Monday, July 18, 2016

Kailas, 2nd edition!

The trek begins! In a few hours I'll be off for a second trip to Mount Kailash, this time mit Gefühl! Whereas the first trip involved a large detour and many hours driving in a minibus, with just the three-day circumambulation on foot, this time we're doing as pilgrims of old did it,
well, part of it. We leave tomorrow for JFK, fly from there to Boston, fly from there to Dubai, fly from there to Kathmandu. The next morning (Thursday) we catch a small plane to a place called Nepalgunj, from which another small plane takes us to Simikot, from which point ...
it's our legs doing the work for four days, following the Karnali river up to the Nepal/China border at Hilsa, where there will again be a driveable road. The scenery should be spectacular, the sense of treading the path of centuries of Hindu seekers and saints sublime... but it's also a lot of walking, at high altitude. I will probably just be concentrating on putting one foot before the other! I'll be able to take in the sights when we return, two weeks later, seasoned ... and going downstream!

During all this time I will be incommunicado. No blog, no e-mail, no phone. (No laptop!) Like once upon a time when travel meant severing one's connections with home. It spooks me a little, but we're in good hands with a professional tour company. And Kailash's an old friend...

Still, I could use your thoughts and good wishes. I should be back on the blog by August 13th, perhaps already a few days before that. Til then...

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A riot of lilies at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, as the world falls apart...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Yatra prep

Got the likely itinerary for my trip, and thought I'd do a little Google Maps diagram of it. Not so easy to do, it turns out. Here's a start:Weather permitting we'll fly into Simikot (2910m) the morning of July 21st, and take three days to trek along the historic yatra (pilgrimage) route following the Karnali river to the Nepali-Chinese border at Hilsa (3640m), which is to the left of Muchu where the valley starts to look broad and sandy - above the treeline, I guess, on the Tibetan Plateau.
There we'll rendezvous with a more intrepid group, which embarked on a tough trek through the Limi Valley a few days ago, and drive through Burang/Taklakot (4755m), where the yellow road starts, and between the lakes to Darchen (4575m), where the Kailas yatra commences!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

There goes the neighborhood

My unexpected staycatation is allowing me to explore Prospect Heights. A new coffee shop with an un- pronounceable name has opened up a few blocks away. Though I recently scored a "Shakes- peariean!" 30135 on an internet quiz claiming to estimate the size of your vocabulary, I can't see more than... betwixted? Too clever by half. Besides, my haunt is the Joyce.

Monday, July 11, 2016

En français!

My presentation at the Michel de Certeau shindig in March has been translated into French by the redoubtable convener. It sounds most impressive if you recite it through your nose. Here's a soupçon:

    Il y a d’intrigantes affinités entre la voie de la religion vécue et les idées de Michel de Certeau, mais avec une différence. Quand Certeau décrit des pratiques ostensiblement séculières triomphant d’écritures et de structures séculières (je dis « ostensiblement », car l’électricité de la vie des tactiques me semble spirituelle, même dans les Arts de faire), le courant américain de la religion vécue décrit et dans une certaine mesure célèbre les manières dont des tactiques religieuses triomphent de stratégies religieuses. Il serait facile de donner des exemples de tactiques religieuses sur la manière d’habiter, de se déplacer, de parler, de lire, de faire ses achats, de cuisiner.
    Ces ruses, ces surprises, ces bons tours en matière religieuse dépassent les « stratégies » religieuses à trois niveaux : d’abord dans leurs propres traditions religieuses, puis sur le terrain d’un paysage religieux où même leur propre tradition est étrangère, et spécialement dans les villes où la créativité religieuse a été mise à l’épreuve aux États-Unis, enfin dans les rencontres avec des fidèles venant d’autres religions tout aussi dépourvus d’un « propre ». Le quotidien de la ville est hétérologique en religion.
    Cela ne veut pas dire que ces tacticiens spirituels ne sont pas aussi à la manœuvre dans un paysage sécularisé, mais cela conduirait à des débats sur la nature religieuse – encore protestante – du sécularisme américain . En tout cas ces entrelacs de tactiques nous mènent au point de rupture d’une distinction stable entre « tactiques » et « stratégies ». L’image est plus complexe, spécialement quand des tactiques s’agglomèrent en stratégies, mais la distinction entre les deux demeure éclairante. La spiritualité soulignée par la religion vécue semble profondément liée aux moments tactiques dans cette complexité.

A selection of the presentations, including mine, are being shown to publishers... Thanks to China, where I encountered the international certalian network, I may one day have a fracophone item in my resumé!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Creepy Carpaccio

Always discovering new things in the reception of Job! Here's a second painting by Vittore Carpaccio - I was aware of a predecessor, now residing at the Metropolitan Museum, but not this one, in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, dated 1505, a weird, chilling scene of the dead Christ before his burial. Job sits near the center of the picture, the musicians often associated with him play atop a hill in the distance.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Swallowed the sun

I'm finishing up a chapter on the reception history of the Book of Job for a book on Wisdom Literature. I've been vacillating more than is prudent or sane: I feel it should be like what's in my book but not the same (in fairness to both projects and publishers). The 8000 words I've been given is enough to do some things new, so I've got a paragraph (nothing gets more than a paragraph) on Job in Islam (where he's known as Ayyub) and quotations from Milton and Ernst Bloch. The section on liturgy and art skips between genres, and talks more about paintings than in my book. And then there's this, that I'd love to use as my final paragraph but don't have the space for. It's something I learned about from one of the teaching assistant's for last semester's ULEC.

Zimbabwean gospel group Vabati VeVangheri sings a song called "Jobho" with a catchy dance. Linked with health warnings for HIV, it appears in NoViolet Bulawayo's 2013 novel We Need New Names, as some children come, uninvited, on a man dying of AIDS, and one starts the song. The narrator is the man's daughter.

When Godknows starts singing Jobho, Sbho joins in and we listen to them sing it for a while and then we’re all scratching our bodies and singing it because Jobho is a song that leaves you with no choice but to scratch your body the way that sick man Job did in the Bible, lying there scratching his itching wounds when God was busy torturing him just to play with him to see if he had faith. Jobho makes you call out to heaven even though you know God is occupied with better things and will not even look your way. Jobho makes you point your forefinger to the sky and sing at the top of your voice. We itch and we scratch and we point and we itch again and we fill the shack with song.

They reach for the dying man's hand and move it to the song. Soon all the children are touching the man, including his daughter, who has not touched him since he returned from a fruitless effort to find work in South Africa, mortally ill.

He feels like dry wood in my hands, but there is a strange light in his sunken eyes, like he has swallowed the sun.

In fact, this is so exquisite I have to find a way to make room for it!

NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names
(New York: Little Brown & Co., 2015), 105

Friday, July 08, 2016

End of the world

The unexpected gift of ten more days before I head Himalayaward means I can perhaps write up something from the Future of the Philosophy of Religion symposium after all. Have I more to say about the Anthropocene and our incapacity to make sense of it than I did back in February? I'm not sure. Let's see.

But it's hard to think so big, indeed of anything at all, knowing Philando Castile (and... and... and... ) won't be there to see it.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

108 story mountain

My departure for Nepal, and onward to Kailas, has been delayed a little. Some of the acclimating trekking prep I was planning to do in Simikot will have to be simulated here in Brooklyn. Just completed enough trips up and down the stairs of our building to climb a 108-story building!

Job well done!

Here's a nice surprise! Our book is the first to have been reviewed in the LGBTQ category of the American Academy of Religion's new book review site Reading Religion! It's rather a nice review, too, if I say so myself. It's not our first review, and not the first positive one. I'm gratified that, as in last year's JRC review, a careful reader found in the book exactly the transgressive tensions we structured the book to generate!

Despite (or, perhaps, because of) the intrinsic anxiety over what counts as “queer” or as “Christian” emanating from every page of the volume, 
Queer Christianities will make a fine teaching tool for colleges and seminaries. I can imagine structuring an entire course in religion and sexuality around the themes and problems that the book examines. And if the language, definitional imprecision, or the subject matter of the essays disturb the readers’ sense of certainty on the subject, then we will know that Queer Christianities has, indeed, done its job.

It's also really nice to have someone appreciate the work we put into making our volume teachable. Can you build a whole course around it? Be our guest!!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Overcoming illiteracy

I've been curious about MOOCs for a while, and have found an opportunity to try one. HarvardX recently unleashed a set of courses on "World Religions through Scripture" with segments on several traditions by impressive scholars. The anchor is a section taught by Dianne L. Moore, whose work on "religious literacy" in public education I've been aware of and impressed by for years. The premise of the project is that "religious illiteracy" produces ignorance and antagonism inimical to peace and social progress, which is surely right. Her examples of illiteracy trace, in reverse, a "non-sectarian religious studies" approach which I find congenial. Religions are multiple, change over time, deeply enmeshed in culture, not private - yes! And although the contrast of religious studies with "devotional expression" is too simple, Moore makes a compelling case that religious studies makes an indispensable contribution - and one nobody else is likely to make. People within religious traditions are as liable to overlook or deny the multiplicity, change and cultural implications of these traditions as those outside!
But can religious studies make that necessary contribution through a MOOC? I've completed the first of the course's eight days, and have worked through brief modules in a number of media - video lecturettes, excerpts from a video documentary on Islam involving women in Turkey and Malaysia, readings from academic and press sources on the multiple tellings of the Ramayana, an archive of changing Southern Baptist resolutions concerning abortion from the 1970s and 1980s, and a lovely Ted talk by a Nigerian writer about the danger of having only a "single story" about a people. I've been invited to contribute a self-introduction, reactions to the approach and to several of the segments (at each stage able to see and comment on the reactions of the 4000+ other participants), and examples of religious holidays and monuments in public calendars and spaces where I live. A most promising start!

I might note that most participants' comments on each other's comments have been of the "lovely!" "well put!" type - what you might expect from people signing up for something like this, and just finding their bearings in it - and that my initial reaction is like that too. I've not stopped being a religious studies specialist of my own, with particular reservations about categories like, well, "world religions" and suspicions about scripture-centered understandings of religion. But still: so far so good.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Fourth of July

Prospect Park is full of celebrations!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Pocket meadow

Today's trek-prep took me from the Church of the Holy Apostles (which welcomed a new Interim Pastor today) along the beautifully landscaped walk/cycleway on the Hudson. This charming field - not a lot bigger than what's shown in this picture - was at about 30th St.

Saturday, July 02, 2016


To get a little more in shape for the upcoming trek, I've been exploring Prospect Park with a pair of Exerstrider walking poles. It's quite the workout, though I notice it only after I get home, bone weary. 
While in the park I'm busy exploring new trails and - well, and getting lost. I stumbled on this magical body of water covered with yellow flowers yesterday, and spent over an hour trying to find it again today.

Friday, July 01, 2016