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A19-201

Theme: Religious Studies and Catastrophe - Past, Present, and Future(s)

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

Inspired by this year’s Presidential Theme - Religion and Catastrophe - the GSC Special Topics Forum reflects on the topic of catastrophe, as well as how this concept is utilized in the academy. Through this forum, we hope to launch a conversation that shines a light on the diverse topics, times, and contexts that scholars research, while also reflecting on how terms are used. How, when, and why do religious communities, popular media, or scholars invoke the term catastrophe? By classifying incidents as catastrophes, what power structures are challenged or reinforced? What solutions or idyllic alternatives can be proposed or imagined? We also seek to explore the unique ways in which scholars of religion are equipped to explain or untangle these complex issues.

  • Abstract

    One of the most horrific catastrophes is displacement and forced migration. Being uprooted and homeless is not only extremely traumatizing but also pauses an existential threat.  Along with it, refugees often experience the loss of loved ones in wars, conflicts, or during displacements. This proposal seeks to explore how refugees draw on their faith to give them resilience and strength to continue struggling to improve their lives. Resilience can be defined as finding ways to overcome challenges and catastrophes to imagine solutions and lead a purposeful life. The paper will also examine how communities respond to the challenges. The primary sources for this paper are documentaries that range from the years (2011 to 2021). My main goal is to identify lessons of resilience that can be applied to our current situation under the pandemic and loss of many lives to Covid 19, and for future catastrophes or traumas. I would also like to explore how academics can use the concept of resilience in the classroom.

  • Abstract

    This paper analyzes the devotional resilience of a halal restaurant in North Philadelphia as Islamic practice. The techniques of resilience of my interlocutors are "devotional" insofar as their engagement with Islamic discourses, ethics, and social bonds orients them toward God and against asymmetric forces. This restaurant faces challenges that afflict food service business across Philadelphia. As a locally-oriented and Black-owned business in an under-resourced community, these struggles have been especially acute. But they are not entirely novel. Whether eminent domain in the past or, more recently, family tragedy and slimmer profit margins, this business has persisted by circulating Islamic discourse, providing clean food, and cultivating Islamic social bonds. Catastrophe in the form of COVID-19 and market logics have pushed this restaurant to the edge of viability. Their devotional resilience shows some U.S. Muslims practice Islamic tradition by confronting catastrophe, as well as the neoliberalism and racialization entangled in it.

  • Abstract

    QAnon followers frequently reference films like The Matrix, Rambo, Star Wars, and Braveheart while also infusing their own religious and spiritual beliefs. For QAnon believers, memes that reference on-screen storytelling1 act as a kind of shorthand, hinting at “secret” knowledge, offering implicit commentary, and building real worldviews out of fictional storytelling. Religious communities and pop culture fandoms share a desire to connect and create community, but what happens when these groups begin to share ideologies and beliefs that perpetuate conspiracy theories, hateful rhetoric, and catastrophic apocalyptic narratives? A glimpse into QAnon’s participatory meme storytelling reveals the dynamic contours of conspiracy theories, religious contestations, and the technological tools that allow us to encounter and create communal narratives in online spaces. This presentation will explore how QAnon creates these narratives through a religious lens, a (pop culture) storytelling lens, and a participatory lens, and their community beliefs and practices are influenced by all three. Ultimately, it is not enough to merely recognize and regulate conspiratorial information online; we must also be cognizant of the way conspiratorial and apocalyptic stories are crafted and spread, and what makes them so compelling.

  • Abstract

    This commentary/reflection draws on my own experiences inside the MENA region and in particular; Turkey and Israel/Palestine. I have spent large amounts of time in both places during my Graduate studies and I have been afforded the opportunity to travel extensively in both places. The Palestinians have endured a brutal illegal military occupation for more than 50 years whilst Turkey’s Kurdish, Assyrian and Armenian groups have all faced institutional racism, bias and discrimination. Its easy to dwell on the negative and to think about all the barriers that scholars of religion are trying to overcome. Travel is a luxury which allows to change the way we think and to look at the world differently. In Canada we have been accustomed to hearing horror stories about the treatment of Indigenous children which was normalized in the past through “racism”, “colonialism” and “Genocide”. It may appear “impossible” to conceptualize a way out of this historical catastrophe and its modern residue, but I argue that by looking outside the borders of North America we can find inspiration for hope that capitalism, racism, colonialism, sexism and speciesism could actually be overcome through the supremacy of the human spirit.

  • Abstract

    While the Covid-19 pandemic has raged all across the globe, Black America has found themselves on the receiving end of continued marginalization that has been unrelenting. We know that African-Americans have been unfairly impacted by Covid-19. We know that Black people have also experienced multiple marginalization in this country. What has empowered continual survial? What has allowed thriving? This paper looks at the survival tools of many Black Americans inside and outside of the Academic setting that have been employed in order to remain steady in a world that has shifted towards brutality. This paper takes a close look at God and an embodied faith of Black people.

  • Abstract

    Amongst spiritual practitioners I worked with in Aotearoa/New Zealand, “healing” is a widely used term that may be understood as a response to climate change. It involves reclaiming spiritual connections and re-sacralizing relationships that are human, nonhuman, more-than-human and transhuman. Participatory “connection” is emphasized in opposition to the separations that are at root of our climate crisis. In this context, and particularly as Aotearoa/New Zealand was spared the worst of the pandemic, the social interruption presented by Covid-19 was widely understood as a time of hope and healing, accompanied by profound personal experiences. This understanding could come to clash with government solutions in the form of vaccinations, masks, and mandates, resulting ultimately in a protest at parliament taking shape as a festival.

A19-219

Theme: Martyrdom and the Sensory Turn

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

This panel brings together five historians of Christianity to consider what “the sensory turn” in the humanities brings to the study of martyrdom in the Christian tradition. An outgrowth of interest in embodiment, the turn to the senses as media of knowing and experience has left an impression on the study of religion, and has fostered a range of productive questions. What does attention to the full range of the body’s sensory capacities add to our understanding of martyrdom? How did martyrdom and its diverse literary, material, and ritual representations engage and construct religious difference (pagan, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Indigineous, or otherwise), and how did the senses shape or problematize these processes of difference making? The five papers on this panel explore the role of smell, touch, hearing, and taste in narratives of martyrdom from the fourth to the eighteenth century, from late antique Persia to early modern Canada.  

  • Abstract

    This paper will study the exemplary effect that the life and death of the early Christian virgin-martyr Lucy of Syracuse, Sicily (d. 303 or 310), had on the composition of hagiographical texts in communities of religious women in central medieval England. It focuses on how the mortuary roll composed and circulated after the death of Lucy (d. 1225x1230), the founder and first prioress of Castle Hedingham, a community of Benedictine nuns in Essex, remembered her imitation of Saint Lucy’s virginity and martyrdom and invited the members of Castle Hedingham, present and future, to venerate both women as saints and to pattern their lives after theirs through sensual engagement with the roll: viewing its opening three illuminations depicting the ascent of Prioress Lucy’s soul, reading and listening to the encyclical’s praises of both Lucys’ meritorious deeds, and handling the roll as a treasured relic of their beloved dead.

  • Abstract

    Two late antique texts describe raucous happenings during feast days near saints’ relics. Gregory of Tours describes a congregation leaping and breaking the lamps that hang from the ceiling so the whole group is drenched in oil and exorcised. John Chrysostom describes “clamoring and disorder” near the altar at one of Antioch’s earliest martyria. Here I frame martyria as loud, chaotic places and consider their affective textures - not just piety but desperation (even if joyful!) for contact with the holy, and the physical ways that desperation expresses itself at martyria, which we might think of as abundant founts of praesentia. 

  • Abstract

    The prolific Syriac poet Narsai (d. 500 C.E.) delivered only two poems on martyrs, compared to the nearly thirty hagiographical poems of his Syriac poetic counterpart, Jacob of Serugh (d. 521). Jacob's extensive hagiographical corpus also seems to reflect a more realistic view of the embodied character of martyrdom. Whereas the bodies of Jacob's martyrs become sites for the cultivation of a luscious, imaginative sensorium, Narsai uses the martyrs to reflect upon the deceitful character of the body's senses. This paper complexifies this perspective by taking seriously a range of tensions around embodiment that run throughout Narsai's two poems "On Martyrs." While Narsai does reify the martyrs' virtue as deeply disembodied, he develops this argument through a rich lexicon of sound, taste, and touch. This paper marks this tense place where the senses are both cultivated and denied to ask questions around embodiment and knowledge in the cult of the martyrs. 

  • Abstract

    In this paper, I propose to attend to the multi-dimensional sensorium of martyrdom as it is constructed by seventeenth-century Jesuit narratives of the North American martyrs in the Jesuit Relations and the Precieux Manuscrit of 1652. What is the role not just of the visual sense in representations of Jesuit martyrdom, but of the olfactory, haptic, auditory, and gustatory senses, too? In what ways do the senses work together to construct the categories of martyr and infidel, good and evil, faith and heresy so crucial to the martyrological genre? I propose to consider how the plurisensory representations of martyrdom shape not only conceptual understandings of the events of 1642-1649, but also affective responses to those events in a readership removed both geographically and temporally from the mission field of New France.

  • Abstract

    Beginning with the story of a “wondrously,” flexible and flesh-like Christ figure recovered after the death of Francisco Xavier Saeta in 1695, this paper argues that practices of physical intimacy with a dead missionary’s body, clothing, and devotional objects became central ways to evaluate not just the status of a potential martyr, but the very fate of Jesuit missions in northern New Spain. While letters, maps, and artwork verbally and visually displayed missionary sacrifice, these other forms of embodied intimacy were celebrated as key signs of Indigenous sincerity and evangelistic success. Through kissing and caress, converts supposedly signaled their devotion to the priests and their god, while more violent touch – ranging from cannibalistic feasting to sexual assault – featured heavily in Jesuit accounts of divine judgment. Taken together, this sensorium of martyrdom served as experiential evidence of the Christian god’s invisible work to redeem violence and bring life through death.

A19-220

Theme: Mapping Catastrophes: Vulnerability, Exclusion, and Hope for Liberation

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

Catastrophes on a local, regional, and global scale are not new phenomena, especially for the most vulnerable, the impoverished, and the excluded by those who benefit greatly from the status quo and the systems they support and participate in. New to this time is the rapidly increasing impact of climate change, the rise of governments and political leaders that continue to pursue policies that are extractive of natural resources, exclusivist of peoples on the move and peoples on the margins, and the continued manufacturing of untruth at the service of nationalistic power and market progress. All of this makes it difficult to hear the voices of the excluded and marginalized as they identify sources and places for liberation and hope. This session gathers five papers exploring intersections of these themes in a variety of contexts.

  • Abstract

    As an attempt to seek theologies that counteract the often reactionary and apologetic discourse of contemporary Muslim thinkers, I argue that reading the Qur’an as a source for liberation, such as done by Farid Esack and Asma Barlas, can be examples for addressing systemic injustices and offer hopeful frameworks of ‘Muslim futuring’. More so, standing amidst, and being weaponized in the discussion on Islamic intellectual authority, I argue that their Islamic theology of liberation could offer a third voice, one that bypasses the counterpoising of Islam and the West whilst still offering an authentic Islamic response to the challenges of our time. As such, I argue that their reading of the Qur’an as one for liberation presents a proposal for alternative visions of resistance to exclusion, violence and human suffering, whilst simultaneously offering Muslims in the West an unapologetic response to the challenges of our time.

  • Abstract

    This paper will answer the question “what agendas/issues are left out to discuss in the church and society for the liberation of all people?” I am going to state that solidarity among the oppressed and the oppressors is a needed basic step and strength for the collective liberation of all the oppressed in the church and society. In the first part of the paper, I will introduce a brief background of the Myanmar regime government and my conservative Kachin Baptist Convention. In the second part of the paper, I will present the limited understanding of liberation theologies. In the last section, I am going to argue that to have a genuine liberation for individuals in the church and society; the power holders need to ally with the oppressed in liberation movements. For my argument, I will use the Myanmar people’s spirit of solidary during the current military coup that transcends racial, ethnic, political, sexual, religious, and class boundaries as an example and postcolonial approaches.

     

  • Abstract

    This paper offers a political, ecological, and theological analysis of the United States’ border policy of “Prevention Through Deterrence” (PTD), a strategy that since the 1990s conscripts the desert landscape into inflicting punishment and death on border crossers. PTD transforms the borderlands into an ecology of hell, a site where the place itself punishes the reprobate of U.S. immigration policy. This operation resembles traditional Christian understandings of hell, where the damned are punished while the blessed in heaven observe from heaven rejoicing. This border regime is not simply about deterrence, but functions to create a catastrophic spectacle at the border that produces and reproduces conceptions of both “illegal” alien and citizen. Against this regime, Gustavo Gutierrez’s soteriological understanding of creation can unmask this violent production of alien/citizen by seeing liberation as God’s intention for all, including both the border crossers and the desert itself.

  • Abstract

    Why has *A Theology of Liberation* rarely been placed in conversation with queer theology? This absence is especially noteworthy because queer theory shares with liberation theology central concerns of hope and futurity. The recent anniversary of Gustavo Gutiérrez’s landmark book invites reflection on the irruption of hope and on how his subsequent corpus modulates hope through time in the face of failure. This paper traces Gutiérrez’s concept of hope as a shifting insistence on utopian potentiality by reading Gutiérrez through the writings of Jack Halberstam and José Esteban Muñoz. Queer theory draws attention to the failures of liberation as examples of the necessary disappointment entailed in hope’s “indispensable excessive reach.” However, the heartbreak of failure is understood as the condition of possibility for imagining political transformation. Liberation theology, through queer eyes, can remap the Christian imaginary and generate radical politics by embracing the queer art of failure.

  • Abstract

    In the context of the George Floyd rebellion, Tobi Haslett asked what force prompts people to, as he put it, “cross the mystic threshold between ‘respectability and dignity.’” Understandings of matter as inert and thus dependent on the human mind and systems of rules and morals fund the “respectability” side of this conflict. Understandings of matter as active and resilient fund the “dignity” side of the conflict. Dignity doesn’t lie in a response to a moral code; it is a response to matter. I argue that narratives emphasizing the activity and resiliency of matter can, in ways that narratives perceiving matter as inert cannot, account for and clarify revolutionary projects for dignity without folding them back into the realm of respectability. My presentation proposes using this understanding of mater as a way to re-connect liberation theology to historical projects.

A19-221

Theme: Visibility/Invisibility: Native American Recognition and Sovereignty

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

This panel considers ritual engagement with land as means of becoming visible, and achieving political recognition and cultural sovereignty. We consider how Indigenous communities (re)take space in National Parks, create mechanisms for negotiating agreements with the NPS and challenge accepted notions of what constitutes “religion.” Another piece explores Indigenous, land-based diplomacy and political philosophy from a Cree perspective, where land is not terrain to be acted upon but an agent that recognizes those who properly engage with it. A third considers notions of visibility and invisibility in (re)gaining recognition, through a consideration of strategic ways that going underground—becoming temporarily invisible—can a tool for survival. Finally, another project continues by considering how Southern non-federally recognized tribes push back against erasure, claiming visibility through women’s sacred work. The panel asks what it means to be recognized, and the role that engagement with sacred lands
has in becoming visible.

  • Abstract

    On U.S. National Forests, Parks, or Monuments, it is illegal for all people to collect plants without a permit issued for scientific or educational purposes. In 2019, however, the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Medicine Keepers worked together with the National Park Service and the University of Arizona school of Anthropology to create a mechanism for tribes to negotiate agreements with national parks in their traditional homelands to gather traditional plants. This paper will examine the Cherokee Plant Gathering Agreement to argue that through enacting sovereignty in these negotiated agreements with federal agencies, the Cherokee have continued ancestral religious practices, ontologies and kinship relations and in doing so, the Cherokee not only provide for the continuation of ancestral ceremonies and healing, but also resist and push back against Western categories of religion ultimately creating space to redefine “religion” within the United States legal system.

  • Abstract

    This paper presents a Cree (Iiyiyiu) politics of recognition and suggests it constitutes a decolonial spiritual practice and restoration of land-based diplomacy that departs from normative liberal frameworks. I begin by describing how certain Cree community ceremonies, such as the walking out ceremony and first snowshoe walk, model a distinctly Cree politics of recognition that involve land not simply as an issue to be taken into account in dealings with others, but as an actor who receives, grants, and moderates recognition among diverse beings. I then draw on two political events: the Cree-Inuit reconciliation ceremony at the Nastapoka river and the Journey of Nishiyuu to illustrate how the Cree assert this culturally informed model of recognition to negotiate external pressures and their relationships with others. Ultimately, I suggest Iiyiyiu political philosophies can be informative for reshaping discussions around recognition and reconciliation with the land.

  • Abstract

    I’m hearing many stories of how little-known and unrecognized indigenous peoples across the California bio-region are finding unique means to reclaim waters, lands, and culture — even extending to new-comers their spiritual relationships with place. To survive, many tribes — Esselen, Tubatulabal, Northern Chumash, Smuwic, and Ohlone — have hidden and been considered extinct for decades — sometimes for well over a century. All these are now daylighting their identities, and alongside such federally recognized tribes as Yurok and Wiyot, are reawakening stewardship relations with traditional waters and lands. To survive, many let their songs, stories, ceremonies, languages, and visible participation in indigenous ecological knowledge go to sleep. Now, even when lacking casino wealth, these tribes are exhibiting the creativity through which they survived, embracing new paths via traditional practices for building good relations, and thereby establishing unique and replicable models for land-back.

  • Abstract

    Native American tribes in the American South largely exist in a state of invisibility. Within the state of South Carolina, only one of 17 Native communities has treaty lands and is federally recognized. This paper engages four Native communities, each with a different administrative status, but a shared history of erasure, revealing the complicated entanglement of land, religion, and cultural identity in South Carolina. Critical to this story is the role of both Native women and Christianity. Native women argue their traditional roles as mothers and teachers, paired with Christian commitment, are resources for their efforts to claim legal recognition, remake land-based traditions, and revitalize traditional arts and languages. Through the voices of Native women, this paper considers the unique challenges of non-federally recognized tribes in land back movements and the spiritual implications of these efforts for communities that identify largely as Native Christians.

A19-222

Theme: Race and National Identity in Developing a Pentecostal Practice

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

This panel consists of papers that look at pentecostal movements and draws conclusions about how their identities and practices have formed in light of national or ethnic identities.

  • Abstract

    This paper explores the nature of exorcism/deliverance in the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Brazil. Based on the observation of a worship service, it analyses the ritual practices in a specific church building associated with Zionist symbolism, as well as linking them to therapeutic soteriology and prosperity teaching. It places these symbols and practices within the wider context of Brazilian Pentecostalism as well as exorcism/deliverance in global Pentecostalism. Finally, it seeks to reflect on them theologically and wrestles with the idea that such practices provide liberation and hope for the some of the poorest people in Brazil.

  • Abstract

    Pentecostal studies has long recognized the importance of race and social context for understanding Pentecostal movements. However, there is relatively little work analyzing the particularity of Whiteness in White Pentecostalism. This paper argues that: 1) White Pentecostals self-consciously identified as White in a way that shaped their experience of the world, and 2) that this particularity included a spatial dynamic that was theologically important for missions efforts at the time. This paper draws from from Assemblies of God General Council meetings and the Pentecostal Evangel in the 1950’s and 1960’s to demonstrate how concerns for suburban property and anti-Black perceptions of cities shaped White Pentecostal theology and practice. In doing so, this paper offers clarity on the relationship between race and Pentecostal theology and practice while modeling the value of Critical Race Theory for understanding Pentecostalism in the US.

  • Abstract

    “In what ways does a consideration of histories of Black communities within the Pentecostal and Charismatic community create openings for analyzing anew Oneness/Trinitarian theologies and practices? How are theological considerations transfigured by a certain exploration of patterns of meaningfulness, modes, sensibilities, and behaviors of Black life that are exhibited particularly in doxological events homiletically provoked? I consider Black Pentecostal preachers who homiletically personify what Ashon Crawley calls “BlackPentecostalism”—a portmanteau marking  rich combination and multiplicity—as a way of examining a spiritual heterogeneity at play in worship experiences and the openness this produces for Black life. Appreciating the comprehensiveness and religious plurality of the Black religious landscape and entering examinations of BlackPentecostalism through this vantage opens new horizons of knowing and possibilities of thought. I’m curious of the theological relief and transcendence liturgical practice affords intracommunally/intercommunally, even across deep lines of difference doctrinally construed.”

  • Abstract

    This paper examines the practice of snake handling using Nimi Wariboko’s analysis of Pentecostal aesthetics. Wariboko has analyzed the Nigerian Pentecostal practice of “hot prayers” as a paradigmatic Pentecostal aesthetic practice. My paper draws on this analysis to argue that snake handling exhibits some of the dynamics of “real presence” and “pure means” by which divine power is made sensibly manifest and brought to bear in concrete situations. According to this logic, the practice serves as a space for the practitioners, who are often socially marginal, to experience renewed possibilities for their lives. In grasping at creatures that represent the possibility of death, the practitioners may experience new possibilities for life.

A19-223

Theme: Specters of Marx, Theological and Political

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

In April 1993, Jacques Derrida gave a lecture published later that year as Spectres de Marx, which quickly became one of his most celebrated texts. Thirty years later, how might a return to Specters challenge hegemonic culture and contribute to decolonization? This panel poses philosophical, theological, and political questions by attending to Marx and the specters of Marx. We begin by asking whether and how Derrida’s discourse in Specters might be understood to be “materialist.” Observing the uncanny appearance of Enrique Dussel’s Las metáforas teológicas de Marx in the same year as Derrida’s text, we reexamine the specters and theological metaphors of Marx, tracking his conjuration of the revenants of Christianity and asking what “unproductive labor” might accomplish “beyond man.” By returning to the theological and political specters of Marx, we aim to promote decolonization inside and outside of the philosophy of religions and the study of political theology today.

  • Abstract

    On some of the most celebrated pages of his Specters of Marx, amid discussion of the messianic and khōra, Jacques Derrida discreetly advances the notion of a certain materialism, a “materialism without substance.” In view of Derrida's longstanding solicitation of the form/matter binary of metaphysics, what would the thought of such a materialism require? How should it be understood in relation to the messianic and khōra, and how would it relate to Derrida's notion of absolute hospitality? In short, attending to a certain specter of Marx, what is the theoretical and practical significance of Derrida's notion of a “materialism without substance”? I aim to approach this question through a close reading of Specters with select reference to other texts in Derrida's corpus. I conclude by attending to the implications of Derrida's theological and political specters of Marx for the philosophy of religions and the study of political theology today.

  • Abstract

    This essay provides a reading that interweaves Derrida’s Specters of Marx and Dussel’s Las metáforas teológicas de Marx, both published in 1993. Each book supported new engagements with Marx: with Derrida, we witness the formalization of a deconstructive account of Marxian texts and, in the case of Dussel, a decolonial approach to Marxism. Deconstruction and decolonization, though not coterminous traditions, are shown to share commitments for the formation of emancipatory political projects. Moreover, in marking the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of these books, this essay suggests that, read in tandem, Specters of Marx and Las metáforas teológicas de Marx might provoke a new encounter with Marx. To that effect, this essay centers its attention on the question of futurity as presented by Derrida’s references to the messianic and by Dussel’s sensitivity to eschatological motifs in Marx.

  • Abstract

    In this paper, I articulate how liberation philosophy reinterprets the Marxist critique of religion to advance a postsecular account of religion as a source of criticism. I focus on Enrique Dussel’s Las metáforas teológicas de Marx to illustrate how liberation philosophy makes room to comprehend religion beyond the vulgar Marxist dismissal of it as “the opium of the people.” From this perspective, what is criticized by Marx turns out to be not “religion” tout court, but the inversion or fetishization of religion (Christianity, in this case) into an “inverted world-consciousness,” the critique of which presupposes an understanding of its prior un-invertedness. It is then the criticism of this fetishism that is the premise of all criticism. I end by arguing that the Marx of liberation philosophy is a postsecular Marx that can be useful to the process of epistemic decolonization.

  • Abstract

    This paper examines Marx’s efforts to develop a critical materialism in the pivotal years 1843-1846, focusing on Marx’s reliance on figures of Jew and Christian as controlling metaphors through which he articulates his critique of “Christian-Germanic dogma” and broaches what we think of as historical materialism. In this period, Marx diagnoses a latent supersessionism animating philosophy and attempts to overcome it via a hyperbolic reversal of its Pauline conceptual hierarchies. For Marx, the possibility of materialism comes to turn on the answer to philosophy’s Christian question—whether it is possible to articulate a form of critique unencumbered by Christian forms, or whether, as Derrida suggests, every critique of Christianity justifies “a proto-Christianity to come.” In his struggle to exorcise materialism’s Christian specter, Marx poses questions of contemporary urgency: how do we conceptualize materiality? Can we dispense with philosophy’s opposition of spirit and matter, and the forms of domination it sustains?

  • Abstract

    This paper examines Derrida’s transposition of Marx’s concept of productive labor into the unproductive “work” of the “work of mourning,” which Derrida figures as absolute potential rather than mere activity or inactivity and which comes to stand for a new form of philosophical inquiry. How is the relationship between philosophy and theology negotiated at this site, where the productive and unproductive are delimited in relation to formations that circulate as religious, including commodity fetishism, prophetic visions of the end of history, and, for Derrida, ontotheology? I relate this guiding question to recent Black feminist scholarship on the labor of social reproduction, as well as studies of modality in the early modern European philosophy that Marx inherited, especially on the modal category of possibility, to inform a contemporary inheritance of Marx and Derrida and to offer new avenues for considering the political and theological dimensions of Derrida’s reflections on philosophical labor.

A19-224

Theme: Practical Theology and Aesthetics

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

Aesthetics and theopoetics continue to evoke imaginative intersections with practical theology for they have the power to change the way we understand and embody reality. The Practical Theology Unit invites proposals for presentations that engage any dimension of the intersection of aesthetics and/or theopoetics and practical theology. These can be regarding theological language, method, modes of knowing and knowledge creation, and social transformation, as well as any intersections with sub-disciplines of practical theology. We welcome proposals that not only advance the research and discourse on practical theology and aesthetics, but also--and especially--those that attend to presentational modalities that highlight the role that aesthetics play in practical theological construction.

  • Abstract

    Dollywood—the largest attraction in the tourist towns of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, a 150-acre amusement park co-owned and co-operated by Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment—concludes its mission statement with "All in a Manner Consistent with Christian Values and Ethics.” Examining the park as a work of practical theology, this paper argues that the theology of Dollywood is incapsulated in the aesthetics of a rhinestone, and that approaching theology from this perspective charts a course for reconceptualizing mystical and queer theologies as practical theologies. Placing Gregory of Nyssa and Pseudo-Dionysius in conversation with Susan Sontag and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, the park appears as a practical space of dazzled theology: of exclusion and welcome, of reparative theology, and of utopian longing. Taken together, these provide the groundwork for Dolly's account of her mystical scene of conversion and concrete space of the imagination of queerer forms of Christian belonging.

  • Abstract

    The paper starts from the position that the role and place of aesthetics in all its nuances – wisdom, spirituality, materiality, creativity, expressivity – have not been adequately conceptualised and integrated in our practical theologies. The aim of this paper is to contribute to the important discussion regarding practical theology and aesthetics by describing and  reflecting on different understanding of aesthetics as portrayed in three keynote conference papers of the International Academy of Practical Theology (IAPT). The papers by Friedrich Schweitzer (Quebec City 1999), David Tracy (Chicago 2009) and Heather Walton (Oslo 2017) offer distinct perspectives on practical theology and aesthetics and raise many interesting questions. The paper ends with a brief reflection on three questions: 1) why has aesthetics been marginalised in academic practical theology?; 2) how can we give aesthetics its proper place in practical theology?; and 3) what are the main challenges regarding the aesthetic dimension of practical theology?
  • Abstract

    Notions of Christian identity in the United States have become increasingly contested over the past several years, with many endeavoring to answer questions of identity through theological, sociological or anthropological lenses.  However, I argue that most endeavors to construct conceptual frameworks that adequately describe the shifts in both Christian identity and practices fail to account for a key component of Christian identity and its formation: the role played by aesthetics. I propose that any attempt to describe Christians and Christianity must include an aesthetic component. Therefore, I will argue that there exists a necessary relationship between aesthetic texts, practices and formation. Furthermore, this formation is accomplished through fundamentally aesthetic and dramatic, thus fundamentally affective, processes. Accordingly, I argue aesthetic texts and dramatic practices form dispositions through the bodies and imaginations of participants that are particular to and consistent with the aesthetic of the texts and practices.

A19-202

Theme: 2022 AAR Journalism Awards

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

This session will feature recipients of this year's AAR Journalism Awards, which for the first time includes two separate categories: Best In-Depth Newswriting and Best In-Depth Multimedia Journalism.

A19-225

Theme: Tafsīr Between Intersecting Genres and Disciplinary Boundaries

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

In recent years, tafsīr has increasingly been studied in its own right as an emerging area of research, rather than simply as an extension of Qurʾānic Studies. However, it has become evident that the relationship of tafsīr with other genres in pre-modern Muslim discourse is a complicated one. The papers in this session help reveal the ways in which the intersection of tafsīr with other genres was a central tool in the making of Islamic knowledge. We seek to analyze the relationship between tafsīr and law, ḥadīths and companion reports, history and historiography, grammar and rhetoric, and stories of the prophets (qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ) and the Israelite traditions (isrāʾīliyyāt). Our purpose is to underscore both the intersections and disciplinary boundaries between tafsīr and these genres in order to understand the legal, theological, and social genealogies that have authorized various beliefs as authentically Islamic and limited the formation of Muslim exegetical authority.

 

 

  • Abstract

    This paper surveys the earliest extant commentaries and works of qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ pertaining to the Prophet Lot up to the 10th centuryboth in manuscripts and in print. It adopts an intertextual approach to trace narrative details in qiṣaṣ, which map onto critical diachronic developments of the Lot narrative in tafsīr. I consider what can be gained from examining both the intersection and boundaries of tafsīrqiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ and the isrāʾīlīyāt and illustrate the way their convergence enable us to understand the extent to which oral story-telling shaped early Muslim exegetes’ making of the Lot narrative. I contend that early Muslim exegetes appropriated the stories of the storytellers (quṣāṣ) and imported them into their tafsīr. This resulted in Muslim exegetes producing a Lot narrative that was very much in line with the middrash aggadah and biblical tradition, a narrative about an inhospitable people who refused to host travelers and guests.

  • Abstract

    Within the Damascene scholarly community in the 13th and 14th century, the traditionalist Shāfiʿī scholars produced many writings that are characterized by the attempt to integrate hadith to a larger extent in almost all disciplines. This trend was part of the aim to reduce the influences foreign elements such as Greek philosophy and Aristotelian logic and to foster an inner Islamic discourse. Among the group of productive traditionalist Shāfiʿī scholars was Ibn Kathīr (d. 774/1373) whose Qurʾān commentary and historiographic work have reached great acceptance. Both works draw from similar sources, overlap in material and use Prophetic traditions when discussing theological questions. This paper will look into the intertextualities between Ibn Kathīr’s history work “al-Bidāya wa-l-nihāya” and his Qurʾān commentary. It aims to demonstrate how Ibn Kathīr’s traditionalist approach and his particular historical thinking influenced both works and how he transcends the boundaries of genres.

  • Abstract

    What considerations give rise to an exegete’s use of legal hermeneutics in Qurʾanic exegesis? As a case example, this paper analyzes medieval and modern Qurʾanic interpretations of Q. 2:228, a verse that establishes the legal process following a man’s unilateral pronouncement of divorce. While legal considerations primarily informed medieval exegetes’ interpretations of this verse, they did not consistently apply this methodology to the last part of the verse, “and men have a degree over them.” By highlighting a unique modern interpretation that restricts the meaning of men’s degree to the legal context of divorce, this paper identifies a significant shift in medieval and modern interpretations of men’s degree, illustrating the potential of law to expand or restrict the boundaries of tafsīr. This paper further identifies considerations that give rise to an exegetes’ choice to use or discard legal hermeneutics. In the case of men’s degree over women, exegetes’ legal-based hermeneutics appear to give way to the influence of cultural and social norms on gender.

  • Abstract

    Abū Ḥayyān al-Gharnāṭī (d. 745/1344) was engaged in debates about the scope and the subject matter of Tafsir.  In the introduction of al-Baḥr he binds the authority of the exegete to his expertise as a grammarian and rhetorician to the very subject matter of Qur’an commentary.  Explication is not theology, it is not hadith, it is not legal reflections.  A Qur’an commentary is not a rattlebag for various disciplinary fields, where one muses over ideas and themes generated by an encounter with the Qur’an.  It is rather a philological exercise where expertise in the language is the measure and tool. 

     

    This defense of the authority of the exegete was directed at two camps, a radical Sunni camp that saw hadith as the measure of the Qur’an, and a batani camp that saw the Imams as the speakers of its meaning. 

A19-226

Theme: Engaging Katherine Sonderegger’s Systematic Theology, Vol. 2: The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity (Fortress Press, 2020)

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

This panel engages with Katherine Sonderegger’s *Systematic Theology, Volume 2: The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: Processions and Persons* (2020). After panelists’ critical analysis and reflection on the recent developments in her work, Sonderegger will respond, and a discussion will follow.

A19-227

Theme: Freedom and Religion in the United States

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

Bill of Rights protections of speech, religion, and gun ownership continue to shift in definition and applicability. This session explores the limits of and appeals to freedom by religious individuals in our politically fractured society. The first paper explores appeals to free exercise rights in attempts to claim exemption to Covid-19 vaccine, testing, and mask policies and the ways in which this debate broadens the boundaries of religious experience and expression. The second paper presents a theological approach to hate speech and the limits of free speech protections. The third paper explores women's religious perspectives on mass shootings, public violence, and gun rights. The last examines Conservative Christian appeals to the legacy of the Civil Rights era in contemporary debates over free exercise of religion.

  • Abstract

    As a result of the COVID pandemic, the number of free exercise case before US courts has increased markedly, with public health policies such as vaccination requirements and mask-wearing emerging as significant sites of legal controversy. Yet to seek an accommodation under American free exercise law, claimants must first demonstrate that their opposition is rooted in a “sincerely-held religious belief.” Given this, conservative legal and religious groups have begun publishing online advice and guidelines to assist claimants in articulating and expressing their objections as ‘religious’ in nature, even in instances where initial opposition derives primarily from non-devotional concerns of safety, trust, or libertarian conceptions of free choice. This paper analyzes these documents as a unique window into how conservative legal and religious actors are reconfiguring the meaning of “religion” as an intelligible legal category and the ways these projects are subtly but significantly transforming American free exercise jurisprudence more broadly.

  • Abstract

    Must Christians support the political doctrine of free speech represented in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution? Should this support extend to the claim that even hate speech must be protected? Some theologians have argued that a Christian understanding of freedom demands nothing less. This claim comports with the absence of hate speech laws in the United States—the only Western democratic nation that does not make an exception for hate speech in its protection of free expression. But might there be other theological conceptions of freedom, namely one which recognizes that hate speech is opposed to the common good? This paper proposes an understanding of free speech that allows for the state’s regulation of utterances that may be deemed harmful by the community. Such an understanding calls for the exercise of political prudence while at the same time seeks to allow and encourage public expression.

  • Abstract

    My objective is to examine the intersection of religion and politics in American gun culture. In particular, I investigate how faith shapes attitudes toward gun violence, especially school and other mass shootings. Building on previous findings of the role of supernatural evil in gun ownership and attitudes toward gun control, I focus on evil and beliefs about public violence in the form of mass shootings. I extend existing work on this topic by identifying how civilian women connect faith, supernatural evil, and mass shootings in their own words. Using grounded theory, I find that women express strong feelings about school shootings, generally do not favor arming teachers, support the death penalty, and support stricter training requirements. Representing a wide range of opinions and attitudes about both guns and religion, the women in my sample provide a nuanced understanding of the association between them.

  • Abstract

    This paper explores how, in the final decades of the twentieth century, conservative evangelicals reframed debates on discrimination to focus on religious freedom and liberty. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, evangelicals consciously crafted a narrative that claimed they were a discriminated minority and the natural heirs to the civil rights movement. This approach held implications for public policy as evangelicals used claims of religious discrimination, disseminated through their bourgeoning religious television empires, to oppose new civil rights initiatives. The paper utilizes religious television transcripts, literature from evangelical political campaigns, and letters and correspondence sent by constituents to their congressional representatives and the Federal Communications Commission. In doing so, it helps scholars reckon with the place of memory in shaping public policy, the role of religious media in influencing debates over civil rights, and the roots of current disputes over religious freedom in the United States.

A19-228

Theme: Revivals, Loss, and the Challenge of Meaning-Making: Mike Flanagan's Midnight Mass

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

Midnight Mass is a Netflix mini-series that explores mystery, mysterium and the magisterium in an isolated island community. Both papers in this session dive deep into how this small community wrestles with faith, horror, and the sacred through the lenses of theology, secular studies, and cultural theory.

  • Abstract

    Mike Flanagan’s Netflix series, *Midnight Mass*, revels in ambiguity and liminality, engrossing viewers in a slow-burning story wherein the boundaries between faith and fanaticism, service and self-aggrandizement, even holiness and evil are often difficult to discern. In interviews, Flanagan has articulated the complex role his Catholic upbringing played in the formation of the series’ narrative, its presentation of faith, and its portrayal of conflicts within an historically Catholic community. This paper provides a theological-anthropological analysis of the series through a dialogue between the works of Julia Kristeva, Emmanuel Levinas, and Bernard Lonergan. Drawing from their accounts of abjection, otherness, and discernment, I argue that the series offers a nuanced and emotional portrayal of self-sacrificing cooperation with grace, which often expresses itself through the actions of those marginalized by reductive paradigms for religious devotion. In *Midnight Mass*, true holiness defies exclusion and expectation.

  • Abstract

    In 2021, Netflix released the limited series Midnight Mass, created, written, and produced by Mike Flanagan.  Midnight Mass portrays a world in which presumed polarities such as faith and reason, Catholicism and atheism, supernaturalism and materialism, good and evil, and life and death reverse as they become proximate.  This paper explores the dynamic conditions of narrative in Midnight Mass that enable this positional exchange.  Even as the series directly critiques the trappings of organized religion(s), I argue that Midnight Mass creates its own secular sacramental worldview, rooted in the same basic human needs attended to by traditional religion(s).  The genre of Catholic horror is particularly ripe for the examination of such binary reversals.  An investigation of cultural phenomena that exhibit forms of secular spirituality is necessary for the future of religion and popular culture studies.  Midnight Mass is a reflection of and commentary about our present cultural moment.

     

A19-229

Theme: Roundtable on Ethnography as Christian Theology and Ethics Volume II (Bloomsbury, 2022)

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

When volume one of Ethnography as Christian Theology and Ethics was published in 2011, qualitative fieldwork was still a novel, sometimes suspect, idea in these disciplines. Just eleven years later, the incorporation of qualitative research is a popular and accepted method of inquiry for theology and ethics, and the methodologies employed have become more varied and sophisticated. Recent work expands modes of collaboration and draws out new questions through participatory action research, auto-ethnography, participant co-authorship, and virtual ethnography. Leading and emerging scholars have much to share about how they approach this kind of work, what they are learning, and what sorts of change is possible. This panel features several of these scholars, each who have contributed a chapter to the volume. Panelists will offer some comments about their chapters, followed by a moderated discussion on new directions for qualitative fieldwork in theology and religious ethics.

A19-230

Theme: Rethinking Center and Margin: Perspectives from Southeast Asia

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

How do concepts of spatial thought and practice of Southeast Asian religious communities draw on meanings assigned to center and periphery? How do these communities consider their own positionality in relation to this binary? What are the theoretical implications of Southeast Asian place-making for how the study of religion is constituted? These are some of the compelling questions undertaken by five panelists, who analyze the interplay between the center and the margin from diverse perspectives within Southeast Asia. Two papers focus on Muslim communities in island Southeast Asia, while two panelists highlight issues for Buddhist communities in mainland Southeast Asia, and the last illustrates unique features of centrality for a Cambodian Buddhist diaspora in America. Together, this panel reveals how Muslim and Buddhist communities have conceptualized their own positionality vis-à-vis the historical centers of their religions, complicating the center-periphery binary, and demonstrating their active and creative participation in global traditions.

  • Abstract

    What does Mecca as the historical and ritual center of the Muslim world mean to those on its geographic periphery? Two famous stories of Javanese Muslims correcting the prayer direction in a mosque show that the meaning of Mecca is not stable. In traditions around Sunan Kalijaga, the true Mecca is found by journeying within, whereas for the modernist Ahmad Dahlan, the Ka’bah’s position is determined by western scientific technologies. In different ways, each not only makes the center accessible from anywhere, but constructs the center from the periphery, thereby undermining the possibility of a clear differentiation between the two.

  • Abstract

    This paper examines select Islamic materials from Southeast Asia and pays attention to how these materials portray Islamic spaces and believers of the region and encourage us to unlearn the peripheralization of Muslims regions. These materials shift our attention instead towards intersecting networks and an oceanic ecumene of Islam, while emphasizing the sanctity of seemingly peripheral parts of the Islamic world, in Southeast Asia. In their elaboration on the region’s pilgrimage centers, saints, ‘ulama, and shrines, these materials tell a story of devotional cultures, social memories and sacral places that are often pushed to the margins of Islamic studies. 

  • Abstract

    Myanmar’s natural resources have long shaped its religious life. Gold mined from its rivers cover the country’s towering pagodas. Teak from its tropical forests built the last Buddhist royal capital, Mandalay, as well as countless spirit (nat) shrines. Rubies from upland regions adorn the most powerful Buddha statues. And the abundance of rare earth metals finances the contemporary military regime’s violent religious nationalism. This paper examines objects manufactured out of precious metals, gems, and teak to question the way they have mapped religious life in Myanmar. It focuses on objects from the British Museum exhibition “Myanmar in the World,” scheduled for 2023–2024, and offers a preview of how that exhibition reveals connections between Myanmar’s rich land and complex religious history. It wagers that attention to natural resources and the labor that cultivates it sheds new light on how Burmese religions are structured.

  • Abstract

    Cremation as a celebration of death renders significance for both the living and the deceased in a society. The public mortuary ritual therefore evokes the commemoration and the aspirations for the constructed or “imagined socio-political center.” Inspired by the state cremation in the nineteenth-century Bali of Geertz (1980)’s “Negara” as the state theatre in the Hindu-Buddhist galactic polity by Tambiah (1977), this paper explores the persistence and centrality of public cremation in creating the imagined center and theatre state particularly in the post-revolutionary states of mainland Southeast Asia. Drawing on my participant observation at the royal cremation of King Norodom Sihanouk (2013) and of Princess Norodom Buppha Devi (2019) in Cambodia together with looking at the visual and archival materials of the cremation of Ñāthan Sālī Kantasīlo in Laos (2013) as well as of Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam (2022), I argue that “Negara” is reincarnated in these post-revolutionary settings.

  • Abstract

    For diasporic Cambodian Buddhist communities, the center of religious authority remains Cambodia. Most studies on Cambodian American Buddhists privilege interpretations of Buddhist practices as reactions to poverty following resettlement in the US. Ethnographic perspectives on these communities, however, highlight their political and religious power in their diasporic periphery as constituted through multiple activities such as communal chanting, and interactions with local authorities on zone laws during the construction of temples. Through ethnographic research at Wat Khmer, in Long Beach, California, this paper argues that the diasporic temple expands the politico-religious spatiality of Buddhism to meet the changing needs of the laity. Though Cambodia remains the center of Buddhism for Cambodian American practitioners, the construction of the periphery is also informed by the US context. Communities at Wat Khmer consistently reproduce Southeast Asia as central through changing understandings of what it means to be Cambodian Buddhist, Cambodian American, and Asian American.

A19-231

Theme: eBay Method and the Study of Religion

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

This roundtable proposes to make visible a practice that scholars of Christianity across disciplines regularly employ – acquiring objects of study through eBay. Roundtable panelists will each speak briefly about their experiences of searching, bidding on and buying materials for research projects, as well as bring sourced objects for the audience’s sensory engagement. These short provocations will then turn to a broader conversation about the methodological implications of engaging the digital marketplace as a research source. This panel aims to reveal eBay searching, bidding, acquisition, and messaging as something of a phantom method in the critical study of religion, widely practiced but not systematically examined. We will also explore the intersections between eBay and other methodologies (e.g., ethnography, formal archives), its value in building teaching collections, and its potential as an online method in the context of a global pandemic.

A19-232

Theme: Migration, Creativity, and Labor: New Books in Religions in the Latina/o Americas

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

This panel puts three recent works on the religious lives of Latinx migrants in conversation: Lloyd Barba’s 2022 Sowing the Sacred: Mexican Pentecostal Farmworkers in California, Tony Tian-Ren Lin’s 2020 Prosperity Gospel Latinos and Their American Dream, and João Chaves’s 2022 Migrational Religion: Context and Creativity in the Latinx Diaspora. These books center acts of architectural, theological, and ritual creativity and allow us to explore how migration and labor trajectories shape religious realities. From farmworkers, to business owners, to pastors and religious leaders, these authors illuminate how Latinx Christians manage the conditions and contingencies of labor, family, and politics and how they creatively work within these conditions to cultivate optimism, build new spaces of worship and ritual, and create hospitable institutions and theologies.

A19-233

Theme: Carrying, Marrying? And Not Burying

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

This is a session of case studies about ritual practices. The session includes four short paper presentations and two respondents, in order to increase interactivity.

  • Abstract

    Analyzing women’s concealed carrying of firearms as religious ritual reveals a world-making project that idealizes armed personal protection as a learned embodied religious practice. Whether or not they use religious language to describe it, these women promote gun carry as a spiritual practice, one that they see as aligned with evangelical Protestant Christianity. These women concealed carry influencers present the practice, or ritual, of concealed carry as the cultivation of a “lifestyle” that includes the concealment of a firearm on-body with minimal adaptation of style or fashion, the adoption of a mindset ever attuned to the possibility of danger, and the regular simulated enactment of the response to a lethal threat through both target practice at the gun range and daily dry-firing of the weapon. The ultimate concern of this ritual practice is an affirmation of one’s right, willingness, and even obligation to use lethal force to protect life.

  • Abstract

    Montana is the only US state that legally allows a double-proxy marriage ceremony wherein two individuals can “stand in” for the couple getting married. In such ceremonies, the proxies gather before an officiant and witnesses in order to exchange vows on behalf of the physically-absent couple. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for such services have increased considerably. Using a variety of sources and a two-pronged comparative approach, this paper unpacks the history and significance of double-proxy weddings from a ritual studies perspective, with attention to themes of agency, embodiment, instrumentality, and performance. In doing so, it questions the function of double-proxy weddings in the face of virtual realities and changing modalities of presence. Proxy ceremonies, the paper argues, both fundamentally destabilize and yet also reify the central narrative and theoretical underpinnings of the wedding ceremony.

  • Abstract

    Today in the United States there are more options than ever to dispose of a person after death. Beyond conventional burial and cremation, some states offer alkaline hydrolysis or natural organic reduction (body composting) as alternatives. People choose these options because they are perceived as more environmentally friendly, affordable, and potentially useful. A person can become soil or a nourishing effluent to contribute to the earth rather than taking up a designated cemetery plot. Using both ethnographic and survey data, I argue that as these options become more widely available and legally permissible, people construct ritual practices analogous to graveside and visitations rituals that are reflective of their and the deceased’s deeply held beliefs that center on being environmentally conscious, unique to the deceased, and, in some cases, nonreligious. Alkaline hydrolysis and natural organic reduction transform the deceased person from an embodied being to a representation of their lived values.

  • Abstract

    Every year on or around September 11, firefighter across the country (and even internationally) gather to participate in local Memorial Stair Climb events which memorializes the 343 firefighters who lost their lives evacuating civilians from the World Trade Center. Participants climb 110 flights of stairs, representing the height of the Twin Towers, wearing full protective gear. Each climber is assigned one of the fallen firefighters to represent. They carry a name badge and corresponding picture. After completing the climb a bell is struck and the name is read out. This allows the fallen firefighters to symbolically complete their final climb. This ritual shapes the way history is remembered. Creating an emphasis on sacrifice, valor, and the brotherhood of firefighting, encourages this ritual stays relevant. Thus, the Memorial Stair Climb will likely remain an important commemoration of 9/11 for years to come, embodying the message “Never forget.”

A19-234

Theme: New Directions in the South Asian Religions

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

The New Directions panel introduces new research in the study of language and religion in South Asia by recently-graduated Ph.D. students and doctoral candidates. From studies of devotional lyrics and performance genres to grammatical oddities and theories of translation, the papers in this panel show that the language of religion matters as much as its content. Panelists also demonstrate that religious concepts themselves can create new forms in both transregional and regional languages, from Sanskrit and Persian to Tamil and Telugu.

  • Abstract

    The reception of medieval devotional lyrics and their attendant hagiographical traditions in the twentieth century faced a double challenge from the leading intellectuals of Tamil modernity. On the one hand, the rationalist tradition of E.V. Ramasamy rendered devotion itself a ambiguous experience; on the other, a new regime of historicity increased scrutiny on the trustworthiness of these tales. In this paper, I analyze the short stories of three modern and contemporary Tamil writers who recovered the medieval Tamil lyric in their own literary output, negotiating these challenges in significant ways. Puthumaipitthan (1906 – 1948), Na. Parthasarathy (1932-1987), and Perumal Murugan (1966-) all inquire into how the poet's own experience is laid bare in verse, and how their own life experiences relate to those of the poet. Thus, while the hagiographies narrate lives, the modern writers "relate" experiences. The idea that modern Tamil literature is a "secular" tradition is significantly modified once we attend to the reception of Tamil premodern expressions of religiosity--notably the classic bhakti lyrics--in this oeuvre. 

  • Abstract

    Certain Śaiva scriptures are composed in a non-standard register of Sanskrit. These texts present themselves as the words of Śiva, and some commentators take their grammatical irregularity as indicative of divine speech. Yet many were linguistically “purified” during the course of their transmission, suggesting that their anonymous transmitters saw non-standard usage as something to be corrected, at least at times. This paper seeks to clarify how Śaivas (circa 7th to 13th c.) conceptualized and engaged with the words of God through a comparative study of several interconnected issues. First, how was scriptural language changed during the course of textual transmission? Second, what sorts of presuppositions underpin the philological practices adopted by commentators? Third, can any specific conclusions be drawn from a comprehensive account of the grammatical irregularities that commentators explicitly identify as aiśa (“coming from the Lord”)? This paper also considers the non-standard language of Buddhist tantras.

  • Abstract

    The story of the theft of the divine pārijāta tree by the Hindu deity Kṛṣṇa for his wife Satyabhāma has been retold many times in Telugu, a South Indian language. Through the central figure of Satyabhāma, the “True Woman,” these texts explore themes such as eroticism (śṛṅgāra) and femininity. This paper investigates one such text: the Viṣṇu Pārijātamu, composed by 18th century Telugu poet Veṅgamāmba. Veṅgamāmba’s adaptation stands out for three reasons: 1) despite the erotic conventions of Telugu performance literature, she imagines bhakti (devotion) as contemplative rather than affective; 2) she locates bhakti in a domestic sphere; and 3) she is a counterexample to the Nayaka court’s literary ethos of bhoga (enjoyment). Analyzing her juxtaposition of domestic troubles, devotion, and asceticism, this paper argues that Veṅgamāmba’s adaptation of the pārijāta story demonstrates her distinctive perspective on the role of bhakti in the everyday world.

  • Abstract

    Indo-Muslim thinkers produced several Urdu translations of Hindu texts, but this literature has received scant attention from scholars of South Asian Studies. Even fewer have explored these translations intellectually as interpretative, theological engagement with Hindu teachings. I intend to fill this lacuna by exploring how two different renditions of the Bhagavadgītā adopt theologizing strategies in the process of translation.

    Dina Nath Madan and Muhammad Ajmal Khan are the two translators chosen for comparison––one Hindu and one Muslim. They denote merely two of the hundreds of translations available that had been published between 1863, when the very first had been issued, and the 1930’s, they time period in which their texts were published and what many consider the height of fervor for the Gita.

    Hindus penned most Urdu translations of Indian religious texts even though during the Urdu came to be seen more and more as a Muslim language. Thus, on the one hand, Dina Nath exemplifies the literary culture of Hindus who worked with Urdu. Ajmal Khan, on the other hand, enters into this predominantly Hindu space by penning his own translation; in fact, with regards to the history of Gita translations in Urdu his is the first.

A19-203

Theme: Minoritized Leaders Faithfully Guiding Grassroots Organizations in Catastrophic Times

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

This conversational interview-style panel highlights a variety of issues tied to the religious complexities in catastrophic times. The first interview with members of the Soul to Soul Sister organization, conducted by CREM Chair Angela N. Parker, emphasizes the study of religion and the issue of abortion in a post-Roe world along with its effects on African American woman. Soul to Soul Sister is a grassroots organization in the Denver area that is dealing with the many pandemics in which we find ourselves, particularly around reproductive rights and wellbeing. The second interview, conducted by CREM Committee Member, Arun Jones, is with Adrian Miller (or a representative) of the Colorado Council of Churches. They explore the huge problems and incredible opportunities that the multiple catastrophes have opened up for faith communities. Specifically, we learn how the Colorado Council of Churches are serving areas that are ignored in the context of our multiple health, racial, and economic catastrophes. What does it mean to go virtual when many areas of Colorado are rural and lack internet access? Finally, participants ponder next steps take forward in their own communities during these catastrophic times.

A19-235

Theme: Pandemic Pedagogy

Saturday, 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM (In Person)

Presenters in this session will analyze some of the core dilemmas that religion instructors have faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. How do we go about our work in ways that are compassionate to our students and ourselves? What new possibilities for immersive and experiential learning might we imagine due to remote teaching? And, what strategies might we use to center relationships in times of catastrophe and suffering? The last portion of this session will include the business meeting for the Teaching Religion Unit; all AAR members are welcome to attend the meeting.

  • Abstract

    Can professors have it all?  Or rather, even if not, are they still expected to in the midst of a pandemic and beyond? Faculty are often asked to walk a line that, one of the one side, avoids (re-)traumatizing struggling students, leads with grace and compassion for the student, and creates an inclusive and accommodating classroom space and, on the other, allows faculty to maintain their own pedagogical standards, strive for equity and fairness in engagement with students, and preserve their own sanity and time.  This paper examine several methods and tools that I have adapted during the pandemic that have kept me (marginally) sane and in tune with my students, and which aim to be neither “faculty-first” nor “student-first,” but “both/and.”  They are: the creation of clear boundaries for self and student; a system of flexible options for assignment submission; and a shared “database” among faculty.

  • Abstract

    This presentation will summarize the pedagogical goals of decolonizing the classroom during a time of pandemic. It will review immersion and experiential assignments, including an on-the-land assignment and creative alternatives to essays, assessing their outcomes based on student feedback and whether students were judged to have broadened their epistemologies and could demonstrate an understanding and respect for Indigenous pedagogies. It will review the challenges of designing and assessing experiential courses, as well as creating other immersion assignments. It will conclude with some recommendations for immersion and experiential assignments when pre-pandemic learning opportunities can resume, based on past failures and successes.

  • Abstract

    The presenter construes higher education as a kind of ongoing “conversation” and promotes relationship-centered pedagogies that seek to educate one student at a time in the company of others. However, the COVID-19 pandemic constituted a potential rupture of this model, and in response, a new tactic was developed to make this aspiration more concrete, more iterative, more intrinsic: a “Conversation Book.” Here, students would document, in writing, engagement with key concepts and in relation to their own, often harrowing, lived experiences amid Covid, and to do so in a community committed to being in supportive relationship with one another. The instructor, prior to each class session, would read all students’ entries for that day and then, during class, called on specific students to share. In this way the instructor  “moneyballed” the class sessions, curating predetermined student-generated content to be surfaced during class discussions, also allowing for and encouraging spontaneous exchanges.