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.
For those hoping to broaden the reach and creativity of their scholarship, this luncheon will be an opportunity to learn more about blogging as a scholarly genre and practice! Join us as we share approaches, techniques, and generative writing exercises. This will be an interactive gathering intended to widen academic settings.
Immediately following the Academic Labor and Contingent Faculty Lunch, linger for conversation, connection, and support.
In this session panelists will discuss the opportunities and challenges of working to create more inclusive and just institutions. Panelists will narrate their own experiences of justice work, including barriers they have experienced, coalitions they have built, and strategies for making this (often unpaid) work “count” for career advancement. The session will be interactive and participatory. Attendees will be invited to tell their own stories, find allies and co-conspirators, and strategize about how to do the work of effecting institutional change while not burning out in the process.
This panel harnesses the works of such as Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Sarah Elizabeth Wright to reflect, respond and critique the characterization and embodiment of the spiritual practice of Black women in modern literature. How does language, storytelling and the choreosonic murmurings in modern African-American literature centered around women signal joy, despair, hope, and trauma wedded to flight, freedom, wailing, mothering, transgressive acts, personal intimacies and the ongoing survival of Black women? How do we as writers and readers interrogate situations where faith that provides uplift or challenges the identity of characters in a narrative? From various registers these papers explore power dynamics, meditations on the provenance and purpose of one’s life, agency, opportunities and threats. And, they ask us as readers, writers and educators to consider the benefits and challenges of working with these kinds of sources as teaching tools, and sources of knowledge formation.
The literary genius of Toni Morrison extends beyond her revered novels, children’s books, poetry, plays, and song cycle lyrics. Few outside the opera world are familiar with her libretto for _Margaret Garner_, a 21st-century opera inspired by her novel_Beloved_ and the true story of an enslaved mother who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure freedom for herself and her children. Premiering in 2005, this acclaimed production is a prime source for theological reflection and a repository of the African American community's ancestral cultural memories and faith traditions. Morrison’s historic imagination presents a portrait of antebellum life, portraying one enslaved woman’s humanity, faith, religious traditions, and quest for freedom.
What if anything is the difference between the stories and motivations of enslaved Africans in America risking everything to escape to freedom and migrants attempting to cross the southern borders of America today, risking everything seeking an unknown, elusive, imagined freedom.
Since ameliorating archival silencing of Black women requires a shift in how scholars hear Black women, this paper listens between lines for the noisiness of Black women’s religious cultures in twentieth century Black American literature. I argue that Black women make religious noise that offers a “choreosonic” critique of the archive. First, I situate Black women and their archival silencing within a historical context of the modern West’s degradation of the so-called lesser senses and the racialization of sound. Then, I delve into an analysis of three noisy scenes from Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), and Zora Neale Hurston’s (1938) Tell My Horse. Through a choreosonicity that critiques origins, hierarchy, and order, these literary giants introduce scholars to Black women whose religious noises call the silencing structures of the archive into question and invite scholars to do the same.
This paper reads Black women’s archival engagements and resulting literary work for the religious matter this literature is based upon and reproduces. Whereas connections between the archive, religion, and Black women’s history and literature are readily made in the body of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Black-authored work (Carby 1987; Tate 1992; Higginbotham 1993; Ernest 2004; Maffly-Kipp 2010), I argue that they are also at work in later twentieth-century writing. I read Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved with Beverly Jenkins’s Indigo, the most commented-upon work of contemporary Black historical popular romance by scholars and readers alike. Drawing upon Julie Dash, Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh, Darlene Clark Hine, Christina Sharpe, and others, I show how the provenance of each novel’s historical, archival inspiration reveals both a religious basis and religious productivity at work. These connections expand the breadth of literary work significant to a Black women’s readership that read across genre.
This paper considers how mothering, spiritual practice, and desires for survival intersect in the life of Mariah Upshur, the protagonist at the center of Sarah Elizabeth Wright’s 1969 novel This Child’s Gonna Live. Set in 1930s eastern Maryland, the reading audience hears a narrative voice not often heard in American literature—a Black woman living in a poor, fishing town named Tangierneck. This paper engages literary, textual, and archival methods and analyses to examine the interiority and possibilities of Black maternal spiritual life. By connecting Wright’s work to the Black mothering literary prototypes in Toni Morrison’s novels, Black feminists and womanists’ engagements with these literary tropes, and the politics of Black motherhood forged in places of abject poverty, environmental racism, and misogynoir, this paper considers how the intimacies born out of a connection to one’s children and desires for community help to preserve Black women’s faith, interiority, and material lives.
By juxtaposing the queer protagonists of Toni Morrison’s Sula and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple with contemporary black queer living texts, I will illuminate a more pluralistic theorizing of liberatory womanist leadership. In this paper, I will explore literary and autobiographical texts to interrogate moral lessons gleaned from lesbian leadership specifically highlighting the role of testimony as a trope for communal salvation. With attention to past fictional influencers (Sula and Nel from Sula and Celie and Shug from The Color Purple) and current religious activists, my paper will examine womanist markers of ethical leadership such as truth-telling, agency, and communal empowerment. Ultimately, I contend that by closely observing “transgressive” women through the lens of womanist and feminist queer theory and theologies of redemption, we can gain tools for expanding notions of moral leadership.
The papers in this session take up the 2023 presidential theme: “La Labor de Nuestras Manos.” Two of the papers do so through critical engagement with Gustavo Gutiérrez’s critiques of Bonhoeffer’s “theology from the underside” and the limitations of his “modern settler theology.” The other two turn from this focus on economic-oriented critiques to politics, considering the potential of Bonhoeffer’s theology as a resource for truth-telling and humanitarian interventions.
Gustavo Gutiérrez and Lisa Dahill offer critiques of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that commend his self-sacrificial witness while questioning whether Bonhoeffer’s account of suffering is sufficiently nuanced or particular. In contrast to these observations, Bonhoeffer, in reflections like “The View from Below,” indicates that his understanding of history is rightly informed by the experience of suffering. With that in mind, I undertake a critical analysis of Bonhoeffer’s account of oppression based on the aforementioned critiques. I first consider how Bonhoeffer’s biography and theological influences both aid and impede a full-blooded understanding of modern injustice. I then consider how those tensions influence Bonhoeffer’s articulation of suffering in his late theology. Finally, I offer methodological recommendations for theologians inspired by Bonhoeffer’s life and witness. These suggestions affirm Bonhoeffer’s example while relying on Christ’s self-revelation through the Spirit towards a better reckoning with the particular blind spots that impede the work of our hands.
Gustavo Gutiérrez argues that Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology offers a critical diagnosis and laudable exemplar of both the possibilities and limitations of modern Protestant theology in its incomplete analysis of the abuses of power, class, and economic exploitation that lie at the heart of the western, capitalistic enterprise. This paper therefore offers a radical, social reading of Bonhoeffer’s 1933 Christology lectures via Gutierrez in order to recontextualise Bonhoeffer’s idea of the “proletariat Christ” in the context of indigenous-settler relations today. Specifically, it takes Gutiérrez's diagnosis of Bonhoeffer as axiomatic for those of us who participate in theology as white settler peoples in the lands now called Australia and New Zealand. Such modern (settler) theology can only go so far when it fails to take seriously the depths of the injustice and violence which such settler societies are built upon within the histories of European colonisation and displacement of First Peoples.
Arendt’s and Bonhoeffer’s thoughts, once reconstructed via a critical dialogue, can provide much-needed insight into applying religious truth claims to politics. Arendt emphasizes the role of plural voices for free politics. For her, a solution to the spread of misinformation is to establish and maintain a robust public sphere. For Bonhoeffer, though, this method is limited and incomplete. He argues that Christians must see the world as a space of solidarity among the oppressed, and a Christ-reality that resists both theocratic legalism and vulgar voluntarism must guide their actions. However, Arendt’s sharp judgment of the dangers of a modern society suggests that even a modest version of religious practice cannot remain intact in the face of modern socioeconomic forces. Through a novel interpretation of their political theologies, this paper investigates a way for religion to be a conscientious voice in politics yet eschew becoming a tyrannical force itself.
This paper tries to examine if Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s general insights deepen the ethical reflection of political decision-making today – exploring the issue of humanitarian interventions. Therefor one can highlight Bonhoeffer’s ideas as general orientation marks: 1. Identifying a situation to be one of “complimentary culpability”, 2. Failing to realize an ideal, such as a fundamentally pacifist attitude, 3. Taking responsibility for acting unjustified pending only on one’s conscience and 4. Proving the last necessities.
Bonhoeffer's life and his theology are closely interwoven. Therefor Bonhoeffer’s contemporary context and situation need to be considered. Thus, the time immediately before Bonhoeffer's imprisonment can be considered the creative period of his theological insights, which ethically reflect on the aspect of culpability in hopeless situations. These “situations of complementary culpability” can be generalized as situations of ethical dilemmas. Bonhoeffer’s deep theological insights lead to an anti-principled ethical stance.
The idea of filial debts calls attention to enduring tensions in studies of Buddhist social institutions, their ritual maintenance, and their literary representations. Across Buddhist traditions, the doctrinal articulation, narrative representation, and ritual expression of filial debts, filial piety, and filial gratitude have occupied the core of religious motivation and practice for centuries. Ranging from medieval China to premodern and contemporary Southeast Asia, this panel identifies key terms and resources for the study of filial debts, and traces their shifting significance and development over time and across various textual and ethnographic contexts. A decade on from the publication of such landmark works as Shayne Clarke's Family Matters and Liz Wilson's Family in Buddhism, this panel returns to the status of the family in Buddhism, taking filial debts as a core frame and focus for the study of Buddhist personhood, affect, ritual, literature, and belonging.
This paper addresses the issue of filial piety in Thai, Lao and Khmer Buddhism through two notions that are the core of the regional religious practice, udissa and guṇ, both borrowed from Pali and Sanskrit lexicons. The first term, udissa (uthit in Thai-Lao, utoeh in Khmer) appears both in ancient local sources and contemporary religious practice at the centre of expressions designating the offering of merit with others, especially deceased relatives. As for the term guṇ, it has the sense of ‘virtue’, ‘benefit’ or ‘merit’. This term has locally been given an additional meaning, as it also refers to the ‘body components’ that progenitors pass on to their offspring during gestation. Here the term guṇ takes, by extrapolation, the meaning of ‘legacy’, or ‘debt’ held by parents towards their child, which he must ‘recollect’ and ‘repay’ in order to be a good Buddhist.
Since at least the sixteenth century, the doctrinal articulation and ritual expression of filial debts and filial gratitude in Theravada contexts have occupied the core of religious motivation and practice for many Buddhists in mainland Southeast Asia and beyond. Recent studies have demonstrated the deeply intertwined approach to expressing and repaying filial debts within Khmer, Lao, and Thai Buddhist cultures, with specific attention given to exegetical Pali commentaries, vernacular manuals drawn from the esoteric meditation tradition in Laos and northern Thailand, and vernacular poems from Cambodia. This paper extends these analyses to the range of chanted poems on gratitude to parents that grew in popularity throughout the twentieth century in Central and Northeast Thailand, situating them as twentieth-century irruptions of older currents across the region, in which the affective dimensions of love, grief, debt, and gratitude between parents and children shape the performance and reception of Buddhist verse.
While some debts in Theravada contexts, such as those to parents, are considered congenital, acts of merit-making can also create new debts of gratitude that in turn produce, reinforce, or rework bonds of kinship. Applying insights from Grégory Kourilsky and Trent Walker into the central place of filial debts and filial gratitude in Buddhist thinking and practice to a 1982 volume of linked biographies of Buddhist nuns in Burma (thilashin), this paper explores how communities form and feel in the exchange of debts of gratitude called in Burmese "kyezu" (kyeḥ jūḥ), an intrinsically relational term that signifies a deed offered in service to others that requires return. Tracing intertextual references and social maps drawn in the biographies, this paper illustrates how acts of kyezu deployed by thilashin are textually prefigured, strategically performed, and affectively textured in service to local formations of religious authority and the communities oriented to it.
This paper examines representations of children’s karmic culpability in medieval Chinese Buddhist miraculous tales from the fourth to tenth centuries CE. By analyzing miraculous tales through an age-critical lens, and with a sensitivity to cultural definitions of children and childhood, this paper argues that children occupied an ethical position distinct from adults in medieval Chinese Buddhism. Miraculous tales evince an age-dependent notion of karmic culpability, according to which children younger than six or seven (seven or eight _sui_ 歲) could not accrue negative karma. Age-dependent karma emerged as medieval Chinese Buddhist adherents reconciled Buddhist ethical principles with Chinese sociocultural ideas of a late-developing moral consciousness. The paper further traces narratological patterns to identify when, why, and how children were held karmically liable for their own actions. I show that an analysis of children forces scholars of Buddhism to reconsider the workings and logic of fundamental Buddhist doctrines like karma.
This panel will examine novel Buddhist responses to the more-than-human world. Over the course of five papers, the critical and constructive sides of both animal and environmental ethics will be explored to demonstrate the breadth of positions in these contemporary Buddhist ethical fields. First, Paul Fuller and William Edelglass approach questions of Buddhist environmental ethics from distinct angles. Fuller explores the ecological relevance of mettā meditation while Edelglass addresses some of the methodological issues present in both critical and constructive eco-Buddhisms. Jeffrey Nicolaisen and Barbra Clayton then look at nonhuman animals in contemporary Buddhisms and assess how Taiwanese nuns and the Indian textual-philosophical tradition navigate some of the barriers to animal rights in Buddhism. Finally, Colin Simonds argues that environmental ethics emerges out of animal ethics in Tibetan Buddhist contexts and investigates how this Buddhist approach can alleviate the usual tension between individualistic animal ethics and holistic environmental ethics.
This paper will articulate an innovative approach to eco-Buddhism in which the key idea of ‘loving-kindness’ (mettā) will be extended to incorporate eco-mettā, an inherently Buddhist response to the climate crises. I will move the debate away from the discussion of whether we can find ideas within Buddhism which directly respond to the climate crises to suggest ways in which Buddhist ideas can be used creatively to alleviate the suffering caused by the eco-crises. Buddhist ethics can be used to tackle ecological issues and can be used innovatively. The foundational Buddhist message to overcome suffering can address the ecological suffering of future generations. There needs to be a greening of compassion and of the precepts, incorporating the notion of rebirth to have compassion for one’s future rebirths. To discover eco-Buddhism there needs to be an innovative interpretation of Buddhist teachings.
First, drawing on theoretical work in environmental pragmatism, urbanism, and agrarianism, I offer a methodological critique of a dominant approach in scholarship on Buddhism and ecology that is shared by many of those who view Buddhism more positively and those who are more critical. This approach, in my view, overemphasizes the role that metaphysical ideas play in forming material socio-ecological practices. Second, I suggest some alternative ways to think about the great diversity of socio-ecological practice in Buddhist traditions, emphasizing a more eco-contextualist approach that is rooted in particular Buddhist communities engaged with the lived environment. Here, I draw on Julia Shaw’s research on the ways in which Buddhist monks developed engineering and administrative expertise to build large scale irrigation systems as well as literature on Buddhist animism and Buddhism and place.
In 1992, the Taiwanese Buddhist nun Shih Chao-hwei and her followers founded the Life Conservationist Association (LCA) and spearheaded the animal protection movement in Taiwan. By 1996, LCA’s collaborators published a Chinese translation of the 1975 book Animal Liberation by the Australian utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer. Singer’s utilitarian ethics are committed to a naturalist ontology that presumes consciousness arises from the complexity of embodied neural networks. On the contrary, Chao-hwei locates consciousness in the constant blending of subject and object as expressed in the concept of no-self. In this presentation, by comparing the philosophy of Chao-hwei to that of Singer, I consider how Chao-hwei uses the concept of dependent origination to arrive at no-self and the ethics of “protecting life” and “equality of life,” concluding with what the non-ontology of no-self and dependent origination may have to contribute to the philosophical discourse on nonhuman welfare.
Despite the promising fact that animals are included within the same moral and ontological sphere as humans, Buddhist doctrine as it has typically been interpreted presents serious barriers to a robust framework for upholding and defending animal rights. Chief among these is the moral hierarchy which dictates that harming animals is significantly less problematic than harming humans, and that only direct, intended killing brings the karmic retribution associated with this act. Drawing on the classical Indian Buddhist textual-philosophical tradition, as well as a contemporary case study of a proposed abattoir in Bhutan, this paper will examine the philosophical arguments marshalled for and against the morality of indirect or unintended harm and killing of animals in order to explore the possible basis for animal rights in Buddhism, and the implications for Buddhist environmental ethics more broadly.
Since their inception, animal ethics and environmental ethics have constantly found themselves at odds with one another. Animal liberation has traditionally centered individual sentient beings in its moral thought whereas environmental ethics has concerned itself with holistic valuations of ecological communities. This tension has created fairly wide rifts between the fields that, in western philosophical settings, have yet to be fully bridged. If, however, we begin from Tibetan Buddhist philosophical principles and articulate a Buddhist approach to the more-than-human world, then this bridge can indeed be built quite naturally. This paper will review this debate and offer a novel way of alleviating the tension between these individualistic and holistic approaches to more-than-human ethics. It will argue that the Buddhist concern for the duḥkha of individual sentient beings necessitates a holistic approach to the environment as a causal factor in pratītyasamutpāda such that environmental ethics emerge out of animal liberation.
Human sexuality has been decried within a range of Christian traditions as something to be controlled and subdued. Repeatedly over the centuries Christians have been taught to “conquer the flesh” and “exalt the spirit” as a way of entering into intimacy with the Divine. In some traditions, celibacy was extolled as advantageous to spiritual maturity while marriage and child-bearing was tolerated as a social necessity. Yet many of the Christian witnesses describe their relationship with the Divine in sensual and strong affective terms. Indeed, for many Christian writers, the Divine-human relationship is framed as primarily erotic in nature. This session is a step forward to reclaim and reframe the erotic within the Christian traditions not only as expressive of the nature of the Divine-human relationship but also as fundamental to its core.
The 12th century saw a proliferation of modes of spiritual life that used the erotic imagery of the Song of Songs and experimented with the possibilities of human affect. Bernard of Clairvaux's program of transformation of desire has been accused of erotizing violence, but its potential for the recovery of eros as a positive source for Christian spirituality emerges in conversation with Amia Srinivasan, with whom Bernard has surprising resonances. For both, desire is subject to critique, whether because of an Augustinian view of sinfulness, or its construction in formations of knowlege and power. For both, it is also open to transformation. Putting the two in conversation creates opportunity for both affirmation and skepticism of desire, including of Bernard's own entanglements, and opens the field for an experimental erotic spirituality that is a site of liberation.
Employing the work of Jean-Luc Marion in The Erotic Reduction, this presentation highlights the phenomenon of grace which opens humanity to love and communion. Desire drives life to the Beloved. The foundational question Marion posits is not “How do I know?” in the line of Descartes but “Does anyone love me?” One’s ability to love finds its basis in a prior love. Marion’s phenomenology of givenness presents a way of being that is rooted in grace. It's in this aesthetic, embodied encounter where theology finds its foundation. Drawing on sources such as St. Ephrem, Teresa of Avila, and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Christian spirituality is pursued more like a poet or lover than a scientist or investigator.
Drawing attention to the example of inner healing in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and of racial joining in the Azusa Street Revival, this paper explores the social implications of the erotic in Christian spirituality. While calling for ongoing engagement with Pentecostal manifestations of the erotic as guidepoints for Christian spirituality, this paper identifies the limitations as symbolized in the Catholic Charismatic focus on inner healing, and calls for a retrieval of the Pentecostal vision of Azusa Street as a more authentic, and decolonial, expression of the erotic in Christian spirituality.
In post-Nygren context, eros have received prominent attentions in theological conversations. One of the constructive approaches attempts to interpret eros as a creative, life-giving force that drives one’s desire for the other. Thus, eros can function as a theological resource for liberative theology and praxis. This article continues this path by exploring erotic desire in the life and thought of John of the Cross. John perceives God as the other who transcends all beings and definitions. Therefore, the ascent towards the other must include the purification of desire through detachment and negation of all senses and images. This language of silence generates a two-fold erotic movement: it yearns to touch the other, while at the same time respecting their elusiveness. Considering that John’s work emanates from marginal space, I infer that silence can be seen as erotic movement that subversively challenges the predominant narrative within the society.
This session engages theological spaces between alienation and incarnation, with attention to racism, slavery, and the environmental catastrophe, and within frameworks that explore creaturely finitude, disability, sabbath, ambiguities, uncertainty, exile, and loss. The session also considers the themes of hope, providence, and eschatology.
Why were we not offered participation in the life of God from creation’s very beginnings? In this paper, my working hypothesis is that there must be a prelapsarian and an eschatological purpose for a life suspended between creation and eschaton, a raison d’être for finitude that needs to be explored beyond the categories of creation and fall. Drawing on Maurice Blondel’s argument that “natural mortification” is woven into the conditions of agency within finitude, I challenge Karen Kilby’s counterhypothesis that suffering and loss are never good, and that theologians should reject all positive valuations of suffering. I argue that mortification within finitude is crucial, first, for the preservation of the real (and not chimerical) agency of human beings, and second, for the articulation of an eschatological vision that can explain how human beings are destined as human beings, not for de-personalizing pantheistic absorption, but for personalizing union with God.
I examine how Nancy Eiesland’s account of Christ becoming “the disabled God” incarnates disability through the cross, ultimately locating the mode for Christ’s becoming disabled through his propitiation for sin. I argue that this location compromises Eiesland’s goal of detaching disability from its historic association as a sign of fallenness. While other modes of embodiment are incarnated through birth for Eiesland, Christ’s disability is incarnated through crucifixion. By reimagining her anthropology through Eastern Orthodox creation narrative, I am able to reposition Christ’s incarnation into disability within his human nature, specifically within Christ’s passibility. I pair Gregory of Nyssa and Athanasius’ descriptions of passibility as contingency with critical disability theory’s descriptions of interdependency, specifically Tobin Siebers’ definition of complex embodiment as contingency. In this reconsidered framework, Christ incarnates disability outside sin or fallenness, accomplishing Eiesland’s goals of resymbolizing disability in Christianity as a part of what it means to be human.
In c. 524 CE, after his unjust condemnation and death sentence, Boethius develops one of the most important formulations of the doctrine of the creation in the Middle Ages. The Consolation of Philosphy recounts the comfort he finds in God’s providential ordering of creation. In 1457, the Portugese chronicler Zurara deploys Boethius’ doctrine of creation to both acknowledge the suffering of newly arrived slaves and to justify their enslavement. Nearly 1000 years later, Boethius’ doctrine of creation, which has achieved near-classical status, is transformed from consolation for the captive to consolation for the captor. Can the classical doctrine of creation be saved from this depoloyment as a tool for oppression? In this paper, I will argue for the doctrine’s ongoing usefulness as a doctrine of limits, the kind of limits that might restrain and subvert human evil, not sustain it.
This paper borrows the scriptural and theological theme of exile, which has become prominent in political theology, to explore the suggestion that creation theology also stands in need of an exilic perspective. Such a perspective would make creation faith more truthful and relevant in a situation of environmental crisis. In full awareness of the way in which exile has sometimes subtended quasi-Gnostic tendencies in theology, I shall argue that a rejection of the exilic perspective makes Christian theology naïve and irrelevant, able to speak of the created world only in a voice of glorious affirmation. In contrast, the exilic perspective rescues creation faith from captivity to the picturesque, giving voice also to the experience of alienation and brokenness; it suggests that a sabbatical celebration of the creation must often take the form of a defiant hope—a desire for a world we cannot yet see.
This paper explores the space between the expected outcome of a process of creation and the disappointment and devastation that emerge when things do not go as planned. To do so, it draws on both traditional and underrepresented voices from within the theological tradition, from ancient to contemporary, and weaves these voices together with personal narratives of experiences of pregnancy loss and infertility from multiple generations of the same family. Reading the etiological narratives in Genesis from the perspective of God as a frustrated artist may help address some of the tension that arises when readers encounter God the Creator as simultaneously God the Destroyer in them. Such a reading of text and tradition may enable greater comfort with the ambiguity, uncertainty, and chaos present in not only these sacred stories but also in our lives, both public and private, today.
This panel is a collection of four exercises in comparative theology that engage the Islamic and Hindu traditions from both Muslim and Christian perspectives. The discipline of comparative theology has typically remained a Christian project. However, recently comparative theology has been employed by non-Christian scholar-practitioners and theologians and this panel, in part, seeks to continue this trend. Additionally, most exercises in Christian comparative theology have predominantly engaged Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions, but this panel, in part, seeks to explore Christian engagement with Islamic traditions.
The Islamic tradition has a long history of engagement with the Hindu tradition. However, there are not many sources from the past that contain detailed examinations of Vaiṣṇava theology. This paper explores an important area of comparative theological inquiry in regards to Vaiṣṇava-Muslim dialogue, namely the centrality of the prakṛti-puruṣa divide in Vaiṣṇava theology and its lack of equivalent in Islamic theology. The argument will explore to what extent the cosmological doctrines articulated in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa may be incommensurable with Islamic theology. Vaiṣṇava theological arguments for the ontological equivalence of the spiritual world (Vaikuṇṭha) with puruṣa will be contrasted to Islamic eschatological doctrines regarding the ultimately created nature of experience in the Hereafter (al-Ākhira). Possible avenues for reconciliation will be explored, but the focus will be on proper representation of Vaiṣṇava views in conversation with the author's own theological commitments as a Muslim.
Islam’s relationship with other great faiths is perhaps among the most important issues of “modernity” that Muslims in Europe and North America have had to negotiate. Through an exploration of Martin Nguyen’s Muslim theology of prostration, Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī’s expansion of the dār paradigm, and Fayṣal al-Mawlawī’s emphasis on shahāda (witnessing), I posit the notion of dār al-shahāda (the abode of witnessing). The presentation concludes with a comparative theological meditation between dār al-shahāda and Christian missiology with implications for Muslim-Christian engagement.
In exploring the potentials of comparative theology as contextual theology, this paper adapts a form of Fr. David Burrell’s method of triangulation, which usually introduces a third individual theological voice from the Abrahamic traditions as a means to illuminate and break impasses that can occur in a two-way dialogue (Burrell 2011). Instead of a third theological tradition, *a contemporary case study of a practice-based theological source, plays the functional role of the third source*, breaking stagnation and creating opportunities for new exchange. Through this case study, the particular–the practical theological insights of contemporary Christian and Muslim peacebuilders–becomes a partner in comparison. The particular provides purpose and recalibration within the comparative theological exercise, and pushes this study on the future oriented virtue of hope and its complementary opposite, fear, to arrive at practical, applicable conclusions on how to cultivate hope oriented to God that persists in the midst of earthly uncertainty.
Both Christian and Islamic theology affirm Christ as prophet. Yet as Kristin Johnston Largen has observed, within Christian discourse Jesus’ prophethood “has been marginalized for centuries in favor of his identity as savior.” In the realm of Christian theology, this lacuna may lead to a christology which is insufficiently prophetic – in other words, an understanding of Jesus Christ which de-emphasizes the apocalyptic role of a prophet in speaking out against injustice. Creatively engaging the concept of embodied prophethood via Michael Muhammad Knight’s work on the prophetic body; Graybill’s description of the queer prophetic body in the Hebrew Bible; and influential descriptions of Jesus’ prophetic role by Calvin and Barth, this exploration of prophetic christology will attempt to find common ground between Christian and Islamic approaches to Jesus’ prophethood in the interest of a shared commitment to justice and social transformation.
To mark the 30th anniversary of Talal Asad’s Genealogies of Religion and the 20th anniversary of his Formations of the Secular, a panel of scholars will reflect critically on the impact of these influential works on the study of religion, to reengage with them in light of subsequent works addressing the secular or post-secular, or to delineate new lines of inquiry in studies of the secular.
In the wake of Asad’s foundational work, scholarship across the humanistic social sciences has been skeptical of the liberal discourse of secularism. Interrogating the Eurocentrism of the concept, several authors have argued that secularism’s roots in Protestant Christianity render it hostile to Muslims in particular, calling Islam the other of secularism. Are there other ways to understand the relationship between secularism and Islam, for instance, in a non-western democracy such as India? As Muslims organize to reclaim the country’s secular foundations endangered by the ruling Hindu majoritarian government, this paper examines how Muslims harness and refashion the Islamic tradition in their articulation of secularism through ethnographic fieldwork with three Muslim civil society organizations in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The paper concludes by drawing out the implications this Muslim activism carries for the methodological framework formulated by Asad for the study of Islam.
This paper takes up both Genealogies of Religion and Formations of the Secular to argue that scholars of religion should engage with Talal Asad as a semiotician: the secular on his terms is a new way of structuring the relationship between a real and its representation. I argue that reading the secular in Asad as a semiotics makes salient, through the work of genealogy, that the defining characteristic of the secular isn’t just that concept and practice are inextricable—it’s the insistence on disclosing how they are co-constitutive. Asad reads secularism as a particular way of naming “how the changes in concepts” associated with the secular—new understandings of citizen and power and myth and pain—“articulate changes in practice": metafiction. The secular, in other words, isn’t just a management strategy—it's a management strategy that operates by explicating its own operation.
This paper inaugurates a theoretical dialogue between secularism studies and the emergent discipline of interreligious studies by reading Talal Asad’s theories of embodied discipline and religious tradition as experiments in interreligious thinking. In Formations, Asad imagines the disciplined body as that which distinguishes Islamic tradition from the demands and foreclosures of secular modernity. This essential dichotomy has shaped debates within secular studies for two decades, but it has similarly been central for interreligious theologians who take the body as a site of relationality across (non)religious difference. Reading together recent contributions to both disciplines through their ongoing struggles with the body can further highlight persistent but unresolved questions as well as generate new insights for interdisciplinary collaboration. Particularly, engaging secular studies and interreligious studies together more clearly illuminates the normative stakes implicit in defining secular discipline, better revealing the Asadian struggle with the body and its ongoing afterlives.
Famously, Asad critiqued Geertz for his definition of model that centered on symbols, explaining that this was not the only way religious meaning was made. In the last decade's intractable debates about the niqab and burkini in France, the niqab's detractors have leveled the objection of "symbolic violence" agains those who would wear them, insisting that the niqab should be read not as a garment but rather as an act of aggression. Using French legal archives, I show the way that this perverts the notion of 'symbolic violence' as introduced by Bourdieu and suggest that Asad's _Formations of the Secular_ still has much to teach us.
The Death, Dying, and Beyond Unit invites papers on the topic of “Embodied Death: Understanding Death from an Intersectional Lens” Our primary session will be a selection of papers on the intersection of death and embodied experience, ranging from thinking about how embodied experiences shape the dying narrative, the ways in which disability is or isn’t accounted for in the dying experience, an examination of the dominant able-bodied and primarily white, male narrative on death as one of decline rather than gain, alongside topics interrogating the understanding of death and from an intersectional and layered lens.
This paper approaches the exploration of disability, dying, and death through the lens of fatness. As part of a larger commitment to the project, materially and spiritually, of fat liberation, this paper first engages fatness within the hermeneutics of disability. In challenging the limits of a category that often relies on formal medical and/or legal language and enforcement to provide protections and accommodations, placing fatness as both within said category and outside of it. On the inside, fatness is representative of disability in a material sense insofar as many fat people–because of their weight–have accessibility, mobility, and/or general health conditions and comorbidities that qualify under the legal definition of disabled. However, disability is not singularly a category of material or practical concern, but also of socially and culturally relevant corporal deviance. However, on the outside, fatness is not, in and of itself, considered a disability. This reveals quite a bit about the perceived difference, even if the material and social conditions are exactly the same. The social and cultural implications of deviance produce spectacles of fat death which degrade material and spiritual support options for fat people.
Candida R. Moss proposed that according to John the injuries of Jesus were required to properly identify him as not a ghost, or corpse, but as resurrected (Moss, 2011; Moss 2019). Using this understanding of injury as imperative to identification and therefore identity this paper will explore second-century understandings of the injured, disabled and otherwise disfigured after the resurrection. Using literary analysis and emerging methods from Disability Theology, this paper will reveal how imperfections, both lifelong and incurred were understood to exist on the body after the resurrection. The second-century perspectives explored in this paper are the Gospels of Luke and John and 1 Corinthians, communicating some threads of popular thought on the bodily resurrection.
Many who have reflected on death have recognized that it is misguided to try to understand it. In Ghana, death is not only perceived as predestined and a necessary end but as a transition from this world to the asamando ancestral world. Previously, death transitions were culturally the family’s duty in the Akan sense is the extended family and the community. Mourning activities comprising wailing, singing, drumming, and dancing were a family affair; however, in recent times, material culture has subtly taking-over, changing funerals trends drastically and giving way to more individualistic/modern or nuclear celebrations, making mourning fall in the hands of professional mourners. Nowadays, professional women “criers” are paid to cry at the funerals of strangers.
This paper examines the materiality of the funeral, examining three women's professional crying groups-Ami Dokli and the widows, Mame Ode and group, and Linda Opoku Mensah and sisters, and argues that mourning is essential to a good funeral in Ghanaian society. The ethnographic data was collected from funeral organizations in four selected towns and villages in Ghana.
This paper seeks to construct a theology of human frailty using the thought of Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar and an appropriation of the methodology of Christological anthropology. In it, I argue that the surprising fact that even Christ’s body can be broken, damaged, and dis-integrated illuminates a surprising element of human creatureliness: we are those who are falling into disrepair. In so doing, I appropriate von Balthasar’s insights regarding the death of Christ to delineate three varieties of human frailty: bodily frailty, psychological frailty, and personal frailty.
With this exploratory panel, our aim is to gather a select group of six to seven scholars to reflect on the religious-nationalism phenomena and the normative and analytic stakes in their study. We want to ask: When considering the various phenomena included under a rubric of “religious nationalisms,” how do we approach, understand, and theorize the individual expressions of the religious nationalism phenomenology? What are the normative assumptions and analytic gains in the use of this notion and, further, in the still dominant distinctions we draw between ethnoreligious nationalisms and civic religion? What are the ways in which postcolonial and decolonial perspectives complicate the considerations of these categories and the realities that they purport to explain? What are some possible future trajectories in the study of religions and nationalisms, and what is the role that religious studies ought to play in those future trajectories?
In 2000, JAAR published a special issue titled, “Who Speaks for Hinduism?”, which included a set of ten articles focused on issues, questions, and conflicts seminal to Hindu studies at the turn of the millennium. More than twenty years after JAAR 68.4, as racialized scholars in the field of Hindu studies, we find that while many of the key players in the debate have remained the same, the pressing question of our field is quite different. Our driving question today is not “Who speaks for Hinduism?” but rather: What are the stakes of speaking for, to, and through Hinduism? Our proposed roundtable uses the framework of Critical Race Theory (CRT), Asian American studies, and Feminist Critical Hindu studies to begin a conversation about our experiences as researchers, teachers, and colleagues of color in Hindu studies.
This roundtable session features representatives from the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) and the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab alongside chaplains in training and chaplains working in a variety of institutional settings (military, prisons, hospice, hospitals) in conversation about what chaplaincy is, what chaplains do, and how to become a chaplain. Graduates holding a MDiv or a MA in Religious Studies are eligible for board certification as chaplains through APC.
These four papers consider various but related technologies in Islamic thought: lettrism, translation, sound, and astrology. Each paper explores the means by which Muslim thinkers sought to channel the power of interpretation, whether in the societies around them or in the cosmos. The first paper considers Ibn al-ʿArabī’s use of the science of letters, making comparisons to the Muslim philosopher Ibn Masarra and the Jewish exegete Saʿadia Gaon. The second paper studies translations of ʿUmar Khayyām’s Rubāʿiyāt into Telugu and the varying social and interpretive objectives of these translations. The third paper examines sound and silence in M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen’s The Resonance of Allah. Finally, the fourth paper investigates the influx of the occult sciences into Ismaili theology, through a study of The Book of Interim Times and Planetary Conjunctions attributed to Ja‘far b. Manṣūr al-Yaman.
This paper focuses on the mystical re-interpretation of medieval philosophical concepts in the lettrism of Ibn al-ʿArabī. Ibn al-ʿArabī’s theory about the origins of the world (the building blocks of which are the letters of the Arabic alphabet) centers on three aspects of Arabic letters: physical, spoken, and written. The third dimension of letters – their graphic representation and the symbolic meanings of their calligraphic forms – is the focus of this paper. Here, I seek to contextualize Ibn al-ʿArabī’s theory of the Arabic written letters as cosmogonic entities, within its philosophical framework (Arabic Neoplatonic philosophical concept of the intermediary and idealized forms) and its mystical milieu (in comparison with the lettrist works of Ibn Masarra and Saʿadia Gaon). This dynamic comparison brings forward a more comprehensive understanding of what I term Ibn al-ʿArabī’s “mystical calligraphy” – the forms and functions of the letters of the universe – across philosophical, mystical, and linguistic lines.
Translation is an interpretation. Thus, when we read a translated text, we must consider multiple contexts - the context the book was written in, and the context the book was translated in. In this way, translations function more like interpretive practices that engage with locally produced cultural milieu. In such a situation, how do we perceive a translation within a vernacular public culture? Seeking a possible response to this question, my presentation discusses three prominent translations of Umar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat into modern Telugu. Translated between 1926 and 1934—a period of great transition in the vernacular cultural sphere—these three translations played a key role in the making of a modern Persianate literary ethos and the making of the Telugu literary culture. This presentation argues that these translations offer a pluralist lens that sheds light on many practices of Islamic mysticism. In addition, these vernacular engagements help us to see a larger picture of an extended realm of Muslim and non-Muslim interpretations of Islamic mysticism. These three translations from modern Telugu demonstrate a set of intriguing modes for interpreting the tradition of Umar Khayyam and its Sufi orientation.
This paper examines the intersections of sound and metaphysics in the first study of transnational Sri Lankan Sufi Shaikh M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen’s (?-1986) The Resonance of Allah: Resplendent Explanations Arising from the Nūr, Allah’s Wisdom of Grace (1969/2001). It focuses on three questions about sound in Islamic mysticism (with reference to Hinduism): What is the role of sound (and silence) as embodiments of the sacred, as significant for listening subjects, and as elements of meaning deeply linked to the human sensorium and to language? I argue that The Resonance of Allah enacts a uniquely inter-(and meta-religious) metaphysics of sound through its content, form, and reception and that M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen’s attention to resonance (which interfuses all of his textual and media materials), and his unique Sufi Islamic terminology and focus on experiential gnosis, offers a new approach to the study of philosophical Sufism and to broader conversations beyond.
While the popularity of the occult sciences in the medieval Islamic world has been well-established, Fatimid engagement with astrology, magic, divination, and other associated disciplines has been more difficult to prove. In this paper, I argue that the 10th-century Fatimid Ismaili text k. al-fatarāt wa-l-qirānāt (The Book of Interim Times and Planetary Conjunctions), attributed to the courtier and missionary Ja‘far b. Manṣūr al-Yaman (d. c. 358 AH/969 AD), suggests that the Fatimid mission sought to incorporate the occult sciences into their Ismaili theological framework. This accommodation was intended to demonstrate that no realm of knowledge escaped the Fatimid imam's mastery, and that the Fatimid imam of the era was superior to occult scientists due to his direct connection with the divine and perfect and immediate apprehension of all phenomena which grant him superior perception of the unseen.