The more things change, does anything stay the same? This emerged as a theme question of the 170th meeting of the American Society of Church History, which I attended last weekend in San Francisco.
I first heard this question in a Friday morning session titled "Food and Its Functions in the History of Christianity." Ffor those of you who have never attended an academic conference, a session usually consists of two to four papers, which presenters read from prepared manuscripts. (I used to find this extremely boring, but after hearing a couple of presenters improvise on sketchier scripts, I now appreciate pre-written polish.) Each paper takes about 20 to 30 minutes, and ideally they all relate to each other in some useful way. After they have all been read, a scholar who has read the papers ahead of time gives brief comments, to which the presenters usually have a few minutes to respond. If time remains, audience members raise more questions.
Most sessions focus on one era, or even one person, but the food session followed debates about eating among the desert fathers, scholastic theologians, early Methodists, and modern mainline Protestants. In the question period after this dizzying 1,750-year sweep, Brooks Holifield, the society's incoming president, asked what continuitiesif anycould be identified regarding Christian views on food. Can scholars ask or answer any of the same culinary questions when studying the ancient church, the twentieth century, and everything in between? Does the desert fathers' renunciation of meat have anything to do with World Vision's 30-Hour Famine program? Holifield didn't really get an answer.
Issues of continuity and discontinuity came up again in the Friday evening panel session ...1