Spring Lectures 2018

January 23, 5:30pm

Hoagy Carmichael Room, Morrison Hall

Lauren Osborne

"Hearing and Feeling the Recited Qur'an"

What does the recited Qur'an mean? We might answer this question with respect to the meanings of the words of the Qur'an, or alternatively, through the significance of the text and its orality in Islamic traditions. In contrast to these approaches, I suggest that hearing and reciting the Qur'an can be understood as a practice situated in everyday life. While much attention has been paid to the Qur'an as a written text, only a handful of recent works have considered it as a recitation. In my work, I ask how different modes of meaning across the sound and experience of quranic recitation may or may not interact, correspond, or even contradict one another. These modes of meaning include textual or discursive meanings, patterns of rhyme, rhythm and assonance, the use of pitch and melody in recitation, and nondiscursive meanings—i.e., emotional or affective resonances apart from the meanings of the words. In this presentation, I focus on the nondiscursive meanings of Qur'an recitation, as construed through the lenses of affect and performance theories. In doing so, I highlight the network of everyday associations and contexts that shape the experience and sound of recitation that may otherwise be overlooked.

Lauren E. Osborne is Assistant Professor of Religion at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and a senior fellow at the Martin Marty Center for Public Understanding of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Her current book project, Recite!: Aesthetics and Experience of the Recited Qur’an, is an interdisciplinary aesthetic study of Qur'an recitation and how meaning may be understood across the words, sounds, and experiences of the recited scripture. When not writing a book, she enjoys hiking, knitting, and cooking, although not necessarily at the same time.


February 8, 5:30pm

Evan Berry

"Hydrocarbon Spiritualities: Religion, Climate Change, and Fossil Fuels"
Hoagy Carmichael Room, Morrison Hall

When religion and climate change are discussed together, two prominent examples typically dominate: the high rates of climate denialism among white American Evangelicals and Pope Francis’s recent encyclical about The Earth as Our Common Home. These two cases are wielded as blunt instruments in the recurring disagreements as to whether institutionalized, monotheistic religions, Christianity in particular, are “good” or “bad” for the environment. Together, Evangelical denial and Laudato Si’ hardly establish an adequate picture of the multidimensional interaction between religion and climate change. This lecture surveys the broader landscape at the intersection of religion and climate change and outlines a more multidimensional theoretical approach. Any substantive account of religion and climate change cannot attend only to the impact of theology on environmental attitudes, but must also attend to the material impact of global climate change on religious dynamics, including the political economy of fossil fuels, patterns of energy use by religious agents, and changing environmental conditions for various cultures and communities.

Evan Berry is Associate Professor and Graduate Programs Director in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at American University. His research examines the relationship between religion and the public sphere in contemporary societies, with special attention to environmental issues and international relations. Berry has written a number of journal articles on these themes, though they are most fully taken up in Devoted to Nature: The Religious Roots of American Environmentalism (University of California Press, 2015), which traces the influence of Christian theology on the environmental movement in the United States. In collaboration with American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, Berry is the primary investigator of a Henry Luce Foundation funded project on “Religion and Climate Change in Cross-Regional Comparison.”


February 15, 5:30pm

J. Kameron Carter

photo of J. Kameron Carter

"Black Malpractice (A Poetics of the Sacred)"
Hoagy Carmichael Room, Morrison Hall

Against the backdrop of last summer’s white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, VA, here I think about blackness as a reimagining of the sacred in excess of that form of the sacred that animates white supremacy and arguably liberal democracy. In its fugitive and tabooed deviance, sacred blackness is ante- (which is much more serious than anti-) American. The rubric under which I think about this alternative imagination of the sacred is “black malpractice.” In its sacrality, which is bound up with its (under)privileged relationship to black peoples, blackness riotously conjures another world, alternative modes of being with the earth, which is to say, with each other. In this way, blackness bespeaks an otherwise “we,” a “we” beyond the racially gendered and antagonistic “we” of “We the People...” In this talk, I meditate on this otherwise we-ness, experimentally stretching language and the imagination itself towards a non-exclusionary us-ness. This is black malpractice (a poetics of the sacred).

J. Kameron Carter is Associate Professor of Theology, English, and Africana Studies at Duke University Divinity School with an appointment in the English Department. He works at the intersection of black studies and black religious studies. More specifically, he works in black (religious) studies, doing so using but exceeding theological and religious studies concepts, philosophy and aesthetics, and literatures and poetries of the black diaspora to imagine black social life as entailing an alternative practice of the sacred, "parahuman" modes of life in the interspecies blur between the human, the animal, and the earth. Professor Carter's book, Race: A Theological Account, appeared in 2008 (Oxford UP). He is the editor of Religion and the Future of Blackness (2013). The manuscript of his book-in-progress, Black Rapture: A Poetics of the Sacred, is in its final stages of preparation. 

James S. Ackerman Distinguished Alumni Lecture

March 20, 5:30pm

Sarah M. Pike

photo of Sarah M. Pike

"Holy War for the Wild: Environmental Protests as Rites of Sacrifice and Mourning"
Hoagy Carmichael Room, Morrison Hall

Radical environmental activists mourn nonhuman species in a variety of ways that express their kinship with these others and strengthen their commitments to environmental activism as a kind of holy war involving sacrifice and martyrdom. The commitments of young activists I met during my research emerge from their identification of other species, such as trees and coyotes, as sacred beings that inhabit an animistic world of wonder and spiritual power. Love for other species, compassion for their suffering, grief and rage over the degradation of ecosystems are expressed through and created by environmental protests. This talk explores some of the tensions and contradictions in radical environmentalism in two ritual contexts: the rite of passage into activism and confrontational ritualized protests.

Dr. Sarah M. Pike is Professor of Comparative Religion and Chair of the Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities at California State University, Chico. She has written numerous books, articles, and book chapters on contemporary Paganism, ritual, the New Age movement, the Burning Man festival, spiritual dance, environmentalism, and youth culture. Dr. Pike is the current President of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. Her latest book, For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism, was published by the University of California Press in 2017.


April 11, 5:30pm

Joseph Winters

photo of Joseph Winters

"Between the World and (Anti-) Blackness: Coates, Afro-pessimism, and the Ruptures of Black Feminism "
Ballantine Hall 109

With all of the accolades that Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me has received, one consistent line of concern is the lack of hope in his vision of the racial order in the United States. His thought, in other words, seems to lead to despair and pessimism. In this lecture, I contend that Coates thinks beyond the hope/despair binary and gestures toward different affective responses to anguish, suffering, and anti-black violence. To flesh out the implications of Coates’ s reflections in Between the World and Me, I situate his work within the discourse of Afro-pessimism, especially as articulated by Frank Wilderson. While I endorse the ways in which Coates and Wilderson refuse the tendency to mitigate racial antagonisms in the name of progress or reconciliation, I suggest that they occasionally downplay the kinds of practices that enable black bodies to endure and subsist in the throes of social death/life. To think about these practices, rituals that exist at the intersection of life and death, mourning and ecstasy, intimacy and anguish, I turn to the work of Saidiya Hartman and Christina Sharpe.

Joseph Winters is an assistant professor in Religious Studies at Duke University with secondary positions in African and African American studies and English. His interests lie at the intersection of black religious thought, black literature, and critical theory. His first book, Hope Draped in Black: Race, Melancholy, and the Agony of Progress, was published by Duke University Press in 2016. He is currently working on a project that engages hip hop culture through contemporary black studies and critical theories of religion.


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Fall Lectures 2017

October 17, 5:30pm

Hoagy Carmichael Room, Morrison Hall

Justine Howe

photo of Tina Howe

All-American Islam: Leisure and Parenting in Suburban Chicago

After 9/11, American Muslims have faced increased pressure to demonstrate the compatibility of Islam and American culture. Focusing on suburban Chicago, this lecture shows how some Muslim communities have embraced leisure activities, such as playing football or apple-picking, as essential for smoothing the pathway for Islam’s acceptance in the American religious landscape and as vital for the construction of an American Islam that transcends ethnic and racial divisions. By linking leisure to the moral obligation of parenting, these recreational rituals, deemed quintessentially American, are made into pious acts. This talk explores how consumer practices, especially those perceived as generating “spirituality” and cultural “comfort”— have become resonant in our contemporary political moment.

Justine Howe (Ph.D., 2013, Northwestern University) is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Case Western Reserve University, where she teaches courses on Islam, American religions, and theory and method in the study of religion. She specializes in contemporary Islam with a focus on Muslim communities in the United States. Her first book, Suburban Islam, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press in January 2018. She is currently editing the Routledge Handbook of Islam and Gender and is also at work on her second book project, which examines the pivotal role of the Muslim Students' Association in shaping the development of American Islam. Professor Howe has received numerous grants and awards, including her recent selection as a fellow in the Young Scholars in American Religion program at the Center for Religion and American Culture at IUPUI and an American fellowship from the American Association of University Women.

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Spring Lectures 2017

April 18, 5:30pm

Hoagy Carmichael Room, Morrison Hall
Pippa Koch

photo of Pippa Koch

Religion, Science, and Maternity in Early America"

In early America, maternity spanned the life course: from giving birth to a lifelong commitment to children, family, and others. Beyond these physical realities, motherhood was also an experience in which early Americans could glimpse God’s direction and engagement in human life. The maternal body often served as the locus for understanding both complex theological ideas (think, for example, of the “new birth”) and God’s role in human experiences of pain, recovery, conversion, redemption, and death. Scientific and political changes in this era affected ideas about maternity, including the importance of nursing, education, and morality. Alongside these shifts, however, longstanding Protestant views of motherhood and redemption persisted. This talk describes this persistence in the religious realm while also highlighting how the religious weight of the maternal body was adapted and made “natural” in new scientific and political writings.

Philippa Koch (Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2016) is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Missouri State University, where she teaches courses on religion in America, health and the body in American religions, and sexuality and religion. She is currently revising her book, “Persistent Providence: Healing the Body and Soul in Early America,” for publication, and her work has previously appeared in Church History, Notches, The Atlantic, and Sightings. Her article, “Experience and the Soul in Eighteenth-Century Medicine,” Church History (2016) received the Sidney E. Mead Prize of the American Society of Church History. Her research has been supported by the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Martin Marty Center, and the Francke Foundations in Halle, among others.

March 24, 2:00pm

Hoagy Carmichael Room, Morrison Hall
Winnifred Sullivan

photo of Winnifred Sullivan

Teaching Religion in Public
Understanding religion and religious difference has never been more important. It is sometimes said that teaching religion in a public university is and should be different from teaching religion at private institutions of higher learning. This lecture will explore the ways in which those differences have been misunderstood, particularly from a legal and constitutional standpoint, limiting our work. Sullivan will argue that those in the academic study of religion should focus more on the “forbidden” borderlands between what are sometimes termed people of faith and people not of faith, rather than policing the wall—with a view to better public understanding.

February 13

Dr. Amanda Mbuvi

Ackerman Lecture Series
"(Un)common Ground: Religion, race, and the transformative vision of family in Genesis"
Engaged outside of the Eurocentric framework that so frequently circumscribes it, Genesis destabilizes conventional ways of thinking about communal identity. It presents a radically inclusive view of human relatedness, and it depicts God with a greater role in the construction of the social self than modern convention allows. In these ways, the book can provide the basis for a constructive vision for responding to the divisiveness of our current social and political moment.

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Fall Lectures 2016

Oct 27

Noah Salomon
"For Love of the Prophet:The Art of Islamic State-Making in Sudan
For some, the idea of an Islamic state serves to fulfill aspirations for cultural sovereignty and new forms of ethical political practice. For others, it violates the proper domains of both religion and politics. Yet, while there has been much discussion of the idea and ideals of the Islamic state, its possibilities and impossibilities, surprisingly little has been written about how this political formation is staged and experienced in the cloud of contingencies that make up modern political life. Based on more than ten years of fieldwork in the Republic of Sudan, this lecture will examine the nature of an Islamic state by exploring its formation not only as a political ideal, but as an aesthetic and epistemic provocation, at the culmination of a particularly unstable period of Sudanese history. Paying particular attention to the intricate means through which the desire for Islamic politics is produced and sustained, this talk goes beyond the often narrow conclusions about Islamic politics as a response to the West, and examines it as a node in a much deeper conversation within Islamic thought, augmented and reworked as Sudan’s own Islamist experiment became an object of debate and controversy. Reading from and reflecting on his recent book, For Love of the Prophet: An Ethnography of Sudan’s Islamic State, Salomon will interrogate our scholarly understanding of Islamic politics, reassessing the categories commonly used to evaluate and understand it.

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Spring Lectures 2016

March 11

Charlotte Eubanks
Performing Mind, Writing Meditation: Dogen’s Fukanzazengi as Zen Calligraphy”, cosponsored EASC
Global and International Studies Building 2067

March 25

Ashton Lazarus
The Age of the Crowd: Folk Performance and the Politics of Culture in Early Medieval Japan”, cosponsored EASC
Global and International Studies Building 2067

March 31

Spencer Dew
You Can Be Arrested or You Can Be Recognized: The Two Roles of the FBI in the Washitaw Movement
Within years of an FBI raid on its Louisiana headquarters, leaders of the Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah movement not only proclaimed themselves opposed to the sovereign citizen practices that had precipitated that raid but imagined the FBI as playing two essential roles within the movement: first, relying upon the threat of state-sanctioned violence from the FBI as well as the assumption of constant surveillance by that agency, Washitaw leaders claimed the FBI as an extension of their own authority, enforcers of their will. Second, Washitaw leaders turned to the FBI, uniquely placed as “always listening” and poised to intervene in Washitaw life at any point, for “recognition” of Washitaw claims, particularly claims of sovereignty. Redefining the movement’s sense of religion, law, legality, and eschatology, leaders in this period “after the Raid” fixated upon the FBI, locating that agency, understood now as a bestower of sovereignty, in the position that had earlier been assigned to God.

Spencer Dew is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Centenary College of Louisiana. His research focuses on the intersections of race, citizenship, religion, and American law. He is also interested in issues of textuality, particularly composition via assemblage and appropriation of text, interpretive communities, and textual authority. He is the author of the monograph Learning for Revolution: the Work of Kathy Acker, and of articles in The Journal of Law and Religion, The Journal of Africana Religions, and Nova Religio.

April 11

Dana Lyon performance, an evening with Eco Troubadour
World Wonder and Environmental Challenges
Collins Coffee House

April 15-17

Workshop on Holistic Approaches to the Study of Early Islam and the Late Antique World
IMU Sassafrass Room

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Fall Lecture Series 2015

Elizabeth McAlister, Oct 1
"American Evangelical Spiritual Warfare and Vodou in Haiti"

A network of global evangelicals understands the world to be a spiritual battleground in which they are the chosen warriors in Christ’s army. This talk draws on recent ethnographic fieldwork to look at how American prayer warriors train for the spiritual battlefield. It describes how Americans engage evangelicals in Haiti to fight against the creole religious tradition called Vodou, which they consider a Satanic enemy. Spiritual warfare theologians and warriors imagine an invisible, more real realm with spiritual entities and legal codes that, once understood, can give a believer access to the same powers as Jesus Christ himself.


50th Anniversary Distinguished Alumni Lecture

Jason BeDuhn, Oct 16
"The Secret History of Early Christianity: Jesus – Paul – Marcion – Mani – Augustine"

This talk surveys the rapidly shifting picture of early Christianity, and how it is reflected in the contributions of Dr. BeDuhn to the field since he completed IU’s first Ph.D. in Religious Studies twenty years ago. Through these recent developments, the historical study of Christianity may finally be escaping the grip of assumptions shaped by the normative tradition of triumphant orthodoxy.


Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, November 18
“Beyond Freedom and Violence: Normalizing Religion in the Study of World Politics“

What would the study of religion, global politics and public life look like if religion were neither absorbed fully into the political nor allowed to stand apart from history? What would it entail for scholars to acknowledge the instability of the category of religion, without dissolving it entirely? This lecture will explore these questions, drawing on the arguments of Hurd’s new book, Beyond Religious Freedom, alongside recent work by Noah Salomon and Matthew Scherer. Setting these approaches in conversation with each other, it will discuss their implications for ‘normalizing’ religion in the study of world politics. The talk will conclude with a discussion of the limitations of concepts of religious freedom and religious violence as foundational categories of global political analysis, drawing on examples from Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan.

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Fall Lecture Series 2014

Yvonne Sherwood, Sept 11, 2014
"The Hagaramic and the Abrahamic, or Abraham the non-European"

In his strangely haunting book, Moses and Monotheism, Freud makes Moses an Egyptian and attributes the origins of ethical monotheism to this 'great stranger'. In his 2001 lecture 'Freud and the Non-European', Edward Said seizes on this trauma to identity as a challenge to European parochialism. The brilliant book cover turns Europe into a Rorschach test. Europe rises as an eery grey spectre, with a shadow self. In this lecture I explore how the scandal that Freud tried to enact by injecting the foreign-Egyptian at the very point of Jewish origin is already being performed at the on the surface of the biblical corpus--particularly in Genesis, which is a long way from the self-assured story of origins that we might expect from the Bible. In particular I look at the political potential of the 'Hagaramic' based on the story of Hagar, Abraham and Sarah's Egyptian slave. Exploring how the uncanny female/Egyptian/slave functions as a double to the story of Abraham, I ask how the Hagaramic might trouble European (and American) provincialism, and upset bland invocations of the 'Abrahamic' on the public stage.


Courtney Bender, Sept 16, 2014
"The Work of Art in the Age of Inarticulate Religion"

The First World War and its aftermath found American religious liberals increasingly troubled by the evident inabilities of human language to evoke or express religious truth. But others understood this crisis in language as heralding a new post-religious spiritual future for humanity – a future in which modern works of art would play an important role. This presentation investigates the efforts of numerous American modernists (including artists, collectors, and gallerists) to promote modern painting's role in shaping new spiritual devotions and experiences. Their activities prompt us to reconsider the role of secular art worlds in shaping history of twentieth-century American spirituality, and more.


Kay Read, Oct 27, 2014
"Cooking the Cosmos: Ecologically Understanding both the Aztecs and Ourselves"

Using exquisitely sophisticated depictions of Aztec cooking vessels from a pictorial cosmology found in the pre-Conquest, fifteenth-century Codex Borgia, we will: (a) Explore the Aztec ecologically relational and sacrificially cooked, often violent cosmos in order to; (b) Compare it to some of our own seemingly “cosmically” rooted, often equally violent paradigms which--in light of our current, wide-spread environment crises–may be worth challenging. The ultimate goal is to use these challenges to help open us to concepts offered by this Aztec comparison, which might either help warn us about possibly unfortunate ways of thinking ecologically or provide us with ideas assisting us with our efforts to ecologically retool ourselves.


Alessandro Ferrari, Dec 3, 201
“Europe and Islam: the Challenge of Diversity”

The presence of Islam is perceived today as one of the novelties of the contemporary European scene. This presence challenges an alleged European universality and highlights the tendency of the societal and legal structures of the “Old continent” to reify and essentialize cultural and religious experiences which appear distant from European traditional ones. In particular, Muslim presence is used by nation-states to reactivate particularistic narratives against the “universalistic” European Union, framework revealing the existence of a strong dialectic between particularism and universalism within each main institutional actor: nation-states, traditional churches and Muslims themselves.


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Schempp Conference at Indiana University

From September 27th through 29th, Indiana University Bloomington welcomed 75 scholars and students of religion to a conference entitled “Religious Studies 50 Years after Schempp: History, Institutions, Theory,” a weekend-long conversation on the legacy of the 1963 Abington v Schempp decision (374 U.S. 203). Below are the three plenary lectures from this event. For more information visit the Schempp page

Sarah Barringer Gordon, Arlin M. Adams Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Gordon is a widely recognized scholar and commentator on religion in American public life and the law of church and state. Her insightful blog on the conference can be read in The Christian Century.


Gerald J. Larson, Rabindranath Tagore Professor Emeritus of Indian Cultures and Civilization, Indiana University, Bloomington, and Professor Emeritus, Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. Larson, a prominent scholar of Indian religious traditions who helped to shape the study of religion at the University of Tennessee, UC Santa Barbara, and Indiana University, offered reflections on the place of the study of Asian religions in the academic study of religion.


Charles H. Long, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at UC Santa Barbara, and former professor of religion at the University of Chicago, UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University, and Syracuse University. Long, a distinguished historian of religion and leading scholar in the study of American religion, had a direct influence on the development of the academic study of religion in the latter part of the twentieth century.


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