AAR ANNUAL MEETING
Saturday, November 11, 1995
Location - Philadelphia
I arrived at the hotel, the Holiday Select, about 11:00 a.m. after sharing a cab from the airport with
Dartmouth's Catholic chaplain. Bob Kirven had come the day before, so the room was ready for occupancy
and he was in it. The hotel's restaurant was not ready for lunch when we were, so we took the occasion
to walk to 22nd and Chestnut to have a look at our former Philadelphia Swedenborgian church. I had
been surprised to see from the taxi that it looked entirely intact, and it does indeed seem so from
the outside. It was closed, though, so we could not see what has been done to the interior. We then
walked back toward the Marriott and the Philadelphia Convention center, where the meetings were
housed, and stopped for lunch on the way.
I went first to a session of the Mysticism Group, a panel reviewing the second volume of a history of
Christian Mysticism by Bernard McGinn of the University of Chicago. I arrived a couple of minutes
late, owing to the fact that there was quite a labyrinth of corridors to navigate in order to find the
The first speaker, Clarissa Atkinson, questioned the fact that McGinn narrowed the definition of
"mystic" to monastic contemplatives who left writings that could serve others as guides to the
attainment of mystical consciousness. This, to her mind, ignored a number of individuals who
experienced the presence of the Divine or a state of union with the divine while engaged in action.
She cited Gregory as referring to "the prison of the flesh" and of his soul being "defiled with
earthly activities" as an example of the extreme to which contemplative mysticism could be pressed.
The second speaker, Anne Clark, began by voicing some wariness of the whole subject, primarily because
of what she saw as romanticized notions of mysticism and spirituality among her students. She noted
that McGinn insists on careful attention to the historical and theological context of any given
mystic, and then dwelt at some length on his treatment of the relationship between the experience
itself and the written account of it. She say McGinn as moving away from defining a mystic as someone
who had a particular kind of experience and toward defining a mystic as one who accepted a certain
practice designed to lead to that experience. The result, she argued, was the McGinn had written a
history of a particular genre of literature rather than a history of mysticism. She objected
particularly to his failure to include Hildegarde of Bingen and Elizabeth of Schonau.
The third speaker, John Coakley, was more favorably disposed toward McGinn's definition of mysticism.
By focusing on "presence of" rather than "union with" the Divine and on "consciousness" rather than
"experience," Coakley felt that McGinn had broadened the definition and avoided some elitist
tendencies. He found McGinn's delineations of historical context less useful than he would have
The fourth speaker, Ewert Cousins, was the most affirmative of the panel, stating that McGinn had set
a new standard in the field and that his books would be an essential resource for some time to come.
He noted that beginning in the twelfth century, a change took place. Whereas previously the focus of
the contemplative was Sacred Scripture, there was a move toward greater attention to human experience.
He quoted Bernard of Clairvaux as saying, hodie legimus in libro experientiae-"today we read in the
book of experience."
McGinn responded with brief remarks about four points. On the relation of text to experience, he noted
that the ultimate mystical experience was ineffable, and argued that this militated against the
traditional German focus on Erfahrung or Erlebnis-experience. Secondly, he agreed that he had written
a history of mystical literature if one defined "literature" very broadly. Third, he argued for his
narrower definition of mysticism on the grounds of a need for specificity, and fourth, he said that
while there was little material on women before the twelfth century, the next volume would find them
much better represented.
In the question period that followed, there were suggestions of a good deal of suspicion of current
interests in "spirituality," but Ewert Cousins insisted that it should be taken seriously and
mentioned that he has had rewarding participation in the New York Open Center. He also made the very
intriguing remark that especially in interfaith conversations, he had been struck with our Western
lack of any way of finding spiritual meaning in our Scriptures.
The second afternoon session was the Swedenborg Seminar. By now I was familiar enough with the
geography of the place to get there on time.
The first presenter, Gregory Johnson, did a very good job of excerpting from a rather long paper,
which was available for the taking. His topic was Swedenborg's positive influence on Kant, and he was
especially concerned to challenge the received reading of Kant's Dreams of a Spirit Seer. Basically,
he argued that Kant's own voice is rarely heard in that work. The two main sections represent
respectively his statement of the "dogmatic" position, a critique such as might be leveled by a
metaphysician, and the second the "historical" position, a critique such as might be leveled by a
radical materialist. At the close of the book, he rejects both positions, but does not clearly state
his own. In the course of the talk, he mentioned that recorded comments of Kant on Swedenborgian range
from quite affirmative to scathingly negative. Kant's interest in Swedenborg he saw as part of a
search for a way to retain both Newton's elegantly mechanistic physical universe and Rousseau's
insistence of human freedom and dignity. However, he had to move carefully in expressing any
potentially heterodox opinions, since his livelihood was at risk. As a result, Dreams is deliberately
The second presenter was Dorothy Judd Hall, looking at the influence of Swedenborg on Robert Frost.
She began by observing how radically different Frost's context was from that of Kant. Kant felt
threatened by mechanistic determinism, Frost by existential indeterminacy. She did a very nice job of
sketching some five or more mystical experiences that Frost himself had, and connecting them with
particular poems, in each case written years after the experience. Experiences of second sight and
second hearing that he had in childhood are reflected in "The Lovely Shall Be Choosers." The undefined
flash of consciousness he had on the way to high school in 1892 is reflected in "Trial by Existence"
(1912), his meeting with his Doppelganger in the New Hampshire woods (1912) in "The Road Not Taken
(1915), the experience of being encircled by a rainbow in the Malvern woods (1915) in "Iris by Night)
(1916), and any number of other little mystical moments in his "Grace Notes"-"Dust of Snow," "Looking
for an Owl in the Sunset," "Two Look at Two,", "Stooping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening," and "Too
Anxious for Rivers," for example.
She concluded by identifying three major themes that Swedenborg and Frost have in common: that the
ground of the cosmos is love, that there is a spiritual "ladder of ascent," and that the natural world
reflects the spiritual (correspondences).
The third speaker, Sally Promey, has been looking into the Swedenborgian connections of George Innes.
What has not been widely recognized is that he was a very active member of our Brooklyn church under
J. C. Ager, and subsequently, after returning from some years abroad, of our New York church. His
first article, on "Colors and Their Correspondences," was published in the New Jerusalem Messenger,
and was a response to a published sermon by Jonathan Bailey of the British Conference. Ager in fact
gave Innes' eulogy. His interest in Swedenborg probably began at the Eagleswood Military School, a
communitarian effort that had split off from a Fourierist community on the grounds that that community
paid too little attention to the spiritual.
She used slides to illustrate Innes' use of color rather than line to give a sense of depth, giving
primary attention to a painting entitled "The Valley of the Shadow of Death," which Innes himself
described as representing not physical death but the state of a person just embarking on the path of
regeneration. In general, she saw Innes as "hiding" the spiritual in art, not for the purpose of
keeping them hidden but to be evocative rather than didactic. The task of art was to confront the
intellect with the indefinable.
In the question period that followed, Johnson spoke very highly of Bob Kirven's article on Kant in
Swedenborg and His Influence, calling it the only analysis of the Dreams that even began to see what
the work intended. He also noted that Kant worked very hard on the text of the Dreams, sending changes
to the printer while it was in the process of typesetting. It cannot be regarded, that is, as hasty or
ill-considered. In the informal milling around that followed adjournment, I mentioned to him that
Solovyov credited Swedenborg with anticipating Kant on the subject of the nature of time and space,
and he immediately asked for the reference.
It might be worth noting that to my surprise, Andrey Vashestov was at the session. He is the young
Russian Latinist who came to Bryn Athyn last year to prepare himself for making translations into
modern Russian, and I had thought that he was in this country for one year only. At this point, he
sounds uncertain when he will go back, and has very little connection with the Swedenborg society
(Arkana Coelestia) in Moscow. He expressed an interest in visiting SSR but uncertainty about where he
might stay. I tried to reassure him that this would be no problem.
As usual, the AAR schedule was so tight that there would have been no way to get a meal and attend the
evening plenary. Bob and I decided to head back for supper at the hotel and tried to locate the
shuttle bus. By this time, though, it was raining steadily and there were no buses in sight, so we
splurged and took a cab. Had a leisurely dinner and retired to our respective computers to enter the
Sunday morning we breakfasted at the hotel and caught the shuttle bus to the Convention Center. After
a few minutes' anxiety while the bus seemed to trek off into the wilds, we were reassured to find it
turning in the right direction, and actually found out where we should have waited the night before-in
the shelter of a tunnel through the center.
The first session I went to was one on "Native Struggles for Freedom under the Law." I chose this in
part because of Adam and in part because Huston Smith was one of the presenters. The first speaker,
Eric Mazur, began with the story of a Yakima Indian arrested for killing a bald eagle. In his plea
bargain, he said, "I will obey your law." This raised the question of what a minority group does when
the laws of the country run counter to its own laws. Judaism, Catholicism, and Mormonism have conceded
in significant respects, others have found "parallel courses"-ways to alter their traditions so that
they would fit within the law, while others have resisted. The tendency has been to see resistance as
"eruptive," but it should be recognized that it can also occur in chronic forms.
Mazur then traced the vacillation of the U.S. government as to the status of Indians. At first, they
were treated as alien nations, dealt with by the Senate on the basis of treaties. In 1871, their
issues were transferred to the House of Representatives, which deals with internal but not with
foreign affairs. However, the question of their citizenship was not resolved. After World War I,
veterans were offered citizenship, which was experienced as an attempt to separate individuals from
their tribal identities.
In regard to issues of religious freedom, the provisions of the Bill of Rights envisioned a largely
European separation between religious and secular affairs, a separation which has no parallel in
Indian thought and culture. This means that freedom is not likely to be granted for activities which
our culture regards as secular but which Indian culture experiences as religious.
Lee Irwin then told the history of official efforts to eradicate Indian religion. The Indian
Civilization Act of 1819 brought about massive relocation, mainly to the West. 1883 saw the passage of
the "Religious Crimes Code," which made it a federal offense to hold ceremonial dances or feasts or to
engage in the practice of a medicine man. This was made more specific by Thomas J. Morgan shortly
afterwards by his "Rules for Indian Courts," which specified the penalties for first and second
Indian responses varied from acceptance to active resistance, but those who tried to accommodate found
that it was a one-way street. The state of Georgia, for example dispossessed some successful Cherokee
farmers when gold was discovered on their land.
Ever since colonial times, there have been prophetic and charismatic figures urging a return to
traditional values. Irwin ran through quite a list too fast for me to take accurate notes, starting in
1752 and continuing into the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1938, with John Collier as Secretary
of Indian Affairs, the climate began to change in that it was officially decreed that "no interference
in Indian religious rites will be tolerated." However, this was not immediately enforced, and as late
as 1970, there were arrests for tribal dancing. Irwin also gave some instances of archaeological
policy toward Indian burials which runs directly counter to widely accepted laws against the
desecration of cemeteries. Finally, in 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed, and
since this made no explicit mention of Indian issues (or of the peyote issue that prompted it), the
Native American Free Exercise Bill was passed in 1994.
Huston Smith spoke of his first encounter with Indian religion with he and his family moved to
Syracuse and found themselves living near a long house. He immersed himself in an effort to fill what
he realized was an immense gap in his study of world religions, and when the Supreme Court outlawed
the religious use of peyote in 1990, engaged himself actively in the effort to remedy what he saw as
an immense injustice. He has overseen the production of a book, This Nation Under God: The Triumph of
the Native American Church, which should be out soon, and outlined its contents. The first chapter
comprises personal testimonies of native Americans concerning the personal meaning their religion
holds for them. The second describes the central ceremony of the all-night vigil, the third is by a
pharmacologist on the subject of substance abuse, the fourth tells the story of the Supreme Court
case, and the fifth tells the story of "The Happy Ending"-the legislative victory. The last chapter
tells the story of the death of the principal Indian figure in the whole story, Reuben Snake. Smith
read a little of it, and it was immensely moving.
The respondent, Gabrielle Tyack, identified three principal issues. First, the inseparability of
religious and political issues, second, the ambiguity surrounding the issue of Indian sovereignty, and
third, the unifying power of a religious tradition. There is no obvious answer to the question of
where native self-government fits within the constitutional structure of the United States. Status as
an "alien nation" risks being second-class status, while individual citizenship seems to offer
equality but threatens tribal identity. The laws are improving, but practice lags behind, and in many
respects Indians feel that their situation has deteriorated rather than improved.
I did manage to speak to Huston Smith briefly after the session and gave him the hologram puzzle in
case he had a chance to look at it between then and the afternoon session I also planned to attend.
I met Bob for lunch and we went looking for a local restaurant. We saw quite a few little places, but
none was open on a Sunday, so we went back to the "food court" in the convention center. This turned
out to mean standing in line for almost half an hour. We sat with a gentleman about my age who turned
out to have been in the Harvard doctoral program when I was, and exchanged news a bit, but since I was
already late for the next session, I moved on as soon as I could.
This was the Mysticism session reviewing Ken Wilber's work. I came in in the middle of a presentation
by Sean Kelley, who objected to Wilber's "pre-personal" category for the period before Piaget's formal
operational thinking as dehumanizing children and pre-technological cultures. He preferred a mandala
image to a ladder image, in part because he saw Wilber's ladder as leading off into the abstract, away
from engagement with the world.
G. William Barnard reported on interviews with about a dozen recognized spiritual practitioners to see
whether they found their own experience explained by or represented in Wilber's developmental schema.
Their virtually unanimous reaction was that it did not-that their own mystical experiences seemed to
come in no particular order of depth. He argued that developmental stages express only one side of a
paradox, the other being the image of an ever-present perfection which occasionally discloses itself.
He saw Wilber as "obsessed" with mystical experience as the sole criterion of spiritual growth.
Barnard also objected strongly to Wilber's separation between psychological and spiritual growth, to
the extent that we can forego the former if we have enough of the latter.
Peggy Wright began by noting that she came to the subject from a quite different perspective, with a
feminist/physiological training and a lot of experience in hands-on healing and in teaching women.
The image she used was that Wilber's game was football, and that women were relegated to the
sidelines. She traced this attitude back to Aristotle, who saw men as the practitioners of social
discourse and women as essentially incubators. Currently, though, women are starting to play the
discourse game, and are challenging some of its rules.
She sketched the received view that the male tends to focus on autonomy and the female on "the self in
connection," with women tending also to be more grounded, less inclined to the abstract. The current
problem is that the male and female approaches or emphases are dissociated, and she does not believe
that this dissociation can be healed or bridged by "transcending"-i.e., by the kind of mystical
experience that Wilber sees as the goal. She objected particularly to Wilber's acceptance of an image
of primitive man as solely hunter and primitive woman as solely child-bearer, saying that this
oversimplification had been discarded by serious anthropologists.
Donald Blakely focused on Wilber's The Atman Project, describing it as "a very necessary endeavor,"
but looking for more clarity or accuracy in three areas: the relation of consciousness to reality, the
meaning of the "non-dual, and the implications of the theory for therapy.
He described Wilber as a "metaphysical realist," but as one who did not really face the issue and deal
with the problems it poses. It is not securely established that our perceptions correspond to reality,
or to what extent they do. Perhaps a better criterion is one of efficacy-if our reading of a situation
enables us to deal with it satisfactorily, then it is a valid reading.
On the subject of the non-dual, he asked for a consideration of this in a wider contexts, but I never
discovered just what he meant by this. He spoke of recognizing that the conditions of knowing generate
variables, and that the notion of the non-dual can be used to support a plurality of responses without
offering any basis for preferring one over another, and then he ran out of time.
Huston Smith spoke briefly and more appreciatively about the importance of Wilber's effort to rescue
the perennial notion of the great chain of being, and to look at its implications in the psychological
realm. The notion had been dethroned by science, but now science itself has moved to a new place.
"Either the great chain of being is a true notion, or it is the greatest metaphysical mistake humanity
has ever made."
Smith differs from Wilber primarily in that the latter sees a telos built in to the process, so that
it is not only the individual who progresses, but humanity as a whole. Smith preferred the image of
Ram Dass, that "the third grade is always the third grade," and said that after extensive
correspondence, he had found a point of agreement when Wilber described himself as "a progressivist
who does not care about progress." He wishes Wilber would succeed in getting his message across, but
fears that he will not, in considerable measure because of his style. This reflects to some extent his
reclusive life and immersion in reading and writing. Smith would recommend a five year program of
intensive editing his writing to bring out something that actually worked in getting the message
After the session, I spoke first with Sean Kelley. The image had occurred to me that while the plans
in the back of the program show the Marriott and the Convention Center as very precisely structured,
the path I had taken to find the meeting room was not exactly sequential. In other words, a
hierarchical structure of reality would not necessarily guarantee an orderly sequence of experiences.
I then had a moment with Peggy Wright, saying that her description of the difference between male and
female brought Kegan to mind, with his suggestion that our growth is fueled by a healthy tension
between our need for autonomy and our need for inclusion. She tended to agree, but added that our
culture has made women the sole carriers of the relational dimension; and when I mentioned the
difference between this and Indian tribal identity, she lit up. Finally, I got through to Huston
Smith, who had not had a chance to look at the hologram puzzle, but seemed genuinely eager to do so.
We found a wall sconce that gave reasonable focused light, and I got the distinct impression that he
would order one if he could. We also talked a little about the session, and I took the opportunity to
express my own real appreciation of the depth and integrity of his concern.
I had planned to attend a session on Philosophy of Religion, but by the time I got to the room, the
door was closed and there was a knot of people outside with the message that it was impossible to get
in. After scanning the program again, I opted for a session on how monotheistic religions look at
"others," with a particular focus on Islam.
Patrice Brodeur described his survey of some two hundred Arabic works dealing to some extent with
other religions to see what was the current meaning attached to the phrase, ahl `ul-kitabi, "the
people of the book." It is a phrase that occurs thirty-one times in the Qur'an meaning "Jews and
Christians," about half of the time with pejorative overtones. Interestingly, in Indonesian Islam it
has been extended to refer to Hindus and Buddhists, who also have sacred scriptures. Brodeur would see
this as prompted more by political than by theological concerns. In any case, it establishes a kind of
"middle class" between Muslims and "infidels" or pagans, and allows for some concessions.
The big surprise for him was the discovery that for the last thirty years, the phrase is largely
absent from the literature he looked at. The few instances he found fell into three categories:
apologetic, polemical, and conciliatory. The apologetic treatments tended to refer back to twelfth and
thirteenth century luminaries to establish continuity with the past. The polemical drew on the most
hostile statements in the Qur'an itself, and the conciliatory called for dialogue, first among warring
factions within Islam, and only later with the "people of the book." All assume the complete
superiority of Islam and have deep literary roots. The ultimate purposes are quite pragmatic, and
focus on the defense of Islamic identity.
In response to questions, he said that there has been very little translation of Western scholarly
works into Arabic, primarily because most of the people who would be open to reading them do not need
translations. A tiny minority of the material he read could be described as creative or scholarly. It
was suggested, and he agreed, that more references to the "people of the book" might be found in
newspapers and in sermons, with the note that tape recorded sermons have become a very popular form of
Vera Moreen talked about Judaeo-Persian texts--texts in Persian language written with Hebrew
characters. These come from the eighth to the nineteenth centuries, and constitute a rich and
neglected source of information about relationships between Judaism and Sufism. The literature is for
the most part explicitly Jewish, but is full of Sufi terminology and concepts. For example, in a
poetic retelling of Genesis, midrashic material is side by side with a Muslim view of Satan as
dethroned for refusing to bow down to Adam, but then given dominion over much of the world in reward
for his former faithful service. Jacob's lament over Joseph follows the pattern of a Persian lover's
lament, and a work dealing with the Mishnah tractate Pirqe Aboth has material from the Torah and the
Qur'an side by side. She ended with a brief description of a long poem by a Jew who had apparently
become in Sufi, contrasted with another which described the horrors of Sufi initiation.
Michael McClymond did an interesting job of comparing the concepts of idolatry in Maccabees, Calvin's
Institutes, and a contemporary conservative Muslim work entitled Milestones. first sees idolatry as
desecration of sacred space, the temple, the second sees it as materialism, as clinging to concrete
mental images of the divine, and the third sees it as "deifying" human legislatures-that is, violating
the principle that only God can make laws. In each case, idolaters are pilloried, but the critical
issues are different. They tend to be starkly dichotomous, to look with particular hatred on the
Quisling, and to anticipate martyrdom as part of the price of resolution. In the discussion that
followed, it was observed that the early rabbis demonized the Hasmoneans because of their violence,
and that their message was essentially one of non-violence.
Monday morning we had breakfast at the hotel and took the shuttle bus to the center again. The first
session I went to was on Islamic mysticism. Again, the session had started by the time I got there,
and Valerie Hoffmann was arguing that the mystical elements in al-Farabi were not camouflage for some
political agenda but an intentional plea for attention to spiritual values. One strand of Islamic
thought held that the perfect disposition of Muhammad was handed down from generation to generation,
and constitutes the essence of kingship. In a sense, there is just one kingly soul taking different
forms in succeeding eras.
The second speaker, Alan Godlas, devoted much of his presentation to a diatribe against "modernism,"
arguing that the supposed neutrality of religious scholarship was in fact the expression of an
unacknowledged ideology--the academy is actually a missionary society. His plea was for a new
discipline that truly respected commitments of faith, a discipline which he would call "Religiology."
This would undertake to investigate human lives, individually or collectively, as to their beliefs and
the manifestations of those beliefs in the areas of epistemology, ontology, anthropology, psychology,
teleology, and methodology. He had a handout with examples of Qur'anic and other passages to
illustrate how principles in each of these areas were expressed and could be identified.
Arthur Buehler described a polarity that has developed in Pakistani Islam between the Sufi veneration
of shrines (almost always the graves of holy individuals) and an insistence that any such "mediation"
detracts from the greatness of God and the holiness of the Qur'an. The Sufi approach assumes a certain
amount of spiritual stratification-some people are closer to God than others, and can serve as guides.
The "traditionalists" hold to a strict egalitarianism (at least in theory), insisting that everyone is
equally close to God. The traditionalists also reject schools of Islamic jurisprudence on the grounds
that only God can make laws. They hold that even praise of Muhammad detracts from the praise of God.
The two groups do have similar concerns. The goal of each is to enable people to follow a truly Muslim
course of life. Perhaps the biggest difference is that the traditionalists would erase everything that
has been done and said between the time of Muhammad and the present.
Abrahim Kahn examined the love poetry of Muhammad Iqbal to show that the concept of love was expressed
in such a way that it suggested rahmah or compassion, perhaps the primary attribute of God (both the
Qur'an and Muslim prayers open with the phrase, "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,"
where both of the adjectives are from the same root as rahmah). The word translated "love" connotes a
passionate and even excessive attachment, and is sometimes seen as the central spark of the self, an
individualized expression of the cosmic energy. It can therefore be creative, and is essential to the
process of human becoming. In one sense, the difference between divine and human love is that the
divine selects from infinite possibilities and fulfills those it chooses, while the finite human
strives for total self-realization.
Part of the message is that because love is central to the self, the self is inherently relational.
Love must manifest itself in action, especially in socializing in the context of faith and within the
sacred community. In some late writings, though, love is to be extended even to infidels.
The final speaker, Laleh Bakhtiar, described the millenarianism of a contemporary sheikh, Nazim
al-???. He foretells first of all a three-stage process that is near at hand. First, a great war in
which the west will defeat the east, then the appearance of the mahdi (the Islamic teacher-ruler)
which will provoke the appearance of the antichrist, and then the second coming of Jesus. will have a
magical sword that will make all current technology unnecessary. He will kill the antichrist and usher
in forty years of peace in which there will be no evil people. Then he will die, evil people will
return, and then all believers will die in a lovely wind from paradise, after which the world and all
the evil people left behind will be destroyed.
Most interestingly, though, the sheikh says that while this will happen externally, the believer
should not focus on this but on its internal realization. The war, the jihad is the inner struggle
against our lower nature, the mahdi is the believer's ego, etc. Belief in the outward form only will
lead to disappointment, since no one knows the exact time. Belief in the inner only leads to
After lunch, I went to a session on the philosophy of religion, in part to see whether there would be
material of interest to Andrew. The subject was American Pragmatism and Continental Postmodernism, and
the general theme was that the pragmaticism of C. S. Peirce anticipated many of the features of
postmodernism, with some current philosophers feeling that Peirce still presented the preferable view.
M. Gail Hamner used the story of Moses at the burning bush as a kind of parable. The burning bush was
a sign without meaning to Moses until he attended to it and heard the voice of God. That voice then
set it in the context of the history of Israel by identifying itself as the God of Abraham and Isaac
and Jacob. This illustrates the distinction between the immediate object, the sign as perceived, and
the dynamic object, the meaning to be discovered. In Peircean terms A reasoning is implicit, rarely
faulty, but rarely useful, and concerned with dynamic objects. B reasoning is explicit, rarely
accurate, but often useful, and concerns itself with immediate objects. Peirce posits a triangle of
sign (B), object (A), and interpreter.
In continental postmodernism, an intimate connection is posited between information and power, and the
attention is on the politics of language, as illustrated by the speeches of Hitler and Stalin. This
tends toward a dyadic structure of signifier and signified which is less adequate than Peirce's
Robert S. Corrington spoke of neopragmatists, paleopragmatists, and postmodernists. Neo pragmatism
claims that whatever is, is a text, prompting the comment that of nature is a bad text, God must be a
worse one. The approach leads to excessive abstraction and ultimately to narcissism, to what Eco
refers to as a "hermetic drift." Postmodernism wants to steer clear of the messiness of nature and the
cruelty of history, avoiding both the comfort of hermetic drift and the paranoia of overdetermined
Corrington then moved in a much less abstract direction and asked whether signification could be
reconnected with the rhythms of nature and the community. He spent some time describing Peirce's
manic-depressive nature and connecting it with his avoidance of "emotional slush" and his passion for
Mark Wood, the last speaker, described the changes in Cornel West's philosophy from progressive
Marxism to an insistence on the need for spiritual transformation. He now holds that the solution to
oppression does not lie in the redistribution of wealth but in the redistribution of power,
particularly the power of self-authentication in public discourse, and he sees "people of good will"
rather than "the disadvantaged" as the primary agents of change.
One point he made that I found very cogent was that while philosophy claims to be limiting itself to
comparing terminological systems with no criteria of evaluation, in fact the assumption that such
systems may conflict assumes that they overlap, that they are attempts to describe the same thing.
That "same thing" must be the reality which they insist that they are ignoring. West, trying to avoid
"realism" and relativism both, posits the summum bonum as "the enrichment of human experience and the
alleviation of distress." The most truthful discourse is that which best enables us to realize certain
aims (though no attention was paid to the problem of conflicting aims).
In The American Evasion of Philosophy, West argues that the problem is not who controls the means of
production but the whole climate of cultural materialism. These are interrelated, though, since
material conditions affect one's ability to define the terms of the contract, and the dominant ideas
will be those of the most powerful. Wood spoke of the "myth of classlessness (which for me provides an
escape clause from the principle of noblesse oblige), and wound up by describing West's identification
of the greatest threat being not economic oppression but the loss of hope and meaning. Hence the
primary need is for love and care, and for a love ethic as the central force in political activism.
For the second afternoon session, I went to one on current approaches to Christology. Mark McIntosh,
first, urged that mystical theology be brought into service, particularly the principles of apophatic
(negative) mysticism. Once we recognize that God is beyond knowing, it is clear that the closer we
approach the Divine the more we will enter into darkness. We should not expect, then, clear
theological statements from the one who was closest to the Divine, and we can understand the
expressions of abandonment in an inverse way, as experiences of the emptiness of the Divine presence.
Particularly, we should not base our Christology on what we presume to be "Jesus's self-consciousness"
as expressed in his sayings. The apophatic tradition would lead us to expect just what we have-very
few explicit statements. Lastly, this approach removes the fear of docetism from any emphasis on
Jesus's divinity, since what is happening is that the human is progressively being drawn beyond
itself. The divine presence does not diminish humanity, but stretches it to a new actuality. The
Gospels record Jesus's search for his true selfhood (and presumably, true selfhood is divine).
Stephen Stell took a rather different approach in advocating a "spirit Christology"-that is, a
Christology that did not start with the abstract categories of humanity and divinity, but that looked
directly at the direction and action of the holy spirit. Jesus is described as both receiving this (at
conception and at baptism, for example) and as giving it to the disciples. He must be seen in the
context of the line of the prophets, beginning with Moses, and in the context of prophetic
expectations of various types (Messianic, suffering servant, etc.). We can thus see emergent relations
between Jesus and the spirit, with neither comprehensible apart from the other.
This approach, then, offers a different view of the pre-existence of Jesus and of his presence in the
Gospel's future, our present. Orthodoxy has tried to "petrify" Jesus, to deny this emergent nature,
and has thereby created a host of unnecessary problems.
Lastly, Cynthia Rigby presented a feminist Barthian Christology with an emphatic denial of the usual
understanding of sinlessness and the concept of divine transcendence as precluding divine immanence.
If Jesus's humanity bears any relation to our own, it must be a sinful humanity. She would construe
transcendence to include incarnation. The Virgin Birth can be read as the rejection of patriarchy and
the insistence of the incarnation as a gift of grace. Reuther sees Jesus's entry into the world as his
leaving of the heavenly patriarchal throne. Barth, for Rigby, interprets the incarnation as God's free
self-determination-not simply a choice among available alternatives, but a voluntary definition of the
The uniqueness of Jesus is a problem only for those who do not identify with him. Rigby noted that
black women have had little trouble with Jesus's gender because they have focused on his kinship in
humanity. Slaves used the figure of Jesus to reassure themselves that their owners were not
Lastly, Rigby argued against any theory of substitutionary atonement. If Jesus is seen as our
substitute, this relieves us of responsibilities that we need to bear. He should rather be seen as our
representative, and though she could not be very clear as to what this meant, it seemed to involve
some sense that he was to be our model.
Bob also attended this session, and we had agreed to leave it a little early in order to eat and
attend the plenary session at seven o'clock. Bob had notices a little bar and restaurant half a block
from the center which turned out to be cheap, friendly, and reasonably prompt. As we were about to
leave, Erik Sandstrom and Dan Goodenough of the General Church came in. I was pleased to see some folk
from the General Church coming to hear a talk that was not about Swedenborg.
We wound up at the right room in plenty of time. The speaker was Martin Marty of the University of
Chicago, and his subject was in essence the relationship between having a personal faith commitment
and teaching religion with appropriate academic detachment. He spent quite a bit of time wandering
around the subject in an engaging and articulate style, and eventually came to using William James's
"sub-universes of interest," Schutz's "finite provinces of meaning," and Michael Oakeshott's
"independent, self-consistent modes of discourse" to distinguish practical, historical, scientific,
and poetic approaches to reality. The practical is sub specie voluntatis-directed toward action with
the intent to realize purposes. The historical is sub specie praeteritorum-with regard to past events.
The scientific is sub specie quantitatis-concerned with what can be quantified. The poetic is sub
specie imaginationis, and includes the imaginative world of children.
His contention was that we are capable of operating in only one of these realms at a time, but are
capable of acting in different ones at different times. We need to know and to make clear what we are
doing and why. I did get a mixed message, in that at one point he described these fields as totally
independent of each other, but at the close called for "conversation across the modes."
Bob and I then caught the bus back to the hotel. He retired before I did, but was audibly not bothered
by the clicking of the keys.
Tuesday morning we breakfasted and packed. Bob was going direct to the airport, and expressed his
gratitude that SSR had made it possible for him to attend. He has missed the scholarly stimulus that
had been such a large part of his life, and felt a kind of wholeness again.
I got to the Center early enough to check my luggage and buy a ticket for a shuttle van to the
airport. Since no one seemed to know exactly where to do anything, this involved a couple of round
trips of about two and a half blocks each, all indoors.
The session I attended was under the rubric of Korean Religions, and consisted of a panel responding
to a new book, Marginality: Key to a Multicultural Theology, by Jung Young Lee. All the respondents
found it fresh and original, and the book is apparently openly personal, growing out of Prof. Lee's
experiences with marginalization. It was described as full of images and stories rather than of
abstract reasonings, and as eminently readable and engaging.
The first speaker, Mark Taylor, said that his main reservations about it centered in his conviction
that "marginalization" did not include actual, active and virulent oppression, and did not therefore
face the actualities of inequalities of power. He spoke of Korea's successful entry into the global
industrial fabric, and asked what the price of this had been in terms of ordinary people in Korea.
The second speaker, Will Coleman, spoke as an African-American about the extent to which he could
identify with Lee's story. He asked whether there was not a point at which "coercive strategies," as
opposed to non-violent strategies, might be appropriate or necessary, and wondered whether Lee's
patience and gradualism might not be culturally conditioned. Finally, he was quite forthright in
acknowledging the tensions between black and Korean ghetto populations, and stressed the urgency of
dialogue between the two groups.
The third speaker, Anselm Kim, applauded the book as the first effort to use the Korean-American
experience in a theologically constructive way. He had three suggestions. First, Lee might reexamine
his position that race was the primary determinant of marginalization. In Kim's opinion, it was one
significant one among many, and might be more central to some aspects of marginalization than to
others. Second, while Lee looked for affirmative dimensions of the experience of "being in between,"
Kim saw some forms of marginalization as "irredeemable. Third, while he could admit that some forms of
suffering, such as aging, were inevitable, he was worried that inclusion of this in a theology might
open the door to an "ideology of suffering" that would militate against efforts toward social justice.
The fourth speaker, Otto Maduro, spike from a Latin-American situation. He described himself as one
who had come from Venezuela with every intent of going back there permanently, but who found that the
perceptions he picked up in this country rendered him somewhat of an alien in his own. However
marginalized he may feel here, he is much better off economically and feels increasingly that he is at
least equally marginalized in his own culture of origin. He noted also that liberation theology itself
(with which Lee takes issue) is in the process of change and might be said to be at a crisis point.
Jung Ha Kim identified herself as the youngest respondent and the only female. I found her the most
difficult to follow, but did gather that she identifies more closely with the liberation agenda that
with Lee's, in spite of resonating strongly with Lee's style of presentation--feeling that she had
gained another "uncle."
Lee then responded, saying that the session had prompted ideas than had never occurred to him. He
noted that this was explicitly an autobiographical theology, and therefore did not deal with
collective or class issues to any great extent. He described himself as more idealistically than
practically oriented, but suggested that there may be more power in love than in the "powers" of
politics and economics. He intended the book not as a solution but as a catalyst, and dreams of "a
beautiful mosaic of theologies."
I left the session as the floor was being opened for questions and comments, in order to cover the
blocks necessary to retrieve my luggage and get back to the departure point of the airport vans. As
usual, I left time for things to go wrong, and as usual, they didn't, so I arrived at the airport in
time to update the report before the podium opened for check-in.
The flight itself was uneventful; the drive home from the airport introduced me to rush hour on the
Southeast Expressway. Ars longa, commutio longior. I did make it home, though.