Bernard Stiegler, Director of the Department of Cultural Development, Centre Georges-Pompidou
Transitional Objects and Systematic Infidelity
Building upon previous research that has estabished that theos (Aristotle's intellect qua spirit) constitutes the object of all desire, this presentation will interrogate the status of the object in general as it relates to the construction of desire, focusing particularly on the present moment where, at one and the same time, the object has become structurally obsolete, swept away in the logic of an intrinsically-destructive consumerism, and new objects appear to be creating what we can call an "internet of things." This analysis, based on a reading of "Playing and Reality" by Donald Winnicott, will be an analysis of the economic, moral, symbolic, and spiritual crisis to which the obsolescence of objects leads, inasmuch as it is the organization of a systematic infidelity, which itself causes a systematic stupidity.
Jessamyn Conrad, PhD Candidate, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
Absence as Presence: The Mihrab as a Means to and Metaphor for a Transcendental God
Islam, like perhaps all major religions, is extremely diverse, and its arts and architecture have proven exceptionally adaptable throughout the many times and places in which Islam and Muslim cultures have had a presence. The architecture of Islam is particularly adjustable to various local traditions and climates, necessitating at base only a room for communal, or Friday prayer, and, perhaps most significantly, a mihrab. The mihrab is often called a "prayer niche" and it most often takes the form of a pointed arched hollow set into the qibla wall of a mosque - that is, the wall that faces Mecca. It may or may not be centered on that wall, it may or may not be decorated, and it may be of almost any size. With all their variation, however, mihrabs remain a hallmark - perhaps - the hallmark, of Muslim religious architecture the world over. This paper explores the formal meaning of the mihrab, its contradictions and implications, and uses the altar table of Christian worship as a foil for enriched comparison.
The mihrab has received most attention in Arabic theological literature, but as a pure form it proves a fascinating ground for comparing the most basic differences in how Islam and other religions mediate the divine. For a mihrab is a slippery thing: while a spatial presence, it is also explicitly and historically an absence, for the structure is taken from niches used to frame and enclose either an important person a statue, or an image. A mihrab, moreover, is conceived of as a direction, not a thing. It points a way, rather than embodies a concept: yet if mere directionality were its purpose, why doesn't an arrow, a dot, or some other, simpler mark suffice? I argue here that the very ambiguity of the form communicates a fundamentally Muslim notion of the divine and that the mihrab is a unique and powerful way in which Islam evokes the ever-mysterious notion of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God.
Nicole Kirk, PhD Candidate, American Religious History, Princeton Theological Seminary
Christian Interiors: A Glimpse into the Visual Culture in John Wanamaker's Philadelphia Store
In his November 1877 plea to John Wanamaker the Philadelphia department store merchant prince, revivalist Dwight L. Moody urged his friend and supporter of the Philadelphia revivals to immediately abandon his business by the new year and focus only on ministry: "I hope you will let the word go out-that you close... your dry goods business on the [first] day of 1878 & then you will be a free man again."
Moody felt that his friend's salvation could only be obtained by devoting his time to ministry. Wanamaker ignored this advice and instead expanded his store and created one of the first and largest department stores in the United States. All the while, Wanamaker held fast to his religious convictions.
Historians are polarized by Wanamaker's willingness to blend religion and commerce, best evidenced by his innovative use of elaborate religiously-themed Christmas and Easter store displays, which were simultaneously overtly religious while unabashedly mercantile. Indeed, a common theme among these Wanamaker critics is their focus on the separate spheres clashing at the Philadelphia store: private and public; secular and sacred; and religion and business. For Wanamaker, however, these aspects were not dichotomous; they were dialectical.
I view Wanamaker as embarking on a similar path as other middle-class Victorians-only in reverse. As Leigh Schmidt claims, "Middle-class Victorian women regularly integrated Christian piety into the quite material world of the home and into holiday rituals that revolved around shopping and family." Wanamaker also integrated Christian piety into the quite material world, but Wanamaker's material world was his department store.
This presentation is an excerpt from a chapter from my dissertation and focuses on Wanamaker's store interior design and some of its uses and Christmas holiday ritual practices.
Drew Thomases, PhD Candidate, Department of Religion, Columbia University
Multiple Temples, Multiple Truths: Space and Mediation in Pushkar
Pushkar, a town of approximately 16,000 in central Rajasthan, houses what is considered the only temple in India - in fact, the universe - dedicated to the creator god Brahma. Because of the temple's unique character, as well as the mythology sanctifying it, Pushkar is a place of impressive circulation, gathering tourists and pilgrims alike from across the subcontinent. What does not enter the discourse of this circulation, however, is that about 200 miles away, in the village of Asotra, lies "the world's second Brahma temple," reference to which elicits a wide range of responses from shrugged shoulders to shaking heads. This presents a problem for the ethnographically-minded religion scholar: What kind of topics merit conversation, both in our writing as well as in the field? Do we hide what we know when it contradicts belief? How do we mediate between conflicting truths across a distance that is significant though constantly closing. This paper aims to explore religious claims on reality as exemplified in the case study of Pushkar - that is, to ask whether Pushkar-based scholarship can account for the "truth" of a second temple.
Is this "Asotra problem," as I will call it, a reality that justifies explanation? How, if at all, does space mediate a resolution to this problem? I will argue that in addition to the physical nature of the Asotra temple, it is access to global networks of information - drawing Pushkar and Asotra together on the global scene - which forces us to take wider consideration of etic - or at least dissident - forms of understanding. Following from this, I then explore the academic's role as a mediator of space - both in the academy and on the ground - and argue that this sort of reconceptualization may open up new avenues of intellectual exchange.
Jared Alcantara, PhD Student, Homiletics, Princeton Theological Seminary
Angels in Heaven Done Sign My Name" - The Use of 'Sacred Time' in African American Preaching
The use of 'sacred time' in African American preaching is a significant departure from western, linear concepts of time through fusion of disparate characters and events irrespective of their chronological order. There is historic precedent and permission to fuse past, present, and future in a non-linear fashion. The preacher does so regularly and perhaps unconsciously at times. The sacred time phenomenon has roots in both West African cosmology and American slavery. In West Africa, the emphasis was on communing with ancestors. During slavery, the emphasis was on coping with immense suffering. Although some confine examples of sacred time to Negro spirituals exclusively, I contend that there are also instances in African American preaching. In the antebellum South, slaves routinely spoke of Harriet Tubman as "Moses" and claimed to talk with "Brudder Moses." It was normal to merge the worlds of past, present, and future so that one can claim, "Angels in heaven done sign my name." One hundred years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. invoked sacred time in his sermons by calling governors the "pharaohs of the South." Keith D. Miller and others suggest that King repeatedly broke the rules of the linear, European view of history by making past events immediately present in sermons and speeches. He could "break the rules" precisely because his tradition allowed him to do so. There are other modern examples as well.
In this paper, we will discuss the phenomenon of sacred time- its roots, practice, and implications for homiletics. Moreover, we will consider the ways that African American preachers mediate the divine presence through their invocation of sacred time in sermons.
Tarek Dika, Graduate Student, Humanities Center, John Hopkins University
Revelation, Forms of Life, and Historicity
The sense of revealed religion is distinguished by its reference to a singular and inaugural event - viz., Revelation. This event made possible something like a history, not as a mere chronology of facts, but as a determinate Lebensform with its diverse modes of human comportment and their concomitant horizons of sense and significance. This Lebensform constitutes the theologico-political site wherein the meaning of Revelation is negotiated, contested, represented, and appropriated. The content of this negotiation constitutes the history of revealed religion, the form of this negotiation constitutes the historicity of revealed religion, and the possibility of this negotiation is constituted by the event of Revelation itself. These three poles - history, historicity, and event Ð can be understood as the matrix wherein the phenomenon of revealed religion produces itself.
John-Patrick Schultz, Graudate Student, Department of Philosophy, Villanova University
Facticity, Faith and Violence: Heidegger Appropriations of Christianity
From 1920-1921, Martin Heidegger delivered a seminar on Paul and Augustine, the lectures from which form The Phenomenology of Religious Experience. The central category operative in those lectures is the "facticity" of faith, a complex concept that Heidegger formulates as a heritage or tradition within which a community is constituted by its unending becoming. In 1927, Heidegger revisits the theme of faith and its complex medium, facticity, in the lecture "Phenomenology and Theology." There Heidegger reinterprets faith in relation to the concepts of guilt, fate and destinal violence worked out in the second division of Being and Time. In what follows, I will analyze what Heidegger means by the "factical" as well as the link between faith and facticity in the 1921 and 1927 lectures. I'll claim that in Heidegger's earlier treatment of facticity we can locate a provocative thesis: that the Christian heritage is fundamentally rooted in a radical and disruptive becoming, and for this reason functions as a site of profound expropriation, disruption, and inaccessibility. I'll then present the ways that Heidegger rethinks the facticity of faith in 1927 in terms of destiny and violence-and to interrogate the link he comes to surreptitiously install between violence and faith. Finally, I'll claim that it's possible to positively retrieve Heidegger's early thesis about faith as the site of radical becoming and disruption. To do so, I'll argue, is to displace Heidegger's later installation of violence within the very essence of faith. Such retrieval makes possible a conceptualization of faith as the site of the Christian heritage's irredeemable dispersal. The paper will proceed in conversation with contemporary re-appropriations of the Christian heritage by thinkers like Ward Blanton, Jacob Taubes and Giorgio Agamben.
Brian Larkin, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Barnard College
The Secular, the Machine, and the Materiality of Qur'anic Recitation
Christopher Carroll, PhD Student, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University
Although there is a growing body of literature on the use of new media by individuals to connect to the divine, the current scholarly literature contains very little on the use of new media by nonbelievers. Recently, several atheist and agnostic organizations have gained greater visibility in the news media and the internet. These groups are united in their mission to network nonbelievers and to advocate for a society and government based on reason and science. The vast majority of their activities take place through various forms of online media, much of which serve to mediate between individual nonbelievers and the rhetoric of atheist and humanist leaders. However, the online network of websites also provides a vital link to offline activities, including: Meet-ups, conferences, advertisement campaigns, and protests. My research focuses on the use of new media by one such organization, the Center for Inquiry (CFI), an international umbrella organization of atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists. CFI serves as a hub linking several dozen organizations and uses a variety of new media technologies to spread its message of science and secularism, including: online radio shows, forums, electronic journals, and links with their offline affiliates. The proliferation of new media has facilitated a cohesive yet flexible movement of nonbelievers, a movement that was largely limited to isolated individuals before the internet. For comparative purposes I am also currently researching the Catholics Come Home (CCH) movement, a massive television and new media evangelization campaign. My preliminary findings suggest that CFI and CCH, although beginning from antithetical premises, nevertheless show remarkable convergence in their use of new media to proselytize and to (re)enforce symbolic boundaries between insiders and outsiders.
Erin Flewelling, Masters in Rhetoric and Writing Studies, San Diego State University
Evangelical Christianity Online: Eliciting Material World Responses in the Cyberworld
In the last quarter century, global culture has become increasingly dependent on computer-mediated communication (CMC) for the dissemination of information, for education, and for the creation or extension of social connections. The use of websites, email, and social networks has become commonplace and touches all areas of life including religion. The Open Directory Project states that Christianity accounts for 78 percent of religious internet presence.
Dawson and Cowan suggest that the "consequences for religion are yet largely unknown," and ask how this "new way of being religious" will make a difference in the way "religion is conceived and practiced in the future." Hosgaard notes that religion cannot have an essence or existence independent of human existence, and that "allegedly pure cyber-religious sites are...produced and used by persons who do not live their entire lives 'on the screen'" Adding to these ideas, Christian Scriptures argue against a purely propositional or virtual belief system, stating that faith without works is dead, and Sweet summarizes these Scriptures claiming that the Church of Jesus Christ missional, relational, and incarnational. In her study of virtual Christian communities, email lists, and chat groups, Campbell suggests that the "relationship between online and offline religious practices and beliefs needs to be reevaluated."
Recent technological advances have allowed the launch of interactive internet church services and the development of online congregations and church communities, and I suggest that Campbell's study should be extended to include these online congregations. This presentation provides a rhetorical analysis of strategies, employed in the cyberworld, but designed to elicit action in the material world. I will focus on LifeChurch.tv, an evangelical Christian multi-site church that offers forty online church services every week.
Katie Meier, Graduate Student, Graduate Theological Union and UC Berkeley
Constant-performance Theory: The presentation of self in the age of ambient technology
Ambient technologies vitalize the deep interest evangelicals have from the start to "spread the word" constantly, by introducing the ability to send the gospel message directly to the technological devices individuals interface with, as a prompt for audience response. Ambient technologies are those that constantly prompt us to be in constant contact with other people. However, ambient technology produces a social climate of performance that establishes a set of social expectations about self presentation.
One of these expectations is "always on" participation, which means that participation in ambient culture is constant self presentation, or, a "constant-performance."
This is Constant-performance Theory. The evangelical ministries of Dan Kimball and Tony Jones are used to demonstrate Constant-performance Theory in this paper. Over time, the ministry of Kimball and Jones has transformed from physical to ambient performance, where the management of a coherent self presentation as a skillful evangelist of the ambient age has come to occupy a constant place in the ministry of each man.
Constant-performance Theory is constructed in order to provide a frame to ask questions about the influence of ambience on its users, including questions about identity, social cooperation, impression management, individuality, meaning-making, performative-influence, intentionality, and conscious and unconscious behavior. This paper will explain Constant-performance Theory, step-by-step.
Amr Osman, PhD Candidate, Department of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University and
Marwa Abdel Samei, PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, Northeastern University
The Media vs. the Message: The Case of the Egyptian Preacher Amr Khalid
This paper examines the interplay between new mass media and religious messages through an analysis of the career of the contemporary Egyptian preacher and TV show presenter Amr Khalid. For more than a decade, Khalid has enjoyed immense popularity among the Arab audience. Starting as a preacher in a small mosque in Cairo in the late 1990s, Khalid's fame and popularity rocketed in an astonishing speed. Soon, he became a media star, with Arab satellite channels competing over him. The paper seeks to examine the interplay between Khalid's message - originally meant to preach Islam to non-observing Muslims - and the medium through which this message airs.
Many aspects of Khalid's career as a preacher are peculiar. Khalid is not a religious scholar by training, and traditional religious scholars have regularly questioned his qualifications to preach Islam. Secondly, although preachers appeared on Arab TV channels, mosques were traditionally the locus of preaching, typically to a relatively small audience with whom preachers interacted directly. With the new satellite channels, the message now reaches audience living in almost every place on earth and whom the preacher does not see or interact with. The questions of this paper are: if modern preachers like Khalid are replacing traditional religious scholars, and if satellite channels are replacing mosques as the place where believers traditionally received religious messages, how does this affect both the message preached and the medium of preaching. Is the media being used to serve religious messages, or are religious messages being subjected to requirements and calculations of new media and institutions of mediating. How does this new way of preaching influence how preachers approach the audience, and how does it affect how the message is received by the audience. Finally, how does this shape the way people perceive the nature and role of modern mass media.
Jesse Rainbow, PhD Student, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
Scriptures That Might Have Been: Downs and Ups in the History of God's Written Word
Scripture is among the most concrete and enduring realizations of divine revelation. In the so-called "book-religions," the originators and early custodians of holy writ are often attributed with the status of "prophet" and endowed with traits of extraordinary piety, charisma, uprightness, and literary competence. In contrast to these generalizations, this paper focuses on a set of stories which defy the image of the scripture-producing prophet as a competent tradent of God's written word. Beginning with Moses, who angrily smashed a set of divinely-inscribed stone tablets, each of the stories tells of a moment in their early histories in which the scriptures (in part or whole) were lost, destroyed, or otherwise degraded, often at the hands of those very intermediaries charged with bringing them into the world or safeguarding their publication and transmission. In the nature of the case, the stories of scriptural loss are matched by another set of stories in which the text is fortuitously found, rewritten, or reassembled to create a traditional text. In many cases, the received text of scripture is implicitly a "second draft," one that emerged from the threat of premature loss. Pious histories of holy books take into account both the "scripture that is" and the "scripture that might have been."
Tina Rivers, PhD Student, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
Turn On, Tune In, Boot Up: Timothy Leary's "Mind Mirror"
In the 1950s, discourses associated with the emergent post-war technocracy posited a stable, autonomous, mechanized subject assimilable to the mainstream socio-economic structures of the Cold War era. The psychedelic movement of the 1960s - of which Dr. Timothy Leary was "high priest" - wanted nothing less than to provide an alternative model of a dynamic, permeable, and liberated subjectivity, one that would lead to an evolution in the human species more radical than any political revolution. At the center of this transformation was a theoretical re-calibration of the subject and his or her perceptual apparatus as "cybernetic": while the model of the human-as-machine came to be seen as retrograde and even reactionary, the new model of the human-as-networked-computer seemed a radical prospect.
After the psychedelic movement collapsed in the early 1970s, Leary did not wait long to try and revive it: in an echo of the technoutopian rhetoric of the '60s, he embraced the advent of personal computing in the early 1980s as the second coming of LSD, tirelessly prophesying our inevitable and joyous imbrication with "psyberspace." But Leary thought that in order to ensure our utopian future, he would have to wrest the power of computing away from the military-industrial complex (with the help, of course, of the "acidheads" over at Apple), just as he had "liberated" LSD from the mind-control programs of the CIA. To that end, Leary spent two years working with the company Electronic Arts to produce "Mind Mirror": touted as one of the first computer "games," it is perhaps more accurately described as an at-home analytic tool, or "thought-appliance," for exploring the dimensions of one's personality. A close analysis of "Mind Mirror" will illustrate how Leary theorized the computer as not only a metaphor for the cybernetic mind, but also a tool that could replace LSD as a "medium" of self-knowledge for the masses - a proposition with high stakes for our own contemporary moment.
Justine Walden, PhD Student, Renaissance Studies and History Department, Yale University
Savonarola and Early Modern Prophecy
The career of Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola provides a neat focal point for early modern attitudes toward prophecy since his fame among both popolo and intelligentsia was predicated upon political and other prognostications. Savonarola defended the credibility of his visions using a variety of formulations, some of which the modern mind finds difficult to accept. But when he was banned from preaching by Pope Alexander in 1497 and later deemed a heretic, it was for disobedience, not prophesying: the possibility of revelation from God to humans was still manifestly acceptable. The revolutionary aftermath of Savonarola?s visions and later the "inspired" preaching of Luther spawned serious debate about the possibility of prophesy, debates which took place within the broader framework of Renaissance attempts to clarify the relationship between God and man and to understand God's role in history. After the fading of Savonarola?s influence and the Council of Trent, the possibility of prophetic revelation became both increasingly feminized and increasingly suspect in the eyes of the Church. The act of accessing future truths, while possible under certain circumstances, grew subject to far greater regulation, scrutiny, and authoritative "discernment". Thus after Savonarola, the age of prophecy in Italy was definitively over. This paper examines Savonarola in terms of his prophetic role and will seek to clarify early modern attitudes toward prophecy and the related topics of divination, revelation, illumination, inspiration, and scriptural interpretation.
Seren Gates Amador, Graduate Student, Religion Studies, New York University
Quenching the Flaming Arrows of Evil: Spiritual Warfare in Conservative Evangelical Practice
This paper considers the Conservative Evangelical practice of Spiritual Warfare and its role in mediating an embodied supernatural world. Practitioners are warriors for God, fighting a battle with demons, both within the Christian body, and for control of the external world. Spiritual Warfare defines nations and individuals as starkly divided into agents of God and agents of Satan, and prioritize works of power, healing, prayer and casting out demons as important weapons in a war between God and Satan. Spiritual Warfare advances ideas about the power of prayer to effect practical change, and transforms traditional ideas about good and evil into a schema which is at once supernatural and embodied. Believing Christians play a practical role in battling demons. This physicality of once metaphorical beliefs works to diminish the importance of real-world phenomena except as a part of a larger Christian battle.
Good and Evil embodied and personified are clearly separate, so Evil can be identified and destroyed. Believing Christians can be possessed by a demon, which manifests as an addiction, doubt, or even mental illness. Modern ideas of psychology and health are effaced by a complicated intersection of the "will" of the afflicted to understand why the demon is there - a sort of talk - therapy, and the power of communal prayer to banish the demon. Globally, demons possess earthly territories with hierarchies of power and widespread influence. Spiritual mapping defines areas that are most entrenched in Satan's grasp, so that believers around the world can direct their prayers to the places that need them most. The collective prayers give power to the forces of God, and are crucial armaments in this war.
The immediacy of the supernatural and the importance of combat create an active role for Christians in relation to the divine; this paper will explore the way that this active role and embodied theology address the divide between this world and the Other World.
Jin-heon Jung, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity
Chasm of Ideologies and Church mediation: North Korean Migrants and South Korean Evangelical Church
This paper investigates the negotiation of new post-division identities by South Korean Christians and North Korean migrants in a contact zone organized under the auspices of the South Korean Protestant Church. My analysis focuses on Christianity as the main medium that mediates this inter-ethnic relationship. I argue that while Christianity works to depoliticize the conflicted relationship between the migrants and South Korean Christians, it also highly politicizes the Church as a social space in which contrasting political ideologies and beliefs compete.
A great many of the growing numbers of migrants who continue on to South Korea rely on church-established support networks as they acclimate to their new lives in the South. For years, South Korean government and civil society groups have devoted considerable energies to the integration of North Korean migrants because it is part of long-term plans for national reunification. However, support programs designed to ease the transition into life in South Korea tend to overlook the cross-cultural dimension of this process, in favor of the view that North Koreans should be assimilated into the intrinsically superior South Korean social system.
It is South Korean evangelical churches that provide various training programs and welfare services for the migrants. In molding new arrivals with South Korean social values, church volunteers conflate the processes of Christian conversion and the recovery of one's humanity with the deconstruction of Juche ideology. Responding to this imposition, migrants criticize South Korean evangelicals as materialistic and hypocritical. Based on extensive fieldwork in South Korean training centers this paper also explores the complex ways in which North Korean migrants interpret evangelical rhetoric and activities in order to construct alternative religious and political identities in response to South Korean Protestant nationalism.
Ross Lipton, Masters in Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania
Mediating the Divide: The Influence of Therapeutic Culture in Evangelical Christian Rhetoric
My talk will discuss the therapeutic "self-help" manner of mediation in which Evangelical Christianity rhetorically frames its own persona. I will examine the history and growth of "Therapeutic Culture" as well as partake in an exegetical survey of Evangelical Christianity's most circulated devotional texts and media campaigns.
As is the case with most major religious movements under the same denominational umbrella, the way in which a group differentiates itself from others is found in its use of rhetorical devices, and how these various devices either accentuate or deemphasize various aspects of its denominational theological doctrine. My paper will focus on primary texts in wide circulation within the Evangelical community, in particular Rick Warren's popular devotional text entitled The Purpose Driven Life, in order to gain an insight into a materialist, technocratic society's need for religion through the use of therapeutic terminology, which reinterprets sin as a negative mental state, and repentance as a mere change of mental attitude.
Jason David LaFountain, PhD Candidate, Department of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University
'Pressing After' P/print in Puritan Culture
In this paper I address the interrelation of ideas about printing and conceptions of the image of God in English and American Puritanism. I explore the Puritan theological investment in textual and pictorial printing technologies as means of explicating how God interfaces with human beings. Puritan authors write that the image of God is "engraven," "impressed," "imprinted," and "stamped" in/on the body (in the heart, soul, or mind) of believers. The original image of God on Adam (the "first print") was pristinely registered. Postlapsarian man retains the image, though it is in need of refurbishing, or reprinting. This image is susceptible, too, to further damage or defacement through sin and the influence of negative worldly forces. In a 1696 meditation on Hebrews 9:11, Edward Taylor writes, "Hath Sin blurd all thy Print / ... / Lord print me ore again." I am interested in the way Puritan writers utilize the verb "to press" in conjunction with discussions of a perfectly printed Imago Dei. In his 1726 funeral sermon on Elizabeth Cotton, for instance, Cotton Mather describes the origin of saintly jewels as the "marvellous Work of GOD upon a miserable Soul, Transforming of it; and the imprinting [of] His Image upon it." Mather goes on to insist that "the main Thing to be press'd upon us, is; To press after, to make out for, to make sure" that both he and his audience will be counted "among the Jewels of GOD." The biblical passage about which Mather is talking here (Malachi 3:17) and Mather's own sermon, whether spoken or printed, "press" on the listener/reader. And the listener/reader is urged "to press," too. Theorizations of Godly-imagistic "imprinting" and devotional "pressing" ally the actions and workings of both the deity and Puritan subjects with early modern printing mechanisms.
Monica Mercado, PhD Candidate, Department of History, University of Chicago
Catholic Women and the Protestant Word: Religious Print and the Competition for Souls in Nineteenth-Century America
Religious newspapers and secular publishing trade lists point to a dynamic Catholic press both in the United States and abroad, decades before the church hierarchy approved an official catechism for religious instruction in 1885. Yet the notion of what some called a "Catholic reading public" - a public that most certainly included Catholic women - is one that has been largely ignored by scholars of American religion.
This paper suggests that Catholic print culture is a potentially fruitful source base for the study of Catholics in the United States, and Catholic women in particular. During a century of massive urbanization, migration, and recurrent anti-Catholic politics, how did religious communities draw on "the word" to reach and shape Catholic women? How did Catholic publications suggest women and their families contemplate the divine, in the face of fierce Protestant competition for Catholic souls? Based on initial surveys of the output of Catholic presses and the records of Protestant and Catholic publishing societies, this paper suggests that American Catholic women encountered religious worlds outside of their temporal and parish boundaries via the printed word. It also contemplates the historiographical consequences of scholarship on American Catholic women that has repeatedly focused on a vast anti-Catholic print culture. Salacious convent tales and stories in hundreds of Protestant reform journals did nothing to quell the suspicions some nineteenth-century Americans already harbored about their Catholic neighbors. Many of these narratives still dominate conversations about gender and American Catholicism, serving to hide the fact that Catholic men and women were active readers, writers, and proselytizers in their own right.
Seth Perry, PhD Candidate, University of Chicago Divinity School
Authority, Pedagogy, and Mediating the Bible in Nineteenth-Century American Publishing
In 1854, American novelist Susan Warner published a book of Bible verses which she and her sister had selected and arranged thematically. Titled The Law and the Testimony, Warner's name appears nowhere on the book - the spine and title page say only that it is by "The Author of the Wide Wide World." The Wide Wide World was Warner's best-known novel - a blockbuster best-seller in the nineteenth century. "Author of the World" is also, of course, a common phrase referring to God. As presumed Source and editor, both God and Warner are responsible for the compilation and here their respective forms of authorship are folded into one tidy phrase.
This blurring of the line between the human compiler of biblical extracts and the divine source of the Bible is an extreme example of an ironic theme in nineteenth-century American publishing. The loudest Protestant rhetoric of the period argued against the mediation of the Bible by "learned theology," proclaiming that Christians should read the Bible alone, unencumbered by the obfuscate, elitist work of trained theologians. Ostensibly in service of this ideal, American publishers released a torrent of bibles and bible-related material, empowered by ever-improving technologies of print production and distribution. The format and content of much of this material, however, worked against the Bible-alone ethic. Abridgements of various forms presented biblical verses selected and arranged according to the logic of a (usually unnamed) human compiler, and marginal commentary included with most Bible editions dictated connections among disparate verses which had no necessary associations beyond those perceived by the commentator.
This paper will explore this mediation in its various forms, arguing that this material served a pedagogical attitude toward the presentation of the Bible - a desire to teach the Bible to lay people that was in tension with the "Bible alone" ethic.
Mark C. Taylor, Chair, Department of Religion, Columbia University
Graduate students who are fortunate enough to secure teaching positions in 2010 will not retire until at least 2050. Does the education they are receiving equip them to teach and conduct scholarship in the world that is now emerging or is it predicated on an outdated model? How are new media and communications technologies transforming the current educational landscape and how will they change both what and how people teach and conduct in the future? I will present a comparison of the current industrial model of higher education that Kant developed to serve the needs of emerging nation states at the end of the eighteenth century and a network model that needs to be created to serve the needs of the globalized world of the 21st century.
Aaron Rio, Graduate Student, History of Japanese Art, Columbia University
Chinese Poets as Visual Mediators: A Preliminary Case Study of Chuan Shinko's Sanso Triptych
Pictures of Chinese poets are common in the history of Japanese art and appear frequently in ink paintings produced by artists associated with monastic Zen Buddhism. In the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), monks engaged with their aristocratic lay patrons and fostered the development of a learned community centered on large urban monasteries in Kamakura and Kyoto. Within this intellectual confraternity, the consumption of Chinese literary and material culture and the production of Chinese-style painting and poetry flourished. Renowned poets from Chinese antiquity took their place alongside Zen patriarchs and popular deities, and came to constitute a crucial segment of the Zen visual pantheon. My paper will serve as a preliminary investigation of late medieval Japanese paintings that combine deities with Chinese poets. I hope to reveal the artist's exploitation of discrete historical and poetic references in tandem with paradigmatic artistic models that allow him to cast the poet as a sacred mediator in the communion between devotee and deity. This paper will involve a case study of a triptych of silk hanging scrolls by Chuan Shinko (active mid to late 15th c.), a high-ranking monk and painter at the temple Kenchoji in Kamakura. The triptych, currently held in the Drucker/Sanso Collection combines a central image of the bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokitesvara) with flanking depictions of the poets Li Bo and Tao Yuanming. My approach considers such combinative works to be unified devotional objects that are nexuses of artistic, literary, and religious references and that maintain comprehensible internal narratives. My paper begins with the assertion that, once properly contextualized, late medieval images combining poets and divine beings can be understood as the synthesis of various threads of cultural, artistic, and religious values into fully Japanese, fully Zen sacre conversazioni and as pictorialized transcendental extensions of Zen monastic life.
Judith Scott, Masters of Divinity, Union Theological Seminary
The Black Madonna: Christian Icon Raising the Problematics of Gender and Race
Viewing the paintings and sculptures of the Black Madonna created by today's young artists is to be aware of the personal energy and emotion crafted into each piece, the devotion and testimony to sacred feminine power in a contemporary context: Christian, dark, marginalized, proud, empowered. Some say that the Black Madonna is Isis, the Great Egyptian Mother, who was brought to Europe and then the Americas and survives in church, in the practice of artists, healers and spirit women of the African American and Caribbean communities. This paper reviews studies of Isis as a precursor to Mary and raises questions for further research. First, it considers Isis and Mary imagery, comparing iconic images of Isis lactans found in archeological sites throughout the Greco-Roman world with Mary lactans images found in early Christian homes and monasteries and in later icons. Second, it compares the ceremony and spirituality of the Isis cult with the veneration of Mary Theotokos. It concludes with a consideration of how, and if, Isis was replaced by Mary, absorbed by Mary or is still to be found in Mary. In this process, what happened to her color? The paper discusses the complex interaction between popular representations and understandings of Isis and Mary and official church doctrine about Mary. It questions why the Black Madonna has been a source of anxiety in society, the church and the academy; why her "blackness" has been denied or explained away. Today's scholars separate her gender from her race, missing an opportunity to explain the significance of skin color in the ancient world and today and an opportunity to explore the power of the Black Madonna to engage our spirituality and open a window to the divine.
Silvia Tita, PhD Candidate, Department of History of Art, University of Michigan
Imitation and Unity in Late Sixteenth Century Catholic Art
The paper examines the emergence in the second half of the sixteenth century of categories for sacred art generated by endeavors to preserve the long tradition of Christian art within the Catholic territories. In the sixteenth century, the European Christian community was troubled by the rupture between Protestants and Catholics, numerous inter-religious wars, and the Ottoman threat. Faced with all these external attacks, the Catholic Church had to reform itself, an effort that reached its peak in the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
Preservation implied both a response to the Protestant iconoclasm and an expurgation of the flaws within the Christian imagery. In the period largely categorized as Counter-Reformation, there is a corpus of writings on art composed by catalytic Catholic reformers - some of whom had been directly involved in the Council of Trent. How and why did Catholic theologians engage in writing extensively on regulating the sacred art? The theologians became the mediators of the divine message for artists; their writings were meant to be real artistic bibles for the ideal Christian artists. Established artistic categories (such as imitation, allegory, fantasy, and fable) were principally reinterpreted in a religious key to delimit the decorous from the indecorous with regard to sacred art. On the other hand, new notions were needed for explaining peculiar elements of religious nature such as atemporality (unity). By mediating the message for the artists, the Roman Catholic Church could propagate and aim to control the production of "correct" images.
How did the artistic creativity intervene in the discourse on sacred art? Did the theologians eliminate the value of artistic creativity, subordinate it entirely to the religious message or rather attempt to prescribe flexible limits for it by redefining and inventing categories?
Matthew Kustenbauder, PhD Student, Department of History, Harvard University and
Matthew Croasmun, PhD Student, Religious Studies, Yale University
Spirit Possession among Christians in Western Kenya: The Case of Fimbo ya Musa
In Africa, and throughout the world, there is a perceived increase in beliefs in gods and spirits. Scholars of religion welcome the trend, as it has renewed interest in their professional wares. Other academics, meanwhile, puzzle over the problem of how to square contemporary spiritual expressions with predictions that modernity would bring the extinction of gods and spirits. This situation poses interesting questions, some of which are taken up in this essay. How might the spirits, their mediums, and religious rituals mediate between the human and divine worlds? Transport people through historical time and across geographical space? Link local cultures with transnational or global networks? And suspend or renegotiate gendered hierarchies and relations of power?
We explore these questions through a study of one religious movement in rural Western Kenya. Through rituals of prayer, possession, and exorcism, Fimbo ya Musa (The Staff of Moses) incorporates African traditional beliefs into the spiritual practice and vocabulary of Christianity, translating Western categories into a distinctly African idiom. Drawing upon interviews, sermons, photos, video clips, and sound bites collected during three months of field research, we describe a typical meeting that includes prayer, spirit possession, and exorcism.
Our analysis begins by situating Fimbo ya Musa and groups like it in a historical context of colonial expansion and missionary activity, which sought to reorganize African cultural and spiritual worlds to make them intelligible to Westerners. Turning to contemporary practice, we note that biblical narratives feature prominently in the group's articulation of its identity. Fimbo ya Musa cites passages that emphasize the human mediation of divine power and makes vivid, literal appeal to the supernatural episodes found in the biblical text to ground their practices-deliberately reading across contexts. Supernatural experiences of healing and spirit possession serve as a direct link between the community's pre-Christian world-sense and the Biblical narratives that they inhabit and reenact.
Jacob Olidort, PhD Candidate, Department of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University
Ka'b al-Ahbar: A Study in the Receptions of Isra'iliyyat and Their Transmitters
From the early stages of the canonization process of the Islamic tradition, the Isra'iliyyat reports have posed a formidable challenge to writers and scholars in a range of genres, from Qur'anic exegesis (tafsir) to hadith to history (tarikh). The label "Isra'iliyyat" was assigned to those reports whose content related to Biblical themes and seemed to originate in Jewish or Christian folklore. Scholarship on the subject until now, however diverse, has not directly linked the pre-modern and modern periods in terms of the reception of Isra'iliyyat and the ways in which its place in the Islamic tradition has been redefined. Despite the controversial nature of Isra'iliyyat, core texts have cited from them. Some authorities disparage them when their content proves too fantastical. This study argues that a radical shift from acceptance to outright rejection occurs in the reception of the Isra'iliyyat from the pre-modern to the modern periods. Moreover, the nature of this shift is foremost a methodological one: modern thinkers come generally to rely more on external data (such as political circumstances) than on traditional techniques in approaching the topic. Often the rejection of Isra'iliyyat would be accompanied by the rejection of their transmitters - a practice not characteristic of the classical period. These alterations call into question the very role and memory of hadith in Islamic faith and practice today. This work seeks to demonstrate this point by studying exclusively the reception of Ka'b al-Ahbar (d. 32/652-3) from his lifetime through the modern period. A major transmitter of Isra'iliyyat, Ka'b al-Ahbar is cited in many core works of tafsir and tarikh, yet in the modern period comes to stand for a lack of credibility and even corruption. This study surveys Ka'b al-Ahbar's reception chronologically in major tarikh compilations, tabaqat (biographical literature) works as well as works by modernist thinkers.
Kip Richardson, PhD Student, Department of Religion, Harvard University
Freethought Wine in Christian Wineskins: Rational Religion in the Nineteenth Century
One of the most familiar images of the French Revolution is the Temple of Reason, the de-christened church in which traditional Christian symbols and media were subverted and reappropriated to initiate and celebrate a new era of democracy and enlightened rationalism. Less well known are the similar subversions of Christian media that occurred throughout the English-speaking world in the nineteenth century by enthusiastic groups of freethinkers. Eschewing the creedal content of Christianity but retaining their respect for its forms, these freethinkers sought to pour new wine into old wineskins and create a rational religion that would combine their post-Christian mentality with their longing for community. In pursuit of this synthesis, they erected Halls of Science in which they held Sunday morning lectures on philosophy, Biblical criticism and, eventually, Darwinian biology. They wrote new sacred scriptures, composed hymns to Reason, devised rationalist liturgies, and founded secular Sunday schools. They even held revival-style secular camp meetings during which freethinkers from all over came together for four days of singing, preaching, and fellowship. These reappropriations of Christian media (and freethought communities generally) fell out of fashion in the twentieth century. Intermediate entities like congregations, preachers, and liturgies were abandoned in favor of an individualist ethos. Rational religion was no more.
My paper will seek to answer why it was so important to these early freethinkers to appropriate the media of Christianity. What was at stake in duplicating the style and format of Christian churches? What assumptions about religion and culture sanctioned these activities? And why did these practices disappear at the turn of the century? In answering these questions I hope to explore the power of traditional religious forms of mediation and their potential role in grounding even the most radical theological experiments.
Kati Curts, Graduate Student, Religious Sudies, New York University
Monkeys, Media & Memory: Inherit the Wind and the 'War on Christians'
In July 1925, John T. Scopes was found guilty of violating the Butler Act, a Tennessee law forbidding the teaching of human evolution in public schools. The "Scopes Monkey Trial," as it came to be known, was a media sensation. In 1955, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's play, Inherit the Wind, opened on Broadway. The play, though loosely based on the Scopes trial, was written as a counsel against the dangers of McCarthyism. It was subsequently adapted as a screenplay, and a film was released under the same name in 1960. Since then, Inherit the Wind has been reproduced in innumerable theater productions and three times as made-for-television movies.
The Scopes trial and Inherit the Wind have endured much study, often serving as useful lenses through which to examine the rapidly changing cultural milieu of the twentieth-century. Aiming to move away from this kind of already extensive historical analysis, as well as value-laden judgments concerning the Scopes trial or its so-called representations in the play, film, television, or theater productions, I consider Inherit the Wind as a contested site of memory, one that variously constructs, (re)collects, and transmits memory, and mediates a past, present, and future. To do so, I draw on multiple mobilizations of Inherit the Wind and examine, in particular, the ways in which Answers in Genesis, an evangelical apologetics organization, engages with Inherit the Wind as part of a "war on Christians" discursive project. In this context, I consider how Inherit the Wind helps suture contemporary audiences into a re-membered past, recollect a scenario of persecution, and perpetuate an embattled present that must be passionately defended. In so doing, this paper offers a way to think about the entanglement of history, memory, and media in (re)shaping religious subjectivity and politics.
Matt Levine, Master's Student, Film Studies, Emory University
Confessing to the Camera: Ulrich Seidl's Jesus, You Know.
Ulrich Seidl's 2004 documentary Jesus, You Know charts the increasing secularization of modern Austria by featuring six Catholic churchgoers voicing their confessions to God in uninterrupted monologues, directed at Seidl's static camera in unwavering, minimalist tableaux. Seidl, who experienced a devout Catholic upbringing, begins Jesus, You Know with a preface that deems Jesus "the master of this film." While it is, then, a sincere and sympathetic look at secularization's intimate effect on the lives of modern churchgoers, it is perhaps more immediately a fascinating infusion of spirituality and aesthetics, faith and mediation, in which Jesus and Seidl's camera are conflated into one receptacle for religious confession in the modern age.
This paper, then, charts the parallel transformations of visual media and religious institutions over the last 120 years-in some ways symbiotic, and in others parasitic. Cinema and television have evolved into the most dominant forms of widely disseminated media in the 21st century, while organized religion has experienced a massive decline thanks to growing secularization and immigration, particularly in the modern Europe that Seidl portrays in Jesus, You Know. In many ways, both transformations stem from the onset of modernity in fin de siecle Western Europe, a cultural transformation that introduced new forms of vision and knowledge while emphasizing economic and moral structures to supplant traditional religious ones. Has the predominance of visualization resulted in a "faith in the camera" to replace a "faith in the church" as a listener, sympathizer, and moral guidepost? Do theological films force us to question our spirituality, or to question cinema itself? These questions, among others, will form the crux of this essay.
Will Schmenner, Graduate Student, History of Art, University of Pennsylvania
Falling Is Despair: Hitchcock's Vertigo as Mediated Religious Thought
In a moment of revealing candor before he left London for Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock wrote a short newspaper article entitled, "How I Made My Films." Printed in March 1937, he claimed, "[f]or it is ideas that we want in films far more than stories. Give us the idea and we can turn you out a story any time." And stories for Hitchcock were essentially visual. The paper I am proposing will use the framework of a close reading of Hitchcock's Vertigo to investigate how religious ideas might be mediated by cinema. In particular this paper will offer an interpretation of Vertigo that suggests the film is built around some of the central notions in Soren Kierkegaard's The Sickness unto Death. In that text Kierkegaard describes and embodies despair as a type of vertigo and as the sensation of perpetually falling within a bottomless pit - images/motions that expresses those sensations can be seen in the design of the spiral on the Vertigo posters and especially within both the sequence where James Stewart's disembodied head appears to be suspended or falling within a void and the famous camera shot on the stairway where the spiral of the staircase seems to recede and move forward at once. Through this close reading the paper will develop questions about the facility for the mediation of religious ideas by moving images. This facility although shaped by a long history of visual representating religion, might reflect something about the fundamental place image, movement, and drama maintain in religious thought. In the case of Vertigo and Kierkegaard the relationship between film and religious ideas may benefit from a shared "inbetweenness." Film's status as both index and representation, as movement and successive still images might lend itself to the tension in religious thought between as Kiekegaard discusses "the infinite and the finite, the temporal and the eternal, freedom and necessity."
Jessica Smith, PhD Student, Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University
Divining the Message in Tony Kushner's Angels in America
In Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize winning play Angels in America, a complex web of American figures - gay, Jew, Mormon, drag queen, WASP, the mad, the angel and the diabolical - collide in the apocalyptic era of the 1980's as the AIDS epidemic began to take shape. In dialectical tension with AIDS stands a divine messenger - the angel. A steel-winged angel memorably crashes through the AIDS victim Prior Walter's ceiling. Advocating for a cessation of human progress as a means of inducing God's return from his seeming abandonment of the world, the angel challenges Walter's own fragility and pain in life, tempting him with death. Prior eventually refuses the angel's request, preferring to live in worldly suffering than end life itself.
Critics of Kushner's play have argued that while there is a clear influence of Walter Benjamin's dystopic view of history, the play's Hegelian hope in the dialectical nature of history gives too facile an answer to the world's terror and uncertainty. A focus on the content of the play and not the medium may lend itself to such a critique. However, I claim that Kushner's medium of the theatrical drama disrupts the plot's positive historical dialectic and reinscribes a kind of divine mediation. Per Kushner's direction, each actor plays multiple roles thus causing the viewer to be situated like Prior in the unresolved angelic encounter between the real and the illusory. Acting itself functions as the new divine intermediary. Kushner shifts the divine from a pure substance to an effect of the mediating form of theatricality itself. Whether as film or play, the "media of mediation" serves as a conduit for a new imagining of the divine as an enacted momentary encounter situated between the real and the fantastic.
Phillip Fucella, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley
Blue Star Banners: mediating public and private sacrifice in military marriages
Why do some military spouses hang "Blue Star Banners" while their soldiers are deployed and others do not? Situated in a larger project on the social constitution of sacrifice, this paper examines how military families use Blue Star Banners, a particular icon of the national civil religion, to mediate between public and private meanings of military service. Since World War I, families have displayed in a front window these small flags of a white field, red border and a blue star for each family member serving in the military overseas. Despite knowing the significance of the banners and receiving encouragement from extended family, as well as political and civic organizations; a significant portion of the 100 military spouses interviewed for this project choose not to hang Blue Star Banners on their homes. The most common explanation is mistrust of the community in which they reside. Surprisingly, this mistrust is greater for spouses living in predominantly military communities than civilian neighborhoods. The military community discourages spouses from displaying banners by emphasizing their vulnerability to crime, sexual overtures, and bereavement. Despite this discouragement, some spouses resolutely display Blue Star Banners. This paper argues that the difference between a military (homogenous) versus civilian (heterogeneous) context best explains the variation in Blue Star Banner display. Living among mostly other military families, as is the case for regular Army spouses in the study, as opposed to living among mostly civilian families, as is the case for National Guard spouses in the study, changes the meaning and function of a symbol like the Blue Star Banner and its mediating effect in the performance of sacrifice. In this particular instance, sacred meaning and the resolution to express it derives from difference rather than similarity. The icon garners recognition from neighbors who do not share the family's burden but who are indebted to them for it. On the other hand, as just one among many other military families, the banner is an unwanted reminder of collective fears. Spouses in these large military communities tend to signify their sacrifices in interior, private and virtual spaces (e.g. Blue Star Banners on fireplace mantles or social networking profiles). This study suggests that a dynamic interaction between separate social spheres as opposed to complete immersion in a total institution constitutes meaningful public sacrifice.
Victoria Smolkin, PhD Candidate, Department of History, UC Berkeley
The Meaning of Life: The Making of the Soviet Ritual Cosmos
This paper examines Soviet atheism and socialist rituals in order to analyze the Party-State's efforts to fulfill the administrative, psychological, and philosophical functions inherited from the religious institutions marginalized by the 1917 Revolution. It is part of a larger project that follows two distinct, yet overlapping, life-cycles: that of Soviet citizens, whose lives were ordered and made meaningful by Soviet beliefs and rituals, and that of Marxist-Leninist ideology as it attempted to transform religiosity. The paper traces the resurgence of interest in atheism and rituals and analyzes why, despite its totalizing ideological agenda, the Soviet Union did not introduce socialist rites on a mass scale until the Khrushchev era.
In order to examine the significance of ritual in late Soviet society, I focus on renewed discussions about ritual reform that began in the late 1950s. I analyze why the Soviet state came to see the absence of socialist rituals as a problem; how Soviet ideologists identified a "spiritual" void at the heart of Marxism-Leninism; and in what ways the Party-State re-examined its role in private spheres such as everyday life, the family, and religious belief and practice.
I argue that ideologists became ever more aware of the contradictions that revealed themselves when they attempted to mediate between the sacred and the everyday, to inculcate ideological beliefs and rituals and transform them into convictions and practices. As a result, Soviet spiritual life became central to the fate of the Soviet political experiment. By examining a case that has been neglected in both Soviet history, and in scholarship on religion and secularism, this dissertation provides a lens through which to investigate faith and ritual in modern society, as well as state efforts to manage this sphere of individual and social life.
Yunus Dogan Telliel, PhD Student, Department of Anthropology, CUNY Graduate Center
Muslim Citizens, Language, and the Qur'an: Religious Reforms in Secular Turkey
In the 1920s and '30s, the newly founded Republican state sought to authorize Turkish translations of the Qur'an in religious practices, especially in ritual prayers. Although popular discontent thwarted this early reform initiative, the conceptual framework continues to inform contemporary debates surrounding the 'compatibility' of Islam with the secular national community. During the 1990s, a group of intellectuals and religious scholars revitalized the reform ideas, articulating secularist worries about the recent Islamic revivalism and 'deprivatization' of religion. The 1990s' initiative gained particular popularity among those Muslims who wished to wrestle Islam from 'extremists' perceived as disloyal to the secular nation-state. Reformers argued that practicing religion in Arabic words whose meanings Muslim citizens do not comprehend (a) makes them vulnerable to the 'manipulation' of Islamists and 'traditional' religious authorities, and (b) leads to the 'corruption' of religious experience due to the absence of direct, sincere mediation between the interior self and the Qur'an. Examining how the 'national community' framework invoked by these reform initiatives has reshaped the linguistic practices through which Muslim citizens relate themselves to the divine meanings of the Qur'an, this paper discusses the relationship between an intensified emphasis on intelligibility and 'proper' forms of religious subjectivity within a nation-state context. I argue that the vernacularization of religious language operates not simply as a neutral process of substituting 'ecumenical' languages with national ones, but as a strategy of governing citizens through the linguistic mediation of religious sensibilities, attitudes, and practices.
Brian Trenor, MA Student, Department of History, North Carolina State University
Bread Lines and Communion Lines: John Paul II, Social Justice, and the Cold War
Approximately every ten years during the Cold War, Soviet Eastern Europe was rocked by popular uprisings. While 1979 is mostly remembered now for the Islamic Revolution in Iran, it was also the year the newly elected Pope John Paul II visited his homeland of Poland, the first Papal visit to a communist country. The popular demonstrations that accompanied his visit would lay the foundations for the Solidarity trade union that would emerge the following year in Gdansk. Is Timothy Garton Ash right when he claims "Without the Pope, no Solidarity. Without Solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of Communism?" The Catholic Church was an immense force in Poland, shaping every part of society and the reform movements within it. Unlike in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, Solidarity was religiously based and working class. Yet from 1976-1980, American intelligence and foreign policy branches rarely mentioned the religious component in Poland, focusing more on the "bread lines" outside the Church than the ones within. My research seeks to understand this gap and the role John Paul II had on the situation in Poland. Drawing from original research in the Carter Library, National Security Archive, and recently opened documents from the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Archives as well as the East German Archives, I hope to gain new insights. In particular, my presentation will focus on American perspectives of religion during the 1977 visit of Jimmy Carter to Poland, and of Pope John Paul II to America and Poland in 1979. I argue that the Church's actions were in keeping with Catholic social justice doctrine and could have been anticipated through such a lens.
Anna Corwin, PhD Student, Linguistic and Psychological Anthropology, UCLA
Mediating the Divine from Rome to Midwestern Bodies: The Transformation of the Divine in Catholic Convents following Vatican II
Almost five decades ago, the Second Ecumenical Counsel, or Vatican II, met in Rome in four sessions from 1962-1965 with the goal of "renewing" the Catholic Church (Vatican Counsil 1965). The outcome of Vatican II included a number of large-scale institutional changes in the Roman Catholic Church including a de-standardization of linguistic and communicative practices in monasteries and convents. To implement these changes, the Counsel encouraged leadership in monasteries and convents to reevaluate the language used in prayer and to modify daily prayers and prayer schedules to better fit modern times. Over the subsequent decades, the rituals and texts that mediate nuns' communication with the divine (through prayer) have been significantly transformed. This paper draws on ethnographic work including participant observation, person-centered life history interviews (Levy and Hollan 1998), and recordings of prayers and everyday interaction conducted over two summers (2008-2009) in a Franciscan convent in the Midwestern United States to explore how changes in the communicative mediation of the divine has impacted the everyday lives of Catholic nuns. The paper finds that the transformation in communicative and embodied prayer practices have impacted (1) the nuns' categorizations of the divine (2) their relationship with the divine and (3) their interpretation of life events, illness, and embodied experiences.
Lynne Gerber, Research Fellow, Religion, Politics, and Globalization Program, UC Berkeley
Divining the Scale: Making Spiritual Sense of the Vagaries of Weight Loss in an Evangelical Weight Loss Program
First Place is a Christian weight loss program sponsored in evangelical churches around the country. The opening ritual of a First Place meeting is the weigh-in, a standard weight loss practice given a religious inflection where participants are weighed and their weight is recorded. The more interesting part of the ritual comes after the weigh-in is complete and everyone knows how she did in relation to her weight loss goals. Members come together and engage in an interpretive practice I call "divining the scale." In attempt to celebrate successes and understand failures, the group talks together to try to understand what meaning the number on the scale has for their weight loss pursuits, their beliefs about the body and their relationship with the divine. A range of reasons, drawn from spiritual, pragmatic, and dietetic folklore sources, are offered about why weight was or was not lost and the different elements of the program are re-evaluated in light of the results, with the program's amorphous aim of spiritual development often affirmed as more important than its more measurable goal of weight loss.
Based on participant observation research and interviews with First Place members and leaders, this paper will use the practice of divining the scale to explore the connections between weight loss, fear of fat and religion. In a culture obsessed with the body, the ritual suggests that, in some contexts, the scale can become a trusted medium for divine/human communication. And, like many forms of such communication, this medium is often enigmatic and in need of interpretation. The paper explores where religious ideology and bodily ideology intersects and the ways in which weight loss takes on religious meaning and contemporary religion takes on weight loss as God's own concern.
Lydia Liu, Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
The Psychic Life and Digital Media