Vernacular
Theologies

February 16-17, 2017
3335 Dwinelle Hall
UC Berkeley

The Berkeley Public Theology  Program, supporting the study of theology in a globalizing world

Program

Thu, February 16, 2017
9:00am – 4:45pm
3335 Dwinelle Hall

Day 1

9:00am
Coffee
9:30am
Introductory Remarks

Jonathan Sheehan, Professor, History; Director, Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, UC Berkeley

Niklaus Largier, Sidney and Margaret Ancker Professor of German and Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley

10:00am
Mechthild of Magdeburg’s Vernacular Voice

Niklaus Largier, Sidney and Margaret Ancker Professor of German and Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley

Mechthild’s Flowing Light of the Godhead is a 13th century text in which she stages her authorship and experiments with genres and voices in challenging and innovative ways. I will focus on the question of how the shift from the technical (and dogmatic) language of theology and of scriptural exegesis to a vernacular form of expression modifies the theological imagination and vocabulary.

11:30am
Hypernomianism and the Mystical Venturing Beyond the Law

Elliot Wolfson, Marsha and Jay Glazer Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies, UC Santa Barbara

Evidence for what might be called vernacular theology in the history of Judaism is not attested until the modern period with the production of Ladino texts in the Sephardic cultural orbit and Yiddish texts in the Ashkenazi cultural orbit. My focus will be on a related but somewhat different phenomenon, an alternative conception of the law to the dominant model promulgated by rabbinic authorities. Specifically, in sections of what is known as the zoharic literature, composed in all likelihood in fourteenth-century Castile or Aragon, we find a mystical circle that challenged rabbinic normativity by expounding what I call a hypernomian—as opposed to antinomian—conception of the law being fulfilled by extending beyond the limits of the law. Close reading of the texts I have provided will afford us the opportunity to examine this intricate gesture of mystical insurgency, anticipating a messianic future in which the binaries crucial to the halakhic norm would be overturned. Closely linked to this hypernomianism are the transvaluation of values and the transposition of the gender hierarchy that shaped the socio-political world in which these texts were produced and disseminated.

12:45pm
Lunch Break

2:00pm
Hazing the Spiritual Bully: A Tough Lesson in Theology

Vasudha Paramasivan, Assistant Professor, South and Southeast Asian Studies, UC Berkeley

The study of theology in the context of Hindu traditions (the relevance of the category itself a matter of debate) has been limited to traditional and normative frameworks. The sources of theological discourse, its forms and so on, are located within such accepted frameworks. Focusing on a North Indian devotional tradition in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, I will ask whether we might uncover lessons in theology in sources outside the traditional frameworks. Can hagiography, for instance, be a source of theology? This presentation will focus on one such hagiographical narrative—the Sri Maharaj caritra—in which a theologian is on the receiving end of a rather tough lesson in theology.

3:30pm
Film as Revelation. Audio-Visual Imaginations of the Unseen and Popular Christianity in Ghana

Birgit Meyer, Professor of Religious Studies, Utrecht University

This presentation discusses chapters of my recent book Sensational Movies: Video, Vision and Christianity in Ghana (UC Press 2016), which explores interfaces of video feature films and Pentecostalism (understood as containing popular, grassroots Christianity). Grounded in an approach to religion as a practice of mediation through which the unseen is made visible en senseable, the book analyzes film as a medium of and for the imagination, and speaks to the question of “vernacular theologies.” Video-movies do not merely illustrate and express the plasticity of Pentecostal belief and experience, but are an intrinsic part of a Pentecostal visual regime of revelation and concealment. In this sense, a focus on films, and the ways in which they are made to reveal the unseen operations of divine and demonic forces (while at the same time feeding suspicions that images ultimately conceal as much as they show) is helpful to grasp the meaning and power of vision in this phenomenally popular version of Christianity. While the texts offer a close analysis of a particular setting, they can be helpful for thinking through the nexus of film, theology, and the religious imagination in a wider sense.

4:45pm
End

 


 

Fri, February 17, 2017
9:00am – 4:45pm
3335 Dwinelle Hall

Day 2

9:00am
Coffee
10:00am
Savage Mysticism: Perception, Experience, and the Practice of Spiritual Exercise

Hent de Vries, Professor, Russ Family Chair in the Humanities​; Director, Humanities Center, Johns Hopkins University

Starting out from crucial observations made in Pierre Hadot’s The Present Alone Is Our Happiness, I will discuss his proposed generic concept of spiritual experience against the background of his dual commitment to an at once philological and philosophical scholarly imperative. I will attempt to answer a simple question, namely what does it mean to define or characterize spiritual experience in what seem to be formal and concrete terms, albeit operating virtually independently of all historical traditions and doctrines, but also venturing into the domain of the vernacular, as this workshop defines it? While Hadot limits the category of religion to a sociological and institutional phenomenon, his understanding of spiritual experience and exercise in terms of elementary perception, experience, and the work of the self on the self (to be distinguished from the better known “care” of the self) has a paradoxical public and, I will argue, essential political dimension or aspect as well. The concept and practice of spiritual exercise, it turns out, does not revolve around the self, first and foremost, nor is it an eminently contemplative or normative, in the sense of a theoretical or ethical, operation. On the contrary, its singular method of estrangement is oriented towards an at once deeply metaphysical—as Hadot says, existential—and pragmatic engagement to which its prevalent mode of disengagement forms both the occasion and the incentive, the driving force and a​ corrective.

11:30am
“Expression to Our Christmas Feeling”: Imagining Familial Religion in Schleiermacher

Daniel Weidner, Professor, Institut für Kulturwissenschaft, Humboldt-Universität, Berlin

Reading Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Christmas Eve (1806), this presentation discusses how religious practice is privatized into a familial setting and how at the same time the private—especially gender relations and the order of generations—is depicted through different religious concepts and figures of thought. Moreover, Schleiermacher’s piece reveals how different media practices as conversation, catechetic and platonic dialogue, music, etc. are used to frame the family in relation to bourgeois society as well as to the emerging national state—in a primal scene of German Kulturprotestatism we are not only confronted with the paradoxes of religion in modern societies but also with a specific form of vernacular theology characteristic for the long nineteenth century.

12:45pm
Lunch Break
2:00pm
The Theological Origins of Claude Lefort’s Concept of Democracy

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, Berkeley Postdoctoral Fellow in Public Theology, UC Berkeley

Scholars have recently suggested that Merleau-Ponty’s attempt to overcome subject-object dualism in the visible and invisible made recourse to Schelling’s conception of God as the ground of being as put forward in the Ages of the World. This presentation looks at the possibility that Merleau-Ponty’s late-life turn to ontology as partially inspired by Schelling’s conception of God was appropriated by his student, the political philosopher Claude Lefort in the attempt to overcome the historical determininsm of Marxism. Relying on the notion that the invisible institutes the visible but cannot be reduced to it, Lefort argued that the political/symbolic form or shape of a society institutes its actual politics but remains irreducible to (empirical) politics. Schelling’s notion of a god over god, it will be suggested, shares a deep affinity with Lefort’s notion of the political over politics as mediated by Merleau-Ponty.

3:30pm
Kafka and Benjamin on Theology and Failure

Gilad Sharvit, Townsend Fellow, The Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, UC Berkeley

4:45pm
End