Departmental Events

Spring 2014

Date/Location/Time Speaker/Event Title of Event

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Weatherspoon Auditorium

Dr. Martin Kavka,
Associate Professor, Philip and
Murel Berman Chair of Jewish
Studies at Lehigh University

"Letting God In To The Public Sphere: On The
Politics of Covenant."

Judaism in the United States is frequently described as a religious tradition centered on the notion of covenant, the relationship between God and the people of Israel in which God will bless the people in history if the people act in accordance with divine commands. But what is the function of this description? What are the desires of scholars and theologians who have invoked it? In these remarks, Prof. Kavka will show that covenant-talk arose in the US as a way to highlight the unique way in which Jews could participate in American politics -- the esteemed theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in 1954 that "God will return to us when we let Him in -- into our banks and factories, into our Congress and clubs, into our courts and investigating committees" -- and will ask whether this language is still appropriate for an age in which the enemies of the West are no longer godless Communists, but godly zealots.

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Monday, March 17, 2014
EUC Auditorium

Dr. Carl Ernst,
William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

He is a specialist in Islamic studies, with a focus on West and South Asia. His published research, based on the study of Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, has been mainly devoted to the study of three areas: general and critical issues of Islamic studies, premodern and contemporary Sufism, and Indo-Muslim culture.

“Islamophobia in America”

Please go to the website below for more information.
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Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Weatherspoon Auditorium

Dr. Nicole Ruane,
University of New Hampshire
Author of Sacrifice and Gender
in Biblical Law, Cambridge
University Press, 2013

"Gender Ideologies and the Ritual Use of Animals in Biblical Law"

The Hebrew Bible contains numerous laws for sacrificing animals, food, and children. Most of these are highly specific about the gender of participants and, especially, of victims. This discussion is an investigation of the significance of gender distinctions in sacrificial rituals and how the rites reflect, create, and manage social gender roles with their material prerogatives. Sacrifice and Gender in Biblical Law considers the laws of the firstborn, the ritual of the red cow, the prohibition on boiling a kid in its mother's milk, and other laws of purity and sacrifice. It shows how gender distinctions in these rituals affect their form, their function, and their legitimacy.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Foust 111
12:00 Noon

Dr. Gregory Grieve,
Associate Professor of Religious
Studies, University of North Carolina Greensboro

"From Satori to Second Life: The Cultural Context and Historic Genealogy of Digita Zen"

In early February 2010, soon after logging onto the virtual world of Second Life, I came across free versions of kesas, Zen Buddhist monk robes which were designed as “Asian.” Using the robes as a touch stone, this paper asks: What ideological labor does “Asianess” perform in digital media? What is the semiotic construction of “religion” that is being produced by these groups? Finally, what is the role of “Asia” regarding aesthetic qualities that motivate ethical/religious expressions in Second Life and other digital media?

Obviously, these digital robes fashion a virtual “Asia,” which indicates not just a geographic location, but also a symbol of a larger ideology by which the Occident is pictured as rational and modern. In comparison, the Orient is pictured as spiritual and traditional. One can take it for granted that such Orientalism is a persistent and subtle Eurocentric prejudice derived from romanticized images of Asia that has legitimized Western domination. Furthermore, Orientalism is not merely an academic problem. Long fascinated with “Eastern Spirituality,” popular culture circulates images of saffron-robed monks, gurus, bhikkhus, sages, sifus, healers, and masters from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and religious traditions.? In The Buddhist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek suggests that in the Postmodern West, “Eastern Religion” clothes neoliberalism with a patina of spirituality. “Buddhism presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tensions of capitalist dynamics allowing us to uncouple from this frenetic and frenzied rhythm and retain inner peace and enlightenment.”

Undoubtedly, this is true. However, I maintain that Second Life Zen is not merely a flawed representation of classic Asian religious traditions; it is a contemporary practice with a family resemblance, and a genealogical relation to classic traditions. If this is so, what does it do, and how is it different? Furthermore, what role does “Asianess” play in creating subjects? Why does neoliberalismik employ “Asia” ideologically? What type of human subject does it imagine? I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher. Instead, using the digital robes as an interpretive lens, I make a claim from the position of sociologist, historian of religion, scholar of digital media and ethnographer. I argue (1) that popular Zen conceives of humans as part of a larger cybernetic system that includes machines and other nonhuman elements, (2) that the cybernetic worldview is both a product and a response to global capital, and (3) that “Zen” is used to dress cybernetic thought in “Eastern spirituality.”

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