3rd International Conference on Religion and Spirituality in Society

Today's guest post comes from Richard Kent Evans, a graduate student in the Department of History at Texas Tech University.

The Third International Conference on Religion and Spirituality in Society recently took place on the campus of Arizona State University. As that’s my (relative) neck of the woods, I decided to attend. About one hundred scholars, skeptics, and believers (and interesting combinations thereof) were in attendance, representing thirty-two countries. Three presentations stood out to me, and they should be of interest to historians of American religion.

Michael York, a PhD candidate in Communication and Culture at York and Ryerson Universities in Ontario is working on the Ex-Gay Movement, specifically Exodus International and NARTH. Interestingly, Michael has access to former participants who provide insight into the inner-workings of these organizations. Michael’s dissertation should add to the growing interest in the Religious Right.

Rabbi Dr. Paul Shrell-Fox of The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem is working on a sociological study of orthodox Rabbis who have abandoned their faith. Many of these Rabbis are still leading congregations, because, as Paul put it, “they have no marketable skills.” Beyond the practical reasons, however, Dr. Shrell-Fox’s study is a fascinating glance into the centrality of the Rabbi within orthodox communities and families. “When a prayer requires a quorum of ten,” Paul said, “these Rabbis always make sure they are the eleventh.”

Michael Horka, a graduate student in American Studies at George Washington University is working on the relationship between gay Catholics and the church by looking at Dignity, a Catholic group made up mostly of openly gay men. Beginning in 1986, the church banned Dignity from operating on church property. Michael argues that the church effectively separated Dignity from “closeted” priests in a “grasp at sociopolitical legitimacy through heteronormativity.”

The Third International Conference on Religion and Spirituality in Society featured three spectacular keynote addresses.

Dr. Tracy Fessenden of Arizona State University spoke about the emergence of spirituality as a legitimate object of study. She remarked that her department receives an inordinate amount of graduate study applications that are marked “Spiritual Seeker.” In past years, this meant rejection. Not anymore.

Dr. Mohammad Khalil of Michigan State University spoke about Islamic perceptions of non-Muslims through the thought of medieval Muslim theologians. It turns out, the question of salvation of non-Muslims has preoccupied Muslims for longer than we thought.

Dr. Norbert Samuelson of Arizona State University is working on a new book in which he examines the relationship between religion and science by looking at evolving conceptions of light from Genesis 1:3 to the Enlightenment. It sounds fascinating.

The Fourth International Conference on Religion and Spirituality in Society will be held April 29 – 30, 2014 in Heredia, Costa Rica. It was a fascinating gathering and a great opportunity to “zoom out” and think about religion from a broader perspective. Plus, it’s a great excuse to be in Costa Rica next spring. Check out www.ReligionInSociety.com if you’re interested in learning more about the conference.


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