The 12th Annual Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium, which took place February 7-10, 2013, proposed an exploration of a variety of threats to our common life. How might theology advance the “common good” of the human community and the planet in the face of widespread economic failures, climate change, and ecological degradation, amidst increasingly divided and shrill conversations in the public sphere? TTC thus sought to investigate what role political theology—before and after its secularization—plays in both the formulation of a vision of the common good and a plan for fair distribution of “goods” among us. How does the much discussed “return of religion” or “postsecularity” reconfigure political theory and practice? What ideas are emerging out of recently evolving transgressive and transformational local practices? And how might a transdisciplinary theological discourse support the fragile potential of a new ecopolitical planetarity—of “a world of becoming”?
“Living the Common Good(s)” encompassed the public events offered Thursday and Friday, providing opportunities for members from the wider community to join those at Drew and hear from a range of religious leaders, scholars, activists, and students. We began at midday on Thursday with a gathering of students and faculty to meet with Joerg Rieger, Professor of Constructive Theology at Perkins School of Theology, SMU. Prof. Rieger discussed his 2009 book, No Rising Tide: Theology, Economics, and the Future, focusing on his concepts of the “logic of downturn” and “deep solidarity.” On Thursday evening, journalist Nathan Schneider, whose coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been widely praised, continued the theme of political action with his presentation, “Crazy Eyes: Notes from Occupy Wall Street’s May Day Apocalypse.”
On Friday, the public events continued with a series of workshops while the graduate student paper presentations were given concurrently in the afternoon. Despite a threatening blizzard, many community members came out to attend workshops and to support student papers. The workshops represented a number of local activist issues. These included Nathan Schneider with a panel on broadening the influence of religious studies: “How Religious Studies Can Take Over the World.” George Schmidt and Joe Strife of Union Theological Seminary presented “Taking Place: Squatting and Organizing with and As the Homeless.” Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of Greenfaith presented “Divest and Reinvest – Climate Change Campaigns for Campuses and Faith Groups.” Darnell L. Moore presented “Standing in the Intersection: An Interactive Conversation on Race, Sexuality, Activism, and Religiosity.” Drew alumna Leena Waite of America’s Grow-a-Row and Debi Hall-Dean of Partners in ACTS presented “An Hour on Route 78: Bridging Environmental and Economic Landscapes Through Partnership.” GDR student Michael Sniffen presented “From the Pulpit to the Streets: Empowering God’s People for Social and Economic Justice.”
The graduate student panels and the scholars’ colloquium took up the role of religion’s public voice and the political tensions inherent in any concept of the “common good.” This discussion was animated by the variety of disciplinary and research interests of our presenters. A public lecture by colloquium presenter William Connolly, Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, encouraged us to think philosophically about planetary politics. The graduate student presenters included An Yountae, Karen Bray, Elijah Prewitt-Davis, Charon Hribar, Beatrice Marovich, Dhawn Martin, Michael Oliver, and A. Paige Rawson. Two visiting students also presented their work – Anatoli Ignatov (Johns Hopkins University) and P. Joshua Griffin (University of Washington). Drew students Shelley Dennis and Elizabeth Freese, along with Harvard Divinity School student Hannah Hofheinz gave formal responses to the student panels. In the Saturday and Sunday colloquium, two Drew faculty were among the main presenters. Melanie Johnson-Debaufre presented her work on utopia as a means for exploring the “kingdom of God” concept found in the synoptic gospels. Elias Ortega-Aponte presented his work regarding mass-incarceration, suggesting a “political theology of prison abolition.” Other presenting scholars included Joerg Rieger (Perkins/SMU), Clayton Crockett (University of Central Arkansas), John Thatamanil (Union Theological Seminary), Jacqueline Hidalgo (Williams College), Gary Dorrien (Union Theological Seminary), Paulina Ochoa Espejo (Yale University), Vincent Lloyd (Syracuse University), and Nimi Wariboko (Andover Newton Theological School).
The organizing committee for TTC XII was made up of Catherine Keller, Melanie Johnson-Debaufre, and Elias Ortega-Aponte, with Elijah Prewitt-Davis and Natalie Williams serving as the student coordinators. Michael Oliver provided technical and visual expertise in the construction of the conference website which can still be accessed for more details: drew.edu/ttc12.—Natalie Williams, GDR Graduate Student