PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
Boston, MA
November 18-21, 2017

2017 Annual Meeting Program (PDF)

Program Book Ads

Preliminary 2017 Annual Meeting Program (MS Word)

To return to the Welcome Page, please click here.

For questions or support, email

To return to the AAR website, click here.

Online Program Book

Public Understanding of Religion Committee and Arts, Literature, and Religion Unit
Theme: Museums and the Public Understanding of Religion: Sacred Art, History, and Science on Display
S. Brent Plate, Hamilton College, Presiding
Saturday - 4:00 PM-6:30 PM
Sheraton Boston-The Fens (Fifth Level)

There are over 850 million visits every year to museums in the United States, much more than attendance at sporting events and amusement parks combined. Museums are go-to spaces for educational field trips, must-see destinations for tourists, for hands-on scientific exploration, and flint stones of socio-political controversy. And they are filled with religious objects.
Presenters in this roundtable have worked with national institutions of US history, major museums of fine art, and have extensively studied the commitments of museum staff to shape opinion. Each panelist will reflect on their own experiences at the intersection of religion and museums, commenting on how museums engage, promote, and influence the public understanding of religion in the United States. The implications of the relations move beyond religious traditions and museum collections and connect with international legal issues, cultural appropriation, secularization, corporate sponsorships, economic reform, histories of art, scientific methods, and theological orthodoxy.

Lauren Turek, Trinity University
Peter Manseau, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC
William Trollinger, University of Dayton
Susan Trollinger, University of Dayton
Laura Weinstein, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Eric Lewis Williams, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture
Stephen Prothero, Boston University
Ritual Studies Unit
Theme: Ritual Aesthetics and the Senses
Jens Kreinath, Wichita State University, Presiding
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Marriott Copley Place-Hyannis (Fourth Level)

This panel features some innovative research on how aesthetics ties into the study of ritual practice. The topics discussed in this session include the uses of relics and the senses in Islamic pilgrimage, notions of harmony and dissonance in the ritual systems of a Liturgical Choir at the University of Notre Dame, moral aesthetics in the ritualization of everyday life in the Chinese Book of Rites, and the study of language and affect in South Indian Śaiva literature. The main questions that the papers address are how aesthetics as a form of sensual perception and the use of the senses are connected to forms of ritual practice.

Adam Bursi, University of Tennessee
Scents of Pilgrimage: Early Islamic Pilgrimage, Relics, and the Senses

Within some of the earliest textual and material evidence for the history of Islam, pilgrimage to sacred locations appears as a defining ritual of religious performance. Yet scholars have tended to ignore an important aspect of pilgrimage shared between Muslims and others in the late antique Near East: the acquisition and usage of pilgrimage souvenirs, particularly “contact relics” that had touched holy persons or places. In this paper, I examine descriptions and discussions of early Muslims collecting and using contact relics from pilgrimage destinations for two interrelated purposes. First, these sources evidence late seventh- and early eighth-century Muslims collecting stones, soil, and fluids from Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, and Karbala and carrying some of these sacred spaces’ holiness home in material form. Second, the materials often used for these purposes – perfumed waters and soil – grant an illustrative picture of the multisensory nature, and especially the olfactory component, of early Islamic pilgrimage.

Sarah Kathleen Johnson, University of Notre Dame
Listening for Harmony and Dissonance in Overlapping Ritual Systems

The blended sound, matching cream-coloured robes, and coordinated movements of the University of Notre Dame Women’s Liturgical Choir suggest unity, but also mask tremendous religious diversity. This qualitative mixed-methods study explores how religiously diverse musicians connected with the choir experience singing regularly at Roman Catholic mass on campus. The Women’s Liturgical Choir ritual system overlaps with three other internally complex ritual systems: the choral-singing ritual system, the Roman Catholic ritual system, and the University of Notre Dame ritual system. Building on Catherine Bell’s assertion that “usually, multiple systems overlap, sometimes in tension with each other, sometimes in complementary harmony” (Bell 1997, 174), this study considers how overlaps may be experienced as harmonious or dissonant depending on the position of individual singers within the ritual systems. Harmonious overlaps often occur through ignoring, transcending, circumventing, or bridging tension, and dissonant overlaps tend to emerge when observable boundaries are established and enforced.

Clayton Ashton, University of British Columbia
The Moral Aesthetics of the Everyday: Ritualization in the Chinese Book of Rites

The early Chinese Book of Rites remains a surprisingly under-examined work within Western academia. This is despite the fact that a unique degree of focus on the concept of ritual is one of the most notable features of the intellectual, political and religious writings of both early and imperial Chinese and East Asian society. This paper examines the opening chapter of this document, the “Quli” and considers how it draws on the aesthetic qualities of everyday activities to construct ritual acts with normative weight.

Jay Ramesh, Columbia University
Transforming Language: Prescription, Affect, and Translation in Early Modern South Indian Śaiva Literature

The Kumpakōṇappurāṇam of Cokkappa Pulavar, composed in the late 17th century and performed at the court of Shahoji I of Thanjavur, is a Tamil poem devoted to the greatness of the city of Kumbakonam and its central Śaiva shrine. Cokkappa describes his poem as a translation of the Śivarahasya, a late medieval Sanskrit compendium of esoteric Śaiva ritual prescriptions that outlines procedures for temple worship in general terms. Yet, far from simply rendering the Sanskrit text in the vernacular, Cokkappa radically transforms the style and content of the original, employing ornate Tamil verse in favor of the dry didacticism of the source text. By drawing upon the long history of Tamil Śaiva literature, Cokkappa's translation emphasizes the bliss of devotion and thus offers a very different vision of how temple worship is experienced than the Śivarahasya, and affords us and opportunity to examine the relationship between language, affect, and religion.

S. Brent Plate, Hamilton College
Business Meeting:
Sarah M. Pike, California State University, Chico
Jens Kreinath, Wichita State University