Notes from an AAR

The American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature continue their annual meetings today and tomorrow in Chicago.  I’ve already returned home (to be back in the classroom!) from two full days of meetings and sessions and conversations, so I thought I’d share a glimpse into this theologian’s time there.

On Friday, I wrote more about the Lutheran Women in Theological and Religious Studies session at which I presented some new work that day.  I’ll share a bit of it here in the coming weeks.  It was a stimulating and affirming series of presentations and discussions on the nature of “woman” and how our understandings of gender and sex, essentialism and social construction, affect the work of Lutheran theologians and the church at large.

Friday night, I met up with some Patheos peeps for happy hour:  Hind Makki who writes over at Hindrospectives;  James McGrath who writes over at Exploring Our Matrix, and Roger Gottlieb writing over at Spirituality in an Age of Ecocide.  Jana Riess, the new Director of Publishing at Patheos Press hosted us and brought along a few Cincinnati friends to add to the mix.

On Saturday, I ventured down to the behemoth that is McCormick Place for a session “Anticipating 2017” with the Martin Luther and Global Lutheran Traditions, attending to the upcoming 500th anniversary of the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses on the door at Wittenberg.  Though I missed the second half of the session, I did catch Karen Bloomquist’s provocative suggestion that the corporate domination and plutocracy crushing the U.S. right now might not be dissimilar to the corrupt economic and ecclesial system that Luther challenged and sought to reform in the sixteenth century.

After a short wandering through the carnival that is the AAR/SBL book display exhibit hall, I had a lovely rendezvous with four other contributors (pictured above!) to the newly published volume Sex, Gender, and Christianity, and James Stock, Marketing Director and co-founder of the eminently helpful and creative Wipf and Stock Publishers.  The five of us contributors hadn’t been together since the Seattle summer seminar that prompted the book in 2010, so to celebrate this new volume in person was a real joy.

The other conference session at which I spent was the Religion and Politics Section’s panel discussion of Eboo Patel’s new book, Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America.  Scholars and activists like Anthea Butler, Rami Nashashibi, and Scott Appleby critically engaged the ideas and proposals from Patel’s work, posed new questions, and opened up space for the ongoing work of interfaith dialogue and religious pluralism.  Here are a few highlights as I (more or less) tweeted or retweeted them:

“We should see the hyphen in our identities [African-American, Muslim-American, Irish-Catholic, etc.] as bridges rather than dividers.”  ~ Eboo Patel

“With Cordoba House, powerful forces of prejudice (Geller, Gingrich) met w/powerful forces of pluralism (Bloomberg, Wallis)”  ~Eboo Patel

“Eboo Patel is his generation’s John Courtney Murray S.J., persuading us of Muslims’ rightful place in U.S. mainstream.”  ~ Scott Appleby

“Religious illiteracy hampers what we are trying to do w/interfaith work.”  ~ Anthea Butler

“Interfaith dialogue is not just about education, it’s about peacemaking.”  ~ Anthea Butler

“It’s time that the #sblaar members did more w/media & public conversation about religion.”  ~ Anthea Butler

“Sacred Ground points backward to help us look forward;  to ignore that history is our peril.”  ~ Anthea Butler

“A broad sustained discussion on cultures of free speech around the world is needed.”  ~ Laurie Patton

“Race still matters, tremendously, so does space, esp. in urban areas.”  ~ Rami Nashashibi

“When you talk about American Islam, you can’t NOT talk about race.”  ~ Rami Nashashibi

“What is the theological responsibility of theologians writing from the in-group perspective?”  ~ Najeeba Syeed

“What chance does a campus-based interfaith movement have against the ‘cesspool on Mars’ (the internet)?”  ~ Eboo Patel

“There is a civic vaccine to the ‘cesspool on Mars’ : knowing people matters, defeats negative images/stereotypes.”  ~ Eboo Patel

I ended the night having dinner with a long-time friend, with whom I navigated and survived our doctoral program more than a decade ago, and drinks/dessert at the always popular and well-attended Fortress Press reception.  I joked there that I always know I can find the best Lutherans (and a few other cool folks) at the Fortress reception.

Because I’ve been doing this circuit for more than a few years, I’ve figured out how to make the most of the intellectual opportunities as well find space to renew personal connections and spark new ones.  So I can return home on the train (with free wi-fi on Amtrak, from which I actually set this up to post, woo hoo infrastructure!) refreshed and renewed as a scholar, teacher, and colleague.

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


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