Tag Archives: AAR-PNW

Report from the American Academy of Religion, Part 4.

Continuing yesterday’s post on the American Academy of Religion, Pacific Northwest Region, here I detail some more of the talks I attended.

3.  New Testament, Interreligious Engagement

The first talk from this session was given by Th.M. student Steven Marquardt, who examined the use of ἐκκλησια (church, assembly) in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in the context of Pauline authorship.  He argued that the plural use of the noun here marks this verse off as non-Pauline in origin.  As he notes, Paul uses the plural, ἐκκλησιαιto denote multiple churches in the same region, which does not match this particular usage.

Of course, arguments about authorship are always dicey, particularly when based on the usage of one word in two verses.  Paul could have been inconsistent in his usage of the term.  His letters were not collections of systematic theology, but particular epistles to particular groups responding to particular situations.  The level of certainty of any argument like this is low.  But even though I wasn’t convinced by his argument, I enjoyed listening to Marquardt’s talk and getting a sense of how a biblical scholar approaches these issues.

Another talk from this session that interested me was Nijay Gupta‘s “Covenantal Pistism: Faith and Human Agency in Galatians.”  Gupta applied the New Perspective on Paul to his use of the word πιστις, looking at it especially in the context of Galatians.  He argued that πιστις did not mean “faith apart from works,” as if Paul opposes faith with works.  Instead, Paul uses πιστις to refer to “trusting faith,” faith which both believes and obeys (works).  Paul’s radical move was not arguing that one is justified by faith, but instead arguing that one can be justified by faith through Christ without Torah.  Both Paul and his opponents saw believers as justified through πιστις, but Paul separated πιστις from Torah.  I didn’t know much about Pauline scholarship before Gupta’s talk, so it was illuminating for me.  I like how careful he was in examining πιστις in various sources — Second Temple Jewish sources, Septuagint, Josephus, etc. — to get a better grasp on how Paul used it.

Since I am headed toward biblical studies in graduate school, I really enjoyed going to some talks in that area and getting a taste of the kind of work going on.  I even thought of a prospective topic to research and present at next year’s SBL.

4.  Asian and Comparative Studies

Just like at the AAR-Western Region, I was lucky enough that my talk really paralleled another talk in my panel.  The first speaker in my session, Cristina Atanasiu, an MA student in Buddhist art at the University of Calgary, presented on “The Young Prince Seated Under the Jambu Tree: Avatars of the Early Bodhisattva Image.”  She examined a particular type of Gandharan image in the context of early Mahayana sutras and Kushan material evidence, arguing that this image embodies the way in which Gandharan Buddhism supported the Kushan dynasty, since the Kushana rulers were depicted as honorary bodhisattvas.  The connections between royal patronage and art played greatly in my talk as well.  I even skipped some of my background/context material because Atanasiu covered it!

My talk was on “When Herakles Went to India: The Transformation of a Greco-Roman Hero-God in Buddhist Art.”  It went well, and I got some great feedback.  One audience member, a Buddhist studies scholar, said that I pointed out some things she had never noticed before.  If you’re curious about my talk, I’ve posted my slideshow.

Overall a good weekend.  I left energized, already planning presentations for next year’s regional AAR and SBL as an MA student.

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…