9:00 AM – Coffee & Muffins


9:30 AM – 10:50 AM: Marginalia and the Promise of the Periphery

Panel Chair: Justin Stein

“Wiccanate Neopaganism and the Cultic Milieu.” John R. Harness, University of Chicago Divinity School

This paper investigates American Neopaganism’s negotiation of centers and peripheries through the lens of Colin Campbell’s model of the cultic milieu. The author argues that while American Neopagans exhibit the characteristics of Campbell’s “seekers,” the growth of Neopagan institutions (such as Cherry Hill Seminary, an online-blended Pagan seminary) indicate that Neopagan seekers are coalescing into an increasingly stable religious tradition. Thus Neopagans “straddle the line” between theoretical peripheries (Neopagan seekers situated within the cultic milieu) and theoretical centers (Neopaganism as a specific religion). The author examines Neopagans’ use of the term “soft polytheism” and examines the ways that this term is deployed strategically to negotiate this “straddling” between milieu and tradition.

“Practicing Religion from the Periphery: Latin American Liberation Theologies.” Anna McIntosh, York University

Latin American liberation theology is for and from “peripheries”. Liberation theology first developed in response to perceived limitations in the relevance of orthodox Catholic theology to populations living in poverty in Latin America. It brought focus back to the Christian principle of “option for the poor” and became controversial for fostering revolutionary action against governments that promoted market reforms exacerbating rural impoverishment. Notions of centre and periphery are useful for analyzing power relationships between groups with differing interests and unequal abilities to speak in a manner that is recognized as authoritative in the context of social structures such as the Catholic Church or the global economy. After describing qualities that mark liberation theology as “peripheral”, my paper focuses on discussing how notions of centre and periphery are valuable for understanding the relationships of liberation theology to the Catholic Church and global economic actors.

“The Problem of Religious Diversity in Islamic Theology: Some Modern Approaches to Muhyiddin Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Soteriological Doctrine.” Omar Edaibat, University of Toronto

This paper surveys some scholarly approaches to the problem of religious diversity within the Islamic tradition that have sought to appropriate novel metaphysical and epistemological insights from the soteriological doctrine of the preeminent Sufi authority Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi (d. 1240 CE) in their efforts to inform the discourse on religious pluralism and the fate of the “Other”. In attempting to address this topic, a recurring theme concerns the Quran’s ambiguity towards the fate of non-Muslims that is evidenced in the confusion generated when one fails to take heed of Ibn al-‘Arabi’s fundamental distinction between God’s “religious command” (al-amr al-dini), which is contingent and relative, and His “creative command” (al-amr al-takwini), which is absolute and incontrovertible. This fundamental Quranic ambiguity along with Ibn al-‘Arabi’s insights on the nature of belief and the limits of theological inquiry are being increasingly employed by modern scholarship towards the creation of a more positive hermeneutic space that seeks to articulate a more inclusive Islamic theology of difference. The paper finally concludes with an exploration of Ibn al-‘Arabi’s perspective on Islam’s position vis-à-vis the Judaic and Christian traditions in particular, which though is not uncritical, is nonetheless characterized by a more optimistic eschatological vision that is fundamentally animated by a Qura’nic ‘hermeneutic of Mercy.’


11:00 AM – 12:00 PM: Subtle Subversions: Limits of Culture, Geography, and Human Nature 

Panel Chair: Tenzan Eaghll

“The Ascetic’s Ascesis:
 Subverting the Structures of Care in Jean-Yves Lacoste and Evagrius Ponticus.”  Stephanie Rumpza, Boston College

Heidegger’s account of what it is to be a human being is quite compelling, yet closed off to the idea of an Absolute. Christianity may nevertheless accept the initial atheism of these structures as native to the human condition, as Jean-Yves Lacoste argues—for in radical freedom, one can marginalize them to make space for “liturgy,” or a relation to the Absolute. Lacoste claims asceticism offers the most vivid illustration of this liturgical subversion. Yet, ascesis, as embedded in the structure of care, seems to be possible only by reinforcing the hold of the limits one is trying to overcome. This paper will draw upon the fourth-century desert monk Evagrius Ponticus and his writings on ascesis and prayer to show how Lacoste may escape this contradiction and claim that a humanity lived at the outermost limits of its native condition of care is yet a humanity truest to itself.

“The View from the Borderlands: Questioning Orthodoxy in the Chinese Capital.”  Nicholas Field, University of Toronto

The trope of the imperial centre versus the borderlands, when applied  to the Buddhist empires of medieval China and Tibet, represents the borderlands as the mixed, unorthodox and linguistically plural counterpart to the stable, orthodox and monolingual centres. Complicating this simple picture are borderland sites like Dunhuang, a Silk Road kingdom situated between both the Tibetan Empire and Imperial China. While at first glance religious, cultural, and linguistic plurality seem to be exceptional to Dunhuang and confirm expectations about this borderland site, Changan – the capital of China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) – was also a site with many ethnicities, many languages, and the institutions of six religions. By comparing these sites, this paper raises question of historical survival, orthodoxy, and regional forms of Buddhism, asking what has been suppressed or omitted to create the image of an orthodox centre.


12:00 PM – 1:00 PM: Lunch (JHB 317)


1:15 PM – 2:35 PM: Battle of the Brands: Debating Orthodoxies

Panel Chair: Maria Dasios

“Beyond Central and Peripheral to the issue of Contested ‘Common Ground’?  Or: What Athens had to do with Jerusalem, and the Academy with the Church: Shedding Light on the Heresiologists with the Model of the Argument from Disagreement.” Callie Callon, University of Toronto

Scholarship which seeks to explicate the underlying issues of contention in the hetero-orthodox debate in early Christianity frequently relies on models evoking spatial imagery.  Erhman proposes a centre-periphery model, where those of the emerging proto-orthodox camp strived to relegate rivals to the periphery in order to delegitimize them in a struggle for dominance.  Proponents of the identity model hold that the contention lay in the concept of group identification, the vehemence being directed against those who were too similar and thus encroaching on this identity.  The discourse was an attempt to forge boundaries and demarcate themselves from this proximate other. The following proposes that the identity model can be explicated in a more substantive way by augmenting it with the analogous model of the argument from disagreement that plagued rivalling philosophical schools in antiquity. Examining how middle Platonists dealt with this problem yields a comparative framework with numerous benefits; it can also shed light on particular aspects of the Heresiologists’ defence, and the logic shaping their responses in the hetero-orthodox discourse in antiquity.

“Out with the old, in with the new: the ‘rage for religious novelty’ and the crisis of religion in Britain, c. 1780-1850.”  David Anixter, University of California, Berkeley

Beginning in the late-eighteenth century and reaching a crescendo by the mid-nineteenth century was a chorus of cautions and imprecations regarding the dangers of “religious novelty.” From pulpits and in print, churchmen across the denominational spectrum of British religion inveighed against the “spirit of innovation” that vitiated orthodoxy and decried the “rage for novelty” that tempted pious souls to deviate from the old, established churches. The anxieties aroused by “religious novelty,” it is argued, can only be fully understood in relation to an older discourse concerning the pleasures and perils of consumption in a commercial society. In the eyes of churchmen, the “believer” resembled the stereotypical modern “consumer”: the one was beguiled by a new world of commercial plenty while the other was increasingly disoriented in a crowded religious marketplace. Both exhibited the characteristic vice of consumerism, however: they were infatuated with “the new” and addicted to the cheap thrills and fleeting pleasures of consuming novelties. By way of conclusion, I critique this “orthodox” discourse of religious consumerism, and end by suggesting ways that “the new” was being rehabilitated as a positive good.

“Historical Heterodoxy: The Alevis and their perennial struggle against Ottoman and Turkish Authority.”  Ryan Stelzer, University of Chicago Divinity School

The aim of this project is two-fold. First, I will examine how a minority Muslim community, known today as the Alevis, obtained and carried the label of ‘heterodox’ throughout the predominantly Sufi Ottoman Empire. The ever-present issue of religious inequality – as it applied to legal, political, and social issues – negatively affected the stability of the State, and was a subliminal reason for it’s collapse. Yet despite the Ottoman downfall and Ataturk’s secularization of the newly formed Turkish Republic, the Alevis were never able to escape the dated heretical stigma. To this day, Turkish officials do not consider the ‘heterodox’ sect a religious group. The second portion of this paper, then, will entertain the following question:What conclusions can one draw about the stability of the modern Turkish republic, given their current mistreatment of the Alevis, and the historical lesson one can source from the downfall of the Ottoman Empire?


2:45 PM – 4:05 PM: Processes of Becoming: Literary, Religious, and Spacial Constructions of Identity

Panel Chair: Sarah Rollens

“’Searching in the Dust’: Self and Other in Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Black-Out’.”  Francesca Chubb-Confer, University of Chicago Divinity School

This paper will, through a translation and close reading of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Urdu poem “Black-Out,” explore the ways in which the poet articulates the relationship between self, nation, and religion in post-colonial India and Pakistan.  I will examine how Faiz puts forth a radical approach for constructing the modern self, as well as looking at how engaging in the practice of translation brings its own set of linguistic and cultural boundaries.  How does Faiz see the category of “Muslim”-ness as functioning in the modern world, and what is its relative importance to self- and national identity? How are poetic devices and symbolic imagery used to affirm and complicate the question of identity in the context of communal/national fragmentation?  I hope to demonstrate how, in this poem, Faiz brings into critical consideration individual and collective selfhood in the modern world, with particular attention to how the Islamic tradition is brought into discussions of identity formation, and his simultaneous incorporation of and radical departure from the Urdu poetic tradition as he fashions a new approach to the relationship between self and other.

“Eighteenth-Century Christian Hebraism: Philo-Semitism or Anti-Semitism?”  Rebecca Schwarz, University of Montreal

Irish philosopher and Christian Hebraist John Toland (1670-1722), unlike his fellow Christian Hebraists, did not bifurcate contemporary Judaism from its biblical origins, revering Biblical Jews while scorning contemporary Jews. Rather, Toland defended the rights of contemporary Jews, publishing his historically unprecedented argument for their unconditional naturalization. Moreover, after observing the persecutions endured by European Jews, Toland proposed a Jewish return to Palestine, a century before the emergence of Zionism. Lastly, Toland, unlike his peers, viewed contemporary Jews as inheritors of a history that could be studied in secular terms. In this paper, I outline Toland’s overlooked contributions to Jewish history. I also discuss his humanistic approach to Christian Hebraism, his experience as a lifelong exile, and his association with French Protestants, all factors plausibly informing his concern for the plight of European Jews.

“What Place Does Place Play in the Production of Religious and Cultural Identity? Identity-Creation for Indian Catholics in Mumbai, India.” Roselle Gonsalves, University of Calgary

Human attachments to particular places contribute significantly to the formation of religious, cultural, and personal identity. In light of this, perhaps the best way to understand diverse groups of people is to investigate the ways in which communities construct their places in the world, and how they understand and participate in their localities. This paper focuses on the Catholic community in Mumbai, India, a religio-cultural minority group. I use place theory to explore the reconstruction of physical space into places that are necessary for the identity-creation of these Indian Catholics. The places that Catholic communities inhabit in the modern city of Mumbai are imbued with a diversity of historical, geographic, and cultural significance. In order to claim ‘insider’ status within a broader Indian cultural setting, Mumbai’s  Catholic community, through the use of symbols and signifying practices, is actively engaged in reconstructing and reimagining the places they occupy.


4:15 PM – 5:30 PM: Roundtable Discussion

Discussion Moderator: Nicholas Dion

Discussants: Professor Pamela Klassen, Professor Reid Locklin, Matthew King, Ryan Olfert

“Is the study of religion ‘central’ or ‘peripheral’ in the Academy?”


5:45 PM: Symposium Mixer (Bedford Academy)