2014 Conference: Collaborations

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Collaborations: Directions in the Study of Religion

Lehigh University Religion Studies Conference, 10/28, 9:00am-5:30pm

UC Center, Room #303

Please join us for this year’s “Alice Eckardt Visiting Scholar in Residence” featuring Dr. Russell T. McCutcheon, Professor and Chair of The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa’s Department of Religious Studies (studying religion in culture – check out the blog!) who will deliver a plenary address on October 27, 2014 at 6:00pm in Linderman, The Scheler Family Forum Room on the theme of, “And That's Why No One Takes the Humaniti­­­­es Seriously.” 

Following that, join us again on October 28, 2014 for the “Collaborations: Directions in the Study of Religion” conference hosted by Lehigh University’s Department of Religion Studies and featuring Dr. Russell T. McCutcheon as a respondent.


“Collaborations: Directions in the Study of Religion” is a conference designed to engage and discuss how scholars representing various perspectives in the academic study of religion handle approaching popular topics of inquiry – such as tradition, experience, and origins. Among the presentations and dialogue, these “popular topics” will serve as a thematic entrée that cuts across areas of study and data to enable a lively discussion about how such concepts are handled in the broader field and our own work in particular. The proceedings from this conference will be published and featured in a later edited volume. 


Response to Conference Presentations, Dr. Russell T. McCutcheon, 5:30pm

Introduction of respondent: Dr. Rob Rozehnal, Lehigh University 




Panel #1: “Tradition” 9:00-10:30

Panelists: Vaia Touna (University of Alberta) and Dr. Khurram Hussain (Lehigh University),

Moderator: Dr. Chava Weissler (Lehigh University)

“Religious Traditions”: A Technique of Cosmographic Formation,” Vaia Touna

In contrast to the common understanding of “tradition,” or its derivative “traditional,” as something static (whether beliefs, concepts, or material objects) that is transmitted or handed down from generation to generation, I am less interested in maintaining the conventions of such terms, that is, people’s claims to explain historical phenomena. Instead, my paper will look at the role of “tradition” in the Study of Religion not as a noun but as a verb, that is, as a process that involves strategic agents in the present who group together disparities, both in space and time, by means of definition and or classification. A strategic technique that allows scholars to authorize specific and contemporary social arrangements for their all too modern interests and scholarly pursuits. 

Lehigh University-Vaia Touna, University of AlbertaVaia Touna earned her BA and MA at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, and she is currently writing her doctoral dissertation at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. She is the Editorial Assistant for the journal Method & Theory in the Study of Religion (published by Brill of the Netherlands) and Series Editor of Working with Culture on Edge (Forthcoming with Equinox Publishers). Her scholarly interests range widely, from looking at specific concepts of religion in the Classical and Hellenistic eras to methodological issues concerning the study of religion in general. Her research focuses on the sociology of identity formation with examples drawn from ancient, to modern Greece. Among her publications are the following chapter contributions: “Redescribing Iconoclasm: Holey Frescoes and Identity Formation,” in Failure and Nerve in the Academic Study of Religion (edited by W. Arnal, W. Braun, R. McCutcheon, Acumen, 2012), “Distinction, Domination, Privilege and the Role of Code Switching,” in Codes of Conduct: Code Switching and the Everyday Performance of Identity (edited by Monica Miller and Merinda Simmons [Forthcoming with Equinox Publishers, UK]). Vaia is also the editor for The Problem of Nostalgia in the Study of Identification in the Culture on the Edge Book Series (Forthcoming with Equinox Publishers).

“Wisdom as Artifact: The Problem of Tradition in the Modern Age,” Khurram Hussain

The problem of tradition in the modern age is a symptom of the normative unmooring of knowledge production from the guidance of wisdom. This unmooring, either glorified as progress or vilified as a descent into moral chaos, has rendered the very notion of tradition an odd counterpoint to modernity. Using the work of conservative philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and 19th century Muslim reformer Sayyid Ahmad Khan, this paper identifies possible alternative framings of the relationship between tradition and progress. It uses a novel re-definition of the concept of wisdom to argue that a robust emphasis on tradition is essential not only to properly describing human societies but is in addition a necessary corrective to certain normative maladies afflicting the contemporary human condition. To scholars of religion, this paper offers a new way of thinking about religious traditions not just as objects of study but as repositories of critical wisdom that can inform serious academic inquiry of the modern world.

Dr. Khurram Hussain is a native of Pakistan, and has lived, worked and studied in the US for the last 19 years. He graduated with an A.B in Religion and Physics from Bowdoin University in 1997 and spent the next few years working first in corporate America, and then (thankfully) with a small non-profit publishing house in Cambridge MA that specialized in Budhhist texts. Hussain returned to graduate school in the spring of 2002 and earned an M.A.R from Yale Divinity School in 2004. He continued his doctoral studies at Yale and received his PhD.  from the Department of Religious Studies in December 2011. Hussain is currently working on a manuscript titled “Islam as Critique.” It examines the work of  19th century Muslim reformer Sayyid Ahmad Khan as a ‘mediatory discourse’ between Islamic societies and their Western counterparts. Hussain is broadly interested in exploring the possibility of a robust critical conversation across diverse cultures and traditions, and has extensive training in comparative ethics, historical sociology and modern Western philosophy. His course offerings at Lehigh have so far included classes on modern and South Asian Islam, comparative ethics, nationalism and critics of modernity. He is also an active member of the Center for Global Islamic Studies, the Humanities Center and several other initiatives and programs across the university. In 2011, Hussain was awarded the 2011 Waves Award as Male Faculty Ally by the Women’s Center at Lehigh University. He splits his time between Philadelphia, where he resides with his wife (Meegan Jesse) in Manayunk, and Bethlehem PA.  

Panel #2: “The Past” 10:45am-12:15pm

Panelists: Eva Mroczek (Indiana University) and Ben Wright (Lehigh University)

Moderator: Dr. Hartley Lachter (Lehigh University)

“The Creation of Early Judaism as a Scholarly Category,” Benjamin Wright

In the last few decades, especially since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars have begun to see Judaism in the period roughly from Alexander the Great into the second century CE as worth studying for more than its relevance to the beginnings of Christianity or the development of the biblical canon of scripture. In this presentation, I will look at how the scholarly category of “Early Judaism” was created in the late 1940s and into the 1950s and how it has developed in more recent years. Although the field ostensibly should have been able to emerge from the shadow of biblical studies, the Bible continued and continues to be a frame within which much scholarship on Early Judaism is conducted. More recently, scholars in this field have been moving beyond the standard historical-critical method and turning toward methodologies employed in the broader field of religion studies—e.g., literary critical theory, social scientific methods, new philology, book history. This turn has opened up the study of Early Judaism in new and exciting ways that challenge the older consensus and offer a different set of insights into the Judaism of the past.

Lehigh University-Dr. Benjamin WrightDr. Benjamin Wright is University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Religion Studies at Lehigh University. He specializes in the study of Early Jewish History and Literature. Most of his research has concentrated on three areas: (1) Jewish Wisdom literature of the period, especially a book called the Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira; (2) the translation of Jewish literature from Hebrew into Greek; and (3) the Dead Sea Scrolls.


“From Forgery to Exegesis: Early Jewish Texts in the Shadow of the Bible,” Eva Mroczek

This paper will discuss an important shift in how scholars imagined early Judaism's relationship with its past. From an earlier focus on creative forgery—the ‘pseud’ in ‘pseudepigrapha’—late 20th century scholarship began to see exegesis as a universal key to understanding the origins, construction, and purpose of non-biblical early Jewish literature. But this universal key was won at a cost: it often prevents us from seeing the texts as literature in their own right, as writing and not just rewriting, with its own goals and imagined literary world. Conceptually, it remakes early Jewish writers in the image of modern theologically oriented biblical scholars, who often placed exegesis as the highest goal. Even apparently non-theological approaches sometimes replicate this by projecting preoccupation with biblical exegesis on ancient writers (“we're not focused on theological exegesis in the modern academy - but the ancients were”). This also has the unintentional result of reinforcing the old idea that second temple Judaism was derivative and secondary (compare the old definition of it as “intertestamental”). The paper will use the Book of Jubilees—typically studied as a prime example of early biblical interpretation—as a case study, with a focus on its imagined non-biblical library. Beyond offering a critique of the “history of interpretation” and “reception studies” approaches, it will conclude with suggestions for a more constructive way of looking at early Jewish literary and religious history beyond biblical studies.

Lehigh University-Eva MroczekDr. Eva Mroczek (PhD Toronto, 2012) is Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism at Indiana University, Bloomington, specializing in Second Temple Judaism, Pseudepigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Her first book, The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity, discusses how early Jewish writers conceptualized and organized their literary world before Bibles, books, and authors, with special attention to psalms and traditions about David as psalmist. She co-chairs the Book History and Biblical Literatures section at the Society of Biblical Literature.   

Panel #3: “Identity” 1:45-3:15

Panelists: Dr. Naomi Goldenberg (University of Ottawa) and Dr. Christopher Driscoll (Lehigh University)

Moderator: Dr. Lloyd Steffen (Lehigh University)

Thoughts on ‘identity,’ ‘religion’ and being Awake,” Naomi Goldenberg

The paper will comment on identity as a category linked to religion.   Both terms will be presented as part of a fragmented technology of statecraft employed unevenly by contemporary governments.  I will suggest that ‘religion’, ‘identity’ and the hybrid phrase ‘religious identity’ can be productively and interestingly thought of as management tools that place limits on imagination and affiliation.  My remarks will hopefully contribute to the evolving discourse sometimes referred to as ‘critical religion.’   


Lehigh University-Dr. Naomi Goldenberg, University of Ottawa, CanadaDr. Naomi Goldenberg is Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies and former Director of Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa, Canada. She obtained her PhD in Religious Studies from Yale University after graduate work at Princeton in Classical Studies.   Her publications can be classified under the rubrics of women’s studies, psychoanalysis and the emerging field of ‘critical religion’ that focuses on the construction of the category of religion and its relationship to other categories such as the secular, the state, identity and politics.  With Timothy Fitzgerald and Trevor Stack, she is co-editor of “Beyond Post-Secularism:  Modernity, Governance and the Category of Religion,” forthcoming from Brill in 2015 and is at work on a monograph whose working title is  “The Category of Religion in the Technology of Governance:  An Argument for Understanding Religions as Vestigial States.”

Strange White Fruit and Uncertain Branches: Towards a Critical Whiteness Identity for Religious Studies,” Christopher Driscoll

This presentation brings together early guiding efforts by A. Roy Eckardt to outline the utility of religious studies in university settings and the social and cultural wisdom of white, lesbian, Southern novelist Lillian Smith who challenged whites to realize that “we are the strange fruit of that [racist, rigid, repressed] way of life.” Looking to these past figures in effort to gauge and outline prospects for a future critical whiteness identity for religious studies, this presentation suggests that a critical whiteness identity will be marked by an increasing epistemological and hermeneutical uncertainty. It also suggests that embrace of such an identity might give new life to a field that may be dying largely out of a fear of the uncertainties evoked and faced when facing squarely with death.

Dr. Christopher Driscoll is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion Studies at Lehigh University. Driscoll is co-chair and founder of the American Academy of Religion’s “Critical Approaches to Hip Hop and Religion” group, has been guest editor of a special issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion 40.3, and is co-author of Rap Music: A Regional Exploration for Greenwood Press (under contract with Monica R. Miller), and co-author of Breaking Bread, Breaking Beats: Churches and Hip Hop A Basic Guide to Key Ideas (Fortress Press, 2014) (with the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning (CERCL)). He recently received his Ph.D. in religious studies at Rice University after defending his dissertation (with distinction) titled Twilight of the God-Idols: Race, Religion, and the Life and Death of Whiteness in Contemporary America, under the advising of Dr. Anthony B. Pinn. He has also worked in various capacities with the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning in Houston, Texas, an organization promoting new modes of intellectual, social and cultural leadership through the opening of universities to the wealth of cultural resources and civic leaders in surrounding communities, while also hosting various public lectures and conversations of interest on university campuses open and marketed to the surrounding community. He has lectured and hosted workshops at a number of universities, high schools and churches across the country and internationally. His current research interests and teaching includes theology and the social, philosophical theology, existential thought, social scientific theories of religion, race, and culture, American religious traditions (with particular attention to race), identity formation, hip hop and religious studies, and a host of other arenas where he engages an ongoing curiosity related to the relationship between belief and practice, and ideation and material possibilities.

Panel #4: “Experience” 3:30-5:00

Panelists: Dr. Kevin Schilbrack (Appalachian State University) and Dr. Monica Miller (Lehigh University)

Moderator: Dr. Terrance Wiley (Lehigh University)

The 'N-Word Experience': The Category of Experience, Experiences of Categorization, and the Academic Study of Religion,” Monica R. Miller

This presentation explores the shifting expectations, competing interests, identities, and critical positionalities of black female scholars in the academic study of religion. Taking a critical perspective holding at bay undue emphasis on experience in scholarship is difficult based on competing interests of others in the fields but remains necessary for any critical methodology. But where to level the criticism? Certain colleagues expect validation of their “Own way!” and others’ “real lived experiences” while others critical of experience reinforce the authority  of racialized experience to dictate who or what I study.  In turn, “experience” the category, truncates intellectual options on paper and in institution hallways. This is the experience of the presence of the absence and the absence of the presence of the “n***a experience” – the title of a song taken from the Goodie Mob’s, “Nigga Experience” – “I Thought you said you was the G-O-D, sound like another nigger to me, ha ha, yeah

Dr. Monica R. Miller holds research interests in religion in youth culture, popular culture, identity and difference, new black religious movements and theory and method in the study of religion. Among a host of articles and book chapters, Miller is the author of Religion and Hip Hop (Routledge, 2012). Miller currently serves as a Senior Research Fellow with The Institute for Humanist Studies (Washington, DC), is Co-Chair and founder of Critical Approaches to the Study of Hip Hop and Religion Group (American Academy of Religion), member of the Culture on the Edge scholarly collective (University of Alabama) and also associate editor for The Journal of Hip Hop Studies . Miller is co-author of forthcoming volumes, Religion in Hip Hop: Mapping the New Terrain with Anthony B. Pinn and rapper Bernard "Bun B" Freeman (Bloomsbury Press), in addition to Claiming Identity in the Study of Religion (Equinox, 2015) and The Hip Hop and Religion Reader with Anthony B. Pinn (Routledge). Her work has been featured in a host of regional and national print, radio, live video, and TV news outlets and can be found on Twitter @religionhiphop and edge.ua.edu, where she writes among the Culture on the Edge scholarly collective.

Do People have Religious Experiences?” Kevin Schillbrack

Philosophers have long tried to get into the details of what it means to experience something.  And philosophers of religion are no different: they have asked, for example, about the nature of mystical and numinous and spiritual experiences.  But if people are shaped by their social context, and one’s experiences are constituted by discourse one speaks, then what does it mean to say that someone has a religious experience?  This paper seeks to sort out this question.

Lehigh University-Dr. Kevin Schilbrack, Appalachian State UniversityDr. Kevin Schilbrack is Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Appalachian State University.  He writes especially on the conceptual and philosophical issues that arise in the cross-cultural study of religions.  He is the author of Philosophy and the Study of Religions (Blackwell, 2014) and the contributing editor of Thinking through Myths and Thinking through Rituals (Routledge, 2002, 2004), and the Blackwell Companion to Religious Diversity (forthcoming).


Lodging - Where to stay!

Hotel Bethlehem

Historic Hotel Bethlehem
   437 Main Street
   Historic Bethlehem, PA 18018
   Phone: (610) 625-5000
   Ask for our Lehigh Friends & Family Rate: 
   15% discount on our best available rate. 
   Some restrictions may apply

1858 Sayre Mansion

Best Western Lehigh Valley Hotel and Conference Center
   300 Gateway Drive
   Bethlehem, PA 18017
   Phone: (610) 866-5800

The Bethlehem Inn

Comfort Inn Bethlehem

   3191 Highfield Dr.
   Bethlehem, PA 18020
   Phone: (610) 865-6300
   Ask about the special Lehigh University rate!

Comfort Suites of Bethlehem
   120 West 3rd Street
   Bethlehem, PA 18015
   Phone: (610) 882-9700
   Fax: (610) 882-4389
   Contact hotel to receive 20% Lehigh University discount 

Courtyard by Marriott Allentown Bethlehem

Days Inn & Conference Center-Allentown

Econo Lodge

Fairfield Inn and Suites Allentown Bethlehem/Lehigh Valley Airport

Four Points by Sheraton Hotel & Suites Allentown Airport

Glasbern Country Inn

Grand Eastonian Suites Hotel
   140 Northampton Street
   Easton, PA 18042
   Phone: (610) 258-6350
Hampton Inn & Suites Bethlehem

Hampton Inn Easton
3723 Easton Nazareth Highway
Easton, PA 18045

Hilton Garden Inn-Allentown Airport
   1787-B Airport Road
   Allentown, PA 18109
   Phone: (610) 443-1400

Holiday Inn Allentown Center City
   904 West Hamilton Street
   Allentown, PA 18101
   Phone: (610) 433-2221

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Bethlehem
   2201 Cherry Lane
   Bethlehem, PA 18015
   Phone: (610) 838-6110

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Lehigh Valley Airport
   3375 High Point Blvd
   Bethlehem, PA 18017
   Phone: (610) 882-2255

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Quakertown
   1918 John Fries Highway (Route 663)
   Quakertown, PA 18951
   Phone: (215) 529-7979

Homewood Suites by Hilton
   Bethlehem, PA 18017
   Phone: (610) 264-7500

Howard Johnson Inn and Suites-Allentown

Hyatt Place Bethlehem
   45 West North Street 
   Bethlehem, PA 18018
   Phone: (610) 625-0500 

The Lafayette Inn
   525 W. Monroe St.
   Easton, PA 18042
   Phone: (610) 253-4500
   Toll Free: 800-509-6990

Longswamp Bed and Breakfast

The Morningstar Inn

Quality Inn
   1715 Plaza Lane
   Allentown, PA 18104
   Phone: (610) 435-7880
   Fax: (610) 432-2555

Red Roof Inns - Allentown/Bethlehem

Residence Inn by Marriott Allentown Bethlehem

Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem

Seipsville Inn

   2912 Old Nazareth Rd.
   Easton, PA
   Phone: (610) 252-3620

Staybridge Suites-Allentown

Staybridge Suites-Allentown West

Steckel House Inn
   207 W. Northampton Street
   Bath, PA 18014
   Phone: (610) 390-0555
   Special rates for LU; take Center St. north eleven miles

Super 8 Motel
   1033 Airport Road
   Allentown, PA 18109
   Phone: (610) 434-9550
   Fax: (610) 432-2555

Wingate by Wyndham
   4325 Hamilton Blvd
   Allentown, PA 18103
   Phone: (610) 366-1600

Wydnor Hall Inn

Restaurants - Where to eat

1741 on the Terrace (Hotel Bethlehem)
Alando's Cuisine
Allentown Brew Works
Apollo Grill
The Bar With No Name 
Bethlehem Brew Works
Billy's Downtown Diner
Blue Grillhouse
Blue Sky Cafe
Bolete Restaurant
Bonefish Grill
The Bookstore Speakeasy
Borinquen Restaurant
Braveheart Highland Pub
Broadway Social
Buca di Beppo
Burgers and More by Emeril (Sands Casino) 
Cactus Blue Mexican Restaurant
Campus Pizza
Carnegie Deli (Sands Casino)
Copperhead Grille 
Crocodile Rock 
Deja Brew
Domino's Pizza 
Edge Restaurant 
Emeril's Chop House (Sands Casino) 
Emeril’s Italian Table (Sands Casino)
The Foundry Restaurant
Full of Crepe
Glasbern Country Inn
Goosey Gander Deli
Hello Burrito
Jenny's Kuali
Johnny's Bagels & Deli
Kome Fine Japanese Cuisine
Lehigh Pizza
La Lupita
Leon's Restaurant (610) 868-6822
Looper's Grille & Bar 
Mama Nina
The Market Gourmet Express (Sands Casino) 
McCarthy's Restaurant
The Melting Pot
Mexico Lindo
Molly's Irish Grille & Sports Pub
Molto Pazzo
The Olive Branch
Olive Garden 
Pistachio Bar & Grille
The Pita Pit 
Prime Steakhouse
Primo Hoagies
Red Robin
The Retro Deli (Moravian Book Shop) 
Roosevelt's 21st
Sal's Brick Oven Pizza
Shula's Steak House
Sotto Santi Pizzeria Pub
St. James Gate Irish Pub and Carvery (Sands Casino)
The Tally Ho
The Tap Room (Hotel Bethlehem)
Tapas on Main
TGI Friday's
The Thai Kitchen
Thai Thai II
Twisted Olive
White Orchids Thai Cuisine
The Wooden Match
Yianni's Taverna

Sweet Treats
The Cup
Euro Yogurt
Fuzziwig's Candy Factory
Nuts About Ice Cream
Pacific Smoothie
Tallarico's Chocolates
Vegan Treats

Maps of Lehigh and Surrounding Area

Planning a visit to the Lehigh University campus or the Lehigh Valley?

Lehigh University is located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, just 50 miles north of Philadelphia and 90 miles southwest of New York City. Lehigh is comprised of 2,358 acres, making it one of the largest private universities in the country. The Asa Packer Campus, Mountaintop Campus, and Murray H. Goodman Campus are contiguous. In 2012, the university received a Stabler Foundation gift of 755 acres in nearby Upper Saucon Township.

Lehigh is easily reached via air or ground transportation. The Lehigh Valley International Airport, just 6 miles from campus, is served by many major airlines. Also within driving distance is Philadelphia International Airport (65 miles from campus) and Newark Liberty International Airport (73 miles from campus).  For additional transportational services to the Lehigh Valley, visit our Local Activities & Resources.

More information can be found here: https://www1.lehigh.edu/about/maps

"And That's Why No One Takes the Humaniti­­­­es Seriously"

Please join us for this year’s “Alice Eckardt Visiting Scholar in Residence” featuring Dr. Russell T. McCutcheon, Professor and Chair of The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa’s Department of Religious Studies (studying religion in culture – check out the blog!) who will deliver a plenary address on October 27, 2014 at 6:00pm in Linderman, The Scheler Family Forum Room on the theme of, “And That's Why No One Takes the Humaniti­­­­es Seriously.” 

Following that, join us again on October 28, 2014 for the “Collaborations: Directions in the Study of Religion” conference hosted by Lehigh University’s Department of Religion Studies and featuring Dr. Russell T. McCutcheon as a respondent.

Dr. Russell T. McCutcheon is Professor and Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama, where he has worked since 2001 (having previously taught at the University of Tennessee and Southwest Missouri State). His research focuses on the politics of category formation, with special attention to the history and modern use of the category “religion" itself. Among his books are his first, Manufacturing Religion (Oxford, 1997) and his most recent essay collection, A Modest Proposal on Method: Essaying the Study of Religion (Brill, forthcoming). He is also a member of a seven person research collaboration, Culture on the Edge, devoted to theorizing identity studies.

The annual Eckardt Scholar In Residence are held in honor of Alice L. Eckardt, B.A., M.A., L.H.D., Professor Emerita of Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, where she taught in the Religion Studies Department from 1972-1987

Learn more about Dr. McCutcheon here. Keep up with his work at Culture on the Edge, here and here!