Each year the joint meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) attract thousands of academics whose work centers on or circles around religion and sacred texts. Nowadays that work may well entail doubting, for instance, that there is any such thing as religion, not to mention doubting that there is any "coherent self" to experience doubt or belief in the first place. (And who is that figure at the microphone expressing such doubt? Merely the locus of a fragmented, polyvalent, posthuman, and indubitably postmodern parliament of selves.)
The setting this year is Nashville's Opryland, where amid surreal splendors meetings are scheduled, papers are given, job candidates are interviewed, and convention-goers trudge along winding paths and humid grottoes under a vast, domelike canopy, as if enclosed in the dream of a madman with an insatiable appetite for kitsch. Does this faze the assembled throng? Not at all. To be here in the first place you have to be someone who is accustomed to living in textual spaces, for whom extratextual reality is secondary.
Sessions began Saturday morning and continued through midday Tuesday. It is impossible to summarize the range of topics considered and the variety of viewpoints represented. Some who are present brag about never attending a session, but others are tormented by the surfeit of riches. A fascinating AAR session on funerals, death rituals, and the afterlife in Japanese Buddhism is scheduled at the same time as a tempting SBL session on the Decalogue, including a paper by Patrick Miller of Princeton Theological Seminary. And those are just two of many sessions from a single time slot.
The range of religious experience covered at such a ...1
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