Monthly Archives: March 2015

Report from the American Academy of Religion, Part 3.

The first week of spring break I presented at the American Academy of Religion, Western Region, which I blogged about here and here.  The second week I presented at the Pacific Northwest Region, which this year was in Portland — relatively close!  So this past weekend I went up to the lovely Marylhurst University, a small Benedictine college, and divided my time between the “Asian and Comparative Studies” sessions and the biblical studies sessions.

college-photo_8016._445x280-zmmAs before, I won’t write on every session — only the most memorable or enjoyable ones for me.

1.  Pedagogy: Conflicting Truths in the Classroom

Despite having never taught a course, I found the sessions on pedagogy very interesting.  Michelle Mueller, a PhD candidate at the Graduate Theological Union, spoke on using pop culture about Mormonism (Big Love, Sister Wives, South Park) in a course on Mormonism and women.  Andrew Riley, a Hebrew Bible scholar, described a course he taught on negative depictions of an evil God in the Hebrew Bible.  And Erik Hammerstrom spoke on teaching Pure Land in Buddhist Studies courses.  Although their remarks were specifically about pedagogy, it made me think about how scholars engage the public more generally, and how scholars convene and deepen discussions in life as well as in the classroom.

Hammerstrom’s talk, for example, interested me because it spoke so much to contemporary Western perceptions of Buddhism: as a this-worldly, individualistic, experimental philosophy focused on meditation.  Pure Land, which has an explicitly soteriological and devotional bent, demolishes these conceptions.  Hammerstrom described how students would push back against Pure Land, arguing that it couldn’t be “real” Buddhism.  He had to redesign the way he taught Pure Land because of his assumption students brought to the classroom, and devise ways for the students to be clear on what their assumptions were and where they came from.  His experience reminded me of the adage in the religion guild that map is not territory.  I think part of the job of a scholar of religion is not just to spread religious literacy, but to find these assumptions and critique them, so that we as a culture can have better conversations about what religion is and does.

RIley described how he overcame the challenge of dealing with students who came to his class on Evil in the Bible with very split and set opinions.  One group, mainly theists, felt strongly that the Bible portrayed God as good.  The other group, many atheists, saw the God of the Bible as petty and tyrannical.  Riley described how he structured class activities to draw the two groups into a learning dialogue.  Woah!, I thought.  This is exactly what I do in interfaith dinner discussions in campus ministry every week: convene conversations between people who radically disagree on things.

2.  Hebrew Bible

The most interesting talk for me in this session was Garry Jost‘s “Telling the Story of the Ethiopic Old Testament: Computer Tools for Analysis and Visualization.”  Ethiopic, or Ge’ez, is the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Christian community.  The first Ge’ez translations of the Hebrew Bible were done in the 4th century, but the earliest manuscripts are from the 14th century, making this a complicated topic indeed!  Also, the Ge’ez Hebrew Bible is translated from the Septuagint, making it less useful for trying to understand the original Hebrew text.

Jost is part of THEOT, an international project charting the textual history of the Ethiopic Old Testament.  He describes some of the software tools they have developed to make sense of the dozens of manuscripts: tools to create manuscript families, tools to visualize how different manuscripts differ on particular passages, etc.  Although there is still the tedious work of manually inputting each manuscript into the database, once that is done, the database has tremendous power to visualize and organize data.

Given the work I’ve been doing on reconstructing 4QXIIg, a Qumran manuscript of the minor prophets, this talk of using digital tools to do textual criticism really interested me.  Jost did a good job of laying out the work for those who don’t know about Ethiopic bible translations (I suspect that’s most scholars).  Still, his project analyzes massive amounts of data from dozens of manuscripts, whereas ours looks in-depth at one particular manuscript.  So I don’t think the methods would transfer over.

Tomorrow I’ll post about Saturday’s sessions: talks on Paul, on interreligious generosity, and on Buddhist art…

My Epiphany: Moving from Theology to History

For some time now, I had thought I would go into comparative theology, a subfield of Christian systematic theology devoted to diving into other religious traditions and taking insights from specific strands of those tradition.  As someone who has done a good deal of interreligious dialogue, including some training with the Interfaith Youth Corps, this seemed like a natural path.

The only problem was that when I looked at all of the electives I had taken in university, almost none were in systematic theology.  It seemed that I had a disdain for the subject.

The classes I had loved the most were actually grounded in history.  Classes like Islamic Jesus, Postcolonial Readings of the Bible, and a reading course on the history of Buddhism’s relations with other religious traditions.  All of these classes gave me tools to analyze apologetics, syncretism, alterity — all the ways religions claim to be unique while in fact being historically and theologically intertwined with one another.

So this quarter, while finishing up my thesis on Gandharan art, I realized there was a different story that needed to be told.  I would much rather look at interreligious contact from a historical angle, though likely from within a religious studies department.  Most of all, I’m more interested in exploring the consequences of what people believe and practice than in formulating new ways to believe and practice.  This particular shift has been in the making for some time.  I think this is why I moved from philosophy to religious studies when I came to SCU in 2012.

When writing a paper on constructions of religious Otherness in Deuteronomy this quarter, I realized that the Bible is a perfect place to begin this quest.  Whether I knew it or not, I have done everything at university to become a biblical scholar: double majoring in Religious Studies and Classics, taking Greek and Hebrew, and working as a research assistant for my professor on textual criticism of the minor prophets in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I did none of this with the explicit goal of becoming a biblical scholar, but only following my interests with no predetermined goal in mind.

But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense for me to go into biblical studies with an interreligious lens.  There are a fascinating cluster of issues at hand:

  • How the Bible was shaped and written in relation to surrounding cultures.  Of course, there has been much study of Biblical Israel and the early Church’s relations with other cultures and religions, but how much of this has seeped into contemporary interreligious understandings of scipture?
  • Uses of scripture in interreligious polemic and apologetic.  For example, sections from the Deuteronomistic writings about “false idols” have been used against other religions by many missionaries.  There is some interesting overlap here with postcolonial critics such as Sugirtharajah.
  • How Scriptures portray religious others — and what we do with the various strands of biblical writings that do not always harmonize perfectly?
  • And of course, Scriptural Reasoning.  Given my background in Buddhism, it might be interesting to try to extend Scriptural Reasoning practices to Buddhists and other non-Abrahamic faiths.

From what I have seen, there are few scholars looking at these issues.  There seems to be a gap between the antiquarians (biblical scholars) and the activists (of interreligious dialogue).  I inhabit both of those worlds and could be a bridge.

Anyway, it feels good to have a sense of purpose.  After I graduate in the spring, I’m going to pursue a biblical studies MA locally.  The icing on the cake of this new plan?  It feels really good to not have to worry about starting biblical languages in graduate school…

Review: A Brief Introduction to the Arabic Alphabet.

513Gt9F-IsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Ever since my brief stint studying Arabic last year, I’ve wanted to get back into it.  Since I won’t have any Hebrew courses this spring, now seems like the perfect time.

In preparation, I picked up John F. Healey and G. Rex Smith’s A Brief Introduction to the Arabic Alphabet.  This short (106 pages) book details the history of the Arabic alphabet.  Both authors are scholars of the Arab world, and Healey in particular specializes in writing systems of Semitic and Near Eastern languages.

This book’s seven chapters can be divided into roughly three parts.  The first part contains two chapters on the various writing systems that led up to the Arabic alphabet: Nabatean, Syriac, Aramaic, etc.  I really liked this chapter because it helped me see the connections between the Arabic and the Hebrew alphabets, including how letters that sound different in Arabic and Hebrew today likely corresponded more in biblical times.  He spends several pages reviewing every letter of the Arabic alphabet to trace how its shape evolved from Nabatean to early Arabic papyri to the Arabic script we know today.

The next two chapters describe the earliest Arabic writing, including inscriptions (dating back to the 3rd/4th century CE) and papyri (7th century CE).  The earliest papyri, dating to 643 CE, is a receipt given by ‘Abdullah ibn Jabir, the commander of the Muslim conquest of Egypt, for 65 sheep.  This corresponds to year 22 in the Islamic calendar — the 22nd year since Muhammad and the early umma moved to Medina.  It fascinates me to think that the earliest extant written texts in Arabic correspond to the beginnings of Islam.  One wonders if this is the actual beginning of Arabic writing on an extensive scale.  The Mecca of Muhammad’s youth was a major trade hub, and it stands to reason that there were receipts and other trade-related documents written in Arabic before Muhammad began his prophetic career.  And while there were oral poems in Arabic before the Qur’an, one wonders if the Qur’an marks the beginning of written literature in Arabic.  I wish Healey and Smith had discussed some of these issues.

The final part of the book describes various Arabic scripts.  Of course, Arabic’s cursive script lends itself naturally to calligraphy, and Islam’s aniconic tendencies meant that Arabic writers developed complex, artful, and often practically illegible forms of calligraphy with which to embellish the words of Allah.  Healey and Smith provide 16 illustrations of various forms of calligraphy.  They conclude the book by describing other languages that use the Arabic script, including Persian, Pashto, and Urdu.

When I’m studying a language, I like having background information about the history of the language and how it evolved.  One of my frustrations with Greek is that I haven’t been able to learn that information!   In this book in particular, I would have liked more maps clarifying exactly where different scripts emerged and different inscriptions found.  Other than that, this book was a helpful, hour-long read, and for the adventurous there are several suggestions for further reading in the back.  I would recommend it to any student of classical or Qur’anic Arabic.


Report from the American Academy of Religion, Part 2.

Continuing yesterday’s post on the AAR, Western Region, here I describe Sunday’s talks.

4.  Religion in America: Interfaith work and Zen

The first talk on Sunday, “Interfaith Work in the Silicon Valley,” was given by three scholars engaged in different forms of interreligious dialogue locally: one from ING, a local Muslim outreach group, one from the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, and one professor from my religious studies department.

One issue they discussed was essentialism.  Often when interfaith groups discuss religious literacy, for example, that means giving a very bland and simple overview of the beliefs and practices of a religion.  But religions are diverse, and giving “just the basics” sends an essentialized message to others about what the religion is.  The ING speaker said that because of this, his group has moved in recent years to also discuss the variety of ways a religion is lived out, moving from discussing Islam to discussing Muslims.  The SIVIC speaker, Andrew Kille, described this shift as a move from representing abstract “traditions” to the lived realities of local people.

Another problem is appointing a representative in the first place.  Some groups have a less clear authority structure, and picking one member of the group to represent them at interfaith gatherings brings an element of power that wasn’t there before.  Sometimes those who show up claiming to represent a religious group might be on the margins; do we let a Roman Catholic womanpriest speak for Catholicism?  This becomes more of an issue when groups of contested authenticity or orthodoxy come to the table.  So do we group the Mormons with the other Christians?  Do the Ahmadis get to sit on a group panel of Muslims?

As someone engaged in interreligious work myself, I really liked this panel, and I agreed with the ethos of engaging with people first and then their texts and traditions second to better understand the people — not the other way around as it so often happens.

The second talk in this session was  “getting my #Zen on (@ TotalTan)”: A Discourse Analysis of #Zen on Twitter,” an amusing overview by Buddhist Studies PhD student Scott Craig on this ridiculously overused word.  Apparently people use “Zen” to describe getting drunk, sitting at the beach, or finding a nice pair of shoes.  It’s not hard for a group of religion scholars to laugh at the ridiculousness of how, as Craig argued, Zen in American popular culture means whatever one wants it to mean: peace and solitude, nature, tranquility, or just something that is really cool.  This is all part of the cheap capitalist appropriation of Zen Buddhism.  Yes, it is true that Zen is supposed to suffuse all of daily life, so perhaps Zen Golf makes some sense.  But in fact few authors in the “Zen and the Art of ____” genre seem to be aware of what Zen actually teaches.

5.  Interreligious Dialogue

What luck — my talk was slotted for the last session of the whole conference!  The topic was Nostra Aetate.  My talk, “Saint Francis and the Sultan: Critiquing the Christian-Muslim Past” covered the work I’ve been doing on St. Francis’ trip to the sultan during the fifth crusades.  I argue that while Francis was not a prophet of interreligious dialogue or lover of Islam as many today paint him to be, his teachings on power and sacramentality provide a good example for how we can do dialogue today.  Essentially I discuss the idea of a useable past in interreligious dialogue.  I think my delivery went very well.  I had a good powerpoint, and I even moved the table and podium before the talk because I don’t like anything between me and the audience.  For some idea of what I presented on, I’ve uploaded my powerpoint.

The second presentation was by Daniel Moceri, a GTU doctoral student, who spoke on “The Slow Backlash of Creeping Conservatism: The Increasing Domestication And Decontamination Of Centering Prayer In The Postconciliar Period.”  He analyzed both official church documents and presentations of centering prayer, arguing that this inherently “wild” mystical practice has been increasingly tamed by its public teachers to harmonize with the Vatican’s discomfort with it.  Centering prayer has roots in medieval Catholic spirituality, but it also draws on and resonates with “Eastern” forms such as TM and Zen.  Its original presentation has a radical statement on theosis — you become Christ — but this has been edited out as the decades have passed.  Moceri’s talk, like mine, made me think about just how contested and political history can be.

The third presentation, “Nostra Aetate and the Question of Religious Identity,” was given by Paolo Gamberini, an Italian Jesuit teaching at the Jesuit School of Theology.  Gamberini, a scholar on Abraham Heschel and Jewish-Chirstian dialogue, spoke on Heschel’s influence on Nostra Aetate.  Heschel, a Holocaust survivor who later advocated for Jewish-Christian peace and African-American civil rights, worked to transcend both groups’ fear of one another.  He urged Jews to see the role of Christianity in God’s plan, and urged Christians to see the value of understanding their Jewish roots.  He also famously said “no religion is an island,” and this:

If asked in Auschwitz whether to convert to Christianity or die, I’d rather go to Auschwitz.

Not to be vain, but I thought my session was the best one I attended at the conference.  Many sessions seemed to have no common thread, but this one had several: the political, contested nature of history, humility as a theme in dialogue, power as an issue in dialogue.  So we had a very lively discussion afterward.

One issue we discussed was what would come next in Jewish-Christian dialogue.  Gamberini noted the very different styles of JP II and Francis: the former more academic and theological (he did have a PhD), the latter more pastoral.  He predicted that certain theological issues in dialogue might not be addressed, but Francis would take a different approach.

Another issue: Cardinal Walter Kasper said that mission to the Jews is meaningless, because Jews are already a covenanted people in relationship with God.  I found this intriguing.  If we open that door, then why not the Muslims?  Zoroastrians?  Buddhists?  That’s a slippery slope to go down.  Another attendee said the distinction is that Jews are part of a shared covenant, so dialogue with them is qualitatively different than with anyone else.  I don’t think it’s as big a leap as she claimed it was though.

Perhaps the danger of opening is these doors is why we have what Moceri called the “creeping conservative backlash” post-Nostra Aetate.  Ratzinger in particular tried to softpedal the openness of Vatican II to other religions.  Two steps forward, one step back.  Changing any institution is difficult work.  But changing an institution as rooted in history and hierarchical as Catholicism?  Very slow work.

This talk really rounded out well the conference.   Next weekend I’ll be at the American Academy of Religion again, this time at the Pacific Northwest region conference presenting a different paper.  That one has a concurrent meeting of the SBL, so expect a lot of bible stuff as I blog the conference!

Report from the American Academy of Religion, Part 1.

After turning in my last final paper at 9 pm Friday night, I woke up at 7 the next morning to get to the American Academy of Religion, Western Region meeting — luckily about a mile from my apartment.  Away from all the stress of job searches and book contracts at the national meeting, the regional meeting is a good venue for graduate students to present new research.  Because it is small, it’s a great opportunity to listen to talks outside of your typical research area, and a more comfortable space to have a good Q&A afterward.

Oh, and not to mention I presented!  But that will be in a future post…

Anyway, some thoughts on talks.  These are not necessarily the best ones I heard all weekend, just the ones that interested me most.

1.  Jesuits and Interreligious Dialogue

The first panel was a Catholic Studies session with two papers.  The first, “The Jesuit ‘Reductions’ of Paraguay: a bridge between Catholicism and the new world,” was delivered by Maria Giulia Genghini.  The paper argued that the Jesuit missions in Paraguay were not just a European culture being imposed unilaterally on indigenous groups, but a real two-way dialogue in which the Guarani partially created new forms of worship and drama.  While I am sympathetic to the concept of inculturation in mission (something the Jesuits invented, AFAIK), it was unclear to me whether this was only a strategy to get more Guarani to convert, or if the Jesuits found these new forms personally meaningful.  Was there any role reversal in which those sent to teach the faith were themselves taught?  And what role did power play in mission?

My friend Brad Seligmann gave the second talk, “Seeking God in All Things: Jesuit Institutions of Higher Education in an Age of Religious Diversity.”  Brad described his Master’s research seeking to articulate a Jesuit praxis of interreligious engagement in higher education and examine how different Jesuit colleges around the country are creating interreligious engagement on campus.  He found that while there was broad support for these programs, there was little shared understanding of exactly what interreligious engagement is, or even about disentangling the differences between interreligious, interfaith, multifaith, ecumenical, etc.  Programs differed in size and funding too, ranging from campuses where there are multiple campus ministers/chaplains for particular religious traditions, to schools where “interfaith” is tacked onto the job description of an existing campus minister with no training in that area.  He echoed Eboo Patel (whom he used to work with at the IFYC) in his desire to get religion as another category of “-isms” higher education discusses alongside ethnicity, race, gender, etc.  I really liked one quote he had from the Jesuit General Congregation 34: “faith that does justice through interreligious dialogue.”

2.  Spiritual Experiences, East and West

The first talk in this session on Psychology, Culture, and Religion was given by Amy Hart, an MA student at Cal Poly SLO, on “Gods and Gurus in the City of Angels: Aimee Semple McPherson, Swami Paramananda, and Los Angeles in 1923.”  In 1923, both of these modern, charismatic, Hollywood-style religious leaders with very different messages set up their temples in LA.  Hart describes these complex figures and contextualized them in the religious experimentation of Southern California, an experimentation created by the many different immigrant groups who all arrived there at once.  I was very interested in how they both pushed the boundaries of traditional religion, McPherson by being a woman in religious authority, and Paramananda by presenting a non-Christian, non-Western faith to Americans long before the 1960s.

The second talk was by Robert Sears, a PhD student at Fuller Seminary studying psychology and religion.  His talk, “The Spiritual Dreams of Nepalese Christians and Hindus: An Exploration of Attribution Theory,” involved months of interviewing people in Kathmandu to understand the nature of spiritual experiences.  Using the lens of attribution theory, he tried to understand what features of an experience, its experiencer, and its context lead to any experience being deemed “spiritual” vs. “non-spiritual.”  For me his most interesting tidbit was how different people could have similar dreams with very different feelings about the dream.  He had one Christian participant who had a dream about he Buddha that actually stressed and terrified him immensely.  But for a Buddhist, perhaps the same dream content would have been pleasant.  I had vaguely heard of attribution theory before Sears’ talk, but once he explained it, it was actually a very intuitive and commonsense idea.

3.  Religions of Asia: Shintos and Hidden Christians

The first talk, by Hiroko Shiota of Holy Names University, was on “Ecological Reawakening Through the Space of Japanese Shrines.”  She discussed the practice of Shinto shrines and the belief in kami as a form of reverence for the earth, seeing it as a living thing to live in harmony with rather than a collection of inanimate things to be used.  Shiota argued that perhaps this practice should be exported to a world in need of ecological harmony.  An interesting if apologetic talk, but one of the audience members pointed out, Shinto is very bound to the land and culture of Japan, and might not be very exportable.

The third talk of this panel was one of the best I heard this whole conference.  Kirk Sandvig, a recent PhD in World Christianity from the University of Edinburgh, discussed “Current Hidden Christian Communities in Japan: The Impact of Modernity and Movement.”  Although I had read about hidden Christians in Shusaku Endo’s Silence, it had never occurred to me that hidden Christians might still be a presence in Japan.  Apparently when Japan opened itself to the West, some hidden Christians did not join the mainstream churches the missionaries brought in.  Sandvig did field research with those remaining, most of whom live in rural, remote islands.  Sadly, Japan’s general population decline and the lack of economic opportunities in rural areas has led to the near-death of the hidden Christian community.  Participants lamented that it was impossible to preserve the traditions when only 3-4 people are left in a group.  I saw many parallels with language death: the desire of those remaining to write down their traditions, the feeling of sadness and loss, the younger generations who don’t seem to care.

When asked how he found his topic, Sandvig described a study abroad trip to Japan as an undergraduate.  While in Japan he stumbled upon some hidden Christian communities and was fascinated by their stories.  When he got back to the states, he told his advisor, “I think I have a dissertation!”  I love how a decade’s work can be discovered so accidentally, with such serendipity.  Despite the stress and professionalism of a conference, sometimes we get reminded of the passion and personal stories that pull someone to research a particular topic.

That’s all for Saturday’s session.  Tomorrow I’ll describe Sunday’s talks, including mine.

Review: Two Greek Philosophical Lexicons.

Since I have been studying Plato this past quarter, I thought I would order F. E. Peters’ Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon to see what I could glean from it.  I later discovered J. O. Urmson’s The Greek Philosophical Vocabularyanother book with the same objective.  Here I review both as a student of Greek, not a scholar of ancient philosophy.

Introducing the Competition

F. E. Peters, an ex-Jesuit classicist and scholar of Islam, wrote his short book in 1967.  J.O. Urmson‘s background is slightly different: he was also trained as a scholar of Greek philosophy, and translated Aristotle for Penguin, but went on to do work in moral philosophy.  Both market their books to intermediate students of Greek language and philosophy who perhaps have studied little to no Greek but still want to understand the ambiguous philosophical terminology they encounter in ancient texts.  Having taken a several philosophy courses, including three specifically on ancient Greek philosophy, I think I’m in his target audience.



Urmson’s book seems to be to be better for beginners.  In his introduction, he writes that his book has 500-600 entries, so he clearly covers more terms than Peters does.  For example, Urmson has 79 entries under A, while Peters has only 31.

Urmson’s definitions are much simpler and to the point.  He never runs over one succinct paragraph, always with quotes in both transliterated Greek and English from various philosophers.  For example, see his entry on kakos (evil, bad):


Urmson 2

And so on, so that we get a good sense of what the word means and where to go to look it up.  I do wish Urmson hadn’t transliterated the Greek: it doesn’t help the Greekless reader, and it gives me a headache because, well, Greek should be in Greek!

One of my major frustrations with this book is that Urmson seems to base his work far too heavily on Plato and Aristotle.  For example, under phusis I found no mention of the pre-Socratics, only 8 citations of Plato and Aristotle.  I found little on any later philosophers.  Also, Urmson could have put something in his introduction about how his work differs from Peters’.


41a2rcDf6BL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Peters’ book, on the other hand, seems better for more advanced students.  Rather than providing a concise explanation for each word, he gives a history of its usage.  That way the reader doesn’t try to read, say, the Platonic use of eidos (form) into the pre-Socratics or Aristotle.  For many entries, Peters also explains how the word was used in pre-philosophical texts such as epic poetry.  His entry on phusis runs for five paragraphs, divided by thinker:

  1. Heraclitus
  2. Parmenides, Empedocles, Atomists, Plato
  3. Aristotle
  4. Stoics
  5. Plotinus

For each thinker, he cites specific passages, making this book far more useful for anyone seeking to trace the history of a term in Greek philosophy.  As a comparison to the entry on kakon in Urmson, here’s Peters’ version:




This format means that Peters’ entries are longer, though he covers fewer words.  For example, his entry on kakon runs for two pages, versus Urmson’s one paragraph.  But there are some words not in here that I felt should be.  Since I was reading Crito and Euthyphro, I looked up the words discussed in those two dialogues.  I found dike, eidos, episteme, kakon, and pathos, but found no mention of idea, which Urmson included.  Neither lexicon included eusebeia or hosion.  Hosion, which means holiness or piety, is a pretty major oversight, since that is the entire subject of Euthyphro.  Nor were “holiness” or “piety” in the English-Greek index.  If these words are missing, what else might be?  To be fair, this book is only 200 pages, and not everything can fit.

In the back of the book, there is also an English-Greek index, so readers who want to know, say, the Greek word for “justice” or “intellect” can figure out where to look.  He provides entries for many English words to account for the diversity of translations, but sometimes still misses the mark, as when he omits “right,” a possible translation for the Greek word dike.

Despite these advantages, Peters’ book might be information overload for beginners.  This book is not very useful for the student who doesn’t know philosophy as well.  I was hoping for something that explained terms on a more basic level, as Urmson does, rather than giving brief references to various thinkers.  I don’t merely want to know that a particular thinker used a term a particular way.  I’d like a brief summary of the text, or a quote from that text.  Without those things this book is less useful to the student of Greek who is just starting her study of philosophy.  Also, it is more dated than Urmson’s book: Peters’ book came out in 1967, while Urmson’s debuted in 1990.


Ideally, you should get both of these, as neither is obviously better than the other. Both Urmson and Peters [1] [2] were reviewed favorably by academics.  But if you’re on a tight budget, I would go with Peters, because his entries make it clearer how different authors define a word, and tend to be more comprehensive in covering a wide range of Greek thinkers.

Translating Plato: what gets lost in translation?

Now, at the end of the term, I have finally finished the paper for which I was reading Allan Bloom on translating Plato.  My paper, “Justice In Translation: Rendering Platonic Drama in English,” analyzes Plato’s characterization of Crito and Socrates in the Crito.  Through an examination of each character’s style of speaking in particles, syntax, and forms of address, I conclude that Plato’s dramatic portrait of each character is inseparable from the philosophical arguments contained in the dialogue.  For Plato, poetry and philosophy, form and content, are one.  (Imagine what Plato would be like if he had wrote treatises rather than dialogues!)  In the second part, I look at six contemporary translations, and I find that none of them render Plato’s literary element in a satisfactory way.  They seem to be focused only on the content of each character’s arguments.

Anyway, if you’re interested, my paper is here.  It was fine to write because it pushed my philological skills, and it made me look at the Greek particles systematically (and use Denniston) for the first time.

State of the Projects, March 2015.

Taking my cue from The Patrologist, I’ve decided to do an update every month on my current projects.  This is a good way to keep myself honest.

Francis and the Sultan

francissultanI’m writing a thesis for my Medieval and Renaissance Studies minor on Francis’ encounter with the Sultan Malek al-Kamil in the Fifth Crusade.  Essentially I’m arguing against many who would see the historical Francis as a lover of Islam and practitioner of interreligious dialogue.  Instead I find the Francis of interreligious dialogue in his analysis of power, in his Canticle of the Creatures.  This is a fun project because it lets me bring together many fields: history and theology, the hermeneutics of retrieving models from a spiritual tradition, the intricacies of textual analysis related to the Franciscan Question, scholarship on the Crusades, and interreligious dialogue and activism today.

I’ve got a solid outline now, and I’ll be refining it presenting at both the American Academy of Religion, Western Region later this month and the Medieval Association of the Pacific in April.  I figure if I want to be a scholar, the best way to do that is to act like one now.  Eventually I hope to submit this work to two journals, one more historically focused, the other more aimed at interreligious dialogue.

Gandharan Art Research

Last month I finally submitted my classics thesis, “When Herakles Went to India: The Transformation of a Greco-Roman Hero-God in Buddhist Art.”  In it I discuss the iconography of Herakles and Vajrapani, the bodyguard of the Buddha, in Gandharan art from modern-day Pakistan from the 1st-5th centuries CE.  I’ve become so inspired by this I hope to do more work on it in graduate school.  This project has been on hold, but I am presenting it at the American Academy of Religion, Pacific Northwest Region later this month and at an art history symposium, “Between Two Worlds: Syncretism and Alterity in Art” at San Jose State University next month.


Although I stopped doing Latin in December, this has been a productive languages quarter for me in school.  I’ve been reading Plato’s Crito and Euthyphro in Greek, and wrote a paper on translating the Crito.  (I hope to review the textbooks for that class on here.)  In Hebrew this quarter I read Hosea 13-14, Joel, Obadiah, parts of Deuteronomy, and Lamentations 1.  I also continued in my work with Catherine Murphy as a research assistant on her textual criticism of a Book of the Twelve scroll from Qumran.

Not Happening

I hope to get back to my Jesus in India work this summer and eventually publish a journal article on it.  The same goes for the small book I’m trying to put together of my friend Fr. George Kennard’s unpublished writings.

The rest of March and much of April will be taken up with conference presentations — four of them, two local.  So at least I know where I will be.

Epiphanies, Rabbis, Theses, and Winter Quarter 2015.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here.  It doesn’t hurt that this has probably been my most active quarter at Santa Clara University.  What have I been up to?

  1. I got my first peer-reviewed article published.bcs29
    In January I was told that my work on Buddhist-Christian dual belonging was accepted for publication in Buddhist-Christian Studies.  As an undergraduate this is quite exciting.  It won’t be released until this fall, but you can read the paper online.
  2. I gave two talks on campus.
    The first was a talk to my department on my dual belonging research.  The talk went well and the Q&A afterward was even better — a conversation that went in many interesting directions, as post-talk discussions should.  I later presented a five-minute version of my talk to parents and students at my university’s Family Weekend to about 50 people.
  3. I finally finished my thesis for Classics.
    I started work on what would become “When Herakles Went to India: The Transformation of a Greco-Roman Hero-God in Buddhist Art” a year ago.

    Fragmentary Relief: Vajrapani, Prince, and Monks, 2nd-3rd century CE, Gandhara.  Phylite, 53.9 x 25 x 6 cm.  British Museum, London.  Published: Ancient India and Iran Trust, The Crossroads of Asia: Transformation in Image and Symbol (Cambridge: Ancient India and Iran Trust, 1992), fig. 134.

    Fragmentary Relief: Vajrapani, Prince, and Monks, 2nd-3rd century CE, Gandhara. Notice the guy in the front with the lion skin and the vajra?  That’s what Herakles became.

    I’m glad to have it done, but after 70 pages of writing, I was left with the feeling that there was a lot more to cover.  The best part was my advisor’s handshake the day I handed him the print copy.  After spending an hour on the phone with one of the few scholars in the country who studies this school of Buddhist art, I am inspired to continue this topic.  We often think that encounter between “East” and “West” only began in the modern era, but this research has persuaded me that it goes back way further than that. Graduate school awaits…

  4. I got engaged.
    …To Michelle, my Spanish-speaking, Sephardic Jew-studying now-fiancé.
  5. I met a major worldwide religious leader.
    papa-levara-rabino-e-muculmano-em-viagem-a-terra-santa-Abraham Skorka, “the Pope’s rabbi,” came to campus and spoke on Interfaith Leadership.  I was part of a group of students who had lunch with him.  I sat right next to him — very exciting.  And my fiancé gave two talks on campus on Jewish-Catholic relations in Argentina to contextualize his presence.


I think I can justify feeling tired at the end of this quarter.