Thursday, March 06, 2014

Roundtable night

If I do say so myself we put on a very good show in Lang's Religious Studies world despite limitations of budget, personnel and institutional recognition. Tonight's roundtable was no exception! Four incisive presentations on questions of religion and politics from different parts of the world helped frame a wonderfully wide-ranging discussion. The first speaker introduced some of the American Evangelical organizations which have been supporting - if not indeed instigating - the push for anti-gay legislation in Uganda and other African countries. The second (a graduating senior) described the intriguing ways in which Islamist parties' victory in recent parliamentary elections may actually blunt their capacity to criticize the monarchy in Morocco. Next, we learned about how the so-called revival of Daoism in China is often driven by local politics and business people, while the communist government has created a new curriculum for Daoist priests that focuses on texts rather than ritual practices. Finally, a discussion of the role of gay-oriented religious organizations behind, beside and within the 1970s gay liberation movement offered a new and empowering view of the relationship of sexual minorities and the church. (The presenter is one of the contributors to our Queer Christianities book.)

Great stuff, and, as in every truly interdisciplinary or comparative discussion, all sorts of synergies. For instance, what might a less secularist understanding of gay issues in the US portend for other places - and what uses might such a narrative serve? Are there better and worse ways in which religious groups might participate in or even be institutionalized within the state? The whole discussion was framed by a brilliant spin on the famous story of the trial of Socrates. Recalling the way Plato's Socrates would banish poets from the ideal Republic, the moderator (my colleague M) opined that Socrates - often seen as a proto-secular martyr to religious persecution - was in fact being arraigned for the religious move of declaring some people beyond the pale. Echoing recent discussions of "political theology" he wondered if modern views aren't all guilty of naiveté and hypocrisy in supposing that "religion" and "politics" are neatly distinguishable in the first place.

Local and global, old and new, practice and theory, students and faculty, challenged pieties and new hope: The New School at its best!

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