In this new series with the Bulletin, we’ve asked a number of scholars to weigh-in on the theme of this year’s upcoming annual conference for the American Academy of Religion in San Antonio, TX, “revolutionary love.” Our aim is to provide a forum for multiple voices to weigh-in on what some consider a controversial theme in the interest of engaging not only this question, but how it relates to broader concerns and divisions within the academic study of religions. For other posts in this series, see here.
Naomi Goldenberg, University of Ottawa
The Bulletin’s invitation to say a few words about the AAR’s 2016 proclaimed theme of “Revolutionary Love” reaches me a week before Valentine’s Day, that special date contrived as a boon to jewelers, florists, restauranteurs and makers of greeting cards. Love sells, that’s for sure. It is clear to me that what the AAR is selling under this banner is Christianity. It makes me cringe. Formerly, the AAR was defensive and somewhat ambivalent about its theological bias; now it is trumpeting it as shamelessly as television preachers who urge you to call the number on the bottom of the screen, be saved and send money. The familiar wording of the AAR announcement, a call for scholars to transform the world through love, despite the classy quotation from James Baldwin, feels repressive to me. I experience it as a further Christianization of my professional association. Aren’t there already enough ecclesial and ecumenical venues that justify themselves through an ideology of love? Shouldn’t the AAR be promoting something else – say, for example, the critical analysis of institutional power and pretense? If the practice of declaring yearly themes continues, I suggest that more provocative ones be sought. Revolutionary Hate would likely be productive and would have a chance of inspiring more relevant and penetrating papers.