November 05, 2010
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY RELIGION GRADUATE STUDENTS’ CONFERENCE
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY RELIGION GRADUATE STUDENTS’ CONFERENCE CALL FOR PAPERS
Humble Body, Humble Mind: Selflessness, Lowliness, and the Religious
FRIDAY, 01 APRIL, 2011
NEW YORK, NY
Please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words to email@example.com by 15 December, 2010. Include your name, department, institution, tentative presentation title, and (if applicable) requests for audiovisual technology. Also, in order to encourage increased comprehension, attention, and conversational engagement in the course of the conference, we ask that you consider at the outset how to make the ideas of your presentation accessible and interesting to a reasonably broad audience.
Whether understood as a position or disposition, the category of humility (the state of being low; the absence of self-assertion or self-exaltation; the converse of pride) has the potential to relate to numerous aspects within the study of religion. These include but are not limited to the (overlapping) areas of 1) religious epistemology and belief, 2)ritual and practice, 3) history, politics, and power and 4) comparative religious ethics. We therefore seek papers that touch upon or stem from any of the following questions, considerations, and quandaries.
* Commonly, religious adherents—as well as the individuals who study them—make claims to knowledge or belief. In asserting, acquiring, or dispersing knowledge,how do ‘saints and scholars’ (fail to) exercise humility? What is the relation between fallibility and faith? Is it humble to believe or to withhold belief? Perhaps counterintuitively, does pride serve as a barrier to religious belief? What is the role of humility in responding to intellectual conflicts and error (with respect to the capacities to receive correction or extend forgiveness, for example)? How might feminist epistemologies such as Donna Haraway’s treatment of subjugated standpoints in her article “Situated Knowledges” inform the writing of religious studies, including ethnographies? How else might humility manifest itself in styles of writing, reading, or interpretation(including that of sacred texts)? In what way would a humble rhetoric or hermeneutic differ from the tone of ironic distancing in modern academic discourse?
Humbling Practices and Practitioners
* Is it appropriate or useful to (re)frame analyses of practices or rituals of abasement in terms of humility? Possibilities for discussion and disagreement abound here. Consider, for example, prostration in prayer and on pilgrimages, as well as
customs of kneeling and bowing, monastic conduct and comportment, manual labor, fasting, different forms of impoverishment, the sacrificing of riches, and ascetic modes of living. Does the adoption of these often literally low positions serve to habituate virtue in practitioners? What pictures of humble saints do hagiographies paint? In theorizing these acts, how might Buddhist teachings of selflessness be applied? Could such practices as those listed above be seen as a recognition of the nature of reality (a “noself”view) rather than as a reduction in or emptying of an “inherently real” self?
Power, Authority, and Humiliations
* In contrast to perspectives that uphold humility as a desirable religious trait belonging to an individual, this rubric raises social considerations and draws attention to the negative connotations of the word “humiliation.” Issues that advance to the fore here include the force of religious and political hierarchies, implementations of institutional power, assertions of authority, and ways in which calls for humility have been or may be manipulative and abusive. How does pride—positively or negatively—serve as a mobilizing, political value? Should communities resist humility as a sign of weakness? Where do the ideas of submission, subjugation, and humiliation separate? For a discussion of humility that is attuned to power, one might wish to consult Talal Asad’s fourth chapter in Genealogies of Religion.
Comparative Religious Ethics
* Perhaps the most looming concern in choosing this conference theme is whether humility is a western construct. Sensitive to this charge, we welcome not only contributions from eastern traditions but comparative investigations. Questions emerging from this domain might include the nature of humility—is it a specifically religious virtue?—and its impossibility—can a person know when she is humble? Beyond obedience and faith, how does humility relate to the notion of repentance or even humor (evinced in the ability to laugh at oneself)? How might humility be theorized in contrast to traits or vices such as vanity, haughtiness, presumption, pride, and being full of oneself or puffed up? Is there a cycle between hubris and humility such that a fall really does follow pride (as the Jewish proverb states)? Is it possible to sustain a humble attitude or is a return to non-humility, whatever its guise, inevitable? Additional points of interest may address false or fake humility; philosophical valuations of humility (is the Socratic call to “know yourself” a call to recognize your limits?); and kenosis, or the self-emptying of Christ (in Philippians 2). Here or elsewhere insights might intersect with or be taken from the psychology of religion. Lastly, is humility an ‘extinct’ virtue? If it is rarely studied, preached, or practiced today, how can that absence or lacuna itself be turned into an object of study? How can the history of the
loss of interest in humility be told?
Posted by kekeenan at November 5, 2010 09:53 AM
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