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Two Conferences in One Week: Part I

April 21, 2007

This past week I attended two conferences: 1) The 2007 Emergent Theological Philosophical Conversation Monday through Wednesday (April 16-18, 2007) and 2) the Society of Biblical Literature New England Regional Meeting on Friday (April 20, 2007). Over the next few posts I hope to reflect on thoughts from both conferences.

By way of introduction I should probably explain why I — as an ancient Near Eastern philologist and biblical scholar — was attending an Emergent Village philosophical conversation with Jack Caputo and Richard Kearney. While I found myself asking that very same question during the conference, in truth I attended for a number of reasons.

  1. As a philologist and historian of the ancient world it a good practice to occasionally see what is happening in the wider world.
  2. There is at least a fair chance that I will wind up teaching at a seminary and so an understanding of the theological discussions in the contemporary church might be instructive.
  3. The ability to hear and interact with two of the foremost philosophers in the country (Jack Caputo and Richard Kearney) was tempting, especially since postmodern views of religion have not made there way into the methodological introduction to my dissertation (as of yet).
  4. Finally, the even was being held at Eastern University, which is my undergrad alma mater. I’ve been looking for an excuse to touch bases with some of my former professors, and this was as good as any to look them all up.

The biggest single question I took to the conference was: can I, as a neo-Durkheimian ritual scholar, use or embrace a postmodern perspective of religion? For me, as for most who study ritual texts, religion is essentially the demarcation of the sacred and the secular, the delineation of the holy and the profane. All ritual at rock bottom creates delineations and demarcations even while it may foster communitas between different groups (human or divine). Likewise, all archaeological work on religion is predicated on a demarcation of some space as set apart and different. Without this fundamental demarcation, you have no cult space, no ritual and no religion.

Of course, others at the conference had similar concerns but expressed them more with in the context of their faith community. Unfortunately, some such formulations often seemed predicated on some form of foundationalism (a definite no-no at this conference). Sometimes as well folks came off as appearing within the system of postmodern perceptions but basically amounted to trying to have your theological cake and eat it to. This is by far worse because it is built on an inherent self-deception. Yet, there were a few insightful critiques to be found, for example Daniel Kirk’s recent post on Jesus and Exclusion, which raises similar issues to those mentioned here from a NT scholar’s perspective.

In my next post I hope to summarize the Emergent Conversation and give my thoughts on how well these issues of deconstruction can be applied to those of us who are philologists.

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