In addition to the general call for papers, the conference will also feature four thematic modules. Several panels will be devoted to each of the following themes:
“The Study of Religion: Past, Present, and Future”
The study of religion has changed considerably in the half century since Wilfred Cantwell Smith's important text, The Meaning and End of Religion, questioned the viability of “religion” as an analytical category. This module seeks to appraise the study of religion today and its future in the academy in light of its past. We welcome a broad range of papers that address challenges, trends, and methodological and interdisciplinary issues within the field of religious studies. Proposals might address such topics as: 1) the contribution of influential scholars of religion and the implications of their work for the field today; 2) defining “religion” and delimiting the boundaries of the field and its interdisciplinary scope; 3) the making of the field’s key analytical categories or terminology; 4) constructive or critical insights from fieldwork, historical inquiry, or other disciplinary fields; 5) the global study of religion as it is pursued in various parts of the world, and its inter-religious character; 6) the gains or losses that the field’s tools and methods bring to non-Christian and non-Euro/American contexts that have their own historical and methodological traditions; 7) the extent to which Christian-centric paradigms and theoretical assumptions continue to influence the field’s theoretical inquiries and historical priorities.
“Religion and Environmental Imagination”
This module will focus on how religious discourses and ritual practices relate human beings to their environments. Assuming that the worlds we inhabit are always constructed, how does religion contribute to their shape? The scope of the question is deliberately open, and papers are invited to explore it with a variety of methodologies, historical contexts, and religious traditions. Possible approaches to the topic include but are not limited to the following topics: 1) ways in which practices of scriptural reasoning or liturgical performance are implicated in sustainable or exploitative approaches to the environment; 2) the relationships between religious cosmologies, cosmogonies, eschatologies, and environmental ethics; 3) the aesthetics of built environments such as places of worship, memorial sites, gardens, public squares, or even shopping malls.
“Epistemologies of Emotion”
Interest in the nature and function of emotions is growing in the humanities and in the social and natural sciences. Scholars like Adela Pinch have highlighted the importance of 18th and 19th century fascination with the origin and meaning of emotions like sympathy, sentimentality, and enthusiasm. A 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion drew together scholars working on the significance of emotion in various Buddhist contexts. Meanwhile, many are optimistic that current research in the neurosciences will offer insight into the relationship between emotions and ethical behavior. This module seeks to foster contextual interdisciplinary conversation around questions raised by these growing bodies of literature. How do specific texts, rituals, and practices cultivate certain emotions? How are particular emotions thought to contribute to the formation of economic and ethical subjects? How are emotions isolated, understood, tested, and known? What do the depths and limits of distinct emotions suggest about ideologies of gender, empiricism, and psychology in different socio-historical contexts? This module invites historical and contemporary analyses of philosophical, theological, literary, and aesthetic representations of emotion in various socio-historical contexts and in different religious traditions.
“Religious Meaning of Skin”
In addition to being the largest organ of the human body, the skin is an historical and cultural artifact. Traditionally, blemished skin has been a symbol of impurity in many world religions. However, the meaning of skin in health and disease is constantly changing and deserves elaboration. Contributions should explore the history of the skin from a religious perspective or discuss the spiritual meaning of the skin in today's world. Topics might address such themes as: the role of faith in coping with chronic dermatoses; an exposition on tzaraath in the Hebrew tradition; Buddhist writings on leprosy; or the religious meaning of body modification or tattooing. Papers from the disciplines of religion, history of medicine, anthropology, and literature are welcome. Accepted contributions will enrich our understanding of the skin by emphasizing its social construction and/or pointing out how its meaning changes across culture and time. In addition, papers that deal with the religious dimensions of the flesh, certain aspects of healthy skin (e.g. anointing), and innovative papers on human skin color will also be welcomed.