“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

American Academy of Religion in San Francisco: My schedule

The AAR is here in San Francisco this year. It has been difficult to weed out my schedule this weekend, since there are very few weeds! There are at least 5 events I’d like to attend in every time slot. But here is what I’ve been able to single out:

Friday at 4pm

Theme: Homo Symbolicus as Homo Religiosus: Symbolization in the Study of Religion

Randal Cummings, California State University, Northridge, Presiding

Eric Lane, California State University, Los Angeles

What Darwin and Science Owe to Religion

Kay Read, DePaul University

Homo-Who? Quetzalcoatl and Reading Aztec Visual Symbols

Greg Alles, McDaniel College

The Mountain as Symbol: On Difficulties and Possibilities in Studying Religious Symbolization

Jes Hollenback, University of Wisconsin

What Makes Symbols and Symbolization Such Powerful Agents of Transformation?


Rick Talbott, California State University, Northridge

Friday at 7pm

Theme: Raimundo Panikkar’s Christological Contribution

Xavier Gravend-Tirole, University of Lausanne and Montreal, Presiding

Christopher Denny, St. John’s University

Purusha Sukta / Nirvana / Holy Saturday: Alternative Paths to Spiritual Kenosis

Erik Ranstrom, Boston College

I Discovered Myself a Hindu: The Promise and Problem of Raimon Panikkar as a Source of Hindu Self-Understanding

Bob Robinson, Laidlaw College

An Evangelical Protestant Appreciation of Panikkar

J. Jayakiran Sebastian, Lutheran Theological Seminary

Fragmented Selves, Fragments of the New Story: Panikkar and Dalit Christology

Responding: Catherine Cornille, Boston College

Saturday at 8:30am

Join us for a special session exploring the transdisciplinary options for balanced and integrative approaches to Western Esotericism, while drawing attention to issues relating to the focus on disinterested empiricism as the sole acceptable method for the study of these topics. Integrative models and approaches combining scholarly rigor with imaginative and sympathetic engagement have been long established in many areas of the humanities and social sciences. Yet the question of scholarly overengagement with their topic continues to be a point of contention, while voices calling for channels of dialogue and mutual understanding between scholars and practitioners in order to better explore the application and potentials of such epistemologies are frequently met with suspicion in academic circles. In this session we seek to explore ways to build bridges of fruitful communication and mutual understanding between seemingly disparate voices and perspectives.

Topics include:

  • Legitimate ways of knowing: experiential knowledge and/or symbolic perception.
  • How can we learn from each other? Bridging the practitioner- scholar divide
  • Is history and discourse analysis enough?
  • Paradigms for integration and applied transdisciplinary methodology

Saturday at 4pm

Laura Hobgood-Oster, Southwestern University, Presiding

Theme: Animality, Hybridity, Divinity: Donna Haraway’s Technoscientific Revisioning of the Religious Subject

Jennifer Thweatt-Bates, Newark, NJ

Donna Cyborgs, Dogs, and Jesus: The Worldly and Religious Figures Haraway of Donna Haraway

Sam Mickey, California Institute of Integral Studies

Farfetchings for Respecting Species: Postsecular Posthumanities and the SF Mode

Amy Brown, University of Florida

Donna Haraway’s Philosophy as a Challenge to Individualism in Evolutionarily-derived Environmental Ethics

Marti Kheel, University of California, Berkeley

Donna Haraway’s “Species Encounter”: Reciprocity or Dominion?

Donna Haraway, University of California, Santa Cruz

Sunday at 9am

Theme: Elemental Theology and Feminist Earth Practices

Whitney Bauman, Florida International University, Presiding


Rosemary R. Ruether, Claremont Graduate University

Starhawk, Earth Activist Training


Marion S. Grau, Graduate Theological Union

Jone Salomonsen, University of Oslo Heather Eaton, Saint Paul University

Sunday 10:30am

Theme: Rethinking Secularism

Jonathan VanAntwerpen, Social Science Research Council, Presiding

A discussion of Rethinking Secularism, a recently published volume co-edited by Craig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen. The so-called “resurgence” of religion in the public sphere has forced scholars to reconsider both classical theories of secularization and a range of contemporary secular assumptions. Presenting groundbreaking work from an interdisciplinary group of leading scholars, Rethinking Secularism surveys these efforts and helps to reframe discussions of religion in the social sciences by drawing attention to the central issue of how “the secular” is constituted and understood.


Robert N. Bellah, University of California, Berkeley

Saba Mahmood, University of California, Berkeley


Craig Calhoun, Social Science Research Council and New York University

Mark Juergensmeyer, University of California, Santa Barbara

Sunday at 1pm

Theme: A Conversation with Robert Bellah on Religion in Human Evolution (Harvard University Press, 2011)

Mark Juergensmeyer, University of California, Santa Barbara, Presiding

The distinguished sociologist of religion, Robert Bellah, will respond to comments on his massive new book Religion in Human Evolution (Harvard University Press, 2011), which traces the development of human culture from the Paleolithic period to the Axial Age and offers a new theory on the origins of religion.


Jonathan Z. Smith, University of Chicago

Luke Timothy Johnson, Emory University

Wendy Doniger, University of Chicago


Robert N. Bellah, University of California

Sunday at 7pm

Theme: Our Final Hour: Can Our Species Determine the Fate of the Earth?

Martin J. Rees, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge and Astronomer Royal, is one of the world’s leading theoretical astrophysicists. His contributions to our understanding of cosmic phenomena have been exceptionally broad-based, and his pioneering research has engaged with the origin of cosmic structures and the long-term future. He has also speculated about concepts of multiverse, complexity, apparent “fine tuning,” and other fundamental questions where science interfaces with philosophy and theology. Rees has spent much of his career as professor of astrophysics and cosmology in Cambridge, and served as president of the Royal Society from 2005 to 2010. He has been an eloquent presenter of scientific ideas to general audiences, with numerous articles, books, and broadcasts to his credit, and has increasingly engaged with issues of science policy. Most recently he delivered the 2010 Reith Lectures for the BBC, a series of talks exploring the ethical challenges facing science in the 21st century.

Monday at 9am

Theme: Plotinus and Islamic Platonism

Douglas Hedley, University of Cambridge, Presiding

John Bussanich, University of New Mexico

Plotinus on Karma and Rebirth

Shatha Almutawa, University of Chicago

Religiophilosophical Narratives: Plato in Rasa’il Ikhwan Al-Safa

Samir Mahmoud, University of Cambridge

The Problem of the One and the Many: Ibn ‘Arabi’s Divine Names and Proclus’s Henads

Martyn Smith, Lawrence University

Ibn Khaldun and Neoplatonic Views of the Soul 

Monday at 1pm

Theme: Ritual, Time, and Magic Wheels: Studies in Indian and Tibetan Tantra

Richard K. Payne, Graduate Theological Union, Presiding

Ronald M. Davidson, Fairfield University

Early Buddhist Tantras and the Smārta Quotidian Manuals

Lewis Doney, University of London

Buddhist Time and Tantra in Early Tibetan Historiography

Manuel Lopez, University of Virginia

The Light at the End of the Tunnel: Buddhism During Tibet’s Dark Age

Eric Fry-Miller, Indiana University

Dreaming of Magic Wheels, Flames, and Bliss: Understanding the Transformation of Candali Practice in the Drigung Kagyu 

Monday at 4pm

Theme: Western Esotericism and Material Culture

Cathy Gutierrez, Sweet Briar College, Presiding

Egil Asprem, University of Amsterdam

Technofetishism, Instrumentation, and the Materiality of Esoteric Knowledge

Shawn Eyer, John F. Kennedy University

The Use of Tracing Boards and Other Art Objects as Physical Aids of Symbolic Communication in the Rituals and Practices of Freemasonry

Stephen Wehmeyer, Champlain College

Conjurational Contraptions: “Techno-gnosis,” Mechanical Wizardry, and the Material Culture of African American Folk Magic

Henrik Bogdan, University of Gothenburg

“Objets d’Art Noir”, Magical Engines, and Gateways to Other Dimensions: Understanding Hierophanies in Contemporary Occultism

Joseph Christian Greer, Harvard University

Storming the Citadel for Knowledge, Aesthetics, and Profit: The Dreamachine in Twentieth Century Esotericism

Monday at 6:45pm

Theme: New Horizons in Religion and Ecology

At this reception hosted by the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS, San Francisco), meet with others interested in the study of religion and ecology. Four CIIS faculty—Elizabeth Allison, Robert McDermott, Jacob Sherman, and Brian Swimme—will briefly introduce a new CIIS MA and Ph.D. level program of study in Religion and Ecology.

Tuesday at 9am

Theme: The Viability of Metaphysical Realism

Stephen Bush, Brown University, Presiding

Rose Ann Christian, Towson University

The Ethics of Belief and Belief About Ethics: William Kingdon Clifford at the Metaphysical Society

Laura Weed, College of Saint Rose

Metaphysical Realism after Quantum Field Theory: a New Look at No-thingness

William Lane Craig, Biola University

The Viability of Metaphysical Realism about Abstract Objects

Michael Slater, Georgetown University

Pragmatism, Theism, and the Viability of Metaphysical Realism






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