PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
November 23-26, 2019

To return to the Welcome Page, please click here.

Program Book (PDF)

Preliminary Program Book (MS Word)

Floorplans of Annual Meeting Facilities (PDF)

Exhibit Hall Listing and Map (PDF)

Program Book Ads (PDF)

For questions or support, email

To return to the AAR website, click here.

Online Program Book

Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection Unit
Theme: Rethinking Religious Feminisms through the Religious Lives of Buddhist and Hindu Women in Asia and the Diaspora: New Directions in Studies of Gender and Religion and Comparative Religion
Ute Huesken, Heidelberg University, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Aqua 311A (Third Level)

Against the growing backdrop of scholarship on the problematic terminology of “religious feminism” (Tomalin 2009) to translate the lives, roles, and commitments of religious women in neoliberal modernities, this panel asks: How might scholars rethink the complicated interface between religion and rights-based perspectives embedded in religious platforms for gender equality and, to cite scholar of Buddhism Amy Langenberg (2018), “expand the feminist frame” to elevate the cultural categories and perhaps “parafeminisms” operative in women’s worlds to the level of critical insight? Through ethnographic, socio-historical and textual research, our papers develop frameworks presenting a complex picture of women’s changing religious lives and advance new insights for feminist theory and comparative studies of gender and religion in Asia and the Diaspora. Our panel consists of scholars at various stages in their careers and provides a compelling mix of perspectives and methodological critique based on critical analysis.

Antoinette E. DeNapoli, Texas Christian University
“The Fight for Women’s Equal Rights Is Dharma”: Rethinking Religious Feminism through the New Leadership of a Female Shankaracharya in India

India’s rise to power as a neoliberal economy parallels the startling increase in conservative gender ideologies restricting women’s freedoms. And yet, Hindu women gurus like Trikal Bhavanta Saraswati (henceforth, Mataji) are disrupting patriarchal narratives by mobilizing gender equality around the new leadership of the female Shankaracharya. It amplifies the female Shankaracharya as a potent symbol for women’s religious equality in the 21st century. But is Mataji a “religious feminist”? This paper rethinks my earlier work on what I termed her “dharmic feminism” in light of ethnographic research conducted with her at the 2019 Kumbh Mela. As her leadership stresses self-sacrifice and self-discipline to constitute female virtue and moral agency, it advocates an essentialist view of female nature and power that may enable women’s religious subordination. Finally, this paper considers how scholars may theorize religious lives to bring women’s vital visions to light and provide them a platform that does not inadvertently make them vulnerable to the violence they aim to eradicate.

Amy P. Langenberg, Eckerd College
Risini Power: Paradoxes of Female Religious Agency in the Nepal Lowlands

Peace Grove Nunnery, is a Theravāda Buddhist community of twenty renunciant girls established in Lumbini, Nepal, nine years ago. Part of a linked series of educational projects, Peace Grove attempts to respond through education to social and economic conditions that cause suffering among girls and women and, by extension the entire community. Peace Grove nunnery is an example of the complexities of female religious agency within socially conservative environments. In this paper, I will argue that Peace Grove nuns display nonresistant, instrumental forms of agency that work within rather than against power structures, and distributed forms of agency that are shared across a community or landscape, emanating from multiple agents, and not residing in a single individual. In particular, they are masters of affective or aesthetic agency; that is, action in the world through demonstrations of beauty or sartorial visibility, the latter often accentuated by mobility.

Shefali More, South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg
Revisiting the Question of Authority to Speak in Gender and Religion: The Case of Sabarimala

The vexed relationship between feminism and religious traditions has been debated widely in the field of gender and religion studies. The religious case of the Sabarimala Ayyappan temple which is at the centre of discussion in India for its ban on the entry of women of menstruating age, is indeed a crucial site for the sharpening of our analytical lenses through revisiting and scrutinising gender theories. In the context of Sabarimala, on one hand, those who are demanding the abolition of the ban are considered as feminists and thus, are irrationally labelled as atheists and impertinent of religious customs and traditions. On the other hand, those who are in favour of the ban are categorised as conservatives and agents of patriarchy. This whole dispute demands deliberation on the question ‘who can speak for whom?’. This paper will attempt to address this question in the context of Sabarimala case.

Nicholas Witkowski, Nanyang Technological University
Subtle Negotiations: The Challenges of Returning Female Buddhist Monastics to Historical Visibility

In my contribution to the panel, “Rethinking Religious Feminisms,” I seek to address two specific challenges I have faced in my own work assessing the extent to which historically detectable agency may be discovered in textual representations of female Buddhist monastics in early medieval South Asia. This paper will focus on representations of female monastics who appear in the narratives of the Buddhist monastic law codes, or Vinaya. The first challenge will be to consider how best to bring Western, or “liberal,” feminist theory into dialogue with South Asian female monastics who employ a discourse of agency that does not take for granted broad critiques of institutionalized gender hierarchy. The second task will be to determine how one might look for “religious feminisms” in the world of early medieval South Asian Buddhism, when many, in not all, of our extant textual sources seem to represent institutional (and profoundly patriarchal) impulses.

Priyanka Ramlakhan, University of Florida
I Am Not a Feminist, I Am Loyal to Our Recipient Heritage: Interpreting Religious Feminism in Trinidadian Hinduism

Over the last twenty-five years, there has been a growing presence of women who have assumed positions of ritual authority as panditas (Hindu priestess), within Trinidadian Hinduism. Despite that Trinidad is most often viewed through the gaze of Sanatan Hindu orthodoxy, with closer examination, I suggest these traditions are being revisioned through the emergent movement of panditas who work to dismantle androcentric conceptions of Hindu authority. This paper questions the conceptualization of religious feminism and how the construction of feminized spaces operates within the diasporic and hyphenated context of Trinidad. This paper will further explore the nature of this movement and to what extent it is authenticated by feminist and Hindu discourses through a case study of the Hindu Prachar Kendra which is presently under the leadership of pandita Geeta Ramsingh.

Caroline Starkey, University of Leeds
Caroline Starkey, University of Leeds
Researcher and Researched: Methodological Reflexivity in the Study of Women’s Agency and Religious Feminism in Buddhism and Hinduism

Each of the papers in this panel offer various lenses and disciplinary approaches to the broader topic of feminism and agency within Buddhism and Hinduism, but there are shared methodological concerns which, explicitly or implicitly, underpin the analysis as a whole. Drawing on interviews and collaborative conversations with panel participants leading up to the conference, this paper provides a critical reflexive space to draw out and consider the issues that we face, as researchers, in theorising about religious feminisms and agency in these religious traditions. In particular, and also using examples from research conducted by the author into female Buddhist communities in the West, the paper asks how do our personal motivations and standpoints (in particular in relation to feminism) shape our approach and our relationships with research participants and data?

June McDaniel, College of Charleston
Indigenous Religious Traditions Unit and Native Traditions in the Americas Unit
Theme: Privileging Indigenous Women: Strategies of Resistance and Survival
Unregistered Participant, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Cobalt 520 (Fifth Level)

Indigenous strategies of resistance assist in maintaining the religious traditions they defend. Mia Lopez, a local Chumash knowledge keeper, reminds us that anthropology and anthropologists have for years been speaking for the people, while our voices are silenced. Our new work in the Academy is formed in our Indigenous responses to the trauma of the colonial experience past and present. We work continuously to save our endangered languages, sacred songs, chants, rituals, ceremonies, and the wisdom of our Elders. There is resistance, by our cultures, for our own self-identity, community values, and especially for protecting our bio-centric experience for living in harmony with nature and recognizing the numinous presence of deities in our world. We come together to continue forming strategies of resistance and survival, as knowledge keepers who simultaneously navigate the academy and our ceremonies.

Delores Mondragon, University of California, Santa Barbara
Moral Injury as It Applies to and Is Relevant to Indigenous Women Rematriation

Tick, Nakashima et al. have address ways on how to help heal this population and have provided several working definitions of moral injury. Nakashima, for example, states, “Moral injury results when soldiers violate their core moral beliefs, and in evaluating their behavior negatively, they feel they no longer live in a reliable, meaningful world and can no longer be regarded as decent human beings.” Indigenous women have a special relationship with moral injury that is similar and yet quite distinct from the experiences of others that have not experienced historical, institutional, and insidious betrayal and trauma. With the use of Indigenous methodologies, especially story as method I will examine moral injury as it relates to Indigenous and other QWOC in order to engage in rematriation of the wounded spirit for these communities and expand the lens of moral injury as it pertains to war, combat, and soldiers.

Emily Grace Brolaski, University of California, Santa Barbara
Resistance as Ceremony: 21st Century Indigenous Resistance and Activism in North America

The indigenous peoples of North America have faced repeated forms of displacement and genocide since the seventeenth century. The continuity of displacement and genocide has been challenged through resistance, activism, and resilience by the indigenous peoples of this land. In every instance, indigenous women have been at the forefront of these movements. This paper aims to examine the legacy of colonialism, displacement, and genocide of the indigenous peoples of North America. Taking a comparative approach, this paper will carefully analyze forms of indigenous resistance in the twenty-first century, in which women are central to organization and leadership. In this analysis, the paper will discuss the movement for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, protest of the United States-Mexico border fence, and ceremony at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Lastly, the paper will discuss the interconnection of resistance and activism with Native American religious traditions.

Nancy Morales, University of California, Santa Barbara
Un Llanto Colectivo: A Collective Project to Remember and Embody Indigenous Values and Traditions

During the summer 2018, Cherríe Moraga and Celia Herrera Rodríguez, Xicana indigena artists made a call out to actors, danzantes, sahumadoras, & students to work collectivity with local community organizers for Un Llanto Colectivo, a performaprotesta, as a political outcry against the increased separation of families at the southern border. It included a ceremonial prayer with shared testimonies of Otay Mesa Detention Center inmates on the US-Mexico border in San Diego. How is Un Llanto Colectivo a strategy to reclamar our religious traditions? I will provide my testimonio as my method for self-reflexivity on my experiences as an organizer and performer in this perfomaprotesta. I argue that Un Llanto Colectivo reclaims sacred indigenous values to land, such as ceremony, through collective memory. In other words, to collectively remember our historical trauma of forced displacement is a critical strategy to remember what indigenous communities may have decided to (un)conciously forget (Smith, 2012).

Felicia Lopez, University of California, Davis
Women, Gender, and Sexuality in the Central Mexican Codices: Challenging Conceptions of an Aztec Patriarchy

In popular thought and culture, the ancient Native Nahua people of Central Mexico, commonly known as the Aztec, are considered to have been a patriarchal society of warriors. These mischaracterizations are often perpetuated by Western scholars, who largely depend on the first-hand accounts of the Spanish conquistadors who sought to justify their own violence against the Native peoples. Native Nahua people and other indigenous matriarchal societies continue to be understood through the lens of those who colonized them, and these harmful misconceptions continue to serve as a justification for their oppression and subordination. Through an exploration of gender, womanhood, and sexualities in the precontact Nahuatl glyphic texts and the early colonial Nahuatl alphabetic texts, I will explore how Nahua notions of gender. I will further explore how women and those of fluid gender held sacred places within ancient society and in Nahua belief systems and traditions.

Andrea McComb Sanchez, University of Arizona
Being an Ally in the Academy

In the study of Native American religious traditions there continue to be debates over who should research and teach this topic and how it should be approached. Important to this conversation are the following questions: what is the role of the academy and the responsibility of those who engage in this work? Who is being represented within the discipline and why is this important? How are communities and their knowledges being interpreted and by whom? What are the responsibilities of scholars to the communities they work with and write about? What does it mean for a non-Native to become a relative and how does that complicate Western ideas about objectivity? And finally, how can scholarship and academics work to support indigenous survival and resistance? This paper examines the topics of insider, outsider, objectivity, resistance, and responsibility in order to explore some of what it means to be a non-Native ally within the academy.

Mary Churchill, Sonoma State University
New Religious Movements Unit
Theme: Sexual Healing and Sexual Mysticism at the Fin de Siecle
Kathi Kern, University of Kentucky, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Cobalt 502B (Fifth Level)

We may imagine the nineteenth-century as an era of “repressed” sexualities. Yet, in the United States, there were a number of competing “frameworks” throughout the century. One of the most understudied of these frameworks is sexual mysticism: the teaching that rightly practiced sex allows people to experience unity with the divine. This panel explores sexual mysticism as a middle ground between a “Victorian” repression and a “modern” liberation, and the healers that sought to popularize it at the turn of the century: Alice Bunker Stockham, Thomas Lake Harris and Ida Craddock. These mystics were read, and admired by such famous writers as Leo Tolstoy and Edward Carpenter, as well as liberal ministers, muckraking journalists and everyday Americans. Sexual mystics built communes, founded churches, wrote best-selling tracts, and even helped found the ACLU, and this panel seeks to bring them back into the history of the fin de siecle.

Joshua Paddison, Texas State University
Thomas Lake Harris and the Sexual-Spiritual Secret of Eternal Life

This paper examines connections between sexual mysticism and healing in the Brotherhood of the New Life, a nineteenth-century new religious movement led by spiritualist Thomas Lake Harris. In 1891, Harris claimed to have discovered how to reverse aging and conquer death itself. For decades, Harris and his 100 followers had practiced “divine respiration,” which they believed healed physical maladies. Divine respiration also helped practitioners overcome animal urges and practice strict celibacy. For the Brotherhood, communal living, divine respiration, co-ed bathing, and celibacy were all essential to spiritual growth and physical vigor. Harris’s claims of immortality engulfed him in a firestorm of negative publicity, as newspapers labeled him laughable, dangerous, or evil. The Brotherhood’s conjoined interest in sex mysticism and healing illustrates how NRMs have long offered alternate ways of living that promised to unlock humans’ untapped potential, but faced intense public scrutiny for theologies and sexual practices outside the norm.

Daniel Joslyn, New York University
Sex with God as Sexual Healing in the Writings of Ida Craddock

This paper explores the sexual-mystical teachings of Ida Craddock, a Chicago-based sex therapist, who, together with her spirit-husband Soph sought to have sex with the divine, experience complete oneness with the universe, and teach her friends, readers and clients to attain to such such experiences. Funded by the well-known muckraking journalist William T. Stead, Craddock spent years in the British library studying the sexual secrets of the past, writing piles of only partially published manuscripts, and all the while taking on clients and teaching them “right marital living.” In particular, this paper explores Craddock’s notion of aspiring to have sex with God, and how she believed this could heal individuals, repair broken relationships, and be the grounds for reforming the material world.

Christa Shusko, York College of Pennsylvania
Alice Bunker Stockham: Sexual Healing for Individual and Social Bodies

In Karezza: Ethics of Marriage (1896), Alice Bunker Stockham developed a theory of controlled sexual intercourse, based on Oneida Community’s practice of Male Continence. For Stockham, like for Oneida Community founder John Humphrey Noyes, sexual intercourse could be a means of spiritual—and even universal—transformation. Stockham’s theories of spiritualized sexual intercourse did not serve the purpose of carnal pleasure, as many of her detractors claimed. Instead, she saw controlled and perfected sexual intercourse as the most effective method to heal the physical, spiritual, and social ills of the world. Stockham wrote that “The sexual life…is more perverted and misunderstood than any other phase of life. But in this, as in all others, the law of love straightens the tangles.” Controlled sexual intercourse was the ultimate method by which body, spirit, and society would be healed.

Queer Studies in Religion Unit and Religion and Science Fiction Unit
Theme: Queering Religion and Science Fiction
Shelly Tilton, University of Virginia, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Convention Center-24A (Upper Level East)

This session has papers that address queer and trans* approaches to religion and science fiction. Themes include: Afrofuturism, queer/science fictional theology, apocalypticism and eco-spirituality.

Lilith Acadia, Trinity College Dublin
God is Change: Queer Possibility and Feminist Vulnerability in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower

“All that you touch you change, all that you change changes you.”
Through hyper-empathetic young protagonist Lauren Olamina’s verses and conversations, California science fiction author Octavia Butler constructs the religion of Earthseed, offering cosmology, morality, and empowering potential. Lauren’s vulnerability in the face of violence inspires her to create the religion mirroring a queer confrontation of the tragedies of finitude before opening up into what I read as a very queer horizon of potentiality. As Earthseed offers Lauren a framework for comprehending and surviving the capitalist and climate change dystopia through which she journeys from Southern to Northern California, reading Earthseed as a queer worldview informed by feminist vulnerability amplifies its potential for helping readers confront our non-fictional dystopia. My objective is to encourage the audience to embrace vulnerability in practice and theory to offer hermeneutic possibilities and hope for queer utopian change.

William Boyce, University of Virginia
Queering the Eschaton: Left Behind and Sexual Identity in the Evangelical Imagination

Apocalypticism belongs to the category of the imaginal. It cannot eclipse its own imminence. Yet, fictive ideations of the eschaton are by no means devoid of this-worldly consequences. This paper examines the agential and discursive patterns of evangelical Christians who leverage these consequential ramifications through apocalyptic fiction. More specifically, the paper interrogates the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The series discloses evangelical ways of mapping the end times and disciplining rapture-ready believers in this world. Scholars have devoted attention to these apocalyptic themes generally. Scant attention, however, has been paid to queer sexuality in the series. First, I sketch the accounts of three queer characters in the series. Then, I consider the negative portrayal of these characters within the wider evangelical milieu as archetypal representatives marked for moral instruction. Finally, I suggest ways religious studies might reorient itself to the liminality of the imaginal.

Unregistered Participant
Queer Animalities and Eco-Spirituality in Margaret Atwood’s SF Maddaddam Trilogy

As a contribution to queer readings of science fiction, this paper reexamines Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy by exploring its “queer animalities” and the ecological spirituality practiced by its characters. Inspired in part by Mel Y. Chen’s discussion of “queer animality” in Animacies, the paper explores processes by which boundaries between species are transformed in Atwood’s trilogy in both frightening and promising ways. Both sexual and racial animalization intersect in the characters Oryx and Katrina, Asian sex workers whose stories embody Chen’s concerns about racialized animality. Yet Chen also notes that animalized figures can play positive roles. Such examples of queer animalities also have correlates in Atwood’s trilogy. New modes of “improper affiliation” (Chen) are established between the trilogy’s human characters and its non-human characters. By interpreting these relations alongside the characters’ ecospirituality, the paper opens space for queer practices of reading, spirituality, and cross-species affiliation.

Max Thornton, Drew University
What God Needs with a Starship: The Necessity of Queer Speculative Theological Imagination

Science fiction, queerness, and theology need each other. If we hope to avoid replicating present power structures of violence and inclusion, our science fiction must be queer and theological; our queerness must be theological and science fictional; and our theology must be queer and science fictional. Without this triplicate enfolding of queer speculative imagination, we cannot but be beholden to what Jasbir Puar terms homonationalism, what Marcella Althaus-Reid terms T-theology, and what Sami Schalk calls “the geeky male whiteness of the genre.” This paper argues for the necessity of the queer speculative theological imagination. It demonstrates the science fiction inherent to queer theological work by Linn Tonstad and Marcella Althaus-Reid and the queer theology inherent to the black women’s speculative fiction examined by Sami Schalk. Finally, it offers a constructive example of queer speculative theological imagination developed through my own lived experience as a queer theologian and SF enthusiast.

  • Books under Discussion
Science, Technology, and Religion Unit
Theme: Monstrous Animacies? Race, Gender, and Pantheological Divinities
Elizabeth Pyne, Fordham University, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Convention Center-23C (Upper Level East)

Pantheism—generically defined as a mutual immanence between God and world—would seem to resonate with all manner of contemporary critical movements that work to unsettle the binaries instituted by classical metaphysics. And yet, as Mary-Jane Rubenstein has pointed out in Pantheologies: Gods, Worlds, Monsters (Columbia University Press, 2018), pantheism seems to be the one critical movement that almost no one in the field of religious studies today wants to be associated with. This roundtable panel will take Rubenstein’s book as a point of departure for its discussion. Panelists will explore how pantheologies might unsettle conversations about religion and science, bringing to the surface new questions about the relationship between (gendered, raced, dehumanized) bodies and divinities, the relationship between “western” and indigenous forms of thought, and the possibility of challenging the racialized and sexualized hierarchies that continue to be reiterated in religious and scientific contexts and practices today.

Catherine Keller, Drew University
Carol Wayne White, Bucknell University
Lisa Sideris, Indiana University
Andrea C. White, Union Theological Seminary
Noreen Khawaja, Yale University
Beatrice Marovich, Hanover College
Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Wesleyan University
  • Professional Development
Teaching and Learning Committee and Critical Theory and Discourses on Religion Unit and Cultural History of the Study of Religion Unit
Theme: Theory and Method 2.0: Decolonizing the Field
Tracey Hucks, Colgate University, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Convention Center-15A (Mezzanine Level)

By examining approaches to the study and definition of “religion” that emanate from the experiences of marginalized peoples, this roundtable calls attention to the histories of violence and subjugation concealed within the theoretical and methodological tools of the field, illuminates the limitations of canonical definitions of religion, and explores the possibilities of decolonized critical tools. The central questions that organize our roundtable is: how do scholars study the religiosity of precolonial and colonized peoples (ref)using intellectual apparatuses entrenched in histories of colonialism? Moreover, how do scholars teach “theory and method” courses without reifying religious, racial, sexual, and political hierarchies within, between, and in relationship to historically marginalized groups? Working from the margins of Indigenous Studies, Sikh Studies, Africana Studies, and American Religious History, this roundtable explores the possibilities––for pedagogy and praxis––that are opened when canon and uniformity are deprioritized, as well as the ethical imperatives of this unapologetically decolonial work.

Alexis S. Wells-Oghoghomeh, Vanderbilt University
Natalie Avalos, University of Colorado
Elana Jefferson-Tatum, Tufts University
Simran Jeet Singh, New York University
Laura McTighe, Dartmouth College
  • Presidential Theme: Scholarly Workers in Public Spaces
Women's Caucus
Theme: Scholars on Women’s and Gender Studies: Constructing Knowledge and Influencing the Public Discourse
Unregistered Participant, Presiding
Unregistered Participant, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Convention Center-14A (Mezzanine Level)

This session invites proposals from women scholars who have published books in the discipline of women’s studies, gender, theology. and religion in 2018 and 2019. This panel of AAR and SBL authors will provide an overview of their books and share their perspectives on current research being published in women and gender studies. Authors will also discuss how they visualize their books in constructing knowledge and influencing the public sphere. In addition, these scholars will also share their experiences regarding strategies and mechanics for getting Women’s studies in theology and religion books published, and to offer advice for those seeking publication of related book manuscripts.

Joy Qualls, Biola University
"God Forgive Us for Being Women": Rhetoric, Theology, and the Pentecostal Tradition


Unregistered Participant
Dirk von der Horst, Mount Saint Mary's University, Los Angeles
Contemporary Theological Approaches to Sexuality


Karma Lekshe Tsomo, University of San Diego
Buddhist Feminisms and Femininities


North American Association for the Study of Religion
Theme: NAASR Graduate Student Workshops Session Three: Navigating the Politics of Academia
Rebekka King, Middle Tennessee State University, Presiding
Stacie Swain, University of Victoria, Presiding
Sunday - 1:10 PM-2:10 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Indigo 202B (Second Level)

NAASR Graduate Student Workshops
Session Three: Navigating the Politics of Academia

Academia is coming to terms with its own #metoo movement. Graduate students and early career scholars are particularly vulnerable to harassment, discrimination, and abuse. This session will provide a forum to discuss the institutional politics and power dynamics that make it difficult to report such experiences in academia (in particular for women and minoritized groups). Discussants will provide input on strategies for making campuses safer, identifying resources for victims, and generating best practices for allies and bystanders.

Buddhism Unit and Japanese Religions Unit
Theme: Putting Knowledge to Work: A Panel in Celebration of Jacqueline Stone
Paul Groner, University of Virginia, Presiding
Sunday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Cobalt 520 (Fifth Level)

Over the course of her career, Jacqueline Stone has produced vast quantities of knowledge in Buddhist studies and Japanese religions. But she has also illuminated how knowledge was produced in contexts ranging from oral transmission in medieval monasteries to Buddhist studies at Tokyo Imperial University. The panel’s three case studies share Stone’s concern with knowledge production. The first paper introduces texts composed by devotional communities in Song-dynasty China (960–1279) to highlight the social and imaginative nature of pure land liturgical knowledge. The second uses the example of Princess Tokushi (1060–1114) to show how lay women actively contributed to ritual and doctrinal innovations in Japan. The final turns to student protests to examine how intellectual autonomy emerged within modern Japanese sectarian universities. Rather than a retrospective of Stone’s career, this panel adopts a forward-looking approach on the possibilities her work has created for future generations of scholars.

Daniel B. Stevenson, University of Kansas
Sociality and Salvific Imagination in Pure Land Liturgical Communities of Song China

Song Dynasty sources preserve a surprisingly diverse range of documents—documents produced and circulated among historically specific liturgical associations—that together afford a glimpse into the lives, devotions, and aspirations of devotees collectively dedicated to Amitābha and his pure land of Highest Bliss. In contrast to the familiar image of an individual salvation sought through unmediated private reliance on the salvific graces of Amitābha, those materials bespeak the presence of deep salvific relationships fostered collaterally — and ritually—among peer practitioners, the discrete identities and bonds of which were believed to endure upon rebirth in the Pure Land, and beyond. The Pure Land becomes, in effect, a destination not of identity-less “illuminoids,” but of familiar faces endowed with karmic connection. This presentation examines representative motifs of that salvific social imagination in Song-dynasty China, setting them in conversation with Jacqueline Stone’s work on Pure Land devotional associations active contemporaneously in Japan.

Heather Blair, Indiana University
Convention and Idiosyncrasy: Doing Parinirvana with Princess Tokushi in the Early Twelfth Century

This paper seeks to deepen our understanding of Buddhist approaches to death in early medieval Japan by examining the religious career of a woman both exemplary and extraordinary, the queen consort and nun best known to posterity as Princess Tokushi (1060–1114). To do so, it draws on Jacqueline Stone’s magisterial 2016 study of Japanese Buddhist deathbed practices while also inverting that book’s methods. Whereas Stone’s nuanced account of the history of death rites subordinates individual stories to the long arc of ritual-cum-social history, this paper takes a microhistorical approach, asking why one woman’s eccentricities matter. I argue that close attention to Tokushi’s activities reveals surprisingly broad ritual horizons on her part; in turn, those horizons challenge received notions of what a Buddhist operating outside the ambit of learned male monastic society could, should, or would do.

Victoria Montrose, University of Southern California
Reform or Revolt: Student Protests and Collective Action at Buddhist Universities in the Meiji Period

This paper examines student protests at early Buddhist universities in the Sōtō and Jōdo Shin sects. Placed within the context of major reforms to Buddhist higher education in the Meiji period (1868-1912), it interprets these protests as indicators of a growing intellectual autonomy within the newly established Buddhist universities. Intellectual autonomy from the sects was a crucial step in nurturing a new kind of professionalized scholar-priest, many of whom went on to make important contributions to the burgeoning field of Buddhist Studies. Building off Jacqueline Stone’s work on the development of Buddhist Studies in interwar Japan (1920s-1930s), this paper looks to the early Meiji period, highlighting power shifts within Japanese Buddhism as important antecedents that made the radical transformation of Buddhist scholarship possible. Furthermore, it adds a serious consideration of the role of sectarian scholars at Buddhist universities in the formation of Buddhist Studies in Japan.

Jacqueline I. Stone, Princeton University
Class, Religion, and Theology Unit
Theme: The Subject of Labor: Gender, Caste, Affect
Jeremy Posadas, Austin College, Presiding
Sunday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Marriott Marquis-Laguna (South Tower - First Level)

These papers examine how different axes of inequality — gender, caste, slavery, precarity — constitute different kinds of laboring, feeling subjects.

Mark Balmforth, Columbia University
The Aesthetics of Slavery: Religion, Textiles, and Caste in the Indian Ocean, 1660-1960

More than ten years ago, Indrani Chatterjee and Richard Eaton began the careful examination of how slavery has impacted South Asian lives. More recently, Rupa Viswanath has demonstrated just how imbricated the histories of caste, religion, and slavery have been, and in the process made clear the significance of slavery to the study of religion in South Asia. Following in the footsteps of Viswanath, this essay explores the three-hundred-year odyssey of Sri Lanka’s Saint James People, from their seventeenth-century enslavement in India and forced migration to Ceylon to pick a valuable textile-dye-producing plant, through to twentieth-century efforts to disrupt caste oppression and economic insecurity. Drawing on archival research and interviews with the community’s descendants, this paper asks: what might the social history of a small Indian Ocean plant—and the brilliant red textile dye it contains—reveal about the intertwined careers of religion, slavery, and caste oppression in South Asia?

Samira Musleh, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Sexual Division of Labor and Its Discontents: The Disorganized Harmony of Islamic Discourse, Feminist Theory, and Decolonial Thought

Considering women’s increasing engagement in income-generating activities outside of domestic sphere in the past few centuries in the West, the discussions of sexual division of labor and waged/unwaged work have turned manifold. This paper will focus on the ways gendered labor is conceptualized in Western feminist theory, traditional Islamic discourse and postcolonial and decolonial scholarship. I will specifically address housework and reproductive labor, and its connection to the wider economy where participation is more equivocally deemed as productive. I will argue how Islamic laws regarding women’s financial rights and privileges over men can be read from a decolonial perspective that recognize and compensate both domestic work and unique feminine reproductive labor such as menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. Through this discussion, I will propose how theorizing from the in-between space of Western feminism and Islamic economic discourse can potentially offer novel ways of tackling contemporary challenges regarding unpaid gendered labor.

B. Yuki Schwartz, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Guilt, Salvation, and Power: Domestic Workers and Abjection in Christian Theology

This paper seeks to reimagine Christian theological models of guilt, a prevalent affect in theories of atonement or forgiveness, by centering the foreclosed presence of domestic workers and their physical and emotional labor. In particular, this paper examines guilt as explicated through the Oedipal Complex, Sigmund Freud’s theory of subject formation that emphasizes middle-class family dynamics and the conflict between fathers and sons over the affection of mothers, and examines the agencies and resistances of nannies and other domestic laborers whose presence, work, and affective labor are instrumental to Western subjectivity but abjected. Rather than approaching guilt as an experience of transgression against authority or societal norms, this paper centers theological reflection on class relationships and power dynamics involved in domestic work, in order to imagine theological models of sin, salvation, and ecclesia based in communal care and embodied solidarity.

Joseph Strife, Fordham University
Work at the Margins, Shame, and Spirit

Kathryn Tanner’s Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism returns to and revises Weber’s Protestant Ethic, exploring the soulcraft of financial capitalism. In this paper I put Tanner’s work in conversation with sociological, ethnographic, and biographical accounts of work at the economic margins after Fordism. In these qualitative accounts shame emerges as a central affect, circulating through social institutions and joining with other forms of social marginalization in complex ways. The precariousness of work funds a subjective precarity of dignity, respect, and self-respect.

  • Books under Discussion
Comparative Approaches to Religion and Violence Unit and Women and Religion Unit
Theme: Female Child Soldiers, Gender Violence, and Feminist Theologies
Susan Willhauck, Atlantic School of Theology, Presiding
Sunday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire E (Fourth Level)

This session examines the phenomenon of female child soldiering from feminist theological perspectives. Contributors to a new volume entitled Female Child Soldiers, Gender Violence and Feminist Theologies (Palgrave Macmillan) discuss the complexity of the ethical issues involved. The panel will challenge assumptions about female child soldiers, violence and “helping” other countries. To contribute to a framework for stopping the exploitation of children demands scrutiny that interrogates U.S. hypocrisies, such as our own military recruitment practices. It will suggest how feminist theories of power and resistance and theological understandings of children offer a basis for moral and religious engagement.

Traci C. West, Drew University
Confronting U.S. Moral Hypocrisy on Child Soldiers, Inventing Antiracist Solidarity

This paper speaks on the need to confront U.S. moral hypocrisy on child soldiers, which is the subject of this scholar’s chapter. Which U.S. political, cultural, and Christian ethical starting points provide guidance for articulating a U.S.-based response to child soldiering in Africa? To identify the harm in the recruitment and deployment of girl child soldiers requires assessment of our communal moral attitudes and practices related to gender norms, sexual violence, childhood, and war. To meaningfully contribute to a framework for stopping the exploitation of children in this practice demands scrutiny that interrogates U.S. hypocrisies, such as our own military recruitment practices. We must sort out moral and religious commitments that help to support the practice from those that help to dismantle it. Racist devaluation of Africans may remain embedded in an ethical response based on pity, revulsion, or some other form of critical lens that morally divides them (Africans) from us (U.S.). Might we instead create an anti-racist Christian ethical response acknowledging shared complicity in the abuse and use of children on the frontlines?

Beverly Mitchell, Wesley Theological Seminary
Human Rights, Dignity, and Female Child Soldiers: A Theological Approach

This paper speaks on the theological construct of human dignity and its violation as defacement in the context of the phenomenon of female child soldiers. Using a Womanist approach this presenter will analyze theologies of childhood toward developing a more constructive way of viewing children as fully human and, therefore, worthy of dignity and rights. This scholar will discuss attempts of the international community to facilitate rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers in their respective societies, (in contrast to their male counterparts); and attempts toward developing religious responses that promote effective preventative measures in the future assessing the degree to which these efforts can foster hope that these children can flourish as human beings.

Georgette Ledgister, Emory University
“I’d Rather Die Than Wrestle”: Gender, Spirituality and Agency amongst the Luba Mai-Mai

This paper shares fieldwork in the Congo to explore the complex imbrications of gender, spirituality and agency amongst the Luba Mai-Mai before and after the Congolese Five-Year War (1997-2002), in search of practices of hope in a context otherwise characterized by sociopolitical instability and precarity. The story of Chatty Masangu wa Nkulu, a female Mai-Mai fighter, provides an intimate and multilayered ethnographic account of the constraints that normative understandings of gender place on African women, particularly in contexts of conflict. Rather than providing a pathway for increasing the capacity of Mai-Mai women and girl fighters, applying western liberal feminist constructions of agency uncritically in the southeastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo paradoxically highlights their vulnerability. However, Chatty’s lived experience as a woman and a warrior in the Upper Lomami province of Congo calls for a reimagining of gender, and a turn towards Luba epistemologies that celebrate personhood, locating agency and hope in the interplay of the material and immaterial worlds.

Mary Nyangweso, East Carolina University
Battling a “War within a War”: Challenges of Being Female in Africa

Violence is a common phenomenon the world over, and it is about power, control and the domination of the other. Gender-based violence is a social construct that is sometimes normalized based on gender ideals. During the war, violence takes on a different role. It is viewed as an effective tool of domination of the other. Gender-based violence occurs not only to dominate, but to humiliate and to destroy one's identity, and relationships. The African woman confronts the challenge of normalized gender-based violence and violence as a tool of war. This chapter examines this challenge to highlight health and human rights violations she is exposed to daily. Drawing from various examples, the author describes how gender-based violence is socially constructed and legitimized in Africa and to show how such legitimation enables gender-based violence during conflict situations such as during the war. The chapter employs feminist and intersectionality frameworks towards highlighting complex social dynamics that inform gender-based violence in Africa.

  • Focus on Chaplaincy
  • New Program Unit
Innovations in Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care Unit
Theme: Intersectional Spiritual Care: Chaplaincy across Lines of Difference
Sarah Jobe, Duke University, Presiding
Sunday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Convention Center-24C (Upper Level East)

As a professional field, chaplaincy has become increasingly aware of disparities between traditional spiritual care paradigms and the realities of contemporary spiritual needs. Not least among these disparities is the historic neglect of marginalized communities and persons, as well as the notion of spiritual care in what may be unexpected places. The panelists in this session will speak to spiritual care to transgender persons; dynamics of gender disparity; chaplaincy among strangers in everyday settings; healthcare chaplaincy among a religious minority community; and chaplaincy from interreligious, interspiritual, and intercultural perspectives.

Donna S. Mote, University of the South
Chaplaining Dignified Transfers: Public Liturgy and the Sacred Remains at ATL

When military remains aboard Delta Airlines flights and their official military escorts reach Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), they are met by the Delta Honor Guard and an Honor Guard chaplain who accompanies the escort throughout their time at ATL. Dignified transfers of the remains are made from the aircraft to a dedicated Honor Guard remains cart and from the cart to the aircraft for their onward flight. At either the arrival or the departure, an honors ceremony, a public liturgy on the tarmac, is performed. What religious work is being done by dignified transfers and honors ceremonies? How is value added by the presence of the chaplain vis-à-vis the sacred remains, the escort, and the Honor Guard? Why do witnesses find this handling of “the sacred remains” so compelling?

Daniel Roberts, Roberts Research and Consulting
Military Male Chaplains’ Pastoral Support of Female Soldiers: A Descriptive Case Study

In this study, 15 male Army chaplains from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Buddhist denominations were interviewed. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to compare and contrast the ways in which chaplains provide emotional and spiritual support to female soldiers. According to their own perceptions, chaplains did not consider female soldiers to be a special population in the way they provided pastoral support. Ministers stated that they treated women the same way they treated other soldiers or as unique individuals rather than a class of people. However, in reality, most chaplains exhibited a certain level of distrust in the women who sought their support. Ministers sought to protect themselves from false sexual accusations. This study identified nine themes: denominational guidelines, basic philosophies of male chaplains, chaplains’ defensiveness towards female clients, transference, confidentiality, counseling approaches, weak support, limited resources, and recommendations.

Brent Beavers, Graduate Theological Union, Institute of Buddhist Studies
The Interruption of Transgender Othering in Healthcare: A Buddhist Approach for all Chaplains

Healthcare studies confirm widespread othering and discrimination of transgender people and notable cases draw poignant attention to the harmful and sometimes fatal effects of medical neglect. The gender binary system and harsh consequences that result for transgender patients can be understood through the lens of Buddhist teachings for chaplains of any faith. Stigmatization of transgender patients is the real world front lines of harmful perception and conceptual formations ascribed to cultural conditioning. While this helps our understanding of the othering process of transgender patients, interrupting cultural conditioning can be fraught with fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The Buddhist teachings of a fearless heart can help all chaplains appropriately respond to conflictive emotions that contribute to negative reactions in both themselves and others. In doing so, chaplains may guide and be guided in the interruption of transgender othering in healthcare.

Lance D. Laird, Boston University
Muslim Healthcare Chaplains: Education, Translation, and Code Switching in a Minority Religious Community

Chaplaincy is still a relatively new form of professional religious leadership in American Muslim communities. Based on a national survey and focus group of Muslim chaplains across sectors and qualitative interviews with Muslim healthcare chaplains, we will present analysis of multiple pathways to chaplaincy, educational preparation and certification, placement, and ongoing professional needs of Muslim chaplains. Muslim healthcare chaplains provide an important case study. As new Muslim theological schools emerge across the country, many seek to replicate Hartford Seminary's Muslim chaplaincy training program. Jalalzai (2016) has suggested, however, that Muslim chaplain candidates at liberal Protestant seminaries are "translated" into a normative "interfaith chaplaincy" model. We describe both this translation and the code switching through which Muslim healthcare chaplains justify their work to Muslim patients and staff, Muslim communities, as well as non-Muslim patients, staff, and communities.

Pamela Couture, University of Toronto
Pamela McCarroll, Emmanuel College, University of Toronto
Inter-Religious, Inter-Spiritual, and Inter-Cultural Formation for Spiritual Care Practice

Our theological school has recently undergone a significant change from being a mono-religious Christian institution focused primarily on formation for Christian ministry to becoming a multi-religious, inter-faith and intercultural community focused on education and training for spiritual care and psycho-spiritual therapy. Our Buddhist, Muslim and Christian studies programs are drawing many, including Jewish, Sikh and Hindu students and others who identify as ‘spiritual but not religious’ with an interest in the spiritual dimensions of well being. In this presentation, we reflect as professors on our pedagogical goals at the intersection of inter-religious/inter-spiritual and intercultural spiritual care and explore the role of experiential pedagogy, especially vulnerability, in the classroom. We also present findings from program assessment focus groups, in which students provide feedback on their learning in terms of the inter-religious, inter-spiritual, and intercultural dimensions of the program.

Pamela Yetunde, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
Men, Masculinities, and Religion Unit and Religion and Popular Culture Unit
Theme: Media Masculinities: Profiles of Christian, Hindu, and Muslim Masculinities in Popular Culture
Linda G. Jones, University of Pompeu Fabra, Presiding
Sunday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire 410A (Fourth Level)

This panel co-sponsored by the Men, Masculinities & Religion Unit and the Religion & Popular Culture Unit explores how popular culture informs, shapes, and represents masculine identities and practices in a variety of religious traditions and national contexts. The panel will feature analyses of TV depictions of the tensions between religion and black queer sexuality; social media postings of “smokin’ hot wives” deployed to reassert white evangelical masculinity; Instagram profile constructions of model Pushtimargi Hindu “everyday” family men; and popular American Muslim humor as a conduit for reproducing a neo-colonial, racialized, masculinized vision of Sunni Islam.

Drake Konow, Yale University
"God Bless Gay": Blackness and the Burden of Reconciling Religion and Queer Sexuality

This paper takes up an emerging pop cultural discourse on the relationship between queerness and religion. Analyzing recent episodes of the television shows RuPaul’s Drag Race, Queer Eye, and Sex Education, this paper show how the bodies of black queer men are mobilized to depict, and ultimately resolve, the tension between religion and queer sexuality. These storylines offer something novel in their treatment of religion in popular black queer narratives, but I will argue that they are overeager in resolving these tensions entirely. These narratives elide the complex realities of black queer men’s experiences and crystallize unrealistic expectations for the very individuals for whom they seek to open up narrative space. As such, this paper explores the work done by both blackness and religion within popular culture, questioning which bodies have value in reconciling religion with queerness, how this labor is distributed, and how certain consumer practices are sanctioned as subversive.

Lauren Sawyer, Drew Theological School
Lust is Not the Problem (White Male Supremacy Is): A Feminist Critique of the “Smokin’ Hot Wife”

On social media, white evangelical men post about their “smokin’ hot wives.” What seems to be on display here is not a man’s sincere love for his wife but a sense of anxiety, a growing fear that he is losing control in the home and in U.S. society. With marriage “redefined” with Obergefell, growing racial diversity due to interracial love, and women gaining power in the public sphere, white evangelical men can sense their crumbling dominance and respond in different ways, such as reasserting their masculinity by propping up their “smokin’ hot wives.” This particular display of masculinity reveals the problem of white male supremacy within evangelical conversations on lust. This is especially true in the United States, where black men have been lynched for their suspected lust and white women held on pedestals for their purity. By identifying the true “problem of lust” as white male supremacy, triggered by these men’s anxiety, this paper unpacks the truly insidious nature of the evangelical husband bragging about his “smokin’ hot wife” on social media.

Samah Choudhury, University of North Carolina
American Muslim Humor: Colonial Masculinities and the Racialization of Religion

Why are we so taken by the idea of a funny Muslim? Our contemporary moment has witnessed a precipitous rise in the presence of American Muslim comedians in pop culture - on television, movies, and on the stage. I map their unprecedented popularity to the contemporary moment when American “Muslim” humor is named as such, as well as the complications that arise from imposing a religious referent interchangeably with terms like “racial” or “ethnic” as they relate to the constitution of the 21st-century Western subject. This gendering, racialization, and a growing progressive consensus on issues of intersectionality have come to provide a common language for comedians to identify as Muslim over strictly racial and ethnic nomenclature. Yet this humor replicates a subjugating racialized, religionized, and "masculine" vision of Islam – outside of themselves – by limiting its articulation to normative Sunni ideals and injunctions.

Mysticism Unit and Philosophy of Religion Unit
Theme: Mysticism and Resistance: Interdisciplinary Perspectives for Philosophy of Religion
Jason N. Blum, Davidson College, Presiding
Sunday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Convention Center-15A (Mezzanine Level)

This panel explores the ways in which mystical authors and traditions have historically served as sources and locations of social resistance, as well as how they can productively contribute to contemporary philosophies of protest and solidarity. It examines both the social performance of mysticism – e.g., in the ways certain figures and ideas can (or have) become exemplars for social reform or change – and the ways in which mystical thought can provide resistant imaginings in the service of its transformative ends.

Christina VanDyke, Calvin College
From Meditation to Contemplation: Broadening the Borders

Women were explicitly excluded from medieval university life, in part on physiological grounds. Yet perhaps "the" central devotional genre in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, meditation, invited its readers to place themselves at the scene of various moments in Christ's life and exhorted them to have particular emotional responses - joy, sorrow, compassion, etc. - to those imaginative experiences. In its emphasis on imagination and emotional experience, meditation was portrayed as an activity particularly suited to women and their closer ties with the body. Over the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, then, the widespread popularity of meditations as a spiritual exercise particularly suited to women opens up space for women's claims to knowledge to be heard because of (rather than despite) their association with the body.

Sameer Yadav, Westmont College
The Mystical Self as Political Self

In this paper, I will explore what Vincent Lloyd identities as a distinct form of natural law thinking in the black American political tradition – that the human being and its value always outstrips and resists what we make of it, and hence always enables us to call into question what we make of ourselves and what others make of us, especially when this serves our instrumental interests. Further reflection on Howard Thurman’s mysticism of political resistance can help us address an important question raised by the political resource of a mystical anthropology—namely, what differentiates those whose contemplations of anthropological mysticism drive them outward in political protest from those whose inwardness remains an apolitical prophylactic against the resistance to the forms of oppression that diminish our (un)common humanity?

Joy R. Bostic, Case Western Reserve University
Black Mystical Cultures and Prophetic Traditions of Resistance in Hip Hop and Black Popular Culture

This paper explores how hip hop artists create prophetic texts that use Black mystical cultures as sources. The creation of these texts serves as a continuation of Black responses to oppression and marginalization that we see in the development of the spirituals, blues, jazz and funk. These cultural productions are rooted in Charles Long’s three perspectives for the study of black religion. Hip hop artists’ approach to divine grammars, however, because of the alienation of these artists from mainstream Christianity, has been to divinize the struggle non-white, non-middle-class experience in ways that subvert the myth of what Kelly Brown Douglas identifies as “Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism” and the demonization of blackness.

Amber Griffioen, University of Konstanz
Buddhism Unit
Theme: The Ambivalence of Buddhist Kingship
Michelle Wang, Georgetown University, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire P (Fourth Level)

Popular notions of Buddhist kingship rely largely on the notion that a great being can be either a Buddha or a cakravartin. Besides this “either/or proposition,” Buddhists throughout history have articulated visions of complementarity between the Buddhist sangha and a kingdom’s Buddhist or ecumenical ruler. Attending closely to these articulations in specific historical, social, and literary contexts, what emerges is both a polyvocality of royal representations on the one hand, and an ambivalence about the figure of the king on the other. In this roundtable, four scholars present brief case studies that explore how rulers in India, Tibet, and China have been variously aligned with classical Buddhist paradigms while also being criticized, satirized, and posthumously refigured by their Buddhist and non-Buddhist subjects. Besides presenting, each panelist also serves as respondent for another panelist’s paper in order to draw out the panel’s themes and to open the roundtable for plenary discussion.

Diego Loukota Sanclemente, University of California, Los Angeles
Worth Half a Mango: On the Ridicule of Kings in Kumāralāta’s Garland of Examples

This paper focuses on the depiction of kings in the Sanskrit narrative collection Garland of Examples Adorned by Poetic Fancy (Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā Dṛṣṭāntapaṅkti), by the 3rd century CE Taxilan Buddhist monk Kumāralata. Kumāralāta’s 3rd century saw major transitions for the world in which he lived: foreign invasions, political fragmentation, and the beginning of an enduring trend towards de-urbanization throughout the Indian subcontinent that catalyzed major changes in social paradigms. The stories of the Garland evince a constant tension between the pious “dharma-kings” of the mythical past who were staunch sponsors of the Buddhist religion and the very fallible—and often corrupt—rulers of his present. I will contend that although such tension can indeed be traced through most of Indian Buddhist literature, Kumāralāta’s particular take on this issue can be read as indirect commentary on the political situation of his day and on the demise of the Kuṣāṇa dynasty.

Brandon Dotson, Georgetown University
Loser God, Loser Prince, and Dice Cheat: the Tibetan Buddhist King as an Ambivalent Figure

It is a truism in Tibetan religious memory that Tibet’s kings are emanations of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. Tibetan kings have also been refigured and remembered, however, as cakravartins, gods, sons of gods, demons, and outcasts. Rather than replacing one another, these representations of the king accumulate, and there are few attempts to refute any one of them. This paper revisits three textual and ritual vignettes of Tibetan rulers to reflect on the ambivalent nature of Tibetan Buddhist kingship. In the first vignette, the divine royal ancestor is a loser at dice; in the second, the first king of Tibet is a cast-out Indian prince; and in the third, the Tibetan ruler wins a rigged game of dice. Besides instrumentalizating Indic myth and ritual, these three episodes implicate the Tibetan Buddhist king as a conflicted figure whose connections with victory and plenitude counterbalance his associations with loss, marginality, and pollution.

Stephanie Lynn Balkwill, University of Winnipeg
“Bewitched” or “Bewitching”: What is the Ling 靈 in the Empress Dowager’s Name?

The Tuoba court of the Northern Wei (386-534 CE) experimented with leadership styles, eventually legitimating their conquest dynasty through Buddhist notions of kingship. And yet, by the end of their reign, the ideal of Buddhist kingship came under criticism. During the regency of the last independent ruler, the Empress Dowager Ling (d. 528), her courtiers criticized her patronage of Buddhists, who they saw as dangerous elements in society. Urging her to live up to the model of the Buddhist king, Aśoka, they beseeched her to police and control the Buddhists in her polity for their own karmic good. This paper will explore state ambivalence to Buddhist rule in its intersection with state sanctioning of rule-by-a-woman and will argue that such ambivalence is seen in the Empress Dowager’s posthumous name: to her courtiers, she was “bewitched,” but to her Buddhist supporters, she was “bewitching.”

April Hughes, Boston University
Wu Zhao (r. 690-705): Buddha, Emperor, Earthly Savior

This paper explores the association between Emperor Wu Zhao of Great Zhou (Empress Wu Zetian) and Maitreya in a commentary presented to the throne in 690. The link with Maitreya is created through quotations in the commentary from an apocalyptic scripture that depict Maitreya as a demon-fighting savior who rules as the political leader in his terrestrial utopia (there is no Wheel-Turning King). Wu Zhao’s ritual building, the Luminous Hall, is equated to Maitreya’s terrestrial utopia. The loyal subjects of Wu Zhao correspond to the blessed ones who get to see Maitreya’s utopia. Wu Zhao’s need to discipline her rebellious subjects is equated to celestial minions attacking transgressors who malign the Dharma. The multivalence of kingship is displayed through the different ways that Wu Zhao can be perceived within the same text—Buddha, sovereign, or earthly savior—as well as what it means to be a Buddha who governs.

  • Focus on Sustainability
Class, Religion, and Theology Unit and Open and Relational Theologies Unit and Religion and Ecology Unit
Theme: Can Religion Save the World? Beyond Capitalism, Consumerism, and Systems of Exploitation towards Ecological Civilization
Wm. Andrew Schwartz, Center for Process Studies, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-20A (Upper Level East)

In light of the 2019 AAR theme, “Scholarly Workers in Public Spaces: A Necessary Long Term Focus in the Study of Religions,” this session will be an intersectional, interdisciplinary, interreligious exploration on religious responses to our world’s most pressing issues.

Cherice Bock, The Oregon Extension
Environmental Care in Action: Experiences of Seminary and Divinity School Graduates from Environmentally Focused Programs

Moving the work at the nexus of religion and ecology beyond the academy and into faith communities is necessary in order for this area of scholarship to support a transition toward a more sustainable and resilient world, and to combat the “wicked” problems of climate change. While a number of seminaries and divinity schools train ministers on topics related to the environment, little is known regarding students’ experiences when they attempt to put these theories into action in their lives and vocations.

Based on interviews and qualitative survey data, this critical ecotheology paper describes the experiences of 50 students and graduates of 12 seminary and divinity schools with courses, programs, and certificates related to the environment. Implications for ecologically informed theological education are considered, and the author reflects on what the results of this study say about the potential for building momentum toward action on environmental care in faith communities.

Anthony Mansueto, El Centro College
Sanctuary and Commons: How Can Religion Contribute to Saving the World?

What can religion —and religious studies— contribute to resolving this situation? Building on John Milbank’s suggestion that capitalism was constituted by the “enclosure of the sacred,” as well as of the commons, but rejecting his privileging of Christianity as a force for liberation, I will argue for a communism which integrates a “restoration of the commons” which gradually decommodifies labor power by removing the need for people to sell their labor power in order to survive and thus gradually makes effective the freedom which both capitalism and socialism promised but failed to deliver, with a restoration of sanctuaries which open up for humanity diverse pathways of self-cultivation and civilizational progress. These sanctuaries, which would include not just traditional religious communities but also communities constituted by diverse secular traditions, would be entrusted with a significant share of humanity’s resources, which their members would be able to access in order to develop their capacities and carry out their particular callings, while also being stretched beyond their spontaneous inclinations.

Hunter Bragg, Drew University
“Can God Forgive Us?”: Christian Symbols and Marcuse’s Negation of the World

Informed by Herbert Marcuse’s social and aesthetic analyses, this essay claims that the Christian images of the New Heavens and the New Earth ought to be interpreted as aesthetic, utopian symbols which negate the mutually intertwined economic, ecological and Christian established orders, inspiring humans to imagine new, peaceful relations with their environment. It draws Marcuse’s social criticism into conversation with Paul Schrader’s 2018 film, First Reformed, allowing them to frame the relations of productivity between economics, ecology, Christianity and the future, and uses contemporary theological insights (Tanner, Rieger, Keller) to understand their workings today. It then suggests that Marcuse’s aesthetic analysis provides resources for challenging established orders, and claims, finally, that the New Heavens and Earth ought to be understood as aesthetic symbols in this sense. Their utopian character negates current ecological, economic and Christian orders and helps us imagine new possibilities based on pleasure rather than production.

Marie-Claire Klassen, University of Notre Dame
Laudato Si’, Decolonization, and Ecofeminism: A Case Study of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Project

Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ speaks to the current ecological crisis and calls for a radical transformation of both our global economic system and the relationship we have with the earth in our day-to-day lives. Yet, while the encyclical presents a powerful vision for how we might care for our common home, there are some key dimensions missing from this approach. Namely, the encyclical does not engage deeply enough with the intersections between colonization, gender, and violence against the earth. This paper will use the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which is set to run from the Alberta tar sands to British Columbia’s coastline as a case study. This case study shows the importance of a gender and decolonial lens. I conclude that a more holistic understanding of the common good (inclusive of all creation) as well as cultivating a “preferential option” for the voices of women at the margins is essential.

John B. Cobb, Center for Process Studies
  • Books under Discussion
Comparative Studies in Religion Unit
Theme: Beyond Reductionism: Applying and Adjusting Robert Orsi’s Metric of Presence across Religions
Brenna Moore, Fordham University, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-15A (Mezzanine Level)

Our panel accepts Robert Orsi’s challenge to take seriously experiences of presence within lived religions. Applying the “metric of presence” across cultures and religions, we find implications for our areas of study as well as for the category itself. By engaging this undertheorized component of religion, we also envision a widening of the scope of comparative studies. Panelists briefly address five contexts: a twentieth-century woman’s trance-state encounters with the sixteenth-century Rajasthani saint Mirabai over a period of 45 years; comparisons of sacred presence as intersubjectively experienced by elderly women in India, Iceland, and California; divine encounters that forge faith identities among young adult Christians in religiously pluralistic China; a holistic re-envisioning of Ramanuja’s 11th-century theological, devotional, and ritual views that are grounded in divine presence in the world; and a range of Buddhist conceptions of presence from the Dalai Lama as Kundun (“The Presence”) to “fully present” states of mind.

Nancy M. Martin, Chapman University
Encountering Presence in Twentieth-Century India: Indira Devi Meets Mirabai

This paper explores the relationship between the sixteenth-century Hindu saint Mirabai and Indira Niloy who encountered the saint in trance states across five decades beginning in 1949. The author takes up Robert A. Orsi’s challenge to further develop and employ a “matrix of presence,” moving beyond social, psychological and political analysis (with the imbedded assumption of the absence of the sacred) to address the emergent nature and impact of such encounters with divine presence with all their unpredictability, disruptive and transformative potential, excess of meaning and abundance. Drawing on published and interview materials, this paper takes seriously what Indira Devi and others have to say about her experiences and examines their dynamic impact on her, her guru and their community, including the modes of leadership she and her guru develop, the interreligious dimensions of her visionary encounters, reports of her growing psychic and healing abilities, and her ensuing spiritual teachings.

Corinne Dempsey, Nazareth College
Making Presence Palatable: Sacred Encounters among the Elderly across Cultures

This paper analyzes qualities of presence as described by women over 80 in three locations: south India where gods and saints abound, northern Iceland where spirits and huldufolk tentatively lurk, and northern California where suprahuman beings are markedly missing. Conventionally speaking, we might conclude that Californian women, having thrown off the shackles of old-time religion, represent humanity coming to its senses. Unpacking such modernist views that privilege absence, Orsi dissuades us from such presumptions, helping us take presence and those who engage it seriously. This approach, crucial to the comparative project, is helpful to my work when thinking further about presence itself. I stretch the category slightly to include Californian encounters that, although diverging from presence experienced elsewhere, maintain intersubjectivity as a key ingredient. I argue that by extending presence’s reach to accommodate amorphous “palatable presences” that nevertheless catch women unawares, we further disrupt presumptions upon which modernist hierarchies rely.

Easten Law, Georgetown University
Mapping Everyday Interreligious Encounters among Chinese Christians in Shanghai and Hong Kong

This presentation explores how a cohort of young adult Chinese Christians negotiates their faith identities amidst everyday encounters with other religious traditions in contemporary Shanghai. I utilize Robert Orsi’s metric of presence with Iddo Tavory and Stefan Timmermans’s method of abductive analysis to examine how these Christians understand and experience God’s presence vis-à-vis everyday encounters with the presences of other religious traditions like Buddhism, Daoism, and other popular beliefs. Abductive analysis, inspired by pragmatist semiotics, directs the attention of the researcher to unexpected surprises that require a re-imagination of the data’s significance to form new hypotheses. In the context of this study, I focus on how the presences of the Christian God and the deities of other traditions noted above surprise my participants in their everyday lives and the processes they undertake to render meaning from them.

Francis X. Clooney, Harvard University
Orsi’s History and Presence in Light of Rāmānuja’s Understanding of Real Presence

Robert Orsi’s History and Presence retrieves Catholic piety and practice, illumining the Catholic tradition of real presence in piety, practice, and theology. He also shows us how to think through presence in other traditions. Light is shed, for instance, on Hindu traditions, many of which privilege divine presence: avatāras; ritual/devotional encounters with consecrated temple forms; cosmologies supporting the actuality of divine presence here and now; theological insistence on God’s immediacy; the divine experienced by the spiritual senses; the myriad holy “things” populating Hinduism. By way of example: the writings of Ramanuja (1017-1137) ambition a complete theology of presence: God in nature, approached in ritual, addressed in praise, spiritual senses enlivened before the divine. Read with Orsi, Rāmānuja’s works are manifestly sacramental, commentary, doctrine intensifying immediate holy presence. In turn, this recognition shows how Hindu-Christian comparative theology moves toward a discourse of multiple concrete presence/s of the divine in the world.

Karma Lekshe Tsomo, University of San Diego
The Extraordinary Presence of the Ordinary

This presentation analyzes Robert Orsi’s theory of presence from a Buddhist comparative perspective. It draws attention to the parallel significance of images, relics, spaces, and blessed objects in the Roman Catholic and Buddhist traditions, and challenges the notion that presence is the prerogative of pre-institutional religious traditions. In the Tibetan tradition, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is addressed as Kundun, “the Presence,” a source of great blessing among millions of Buddhists worldwide. In the Vietnamese tradition, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of being fully aware and present in the moment. In the Catholic tradition, Thomas Keating evokes the imminent presence of God. The questions that guide this comparative analysis are: first, whether presence is experienced similarly by traditions using different language; second, whether “presence” as discussed by Orsi is equivalent to “being present”; and third, whether presence as a category of religious experience is comparable in Buddhist traditions that privilege absence.

Robert A. Orsi, Northwestern University
  • Books under Discussion
Evangelical Studies Unit
Theme: Critical Engagement with Emily Suzanne Johnson's New Book, This Is Our Message: Women's Leadership in the New Christian Right
Anna Robbins, Acadia Divinity College, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-17B (Mezzanine Level)

This author meets critics session gathers leading scholars of Evangelicalism to critically engaged Emily Suzanne Johnson's new book, This Is Our Message: Women's Leadership in the New Christian Right (OUP, 2019) and its account of conservative evangelical women who emerged in response to feminism and took on a significant role in U.S. politics and cultural engagement amid the rise of the religious right.

The Evangelical Studies Group will be holding its business meeting over breakfast, Saturday, November 23rd, at 7:00 am at a nearby restaurant TBD.

Seth Dowland, Pacific Lutheran University
Katelyn Beaty, Brazos Press
Karen Swallow Prior, Liberty University
Michael McVicar, Florida State University
Emily Johnson, Ball State University
Interreligious and Interfaith Studies Unit and Religion and Politics Unit and Sikh Studies Unit
Theme: The Racialization of Religion
Katharine Batlan, University of Alberta, Augustana, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-16B (Mezzanine Level)

Examining diverse communities in the U.S., including Sikhs, Muslims and the Black Lives Matter Movement, the panel will address what role religion and race play in American political polarization, ways in which religion and race both intersect and are conflated, and ways in which religion sometimes provides a cover for race. The session will also address questions of intra-faith racial diversity and interrogate how inherent characteristics are ascribed based on religious culture, identity, or practice--ultimately racializing religion.

Simranjit Khalsa, Rice University
Becoming American: Narratives of Marginalization and National Identity among Sikhs in the US

Religious minorities in the west and those perceived to be religious minorities are often marginalized and have been targets of hate speech and hate crimes. Sikhs are one such group who has been targets of such racialized marginalization, particularly given their religious symbols. Given this, I examine Sikh narratives of racialization and the way they construct their religious and national identity in relation to these experiences. I draw on 37 interviews with Indian Sikhs in the US and members of Sikh Dharma, a group of predominantly white Americans who practice Sikhism. I find that most Sikhs experience marginalization, but only members of Sikh Dharma describe a positive distinction based on their religious symbols. Further, among Indian Sikhs there emerged an identity project in which they articulate an explicitly American Sikh identity, equating Sikh values with American values. This research reveals the way race and religion intersect and shape the process of becoming American.

Seth Gaiters, Ohio State University
BlackLivesMatter and Sacred Politics: Promiscuous Solidarities Conjuring Justice

In the #BlackLivesMatter movement—often demonized from the right, and seen as terrorist/extremist—there is an understanding of the sacredness of black life that is continuous with a larger history of black religious protest. Swirling within this movement is a pedagogy of the sacred that isn’t captured by a secularized (and polarizing) episteme of the West. Analytically disentangling the religious dimensions and racial dimensions of this black centered political movement reveals glimpses of what justice looks like. Here there circulates a sacred politics that is bold, transgressive, interfaith, interconnected, promiscuous in solidarities and messy; yet if felt and followed it harbors a critical apparatus and praxis that conjures a world of freedom and racial justice. It forces us to confront a more creative interplay going on where the boundaries between culture, politics, and religion are blurred, and we are entangled within the nexus of blackness, protest, and the sacred.

Unregistered Participant
Black Muslim, White Muslim? Race, Religion, and the Color Gradient in Contemporary America

Drawing from 86 interviews with Muslims in New York City, I introduce the concept of the color gradient. I argue that to understand the experiences and struggles of Muslims in America today we should look not at classifications determined by foreign policy but domestic understandings of inclusion and exclusion. We can begin to do this by conceptualizing how race and religion are inflected on one another. While Muslim has become a racialized identity, focusing on American Muslims as a coherent group has overlooked inner-Muslim diversity. The color gradient can help us to better understand how Islam is contextualized as part of—or apart from—America, and how Islam is lived by diverse groups of Muslim Americans who have navigated the country’s racial imaginary since its founding. This also relates to a long American history in which full cultural inclusion has required not only whiteness but particular forms of Christianity.

Tazeen Ali, Washington University, St. Louis
Towards a Collective American Muslim Consciousness: Building Multiracial Community at the Women’s Mosque of America

This paper examines how the Women’s Mosque of America (WMA), a multiracial women-only congregation of Muslim women and their interfaith allies in Los Angeles, grapples with the Arab and South Asian (immigrant) hegemony that characterizes US Muslim culture. Immigrant Muslims have often been complicit in anti-black racism due to African American and immigrant Muslims’ conflicting relationships to American whiteness. Most US mosques are racially segregated, and those with racially mixed congregations typically have immigrant leadership. Moreover, African American Muslims are systematically excluded from public media representations of American Islam. I argue that the WMA challenges existing US Muslim congregational patterns on both the discursive and community levels. Through its khutbahs, the WMA addresses the shared histories of African American and immigrant Muslims as distinctly racialized by the US state. As a community, the WMA also creates space in which they cultivate camaraderie based in solidarity for each other’s experiences.

North American Religions Unit and Religion and Economy Unit
Theme: #CaptioningReligion: Characterizing the Material Economies of Religion in the Americas
Sally M. Promey, Yale University, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-23C (Upper Level East)

This roundtable and pop-up museum showcase the work of twelve scholars, each of whom presents a single image and a 2200-character caption in response to the question: How do you characterize the material economies of religion in the Americas? The pop-up museum will be open to conference attendees and the public over the course of the meeting and will feature the dozen image and caption pairs printed on poster board as well as space and materials for visitors to add their own artifacts and captions as well as comments on other exhibited works. During our roundtable session we will transport the pop-up museum to conference room, where each scholar will give a three-minute “flash” presentation. We will then use the remainder of the session for conversation about the shared questions, concerns, themes, and possible conclusions to be drawn from this experimental multi-media and multi-format project.

Judith Ellen Brunton, University of Toronto
Richard Callahan, Gonzaga University
Kati Curts, Sewanee: The University of the South
Tracy Fessenden, Arizona State University
Sonia Hazard, Florida State University
Hillary Kaell, Concordia University, Montreal
Alexandra Kaloyanides, University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Pamela Klassen, University of Toronto
Roxanne Korpan, University of Toronto
Kathryn Lofton, Yale University
Suzanne van Geuns, University of Toronto
Pragmatism and Empiricism in American Religious Thought Unit and Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Unit
Theme: Womanist Theology, Sociality, and Subversive Praxis
Jason Springs, University of Notre Dame, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-24B (Upper Level East)


Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, Southern Methodist University
Katie Geneva Cannon: Her Legacy to Pastoral and Practical Theologians

Katie Geneva Cannon left a legacy to those of us in the field of practical and pastoral theology. First, her work contrasted with that of researchers at the Stone Center who emphasized a concept called self-in relation. The work of Katie Geneva Cannon, womanist and ethicist, starts at a different place. She looked directly at ancestral cultural material as an essential to "relationship." In addition, she considered that, for many Black women, the Black Church was a crucible of relationships. "It was Biblical faith grounded in the prophetic tradition that helped Black women devise strategies and tactics to make Black people less susceptible to the indignities and proscriptions of an oppressive White social order." (Katie's Canon, 52) Furthermore, for these women, "understanding the prophetic tradition of the Bible" placed them in a relational line of prophetesses. Thus, a self can only be actualized by life in a community.

Secondly, she gave a context for women’s development in a sequence of caring that stood as a complement to the work of Carol Gilligan and other white researchers. For example, moving from sequence two to sequence three in Gilligan’s schema would require freedom of choice, a privilege that slave women never had. Being treated as breeders, chattel, or property is not only exploitation but degradation. Black women at the center of the stage would reveal their moral agency as a resistance to evil in its many forms. "….womanist protagonists contend that God’s sustaining presence is known in the resistance to evil." (Katie's Canon, 101) This resistance would persist and manifest itself in womanist development.

Third, she added dimensions to a central image in pastoral care, that of the Good Samaritan from a parable.(Luke 10) According to the parable, if left half dead by the side of a road, would a womanist be comfortable with a male stranger offering help? She is injured, naked, and bleeding. She has already been robbed of all she had. A priest and a Levite have already avoided her. Why would she trust this stranger, especially one whose faith was inimical to hers? Why would she consent to be taken to an unknown inn? Could it be a brothel or a place where she would be abused? What if the Samaritan was a White woman, a blue-eyed Susan? In an ethics of caring, where would Black women be in this parable? This calls into play the epistemological privileges of the oppressed, a sensitivity to danger, creative caution, and a hermeneutic of suspicion. This paper further develops these three contributions as Katie Geneva Cannon's work continues to challenge, impact, and augment the field of both pastoral and practical theology.

Karen Rucks, Quinsigamond Community College
In Pursuit of African-American Female Pragmatists

I will add into the pragmatism discourse the historical work of Womanist scholars and into the development of womanist thought, the viability of examining womanism through the pragmatic lens of philosophical theology. I argue that this approach adds to the understanding of womanist thought and its value in understanding first order questions, the human condition and living in the light of hope, power, love and social change.
As a lens through which to examine womanist’s pragmatist approaches and truth claims, I incorporate the work of Emilie Townes, as a representative figure of the intellectual discourses by African-American womanist scholars. Townes’s intellectual work critically analyzes structures such as public policies that promote a specific ideology and power dynamic that negatively affect the individual and the community. The genius of her methodological approach is her application of pragmatic themes and philosophical theology in womanist thought.

Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Colby College
Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, Shaw University
Queer Studies in Religion Unit and Religion in Premodern Europe and the Mediterranean Unit
Theme: Beyond Embodied Authority: Gender Performance in the Lives of Premodern Christian Holy Women
Wendy Love Anderson, Washington University in St. Louis, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Aqua E (Third Level)

When premodern Christian holy women needed to exert authority - or simply freedom of choice - in a tradition where men often dominated, one option was for them to become "virile" or manly women. This session reaches from the third through the fifteenth centuries to juxtapose the hagiographies of female saints who dressed as men or developed male characteristics with the letters of a woman who developed a new intellectual model for female religious life. Whether they became abbesses or abbots, these women negotiated new models of gender crossing, gender variance, and gender reinvention. But were they embodying these alternative gender roles solely in order to gain authority that had been coded as male, or did they have other aims? The papers in this session suggest a range of historical and theoretical correctives to the idea that premodern gender construction is always and only about claiming normatively male authority.

Kathryn Phillips, University of California, Riverside
The Disguised Saint: A Transgender Studies Approach to Matrona's Gender Presentation as a Eunuch

Matrona of Perge (or Constantinople) was a fifth century saint who escaped her abusive husband and entered a male monastery as a eunuch. Although she was discovered and possibly returned to feminine gender presentation, she continued to live a monastic life. At the end of the first version of her Life, she established her own convent with the help of her former abbot, Bassianos. It is said in this version that Bassianos gave her and the other members of her convent men’s habits rather than those women typically wore. Although little scholarship has been done on Matrona, much of what exists explains away her gender variance as a bid for authority not available to women. This paper offers an intervention into cisnormative constructions of history using transgender studies. Rather than eliding gender variance, this paper uses theories about gender to explore issues of performance and embodiment in Matrona’s hagiography.

Unregistered Participant
Heloise and the Proto-Scholastic Abbess

Abbess Heloise, in collaboration with Abelard, articulated and embodied a new type of female religious leadership as an abbess who exercised rational discretion to apply (outer) monastic usages to cultivate (inner) qualities of the heart and mind. Heloise's spiritual and intellectual role answered as a remedy her own critique of contemporary monastic reform that she articulated in her Letters with Abelard.

C. Libby, Pennsylvania State University
(En)Gendering Feeling across Time

This paper places textual accounts of gender crossing and disruption in premodern European saint’s lives in conversation with contemporary discussions around queer and trans body politics. Recent work in the field pre-modern gender and sexuality studies has turned to moments of gender crossing to reexamine modes of embodiment, deviancy, trans(gender) visibility, and regulation (Barbezat, 2016; Boon, 2018; Gutt, 2018; Mills, 2018). This essay extends that work by examining the way affective intensities (anger, wonder, desire, fear) are produced around and through these bodies in order to make sense of contested terrain of gendered embodiment. I place two specific accounts of religiously centered gender crossing (Saint Eugenia and Wilgefortis) in conversation with Talia Mae Bettcher’s recent article, “Trans Feminism: Recent Philosophical Developments” and Eric Stanley’s, “Near Life, Queer Death” in order to examine how pre-modern negotiations of gender can inform present-day scholarship that “contests the objectification, pathologization, and exoticization of transgender lives.”

Ritual Studies Unit and Women and Religion Unit
Theme: Making Motherhood: Ritual Narratives of Pregnancy and Its Perils
Andrea Dara Cooper, University of North Carolina, Presiding
Sunday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Cobalt 501B (Fifth Level)


Ann Duncan, Goucher College
Radical Inclusion and Inevitable Exclusion in the Sacred Living Movement

The Sacred Living Movement began in the United States in 2012 with the goal of bringing the sacred back to the rites of passage of pregnancy and childbirth. Geographical and programmatic expansion has been rapid as retreats are now offered internationally and online and programs address many life stages and a variety of age and gender demographics. This paper will present field work on the Sacred Living Movement with a focus two key elements: first, the radical inclusion demonstrated through a fluid cultural blending of mostly eastern, pagan, and new age traditions and second, the inevitable exclusion that results from central focus on bodily processes and rites of passage that can never be universal experiences. Through these themes of radical inclusion and inevitable exclusion, the paper will analyze the possibilities and pitfalls of this and other new movements straddling the lines between the religious, the spiritual, and the secular.

Millicent Feske, Saint Joseph's University
The Sense of an Ending: The Role of Ritual in Pregnancy Loss and Newborn Death

This paper will address the need for ritual practices, both institutional and personal, among many Christian believers who are affected by experiences of infertility, pregnancy loss and newborn death, drawn from interviews and questionnaires I have conducted or collected from individuals and couples in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain, and the desires they identify about the role of ritual in relationship to their experiences of loss. While some denominations have begun to incorporate some related materials, there is still very little recognition of the need for the ritual acknowledgment of these often-hidden losses. This paper, then, will articulate, in their own words, the expressed need of Christian individuals who have suffered pregnancy losses and infertility for both institutional and self-created ritual.

Haley Petersen, University of North Carolina
The Specter of Motherhood: Supernatural Trauma and/in the Female Body in Japan's Modern Ubume Boom

Among Japan’s folk pantheon of monsters is the ubume, a frightful female apparition representing women who died in childbirth or failed to have a baby in life. In 1994, the publication of Kyōgoku Natsuhiko’s best-selling novel Ubume no natsu [The Summer of the Ubume] sparked an “ubume boom” in Japan, with multiple manifestations of the monster appearing across popular culture. This paper focuses on the reconstruction of the ubume legend within Kyōgoku’s story, which conceives the female body and its natural functions as monstrous, casting “unnatural” pregnancies and supernatural transformation as the result of sexual repression and trauma. The ubume boom, however, attests to the appeal of these themes to an audience of modern women. Analyzing the influx of ubume-based fertility and childbirth rites, I argue the ubume figure expresses ongoing anxieties surrounding the form and function of the female body, as well as societal expectations of motherhood.

Colleen D. Hartung, Holy Wisdom Monastery
  • Films
Theme: Santuario: Sanctuary and Social Movements in Documentary Film
Pilar Timpane, Durham, NC, Presiding
Sunday - 8:00 PM-10:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Cobalt 520 (Fifth Level)

Since 2016, a re-emergence of the sanctuary movement has arisen in the U.S. and abroad. SANTUARIO (2018) is an award-winning short documentary film that follows Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, the first woman to take sanctuary in North Carolina in the recent movement.

Barbara Sostaita, University of North Carolina
Christine Delp, University of Minnesota
Comparative Studies in Religion Unit
Theme: Motherhood and Mothering across Religious Traditions: A Comparative Roundtable
Oliver Freiberger, University of Texas, Presiding
Monday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Convention Center-17B (Mezzanine Level)

Mothers, motherhood and mothering are only marginally addressed in Religious Studies, and the significance of religion only recently started to be considered in the field of motherhood studies. Yet, both the institution of motherhood and the experience of mothering are shaped and influenced by religious beliefs, discourses, texts, and practices, and are all, to a greater or lesser extent, present in these same beliefs, discourses, texts, and practices. This roundtable provides an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and comparative overview of issues in the study of motherhood, as an institution, and mothering, as an experience. Drawing from studies in different religious traditions, geographical and historical settings, and cultures, it will examine, in conversation between the presenters, and between the presenters and the audience, whether comparison is relevant to a nuanced understanding of the intersection of motherhood and mothering, away from essentialist and androcentric bias.

Pascale Engelmajer, Carroll University
Marianne Delaporte, Sacred Beginnings Workshops
Valentina Gaddi, Université de Montréal
Peter Faggen, University of Chicago
Giulia Pedrucci, University of Erfurt
Anna Hennessey, Institute of Buddhist Studies
Sucharita Sarkar, D.T.S.S College of Commerce
Florence Pasche Guignard, Ryerson University