The largest conference in the US–perhaps the world?–for scholars of religion is the American Academy of Religions. It’s held at the same time as the Society for Biblical Literature. Taken together there are something like 10,000 scholars from a range of backgrounds. I really like AAR and do my best to go, especially if I can stay with family for part of the trip back. This time AAR was in Atlanta so I was able to stay with family in Birmingham.
I spent Friday with the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies, where I’m the newsletter editor. SBCS is a fun group, very eclectic, and probably still skewed towards senior scholars with a long history of interfaith work. This gathering came a few weeks after the death of Professor Rita Gross, a senior scholar, founding member of the Society, and mentor to a lot of the members of the group. We spent most of the morning and afternoon in meetings and then visited the Atlanta Shambhala Center in the evening. I also attended a panel on Merton on Monday that was quite excellent. For Christians today, a key conundrum is pluralism. To be honest, I often feel like Protestants have fewer resources for making sense of pluralism, and that there is more built in opposition to inter-religious work. This has been a really helpful group in learning about how to relate across religious traditions.
At Shambhala Atlanta
Traditionally at AAR, I also spend some time with the world Christianity group (although less this time), then also visit Chinese religions panels and Reformed History and Theology. At this conference I also went to a panel where George Hunsinger was a respondent on war and terrorism (pretty interesting).
For Chinese religions, the challenge is just that the field is so vast. This time I attended a short session on Holmes Welch, a prominent mid-century sinologist and scholar of Buddhism, a session on academic legacies in Chinese religions (this included a Legge paper by one of the other scholars who studies early 19th century China missions, Christopher Daly). Finally, I attended a “Buddho-Daoist” panel that debated how to make sense of communities, rituals or texts that sit between the two traditions.
Reformed history and theology
For Reformed History and Theology, there was a panel on Gerrish’s new dogmatic theology in outline. One of the most interesting comments came in the discussion, where a panelist said that Gerrish was somewhat concerned with the possibilities that his theology would be dated by the time of publication. The commentator mentioned several specific concerns, including the rise of contextual theology and world Christianity, and the challenge of pluralism. Dogmatics have rarely tackled these subjects, so I was interested to see these raised as questions. Gerrish seems to situate his work as an extension of Calvin and Schleiermacher, and as a Presbyterian pastor and teacher I have been really interested in this particular question. I’m still not sure how dogmatics bridges the gap to questions like pluralism or contextual theology.
I’ll offer another post on the Chinese Christianities panel, which was a highlight.