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We are thrilled to announce that Sandor “Sandy” Goodhart will lead us in a Midrash on Hebrew Bible and Beloved Community at our 2019 Conference, June 17-20, “Beloved Community as the Way from Scapegoating to Ubuntu.” Sandy is a Professor of English and Jewish Studies at Purdue University’s Department of English. He served as the Director of the Jewish Studies Program (1997-2002), of the Philosophy and Literature Program (2005), and of the Classical Studies Program (2007-2011). He is the author of five books on literature, philosophy, and Jewish Studies including Möbian Nights: Reading Literature and Darkness (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), The Prophetic Law: Essays in Judaism, Girardianism, Literary Studies, and the Ethical (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2014),
Sacrifice, Scripture, and Substitution (Notre Dame University Press, 2011; co-edited with Ann Astell), For René Girard: Essays in Friendship and Truth (East Lansing MI: Michigan State University Press, 2009), Reading Stephen Sondheim (Garland: New York, 2000), and Sacrificing Commentary: Reading the End of Literature (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). He served as guest editor for a special issue of Shofar, 26.4 (Summer 2008) on Emmanuel Levinas, the co-editor (with Monica Osborne) of a special issue of Modern Fiction Studies, 54.1 (Spring 2008) on Emmanuel Levinas, and the editor of a special issue of Religion, An International Journal 37.1 (March 2007) on René Girard. He is a founding board member of the North American Levinas Society (founded with his students at Purdue), the former President of the
Colloquium on Violence and Religion (2004-2007), and the author of over ninety essays (including essays on Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow).
Sandy will lead us through a Midrash on the Hebrew Bible and Beloved Community.
The 2018 Theology and Peace conference, ACCEPTING THE INVITATION TO THE BELOVED COMMUNITY took place at American Baptist College in Nashville, TN. ABC has served as the training ground for several prominent leaders from the Civil Rights movement until today. Each aspect of the conference centered on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the “Beloved Community.”
Susan Wright, outgoing Theology and Peace president, opened the conference by invoking King’s awareness of the human need for community and engagement with the adversary in order to achieve this goal. Wright referred to René Girard’s concept of the pre-rational tendency to imitate each other’s desires as evidence of this need. [Watch on YouTube]
That evening’s film, King in the Wilderness, brought to attention King’s emphasis on economic justice as the true foundation of building the “beloved community.” The conference was graced throughout by community-building practices such as group singing, led by Patty Prasada-Rao and Elder C.W. Harris, contemplative meditation, and prayers.
The first morning engaged participants with the works of René Girard. James Warren oriented a group of newcomers by laying out the basics of mimetic theory. An advanced group featured Paul Neuchterlein, who reviewed the evolution of Girard’s theories, including the idea that the self-sacrificial victim in the Christian tradition uniquely addresses the basic issue of violence. He brought to attention the racial and gendered foundations of systemic violence through the lens of various academic disciplines and the need for personal self-awareness.
ABC faculty, Phyllis Hildreth, J.D. and Joseph Tribble, M. Div., responded. Primarily concerned with how mimetic theory intersects with beloved community, Hildreth aimed to contextualize Girard’s theories and the conversations surrounding them. She asked critical questions about who was included in the conversation and who was being centered. In conversations aimed at reconciliation, she cautioned that it is crucial to remember that, depending on one’s position in the power structures that be, not all approach the table in the same way. Tribble questioned Girard’s basic notions about mimetic desire within the framework of cultural, social, and psychological complexity. He cautioned against the tendency to oversimplify “into large categories.” Echoing Hildreth, Tribble argued that true engagement occurs when the dominant group is decentered.
He argued that it is exactly American society’s refusal to accept the “Beloved Community” in the form of economic justice, that “allowed the worst demons of racism to re-enter the house,” and in even more insidious forms than in the 1960s. Harris fervently argued that it is those at the margins of society that hold the key to true liberation for all, as their experiences stand in stark testimony against the “pharaohs of our time.” He used the metaphor of a stitching the garment of “life to love…and love to liberation” as the “singular calling of our collective humanity.”
Rev. Mary McKinney and Rahim Buford followed with response. [Watch on YouTube]. Rev. McKinney traced her journey from growing up in a segregated Georgia to choosing a seminary in Chicago that could situate her perspective on race in America. She also discussed her identity as a queer woman, struggling with the conservative teachings of her religious upbringing.
Rahim Buford, a student at American Baptist College, was formerly incarcerated for 25 years after being tried and convicted as a juvenile. He shared much about his life story, a testament to a harsh and unjust criminal justice system, especially towards juveniles. After a difficult and long process, he was eventually released. In addition to sharing his story, he advocates on behalf of and mentors those held in a local juvenile detention center.
The plenary speaker that evening, Dr. Thee Smith from Emory University, addressed issues of restorative practices as a response to the human tendency towards “target practice.” [Watch on YouTube] He showed how the Christian practice of the Eucharist can address the issue of violence as it can act as a “substitution for the sacrificial victim.” Thee then pointed to various practices of reconciliation and invited the conference attendees to participate in an exercise “rehearsal for the beloved community.”
Wednesday morning began with a powerful prayer session for the clemency hearing of Cyntoia Brown taking place that morning. Incoming Theology and Peace president Preston Shipp would be speaking in her defense.
Rev. Jeannie Alexander, Director of No Excpetions Prison Collective, then led the bible study focusing on Mark 5:1-20, reading through the interpretive lens of mass incarceration. She vehemently argued that Girard’s notion that modern day religion no longer enacts violent ritualism is plainly false. She offered the testimony of her own experience as a prison chaplain, and the ritualization of state violence in the rehearsal and performance of state executions. She further pointed out that we, as a society, scapegoat criminals, instead of dealing with systemic issues of racism and poverty. [Watch Part 1] [Watch Part 2 ]
That afternoon conference attendees visited Thistle Farms, founded by Becca Stevens. The business assists women in escaping life on the streets or other dangerous situations and supports them in their “journey to wholeness.” Stevens asserted, however, that wholeness is not enough if poverty remains an issue.
Therefore, Thistle Farms also offers employment to these women through its bath and body care company. The business includes global partnerships, sharing its vision of economic justice to women in particularly Rwanda and in a Syrian refugee camp in Greece.
That evening, conference participants enjoyed dinner at Thistle Farms as well as a lively musical performance by the local Inversion Vocal Ensemble and folk singer Buddy Greene.
The con-ference concluded with reflections on Girardian theory in the context of today’s realities. As participants reflected on the “Beloved Community,” Dr. Thee Smith reminded us that Dr. King was a sacrificial victim of American society, not only in his murder, but in the present day with the domestication of his radical vision.
Theology & Peace will return to American Baptist College, June 17-20, 2019 for our 12th Annual Conference: “Beloved Community as the Way from Scapegoating to Ubuntu.”
The daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev. Naomi Tutu blends her passion for human dignity with humor and personal stories. Her professional experience ranges from being a development consultant in West Africa, to being program coordinator for programs on Race and Gender and Gender-based Violence in Education at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town. She served as Program Coordinator for the historic Race Relations Institute at Fisk University, and was a part of the Institute’s delegation to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban. She the recipient of four honorary doctorates from universities and colleges in the US and Nigeria. Rev. Tutu is an ordained clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee. She serves as a curate at Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville and has recently been hired by the Cathedral of All Souls in Biltmore Village to work on racial and economic reconciliation issues across Western North Carolina.
Currently appointed as Herbert Thompson Professor of Church and Society and Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at General Theological Seminary in New York, the Very Rev. Michael Battle, Ph.D. has an undergraduate degree from Duke University, received his master’s of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, a master’s of Sacred Theology from Yale University and a PhD in theology and ethics, also from Duke University. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1993. Battle’s clergy experience, in addition to his current church work, includes serving as vicar at St. Titus Episcopal Church in Durham, NC, rector at Church of Our Saviour, in San Gabriel, California; rector at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh, N.C.; and interim rector or associate priest with other churches in North Carolina and in Cape Town, South Africa.
On two occasions he moved into churches located in ethnically changing neighborhoods (to Asian in one and to Hispanic in the other) and helped both to adapt and grow. He also served as provost and canon theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. In 2010, Battle was given one of the highest Anglican Church distinctions as “Six Preacher,” by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. A distinction given to only a few who demonstrate great dedication to the church that goes back to 16th century England and Thomas Cranmer. Battle’s academic experience includes service as interim dean of Students and Community Life at Episcopal Divinity School, dean for academic affairs, vice president and associate professor of theology at Virginia Theology Seminary; as associate professor of spirituality and black church studies, at Duke University’s Divinity School; and as assistant professor of spiritual and moral theology in the School of Theology at the University of the South. Battle has published nine books, including Heaven on Earth: God’s Call to Community in the Book of Revelation, Reconciliation: the Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu and the book for the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, Ubuntu: I in You and You in Me.
“French Anthropologist René Girard provides renewed self-esteem to Christians by showing how Jesus explodes the sacrificial, violent nature of human community. Jesus explodes the mechanism in human beings that requires another victim. Girard brilliantly articulates how human beings are entirely dependent on the re-establishment of order after cycles of victimary bloodletting.”(Heaven on Earth, 43)
In his PeaceBattle Institute he works on subjects of diversity, spirituality, prayer, race and reconciliation. Almost since its inception, he has served as pastor and spiritual director to hundreds of clergy and laity for CREDO for the Episcopal Church. He has also served as chaplain to Archbishop Tutu, Congressman John Lewis, the House of Bishops and, in 2008, was chaplain to the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops. He is a featured keynote speaker and has led numerous clergy and lay retreats, including the bishops’ retreat of the Province of the West Indies. In addition, Battle has served as vice president to the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Arun Gandhi’s Institute for Nonviolence. Battle and his wife, Raquel, were married by Archbishop Tutu and are parents to two daughters, Sage and Bliss, and a son, Zion. All of whom were baptized by Archbishop Tutu as well.
Visit his website: michaelbattle.com
Faculty page: http://gts.edu/the-rev-dr-michael-battle/
June 17-20, 2019
12th ANNUAL THEOLOGY & PEACE CONFERENCE
“Beloved Community as the Way from Scapegoating to Ubuntu”
American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee
Speakers Include: The Very Rev. Michael Battle, Ph.D., The Rev. Janet Wolf, The Rev. Naomi Tutu
Mimetic Theory, as articulated by René Girard, offers profound insight into human nature, desire, rivalry and the tendency to create scapegoats on both the individual and systemic levels.
Martin Luther King‘s vision of Beloved Community offers an antidote to the disease that mimetic theory diagnoses.
Coming out of the context of apartheid South Africa, Desmond Tutu‘s theology of Ubuntu helps us understand our inter-dependence as a fundamental truth of being human, namely, that “I am only because we are.”
The Beloved Community affords us the opportunity to move beyond our tribal tendencies and the scapegoat mechanism that insidiously infects our hearts, our communities, our political institutions and even our churches, and to enjoy inter-dependence and inter-dividuality in the spirit of Ubuntu.
More Speakers To Be Announced!
In partnership with American Baptist College, Nashville, Tennessee
We are thrilled to announce that Rev. Janet Wolf, director of The Haley Farm and Nonviolent Organizing at the Children’s Defense Fund, will join us for the 2019 Theology & Peace Conference, “Beloved Community as the Way from Scapegoating to Ubuntu,” June 17-20 at American Baptist College in Nashville!
The link above features Rev. Wolf on a panel with Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Ndume Olatushani (who was sentenced to death and served 30 years for something he did not do), and our T&P president, Preston Shipp.
The Rev. Janet Wolf is the Director of Children’s Defense Fund Haley Farm and Nonviolent Organizing. She previously served as faculty chair and professor at American Baptist College in Nashville, a historically Black college and home to many of the national civil rights leaders. For the United Methodist Church, the Rev. Wolf served as pastor of rural and urban congregations for 12 years. As director of public policy and community outreach with Religious Leaders for a More Just and Compassionate Drug Policy, she worked with a national interfaith coalition on harm reduction, alternatives to incarceration and restorative justice. She is the author of “To See and To Be Seen,” a chapter in I Was in Prison: United Methodist Perspectives on Prison Ministry. For 12 years she also served as a community organizer around poverty rights. Wolf graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School.
Stayed tuned! More speakers to be announced shortly!