Spring 2015 Senior Seminar presentation scheduleApril 20, 2015
Seminar Facilitator: Natalie Alexander
All sessions in Ophelia Parrish 2121
Monday 20 April:
4:30-4:55 Sam Walk Respondent: Adam Davis Director: David Murphy
Merton: On Comparative Contemplation and Context
Abstract: In the following essay, I argue that although Merton’s attempts at comparative contemplation are to be commended on multiple grounds by academics and lay readers alike for his impressive research, an approach to evaluating Merton’s methods in comparative contemplation, which emphasizes the importance of historical, societal, and cultural context in understanding awareness, reveals telling weaknesses – that Merton’s approach to contemplation fails to place his subjects for comparison in their respective contexts and, because of this absence, fails to consider the potential impacts these factors may have on the experiences of contemplatives and the critical differences between these figures. To argue my point, I turn to Merton’s definition of contemplation as outlined in New Seeds of Contemplation. I reflect on the ways he draws parallels between the ideas of Christian contemplatives and that of Zen, arguing that Merton places these individuals on a platform that is transcendent of all contexts, systems and structures; based on the ways he understood the transcendent nature and universal application of contemplation. Despite this idea of contemplation as transcendent by nature, there are numerous reasons why one must take context into consideration. I first turn to the premise of Steven Katz, that scholars of mysticism and comparative mysticism must consider the “conservative” character of the mystical experience, as not a pure experience at all, but a preformed, anticipated experience brought about by the contexts that the individuals are a part of. I defend this by directing the reader’s attention to a few practices of Zen monastic communities. But even without accepting this premise, I point out that individuals must be seen within their contexts, for extracting them from these and placing them on this transcendent platform often leads to superficial conclusions, as could be the case of Merton’s assessments of mystics in the apophatic tradition.
Monday 20 April:
5:15-5:40 Cam Riemensnider Respondent: Jeff Gall Director: Mike Ashcraft
The Law, Public Opinion, And Cults: The Complexities Of Freedom Of Practice With Regard To New Religious Movements
Abstract: New religious movements have gained increasing prominence in the United States since the 1960’s. As a result, society has become largely skeptical of these minority religions as being inherently dangerous groups. This skepticism plays out most clearly in the United States court system where juries, drawn from the public, superimpose their skepticism onto groups. Instead of advocating for the unequivocal prosecution of these groups, it is instead necessary to make distinctions about which groups ought to be prosecuted. By examining some of the cases that have involved new religious movements, an understanding of the general legal landscape surrounding these groups can be attained. Through an examination of these cases, the importance of drawing distinctions between new religious movements is further made clear. By making distinctions between new religious movements that are legally deviant, legally questionable, and legally permissible, it will be possible for the harms that prejudicial juries can inflict on new religious movements to be mitigated. The barriers to equality for new religious movements are made manifest in the public’s lack of distinction amongst the different new religious movements, the misconceptions surrounding brainwashing, and the practice of medicalizing cults. If the public can be encouraged to draw distinction between these groups, then the legal system will be a much more equitable environment for new religious movements.
Wednesday 22 April:
4:30-4:55 Nat Wrhel Respondent: Elaine McDuff Director: Talie Alexander
Finding a Place for Asexuality in American Christianity
Abstract: Asexuality, a sexual orientation defined by the absence of sexual attraction to any gender, is gaining more public recognition in recent years. However, many religious groups are slow to accept or even acknowledge it. This paper first establishes the definition of asexuality and explains why it is not the same thing as celibacy or chastity, both of which are generally accepted in religious communities. It then describes, through the lenses of queer theory and religious studies, reasons why asexuality can and should be recognized and welcomed by Christian groups in the U.S. In Christian groups that do currently acknowledge asexuality, there is some negativity toward those who identify as asexual, but this seems to be largely based on lack of knowledge and understanding of asexuality; ideally, as asexuality becomes more well-known and accepted by American society as a whole, religious groups will recognize why it is necessary to make the effort to meet the needs of asexuals. With online forums, asexuals are able to find a sense of community and share ways that they have found to reconcile their asexual identity with their religious beliefs. These include new interpretations of Biblical passages and teachings that can be understood as speaking positively about asexuality. Along these lines, I conclude by suggesting specific ways that Christian groups can become more welcoming to asexuals.
Wednesday 22 April:
5:00-5:25 Hector Fuentes Respondent: Neal Delmonico Director: Lloyd Pflueger
An Ancient Conception of Nirvāṇa In The Digha Nikāya”
Abstract: In one of Buddhism’s oldest texts ,the Digha Nikāya, there is a teaching given to the wandering philosopher Potthapada by the Buddha; it is called the Potthapada Sutta. In their discussion, Potthapada asks the Buddha how one might attain abhisaññānirodha, the cessation of cogitation (alternatively translated as “cessation of higher consciousness” or “ideation). The Buddha proceeds to teach Potthapada step by step how one can attain this meditative state by training one’s mind. Every interval of cultivated meditation is called a jhana, each with its own cogitations and emotions, leading up to ninth and final jhana abhisaññānirodha, which is the cessation of all bodily and mental phenomena that we might call sensations, emotions, thoughts, etc. What makes this teaching curious is that the Buddha is never recorded as strictly teaching abhisaññānirodha; we know from countless other recordings that the Buddha taught Nirvāṇa, or Nibbāna in Pali, the Buddha’s original language. Nibbāna is usually referred to as many things, like the cessation of suffering, thirst, desire, and the knowledge of ultimate reality. My goal in this paper is to explore why Buddha taught Potthapada how to attain abhisaññānirodha, not Nibbāna. What I found is that the Buddha did in fact teach Potthapada Nibbāna, he just didn’t tell Potthapada that’s what he was learning.
Wednesday 22 April:
5:30-5:55 Alex Stradal Respondent: Stephen Pollard Director: Chad Mohler
“With Liberty and Justice for All”: Religion’s Role in Contemporary
American Political Discourse
Abstract: With the 2016 presidential election fast approaching, the possible candidates are appealing to their constituencies more than ever. This means that the political discourse will be modified to win votes. Republican candidates have always drawn on their faith, and the faith of their audience to ground their platform. When it comes to certain topic that divide the country primarily due to religious affiliation, as a nation we ought to ask ourselves if it is appropriate to from policies that endorse a specific religion. The constitutional framework prohibits any laws from respecting an established religion, yet many evangelical Protestants are tying to do just that and effectively bring the political forum to a standstill, revealing the pitfalls of American democracy, as well as presenting the argument that such issues warrant “special pleading” and ought to be treated differently.