PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
Denver, CO
November 17-20, 2018

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Sessions
P16-104
North American Association for the Study of Religion
Theme: Gender and Sexuality
Tenzan Eaghll, Mahidol University, Presiding
Friday - 10:00 AM-11:50 AM
Sheraton Downtown-Director's Row H (Plaza Tower - Lobby Level)

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Panelists:
Megan Goodwin, Northeastern University
Responding:
Tara Baldrick-Morrone, Florida State University
Emily Crews, University of Chicago
Jennifer A. Selby, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Tim Langille, Arizona State University
A17-221
New Religious Movements Unit
Theme: Minority and Emerging Religious Communities
Megan Goodwin, Syracuse University, Presiding
Saturday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Hyatt Regency-Centennial B (Third Level)

This panel explores confluences among and challenges facing emergent and minority religious communities, including Jedis, the Black Coptic Church, American Brujas, and Krishna West members.

Nicole Karapanagiotis, Rutgers University, Camden
Krishna West and the Reinvention of ISKCON

Traditionally, ISKCON devotees are known for their orange robes, shaved heads, and exuberant Hindu-style temple worship. In recent years, however, a new ISKCON sub-movement—Krishna West—has entered the scene. In Krishna West, devotees do not wear Indian Hindu devotional clothing or practice Vaishnava rituals in temples, but wear business-casual attire and worship on pianos and guitars in informal meeting room-type settings.

In this paper, I argue that Krishna West radically re-brands ISKCON’s public presentation and re-invents its style of worship in order to attract more “westerners” to the movement. Through this re-branding—which is accomplished by both digital and new architectural technologies—Krishna West devotees seek to change ISKCON’s current majority Indian constituency. For these devotees, I argue, a successful ISKCON is one which has a diverse and globally representative constituency. In conclusion, I situate Krishna West’s re-branding/universalizing efforts in relation to the efforts of other global-reaching Hindu NRM’s.

Leonard McKinnis, Saint Louis University
“Hail to the Queens of Ethiopia”: Religion and the Shaping of Identity in the Black Coptic Church

This paper, which grows out of a 10-year ethnographic research on the Black Coptic Church, presents new research on the history and trajectory of Black religion and theology. In her New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration, Judith Weisenfeld provides a close examination of Black religious activities of the same period, which operated within the framework of what she calls a “religio-racial” paradigm. This paper interrogates the theo-religio-racial constructions within the same timeframe, specifically through the lens Black Coptic Church. Working within a Hebrew-Christian theological context, coupled with a reclamation of Egyptian and Ethiopian religious and cultural artifacts, the Black Coptic Church re-imagines Black identity in such a way that seeks to disrupt “normative” assumptions regarding Black persons and race in North America. I aim to show how theological articulations and religious practices of the Black Coptic Church render a certain anthropological and genealogical read of the Black person that is constitutive in the church’s understanding of identity and personhood.

Markus Davidsen, Leiden University
Rise of the Real Jedi: How a Religious Identity Movement Emerged from the Star Wars Fan Culture

The Jedi Community is a confederation of individuals that self-identify as Jedi Knights and believe in ‘the Force’, the cosmic power in Star Wars. It was first brought to the attention of scholars of religion by the ’Jedi Census Phenomenon’ of 2001, when more than 500,000 Britons, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders gave up ’Jedi’ as their religious affiliation in the national censuses. Since then, the Jedi Community has been used as a case in point to theorize the emergence of ’invented’ (Cusack), ’hyper-real’ (Possamai) or ’fiction-based’ (Davidsen) religions, but substantial research on the Jedi Community itself has until now been sparse. This presentation outlines the history (emerging from online role-playing) and current constitution (organizational and theological factions) of the Jedi Community and points to the textual and cultural factors (e.g., religious rhetoric in Star Wars and the Internet) that made the emergence of this fiction-based identity movement possible.

Abel Gomez, Syracuse University
Becoming Brujas: Rise of Women and Queer of Color Witchcraft in the U.S.

A growing number of women and queer of color artists, activists, and scholars are identifying as brujas (Spanish for “witches’”). Such figures inverse the meaning of bruja/witch, a term historically used to denigrate their African and Indigenous ancestors. They also selectively draw witch motifs from the largely Euro-American witchcraft revival. This paper charts connections between these movements, examining Princess Nokia’s “Brujas” music video and Irene Lara’s “bruja positionalities” in Chicana studies. Such works suggest witches affirm sexuality, nature, social justice, and ancestral memory. Similar depictions of witches are also found in Neo-Pagan histories, from European Romanticism to contemporary American feminist witchcraft. This paper argues parallels might be explained through transnational flows of media, peoples, and practices into the United States. I argue enduring identity politics from the 60’s and 70’s are converging with Euro-American witch histories, transforming the witch into an empowering identity for women and queers of color.

Responding:
Unregistered Participant
Business Meeting:
Unregistered Participant
A17-321
New Religious Movements Unit and Sacred Texts, Theory, and Theological Construction Unit
Theme: Smiling Gods, Angels Named Erika, and Glow Clouds: Welcome to Night Vale and the Podcast as a Sacred Text
Marion S. Grau, MF Norwegian School of Theology, Presiding
Saturday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Convention Center-401 (Street Level)

The podcast Welcome to Night Vale describes itself as "a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff's Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events." (http://www.welcometonightvale.com/) Since its debut in 2012, the podcast has stimulated its audience with imaginative storytelling, magical realism, theological and religious complexity and mystery, paranormal activity, conspiracy theory, monstrosity, Gods, Glow Clouds, sexuality, angelology and a deeply human narrative of relationship and meaning. This papers session treats various religious and theological themes in the podcast as a source of scholarly critical reflection. A biblical scholar reflects on the multiple universes of the podcast, a theologian sees the podcast as a source for thinking about the fuzzy lines of human and nonhuman political ecology. Religious studies scholars reflect on the podcast as a communal text thinking about intersectional justice and another focuses on one the novels spawned by the series, It Devours! as a source for reflection about New Religious Movements and contemporary pedagogy

Robert Paul Seesengood, Albright College
The Revelation of Cecil Baldwin: Fink and Cranor's Night Vale as Podcast Apocalypse

The podcast Welcome to Night Vale is a popular science-fiction, horror program that examines questions of cosmology, technology and the possibility of a multiverse. Using the work of John Collins, Greg Carey, Catherine Keller and Mary-Jane Rubenstein, this paper will argue that "apocalyptic" is a genre of Judeo-Christian writing that fuses aspects now found in science-fiction and horror writing to "unveil" the universe as it "really" exists. Using this definition, I will argue that Night Vale is, by genre, a form of apocalypse as well. Doing so helps clarify how anxieties over technology, social norms and taboos, and the nature of reality permeate both ancient and modern genres.

Sarah "Moxy" Moczygemba, University of Florida
Citizens and Interlopers, Secret Police and Angels: Night Vale as a Community Text

The town Night Vale, created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, is desert community where the strange is familiar and the familiar is strange. With angels named Erika, mountains that do not exist, hooded figures in the dog park, ferocious librarians, and a deity named the Glow Cloud that rains dead animals on the town and also serves as President of the local PTA, Night Vale is not your average town in the American West. The world created in the podcast Welcome to Night Vale allows us to explore regularly debated themes in the study of religion. My presentation will focus on how Welcome to Night Vale can be used as a text through which to introduce concepts of belonging, the Other, New Religious Movements, and utopias/dystopias to students while also fostering conversations about ethnographic methods and the role of the researchers in communities.

Jacob Erickson, Trinity College, Dublin
Whispering Forests, Sacred Groves: Welcome to Night Vale’s Abominable New Animism

The podcast Welcome to Night Vale frequently reflects on the mystical and monstrous edges of the non/human. Thinking about a fictional town that frequently encounters nonhuman life as a locus for spiritual challenge or horrifying threat, this paper reflects on two entwined issues: a) the way nonhuman life contributes to a kind of “animated world” where the ordinary is rendered strange and redirects our inquiry and moral attention and b) what I’ll call "abominable aesthetics" used to convey that wonder, where creatures take on a different kind of intimacy by being rendered strange or aesthetically ominous. Utilizing the work of scholars working in the “new animism”—Chen and Weston—and ecological writers of the unruly and monstrous—Pike, Tsing, and Thacker—this paper examines the ways the podcast’s content and aesthetic reflects with real and imagined animated non/human life as a potential “art for living on a damaged planet” (Tsing).

Megan Goodwin, Syracuse University
The Smiling God as Mysterium Tremendum: Monstrous Introductions to Religious Studies

In their podcast about the small (invented) desert town of Nightvale, former UCSB religion major Joseph Fink and his collaborator, Jeffrey Cranor, have created a number of invented religions. None are so…fleshed out…as the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, a community that reveres the blinding light and omnivorous appetites of their massive, subterranean, Cheshire-countenanced centipede deity. (A deity also promoted and prayed to by StrexCorp Synernists Incorporated, a malevolent organization that tried to absorb the town of Nightvale into its corporate structure.) How might centering an introduction to the study of religion on invented religions—and specifically on the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God—disrupt and expand our pedagogical approach to the topic? I suggest that such a course would foreground the role of religious innovation in religious studies, challenging students and teachers alike to examine their assumptions about what counts as “real” religion.

Responding:
Unregistered Participant
A18-101
  • Especially for Students
  • Focus on Employment
  • Professional Practices and Institutional Location
Academic Labor and Contingent Faculty Committee and Applied Religious Studies Committee
Theme: Contingency Possibilities: Career Options within and beyond the Academy
Lynne Gerber, Harvard University, Presiding
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Convention Center-Mile High 4B (Lower Level)

This joint panel explores ways in which contingency may be constructive (and the ways contingent faculty work can be made more humane and viable) as part of a larger discussion about non-tenure-track and “alt-ac” paths.

Panelists:
Simran Jeet Singh, New York University
Megan Goodwin, Syracuse University
Hussein Rashid, Islamicate, LLC
Matthew Bingley, Georgia State University