You can download the audio for the unofficial AUFS panel at the AAR this year. The panel, as part of the Theology and Continental Philosophy Group, was entitled “Figures of Immanence: Beyond Incarnational Logic” (though this “beyond” is questioning by Beatrice Marovich and Daniel Barber at the end of the discussion, as you’ll hear). For those who want to skip ahead to specific talks, it begins with Thomas Lynch introducing Steven Shakespeare talking about his new re-reading of Kierkegaard as a thinker of immanence. At 29:34 Alex Dubilet’s paper on Bataille on immanence with some remarks at the end on animality. At 1:00:13 Daniel Colucciello Barber’s paper on conversion and the now begins. 1:31:02 you will find my paper on Hallaj and conceptions of immanence with in Islam. Beatrice Marovich’s response to the panel begins at 2:03:10 with concluding remarks from the rest of us following her response. The recording in general is good, but to hear questions from the audience (which follow each paper) you may need to wear headphones and turn it up quite significantly. Feel free to continue the discussion or move it in a different direction in the comments, though of course I can’t guarantee individual authors will respond. I am far from a disinterested observer, but I think the papers on the panel were all incredibly good (as usual, I had a few verbal trips, especially with the Arabic but also with the English!). Daniel’s work in particular never fails to push me to think more deeply and without recourse to cliche. And Beatrice’s response was simply fantastic as it pushed all of us on the panel to think more about how our work fits within wider questions of violence, feminism, cultural hegemony, and so on.
The AAR is always a mixed bag and can be quite alienating. This year was no different, save that so many friends were presenting and adding new and distinctive voices to topics like the ones presented in our session, but also in animal studies, mysticism, feminism, apocalyptic, and so on. Of course the AAR is itself insanely big and so I can’t speak to the ways in which the disciplines are developing or changing in Biblical Studies or Asian Religions. But I think it is safe to say that within theology and philosophy of religion (what we might even call Christian Studies) we are seeing the possibility of change as more people turn to questions of animality, gender, and race. But the threat of remaining unthinking in our approaches to these subjects was also on display. I was particularly disappointed by the Critical Whiteness panel. This is to say nothing about the work of the individuals who presented there, because frankly they didn’t do any work during the panel. It remained purely at the level the confessional, both in the sense of the genre of their remarks and in terms of who was invited as dialogue partners. If we are going to talk about race we can’t simply talk about Christianity and I would hope that those interested in talking about whiteness in particular wouldn’t shut out the critical voices of those outside of Christianity. But moreover, though I was mistaken about what critical whiteness studies is all about having first heard about it through George Yancey and other black thinkers, I hope it can move beyond an Anonymous Racists meeting for those who have yet to hit rock bottom. I think racism is safe to assume, flogging in public always carried with it an element of self-defense and that’s unbecoming. White folk who want to think through this issue should just begin with the notion that they are racists and get down to the difficult work of analyzing that and give up on that process being about proving their lack of racism.
In general the split between confessional discourses and those working at a critical distance continues to be a problem for dialogue at the AAR. While Christian theologians gather to talk about their own confessions and wage interstitial wars with one another over this or that, very rarely are there voices challenging the structures supported by these interstitial wars (and here, again, Daniel’s work was a breath of fresh air both on our panel and on the “Why Theology?” panel). While I can understand why, those sorts of questions being a threat to the entire edifice of Christian theology and philosophy, I am still disappointed that they do not have ears to hear and worried that the work may become an inside discussion instead of having the wider hearing it deserves. To their credit, our friends in apocalyptic theology and many Mennonite’s continue to engage in that discourse, and I hope to learn from their work as well.
Staying up all night talking with friends or listening in on conversations was invaluable. I regretted missing three panels that were all held at 9am because of those late nights, but I can’t say I would have done it any different. While I’ve learned not to expect one AAR to mean much at the next, this year was really excellent for our group.