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.
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.
2023 marks the 200th anniversary of *Johnson v. M’Intosh*, the first case of the Marshall Trilogy, in which US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall created what we now call “Federal Indian Law.” This is an occasion for us to bring together lawyers and scholars of Native American religious traditions to reflect on the roles that religion has played in the development of Federal Indian Law. Our roundtable discusses the argument that this story is not only about property, but also, importantly, about religion. Our discussion will not be limited to *Johnson v. M’Intosh*, but would also reflect on contemporary cases, such as *Haaland v. Brackeen*, as following the logic of discovery, even as they conceal the theological roots of federal Indian law.
This session considers the provocation “Labor is Not Enough.” Whether we are talking about the violence of the ‘adjunctification’ of the academy ; “right to work” legislation and its affront to full time or unionized labor; the promotion of anti-work or ‘good living’ ideologies; or the varieties of unpaid labor in our institutions and society at large - we are confronted with the reality that labor is not enough. In what ways does our work reflect this reality? In what ways does the religious academy participate in the structures that disenfranchise labor? Where is liberation to be found when labor - as it is hegemonically or counter-hegemonically construed - is not enough to sustain communities and life with dignity? Might there be categories and things that fail to be acknowledged as labor?
This paper argues that Jesus must be liberated from his alienated relationship to his labours of social reproduction. This alienation is mystified by his romantic essentialisation into the “bread of life,” even in such seminal texts of liberation as Enrique Dussel’s 1982 essay on the Eucharist. Inspired by Marxist-Feminist attention to the death-life dialectic in gestation, I observe a similar dialectic to Dussel’s materialist analysis of the Eucharist. This paper redirects Dussel’s essay away from the material conditions underwriting the Eucharistic offering of a martyr’s body, and towards the possibility of liberating Jesus from his labour of love, as then a paradigmatic liberation of reproductive workers. Jesus must be free to eat the bread of life that he now produces, that he now is. What lives must we stop reproducing for Christ to live among us in this way? What might we eat instead? What could we then be?
All those who labor in higher education are intimately aware that we are living through the slow death of the University system. This long decline comes at the hands of the capitalist corporatization of education where schools increasingly function as businesses. From this bleak context of academia’s pending collapse, this paper argues that a different kind of university is not only urgently need but also imminently possible by turning to Ignacio Ellacuria’s vision of the university as a locus of social critique and consciousness development, we can form universities’ anew as institutions that work for social liberation. Drawing on this vision of a different kind of university and in particular its roots in liberation theology, this paper will conclude by illustrating how the groundwork of such a university, is beginning to form in the movements of academic labor organizing across the country.
Hong Kong and Singapore share several similarities. Both were trade entrepôts colonialized by the British. Their populations are predominantly Chinese. Christianity is practiced mainly by persons of Chinese descent. They are faced with authoritarian governments. Given their similar colonial socializations, this paper explores why Christians in Hong Kong and Singapore choose contrasting approaches to authoritarian governance. Christians in Hong Kong have taken to public demonstrations and the use of creative resistance to contest fascist and authoritarian political oppression. Christians in Singapore do not engage in civil disobedience as it is deemed disruptive to socio-economic progress. Their strategy for social change is based on securing political leverage. These strategies represent two different postcolonial approaches – one overt and the other subversive. They reflect theologies of the multitudes in contesting empires of old and new. This paper will compare the strategies of solidarity, protest, and resistance to draw conclusions towards liberative theologies for the twenty-first century.
This paper explores the emergence of Haitian Liberation theology in the context of the Second Vatican and the failure of the Haitian state or democracy in Haiti. Haitian Liberation Theology arose as a criticism, using insights from both theology and politics, to challenge the history of political oppression, human rights violation, and the bankrupt of democracy in Haiti. In particular, Haitian Liberation Theology began as a movement that resisted the Duvalier regime and the problem of structural violence and the abuse practices of the Catholic Church. However, my paper will focus on the history and emergence of Haitian Liberation theology as a theo-political movement of resistance and a criticism of the undemocratic nature of the Haitian state.
While the nineteenth century saw the emergence of self-consciously modern forms of theology, many of these theologies were also undergirded by sophisticated historical narratives reaching back to the Patristic age. Arguably, the broad outlines of doctrinal history that were constructed by major nineteenth-century theologians from Schleiermacher to Baur, Dorner, Ritschl, and Harnack have continued to inform historical theology even where their underlying dogmatic judgments were emphatically rejected. This session considers this fascinating and often overlooked aspect of nineteenth-century theological scholarship and suggests a fresh portrayal of nineteenth-century theology. It highlights how historical and systematic theology worked hand in hand throughout the century offering exemplary analyses of individual figures and broader, diachronic trends.
This paper maintains that Ferdinand Christian Baur’s seminal retrieval of patristic models of deification (theōsis) functions to make the doctrine newly relevant for modern Christian theology while simultaneously misrepresenting some of its most central features. Specifically, in an effort at bringing ancient Christian understandings in line with a German Idealist model of divine-human union (which had generated considerable interest in the early nineteenth century), Baur portrays patristic figures as advocating essential union between God and humanity. Under a protection of sorts provided by Idealism, then, patristic models of deification are made germane to the most leading-edge theologies of the nineteenth century, even if such a development comes at the cost of distorting patristic views. Crucially, too, even after the collapse of Idealism in the mid-nineteenth century, Baur’s interpretation continues to wield influence beyond the cultural moment that gave rise to it, particularly among Albrecht Ritschl and those in his “school.”
Albrecht Ritschl was the most prominent German theologian of the second half of the nineteenth century. According to Ritschl, modern theology’s task was to draw upon Luther’s chief insights in order to complete the Reformation. Ritschl’s students set out to demonstrate by “scientific” means that Luther’s insights were incompatible with the Christological and Trinitarian dogmas of the Greek Fathers. Ritschlian theologians sought to foster the establishment of a distinctively Germanic form of Christianity free from these dogmas that is intellectually and morally superior to its Latin and Greek predecessors. Toward this end, they invested a great deal of energy into patristic scholarship to show that patristic dogma emerged from a soteriology of deification borrowed from pagan Hellenism rather than the teachings of Jesus. Ritschlian patristic scholarship was motivated in part by German nationalism and the quest to unite Germany. Thus, the teachings of the Greek Fathers and Eastern Orthodox churches serve as a foil against which to demonstrate the superiority of Luther’s theology, German culture, and “scientific” theology.
Adolf von Harnack is often thought of as the “father” of modern church history. But Harnack saw himself as a theologian offering a normative vision. This paper probes the relationship between Harnack’s historical scholarship and his theological and ethical proposals by focusing on his engagements with Augustine of Hippo and how that informed subsequent generations’ engagements with Augustine. I argue that Harnack’s engagements with Augustine reveal an ambivalence within his own scholarly practice that informs the tension between engaging Augustine as a sui generis master of the spiritual life and engaging him as a representative of an entire epoch. Drawing from Ernst Troeltsch and Karl Holl’s works on Augustine, I delineate some post-Harnackian scholarly trends in the study of Augustine, including dispensational frameworks (early vs. late Augustine), evaluative frameworks (good vs. bad Augustine), and methodological frameworks (primary text vs. secondary literature).
The papers from this panel allow us the opportunity to take another look at the development of Pentecostalism in the United States. Pentecostalism has often been defined by the impoverished and by its white adherents. This panels ask us to take another look at who Pentecostals are and how they expressed themselves from the Great Depression to the present.
This paper examines how the social and economic impact of the Great Depression shaped the theology, memory, and politics of the leading evangelists of the postwar Pentecostal healing revival in the United States. The narratives and histories written by Pentecostal evangelists, such as William Branham, A. A. Allen, Kenneth Hagin, and Oral Roberts, stress the importance of an impoverished past in shaping their ministries. While much Pentecostal historiography focuses on either the origins and early shape of the Pentecostal movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries or the postwar period, this paper explores how the years from the late 1920s through to the mid-1940s influenced postwar Pentecostalism historically and theologically.
Foregrounding Mamie Till-Mobley’s African American pentecostal religious roots, this article argues for the necessity of black pentecostal religious aesthetics as a method for doing African American religious history and understanding African American political activism. Till-Mobley organized the funerary rites of Emmett Till, notably deciding to exhibit her son vis-à-vis an open casket funeral. By offering a close reading of the funeral liturgy that have been fragmented in the archive, this article curates an exhibition of Till’s homegoing service that exposes it as a necessary source for scholarship within Religious History. This essay will engage the religious rite of tarrying as a critical category of analysis. Through centering the archives orbiting the funeral of Till which include memoirs, newspapers, interviews, and newsreels, I argue that Till-Mobley provides an altar at Emmett’s homegoing to tarry with the wanton death of African Americans.
Scholars of Latino Pentecostalism have noted that the growth of Latino Pentecostalism was in part fueled by the transfer of mainline Latinx leaders into burgeoning Latino Pentecostal movements. As I argue in this paper, a religious ecology perspective provides insights into the relationship between Mainline Protestantism broadly, Methodism in particular, and the emergence of Latino Pentecostalism. I am especially interested in the resource transfer that has taken place across movements and/or institutions which in turn helps to sustain multiple movements and institutions within their respective religious ecologies. I posit that Methodism’s presence within particular religious ecologies where Latino Pentecostalism emerged, furthered Latino Pentecostalism’s success, even as Latino Methodism persisted as a movement. The forms of resource transfer that took place did entail the transfer of leaders from Methodism to Pentecostalism, but I also consider forms of resource transfer that took place as ongoing multidirectional exchange.
Therapeutic culture is a collective gestalt of knowledge and practices focusing on emotional health, self-help, personal development, and recovery, and it has been transforming Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity since the mid-twentieth century. Christian Healing Ministry, a charismatic organization founded by Francis and Judith MacNutt, promotes healing and deliverance that include therapeutic techniques to deal with emotional imbalance, grief, addiction, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Specifically, inner healing is a charismatic ritual that includes a range of rituals and practices designed to help participants manage their emotions and attain mental health. Findings are based on participant observations and interviews.
Phenomenology has long been seen as the source of uncritical approaches to the study of religion. This is because among those earlier practitioners of what became known as phenomenology of religion, empathy and description were prioritized over critical and theoretical examination. The advent of “critical phenomenology” within philosophy opens up an opportunity to return to phenomenology with fresh eyes. The panelists gathered here offer different approaches to engaging critical phenomenology and building on its insights within the field of religion.
Critical Phenomenology opens up space for the return to experience in religious studies. It does so by taking seriously the historical, social, and political constraints that shape our world, without losing sight of the experiences of individual persons living under those constraints. Given the polarized discourse surrounding the role of experience in religious studies—especially in light of the turn to new materialism and affect studies and away from purely structural analyses—critical phenomenology offers us a valuable tool for navigating the theoretical challenges we face. I contend that one of the more controversial subjects in phenomenology (and religious studies), what is called the first-person perspective, remains a necessary tool to understand our own normative engagements with what we study. I critically engage with Saba Mahmood’s normative vision (or lack thereof) in the _Politics of Piety_ in order to demonstrate the ongoing importance of this account of the self.
This paper interprets the film _The Embrace of the Serpent_ (2015) through a critical phenomenological lens and claims that the film exemplifies how “unconscious” or “anaesthetic” experiences might be understood not as defective modalities of experience, but as central aspects of it. The paper uses Cressida Heyes’ (2020) notion of the “anaesthetic” as a useful concept to think through experiences that usually fall outside the scope of traditional phenomenological assumptions about subjectivity and agency. In this case, the “anaesthetic” will be used to reflect on the function of hallucinatory experiences for indigenous peoples in the Colombian Amazon, as represented in the film. In a broader sense, the paper aims to exemplify how recent scholarship in critical phenomenology might offer useful tools to the philosophy of religion and to religious studies in general, especially in relation to questions of agency, experience, perception, and temporality.
If "Critical Phenomenology" is to be taken seriously as a methodology within Religious Studies, it must contend with not only problematic caricatures of Critical Theory and Phenomenology, but also Phenomenology of Religion. This paper explores Philosophy of Religion’s problematic past and its association with either theological projects or grandiose and supposedly universal theories of "Religion." It reflects upon a recent methodological experiment conducted in collaboration with a sociologist to argue that there are _already_ philosophers of religion engaging in phenomenological work that is both thoroughly rooted in particularity and thoroughly compatible with empirical verification. Ultimately, it concludes that Critical Phenomenology of Religion serves to renew—rather than simply dismiss—the history of the discipline.
Does history structure meaningful personal experience? If so, how might scholars carefully study historical events that constitute meaningful human experiences across time and space? This paper thinks through the compatibility of phenomenological and dialectical approaches to the historical study of religion. I argue that a critical, phenomenological approach tempers the historians' natural attitude–a “change-over-time” approach to historical study–by providing a means for criticizing what historians take for granted in the constitution of meaningful experience. Though phenomenology of religion may be contemporarily unfashionable to some, Africana scholars of religion have retooled phenomenological approaches to the study of religion to elucidate both the essential historical conditions constituting Africana religious experience and how these historical factors bear on the personal manufacture of meaning for Africana subjects. I extend lines of thought initiated by Dianne Stewart & Tracey Hucks, Ezra Chitando, and Charles Long regarding the facility of phenomenology to the historical study of Africana religion.
After 9/11, Paul Kahn theorized the difference between the criminal and the enemy as involving law and sovereignty: the criminal opposes the law, the enemy opposes the sovereign. Now, Kahn turns to the case of civil war in conversation with Schmitt and Hobbes. Civil war signals a gap between law and popular sovereignty: citizens no longer perceive their collective authorship in the law. This gap is closed when a revolution succeeds in constituting a new state, a new legal order retaining a trace of sovereign presence. Such a movement traverses the categories of criminal and enemy. Rather than the state emerging from “nature,” one state replaces another. Friends become enemies in this process of revolutionary birth, or civil war, generating the force of sovereignty. This dynamic may haunt us as long as we invest our politics with an ultimate meaning.
The climate crisis is the greatest threat to creatures and creation. Some still deny it; others play it down. Moreover, the most significant problems caused by the world's wealthiest countries are occurring in the global South. Young people from all over the world keep gathering and protesting. And yet little is being done about the climate crisis in politics and society. But many people, including those in the church, also stay out of the discourse, as if the whole thing has nothing to do with their faith, nothing to do with their lives, nothing to do with their children and grandchildren. The climate crisis challenges habits such as nutrition, mobility, attitude towards the earth, etc., and challenges new ways of living. What does practical theology have to say about this? How is the climate crisis addressed in practical theological disciplines and religious practices? This interactive panel will provide impulses from a practical theological perspective, but at the same time, all session participants will be invited to join in the thinking and discussion.
This panel will focus on the implications of the significant rise in suicides and suicidality in recent years, including differences among groups of identification and belonging (age, gender and sexuality, race, ethnicity, immigration status, etc.). These papers speak on topics including working clinically or pastorally with survivors of attempted suicide or survivors of those who have died by suicide, psychological and religious issues of stigmatization and shame, and the effects on family, friends, and communities.
As rates of suicide among Black Americans increase, there is an opportunity for Black churches to tailor their pastoral care efforts to be more inclusive of mental health concerns. This study aims to develop recommendations for enhancing pastoral care specifically with Black women who experience suicidality. In so doing, it suggests that formulating witnessing as a process of pastoral care could provide a robust theological foundation on which to ground such ministerial work. Through ethnographic methods and digital storytelling, this project provides a firsthand encounter with Black women suicide attempt survivors who articulate their own mental and spiritual health needs, desires, and priorities. This presentation will situate the topic of Black women’s mental health and suicide within the discipline of practical theology, describe the research methods, and offer preliminary findings and emerging analysis alongside a case study of one digital story.
In this paper I will share my research on the trauma of Black invisibility, how a seemingly the lack of compassion for Black suffering leads to many either bypassing Black pain by imposing embedded theologies that refusing to see it all together believing that black strength and resilience is a protector factor against Black suicide. I argue for a womanist informed practical theology of embodied empathy and compassion integrated with internal family systems to create a culture of seeing in black churches and communities.
In this paper I will share my research on the trauma of Black invisibility, how a seemingly the lack of compassion for Black suffering leads to many either bypassing Black pain by imposing embedded theologies that refusing to see it all together believing that black strength and resilience is a protector factor against Black suicide. I argue for a womanist informed practical theology of embodied empathy and compassion integrated with internal family systems to create a culture of seeing in black churches and communities.
Even today, U.S. Christian approaches to suicide still treat it as taboo and often fail to provide healing support. Specifically, U.S. Christian communities remain complacent in their lack of suicide literacy, moralizing judgment against suicide people, and/or medicalizing gaze on suicidal people simply as “sick.” These responses promote an individualistic framework central to U.S. culture that sharply separates suicidal people from the rest of the human community, thereby stigmatizing them. To help redress this, I engage sociological, psychological, and first-person work on suicidality in a social justice framework that centers the needs of suicidal people. Ultimately, U.S. Christians must become lovingly familiar with people’s lived experiences of suicidality and apply an intersectional framework that examines how oppressive forces such as white supremacist heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism spike suicidality. To the extent that suicide is a socially predictable problem, it is, through collective action, also a tractable one.
The rising influence of white Christian nationalism in some circles of American politics is posing a major threat to the health of our democracy and our culture. This panel will discuss the results of a new PRRI/Brookings survey of more than 6,000 Americans, which establishes new measures to estimate the proportion of Americans who adhere to and reject Christian nationalist ideology. The survey also examines how Christian nationalist views intersect with white identity, anti-Black sentiment, patriarchy, antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiments, anti-immigrant attitudes, and support for political violence. Additionally, the survey explores the influence Christian nationalism has among our two political parties and major religious subgroups today. PRRI president and founder Robert P. Jones will present the major findings of the study, and a distinguished panel will discuss what the survey results reveal about Christian nationalism, the state of American democracy, and the health of our society.
This panel explores the ways that humorists working in different media (comic books, single-panel comics, and stand-up comedians) navigate the politics of representing religion in the United States in different historical times. Whether it is the rise of clerical jokes in the 1950s; Muslima comedians fighting to represent Islam in the face of Islamophobia and racialized, misogynistic politics of representation; or satirical depictions of Jesus' return to Earth the presenters on this panel try to explain how and why humor is an important framing device for navigating religious change and controversy.
Between 1950 and 1976, single frame “gag” cartoons depicting clergy and congregations in humorous situations flourished in religious publications, but also in syndication in major metropolitan newspapers across the United States. Coinciding as they did with important issues in American religion, these images—their rise, their content, and their decline—have been overlooked by historians of Catholicism, Protestantism, and American religion generally, as well as scholars of popular culture, print media, and graphic arts. This paper analyzes over 13,000 images, putting them in historical and sociological perspective. It argues that, because these images reflect both what the artists understood about their own religious traditions and what the religious and secular publishers understood about presenting that image to the public, they reveal an unexplored perspective on the post-World War II integration of Catholics into American public culture, concurrent transformations in American Catholicism and Protestantism, and broader shifts in American religion.
While Muslim men – nearly all comedians – have ascended in the world of American pop culture representation, the many Muslim women comedians performing across the U.S. have not found the same success. Why is it Muslim men who primarily reap the benefits of the “Representation Matters” movement? The dearth of fully-realized Muslim women in pop media imagery of Islam emerges out of patriarchal dividends and discourses of consumption and control which hover over Muslim women’s bodies. In standup, this becomes an added precondition to the material Muslim women comics write and make light of, a limitation on the “secular range of motion” available otherwise to Muslim comedians who are men. Due to the heightened apprehension that the dangerous Muslim amalgam continues to summon, those that resemble the terrifying Muslim (man) are thus also the recipients of the opportunity to confront him while the possibilities of women are swallowed and sacrificed.
Afterlives of Jesus in the hybrid medium of comics illustrate complex and provocative dynamics of reception and textual reworking. Much of the irony that characterizes so much of Mark Russell and Richard Pace’s _Second Coming_ (Ahoy Comics, 2019) and _Second Coming: Only Begotten Son_ (Ahoy Comics, 2020-21) cleverly echoes the iconoclasm of the historical Jesus in its critique of Christianity and American culture. However, the alternative put forward is marked by leitmotifs of failure, melancholy, and regret. This article traces these themes across the narrative and argues that the comic’s proleptic recasting of Jesus results in a nihilistic dystopia reflective of postmodern ennui, thus contributing to conversations concerning how questions about the present and future are being negotiated in this present historical moment.
This roundtable highlights themes from four recent books and their contributions to Digital Religion studies: Campbell & Bellar’s Digital Religion. The Basics, Dyer’s People of the Screen, Petersen’s Unrurly Souls and Echchaibi & Hoover’s Third Spaces of Digital Religion. Digital Religion studies take a particular approach to analyzing the intersections between religion, technology and digitally-mediated cultures, by recognizing the importance of considering online religious practice in tandem with offline religious traditions(Campbell& Bellar 2023). Each author use this approach in their work, to ask important questions about the impact these online-offline religious relationships, or what Luciano Floridi calls “on-life” (2015), are having on religious institutions and communities in the 21st Century. By closely considering current performances and perception of religion in emerging “third spaces” (Echchaibi & Hoover) roundtable members will draw attention to “hard questions” around topics of power, gender, nationalism coming to the fore in need of further critical reflection.
Ritual is envisaged here not as a pacifying response to potentially problematic situations, but as a means whereby challenging circumstances – worshiping at interreligious sacred sites, disposing of sacred objets, bringing what has been erased to mind – are aknowledged and given hightened legitimacy.
Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork, this paper aims to propose a new theoretical approach to the study of interreligious relations among Christians and Muslims by introducing an aesthetic and semiotic approach to interrituality. The theoretical and methodological claim of this paper is that this framework is applicable to the study of all types of interreligious relations that are mediated through different rituals and ritual acts. The introduction of an aesthetically and semiotically informed concept of mimesis will account for the relational configurations and intersections between textual representations, ritual imitations, and sensory simulations as they materialize in the ethnographic case under consideration through the coordination of the specific times and places in saint veneration rituals at shared sacred sites and festivals. Defined as a relational concept, mimesis indexes the triadic relationships and dynamic configurations between persons, times and places that can be accounted for as dynamic processes of continuous appropriation and transformation.
According to US flag code, flags that have become damaged or are in some way no longer serviceable must be disposed of in a solemn and respectful manner. Paradoxically, burning flags which is often done in protest is viewed as one of the most disrespectful acts to a flag, is the same method of how they are supposed to be disposed of, albeit within a ritual context. In a flag retirement ceremony, the flag takes on the same status as a deceased human body. This reflects the fact the flag is a symbol for all those who lost their lives fighting to defend the flag, America more broadly, and the cultural values symbolized in a single piece of cloth. Cremation (and sometimes burial) are seen as the most appropriate methods for respectful disposition of sacred remains.
From Pierre Nora to Paul Connerton, memory theorists have argued that “modernity forgets.” Nowhere is this said to be more obvious than in the urban landscape, whose ever-shifting and always-expanding topography reflects the alienation intrinsic to capitalist modernity. But if modern space is “space wiped clean” (Connerton 2009), we might ask: wiped clean of what? Through an examination of a vibrant devotion to the souls of the suffering dead at a small chapel in São Paulo, Brazil, this paper examines “forgetting things,” or the material culture that conjures a sense of absence, loss, or erasure. In so doing, it argues that in the Americas, “modernization” has depended upon the eradication of Black and Indigenous presence. And it traces how at the Chapel of the Afflicted, devotees and activists have produced “forgetting things” to advance a political project of material and mnemonic reparations in São Paulo.
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. This year's papers examine topics ranging from devotion and service to religious literature in Sanskrit and regional languages. In doing so, panelists also consider the intersections of religion with gender, caste, virtue, and politics.
This paper explores how women ājīvan sevaks (lifelong volunteers) within the transnational devotional Hindu movement known as the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) interpret and utilize the socio-religious practice of sevā (service) in their everyday lives. While these women come from a broad age, educational, and vocational spectrum, they still collectively understand service as the central means to achieve theological ideals and virtues, such as vairāgya (worldly detachment), niṣkāma bhakti (desireless devotion), and saraltā (simplicity). This paper indicates broader implications of this lifelong dedication as being the establishment of spatial and social agency. More specifically, these women eschew established local and regional familial expectations of women and establish female-dominated spaces within BAPS, an organization characterized in academic and public narratives as structurally male-dominated.
In this paper, I study an acerbic public debate around the “true” nature of the deity Jagannātha in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The contention began when pedagogical authorities of both Indology and Odisha suggested that the temple of Jagannātha was a Buddhist shrine that Hindus later appropriated. The Hindu upper caste/class elite boisterously refuted these claims, inundating periodicals and authoring voluminous monographs to disprove the Buddhist past of Jagannātha. The paper asks: Why did the presence of Buddhism in Puri, cause this significant disquiet for upper caste/class authors at the time? I argue that, while most articulations were couched in regional terms (in Bengali and Odia), the debate was symptomatic of a broader concern about the type of religious history writing that could serve the purpose of the “Hindu nation.” Through this debate we notice some of the earliest articulations of Hindu nationalist claims over contested sacred sites, which later morphed into the Hindutva history writing projects around Babri Masjid.
In this paper, I analyze the first and second chapters of Madhusūdana Sarasvati's encyclopedic sixteenth-century Sanskrit commentary on the Bhagavad Gītā, the Gūḍhārthadīpikā, arguing that the text represents an important intervention in the reception history of the Bhagavad Gītā, from the perspective of Madhusūdana's unusually rich focus on questions of narrative and human conduct. While there is a great deal of scholarship that engages with Madhusūdana's writing in general, much secondary literature has focused on his Advaitin ideas and his novel commitment to bhakti. In this paper, I read sections of Madhusūdana's text with a view to asking how his reading of the Bhagavad Gītā, while drawing from those of his predecessors, extends Advaitin scholastic concerns to more closely considering the place of the text in the epic, drawing out questions of the Gītā's relationship to dharmaśāstra debates that were likely to have been ongoing in sixteenth-century scholastic circles.
Religious biographies are an indispensable part of a religious tradition. These normative texts exhibit exemplary lives that become the blueprints of how a practitioner should act, how they should think, and how they should feel. By examining recent biographies by BAPS, a denomination of the Swaminarayan community, and interviewing living authors, this paper discusses the relationship between virtue and the biographical image and the author’s role in teaching virtue to motivate practice. In other words, I move the discussion from what emulation is to how it can occur. To do this, I engage with applied virtue ethics heuristically to argue that hagiographers make the narratives into action-inducing stories by building the thick conceptual nature of a virtue so that narratives from a saint's life can be applicable to the reader.
The sovereignty debate as it relates to caste in colonial South India is the focus of this essay. The paper focuses on two key conjunctures in order to move beyond the dichotomy of ritual and political in the study of sovereign practices in the South Indian state of Travancore. The first is the debate of state spending on Brahmin feeding in the nineteenth century. The critique of spending, which was sparked by the newly formed coalition between Christian missionaries and lower caste communities, presupposed a "secular poor class" as the condition of its political demands. The second is the debate surrounding the administration of temple charity, which viewed the state as a trust. In both episodes, Brahmins were seen as a "poor class" as a condition for sovereignty, until replaced by "people" later in nineteenth century. The paper inquires the transformative trajectory of sovereignty of Travancore in both of these debates.
This session explores agency and sacred space in four different instantiations: land-owning deities, built religious space, liminal passages, and ontological others. In each of these papers, territories are created, borders established, and structures built. Movement is key in this generative process. Of course, territories, borders, and buildings can restrict movement, but as people and deities (are) move(d) through and within these spaces, they create, reinforce, and inscribe themselves and their actions on these spaces. These papers offer diverse perspectives on this process by showing how space is created by the migrant, the divine, the earth, and the initiate. Finally, these papers demonstrate the connections between humans and space. Divine spaces demand recognition from the state; they “observe, recollect, and feel;” they frame human identity; and they impose identities on “people crossing through [them who are deemed] as outside the human.”
In the largely rural landscape of the Kullu district in the North Indian hill-state of Himachal Pradesh, most villages are presided over by territorial village deities which exercise significant influence over the everyday lives of their followers. Many of these deities are recognised as land-owning ‘perennial minors’ by the district administration. The deities are active agents who speak through their mediums and move through their chariots. Drawing from my fieldwork conducted in 2021-2022, I aim to discuss how these moving, territorial deities shape sacred landscape through pilgrimages, territorial surveys and festivals. I also aim to look at oral traditions around these deities to explore how they sustain the deities’ historic ties to the landscape of Kullu. In a context where the State officially recognises the presence and land-ownership of deities, I wish to explore the role of the state in sustaining a sacred landscape.
In this paper, I analyze the narrative descriptions in the Pachomian corpus in order to construct a detailed description of the process of entry for a beginner joining a Pachomian monastery, with an emphasis on the religious landscapes involved, which is presented in the literature as a stark contrast between the chaotic, dangerous desert outside the walls, and the ideal, sacred space set apart by the monastery. Entry through the front gatehouse, then, marks the liminal passage from the harsh desert wilderness to a life of order, peace, and holiness, so the rituals and architecture of the gatehouse are significant for framing and imagining one’s new life and identity.
In the Holy Quran, the earth, an inanimate space and place, is promised by God to be given a voice to “declare” and testify about the actions of the humans who lived upon it. Built structures such as mosques, both located upon earth and made of earthen materials, become creatures of memory. Engaging traditional Islamic cosmology, built structures of American Muslim worship are more than public spaces of congregation, but also deeply intimate, animate interiors who observe, recollect, and feel. Through a serious engagement with the sacred memory of American Masajid, new dimensions of communal ritual are made evident.
With Mircea Eliade, Borders are theorized as an act of worldmaking where “foreign and unoccupied” space becomes settled and inhabited through an ordering of chaos in and through the sacred. The religious man remains near the divine while the chaotic outside carries “demons, foreigners” and the “souls of the dead.”
With Sylvia Wynter, these structural ontological oppositions (divine/demon, order/chaos) are seen as mapped onto the landscape itself. Ontological divides appear inside geographies as certain areas are deemed “habitable” while others are “unhabitable.” Dominant discourses are infused into the space/landscape of the Border in order relocate space and people crossing through as outside the human.
In the location of chaos, what is space for the migrant moving through the violence of such enclosure? What is the pressure migrants crossing these borders enact on dominant spatial formations? What are the geographies built by them as they traverse these spaces?
Our co-sponsored special session, honors the scholarly legacy of the late Delores Williams, a trailblazing womanist theologian. We recognize the significance of Williams’ works and particularly highlight the 30th Anniversary of the publication of Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist Godtalk (Orbis, 1993). This is an invited panel with closed submissions.
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This panel will host graduate students in Islamic studies at various stages in their dissertation processes and will encoruage interactivity among panelists, as well as constructive feedback from a respondent.
*Anā majdhūb, māshī majnūn!* “I am *majdhūb*—not mad!” Attributed to the paradigmatic Moroccan mad saint, ‘Abd ar-Rahman al-Majdhūb (d. 1568), this phrase is enshrined in a plaque hanging behind his tomb in the shrine of the ‘Alawite Sultan Mulāy Ismā’īl (d. 1727). Yet, it also circulates, in Sufi treatises, hagiographic narratives, and casual cafe conversations. It is reiterated to explain a male saint donning women’s clothes and a bearded female saint critiquing the reigning sultan. In each iteration, “*anā majdhūb, māshī majnūn*” invokes then dismisses the specter of madness to justify the deviance of these ecstatic saints. In my dissertation, I ask: What do hagiographic representations and oral narratives of the *majdhūb* reveal about the dynamic of madness, gender, and sainthood? I argue that articulations of the *majdhūb* as deviant illuminate the ways in which anxieties over unreason, gender, and excess shaped the discursive formation of Maghribi Sufism.
My dissertation is an ethnographic study of multiethnic U.S. Muslim civic organizations in the city of Detroit and how such organizations encourage Muslims to cross endemic racial boundaries on the basis of Islamic ethics. Organizations like DREAM of Detroit (“Detroit Revival Engaging American Muslims”) stimulate faith-based commitment to civic action and expose participants to diverse ways of being Muslim, prioritizing just works over specific doctrinal or ritual adherences. Drawing on interviews with leaders and participants as well as participant-observation at organizational events, I show how Muslim civic organizations are not only expressions of Islamic values, but more profoundly, sites of religious cultivation in which what it means to be a U.S. Muslim is taught, negotiated, and debated. I encourage scholars of contemporary Islam to expand normative notions of “Islamic space” and ask how the proliferating Muslim non-profit sector is shaping constructions of Islamic authority in the contemporary United States.
My dissertation investigates how a concept of passionate, mad love—‘ishq—became mainstream in precolonial South Asian popular culture through a genre of narrative poem, the ‘ishqiya masnavi (often translated as ‘romance’), written by Sufi initiates in Persian, Urdu and Punjabi. These stories depicted love as a way to access the divine by revealing the divinity inherent in creation. Lovers’ trials and tribulations—from mystical beasts to jealous relatives—were allegories of the Sufi path.
I bring a material approach to the literary analysis of these poems, to show how song, recitation and the use of illustrations served to instruct communities of reader-listener-viewers in how to use earthly love to access God. Over two centuries, the romance tradition gradually moved out of the Sufi lodge and the court into urban coteries, colonial textbooks, and eventually modern print publics—but the Sufi cosmology that underpinned these stories remained a constant.
Marriage is a central social and religious institution that contributes to family formation and socioeconomic attainment. Little is known, however, about the marriage process for Muslims, the largest religious minority group in the U.S. And even less is understood about how marriage formation occurs for U.S. Black Muslim men and women, who form the largest group of U.S. born Muslims (Pew Research Center 2017). Here, I plan to interview 30 U.S. Black Muslims and ask: How do Black Muslim men and women compare in the ways they connect religion and race in making marriage decisions? I examine how Black Muslims living in the United States think about marriage, what qualities make one “marriageable,” the range in experiences of seeking out marriage partners, and what role religion, gender, race, family origin, and skin tone play in the marriage process. By examining this understudied and vitally important case, this research will offer key theoretical implications to advance sociological literatures on religion, race, and gender.
This dissertation argues that across disparate times and spaces, expressions of the Islamic concept of taqwā (piety, godfearingness, consciousness of God) come to index ruptures, shifts, and unexpected continuities in societal orientations towards God. Through textual and ethnographic research that tacks between two distinct temporal moments, the advent of Islam and contemporary Egypt, I examine the bricolage of inherited texts, traditions, sayings, and embodied practices that collectively signify expressions of taqwā. In the first Hijri century, biblical understandings of godfearingness together with taqwā’s pre-Islamic poetic linguistic inheritances coalesced into the internally and externally embodied concept that permeates the earliest Islamic sources. Navigating anxieties that Egyptian society is heading towards two equally threatening types of extremism, atheism and religious-based violence, in contemporary Egypt this early tradition of taqwā is reimagined and redeployed by religious leaders and their constituencies alongside uniquely modern strategies like cinema clubs, YouTube preaching, and psychological counseling.
The account attributed to the Armenian bishop Sebeos (c. 645) is regarded by scholars as the most coherent and complete account recounting the reasons motivating Arabs and Muslims in marching forward against the Byzantine army inside the Levant. The account is important since it offers a clear picture of the seventh-century venture of empire by Arabs and Muslims. However, there are problems in privileging Sebeos’s account. I, therefore, use Sebeos’s account to discuss the problems inherent in the study of Early Islam inside the western academy. In doing so, I argue how the study of early Islam is ensconced in a deep orientalist lens, ignoring the ‘larger picture’ of regional and global dynamics giving way to the Arab Muslim empire.
How have contemplative traditions throughout time and place utilized the primary elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space within practices of attention and self-transformation? This panel explores the theorization of the elements as material categories in contemplation, ritual practice, and as technologies of information for ordering kinds of knowledge about human bodies and environments within South Asian and Tibetan contemplative traditions of Yoga and Tantra. Through responses representing geographically and historically diverse contemplative traditions, papers attend to the emergent theme of the elements as relational media that operate between various domains of experience: embodied and environmental; individual and cosmic; private and public; and theoretical and practical domains of contemplation.
Living Landscapes: Meditations on the Five Elements in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain Yogas (SUNY 2020) explores the use of elemental meditations in key texts and ritual practices, including reflections on the author's own training in this discipline and exploration of the five elemental Saiva temples in south India. Resources include the Pṛthivī Sūkta, Yogavāsiṣṭha, and Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā (Hindu), the Dhātu Vibhaṅga, Mahārāhulovāda, and the Visuddhimagga (Buddhist), and the Ācārāṅga Sūtra, Jñānārṇava, and Yogaśāstra (Jaina). This presentation will provide a summary overview of meditations on the five elements as found in all three traditions.
The Kālacakra Tantra states that a physical body is requisite for complete buddhahood, and what constitutes a physical body are the four coarse elements (earth, wind, fire, water), the element of space that is characteristically included in late Indian Buddhist literature, plus the sixth element of gnosis (ye shes). Together, these six elements form the constitutive physiology for a body that, in its fullest expression, is known as the adamantine body endowed with the six elements (khams drug ldan pa rdo rje lus). Corresponding to this sixfold elemental theory, the tantra presents a successive development of a sixfold vajrayoga completion stage process that is incremental, progressive, and adheres to an internal sequential logic. This paper details and analyzes these contemplative processes of dematerializing and rematerializing the physical body into a gnostic body according to the Kālacakra’s metaphysics of the six elements, and its correlative sixfold vajrayoga contemplative practices.
The primary elements of earth, water, fire, and wind are widely known within Buddhist cosmologies and philosophies as units of matter. Less well known are the Buddhist contexts in which the elements function as objects of meditation, as devices for measuring time, and as technologies of information for ordering knowledge about practitioners’ lives and their surrounding material environments. This paper explores these dimensions of elemental thought within foundationally important Great Perfection Seminal Heart (Rdzogs chen snying thig) texts from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Drawing on key examples of elemental-contemplative thought and practice from the collection known as the Seventeen Great Perfection Tantras (Rdzogs chen rgyud bcu bdun), and their accompanying twelfth-century commentaries, this paper reflects on the role of elements as constitutive and agentive factors in Buddhist theories of meditation, and the ordering of Buddhist contemplative lives.
Newar Buddhism is often viewed in scholarship as being concerned with ritual at the expense of contemplative and/or philosophical practice. This presentation shows that located within the physical ritual space is an intersection of ritual, contemplative, and philosophical thought so deeply interwoven that to attempt to disentangle them in order to make them fit with contemporary categories could only happen at great detriment to the theory behind the practices highlighted. Critical to the conceptual transformation of the practitioner into a being who has fully realized the shared identity of oneself and all external phenomena (dharmadhātu) is the identification with the physical body and environment with the constituent gross elements. These elements form a critical part of the maṇḍala, which is mapped onto the body (private), social space (public) and reality itself (cosmic).