AAR/SBL in San Diego

This coming weekend, I’ll be attending the AAR/SBL annual meeting in San Deigo—unburdened by any QR code surveillance apparatus.

Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 11.47.42 AMI’ll be giving two talks this year. First, on Saturday evening from 5:30–7:00 (Convention Center, room 26B), I’ll be participating in a panel on Reiko Ohnuma’s book Unfortunate Destiny: Animals in the Indian Buddhist Imagination. The book is a fascinating analysis of animals in early Indian Buddhist texts and was, for me, a welcome chance to read outside my area of expertise. Among the other respondents will be Aaron Gross, whose work has been really formative for my thinking. The panel has been organized by the Animals and Religion Unit, where I serve as a member of the steering committee.

 

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Second, in the same 5:30–7:00 time slot on Sunday evening (in the Hilton Bayfront room 411A, Sapphire level), I’ll be participating in a session that Beatrice Marovich and I organized. The session is titled “The Powers of Gentleness and the Limits of the Human” and is organized around the work of the late French philosopher and psychoanalyst Anne Dufourmantelle in Power of Gentleness: Meditations on the Risk of Living. The panel brings together a collection of my favorite people—Jacob Erickson, Elizabeth Pyne, Beatrice Marovich, and myself, with Karen Bray presiding—and the papers in the panel look really excellent. The session is happening under the auspices of the Theology and Religious Reflection unit. My paper here is entitled “Gentleness, Carnivory, and the Violence of God.” It began when I encountered Dufourmantelle’s claim that the opposite of gentleness is not violence, but fraud and sentimentality. The paper brings together Dufourmantelle with Walter Benjamin’s categories of predatory violence and divine violence to make some exploratory connections.

The Future of Systematic Theology

In a few weeks (September 20-22), I’ll be participating in a conference at the University of Fairfield. The conference will discuss the politics, traditions, and possibilities of theology’s future. My paper rather narrowly addresses these questions by focusing  on solidarity and subsidiarity: for whom and with whom does theology have a future? And, as you might have guessed, my answer to that question is not confined to a single hominid species.

In short, my argument is that solidarity and subsidiarity with poor and marginalized communities is always undermined by the exclusion of animality from theological consideration. I’m eagerly anticipating a weekend of conversation with friends and colleagues.

Human Dignity and Recursive Violence at CTSA

Over the weekend, I was in Pittsburgh for the annual meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America. The theme of the conference this year was “Another World is Possible: Violence, Resistance, and Transformation,” a timely and important central theme chosen by current CTSA President Maria Pilar Aquino.

I gave a paper in the Anthropology section working through some ideas around human dignity, violence, and the boundary between humanity and animality. My paper was titled, “The Recursive Violence of Human Dignity: Rethinking Creaturely Dignity as Vulnerability and Struggle.” In the time span between proposing the presentation and writing the paper, I shifted from vulnerability and struggle toward the concepts of shame and gentleness, which bear some relation in my mind.

I’ll be writing this up at greater length for an upcoming issue of the Journal of Religion and Societyso these ideas will see the light of day for a broader audience.

Carroll College Distinguished Scholar of the Year

I’m floored to have been nominated and selected by my colleagues at Carroll College as the 2019 Distinguished Scholar of the Year. Many of you know that this has been a real roller coaster of a year professionally. Throughout everything, though, the support and encouragement of faculty colleagues has been unflagging.  Receiving  recognition for my research, writing, and conference-work from people whom I’ve been leaning on all year is tremendously gratifying and I’m inspired to live up to the honor.

The Limits of the Thinkable :: Coming Tomorrow!

Late notice here, but if you’re anywhere near New York City tomorrow, Fordham will be hosting its annual Graduate Theology conference. The conference title is “The Limits of the Thinkable: Religious Experience and the Apophatic Impulse between Antiquity and Modernity.” There is a full schedule posted here. The conference will run from 10am to 6pm in Tognino Hall, (the second floor of Duane Library, above the Theology Department). Catherine Keller will be speaking at 5:00, and all are welcome to attend. Folks from the conference will also be headed out to a pub in the neighborhood after the conference to continue the conversation. Hope to see you there!

Call for Papers: 2014 Fordham Theology Conference — The Limits of the Thinkable

The Theology Graduate Student Association at Fordham is organizing its third conference, centered on the theme of religious experience and apophaticism at the limits of thought. The theme is meant to encompass both historical inquiry and constructive work mysticism, apophaticism, ecstatic revelry, theophany, and records of experiences that remain at the edges of “proper” forms of knowing. The conference will take place on Saturday, February 8th at Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus.  

Catherine Keller will be delivering a keynote address at the end of the conference on the logic of the infinite in Nicolas of Cusa. Previous conferences have brought together a rich collection of papers, and presenters have come from all over the Northeast (from as far as Toronto and Ohio). 

If your interests lie in the area, I would encourage you to submit an abstract. Your proposal should be roughly 300 words, and should be sent to fordhamtgsa@gmail.com by January 17th. Notifications will be sent by January 28th. We can provide housing (staying with grad students) for some of the presenters to help defray the cost of attendance.

The full, official text of the CFP is below:

The Limits of the Thinkable: Religious Experience and the Apophatic Impulse Between Antiquity and Modernity (with a keynote address by Dr. Catherine Keller)

2014 Fordham Graduate Theology Conference: Call for Papers

“The concept of limit-situation is a familiar one in the existentialist philosophy and theology of the very recent
past. Fundamentally, the concept refers to those human situations wherein a human being ineluctably finds manifest a certain ultimate limit or horizon to his or her existence… either those ‘boundary’ situations of guilt, anxiety, sickness, and the recognition of death as one’s own destiny, or those situations called ‘ecstatic experiences’- intense joy, love, reassurance, creation… Such experiences… seem to demand reflection upon the existential boundaries of our present everyday experience.”

—David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order

“For any ‘modernity’ to be worthy of one day taking its place as ‘antiquity,’ it is necessary for the mysterious beauty which human life accidentally puts into it to be distilled from it… By modernity, I mean the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent, which makes up one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immutable.”

—Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life

For contemporary scholars of religion, David Tracy’s description of limit-situations as the “stuff” of theological reflection provides a helpful lens through which to consider religious experience. And yet, while one might easily suppose that such “ecstatic” and “boundary” experiences name timeless or perennial aspects of human life, Tracy himself is quick to note that the limit situation is itself a distinctively “modern” discursive phenomenon, having its roots in existentialist philosophy, and entering the mainstream of theological discourse only in the last several generations.

Today both historians of religion as well as constructive theologians are faced with the task of deciding how far religious experiences and limit situations can be meaningfully discussed as separate from their contextual origins in time, language, and culture. As Baudelaire suggests, such a disentangling of what is “eternal and immutable” from the “accidents” of the present-day constitutes a daunting task. And indeed, as each successive generation’s “modernity” seeks to distinguish itself even further from the “pre-modern” preceding it, entanglements between limit-experiences and the new discourses that attend to them can only grow in complexity.

The 3rd Annual Fordham Graduate Theology Conference seeks to examine the relationship between such limit- experiences and their historical and discursive contexts. The Theology Graduate Association warmly invites submissions from graduate students in the disciplines comprising religious studies and theology (and cognate fields). Students whose research is primarily textual/biblical, sociological, historical, philosophical, ethical, or constructive are all invited to submit and attend. Submissions are especially welcomed which: explore the relationship between “religious experience” and “religious history”; situate apophatic and negative theological texts/traditions within their broader historical, social, and discursive contexts (including proposals dealing with modern and contemporary constructive apophatic/negative theologies); explore the ways in which religious communities make use of shared “limit-situation” religious experiences, e.g., as in mystical traditions, Pietism, Pentecostalism, etc.; consider diachrony and synchrony in the construction of theological concepts such as history, memory, affect, and identity; and address the “limits” of religious language generally. Papers addressing related themes beyond these suggestions are welcomed as well.

Abstracts (of roughly 300 words) proposing 20 minute presentations should be sent via email
to fordhamtgsa@gmail.com. The deadline for submissions is Friday, January 17th, 2014. Notifications regarding submissions will be given by Monday, January 27th.

The conference will be held on Saturday, February 8th at Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus. A keynote address by Dr. Catherine Keller (Professor of Constructive Theology in the Graduate Division of Religion at Drew University) will consider the curiously “modern” logic of the infinite in Nicolas of Cusa. Complete conference schedule and program to follow. Limited New York City lodging for graduate student presenters is available. Please direct any questions to fordhamtgsa@gmail.com.

“Maybe we are doing it wrong?”: On Diversity in the Theological Academy

Readers interested in the theological academy should go to Brandy Daniels’ latest piece at  AUFS. Brandy is responding to a post by Tony Baker, following up on some questions at a meeting tangential to the AAR last weekend. I was not at the Theology Studio meeting, but I’ve seen the same white-male dynamic enough to be familiar with what went on.

I want to append one comment to my recommendation of Brandy’s post, which looks to be the beginning of a longer series. After reading Tony’s post. I really wish that, for once, the response to a question about the overwhelming predominance of white men in certain kinds of conversations would be something along the lines of, “Hmmm… Maybe we’re doing this wrong?”

Instead, the most common response  is something of the sort that Tony has written in which the discourse continues on as usual (with a touch more sensitivity mixed in). There seems to be an operating assumption that if the discourses are just a little more open to participation from women and folks of color, eventually the non white-male people will “catch up” and want to join in. There is rarely, if ever, serious reflection about how the structure of the discourse itself, and that of the institutions, organizations, and histories that make up the discipline of systematic theology as it stands have—to put it nicely—“privilege problems” that run all the way to the core.

I am a theologian; I’m a part of the game too, and I’m not giving up on the questions and concerns that drive theological inquiry. But responses like the one Tony has offered remind me all too much of MLK’s claim with regard to civil rights that the real impediment to change wasn’t the fire-breathing racists of the KKK, but the sensitive, well meaning, sympathetic white moderates who were “on the right side” but just wanted to think things through on their own terms a little longer.