Category Archive: 2014 Conference Reflection

Aug 01

Impressions of the ISHS 2014 Conference: Ed Simon

When people have historically gathered to discuss the subject of “heresy” it isn’t to broaden the parameters of discussion. Think of poor Arius at the Council of Nicea in 325, banished to Illyria because he didn’t view Christ as coequal with the Father. Or think of stern Martin Luther who stood because he could do no other and was condemned as a heretic at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Or the eccentric Giordano Bruno consigned to the flames in the Campo de Florio for his heliocentric beliefs. When  people gather to define “heresy” or “blasphemy” it’s to narrow the contours of argument, to define terms, to eliminate intellectual variety. As such our unusual, heterodox, and fantastic meeting in New York the summer of 2014 must count as one of the few times in history where the goal in terms of discussing heresy wasn’t to limit the conversation but rather to expand it out in every possible direction. The tired old bishops back in fourth century Constantinople wanted exact definitions of terms; at our Council of New York we were happy to add terms to the lexicon. Heresy, unbelief, disbelief, blasphemy, misotheism, atheology and so on. A veritable celebration of heterodoxy in all of its diversity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul 20

Impressions of the ISHS 2014 Conference: Bernard Schweizer

Conference Reflections:

A General Membership meeting with standing-room only is surely the dream of every initiator of a new Society. It was at that moment that the ISHS became a reality for me, and I was thrilled to look around the crowded seminar room on the 4th floor of the Gallatin School. Shortly after the start of proceedings, I realized that this was no rubber-stamping, yes-nodding assembly, but an inquisitive (though not inquisitorial!), lively, smartly disputatious gathering, and I thoroughly enjoyed discussing the bylaws and probing the key terms and principles that inform our Society’s mission. It is a rarity nowadays to have a group of people who deliberately eschew both the culture of reflexive affirmation (the “positive thinking” school of corporate America where critical deviation is considered “bad” for company morale) and the knee-jerk partisan bickering that characterizes our political discourse. Here is a group, I thought, composed of people from different viewpoints—especially differing religious and non-religious viewpoints—who nevertheless manage to have a civilized, informed, constructive dialogue about matters of real import such as whether blasphemy is a “victimless crime.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul 16

Impressions of the ISHS 2014 Conference: Jordan Miller

Webmaster’s Note: The following notes of various definitions, conceptions, and formulations of heresy offered during the 2014 ISHS Conference were recorded by Jordan Miller.

Possible wording for use in the Society’s bylaws:
The society recognizes fully that as definitions of “religion” are notoriously problematic, in turn, varieties of religious expression or reactions against particular religious expressions are also impossible to define comprehensively. As a result, each term––”heresy,” “blasphemy,” and “unbelief”––is dynamic and the Society’s understanding of these definitions leaves them each, by both necessity and design, open-ended and slippery. They mutually constitute each other and are context-dependent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul 06

Impressions of the ISHS 2014 Conference: Robert Royalty, Jr.

At the risk of sounding irreverent (or a bit heretical?), I was struck by how much the ISHS can sound like the “International Society Haunted by Spirituality.” This was most evident in James Wood’s wonderfully allusive plenary, but there were undercurrents in other discussions and papers. As a religion scholar, it’s very interesting to watch people tiptoeing into the shallow end—or diving into the deep end—of the topic which I have made my professional focus. My sense is the Society can be a new “middle space” between the American Academy of Religion and the Modern Languages Association. The breadth of interdisciplinarity was exciting and refreshing. It was probably the most diverse meeting I’ve attended.

This will be a fun, stimulating group to hang out with!

[Webmaster’s note: This post is part of a series offering impressions of, and reflections on, the 2014 ISHS Conference by participating Society members.]

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Jun 04

Impressions of the ISHS 2014 Conference: James Morrow

James Morrow

I think our premiere convention proved a ringing affirmation of heretical literature in all its glorious paradoxicality. Valuable poems, plays, stories, and novels embrace simultaneously the discursive and the dramatic; they cannot be domesticated. During the Friday afternoon roundtable I introduced the image of Ivan Karamazov “returning his ticket”—his unwillingness to accept the tortured child as the price of a harmonious universe—and I was pleased when James Wood, in his keynote address that evening, reminded us of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s anxiety that the vivid character of Ivan might eclipse Father Zosima in the reader’s mind. Dostoyevsky’s fear was not unfounded. His novel revels in ambiguity. And so the conversation continues…

[Webmaster’s note: This post is part of a series offering impressions of, and reflections on, the 2014 ISHS Conference by participating Society members.]

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