American Academy of Religion 2009

We just got back from Montreal, where my wife gave an absolutely outstanding paper on ways the Nation of Islam employed food and diet to craft a new identity, to overturn the malignant, dehumanizing narratives of slavery. What made her talk more brilliant still (aside from its great analysis, outstanding sources, and impeccable delivery) was that it was in a panel on boundary maintenance in Islam. So amidst fascinating papers by Islamic scholars on medieval Islam and the scandals the Quranic word could generate for gender mores (what does it mean for a woman to pronounce a Quranic text that normally requires immediate prayerful prostration of all hearers, including men? Islamic jurists debated the question heartily) and other fascinating topics, this Mormon woman stands up, describes and analyzes the idiosyncratic and fascinating foodways propounded by Elijah Mohammed, and then, because Delta moved up our flight and customs at Montreal reportedly takes forever, disappears to find a taxicab.

That’s just part of the drama that was AAR. Unfortunately because of childcare issues and other obligations, we were unable to attend many of the other sessions we wanted to. Was anyone else at AAR? Anybody care to share some details?


  1. For those sad they missed out on my wife’s talk, she’ll be giving the keynote at the Claremont Religions in Conversation conference this weekend in Southern California. The material’s not the same, but the general topic and approach are.

    I’m particularly sad that I missed the SMPT session on Saturday morning, which featured Terryl Givens’s new book and included a talk by a scholar of early modern Kabbalism that sounded great.

    How did the Mormon Studies Consultation session go?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    ZD’s Lynnette was there, so perhaps she’ll see this and give a report from her perspective.

  3. Yes, I was there, though unfortunately I didn’t get in until Saturday night so I missed the SMPT and the Mormon Studies sessions. I did go hear Charles Taylor and some others engage in a fascinating discussion of secularism (I really like Taylor, so I wanted to see him live), and also a provocative session on ex nihilo creation–but I have to admit that I wasn’t in the most AAR-ish mood, and had a lot more fun seeing the sights of Montreal than attending the conference. I’m evidently not a very committed academic. But I did get to attend a French mass in the Notre Dame basilica, which was cool to see even though I hardly understood a word (not all that different from some AAR sessions, come to think of it!)

  4. I was there Saturday and Sunday. I wanted to attend the food session, but missed it because I was scheduled to be in a conflicting session.

    Not enough people showed up for Terryl Givens’s session, but I thought it went well, as did the Mormon consultation session. As for “my” session: when I got to the room the only other people there were the two people giving the papers to which I was to respond, not even the moderator. He showed up and then finally a three of four people showed up as an audience, so we did the papers and my response.

    I thought when people saw that they could either listen to Zizek or me, there would be no question about which session to attend. Apparently there wasn’t.

  5. Jim, for me there would have been no question whatsoever!

  6. Jim, I’m sorry I wasn’t organized enough to make it to your talk. It’s no fun discovering that your room is empty. We got there late, had to work a lot, and I never even got to read the program. Maybe next year we should make sure everyone knows in advance who’s presenting when/where.

  7. Jim, probably everyone was just hoping Zizek was more comprehensible in person!

  8. No need to feel sorry for me. (I’ve got tenure!) In fact, I think we all found it amusing, and we enjoyed having a relatively informal discussion of the papers.

    But it would be a good idea next year to find out who’s going to AAR so we can at least know who to look for in the program index. Even better, one of the blogs could list the sessions at which we are aware of Mormons who will be presenting. I, for example, wanted to go to the food session, but I didn’t know that one of the presenters was Sam’s wife.

  9. Jim: agreed. This year she was actually doing Islam and boundary maintenance, but next year she’ll be doing the food session (they plan it out for 3 years in advance).
    I’ll work to remember to post something on BCC so everyone knows who is where. I watched a youtube of Zizek, and Kristine, there was nothing comprehensible about it. Funny mumbling and expansive arm waving, almost like he was trying to scare God to death.

  10. Thanks for sharing your experience, Smb; from what I’ve read/heard from your wife, she is a wonderful scholar.

    I wish I could have made it to AAR. Maybe next year.

  11. Thanks, Ben. She is a superb thinker.
    Next year is Atlanta, so Delta flights should be cheap even if traffic and smog are stifling.

  12. Yeah, Kate is possibly the one person on the planet who can make Sam seem dumb and boring. ;)

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Which is probably why he married her in the first place, I imagine.

  14. #12 Sam meets both criteria regardless, but I fully support honoring Kate.

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