Message from the Directors, June 2017

Brandon Schneider News

June 29, 2017

Dear Friends of BCSR,

2016-2017 was an extraordinary year for the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion. We’d like to give you a sense of our activities, current, and future, and thank you for helping to make our year such a success.

Our biggest news revolves around the first full year of funding from the three-year, $1 million grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. The grant supports our long-term Religion in the World initiative by establishing a Berkeley Public Theology Program and involves several components including education, research, and public outreach.

Under the grant’s umbrella, we hosted our Berkeley Lectures in Public Theology Series and multi-day workshops exploring the critical role of religion in the world. The first Theology and the Public University workshop, “Vernacular Theologies,” explored Christian texts and artifacts in vernacular languages from the late Middle Ages that established new modes of theological investigation and inspired other theological movements beyond the church and the monastery.

The second Theology and East Asian Traditions gathering, “Translating Religion and Theology in Europe and Asia: East to West,” was held over the course of three days in late March. Participants from Asia, Australia, Europe and the U.S. gathered to present and discuss the European reception of knowledge about East Asian thought, and consider how this reception shaped and was shaped by terms like “religion,” “theology” and “philosophy.” The Berkeley Lectures in Public Theology Series offered the opportunity to hear from Leora Batnitzky (Princeton), Robert Hymes (Columbia) and Dale Martin (Yale).

Also under the Luce Public Theology Program, we were delighted to host our first postdoc, Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins. Danny had an extraordinary impact on BCSR, most notably by planning and executing “What Comes after the Critique of Secularism,” an all-day workshop exploring recent critiques of secularism across a variety of academic fields, including history, political science, anthropology, and comparative literature. We thank Danny for his contributions to BCSR, and wish him the best of luck at Yale, where he will be a 2017-2018 Presidential Visiting Professor and Lecturer in the Religion Department. Our second postdoc is scheduled to start this summer, and we look forward to sharing more details about him in our September newsletter.

As part of the Public Theology Program’s education component, our faculty conveners held weekly meetings with Luce New Directions in Theology graduate students from across the humanities and social sciences to share ideas across the disciplines and introduce them to the wider world of religious studies at Berkeley. We have also selected our next cohort of eight early-stage students who will participate in the year-long seminar in 2017-18. They are: Bernardo Hinojosa (English and Medieval Studies), Kimberly Kolor, (South and Southeast Asian Studies), Mustafa Yildiz (History), Paul Thomas, (South and Southeast Asian Studies), Kyra Sutton (Rhetoric), Nir Feinberg (Buddhist Studies), Remi Alie (History) and Josefina Valdes (Anthropology).

Alongside Luce programming, BCSR events completed a full calendar. Continuing the BCSR colloquium series, Andrea Vestrucci spoke on Martin Luther’s Nova Lingua, exploring the nature and the conditions of the new language constructed and spoken as theology. Jason Sexton, a BCSR visiting scholar from Cal State Fullerton, gave a talk on “The Prison Church,” presenting an interdisciplinary theological vision of religious rehabilitation found in personal faith. The Seminars in Art and Religion took place in October and March with guest speakers Finbarr Barry Flood from NYU and Avinoam Shalem from Columbia University.

In April, UC Berkeley’s Karen Barkey spoke at the annual Lecture on Religious Tolerance, made possible by the Endowed Fund for the Study of Religious Tolerance. This timely lecture, “Living with Difference: Shared Religious Sanctuaries in the Ottoman Lands,” was well received and provocative; Professor Barkey discussed the sharing of sacred sanctuaries—a seemingly impossible feat in a world where difference tends to fracture rather than combine religious communities.

Also in April, Wayne Te Brake from SUNY Purchase offered a view of religious peace in the aftermath of religious war. With today’s headlines suggesting unprecedented religious conflict, his “Making Religious Peace: A Historical Perspective” focused on the pattern of religious peace that followed six major wars in Europe during the period between 1529 and 1651. Throughout the year, BCSR was delighted to co-sponsor events with the Departments of Rhetoric, History, English and the Graduate Theological Union.

Made possible by the Frank and Leslie Yeary Endowment for Ethics in the Humanities, our Graduate Student Summer Research Grant program continued to support excellence in graduate research. This year we awarded four grants. David Bratt (East Asian Languages and Cultures), will travel to Jiyuan, China to better understand how religious authority and canonicity were recognized in different religious contexts in premodern China. Ashwak Hauter (Medical Anthropology) is examining ethico-religious concepts in Middle East hospital settings. Timothy Wright (History) will travel to Berlin and Munich to source printed material for the final two chapters of his dissertation, “Hidden Lives: Mystical Praxis and Alternative Christianities in Late Reformation Europe, c. 1700.” Finally, Jane Raisch (Comparative Literature) will travel to multiple libraries in Washington DC to research how print technology and the circulation of Greek theological manuscripts intervene with scriptural textual editing.

The 2016-2017 academic year is now over, but we’ve already begun to set next year’s events in motion. David Hollinger (History) will convene a two-day fall workshop, “Ecumenical Protestantism and Post-Protestantism in the US, 1917-2017,” while Travis Zadeh (Yale), Robert Orsi (Northwestern), Mary-Jane Rubenstein (Wesleyan) and Ruth Marshall (University of Toronto) will join us for this year’s Berkeley Lectures in Public Theology. The filmmaker Nira Pereg and the poet Linda Gregerson will respectively lead the two Berkeley Seminars in Art and Religion. Our second Theology in the Public University workshop is scheduled in the spring, as well as our annual Lecture on Religious Tolerance.

Along with our programming, BCSR only gets more dynamic as a campus center. We are delighted to welcome as affiliated faculty: Henrike Christiane Lange (Art History and Italian Studies), Duncan MacCrae (Classics), and Diego Pirillo (Italian Studies).

None of this would have been possible without tremendous support from others. Our faculty advisory board—Karen Barkey (Sociology), Charles Hirschkind (Anthropology), Niklaus Largier (German) and David Marno (English) were generous with their time, creativity, and guidance. The Consortium for Interdisciplinary Research (CIR) continues to serve as a magnificent administrative home for BCSR. Under the leadership of Associate Director Khai Thu Nguyen, its staff provided wonderful support and assistance. Program Coordinator Breana George, Office Coordinator Jordan Mursinna, Events and Grants Coordinator Patty Dunlap, Events and Student Affairs Coordinator Brandon Schneider, and student assistants Beverly Yan and Sam Mountain worked on every event that we organized this year.

Thanks to the support and immense generosity of our donors, rigorous, creative, and trans-disciplinary scholarship on religion is flourishing at Berkeley. We are grateful to UC’s College of Letters and Sciences: Divisions of Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences, the Endowed Fund for the Study of Religious Tolerance, the Frank and Leslie Yeary Endowment for Ethics in the Humanities, and the Henry Luce Foundation for providing the tremendous support that enabled our dynamic programming. We hope you will continue joining us next year, and consider a contribution to BCSR through Give to Berkeley now or in the future.


Jonathan and Mark

PS: As always, you can stay abreast of BCSR happenings by looking at our website and/or by following us on Facebook and Twitter, where we regularly post on religious topics relevant to Berkeley and beyond. You can also listen to recordings of past BCSR talks on SoundCloud—it’s a great way to catch-up on what you might have missed. See you in the fall!