Tuesday, November 22, 2011

AAR 2011

It's been a full AAR - things wind down tomorrow morning - with more successes than failures. Friday's day-long Religion and Media workshop was a bit of a bust; the few interesting papers were hardly on the theme "What's next for texts?" and the culminating discussion about digital humanities in religious studies left me cold. I fled to a Mexican restaurant with a remarkable mural of Moses parting the Red Sea. The day was saved by a 35th anniversary celebration of Wallflower Order/Dance Brigade at the Yerba Buena Arts Center, which ended with "The Great Liberation upon Hearing," a suitably trippy new piece inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Saturday began with a panel of gay Bay Area pastors responding to Mark Jordan's new book on discussions of homosexuality in recent American Christianity - pastoral trumped academic insight, and confirmed my sense that today's teenagers may be beyond all our category struggles. A poetic plenary about walking as a religious response to massacre left me puzzled. A panel on the emergence of "religion"-like concepts in pre-colonial and colonialist Asia decentered the critique of "religion" as straightforwardly European: for instance Akbar commissioned governmental accounts of the Indian religious landscape which anticipate and may, through a work from 1813, have shaped the Raj's. A discussion of ways of teaching Native American religions provided much bibliography and many sobering anecdotes, confirming that my students in the Aboriginal Australia course's starting misconceptions were par for the course. (Asian) Indian dinner with old friends.
After mass at the Oakland cathedral, Sunday was full of moments of gratitude - moments where I'm thankful to be lucky enough to be experiencing something radically new. A plenary brought together scholars discussing the future of the study of religion, and one cited a recent Navajo poetess' retelling of Luke's nativity: the shepherds - women, of course - learned of the birth of Jesus from the animals. An SBL panel on African Biblical Hermeneutics let me witness how Southern African theologians approach faithful but decolonizing interpretation, in a discussion of the woman (not "witch," it was argued) of Endor and Old Testament divination practices with nearer correlates in Congolese experience than European. A genially combative Black Theology panel and a snibbet of a panel introducing the improbable but intriguing Jewish Annotated New Testament rounded out the day. Dinner was in Oakland with the friend who's putting me up.
Today began with "Queer eclipse," a somewhat spooked panel co-sponsored by the Gay Men's Issues and Lesbian Feminist Issues in the Study of Religion groups - spooked because these program units are being reviewed, and in recent years new and arguably more interesting program units on sexuality and queerness have cramped their style. Several people we're inviting to our Queer Christianities conference were there and shining. I had coffee with one, Japanese lunch (including the Financial Tower sushi above) with an old friend who's involved in fascinating discussions in her college of the place of spirituality and character in a general education curriculum, and looked through San Francisco MoMA with another friend, finding at most one work we were glad we had seen, Jim Campbell's "Exploded view" (below). Part of a panel on the wicked history of the study of religion, including an exposé on the category of "Spätjudentum," rounded out my conference day.
I wrapped the day up far from AAR, talking about Hume's essay "On Miracles" with a group of home-schooled 12 year olds, in the Berkeley house of an old friend from graduate school whom I've not seen in nearly two decades. She'd seen that I philosophized with kids in Brooklyn, and invited me over. While I have all sorts of objections to home schooling in theory, the practice was very enjoyable. I wound up focusing on Hume's argument that "if the spirit of religion join itself to the love of wonder, there is an end of common sense." Enough!

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