Archive for AAR

Baltimore and Chicago This Week

Posted in Dating God Book, Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , on November 16, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Like nearly all graduate students and scholars in the broadly conceived field of the study of religion, I’m a member of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), which holds its annual conference (i.e., massive religious-nerd circus) in different locations around the United States each November. This year it’s being held in Chicago and it kicks off this afternoon in some part and in full-force tomorrow (Saturday). It runs through Tuesday and should prove to be an exciting, exhausting, energizing, and enjoyable time. I’ll make my way to the conference later this weekend after I give a day of reflection at a retreat center in Maryland. The daylong series of talks is titled: “Prayer as Relationship: A Franciscan Day of Reflection” and will be followed by an afternoon book signing. You can learn more by visiting the website of the Retreat and Conference Center at Bon Secours in Marriottsville, MD. For all my fellow theology and religious studies nerds, I’ll see you in Chicago! For those planning to attend this event in Marland, I’ll see you there! For the rest of you, I hope you have a great weekend and will see you back here at next week!

Peace and good!

Photo: Stock (Chicago Skyline)

The Religion of ‘Star Wars’ According to the JAAR

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Among the many periodicals that I receive annually, probably the one I am least likely to read thoroughly is the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, which I, like all members of the AAR (American Academy of Religion), receive as part of my membership to the scholarly organization. I will always look through each issue of the journal, occasionally finding some book reviews that are of interest to me and my field of study, but for the most part the articles that generally appear in this publication are not theological enough for me. They tend to be about various religious traditions other than Christianity, ethnographies, studies of comparative religion, themes in religious studies or cultural studies, and so on. They are undoubtedly excellent scholarly essays, for the JAAR is one of the leading refereed journals in the broad field of religion, but I’m much more likely to read through the entirety of the latest Theological Studies, Horizons, or Modern Theology when those arrive than I am the JAAR.

But not this time.

While most of the articles which appear in the September 2012 issue of the JAAR fall into the category of “unlikely to interest Dan” as described above, one article did capture my attention right away. It is “Whose Film Is It, Anyway? Canonicity and Authority in Star Wars Fandom,” by John C. Lyden (JAAR vol. 80, no. 3 [September 2012]: 775-786).

That’s right, an article in the prestigious JAAR about Star Wars! For those who do not know, I have always been, and still remain, a very big fan of the Star Wars series. My parents can tell stories of me as a little kid sitting in front of the TV watching A New HopeEmpire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi with endless fascination, an attraction that would later lead to my interest in collecting Star Wars memorabilia and safeguarding those things in what would come to be called among my family members as “the Star Wars collection,” a locked closet in the basement of my parents’ house. I have no idea what happened to the collection, but its fragmented parts surely remain scattered throughout the attic, basement, and other places where such things tend to migrate over time.

In school my friend Joe and I would develop these elaborate trivia quizzes designed to stump the other with the most esoteric details of the films and backstories. In what will likely be the only time I bother to go to a first-screening of a film, buying theatre tickets in advance, waiting in long lines, and sitting in absurdly crowded theaters, Joe and I saw all three of the Star Wars re-releases in the 90s on the respective days of their release.

The Star Wars series is a little bit older than I am, with the final installment of the initial trilogy released the same year I was born, and therefore I had the opportunity (if that is the right word) to “grow up” with the films. While I would never consider Star Wars a religion in the same way I view my faith in Christianity, I do recall having conversations with my Uncle Les and my cousins, who were also big fans of the films, about the eerie similarities that Star Wars bore to more traditional religions. How “The Force” sounded a lot like a sci-fi pneumatology, how the requirements to be a Jedi Knight mirrored the celibacy requirements of Roman- Catholic priests, how the Jedi Knight’s apparel looked strikingly similar to the Franciscan habit (now that remains a curious coincidence in my own life!), and so on.

For those, whether in jest, in fan enthusiasm, or in earnest devotion, who see in Star Wars even more religious overtones and implications, the original films can be understood as the “scriptures” of the Star Wars religion, at least this is the premise for Lyden’s essay in the latest issue of the JAAR. What Lyden examines is the discussion and debates surrounding questions of canonicity and whether or not the films can authentically be viewed as a “closed canon” (the argument made by some fans who are against George Lucas’s ongoing tweaking of the films in various releases) or an “open canon” (the implicit argument of Lucas and others).

Lyden makes it clear that the parallels between other religions, their respective scriptures, and questions of canonicity concerning them, and the apparent religiosity of the Star Wars saga with its own canonicity-like questions, aren’t quite equal.

One may contest whether the devotion of fans can literally be equated with religious devotion, or whether their reception of these texts is as crucial to the formation of their values and way of life as religious texts have been held to be by those who profess to shape their identities through them (781).

A point well put and a caveat well stated. However, Lyden goes on to suggest that the ongoing interpretation and reshaping of the “texts” of the Star Wars canon, namely the films themselves, continues to resemble that of other tradition or more widely-accepted religions.

One might also think that popular fandom does not resemble what we usually call religion because it engages in a continual process of revising and reinventing its texts – but religions do this as well, and increasingly so in the age of interactive media, which allows practitioners to be co-creators of their scriptures, and hence to share the authority with the “original” creators of the texts (783).

I’m not sure where I fall on the reception of the so-called “authenticity” of Star Wars as a religion, but I have no doubts that there indeed people for whom Star Wars is as meaningful and significant as any other religious tradition. I am certainly not one of those people. I still think that Star Wars is one of the greatest narrative and cinematic series of all time and that what makes it so, in part, is the way that George Lucas draws on perennial spiritual themes and human experiences to illustrate a narrative that speaks to many on a deep level.

Wherever you fall on this continuum of rating the Star Wars religiosity, I say to you: “May the Force be with you!”

To which you can (now) reply: “And with your spirit!”

Photo: LucasFilms

AAR Regional Conference at Syracuse University

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 6, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

It is a beautiful Central-New-York morning here at Syracuse University. I’m in town for the regional American Academy of Religion conference. As many of you know, now that the academic year has begun to officially wind-down around the country, the academic conference season has kicked off with force. May and June tend to be the busiest time of year for conferences, a time between the end of the school year when space frees up on campuses to host such events and before Summer vacation season really kicks off in July.

This is the first of three academic papers that I will be delivering in the next month and a half, the remaining two during the first and second weeks of June (College Theology Society and the International Thomas Merton Society, respectively).  I will be sure to keep everyone updated about those papers and conferences here at For those who are interested, here is the abstract for today’s paper.

Cambridge Thomism and Postmodern Scotism: Critiquing Radical Orthodoxy’s Scotus Narrative Beyond Cross and Williams

Since the publication of John Milbank’s magisterial tome Theology and Social Theory in 1992, the landscape of contemporary theology has been irrevocably impacted by the movement known as Radical Orthodoxy, prompting engagement, analysis and response from thinkers representing a variety of disciplines and theological subfields.  The last decade witnessed the critical assessment of the Radical Orthodoxy movement by several philosophers specializing in the medieval era (particular the work of John Duns Scotus).  Such scholars include Richard Cross and Thomas Williams.  Their contention was that one of the theological narratives upon which the agenda of the Radical Orthodoxy movement relied – namely, that John Duns Scotus’s thought is largely responsible for the emergence of modernity and its ill effects – was errant.  Their respective analyses provide substantive and compelling arguments for where the Scotus sub-narrative of the Radical Orthodoxy movement (exemplified in the work of John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock) goes wrong.  The work of Cross and Williams, focusing on such scholarly flaws as the problem of methodological presuppositions and an inadequate understanding of Scotus’s Formal Distinction, offers a preliminary examination of the problematic qualities of this Radical Orthodoxy cornerstone.

This paper offers yet further analysis that develops and moves beyond the foundational analyses offered by Cross and Williams during the last decade.  Looking to Milbank and Pickstock’s construction of a new form of Thomism – borrowing the term “Cambridge Thomism” from John D. Caputo to describe it – the first aim of this paper is to identify yet another concerning feature of the Radical Orthodoxy movement, while also contributing to the critical analysis of its use of Scotus.  Furthermore, this paper seeks to exonerate, at least in part, Scotus from Radical Orthodoxy’s condemnation, thereby providing another resource for contemporary theology in contrast to the conviction of many Radical Orthodoxy scholars.

Photo: Syracuse University
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