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Not So Lively?

28 Nov

Promises to get back to blogging are easy to break. I’ve made them before only to find myself staring at months of silence. I’m not about to make another one now. This blog has been a home for many works-in-progress ideas. When I needed an outlet for exploration, this was an ideal forum. I struggled, as we all can, to maintain a steady volume of output. The ebb and flow of posts is essential for long-term readers. As a writer I am learning to be reliable, but it is a long process.

Part of the challenge–which I recently discussed with a colleague or two at the 2014 meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Diego–is the paralysis that can come when writing a certain kind of blog post. I have preferred to write lengthier posts that do a bit of the initial free-writing on a topic I’d like to explore further (Demons in video games, for instance, or the viral qualities of cult formation seen in Twitch Plays Pokemon). This preference makes it much harder to be satisfied with your posts. When have I had my say on a topic that I’m just beginning to write about? Am I using my blog as an “open research notebook” for myself or should I consider my audience as I write?

For me the paralysis of writing often emerges when I fail to find a suitable way to balance the demands of audience and personal research notes. The first requires clarity and a willingness to explain context while avoiding jargon. The second makes more rapid progress while shutting out potential conversations. Rather than walk the line I have often chosen not to take a first step and my writing suffered.

Being out of the classroom (we knew we were moving mid-semester so I lost quite a bit of time when I could have been teaching) also diminished my desire to write. Speaking with folks on sabbatical reminded me how integral the conversations in the classroom have been to my own writing process. This blog has been most active when I have been working intensely with students who challenge me to present my ideas more succinctly and seek out points of reference for their frame of experience. Having begun teaching again this fall I feel my desire to write has been rejuvenated. I am also brimming with ideas, many of which are spurred by the work my students have done.

If this experiment has not been so lively lately, I am certainly to blame. But I have not been idle and I hope to be able to share the fruits of other orchards with visitors when they arrive. I still hope to transfer my digital life over to my self-hosted site; I still work on the details of my Spiritual Warfare Archive; I am moving forward in the development of multiple writing projects; and I have exciting partnerships with folks elsewhere on the web such as and SacredMatters. Perhaps I should shed more light on the shadowy development process, but, as many of us feel, it is often easier to *do* the things rather than discuss them. Self-reflection is a skill to be mastered just as much as blogging.


Back in the Saddle

5 Mar

A hearty hello to all! Expect regular posts again as I return to blogging form after travel, holidays, family visits, injury, sickness, distraction, non-blog-able work, tutoring, and, yes, a bit of procrastination. Today’s post is a medley of thoughts, mostly inappropriate for a “content” post as I normally offer. Enjoy!

  1. Why 1,000 words?
    • If you’re a member of the American Academy of Religion, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. 1,000 words is four  beefy page-long paragraphs of 250 words. It’s the length of the requested paper proposal summary for the AAR’s annual meeting. I must confess–and I’m taking risks here by saying taboo things–that it stinks. Other conferences, even those that meet concurrently with the AAR like the SBL or ASCH, do not put this undue burden of bloated pre-thinking upon its proposers. Consider this for a second. In March you write 1,000 words about a presentation you will give in November. And yet that November presentation itself will only be slightly longer, maybe 2,000-2,5000 words. What’s the point of only giving us half the space? If we’re just suggesting the idea, wouldn’t a quarter be more reasonable? After all, the abstract gets a beefy 150 words, which is probably 50 more than anyone should get. We don’t gain anything by being encouraged to artificially inflate our ideas. It’s okay to let less be more now, and demand better presentations later through pressure on organizers to get papers 1 month ahead of time to foster revision. Make it a requirement that papers must be submitted to respondents and presiders at least 30 days ahead of the conference. No more talks written on airplanes on the way to the conference. (And yes we all know folks that have openly confessed this academic sin.)
    • Here’s my thought: Banish the 1,000 word paper proposal. Dial it back to a robust 500 words with a 400 word minimum. This guarantees a consist quality of proposals that must all struggle to say things concisely. Precision is not one of my strengths, but my proposals would be better if I were to be forced to say only the most crucial and significant things. This would a) save the committees work, b) save scholars work (since only 20% or even less of all submitted proposals are accepted), and c) increase the quality of all proposals by evening the playing field. A final bonus? The AAR could increase the number of proposals one can submit. If the proposals themselves are half as long it wouldn’t be any extra work. Then reduce the abstracts by 50 words to match. This is the American Historical Association’s model, and I must say that it produces better panels. (They also exclusively accept pre-arranged panels, something I think the AAR should do more of.)
  2. Is “independent scholar” a taboo designation?
    • I graduated in June. I’m self-employed part-time as a private tutor, but I’m also seeking at least a part-time academic appointment. Since I moved right in the middle of the academic year, it’s been challenging to align my schedule with the hiring schedule of departments and schools nearby. At a recent conference I had to repeatedly explain what I meant by “independent scholar” to individuals I met. This is often an opportunity for interesting discussion, but there is a perception (given during conversations with pointed questions about my employment) that somehow I have failed or am a pariah. I don’t want to sound chuffed, but why is it so hard to imagine someone who still conducts research may not have an academic affiliation? In this day and age of the perennially lousy job market, is it any surprise that some folks have to pay the bills in other ways but may still want to do the business that they were trained to do? If teaching and research is a vocation, as so many of us must think to spend so much money overcoming the barriers to entry, then why is it any surprise when we continue to attempt to research and teach without an alabaster academic appointment? The rise of the alt-academic should have quieted these discussions, but that hasn’t happened yet.
  3. There is little that is more rewarding than visible student progress.
    • One of my pupils is making leaps and bounds in his/her reading. Every session I can tell not just that confidence has been restored in the learning process, but that an enthusiasm and eagerness for progress has also emerged. Success has bred a hunger for more success. In the secondary school classroom–especially when teaching humanities subjects such as religious studies–this progress is often disguised. We plant seeds that may take time to grow. If we’re not explicitly out to change the way our students view religion and religious topics, then we can at least expect their analyses and critical examinations to be much improved. Immediate recognition is less common. I’ve been following with glee the student blog posts from Mike Altman’s “American Religion in America” course at Alabama. If you haven’t had time to read them, you’re missing out. This is the kind of a-ha work that religious studies should evoke in our students. Set that goal for yourself and find ways to make it apparent to both you and your students!
  4. Blogging is a process that I’m still learning
    • The guilt that arose when I didn’t post was almost paralyzing. While I was productive in so many other ways, not posting here regularly in the last month or two made me feel less than up-to-snuff. I’ve tried various methods to ensure regular posting before (daily themes, weekly post quotas, binges of post-construction set to more evenly future auto-post). None of them seem to quite work for me. Part of the challenge is that I try to offer serious work in my content posts. That takes time. It’s easy to get on with the work and not take a moment to share it in progress. It’s also a legitimate concern that blogging detracts rather than adds to scholarly output. This post is nearly as long as an AAR proposal and that’s just 1/10 or even less of the way to an article draft. Other times I find that the work I’m doing is hard to share. As I’ve dived into the back-end of the Omeka Spiritual Warfare Archive I’m creating, my ability to easily share what I’m doing (and have it be interesting) appears pretty limited. I’ll see if I can’t think my way past that and get on with the business of writing about religion!

In RGST? Get a Comic Now.

26 Nov

Proof that Comics Have a Place at the RGST Table

Saturday morning’s AAR session on comic books, “Heroes, or superheros?,” was a spirited example of the vibrant dimensions of the study of religion in popular culture in religious studies today. In a room filled with both men and women, I heard four fascinating papers that used “religious transcendence” to bridge the gap between “comic books and comedic performances.” In conjunction with the Religion and Science Fiction group’s session on “Seen and Unseen,” however, the true merits of comic books emerged.

In the earlier panel, the overlap between film studies became a moment to reflect on the generous body of theoretical literature that exists for religious studies scholars to drawn upon to analyze visual material. Christine Atchinson’s paper was somewhat over-laden with theory, but it impressed upon me the truly interdisciplinary qualities of popular culture research. We are not an interpretive island but rather one archipelago of a vast continent of materials. The regionalism (or specialization) inherent in a topic as broad as popular culture fosters a vibrant pluralism. We can be syncretic in the best possible ways. Or, more meta-theoretically, pastiche is impressive when we’re all bricoleurs.

Then Brenda Beck gave a fascinating presentation on her work adapting an Indian folk epic into an animated TV series. I was way out of my area, but this didn’t stop me from seeing the merits of her work. Visual presentation of folk material allowed her to highlight and embed the animation with scholarly interpretations. Class was a big issue in her folktales, and she was able to help the artists emphasize this element. It’s an important lesson. When we translate items visually we must choose what to encode. All of those choices made interpretation matter. If you have a sensitive and careful analyst, then those choices can really inform your audience about issues they might have overlooked. Perhaps we should, hint hint, make more effort finding objects and ideas that deserve visual translation. I’ve long thought that I wanted to make YouTube shorts on religious topics. Getting students to make short Vines is another option. You don’t need your object to be long—just long enough to say one thing in an interesting way.

Finally, A. David Lewis’ paper (read by Isaac Weiner because Lewis’ had travel problems) was a provocative analysis of Islamic heroism as the solution to the denigrated Western superhero comic model. Lewis’ complex analysis merits its own post, and I think I may have agreed on Twitter to do that for him, but I took away a key meta-point. Provocative arguments are worth making. They help us rise to the challenges of using theory effectively. They focus our use of sources. They compel response. And they make excellent conference papers. A. David Lewis has created a Storify for many of these items. It’s well worth your time.

The value of provocation continued in the Science Fiction panel’s outstanding papers on comics.  The first, by Southern Methodist University’s Christopher Dowdy, used Captain America, both in print and film, to explain the many ways in which Captain America’s body became a place of inscription for racial and religious elements. The way Captain America (in a subversive retelling of Captain America’s origins as a eugenic collaboration between American and Germany) rejects and embraces bodies suggests the character can be located at the center of discussions of scarred black bodies. This is a messianic suggestion and Dowdy played freely with liberationist theological implications. His slides are online for you to get some sense of the material he highlighted. The final comic oriented paper in the session was Peter Herman’s “Rotting Corpses in Pulp Horror,” a Buddhist reading of the Walking Dead and its implication for the way one deals with decaying bodies in the world post zombie apocalypse. As I did for all the papers I heard, I tweeted extensively throughout.  Rather than risk mangling these authors’ arguments, you might look at the notes I took and contact them directly for the real deal. (Storify forthcoming to compile the comic tweets.)

So what else must be said to convince you (or your skeptical colleagues) that comics and graphic novel analysis has a true purpose and place in religious studies? We’re not only influencing the creation of animated items (Beck); we’re not simply skillful readers of race and embodiment (Dowdy); we’re not just using comics to demonstrate the power of classic Buddhist texts and their philosophical theses (Herman); we’re all of these things because every moment we spend with these items is a step closer to understanding how, why, and in what ways religion is drawn into, developed inside, and lived through popular materials. This is not mere finger pointing. We’re not simply saying “there it is.” We’re capable of saying what it means that religion is there. Often times that meaning is not only useful for our understanding of racism or a religious tradition, but the very construction of religion itself.

So if you haven’t picked up a comic lately, head down to the local comic book store and ask them for a recommendation. You won’t regret it.

The AAR’s First THATCamp

25 Nov

The moment was overdue, but that didn’t make it any less satisfying. The American Academy of Religion’s first THATCamp, spearheaded by Christopher Cantwell (UM-KC), was a resounding success. Of the 90+ registrants, about 70 made it to the day-long pre-conference camp.

THATCamp stands for The Humanities and Technology Camp. It’s the brainchild of the perennially progressive George Mason University. It is an event for less structured conferencing. There are no papers. Topics are chosen democratically. Leadership consists primarily of facilitation. There are workshops to demonstrate digital techniques, but on the whole THATCamp is built to be an un-conference.

At the AAR in Baltimore, at least the first time around, the ethic, style, and mood of THATCamp may not have been perfectly un-conference-y. The desire to hold on to the structure of performance and leader/audience did not disappear as much as they could have. As folks do with so many things, we were practicing our practice. We played at being dissimilar from conference conventions—and I mean this in all the best ways because it was fun, invigorating, and exciting. Perhaps next year we can do even better and be the even more radical alternative to paper reading that the AAR deserves. Although we did not manifest the ideal, I can say without hesitation that my own experience was first-rate.

I began the day by joining a session on digital collaboration. How do you find the people you need to make your project succeed? At least the conversation started there. After fretting about funding digital projects, finding ways to see technical experts as true collaborators and not contractors, and several other topics, we finally hit a point of true clarity. Sitting next to me, Chris Cantwell had an “a-ha” moment. I was taking notes, which are available publicly as a Google Document, and I had to slow Chris down so I could get it precisely. He said,

“When devising a project, the question is not who do I need to build this project, but what communities do I want this project to connect to? It’s the relationship between the project and its communities that determines who you need to build something.”

The other dozen or so folks appeared to agree. It was a powerful moment because it was a flat rejection of what I had previously believed was the biggest hurdle in advancing my own digital projects—a lack of expertise. If only I could figure out, I thought, what kind of technical challenge I’m wrestling with, then I could finish this project. That was the wrong way of going about things. It is the project’s audience that determines its form. It is the project’s creators that bring their communities with them. If we hire technical contractors, then all of the real problems with a project remain unsolved. We need to work with collaborators that enrich the project and its community—not seek out solutions to technical hurdles.

This assumes, at least in part, that the technical hurdles will still need to be overcome. For me, though, it was a warning that getting stuck on the technical materials had also caused me to get stuck on the conceptual one an fail to use collaboration to advance the project and not just its suite of technical features. That’s a worthwhile takeaway.

In the next sessions I focused on ways that I might be collaborative digitally. First, I went to a session on digital publishing and then to one on blogging and writing online. Nathan Schneider, a former colleague at UCSB and now author of two excellent books, figured prominently in both. I have heard Nathan explain his drift away from the academy before (at an academy session no less). In many ways he was much, much smarter than I was for leaving the program with a master’s degree and heading off into the world. One of the things he learned—and has shared his excellent views on repeatedly—is that scholars reap many different kinds of rewards when they write outside of the academic book culture. More than ever, it is clear that we are no longer beholden to our University Press masters. While they still hold substantial estates—and I’d be the first to hope my book project is welcomed into the inner keep—their livelihoods are endangered by the radical proliferation of publishing alternatives.

These two back-to-back writing sessions convinced me that I had also made an error in setting my own small cottage so far from the other great estates. I don’t mean that A Lively Experiment has been a failure. It has and will continue to serve the purposes I have given it. It is my forum for semi-academic writing for a public audience. I’m doing some of my private thinking in public. I’m not quite an open book, although I’m trying to head more and more in that direction, but I am a book that can be opened. My research is on display before it is “on display.” This alone is a subversion of print culture in the academy. The cynic in me (or the me that tries to think like hiring committees) thinks it has also reduced my professional output. That’s a pitfall to be sure, but it’s a risk I’ve already accepted and which I’m addressing.

The error I think I’ve made is in not building better roads between my private cottage and the towns that support the manors and estates. Why not be more aggressive in joining these communities? I’ve told myself and even others that part of the problem has been a lack of definition in my public voice. I still write much too fully in the scholarly idiom. (See what I did there?) If I can’t turn myself to the vernacular, I’m going to have trouble setting up a place to stay in some of these communities. So the biggest question of my day, one that was unresolved at the end, was how one cultivates that public voice. This is something religious studies does poorly. Our sister/mother field, theology, does this far better. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned there just as there are from standouts like Nathan Schneider, Stephen Prothero, or, and don’t throw stones at me, Reza Aslan.

In the end, my THATCamp experience was thoroughly satisfying. I felt it spoke to my needs and my aspirations and my abilities. It also challenged my ideas about what those needs, aspirations, and abilities should be. That’s an impressive day of work at the academy and I’m so very thankful to have been a part of it. I will certainly have more to say about the experience as I hear from others how their days in the THATCampAAR‘s other sessions. I will share those immediately when I come upon them.

Serious Games — Studying Religion in Video Games

23 Oct

Over at The Critical Religion Association’s blog, there is an interesting post by Jonathan Tuckett (University of Stirling) about credibility and the study of video games. Tuckett recently presented on the religious theme of The Elder Scrolls at the BASR/EASR. He expressed his worries as “the “ludicrosity” of the whole affair.” Here’s what happened:

Later I was among the contestants for a recording of the second RSP Christmas Special (you can hear me make a fool of myself at the first one here). During the game, which had a large audience definitely featuring some prominent academics, I was joking with my colleague David that unless he started asking questions on Skyrim (where the latest Elder Scrolls game is set) I wasn’t going to know very much. I had already flunked the question on the books of the Bible and was then stumped by a question on the Unification Church. It was during this aside that I happened to get a glimpse at some of the prominent academics who were listening to our brief exchange. It was then that the idea of ludicrosity returned to me. The looks I saw can only be summed up in one way: “Is this guy serious?” I don’t mean to criticise them for giving me those looks or thinking in that manner. I can completely sympathise with them because on one level if I had been in their position I would probably be thinking the exact same thing.

Later, Tuckett demurrs, arguing that he does “do not wish to criticise those who would think that the study of video games in Religious Studies isn’t a credible activity. I understand their scepticism. We’re breaching new territory, charting a region on the social scientific map that we may very easily fall off.” Then he points to the work of William Sims Bainbridge, whose more recent blogs are a bit unusual for a religious studies approach, as both a representative of the possibilities and dangers of this subject.

Here’s my take on things:

1. William Sims Bainbridge’s latest work, eGods, is exactly the kind of work Tuckett appears to be doing with The Elder Scrolls. They may use different theoretical paradigms, but both Tuckett and Bainbridge take seriously the myth-making at the heart of the fictional worlds created in video games. Tuckett didn’t spend a lot of time explaining his project, but I’ve read Bainbridge’s work and it inspired my next project on the supernatural in interactive entertainment (i.e., video games).

2. Tuckett says there were 8 competing panels, so attendance was low at his session. Panels are not attended for lots of reasons. It’s tempting to assume that low attendance is because of our presentations, but more often it is because of competing panels, inconvenient time slots, or a half-dozen other factors that are out of our control. That’s rough, but there it is. Of course, one way to redeem the panel may be to publish its papers online and share them freely. We can’t be everywhere, so even a summary blog post can go a long way toward increasing the conversation!

3. I take issue with anyone who would criticize the serious study of video games. Unlike Tuckett, I would criticize them, and I don’t see a lot of reason to defend their hypothetical myopia. Nor does it seem appropriate for them to be casting dirty looks about. I think we all know by now that there are really no topics that are off-limits so long as we can clearly demonstrate the academic merits of a project. Just 20 years ago the study of material religion was in its infancy. Material religious objects have been around for millennia. But we didn’t put the pieces together until recently in a way that fit the guild’s model of study. Video games, by contrast, emerged just 40 years ago. In that time they have become one of the pillars of popular culture. They inspire fashion, fiction, and film. More important, they inspire fans–that word rooted in fanatic, which means one “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.” Part of what I hope to show in my own future work on games is how devotion in games is becoming a substitute for more traditional types of devotion. The mythical worlds of the games may be the very thing that is satisfying the spiritual needs of many of our religious nones. The rising overtness of religious elements in video games attests to this trend. There’s no academic reason they should be left outside our field of vision.

4. Moreover, the religious aspects of video games are not even remotely in doubt. Even if the industry wasn’t worth more than a billion dollars, we could easily argue its merits on participation alone, which is also in the billions. Asia’s youth are rampant gamers. And games are now pervasive in our screen-laden Western societies. Even the most banal games–those which contain only the barest element of narrative context–often rely on religious themes and mythology as their premise. The sophisticated narrative worlds top-tier (a-list) games create are more detailed and more thorough than all but a few fictional worlds (say, Tolkien’s). [See my earlier post of The Binding of Isaac and blasphemous gaming for a bit more on this point.] The tepid religious elements of most science fiction novels, for instance, do not compare at all with the detailed mythology of the world where the Elder Scrolls takes place. Just as religion intersects fiction and television, so too does it exist in games and the lives of gamers. I’m incredulous that folks would think to exclude it from professional study.

The religious elements are overt, plentiful, and extremely well integrated into the experience of gamers around the world. These often include websites, real life roleplaying, and fan fiction (both professional and amateur). It is a global playing field that freely combines religious elements from major religions around the world. Buddhism can be found almost as easily as Christianity, and video games have even managed to depict a number of ancient religions in interesting ways that build on the work of archaeologists and ancient historians (see the Total War series). It’s a vibrant gaming world, and shutting our eyes to it won’t do us any good as we try to account for the way that religion and religious themes appear in our time.

5. In sum, I’m thrilled to hear that Tuckett is fighting the good fight for video games. I’m also frustrated to hear him give room for its critics. They do not have a place to stand. When and if they appear, they will need to be criticized. The best way to do that–unlike this hasty response–is to produce elegant and persuasive scholarship on the topic. That is the only response that is worth our sustained effort. It’s not worth fighting a territorial or canonical battle. Those of us that want to expand the canon will win out if we can demonstrate the merits of our contributions. It’s not about “reaching a sense of credibility.” That implies we are bringing something to the table that is not credible to begin with. For the social scientific world, this may simply be a question of method and paradigm, but in the religious studies world this problem is a phantom. We find “religion” wherever and whenever it may be and do our best to understand it with the appropriate methodological tools. The methods are not our masters–our religious subjects are. If video games help in the task of illuminating them, then let the parade of scholarship begin. Don’t aim to reach a sense of credibility; Produce work that matters.

Finally, this November’s AAR has several papers on games and an entire panel devoted to their study. I’ll be there. I hope to see you there, too. No cosplay required.

My AAR2013 — THATCamp, Gaming, Nones, and Bellah

14 Oct

Unable to visit all of the excellent American Religion sessions, my schedule will probably look more like this. It combines my interests in technology, religious theory, pedagogy, popular culture, and modern Christianity in America. I’m betting I’ll have a great time if I make it to even half of these! A more thickly descriptive post to follow soon.

THATCamp (Friday, 9:00 AM — 5:00 PM)

THATCamp – The Humanities and Technology Camp
Kelly Bulkeley, Graduate Theological Union, Presiding
Christopher Cantwell, University of Missouri, Kansas City, Presiding

A23-125 (Saturday, 9:00 AM — 11:30 AM)

Religion and Popular Culture Group

Theme: Hero, or Superhero?: Religious Transcendence in Comic Books and Comedic Performances
Isaac Weiner, Georgia State University, Presiding

A23-240 (Saturday, 1:00 PM — 3:30 PM)

Space, Place, and Religious Meaning Group

Theme: Visual Culture, Architecture, and the Mediation of Sacred Landscapes and Identities
David Simonowitz, Pepperdine University, Presiding

A23-235 (Saturday, 1:00 PM — 3:30 PM)

Religion and Science Fiction Group

Theme: Seen and Unseen: Revelation through Science Fiction
Bruce M. Sullivan, Northern Arizona University, Presiding

A23-317 (Saturday, 4:00 PM — 6:30 PM)

Christian Spirituality Group

Theme: The Ethnographic Lens and New Approaches to the Study of Christian Spirituality
Kristy Nabhan-Warren, University of Iowa, Presiding

A23-302 (Saturday, 4:00 PM — 6:30 PM)

Public Understanding of Religion Committee and Religion, Media, and Culture Group

Theme: Making (the Study of) Religion Online: New Media and the Study of Religion
Kathryn Reklis, Fordham University, Presiding

A24-112 (Sunday, 9:00 AM — 11:30 PM)

Religion and the Social Sciences Section and Religious Conversions Group and Secularism and Secularity Group and Sociology of Religion Group

Theme: Religious “Nones”: Understanding the Unaffiliated
Per D. Smith, Boston University, Presiding

A24-136 (Sunday, 9:00 AM — 11:30 PM)

Religion, Media, and Culture Group

Theme: Reflections on Playing with Religion in Digital Gaming
Heidi Ann Campbell, Texas A and M University, Presiding

A24-141 (Sunday, 11:45 AM — 12:45 PM) 


Theme: Presidential Address: John Esposito
Laurie Zoloth, Northwestern University, Presiding

Special Topics Forum

Theme: Out of Many: Integrating the Study of America’s Religious Diversity into Classrooms Across the Humanities
Daniel Greene, Newberry Library, Chicago, IL, Presiding

A24-333 (Sunday, 5:00 PM — 6:30 PM) Remembering Robert N. Bellah (1927-2013)

Special Topics Forum
Theme: Remembering Robert N. Bellah (1927-2013)
Mark Juergensmeyer, University of California, Santa Barbara, Presiding

A25-107 (Monday, 9:00 AM — 11:30 AM)

North American Religions Section and Afro-American Religious History Group

Theme: Authors Meet Critics: The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Paul Harvey and Edward Blum (University of North Carolina Press, 2012)
Stephen Prothero, Boston University, Presiding

A25-218 (Monday, 1:00 PM — 3:30 PM)

Evangelical Studies Group

Theme: A Discussion on the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism: Reviewing Ken Collins’s Power, Politics, and the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism: From the Scopes Trial to the Obama Administration (InterVarsity Press, 2012)
Paul Barton, Seminary of the Southwest, Presiding

North American Religions Section

Theme: Religious Change and Technological Mediation in Modern America
Randall Styers, University of North Carolina, Presiding

Religion and Popular Culture Group

Theme: Discussing the “Nones”: What They Say about the Category of Religion and American Society
Richard Callahan, University of Missouri, Presiding

American Religion at the AAR 2013

11 Oct

Bring on the crab cakes!

I received my hard copy of the AAR program yesterday. While I strongly support digital distribution, I do like browsing the physical copy of the program. (I won’t be bringing it with me. I’ll upload a program PDF to my tablet and use that during the conference.)

[Also, and I hate to be curmudgeonly here, the online program is not at all user-friendly. It’s challenging to browse, ugly to link to cleanly or share, missing important and useful information about many sessions, and, worst of all, it is needlessly integrated into the membership ID portal. Take a hint from the AHA and MLA, folks! The online presentation of your program should not look like an afterthought! Making it easy to find and share interesting sessions should be priority A-1. Your only option is to “print” them. Who does that? How about an email, tweet, facebook, digg, reddit, or share button?]

Unfortunately, since I’m on the market this year as well as trying to schedule time to talk books with presses, do interviews for the Religious Studies Project, and helping with the AAR’s inaugural THATCamp, I’m unlikely to be able to attend even half of the excellent American religion sessions. If I were a session-centric participant filling every slot with another panel or roundtable, here are my choices at this year’s AAR, organized chronologically by session time:


 P22-209 (Friday, 1:30 PM — 3:30 PM)

North American Association for the Study of Religion
Theme: Critically Engaged: Graduate Pedagogy in the Introductory Classroom
Merinda Simmons, University of Alabama, Presiding


A23-108 (Saturday, 9:00 AM — 11:30 AM)

History of Christianity Section and Wesleyan Studies Group
Theme: Methodism in the American Civil War Era
Douglas M. Strong, Seattle Pacific University, Presiding

A23-114 (Saturday, 9:00 AM — 11:30 AM)

Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society Group
Theme: Re-membering Home: Indigenous and Colonial Encounters in Asian North American Religious Spaces
Devin Singh, Yale University, Presiding

A23-126 (Saturday, 9:00 AM — 11:30 AM)

Religion and Public Schools: International Perspectives Group
Theme: Schempp at 50: Revisiting the Idea of “Neutrality” in Teaching about Religion
Bruce Grelle, California State University, Chico, Presiding

A23-242 (Saturday, 1:00 PM — 3:30 PM)

Theology of Martin Luther King Jr. Group
Theme: Two Score and Ten Years Later – Reflections on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the March on Washington
Angela Sims, Saint Paul School of Theology, Presiding

A23-306 (Saturday, 4:00 PM — 6:30 PM)

North American Religions Section; Anthropology of Religion Group; Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society Group; Cultural History of the Study of Religion Group; North American Hinduism Group; Religion in Latin America and the Carribean Group
Theme: Placing the Subfield: North American Religions, Religion in the Americas and Beyond
David Hackett, University of Florida, Presiding

A23-334 (Saturday, 4:00 PM — 6:30 PM)

Religion, Memory, History Group
Theme: Theodicy’s Empire: Memory’s Performance of Race and Class in American Religion
David Reinhart, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, Presiding

A23-409 (Saturday, 8:30 PM — 9:30 PM)

Theme: A Lifetime of Learning: An Interview with Diana Eck
John L. Esposito, Georgetown University, Presiding

A24-109 (Sunday, 9:00 AM — 11:30 PM)

North American Religions Section
Theme: Image as Artifact: Discovering the Thingness of Photographs in American Religious History
Judith Weisenfeld, Princeton University, Presiding

A24-252 (Sunday, 3:00 PM — 4:30 PM)

Public Understanding of Religion Committee
Theme: The Marty Forum: Wendell Berry
Michael Kessler, Georgetown University, Presiding
Wendell Berry, Port Royal, Kentucky, Presiding

A24-254 (Sunday, 3:00 PM — 4:30 PM)

Special Topics Forum
Theme: Out of Many: Integrating the Study of America’s Religious Diversity into Classrooms Across the Humanities
Daniel Greene, Newberry Library, Chicago, IL, Presiding

A24-265 (Sunday, 3:00 PM — 4:30 PM)

History of Christianity Section and Afro-American Religious History Group and Black Theology Group and Roman Catholic Studies Group
Theme: Confronting Black Catholicism in the Americas
M. Shawn Copeland, Boston College, Presiding

A24-278 (Sunday, 3:00 PM — 4:30 PM)

Mormon Studies Group and Religion and Popular Culture Group
Theme: Parallel Prejudices: Anti-Mormonism and Religious Intolerance in American History
Megan Goodwin, University of North Carolina, Presiding

A24-318 (Sunday, 5:00 PM — 6:30 PM)

Teaching Religion Section and Religion and Public Schools: International Perspectives Group and SBL Sacred Texts and Public Life Group
Theme: Religion and the Bible in Public Schools Fifty Years after Schempp
Bruce Grelle, California State University, Chico, Presiding

A24-319 (Sunday, 5:00 PM — 6:30 PM)

Women and Religion Section and Roman Catholic Studies Group
Theme: U.S. Catholic Women and Priestly Ordination: Perspectives from History, Ethics, and Experience
Susan M. Maloney, Women Development and Earth Foundation, Norwalk, CA, Presiding

A24-320 (Sunday, 5:00 PM — 6:30 PM)

Afro-American Religious History Group
Theme: African Religions Across the Black Atlantic: Christian and Muslim Diasporas
Sylvester Johnson, Northwestern University, Presiding

A24-330 (Sunday, 5:00 PM — 6:30 PM)

Special Topics Forum
Theme: Remembering Robert N. Bellah (1927-2013)
Mark Juergensmeyer, University of California, Santa Barbara, Presiding

A25-107 (Monday, 9:00 AM — 11:30 AM)

North American Religions Section and Afro-American Religious History Group
Theme: Authors Meet Critics: The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Paul Harvey and Edward Blum (University of North Carolina Press, 2012)
Stephen Prothero, Boston University, Presiding

A25-114 (Monday, 9:00 AM — 11:30 AM)

Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society Group
Theme: Elusive Bodies: Explorations in Asian North American Identities, Cultural Practices, and Advocacy
Mimi Khuc, University of Maryland, Presiding

A25-131 (Monday, 9:00 AM — 11:30 AM)

Native Traditions in the Americas Group and Religion and Food Group
Theme: Restoring Right Relationships Between Native Americans and Plant and Animal Beings
Dale A. Stover, University of Nebraska, Omaha, Presiding

A25-210 (Monday, 1:00 PM — 3:30 PM)

Study of Judaism Section
Theme: What Can the Study Of American Judaism Bring to Religious Studies?: A Roundtable on Theory and Methods
Shaul Magid, Indiana University, Bloomington, Presiding

A25-232 (Monday, 1:00 PM — 3:30 PM)

Roman Catholic Studies Group
Theme: Trouble in Paradigms: Research Challenges in American Catholic Studies
Kristy Nabhan-Warren, University of Iowa, Presiding

A25-205 (Monday, 1:00 PM — 3:30 PM)

North American Religions Section
Theme: Religious Change and Technological Mediation in Modern America
Randall Styers, University of North Carolina, Presiding

A25-207 (Monday, 1:00 PM — 3:30 PM)

Religion and Politics Section
Theme: Race, Labor, and Political Theory in America
Robert F. Shedinger, Luther College, Presiding

A25-218 (Monday, 1:00 PM — 3:30 PM)

Evangelical Studies Group
Theme: A Discussion on the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism: Reviewing Ken Collins’s Power, Politics, and the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism: From the Scopes Trial to the Obama Administration (InterVarsity Press, 2012)
Paul Barton, Seminary of the Southwest, Presiding

A25-328 (Monday, 4:00 PM — 6:30 PM)

Religion and Popular Culture Group
Theme: Discussing the “Nones”: What They Say about the Category of Religion and American Society
Richard Callahan, University of Missouri, Presiding

A25-306 (Monday, 4:00 PM — 6:30 PM)

North American Religions Section
Theme: Religion and US Empire
Sylvester Johnson, Northwestern University, Presiding

A25-314 (Monday, 4:00 PM — 6:30 PM)

Afro-American Religious History Group and Latina/o Critical and Comparative Studies Group
Theme: African Diasporic Spirits in the Americas
Tracey Hucks, Haverford College, Presiding

Did I miss something? Be sure to let me know and I’ll update the list!

I’ll be returning to it next week with what I think are the can’t miss sessions.