices to cure what they characterize as the restlessness and inauthenticity of social life. This presentation will explore this interest in Chan meditation techniques at three sites: a weeklong Chan meditation camp that promises spiritual renewal to young urban professionals, a Beijing-based teahouse operated by alumni of the camp, and a temple in Jiangsu province that operates a biweekly meditation class for mostly middle-aged lay Buddhists. Drawing on Talal Asad’s notion of the religious and secular as contingent, mutually-creating categories, the presentation will argue that, while the segregation of the religious and spiritual from everyday life in urban China contributes to anxiety about the authentic in the first place, the possibility for Chan meditation to function as a site of the authentic is equally dependent on the segregation of religious sites from everyday time and space.
Feng Xiaogang’s If You Are the One II (2010) achieved the second-highest opening day gross in Chinese box office history. While some laud its deeply Buddhist sensibilities toward living and dying, others lambast its ubiquitous product placements and seemingly unbridled consumerism. At the heart of these contestations lies a perennial conundrum that has become especially acute in post-Mao China: should religion have anything to do with business? This paper explores the entwinement of Buddhism and economics through the prism of a blockbuster romantic comedy. In the film’s production, text, and reception, I observe a swirl of socioreligious discourses animated by the anxiety that artistic and spiritual integrity may be rendered inauthentic by the desire for financial profit. Building on recent work on the corporate form, I frame Feng’s commercial cinema as a vehicle through which the desires for ethical depth, familial well-being, and material prosperity are simultaneously affirmed.
With private investment in psychedelic development, the FDA anticipating approving the first psychedelic medicine within the next years, U.S. cities decriminalizing enforcement, and corporate psychedelic retreats considered to stimulate employee creativity, in practice, unregulated psychedelic experimentation is becoming popular and more dangerous in the West. Ethical concerns exacerbate the need for safe understanding of these medicines and warn against its use without corresponding evidence and epistemic and material abuses and violations against the rights of Indigenous communities. This panel explores Indigenous Spirit medicines and their appropriation in Western psychedelic research and practice, encouraging scholars to explore frameworks for decolonizing psychedelic research. The session considers Indigenous Peoples’ experiences and perspectives, the trajectory of the psychedelic experience and its relation to psychotic events, warnings of drug development and clinical trials, and ethical considerations for research imperative to the resurgence of the therapeutic use of Spirit medicine (aka psychedelics) in the United States.
In this paper I center the White Shaman mural, ancient rock art located in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of Texas. Responding to the theme of “La Labor de Nuestras Manos,” I consider the work of our ancestors’ hands along what is now known as the Mexico-US border, the land of Kickapoo, Jumanos, Lipan Apache, and Coahuiltecan peoples. The White Shaman is considered one of the oldest manuscripts in North America at approximately 2,000 years old and it has been interpreted by art historians and Indigenous descendants to reveal compelling philosophies, astronomical patterns, and ritual processes (Boyd, The White Shaman Mural, 158). In this paper I propose a set of prepositions to guide engagement with the White Shaman: thinking from (land-based creation stories and cosmovision), being with (Indigenous ritual relationships), and moving towards (decolonial futurities). This requires addressing colonial legacies and exploring questions of Indigeneity in the borderlands.
Fruitful comparison of psychedelic, spiritual, and psychotic experiences requires a degree phenomenological nuance. Some shared features, such as encounters and communications with supernatural entities, are obfuscated by scientific and clinical terminology. Other supposed distinctions are based on an atemporal view of dynamic experiences. The trajectory of the psilocybe mushroom experience – from illness-like feelings during the comeup, to often awe-inspiring peak experience, to relief in the comedown – maps, at different points in time, onto different facets of spiritual and psychotic experiences. Acknowledging these temporal dynamics helps inform cognitive scientific perspectives on religion and 'spirit medicine'. For example, the psychedelic transition from illness-like comeup to peak experience supports the idea that stress triggers a detection of supernatural agency. Additionally, while most comedowns are characterized by love, peace, and calm, a minority resemble manic states. We provide examples of how spiritual traditions guide psychedelic-like compensations to stress (e.g., shamanic sickness) towards prosocial outcomes.
Spirit medicines elicit experiences of fundamental and enduring subjective spiritual and psychological variations in self-concepts and ontologies. Given such implications, a rigorous evaluation of ethical frameworks must require considerations beyond the physiological functions and effects that are now central to Western psychedelic research and praxis. The Indigenous ethical framework proposed safeguards the contemplative qualities of prosocial and collective engagement of Indigenous lineage holders through principles of flourishing social transformation. These include contemplative aspects of inquiry, relationality, and meaning guided through the Spirit medicine experience; the direct participation of Indigenous Nations in the decisions that impact their rights to tangible and intangible heritage currently violated by the Western psychedelic system; the prevention of harm to human subjects, including the respect of autonomy and agency pre-during-post treatment; and mind-body-spirit practices centered on right relationships intra and inter-species. Thus, evolving Indigenous contemplative frameworks ensure psychological, social, and judicial transformation beyond religion, medicine, and policy.
This roundtable panel proposes to discuss Brian Robinette’s The Difference Nothing Makes: Creation, Christ, Contemplation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2023). This book explores the doctrine of "creation from nothing" in the Christian tradition, extends it into a number of theological topoi, engages a number of thinkers not normally grouped together, and develops a contemplative approach to the work of systematic theology.
This panel will address the relationship between non-Western categories of thought and ways of life, ecology, and comparative religious ethics as field of inquiry. Presentations will tackle ethnocentrism, the legacy of Christian influence on the development of the field, and chart possible paths forward.
Recent posthumanist and "new materialist" critiques have challenged deeply entrenched assumptions regarding the character of moral agency as an individualized, intentional, psychological, uniquely human operation of freedom. The dawn of the Anthropocene has further complicated this picture, producing aporias involving (1) disjunctions between human accountability for environmental destruction and its unintentional character, (2) human biopower and geopower, and (3) images of human exceptionalism or mastery and the ongoing decentering of human agency. In response to these ethical challenges this paper presents an account of "ecological agency," and explores how this notion might be linked to the "greening" of various religious traditions reflected in today's vibrant field of religion and ecology. This exercise, I argue, can both sharpen emergent understandings of moral agency and add to the toolkit for comparative religious ethics.
Most scholars agree that CRE has made some progress in addressing ethnocentrism and distinguishing itself from Christian ethics, yet admit that the approach is still not wholly free of these tethers. I argue that one way to mitigate biases in CRE’s methodological norms further is by regularly engaging non-Abrahamic moral-religious groups through interdisciplinary approaches. This paper thus highlights how a grounded, multidisciplinary study of Native American religions, ethics, and movements can helpfully expose remaining Christian and ethnocentric biases within CRE that may otherwise remain hidden or unaddressed. To do so, it first recounts the scholarly consensus regarding how much Christian bias remains in CRE; it then turns to recently published work on CRE and Native American religious groups to show how interdisciplinary approaches can help ethicists mitigate ethnocentrism, gather data more accurately, and move our guild toward greater inclusivity and generative discourse.
This paper examines the reach of ethnocentrism in the field of comparative religious ethics (CRE) and argues that while the discipline has moved beyond explicit forms of “parochialism and Western bias” that plagued earlier studies, it still suffers from implicit forms of ethnocentrism that are most often expressed in putatively “universal” categories of comparison. I suggest that categories of comparison or bridge concepts like virtue, subjectivity, or perhaps even “morality” betray specific conceptual histories that can be indexed to the discourse of modern, Western philosophy. Rather than searching for “thin” concepts with universal aspirations, we should on the one hand “parochialize” the discourse of CRE as irreducibly Western and on the other practice greater methodological charity by privileging the categories of thought that are native to non-Western traditions. This kind of methodological charity would not only complicate the categories of comparison but complicate the project of comparison itself.
Indigenous activist-writer Winona LaDuke posits that relational disruptions constitute an intentional consequence of techno-industrialism’s broad sweep across global ecosystems and multifarious human communities, rendering homelands into natural resources, communities into categorical differences, rooted knowledge into a past-tense progressivism toward the urban skyline, and vulnerable bodies into marketable skills and employable time (1). This paper grounds in ethics distilled from life-affirming, future-looking traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) rerooted in urban Indigenous restauranteurship. As climate innovators report that plants with deeper roots equate with a greater capacity to remove harmful greenhouse gas concentrations from the atmosphere, perhaps a similar understanding of human rootedness, as demonstrated in urban-located TEK, may further climate recovery both epistemologically and practically, exerting a Teflon-esque TEK technology against harmful ideologies and deracinating disruptions to place-based community knowledge.
Winona LaDuke, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 1999, 2.
Author Meets Critic session for Rebuilding Community: Displaced Women and the Making of a Shia Ismaili Muslim Sociality published by Oxford University Press. In addition to the author, four respondents—Professor Juliane Hammer, Professor Niki Kasumi Clements, Professor Katie Merriman, and Professor Shehnaz Haqqani—will provide reflections on the book. The respondents will unpack the various threads of the book in relation to anthropology of Islam, ethics of care, and migrant/displaced peoples’ lifeworlds.
Religious language and practices do not exist in a vacuum. When new religions arise they exist in linguistic and conceptual relationships of concert and conflict with existing hegemonic regimes of religion, language, and cognition. Presenters engage how the language of Protestantism affects Wiccan discourse, how esoteric practice and personal revelation transform norms of chaplaincy and how the language of secular aesthetics and cognition structures sequential meditative schema to produce (or conjure) perceptual interactions with ‘other-than-human’ actants. In turn, each of these decenters assumptions about where greater hermeneutic and interpretative authority lies in language, revelation and practice.
The goal of this paper is to explore the influence Christianity has on the American Wiccans understanding of their own spirituality. I will argue that the way Wiccans discuss their spirituality uses an emotional language that was inherited from a Christian understanding of what it means to be religious. I will then expand on this by showing the influence emotions have on cultivating religious experience using psychological research to support this argument.
This study investigates the impact of two key concepts, "open and closed practices" and "unverified personal gnosis" (UPG), on chaplaincy in contemporary Paganism. Drawing on qualitative data gathered through surveys and interviews with Pagan chaplains, practitioners, and scholars, this study explores how these ideas transform chaplaincy in Pagan communities.
This study highlights the ways in which the concepts of open and closed practices and UPG are transforming chaplaincy in contemporary Paganism. As Pagan communities continue to evolve and grow, the role of chaplains will remain an important and dynamic part of the spiritual landscape. This paper will explore the skills and knowledge chaplains may develop to navigate the complexities of these concepts to provide effective and supportive pastoral care to all members of their communities.
The influence of secularization in paganism and occult practice is generating cultures of magical practice with secular aesthetics. These secular aesthetics appeal to scientific reasoning when seeking sources from which to draw traditional authority. Tulpamancy is a magical practice that struggles with the term ‘magic,’ despite originating from traditions without this challenge. Instead, tulpamancy describes a collection of meditative and visualization techniques that create a particular experience while embodying a secular aesthetic. This embodiment makes tulpamancy particularly salient to the discourse on magic and science. Whereas other inquiries might reductively compartmentalize magical experience to engage it successfully with science or ethnographic theory, tulpamancy actively molds itself to that example. I suggest that this makes tulpamancy particularly salient to discourse on the relationship between emic experience and theory while providing valuable insight into non-sui generis models of practitioner experience and supernatural agent encounters.