Subversive Literature

A report from Toronto, where scholars of religion are holding their annual meeting

If you can discourse learnedly on the theology of Jonathan Edwards or the varieties of Buddhist monasticism in Japan, if you pore over texts in ancient Hebrew or New Testament Greek, and especially if you are seeking employment in some such discipline, there's a good chance you're in Toronto today for the joint annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature.

During this year's gathering, which began on Saturday and ends tomorrow, you may have taken time—even if you're not a New Testament scholar—to see the James ossuary and hear experts debate its authenticity. In the hotel restaurant, perhaps, you found yourself rubbing elbows with Hans Küng. And last night you may have joined the crowd for an interview with the Magus himself, Jacques Derrida, whose "religious turn" Bruce Benson has clarified in the pages of Books & Culture.

In the aisles of the publishers' exhibits, the new emphasis on Islam—already apparent last year in Denver, in the wake of 9/11—is striking. Also notable is the continuing fascination with "lived religion," with behavior and practices and ways of organizing experience. While there's plenty of foolishness and perversity on display, both in the bookstalls and in the sessions where papers are delivered, there's also a wealth of superb scholarship, and I'll come away with a list of people to contact and books to review. (It was good to see that Making Time for God: Daily Devotions for Children, the book by New Testament scholar Susan Garrett and systematic theologian Amy Plantinga Pauw featured in this space last month, is already in a second printing.)

Two of the books that made the biggest impression on me at this year's meeting—so much so that I had to read both ...

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