Jan Harrison: "The Corridor Series Primate #28"

Drew’s Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium began in 2001. The formula was simple but effective: settle on a topic that pushes the envelope of contemporary theological discourse; invite a dozen or so scholars associated with that topic to Drew; seat them around a table with Drew faculty who pursue related research; and discuss pre-circulated papers in a public forum with opportunities for audience participation. Other features of TTC that quickly became standard were the one-day graduate student colloquium; supplementation of the scholarly colloquium with public lectures, when the colloquium topic warranted it; and publication of the colloquium proceedings most years, mainly in a special series created by Fordham University Press.

The topic of TTC XI, which ran from September 29 through October 2, was “Divinanimality: Creaturely Theology.” The neologism of the main title was borrowed from Jacques Derrida, whose philosophical work on animality, together with that of other prominent theorists, notably Donna Haraway, has catalyzed the emergence of a transdisciplinary endeavor variously termed “animal studies,” “animality studies,” or “posthuman animality studies.” TTC XI was conceived as an attempt to triangulate these novel reflections on humanity and animality with reflections on divinity. The resources for such reflection seemed considerable, since all Christian scripture and most Christian theology predates the epochal Cartesian realignment of human-animal relations in terms absolutely oppositional and hierarchical, as do most Jewish and Muslim traditions.  Prior to the Cartesian revolution in philosophy, there were no “animals” in the modern sense, and hence no “humans” either. To begin to think the human/animal distinction differently, however, is also to begin to think the divine/human/animal distinctions differently, and engage in a “creaturely” theology with profound implications for ecotheology and animal activism.

The “public” portion of TTC XI began with a memorable chapel service, with Heather Murray Elkins of the GDR as celebrant and preacher and Norman Lowrey of the CLA contributing a “singing animal masks” performance and film. Public lectures followed from three of the distinguished visiting scholars, Kate Rigby (Monash University, Australia), Jay McDaniel (Hendrix College), and Laura Hobgood-Oster (Southwestern University). The latter also led a workshop, as did Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith. Meanwhile, the graduate student colloquium had begun. For the first time, the student colloquium preceded rather than followed the main scholarly colloquium. Ten GDR students read papers—An Yountae, Christy Cobb, Jake Erickson, Amy Beth Jones, Beatrice Marovich, Peter Mena, Erika Murphy, Stephanie Powell, Matt Riley, and Terra Rowe—together with two PhD students from other schools, Brianne Donaldson (Claremont School of Theology) and Eric Daryl Meyer (Fordham University).

The main scholarly colloquium began the next day, in an atmosphere already crackling with intellectual energy thanks to the exceptional quality of the student papers. The cohort of visiting scholars who participated in it included Denise Buell (Williams College), Laura Hobgood-Oster, Jennifer Koosed (Albright College), Glen Mazis (Penn State Harrisburg), Jay McDaniel, Kate Rigby, Mary-Jane Rubenstein (Wesleyan University), Robert Paul Seesengood (Albright College), Ken Stone (Chicago Theological Seminary), and Carol Wayne White (Bucknell University). They were joined by the GDR’s Virginia Burrus, Danna Nolan Fewell, Laurel Kearns, Catherine Keller, Stephen Moore, Elías Ortega-Aponte, and Althea Spencer-Miller, with GDR alumnae Antonia Gorman (Humane Society) and Mayra Rivera (Harvard Divinity School) and CLA faculty Edward Baring and Mark Boglioli.  This TTC also had a participating artist, Jan Harrison, whose luminous animal paintings provided a mesmerizing visual backdrop for the colloquium, and who also delivered a presentation on her art.

The organizing committee for TTC XI was made up of Catherine Keller, Stephen Moore, and Laurel Kearns, with Beatrice Marovich and Terra Rowe as the (superbly capable) student organizers responsible for all the practical details of the colloquium, in conjunction with a team of fellow student volunteers.  As in previous years, Geoff Pollick worked his web magic to conjure up a visually arresting website, on which further details of the colloquium may still be accessed.—Stephen D. Moore, Professor of New Testament 

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