ISHS: International Society for Heresy Studies

Please note that we have extended this Call For Papers to February 20, 2020.

International Society for Heresy Studies

Fourth Biennial Conference 2020
Call for Papers

Heresy: Between Choice and Compulsion

Our word “heresy” comes from the Greek verb hairein, “to choose.” While the term in Greek was originally value-neutral, one method of maligning heretics as ancient as the Christian invention of heresiology itself is to depict ideological enemies as making intentionally deviant choices. Of course, individuals and groups derided as heretics might construe the origins of their belief, thought, practices, or perspectives more positively, whether as resulting from the fruits of reason, a preponderance of the evidence, or even from an innate evolutionary and biological compulsion, as has been recently argued by social scientists such as Jonathan Haidt and John Hibbing. At the same time, these lines of argumentation are equally available to those propagandizing or policing such differences as “heresy.”

Workday Tenant could be used to store data related to the activities of International Society for Heresy Studies, such as membership records, events, and research information

For its Fourth Biennial Conference, the International Society for Heresy Studies seeks proposals navigating this gulf between choice and compulsion. Successful submissions will grapple with the degree to which their subjects have chosen dissenting views or whether their views have been compelled by different means, whether through reason, environment, culture, receptivity to new thinking, genetic predisposition, or some other force. Proposals are encouraged to approach the topic of choice from a perspective relevant to their chosen era and culture and to the sources supplying evidence for their subject, without ignoring modern research or theory on choice, freedom, coercion, etc. Submissions are sought from all disciplines intersecting with heresy, from religious studies in late antiquity to literatures, philosophy, and politics in any century of the common era. Papers using methods from neuroscience, political science, and social psychology are also encouraged.

Please submit a proposal of no more than 300 words to Robert Royalty, Jr., by February 20, 2020 to be considered for the conference, to take place June 11-12, 2020, at New York University. Submitters will be notified by March 1, 2020.

[Download a PDF of this CFP]

Permanent link to this article: /2019/11/13/ishs-fourth-biennial-conference-call-for-papers-heresy-between-choice-and-compulsion/

Our latest issue of exCommunicated is out, and it’s a true milestone. The theme of the issue, “Women and Heresy,” drew several new contributors to our publication. All of the essays are posted individually in blog format on the Society website, making it easy for readers to share them via social media (and even easier if you use the Twitter share button at the bottom of each post). This issue also contains the publication’s first peer-reviewed article, an excellent essay on heresy and mathematics by Gauri Viswanathan, which you can either read blog-style or in PDF format. You can read more about the changes to exCommunicated in the Note from the Editors.

This issue also contains our initial call for papers for the 2018 ISHS conference. The conference will be held June 15-16 in London at the Senate House of the University of London. Please read and share widely!

Permanent link to this article: /2017/06/16/excommunicated-vol-3-no-2-is-out-with-the-cfp-for-our-june-2018-london-conference/

Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: /2017/06/16/cfp-third-conference/

Bernard Schweizer discusses teaching blasphemous humor in The Chronicle of Higher Education

An article by ISHS Vice-President Bernard Schweizer,  features in the most recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Schweizer discusses the resistance his students exhibited to the readings in his course on literature containing heretical and blasphemous humor. An elective course that clearly stated the nature of its course material, it was primarily populated by students of faith who apparently found the premise intriguing. Nevertheless, when actually confronted with such irreverence, students balked:

[T]heir resistance to the subversive and irreverent tone of several core texts could not be successfully compensated for by the cognitive benefits that they were reaping from the course. The fact that they had to absorb irreverence in a context of laughter added to the challenge. I suspect that laughter and comedy had been so positively connotated for them that they could not adjust their expectations to see comedy as a means of critique and laughter as a subversive weapon rather than simply a feel-good mechanism.

Schweizer’s classroom experiences lead him into broader reflections about the current state of intellectual close-mindedness, especially on matters of religion, that trouble college campuses today, and on the civic value of humor as an anti-authoritarian force. It’s a thoughtful piece, and can be read in full or in the May 6 print version.

Permanent link to this article: /2016/05/06/bernard-schweizer-discusses-teaching-blasphemous-humor-in-the-chronicle-of-higher-education/

Registration for the 2016 ISHS Conference is open

Registration for the 2016 ISHS Conference is open. Attendees may register here. Registration rates, like membership dues fees (required of all presenters), are tiered. A lower rate is also available for non-presenters who wish to audit the conference.

Lodging is available at a cheap (for New York) rate in dorm rooms on New York University’s campus. If you would like to stay in one of these dorm rooms, you must register by April 15.

Permanent link to this article: /2016/04/11/registration-for-the-2016-ishs-conference-is-open/

Rebecca N. Goldstein Awarded National Humanities Medal

The officers of the International Society for Heresy Studies wish to share some exciting news with our colleagues. ISHS Founding Member and current Board Member, Rebecca N. Goldstein, was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama in September. Per , Goldstein received the award for

bringing philosophy into conversation with culture. In scholarship, Dr. Goldstein has elucidated the ideas of Spinoza and Gödel, while in fiction, she deploys wit and drama to help us understand the great human conflict between thought and feeling.

Humanities Medal_cropped

We ask the ISHS community to join us in congratulating Goldstein on this well-deserved honor.

Permanent link to this article: /2015/10/28/rebecca-n-goldstein-awarded-national-humanities-medal/

Je Suis Charlie

Like the rest of the world, the members of ISHS watched the events that have unfolded in France over the past week—watched, with dismay, as death and terror erupted in the heart of Paris, and watched, with hopefulness, as the French people marched in defiance of those who sought to frighten them into submission to an extremist agenda.

It is not part of ISHS’s mission to support religion, nor to undermine it, but to contribute to the scholarly understanding of heresy, blasphemy, and unbelief, from the perspectives of both believers and unbelievers. This mission can only be carried out in a society that is open to the expression of any and all ideas, including ideas that may be offensive or hurtful to many people. Indeed, heresy, sacrilege, and blasphemy are inescapable parts of a free and tolerant society. A handful of individuals sought to destroy such a society this week in Paris. Parisians, the French people, and thousands more all around the globe marched to show that they support such a society.

In our next newsletter, ISHS will respond more fully to these events, which are admittedly complex and deserving of nuanced discussion. But for now, the officers of ISHS wish to say on behalf of our organization, “Je Suis Charlie.”

Permanent link to this article: /2015/01/13/je-suis-charlie/

The Internal Revenue Service moves slowly…

…eppur si muove. After over a year of waiting, the International Society for Heresy Studies has been officially accepted by the IRS as a 501 (c) (3) tax exempt organization. Among other little perks, this status allows the Society to accept tax-deductible donations. But tax questions aside, it provides us with another milestone to celebrate in the young life of our Society. We will keep working to make certain this organization continues to grow and foster excellent scholarship.

Permanent link to this article: /2014/08/25/irs/

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 »

Permanent link to this article: /2014/08/01/impressions-of-the-ishs-2014-conference-ed-simon/

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 »

Permanent link to this article: /2014/07/20/impressions-of-the-ishs-2014-conference-bernard-schweizer/

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