Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Photographic Evidence of my "Being" a Theologian!

Despite the protestations to the contrary in my On-Not-Wanting-to-Be-A-Theologian theology conference paper (actual title, "On the Question of (Rightly?) Passing for A/Theologian," there appears to be more evidence that I "am" a theologian here. Dang.

Conference covered by Catholic Media

Who heard of getting international public press for presenting a paper at a theology conference?

Above: The Catholic Newspaper The Universe's coverage of Maynooth's Young Theologians conference.

I'm the one in the middle. With me are Oliver Crisp and Kevin Hargaden.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Marcus Borg

The Progressive Christianity Network (Britain) are hosting a weekend conference next September (Friday 10 - Sunday 12 Sept 2010) in Edinburgh with Marcus Borg. Registration isn't open until December 1, but I imagine it'll sell out pretty quickly. Would be interesting.

Here are links to some of his books: The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon (with John Dominic Crossan); Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary; The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith; Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus; The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith; The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach Us About Jesus' Birth; and The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days.

More on Ecumenism next year

As well as the Irish School of Ecumenics' "From World Mission to Interreligious Witness: Visioning Ecumenics in the 21st Century" conference, next year (the centenary of the 1910 World Mission conference in Edinburgh - click here for a firsthand account) also prompts Free to Believe's "Interfaith - The New Ecumenism?" conference, which I saw advertised here by the Progressive Christianity Network (Britain)'s . It will run from Thurs 27 - Sat 29 May 2010 at The Hayes, Swanwick, Derbyshire. It costs £140 including ensuite accommodation and meals, and the keynotes include

Here's some more blurb. I'm a bit reticent of the language of this blurb, particularly where it implies that members of other religions somehow need to learn to live with and love each other even more than Christians. But, here it is all the same:

"The aim of this conference, organised by Free to Believe, is to explore the possibility that interfaith is the new ecumenism. We will hear from Christians who are committed to this possibility, from Jewish and Islamic speakers about the possibilities they see for it, and from the General Secretary of Churches Together in England, David Cornick, to give him a chance to please for the continued relevance of the work for Christian unity. Where is the cutting edge of unity now?

"In the wise words of the French Roman Catholic Cardinal Mercier: 'In order to unite with one another, we must love one another; in order to love one another, we must know one another; in order to konw one another, we must go and meet one another.' Today, while those words still apply among Christians, do they not apply with even greater force to those of other great world religions like Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Sikh? Can we live together? Can we learn to love each other?"

But, anyway, the reason I've posted a few conferences on ecumenism is that I'm thinking through what I want to do next in my academic career (forgetting for now that I haven't yet finished my thesis!) and the question, "where is the cutting edge of unity now?" is particularly interesting to me. I'm hoping to build on my thesis' identification of an "a/theistic cultural imaginary" to ask how this social imaginary imagines and performs "society" and "sociality." My thesis focuses on emerging church discourse (interview data, published literature, online media, participant observation) so I hope to look next at how what is spoken about actually gets done in practice. It's relatively easy to see how individuals might adopt a deconstructive theology as a worldview, but how might a collective "do" deconstructive theology? How might a collective "be" deconstructive? Particularly given Derrida's concerns about "community"? Anyway, I'll post a bit more about how I see this research developing later, as I'm in the middle of trying to put something more concrete together.

Researching Religion in the Long Run

Further to yesterday's post on the Innovative Methods in the Study of Religion Conference, Abby Day is calling for paper proposals for a panel she is putting together on "Conducting Qualitative Longitudinal Research in the Study of Religion." Abstracts (200 words) should be sent to her at by December 7 2009. Here's her blurb:

"How and why do religious beliefs, behaviours and belongings change over time? That question animates public debate and underpins many related research questions in the academic study of religion, and yet there is scant rich, informative, qualitative, longitudinal evidence to illuminate the issue.

"Papers should focus on the methodological challenges and opportunities involved in doing qualitative longitudinal research on religion, at any stage and in any discipline. Projects may range from single-researcher, ethnographic 'return to the field' studies to large-scale, long-term, follow-up projects. We particularly welcome papers that would benefit postgraduates or other early career researchers who may be considering such work."

Also further to yesterday's post, the conference fee is £40 (£20 postgrad). Overnight accommodation is available (£140 B&B) and the cost of the conference dinner is £25.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ecumenics (a 100 years on) Conference

Next year, the Irish School of Ecumenics at Trinity College Dublin is hosting a conference in June called "From World Mission to Interreligious Witness: Visioning Ecumenics in the 21st Century." It is being co-organised by the theological journal Concilium and will run from June 16-18 2010. The blurb goes like this:

"The centenary of the ecumenical 1910 World Mission Conference in Edinburgh is an opportunity to engage, critically, with the achievements and failures of Ecumenics as that can be interpreted through the changes of vision and action manifest in the ecumenical movement. From the vantage point of the new century, one of the most important elements of revisioning relates to the character and concept of ecumenical Christian witness across cultures and faiths. The diversity of cultures and faiths was, of course, already evident in 1910 and provided the context in which "world mission" was envisage. However, political, philosophical and theological developments of the 20th century have recalibrated the significance of that diversity and have raised radical new questions for Christianity in its many manifestations:

  • "What is the significance of the way in which Christianity has moved from World Mission to World Christianity?
  • "How can Christian mission and witness be theorized and embodied in the 21st century?
  • "What does Christian witness entail in the public squares of the world, which represent not only multiplicity as spatial and historic entities, but also plurality within?
  • "How can religious actors best acknowledge the fact that the public square should not simply be regarded as the "other" of some imagined religious sphere?
  • "How can Christianity re-imagine and re-position itself in light of the contested and often contradictory trajectories of secularisation and religiosty?
  • "Will the 21st century confirm a transition from Christian witness to interreligious witness?
  • "How will Christian theological reflection develop alongside altered expressions of ecclesiality?

"...the conference not only seeks to re-appropriate the understanding of ecumenical Christian witness for our times but also to set out a vision for Ecumenics in the 21st century as intercultural theology, ecumenical public theology, and interreligious theology."

Although there is only one slot for parallel sessions (Thurs June 17 4.30-6pm), there is a call for papers. Abstracts (200-300 words) should address the following themes:

  • interreligious witness and religious pluralism;
  • ecumenical witness in the 21st century;
  • the hopes and limits of public theology;
  • theological dissent, freedom and creativity;
  • mission and the "other";
  • intercultural theology and religious identity(ies);
  • "mission" in a secular context;
  • local and global contexts of World Christianity and other faiths; and
  • the next 100 years of ecumenism.
These themes all sound very interesting but it is disappointing that there is only one parallel paper session. It means that there is going to be a lot going on at the same time and that the conference delegates will miss most of these papers because of such a weird - and surely unnecessary? - scheduling decision. I've never seen this format before.

Anyway, the other conference sessions include:

  • "From World Mission to World Christianity: Revisiting Christian Witness from the Global South" (Felix Wilfred, Madras);
  • "Christian Witness in 'New Modernity:' Trajectories in Intercultural Theology" (Robert J. Schreiter, Chicago);
  • "Religion and Theology in Public Life" (Will Storrar, Princeton);
  • "Eastern Orthodox Christianity in a Pluralistic World" (Ina Merdjanova, Sofia);
  • "Islam and Public Witness: Issues in Dawah and Religious Pluralism" (Ataullah Siddiqui, Leicester);
  • "The Role of Witness in Interreligious Dialogue" (Catherine Cornille, Boston);
  • "Interreligious and Witness: Examining the Terms from Hindu Perspectives" (Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Lancaster);
  • "Visioning Ecumenics as Interreligious Theology" (John D'Arcy May, Dublin); and
  • "Visioning Ecumenics in the 21st Century" (Linda Hogan, Dublin).

The conference fee is 100 Euros before April 1 2010/120 after April 1 2010 for waged and 50/60 for unwaged. It runs from 10am June 16 to 1pm June 18, with a reception and dinner on Monday night. It isn't clear whether other meals and accommodation is included in the conference fee, but you can direct enquiries to Dr. Admirand.

Innovative Methods Conference

As part of the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme's public events, it, with Norface's Re-emergence of Religion as a Social Force in Europe Programme, is hosting a conference on Innovative Methods in the Study of Religion in March next year. Running over March 29/30 2010, the conference will be at London's Dexter House Conference Centre (The Royal Mint, Tower Hill). Here's the call for papers:

"The study of religion lends itself to methodological innovation for a number of reasons. Religion is a complex phenomenon with various social locations and faces. Its forms are constantly changing, as has become very evident in recent decades. Growing interest in religion and a growing appreciation of its many dimensions - including the material and spatial, emotional and bodily, mediated and virtual, transnational and political - call for fresh reflection on methods. This conference offers a unique opportunity for such relfection and change, and an edited volume will result from it.

"Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Visual and patial methods,
  • Participatory / action research,
  • Combining methods: mixes and rationales,
  • Research with new media,
  • Sensitie research
  • Innovation in survey design, and use of survey data on religion,
  • New approaches to quantitative analysis - regression analysis and beyond,
  • Comparative case studies,
  • Integrating historical research.

"Individual paper proposals (max. 200 words) or proposals for panels of three or four related papers (max. 300 words) should be submitted to: Peta Ainsworth: by December 15 2009.

The deadline for registration is Friday January 15 2010, and you can download the registration form here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Young Theologians: On Readiness

Thanks to the generous support of some Bishops (or, more accurately, I guess, a kind bunch of people working for the Bish'es) I've just come back from a (very) quick trip to Ireland. Sadly, I both arrived and left in the dark, so I didn't get to see a whole heap of either Dublin or Maynooth.

The conference ("Interface: Being a Young Theologian in the World") was hosted by the beautiful St. Patrick's College, Maynooth. Here's a photo of the impressive Pugin Hall where we had a wine reception on the first night. Sadly, I was not able to indulge too much as I had to go finish my paper!

I'm going to post several reflections on this conference (not sure how many yet), but this is the first one on the keynote address given by Professor Michael Paul Gallagher, "Mediators of God's Meaning: A Challenging but Consoling Call."

In his paper, Professor Gallagher he suggested that the role of the theologian is a translator of God's meaning to culture. He argued for the importance of imagination, the faculty of possibility that (as for Newman) makes God real, and quoted Paul Ricoeur on imagination: "we can experience redemption only through imagination." He called for theologians to be instruments of the imagination, communicating in parables and poems that are "provocations to wonder," provocations to transformation.

With this aspect of his paper, I couldn't agree more. Theology has to be poetic. It's point is to inspire, to transform, to turn around (metanoia). I find Jack Caputo writes of poetics in contrast to logics. For him, poetics is "a certain constellation of idioms, strategies, stories, arguments, tropes, paradigms, and metaphors - a style and a tone, as well as a grammar and a vocabulary, all of which, collectively, like a great army on the move, is aimed at gaining some ground and making a point" (The Weakness of God, p.104). While logic is tied to the literal discourses of the world, and try to instantiate their propositions through representation, poetics attempts to bring to mind the event of being addressed and transformed.

However, I have a problem both with Ricoeurian hermeneutics (in which we read to determine the meaning to a text) and with Professor Gallagher's own implied assumption of the existence of a single, eternal, unchanging, unified message that is in need of contextual translation into multiple media. For Gallagher, however, unlike for Marshall McLuhan, the medium is not the message; the medium in which we "tell about it" does not impact the message.

He spoke about humanity's having a "receptive imagination," receptive to God's meaning, which means we should, as Mary Oliver writes in "Instructions for living a life" (and as Gallagher quoted) "pay attention, be astonished, tell about it." I have a problem with Gallagher's assumption that there is one message, one meaning of God, for the theologian to translate into a medium in which culture would understand it. "How might God's meaning be discerned?" "How is it determined to be unitary or unified?" "Is the theologian's meaning God's meaning?"

And, while we might be able to pay attention to and be on the look out for an eternal, unchanging message in the midst of different translations of it, of different tellings about it, of different performances of it, how are we ever to be truly astonished by it, if in some sense we already know the message, if the message is not going to change? We can only be truly astonished by that which we cannot be prepared for, that which we cannot look out for, that which we do not know to pay attention to. On the other hand, however, as both Derrida and Caputo argue, we would not be truly astonished by something completely other, because such a wholly other would completely pass us by, we would not pay it heed.

Therefore, we have to pay attention, but remember that we know not to what such attention must be paid. We have to be prepared for something for which we cannot be prepared, on the look-out for something but we know not what! If, as Gallaher also quoted, "the readiness is all" (Hamlet, Act V scene ii), then this means we cannot restrict what Derrida calls our "horizons of expectation," that to which we "pay attention," to the cultural translation of an eternal message.

We have to pay attention both with and without expectation. We who wait wait with expectation, how could we not? But this should also be a readiness, a paying attention, a looking-out for, without expectation. It should be a readiness that does not know what it is to be ready for, that does not know what the message might be.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Sociology of Religion Christianity Conference

I heard back today that my abstract for the British Sociological Association's Sociology of Religion Study Group's "Changing Face of Christianity in the 21st Century" conference got accepted.

My paper will basically attempt to summarise the conclusions from my PhD thesis and is entitled, "Emerging Cultural Imaginaries and Radical Sociality: Narrating Difference and Per(ver)forming Christian Community." Here's the abstract:

‘There is then a twofold work for those projects involved in developing transformative practices of hope: the work of generating new imaginary significations and the work of forming institutions that mark such significations’ (Graham Ward, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice, p.146)

The emerging church is a diverse milieu of individuals and communities connected by social networking technologies. Strong affinities can be detected between its visions for Christianity in the 21st century and Radical Orthodoxy and deconstructive theology. Milieu participants construct two “imaginary significations” or “cultural imaginaries” that place these theologies into narratives that both make religious sense to the emerging church and make sense of emerging church religiosity. These imaginaries are performed through expressive actions that function as the means of the formation and transformation of individuals and collectives.

This paper identifies two cultural imaginaries from fieldwork with the emerging church and presents the ways in which difference and community are narrated and performed by milieu participants. It argues, however, that an “a/theistic cultural imaginary” is most able to furnish the emerging church milieu with the narratival and performative means of affirming and enacting a radical theological sociality of difference without division within the post-secular pluralism of the United Kingdom.

The conference is being hosted by the University of Edinburgh and runs from April 6-8 2010. You can download the registration form here, or book and pay online here.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Just Say "No:" to Drugs and/or Academic Advice

Under the Research Excellence Framework, "significant additional recognition will be given where researchers build on excellent research to deliver demonstrable benefits to the economy, society, public policy, culture and quality of life."

So, the government demands that we demonstrate the economic and social impact of our research before we can get money, and then policy makers don't act on or even appear to respect our advice?!?

Re: Professor David Nutt.