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Theology and the Public University: Culminating Conference Recap

On February 22-23, 2019, the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion held the culminating conference for the project “Theology and the Public University”.  For the past two years, BCSR, supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, has convened a series of workshops and seminars concerning, broadly speaking, the place of theology in the university. This conference assembled a group of talented and creative thinkers who we believe are pioneering new ways of imagining theology, broadly construed. Within the next week, we will be posting the audio recordings from the conference on our Soundcloud and YouTube pages with the hopes that the conversations sparked at this conference will continue in the public realm.

E V E N T S 
Dealing with Infinity: Art and the Transformation of the Symbolic Order

March 1-2 | 3335 Dwinelle Hall

This is a multi-day, interdisciplinary workshop. Presentations on Friday, March 1 will run from 10 am-4:30 pm, and from 10 am-2 pm on Saturday, March 2.

A genealogy of the historical forms of imagination or of attentiveness in literature and the other arts traces these forms back to epistemological realms that predate aesthetic experience: to the medieval formation of the soul, to attentiveness in prayer practices, and even further back to Aristotle and Plato (s. N. Largier, Marno). If the institution of secularity, first introduced by Luther, provokes – as Largier argues – the transposition and reconfiguration of mysticism into the new epistemological realm of aesthetic experience rather than a gap in history, if the modern invention of autonomous art should thus not be thought of as a novum but as a transformation or a shift in a historical continuum, then this question has another substantial dimension: What causes these shifts, what do these reconfigurations take account of? Read more


Daniel Hershenzon, University of Connecticut
March 4, 4-6 pm | Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall

This talk explores the entangled experience of Muslim and Christian captives and by extension the connected histories of the Spanish Empire, Morocco, and Ottoman Algiers in the 17th-century. It argues that piracy, captivity, and redemption shaped the Mediterranean as an integrated region—at the social, political, and economic levels. The history that emerges of the captivities of Christians and of Muslims is both local and Mediterranean. It offers an analysis of competing Spanish, Algerian, and Moroccan imperial projects intended to shape Mediterranean mobility structures. Simultaneously, the project reveals the tragic upending of the lives of individuals by these imperial maritime political agendas. Read More
Critical Public Theology: How to Use and Not to Use the Bible in Contemporary Public Issues 

Konrad Schmid, University of Zurich
March 7, 5-7 pm | 3335 Dwinelle

The Bible sometimes plays a major role in current, political discourses, especially in the United States. As a project, public theology supports efforts to let the Bible speak to contemporary, public concerns. But using the Bible in this way involves many potential traps. How can a 2000-year-old book provide guidance for social and political challenges? Should it do so at all? This lecture argues that to use the Bible in social and political discourses without attending to its historical framework, and without dealing rationally and critically with its texts, will neither do a favor to theology nor to the public.    Read More

What's Theology Got to Do With It? An Eighteenth-Century Chinese Emperor Debating Religions and Christianity

Eugenio Menegon, Boston University
March 13, 5-7 pm | 3335 Dwinelle Hall

In his Lettres chinoises, indiennes et tartares, Voltaire republished “a note by the good Kangxi Emperor to the Peking Jesuits” as follows: “The emperor is surprised to see you so stubborn in your ideas. Why would you worry so much about a world where you have not been yet? Enjoy the present. Your God must be pained by your preoccupations. Isn’t He powerful enough to exercise justice without your meddling?”  To Voltaire this was a proof of the superiority of Chinese wisdom over Christianity. This was, however, also a first intimation of the crumbling of imperial patronage towards the missionaries and their religious ideas. Read More

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