It’s (the American Academy of Religion) Conference Time

It’s (the American Academy of Religion) Conference Time
I received an e-mail today thanking me for supporting the American Academy of Religion for the past 20 years and accordingly inviting me to pick up an “appreciation gift” at the upcoming meeting in Boston (Nov 18-21). Last week, my colleague Monica A. Coleman and I also led our (Claremont School of Theology’s) monthly PhD Colloquium wherein we spoke to doctoral students about academic conferences in general and the AAR in particular. Both of those events has gotten me thinking about this year’s AAR. Some of my current and former students are equal parts excited and terrified about it: they are presenting their research (a handful for the first time ever at the national level), interviewing for faculty positions, and meeting up with senior scholars. When solicited, I’ve done what I can to help prepare them for these high-pressure situations and now wish them well. Fortunately for me, this is neither a year where I am conducting interviews, nor interviewing. I do, however, have three papers to deliver (n.b. one is for a pre-conference event, so I am safely within the limit) and other professional responsibilities to attend to (viz., steering committee obligations, an editorial board meeting, appointments with current and prospective publishers). Now, about those papers…. I. The pre-conference event will be held on Friday, November 17 at the Old South Church (645 Boylston). We will be “Celebrating Asian North Americans in Theological Education with Frank Yamada.” The occasion for this session is Dr. Frank Yamada’s recent ascendancy to the Executive Director position of the Association of Theological Schools—the first Asian American to hold such a vaunted position. The panelists are Faustino Cruz, Boyung Lee, James Lee, and me. Along with the ATS, the panel discussion and dinner is sponsored by a host of Asian American organizations (please see the flier). I do look forward to this most happy occasion.   II. On Sunday (1-2:30pm, Hynes Convention Center-108 (Plaza Level), I’ll be on a “Teaching Animals and Religion” panel that is jointly sponsored by Animals and Religion and Teaching Religion. Here’s the description (A19-206): David Aftandilian, Texas Christian University, Presiding For this roundtable, presenters will discuss 1 or 2 specific pedagogical approaches that they have found to work well in teaching about animals and religion. Presenters have been selected to represent a wide range of types of institutions, courses, and instructional practices. Many are also senior scholars in the field who will bring years of experience in teaching about animals and religion to the roundtable. To allow more presenters to participate, and to leave more time for audience participation, the roundtable will follow a lightning-style format. In 5 to 6 minutes each presenter will specify the contexts (type of institution and course) within which they have taught using this approach, describe the pedagogical practice, and discuss how both they and their students have assessed its success. Finally, the audience will be invited to share their own practices of teaching (and learning) about animals and religion in various contexts. Panelists: Eric D. Mortensen, Guilford College Jay McDaniel, Hendrix College Aaron Gross, University of San Diego Barbara K. Darling-Smith, Wheaton College Barbara Ambros, University of North Carolina David Clough, University of Chester Lea Schweitz, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago Grace Kao, Claremont School of Theology I look forward to talking about my pedagogical approach in the Animal Theology & Ethics course that I’ve taught on three separate occasions since I began working with graduate students in 2009.   III. On Monday (9am-11:30am, Sheraton Boston-Beacon B (Third Level)), I’ll be a part of another panel with the theme “Animal Expression, Theological Thought: How Animal Encounters Ground Theological Construction.” Here’s the description (A20-104):...
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Announcing the 2017 Rosemary Radford Ruether Conference

Announcing the 2017 Rosemary Radford Ruether Conference
On October 7, 2017, five distinguished panelists will speak at a one-day event: the Rosemary Radford Ruether Conference for Justice and Peace. Co-sponsored by the Friends of Sabeel—North America (FOSNA), Claremont Area FOSNA, Claremont School of Theology, and the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, the conference will be held at Pilgrim Place (Decker Hall)–the retirement community for folks serving in religious or charitable organizations where Dr. Ruether currently resides. Dr. Ruether is widely known as a pioneer of Christian feminist theology and ecofeminism and has enjoyed a long career as a prolific scholar, teacher, and activist in the Roman Catholic Church. A graduate of Scripps College (BA: Philosophy) and Claremont Graduate School (MA: Ancient History, PhD: Classics and Patristics), she is the Carpenter Emerita Professor of Feminist Theology at Pacific School of Religion and the GTU, the Georgia Harkness Emerita Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, and a visiting professor of feminist theology at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (1983) and Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (1992) are widely regarded as classics in the field. Other notable publications among her 46 books include work on historical theology (viz., Women and Redemption: A Theological History (1998), Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History (2005)), interreligious encounters (Religious Feminism and the Future of the Planet: A Buddhist-Christian Conversation (2001), Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions (2005)), and the Israel-Palestine conflict (viz., The Wrath of Jonah: The Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict (2002)). Beyond Dr. Ruether’s many accolades, I’ve long been impressed with Rosemary’s active mentorship and generous support of the next generation of feminist scholars. Since working at Claremont School of Theology from 2009 onwards, I have seen her serve on countless qualifying exam and dissertation committees of my students and, in several cases, write the forward to their first books. Longtime readers of this blog (Feminism and Religion) may recall that Rosemary supported it from the very start, including by authoring our  “What is Feminism?” section. For me personally, Rosemary is 2-2 in saying “yes” to my requests–that she guest-lecture in my Introduction to Christian Ethics course and serve as the respondent to a panel I had helped to organize on “Thinking Animals, Rethinking Race, Ethnicity, and Religion” at the American Academy of Religion (2012). About the Conference According to FOSNA, the purpose of the conference is to “honor Rosemary’s distinguished career dedicated to justice and peace, and to hear the voices of others advocating now for justice and peace in the Middle East.” Following a severe stroke last year that left her partially paralyzed and unable to speak, it is FOSNA’s hope that Rosemary might be present for some portion of the conference and, most importantly, that “the rest of us…carry on with the same passion [she] had for many years for justice and peace for the Palestinians.” Speakers will include Princeton theology professor emerita Jane Dempsey Douglass, FOSNA theology consultant Don Wagner, Churches for Middle East Peace executive director Mae Elise Cannon, and Kairos USA program director Mark Braverman. The banquet will feature FOSNA founder Naim Ateek, the first to articulate a Palestinian theology of liberation (cf. Ateek’s Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation (1989), with a forward by Rosemary). The cost for the general public to attend the full conference and banquet is $80; Pilgrim Place residents, $60; students $30. Those wishing to attend only the banquet and Ateek’s talk will be charged $30. A box lunch will be available for $6.75. After September 13, the...
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#NotYourWedge: Asian Americans and Affirmative Action

#NotYourWedge: Asian Americans and Affirmative Action
Asian Americans are making headline news as the nation once again grapples with affirmative action. There are two precipitating incidents this time around: A lawsuit, originally filed in Nov 2014, accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian Americans in admissions.   An internal memo from the Justice Department’s announcing its intentions to pursue “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”  Predictably, these headlines have generated a fresh round of discussions about the propriety        (constitutional or otherwise) of using race as a factor in admissions decisions. While disgruntled white students have traditionally been the most vocal opponents of doing so (witness the “politics of white resentment” or “Becky with the Bad Grades” — the plaintiff in last year’s Supreme Court affirmative action case), the focus is now on Asian Americans: an unnamed Asian American student who was denied admission to Harvard in 2014 is a plaintiff in that ongoing lawsuit and some 64 Asian American groups also filed a complaint against Harvard in March 2015 with the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. While it is common to talk about high-achieving Asian Americans (à la the “model minority” myth) or to debate the merits of race-conscious admissions policies, the Harvard lawsuit has the following two novelties: For one, it’s the first time that a private institution’s affirmative action policies have been challenged by the courts. The nation’s largest legal and civil rights organization, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, fears that the case “could lead to another fight before the Supreme Court,” which is why they joined the legal fight to defend Harvard’s current race-conscious admissions policies. Secondly, it’s the first time that disgruntled Asian American applicants were specifically recruited to serve as plaintiffs (n.b., in the previous Fisher, Grutter, Gratz, and Bakke Supreme Court affirmative action cases, the featured plaintiffs were white and usually female). That members of the Asian American community were specifically targeted to serve as new poster children for purported “victims” of affirmative action can be readily seen by the following website (Harvardnotfair.org) that the president of the anti-affirmative action group suing Harvard (Edward Blum of Students for Fair Admissions) created in 2014. What’s my response to all of this? I must begin by acknowledging the ways I’m a stakeholder in these debates — as a fellow Asian American, parent of two (likely) college-bound kids, graduate of two elite private institutions (disclaimer: Harvard is one of them), and U.S. citizen who cares about the fair provision of quality educational opportunities for all. In a nutshell, I stand with the ¾ majority of the Asian American population who supports affirmative action while fully acknowledge that race-conscious admissions procedures remain an imperfect mechanism to counter institutionalized racism. Still, as a professional educator and ethicist since 2003, I have seen firsthand how increases in racial-ethnic diversity on campuses translates directly into enhanced learning outcomes for all.  To use a few examples drawn from my own experiences, there’s simply no substitute for having actual Puerto Rican students talk about the complexities of U.S. imperialism and colonialism, African American and Korean American students providing firsthand accounts of their communities’ responses to the 1992 LA riots, or students of either Cuban or Vietnamese heritage speaking of their family’s history of migration, wartime trauma, and beginnings in the U.S. as asylum-seekers or refugees. I also recognize how affirmative action policies benefited the Asian American community in the past (quick history lesson: the 1954 landmark case Brown vs. the Board of Education helped Asian Americans, not just blacks, overcome the legacies of de jure segregation in schools) and why particular sub-groups of Asian Americans still need it, which is why...
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Let’s Talk About White Supremacy

Let’s Talk About White Supremacy
Sometimes I come across a resource that’s so fantastic that all I want to do is promote it. This incredible graphic from the blog site Radical Discipleship recently made the rounds on my Facebook news feed.     Entitled “White Supremacy (Overt & Covert), the visual invites the reader to reflect on the many ways that we perpetuate white supremacist logic. For instance, in one of the closed Facebook groups I shared it with–Progressive Asian American Christians–several members pondered aloud with lamentation how “police murdering POC” became “socially acceptable.” The answer, of course is that such events are not (by the “unwoke”) framed in that way: under white supremacist logic, it’s not the police via institutionalized racism that is murdering people of color, it’s either “a few bad cops” who are OR the victims, for one reason or another, had it coming (e.g., they resisted arrest, had a long rap sheet). Either excuse, of course, totally sidesteps the fact that prominent human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have been criticizing the U.S. since 1999 for its problems with police brutality, particularly directed at racial and ethnic minorities, and all 50 states + the District of Columbia since 2015 for failing to meet international standards for the use of lethal force by law enforcement. Two other things about this post merit comment. The first is that the graphic alone prompted me to find out more about who and what “Radical Discipleship” is about. From my understanding of their “about us” description, they value what I as a feminist Christian value: they want to live out the prophet Micah’s call to “act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God,” support “struggl[es] for church renewal and social change,” work for a world “defined by peace, justice, and dignity for every living being,” and embody all of that both collectively and concretely through practices that fall somewhere along the reformist/revolutionary spectrum. A glance at their “categories” provides an even better glimpse of what they’re about. My faves include art as resistance; biography as theology; feminist/womanist/queer liberation and theology; race, identity and history; sabbath economics; subverting empire. The second thing I noted was the range of comments the infographic generated (not on my closed FB group, but on its own page). At the time of this writing, Radical Discipleship’s post had garnered 36 comments, including this one that I could barely stomach [trigger warning: Nazi salute]: We, the chosen few, live in the “Socially Unacceptable” portion of the pyramid. We exist to balance our society against radicals that would see the White Man ghettoed and subjugated. We are not the Social Justice Warriors that the internet wants or needs, but the Social Justice Warriors that the internet deserves. Heil mein Fuhrer. I was aghast when I read that comment–and even more so when I noticed that the comment was signed (not anonymous, though I have not reproduced his first & last name here) and that Radical Discipleship had not blocked it. That wasn’t the only problematic comment, but clearly the one most beyond the pale. Radical Discipleship’s response to it, however, was fantastic: Truly an apocalyptic comment strand, “unveiling” an entire spectrum of white supremacy! This site continues to commit to hurrying and hobbling after Jesus, pledging allegiance to naming all forms of white supremacy as “unacceptable” and demonic. This requires, from each and all, confession–a practice opposed to justifying, rationalizing and glorifying what Dr. King called “the giant triplets of evil:” racism, militarism and materialism. Much love, respect, and gratitude to all who continue to oppose white supremacy in its many forms! *                *  ...
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A Time of Reckoning: The SCE and John Howard Yoder

A Time of Reckoning: The SCE and John Howard Yoder
  How does a professional society—a Christian one, no less—come to terms with the sexual abuse perpetrated over decades by one of its most vaunted members? At the recently concluded annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics, this question was at the forefront of many conference participants’ minds. John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) is often described as the most prominent Mennonite theologian of the 20th century. Author of the acclaimed The Politics of Jesus (1972) and a staunch proponent of Christian nonviolence, Yoder taught for many years at what is now the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary before joining the faculty at the University of Notre Dame in 1984. His decades of professional misconduct (i.e., his so-called “experiments”) with numerous women have been subject to two disciplinary proceedings in two contexts, but “the story of his abusive behavior remains painfully unresolved,” particularly as a 2015 report based on newly available documents and interviews makes clear. As fitting for a conference theme on “Structural Evil, Individual Harm, and Personal Responsibility,” the Society held several sessions for its members to come to terms with Yoder. A midafternoon panel comprised of two leading Christian ethicists (Stanley Hauerwas and Traci C. West) and the current president of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Sara Wenger Shenk) used the John Howard Yoder case as an “opportunity for self-critical reflection.” The panel collectively pondered the responsibilities of ethicists, scholarly societies, and academic institutions as they reflected upon the following questions: “How should we handle morally compromised legacies in teaching and scholarship? What can we learn from Mennonite institutional responses to Yoder’s harmful legacy? How can we foster cultures of ethics within the SCE and beyond?” The SCE also hosted an evening ecumenical service of “lament for sexualized violence.” As the planning team for this service acknowledged, there had never previously been a space for the SCE as a whole (i.e., beyond individual papers or panels) to express their concerns. Given Yoder’s egregious, decades-long abuse of power and his leadership in the Society (n.b., he was President from 1987-1988), the organizers wisely acknowledged that “we as an academic society must also face the difficult questions of our own complicity and of how to foster a community of scholars in which sexualized violence no longer has a part.” Other responsibilities prevented me from attending the panel, but I was able to attend the approximately 1-hour service. The liturgical setting in my judgment was powerful–appropriately somber and intense. I was heartened by the explicit naming at the beginning of the “complex and perhaps even conflicting emotions” of those assembled there, the pained confessions and intercessions of various congregants during the “prayers of the faithful,” and the manner in which service concluded, wherein participants were invited to write their (signed or anonymous) thoughts in such a way as to either be archived for future generations or ephemeral (i.e., dissolved in water). While I have long associated the SCE with good papers and good conversations with friends and colleagues, this was the first time that SCE had functioned for me as church. John Howard Yoder was also the subject of other sessions at the SCE, two of which I’ll note here. The first was a joint effort sponsored by the LGBT and Queer Studies in Ethics Interest Group and the Ethics and Sexualities Interest Group. In a co-hosted evening session entitled “Breaking Silence: Calling Out the Sexual Violence Against LGBT/Queer/Transgender Persons and Perpetrated by John Howard Yoder,” the organizers first acknowledged that the “racialized and sexualized violence perpetrated against marginalized bodies of color (LGBT, queer and transgender)” is “distinct but related” to the sexualized violence perpetrated by Yoder. They then raised questions about (1) how various...
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