William Littmann, Senior Adjunct Professor of Architecture and Visual Studies, California College of the Arts

For more than a century, Bay Area architects have created some of the nation’s most innovative religious architecture, ranging from the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkeley by Bernard Maybeck to the award-winning Congregation Beth Sholom Synagogue in San Francisco designed by Stanley Saitowitz in 2009. This talk explores the history of experimental and radical religious architecture in Northern California, with a special focus on design after the Second World War, as architects responded to changes in liturgical practices in the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II as well as the progressive ideals of Protestant and Jewish congregations in the region. It also explores the contribution of 1960s countercultural groups that further pushed the boundaries of religious architecture, often using forms borrowed from Native American and Buddhist religious traditions. (Littmann)

William Littmann is a Senior Adjunct Professor at the California College of the Arts, teaching architectural history in the Architecture and Visual Studies departments. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and his M.A. in print journalism from Columbia University. Recent areas of study include the landscape and architecture of Japanese incarceration during World War II, farmworker communities in California Central Valley, and a history of the El Camino Real corridor in California from Native American settlement to the rise of Silicon Valley.

The Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, San Francisco, Pier Luigi Nervi and Pietro Belluschi (architects), 1965.

Credit: William Littmann, 2014.

Joan Richardson, Distinguished Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and American Studies, The Graduate Center, CUNY

On several occasions William James described Pragmatism as continuing the work of the Protestant Reformation, loosening the ties of orthodoxy and outworn habit of any kind to admit all the possibilities of belief belonging to a pluralistic universe. In the penultimate paragraph of Pragmatism (1907), he writes; “We do not yet know which type of religion is going to work best in the long run. The various overbeliefs of men, the several faith-ventures, are in fact what is needed to bring the evidence in.” Just as nature described by Charles Darwin produced a superabundance of varieties in each species, offering thereby the possibility of fit, and so continuity, within the constantly changing order of things, so the varieties of religious experience offer possibilities of our continuing relation, beyond our understanding, of “vital conversation with the unseen divine.” The exploration suggested herein was and is the work of the philosophical method that came to be identified with James, Charles Sanders Peirce, John Dewey and their inheritors, among them, Reinhold Niebuhr, yet this intrinsic aspect has been more recently persistently ignored/repressed. “Pragmatism…she widens the field of search for God.” This project and its occulting will be the subjects of my address. (Richardson)

Joan Richardson is the author of a two-volume biography of the poet Wallace Stevens, co-edited with Frank Kermode, Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose (Library of America, 1997). Her essays on Stevens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Jonathan Edwards have been published in the Wallace Stevens Journal, in Raritan, and elsewhere, and essays on Alfred North Whitehead, William James, and pragmatism have appeared in the journals Configurations and The Hopkins Review. Her study A Natural History of Pragmatism: The Fact of Feeling from Jonathan Edwards to Gertrude Stein was published by Cambridge University Press in 2007, and was nominated for the 2011 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Another volume for Cambridge, Pragmatism and American Experience was published in June 2014. Among other current writing engagements, she is preparing for press Images, Shadows of Divine Things, the project for which she was awarded a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship; inspired in part by Jonathan Edwards, it is a secular spiritual autobiography in hybrid, experimental form. Joan Richardson has also been the recipient of several other awards, including a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a Senior Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her work reflects an abiding interest in the way that philosophy, natural history, and science intersect with literature. She is particularly preoccupied with the complex relation between language and perception.

Co-presented with the Center for the Arts, Religion and Education (CARE).

Sara McClintock, Associate Professor of Tibetan and Indian Buddhism, Emory University

The premise of this talk is that knowledge is not something that we can discover but rather only something that we can produce. As such, each new instance of knowledge emerges transactionally through the interaction of configurations of materiality, discourse, and ideology—realities that are themselves the product of complex transactions. Drawing on theories from the Indian Buddhist epistemological tradition, this talk argues à la Foucault for the need to attend to structures of power in relation to knowledge so that we may recognize the nature of the regimes of truth in which we participate. The point is not to escape the regimes of truth but to better understand them so as to make them and ourselves more pliable. As truth is recognized to be itself a product and a transactional reality, the problem of finding a foundation for rationality is replaced by the problem of recognizing our responsibility for shaping the transactional fields in which knowledge is produced. The talk will end with a consideration of the implications of this recognition for the modern scientific study of Buddhist meditation and other contemplative practices.

Sara McClintock is Associate Professor of Religion at Emory University, where she teaches courses in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism and interpretation theory in the study of religion. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Bryn Mawr College (1983), her master’s degree in world religions from Harvard Divinity School (1989), and her doctorate in religion from Harvard University (2002). Her interests include narrative, philosophy, and contemplative practices, with particular focus on issues of rationality, rhetoric, reading, embodiment, emptiness, and ethics. She is author of Omniscience and the Rhetoric of Reason: Santaraksita and Kamalasila on Rationality, Argumentation, and Religious Authority (2010) and co-editor with Georges Dreyfus of The Svatantrika-Prasangika Distinction: What Difference Does a Difference Make? (2003). Recent writings include “Compassionate Trickster: The Buddha as a Literary Character in the Narratives of Early Indian Buddhism” (2011) and an article on the status of phenomenal content (akara) in cognition in Kamalasila’s Tattvasamgrahapanjika (2013). She is co-translator with John Dunne of Nagarjuna’s Ratnavali.

Co-presented by the Center for Buddhist Studies.

Wallace Best, Professor of Religion and African American Studies, Princeton University

In March 1953, Senator Joseph McCarthy called the poet Langston Hughes before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Formed in 1948, the PSI was initially charged with investigating allegations of corruption in the national defense program. When McCarthy assumed the chairmanship, however, he redirected the focus, turning it into a tribunal to expose Communist subversives among federal employees, as well as the general public. Hughes’s summons offered no explanation, but within the first few moments of his interrogation it was clear that “Goodbye, Christ,” a poem he had written in 1932 while sojourning in the Soviet Union, sat at the center of the committee’s interest. The poem allegedly extolled Communism while denigrating the American way of life. Concerning “Goodbye, Christ” tells the story of Hughes’s poem and the sustained impact it had on his life. It also highlights the potential efficacy and the probable peril “political poetry” could have on an African American poet’s career during the middle decades of the twentieth century. As Hughes himself would proclaim in 1964, “politics can be the graveyard of the poet, and only poetry can be his resurrection.”

Wallace Best specializes in 19th and 20th century African American religious history. His research and teaching focus on the areas of African American religion, religion and literature, Global Pentecostalism, gender and sexuality, and Womanist theology. He has held fellowships at Princeton’s Center for the Study of Religion and the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. He is the author of Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915-1952 (Princeton University Press, 2005), and his current book project is Langston’s Salvation: American Religion and the Bard of Harlem.

Webb Keane, George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Indonesian Muslims have been participating enthusiastically in the global rise of middle class piety. One way to gain insight into contemporary piety is to examine conflicts that might reveal the internal tensions and pressure points to which it is giving rise. Among the more puzzling conflicts for many outside observers to grasp have been those that center on semiotic transgressions. These can be especially important because of the role they play in mediating between subjectivities and the public world. Semiotic transgressions have also become important as sites of conflict within and between secular doctrines of freedom of religion and of expression. This talk focuses on the critical storm stirred up by the Qur’anic renderings produced by a prominent editor and literary critic, H.B. Jassin, during the last decades of the twentieth century. Although unique in many respects, the Jassin affair sheds light on some more general aspects of religious affect, objectification, and ethics.

Webb Keane’s writings cover a range of topics in social and cultural theory and the philosophical foundations of social thought and the human sciences. In particular, he is interested in semiotics and language; material culture; gift exchange, commodities, and money; religion, morality, and ethics; media and public cultures. His first book, Signs of Recognition: Powers and Hazards of Representation in an Indonesian Society is based on two years of fieldwork on the island of Sumba in Indonesia. The second book Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter concerns the impact of Protestantism from colonial mission to postcolonial church. His forthcoming book, Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories will be published by Princeton University Press in 2015.

Fanny Howe, Poet, Essayist, Novelist

Brigid of Ireland was first a goddess, then a person, then a saint divided into multiple personalities and nationalities. She shows up, like Mary, all over the place and is useful for almost any situation. There are religious orders devoted to her, although she emanates a pantheistic aura, even a primitive one, both historically and in legends. I will talk about her as a child and adolescent, because there are so many contradictory attributes provided on paper and stone. Murroe is said to be the town in Ireland where Brigid was sent into foster care by her father, a brute. I only learned this after spending many years in that same town and under the influence of Michel de Certeau. (Howe)

Fanny Howe has written numerous books of fiction, essays and poetry and has won a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lenore Marshall Award and the Ruth Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award, among others. Her most recent collection of poetry Second Childhood, a Finalist for the National Book Award 2014, was published by Graywolf Press. She is currently a Visiting Writer at Brown University.

Co-presented by the Holloway Poetry Series.

Photo by Lynn Chistoffers