Monthly Archives: November 2007

UU and Liberal events at the American Academy of Religion conference in San Diego

The annual AAR meeting is this weekend in San Diego. Here is a list of some of the events that will interest Unitarian-Universalists and others who study liberal religion.

North American Paul Tillich Society
Friday – 9:00 am-11:15 am
GH-Manchester A
Marcia MacLennan, Kansas Wesleyan University, Presiding
Theme: Paul Tillich and Jewish Thought
Bryan Wagoner, Harvard University
Judaism in the Life and Thought of Paul Tillich
Anne Marie Reijnen, Faculté Universitaire de Théologie Protestante, Brussels, Institut Catholique de Paris
Liberal Theology, Zionism, and Christian Nationalism: A Topical Inquiry into the Dialogue between Paul Tillich and Martin Buber
Stephen Butler Murray, Skidmore College
The Relevance of Paul Tillich to the Future of the Jewish-Christian Dialogue

North American Paul Tillich Society
Friday – 11:30 am-1:15 pm
GH-Manchester A
Loye Ashton, Tougaloo College, Presiding
Theme: Paul Tillich as Biblical Theologian
Ron MacLennan, Bethany College
Paul Tillich: Biblical Theologian of Connectedness
Francis Ching-Wah Yip, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Tillich as a New Testament Theologian?
Matthew Lon Weaver, Duluth, MN
The Existential Reception of Revelation: Paul Tillich as Biblical Theologian

North American Paul Tillich Society
Friday – 2:15 pm-4:00 pm
GH-Manchester A
John Thatamanil, Vanderbilt University, Presiding

Theme: Paul Tillich and Religious Pluralism
Christian Danz, University of Vienna
Christianity and the Encounter of World Religions: The Contribution of Paul Tillich to Current Discussions in the Theology of Religion
John Starkey, Oklahoma City University
The Human Predicament and Salvation in Tillich and Thatamanil
Andrew Yan, Hope College
Paul Tillich’s Encounters with Buddhism: An Implication for His Systematic Theology
Luis Pedraja, Middle States Commission on Higher Education
The Tao of Tillich

North American Paul Tillich Society
Friday – 4:15 pm-6:30 pm
GH-Manchester A
David Nikkel, University of North Carolina, Pembroke, Presiding
Theme: Paul Tillich, Ethics, and Theology
Daniel Puchalla, University of Chicago
The Limits of Love, Power, and Justice: Tillich’s Ontology and Theology against “Full-Spectrum” Military
Annekatrien Depoorter, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Doing Theology in a Context of Religious and Cultural Pluralism: A Comparison and Evaluation of Paul Tillich’s Method of Correlation and the Theological Method of Edward Schillebeeckx
Jennifer L. Baldwin, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Erotic Play: A Trip into the Secret Lives of Girls, Feminist Theologies of the Erotic, and the Theological Thought of Paul Tillich
Sigridur Gotmarsdottir, Drew University
The Apophatic “God above God”: Tillich and the Poststructuralist Critique of Negative Theology

Unitarian Universalist Scholars and Friends Discussion
Friday, November 16, 7:00 pm-10:00 pm
Location: Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego—Molly A

Theme: “Between the Schoolhouse and the Religious Houses: Unitarian Universalist Theology in Context”
Rebecca Parker will serve as presider for this gathering. She is the president of Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California, author of Blessing the World: What Can Save Us Now, and co-author of Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us, and Saving Paradise.
Our panelists will include:
Alma Crawford is Associate Professor of Preaching and Worship at Starr King School for the Ministry. A minister in fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, she has served UU congregations in Boston and Washington, D.C., and co-founded Church of the Open Door, a Unitarian Universalist urban ministry serving more than 200 African American and immigrant families.
Holly Horn is a Unitarian Universalist minister with nearly 20 years in the parish and a Ph.D. in Theology and the Arts. At present she’s living near Houston, Texas, and working on a book.
Gabriella Lettini is Associate Professor of Theological Ethics and Aurelia Henry Reinhardt Director of Studies in Public Ministry at Starr King School for the Ministry. She hold the Ph.D. in Theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York and the M.Div. from the Waldensian Theological Seminary in Rome, Italy. She is an ordained minister of the Waldensian church in Italy.
Emily Mace is a graduate student in American religious history at Princeton University; her dissertation examines connections between religious practices, cosmopolitanism, and religious liberalism from around 1880-1940.
Samira Mehta is a graduate student in American Religious Cultures at Emory University who is studying interfaith families and the communities in which they make their homes.
Anthony Pinn is Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities at Rice University, and he is deeply committed to the formation of an African American Humanist Theology.
Arvid Straube will serve as the respondent. He is lead minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, and is passionate about the potential of the local parish to change lives and communities.

Comparative Religious Ethics Group
Saturday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
Anne E. Monius, Harvard University, Presiding
Theme: Current Work in Comparative Ethics: Religious Liberalism, Moral Virtuosity, and the Experience of Limits
Elizabeth Barre, Florida State University
The Possibility of Religious Liberalism: The Common Good and Civil Society in Catholic and Islamic Political Thought
Nathaniel Barrett, Boston University
Musicality and Ren: An Examination of the Early Confucian Ideal of Moral Virtuosity and Its Applicability to Multicultural Societies of Late Modernity
Peter T. C. Chang, Harvard University
Comparative Study of Conscience: Joseph Butler and Wang Yang-ming
David Clairmont, University of Notre Dame
Persons as Religious Classics: Green, Tracy, and the Theology of Bridge Concepts
Sumner B. Twiss, Florida State University

North American Paul Tillich Society and Polanyi Society
Saturday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
Walter Gulick, Montana State University, Billings, Presiding
Theme: How Tillich’s Recently Retrieved Paper, “Participation and Knowledge: Problems of an Ontology of Cognition,” Engages Polanyi’s Thought
Durwood Foster, Pacific School of Religion
Richard Gelwick, Bangor Theological Seminary
Donald Musser, Stetson University
Robert Russell, Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences
11:15 am Business Meeting:
Walter Mead, Illinois State University, Presiding

Unitarian Universalist Scholars and Friends Breakfast
Sunday, November 18, 7:00 am – 8:30 am
Location: Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego—America’s Cup B

Liberal Theologies Consultation and Religion in Europe Consultation
Sunday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
Robert Alvis, Saint Meinrad School of Theology, Presiding
Theme: Liberal Thought and the Challenge of Pluralism
Stephen A. Wilson, Hood College
Liberal Religion, Liberal Politics, and Empire: Victorian Christianity and the Ambivalence of Westernization
Echol Nix, Furman University
Ernst Troeltsch and Robert Neville: Two Methodological Attempts to Discern Christian Normativity
Chris Hinkle, Harvard University
Pluralism’s Problematic Appeal for Religious Liberals
Gavin Hyman, University of Lancaster
Postmodern Theology and Modern Liberalism: Reconsidering the Relationship
Friedrich Wilhelm Graf, University of Munich

Tillich: Issues in Theology, Religion, and Culture Group
Sunday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
Rachel Sophia Baard, Villanova University, Presiding
Theme: Tillich’s Continuing Challenge to Political and Ethical Thought
Ronald Stone, Pittsburgh, PA
Utopianism and International Relations
Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Theological Seminary
Prophetic Spirit and Political Romanticism in the U.S. Today
Nimi Wariboko, Princeton Theological Seminary
Toward a Theology of Money in a Globalizing World: Tillich’s Trinitarian Principles
Derek Malone-France, George Washington University
Tillich on Anxiety, Faith, and Authority

Religion, Politics, and the State Group
Sunday – 1:00 pm-2:30 pm
GH-Manchester F
Erik Owens, Boston College, Presiding
Theme: Religion and the Politics of the Common Good
Jennifer Ayres, Emory University
It’s Not What You Said, It’s How You Said It: Relational Political Activism among Liberal Protestants
Brantley Gasaway, Drake University
No Justice, No Good: Progressive Evangelical Interpretations of the Politics of Community and the Common Good
Seth Dowland, Duke University
Focusing on the Family: How the Religious Right Defined the Common Good, 1977-1983
Luke Bretherton, University of London
Political Theology, Broad-based Community Organizing, and Pursuit of the Common Good
Business Meeting:
Barbara A. McGraw, Saint Mary’s College of California, Presiding

Tillich: Issues in Theology, Religion, and Culture Group and Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. Consultation
Sunday – 3:00 pm-4:30 pm
MM-Santa Rosa
Mary Ann Stenger, University of Louisville, Presiding
Theme: Paul Tillich and Martin Luther King, Jr. on Issues of Global Economic Justice
Bruce Rittenhouse, University of Chicago
Assessing the Developing World’s Relationship with Global Governance Institutions in View of Paul Tillich’s Proposals for Justice and Peace in an Economically Integrated World
Kenny Walden, Claremont School of Theology
Blessed Are the Poor?: The Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Psycho-spiritual Landscape of Poverty, Behavior, and Cultural Perception
Stephen G. Ray, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia

Liberal Theologies Consultation
Monday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
Christine Helmer, Northwestern University, Presiding
Theme: Constructing Liberal Theologies as Social, Political, and Religious Praxis
Sharon D. Welch, Meadville Lombard Theological School
Promoting Pluralism and Academic Freedom on Campus
Paul Rasor, Virginia Wesleyan College
Liberal Prophetic Praxis and Constructive Liberal Public Theology
Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Claremont School of Theology
Education, Liberation, and Liberal Theology with Pentecostal Communities
Mary E. Hunt, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual
Feminist Liberation Praxis for Feminist Liberation Theology
Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Duke University
Social Change and Constructive Liberal Theology
M. Shawn Copeland, Boston College
Business Meeting:
Christine Helmer, Northwestern University, Presiding

Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. Consultation
Monday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
Michael Battle, Virginia Theological Seminary, Presiding
Theme: Where Do We Go from Here? The Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Fortieth Anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign
Vincent Harding, Veterans of Hope Project
Martin Luther King Jr.’s Riverside Speech and the Poor People’s Campaign
Hak Joon Lee, New Brunswick Theological Seminary
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Global Capitalism: A Holistic Strategy of Resistance
Karen Jackson-Weaver, Princeton Theological Seminary
Lift Every Voice: Dr. King’s “Unfulfilled Dream” of the Beloved Community and the Black Women Leaders Who Influenced His Ideology
John Roedel, Graduate Theological Union
The Role of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Theology of Nonviolence in the Miscarriage of the Poor People’s Campaign
Business Meeting:
Johnny B. Hill, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Presiding

Is Humanism a Dead Topic in the Study of Religion?
Monday – 4:00 pm-6:30 pm
W. David Hall, Centre College, Presiding
Theme: Is Humanism a Dead Topic in the Study of Religion?
David E. Klemm, University of Iowa
Paul Mendes-Flohr, University of Chicago
Ahmet T. Karamustafa, Washington University, St. Louis
William Schweiker, University of Chicago
Dale S. Wright, Occidental College
Glenn Whitehouse, Florida Gulf Coast University

Tillich: Issues in Theology, Religion, and Culture Group
Tuesday – 9:00 am-11:30 am
GH-Edward B
Robison B. James, University of Richmond and Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Presiding
Theme: Tillichian Conversations: Bible and Pluralism
Keith Johnson, Princeton Theological Seminary
Tillich, Frei, and the Making of a Biblical Theologian
John C.M. Starkey, Oklahoma City University
The Word Made History
Mary Montgomery Clifford, Chicago Theological Seminary
A Journey toward Inclusion: Paul Tillich and the Influence of Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy
Duane Olson, McKendree College
Paul Tillich and John Hick: Inclusivism and Pluralism, Critique, and Construction
Business Meeting:
Robison B. James, University of Richmond and Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Presiding
Rachel Sophia Baard, Villanova University, Presiding



Filed under Liberal Religion at the American Academy of Religion, Unitarian-Universalism

Is UU Theological Diversity Hurting Our Ministers?

This thought began as a comment over at Peacebang’s blog. Once upon a time when you set off to Sunday services at a Unitarian or Universalist church, you could expect to encounter a basically set liturgy (or at least liturgical patterns) for every regular service, with a set text from which to quickly snatch readings if necessary (i.e. the Bible), and a straightforward congregation of Unitarian or Universalist Christians gathered to hear a fairly specific message.

But now in Unitarian-Universalism there is no common praxis, congregants demand a wide variety in the types of services they’re presented over the course of a year, there are many (sometimes mutually incompatible or even antagonistic) differing constituencies in the pews, and the Bible is verboten in many circles. So Sundays have come to demand immeasurably more time and tinkering, even as other factors have dramatically reduced the amount of time ministers can devote to preparing for complicated modern services.

The move away from Christianity (and, more recently, Humanism) in Unitarian-Universalism has many positive sides to it. But it’s worth noting the damage it does too, albeit unintentionally. Few comparable denominations in North America require nearly so much time week in and week out designing services. Not having the Bible as canon would seem to allow ministers to choose from a far wider range of inspirational literature, yet this doesn’t necessarily result in time saved. Being able to preach on non-Christian subjects likewise doesn’t make it easier to come up with sermon topics. Rather, it seems that ever more is demanded of UU ministers as they have to please ever more diverse constituencies, with each sub-group at times jealously measuring how much weekly/monthly/yearly inclusion it receives on Sunday vs. the other sub-groups of the congregation.

The clock can’t be turned back. But at least we can try to show our appreciation to ministers who are essentially being called upon to do an ever-more difficult job.  It is compounded by the way in which many UUs hold very high expectations for each Sunday service–not only that it is the central part of their religious week, but how they want to be spiritually moved, educated, challenged, and comforted all within a single hour, without encountering anything they don’t like (such as God, or maybe the absence of God, or polytheism, or the assumption that there is only one deity, or that there are any deities at all, etc, etc, etc).

1 Comment

Filed under Unitarian-Universalism

Fundamentalisms, especially Buddhist ones

UU blogger CK asked some good questions about the last post. Here is a partial response to her issues.

We do see the emergence of phenomena that we could term “Buddhist fundamentalism,” but we have to be quite careful about how we use such a term. All of the Buddhisms that are engaging with modernity by producing fundamentalist versions are deeply implicated with post-colonial nationalism–this was not a driving force behind the rise of Protestant (American) Christian fundamentalism, the subject of the previous post, but it is the most important factor in understanding these seemingly fundamentalist new Buddhisms. Buddhism is replicated in a militant and intolerant mode in response to ethnic tensions related to struggles in post-colonial states, so this Buddhism fundamentalism arguably is not a particularly parallel phenomenon to the American Christian one. Not that American Protestantism lacks a nationalistic side–far from it–but the situation is considerably different and the degree to which various forces are driving change (versus just being “in the mix”) differs as well.

Just to highlight one of many implications of this difference, Buddhist fundamentalism seeks to secure a certain traditional area as strongly Buddhist (such as the island of Ceylon), against the threat of ethnic and religious others who (at least allegedly) seek to disrupt the practice of Buddhism. It is about retaining specific geographic places for Buddhism in the face of perceived non-Buddhist encroachment.

American Protestant fundamentalism, on the other hand, not only seeks to hold on to traditional privileges but in many incarnations actively seeks to spread to historically non-Christian places, displacing their current religions and becoming the dominant local power. Furthermore, it emerges out of tension with its close theological other–liberal Protestantism–not an ethnic other, and is most concerned (even beyond missionization) with the defeat of alternate nearby Christianities. Christian fundamentalism came to destroy Christian liberalism and to convert the world, in that order.

This helps us distinguish the two religious fundamentalisms. Buddhist fundamentalism does not emerge from theological debate and is not locked in a struggle to eliminate liberal Buddhism, nor does it have a missionary impulse–it seeks to retain homelands, not colonize new areas. For these reasons it is not in fact strongly theological–Buddhist fundamentalism does not stress Buddhist beliefs, but rather Buddhist forms of social organization, with the beliefs and practices that bolster these forms being only of secondary importance. It reads texts historically and often rather literally, yet does so not to prove theological points but instead in order to produce cohesive ethnic identity and strong claims toward land ownership.

On the matter of Abrahamic religions’ responses to modernity, this may not be a fully useful category. The emergence of Jewish fundamentalism differs significantly from that of Protestant fundamentalism. Protestant fundamentalism stresses a divinely given text in the rationale for its creation, but Jewish fundamentalism, while indeed yet another response to modernity, is considerably more tied to orthopraxy than orthodoxy when compared with Protestant Christianity. Not that divinely given texts are unimportant in Jewish fundamentalism, but they are in a way secondary to the concern for preservation of Jewish practice as a marker of identity, rather than Jewish belief as a marker of identity (whereas Christian belief is central Protestant fundamentalism, with Christian practice, while important, being of secondary consideration). This is because the concern that birthed Jewish fundamentalism wasn’t taint by theological heresy, but the threat of assimilation. Jewish fundamentalism locates Jewish distinctiveness in Jewish practice, not so much Jewish thought, so it is practices, not texts, that fuel it.

Islamic fundamentalism inhabits a middle-ground between the Protestant and Jewish fundamentalist approaches. It is about equal in stress on divinely given text and on sharia, the body of law that enforces practice. As with Buddhist fundamentalism it emerges not out of fear of close theological others but from the politics of the post-colonial world.

All of this means that any characterization of reliance on divinely given texts as distinctively “Abrahamic” is problematic–not because it also happens outside of this category, but because it doesn’t even happen as much as we might think within this category. “Abrahamic” isn’t that useful as a tool for understanding Christian, Jewish, and Islamic fundamentalisms (especially in comparison to Buddhist or Hindu fundamentalisms) because these three religions are arguably actually more different than similar to each other in their production of modern fundamentalisms.

As to the question of whether Protestantism has had an influence on the way Buddhists understand their origins, especially Protestant fundamentalism on Buddhism fundamentalism, we can see there has been some influence but that it is not especially strong. Protestant fundamentalism tends to provoke a greater degree of attention to texts in Buddhist fundamentalism, but where Protestant fundamentalism largely still wrestles with science as an enemy, Buddhist fundamentalism tends to appropriate scientific rhetoric to assert Buddhism as the most intelligent and transmodern of religions. The Christian influence on Buddhist nationalism, which subsumes Buddhist fundamentalism, has been mainly in forms of organization, education, and communication, rather than in approach to texts. And much of this influence is a 19th century colonial story, before the rise of fully-fledged Christian fundamentalism.

There will eventually be a series of posts here about defining liberal religion in such a way that it contains liberal forms of Buddhism, especially in North America. Maybe this post is a sort of lead-in to that discussion.


Filed under Anti-Liberalism, Buddhism

Origins of the term Fundamentalist

The term “fundamentalist” appeared less than a century ago, in relation to the Christian publishing venture known as The Fundamentals. These were released as a series of pamphlets in the 1910s. They were designed to provide clear, intelligent, orthodox pronouncements on Protestant Christianity–specifically, they served as repudiations of liberal Protestantism, threatening scientific advancements (such as Darwinism), and Biblical higher criticism, and as reiterations of what was fundamental and therefore eternal to true Christianity. These widely disseminated pamphlets provided a name for the emerging wing of ultra-conservative American Protestantism, and “fundamentalism” is now synonymous with scriptural literalism, dogmatism, and determined supernaturalism both within and beyond the Christian religion. While The Fundamentals have in many ways been forgotten by contemporary culture, the influence of the movement they helped shape is undeniable.

Written by scholars, ministers, and laymen alike, The Fundamentals range rather widely in quality and coherency of argument. Many of the essays, however, are of surprisingly high quality, avoiding ad hominem attacks and demonstrating engagement with opposing material rather than simple dismissal. But regardless of the merits of particular essays, throughout all authors show certain similarities. First, the Bible is taken as the ultimate authority, as inspired by God, and as literally true. Second, conservative American Protestant doctrines are taken as plainly expressing the clear meaning of the Bible’s words, not as cultural traditions developed over time in a process of change and adjustment. Third, orthodox Protestant Christianity is presented as the only legitimate form of religion, as possessing answers to all possible questions and situations, and as a matter of utmost importance.

This last point seems to be the driving motivation behind The Fundamentals. More than anything else, The Fundamentals are concerned to position conservative Protestantism as clear, straightforward, authoritative, and solid. Opposing ideas are attacked precisely for lacking these qualities. Darwinism is objected to less because it supposedly demeans humanity or insults God (though these arguments are made), but primarily because it is a theory. Several authors take pains to point out its hypothetical nature, emphasizing over and over again that it is speculative, weak on details, and full of confusing contradictions. This contrasts with the robust confidence inspired by the complete and perfect system of conservative Christianity. In all of this there seems to be a fear of the modern age as relativistic and fraught with uncertainty. This probably connects too to the diminishing sense of power and relevance felt by conservative white Protestants, as immigration and incipient religious pluralism began to threaten their sense of entitlement in America. The Fundamentals appear to pronounce the permanent truth and relevance of orthodox Protestantism precisely when such permanence, truth, and relevance can no longer be taken for granted.

As such, they are quintessentially modern works, not representative of traditional Christianity. They are as tied to their time as the statements of the liberals they oppose. There is a tendency among liberals to dismiss fundamentalism as somehow a survival of ancient, ignorant days, irrelevant to the modern day and thus puzzling in its ability to cling to life. But this attitude overlooks how The Fundamentals, and the works that have followed in their wake, are attempts by contemporary Christians to grapple with the modern world and find answers. Naturally, the answers they come up with, even if they masquerade as ancient and unchanging, will be to some degree conditioned by and probably suited to the modern context.

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Filed under Anti-Liberalism, Book Notes