by Danny Fisher
For the last five days, I have been in San Diego at the American Academy of Religion 2007 Annual Meeting. The meeting, held at the city’s way cool-looking convention center and its surrounding hotels, was my first. I must say that I enjoyed myself immensely–much more than I think I was expecting. The panels I participated in were, generally speaking, very exciting intellectually; the experience of spending time with students and faculty doing Buddhist Studies at other universities was invaluable; and the entire event was certainly star-studded, which is always fun. (Among my sightings: the great Cornel West, Stephen Prothero, and Diana Eck!)
Of all the papers I heard at the panels I attended, the most memorable to me were the following:
- José Ignacio Cabezón‘s “Is Homosexual Sex Sexual Misconduct?: Critical Reflections on Some Classic Indo-Tibetan Sources” for the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies. (Full disclosure: I am a member of this organization.) In the paper, Cabezón argues that (1) moralizing about homosexual sex makes its first appearances fairly late in the history of Indian Buddhism, and (2) it must be properly understood and contextualized as the product of monastic scholars in a particular cultural milieu.
- I thought that both Claire Wolfteich and Peter R. Gathje gave great papers at the Practical Theology group. Wolfteich’s was particularly excellent: in her paper she looked at the use of prayer by religious activists on both sides of the abortion debate in the United States. Gathje, tackling a similarly divisive issue, talked about building community in the struggle to abolish the death penalty.
- I completely geeked out at the Religion, Film, and Visual Cultural sections. Far and away my favorite paper was “‘But It Did Happen’: Sound as Deep as Narrative in P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia” by Liverpool Hope University assistant chaplain Theodora Hawksley. Magnolia is a film dear to my heart, and Chaplain Hawksley’s paper was overflowing with insight into its richness–cinematically and spiritually.
- As a Buddhist theologian of the practical variety, I must say that I was thrilled to take part in all the sections of the Buddhist Critical-Constructive Reflection Group. The first section revolved around the theme of “Methods for the Study of Women and Buddhism.” My favorite of the papers presented there, entitled “Ethnology and Activism: Reassessing Methodologies for the Study of Women and Buddhism,” was given by Karma Lekshe Tsomo, and it asked vitally important questions about the (possible) responsibilities of scholars to the people they study. The second section, on the subject of “Current Trends in Ethical Reflections,” featured a wonderfully lively conversation/Q&A on a range of issues–too much to go into here. Finally, the last section, co-sponsored with the Academic Teaching and the Study of Religion Group, addressed the theme “Contemplative Studies: Something Old and Something New in the Academy” and featured presentations from panelists including John Dunne and Anne Klein. For a Naropa alumnus like me, this was a cool section to sit in on.
Sunday night was a banner night for my esteemed institution, the University of the West: UWest hosted a formal reception at A.A.R. I’m happy to report that our little brouhaha was very well attended by Buddhologists and others from various institutions. (In fact, eagle-eyed Buddhist Studies nerds will notice both Kenneth K. Tanaka and A. Charles Muller sitting together at a table near the center of the above photograph.) What’s more, quite a few of our guests expressed excitement about UWest’s Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Website, which my roommate and good pal Miroj Shakya has put much hard work into. Anyway, I think I speak for everyone when I say we were very pleased with how the reception went.
One of my colleagues from UWest who attended A.A.R. was my friend Somya Malasri. I’ve written about him a few times now at the blog–here, here, and here. Somya is currently a chaplain candidate in the United States Army, set to become the very first Buddhist chaplain in that branch of the armed forces. The two of us have been classmates at UWest now for almost a year, but we’ve gotten to know each other a little better this semester. I so admire Somya’s dedication to the men and women he serves, and his personal kindnesses to me have meant an awful lot. While our strong difference of opinion on the issue of a “just war theology” in Buddhism have been blogged about here and elsewhere, I really do respect Somya a lot and am appreciating all the opportunities to get to know him better. (Thanks to my fellow Naropa alumnus Jenny Lamb for taking the above photo of Somya and me.)
I must say I’m delighted to find myself hoping that more A.A.R. meetings are in my immediate future.