It’s (the American Academy of Religion) Conference Time by Grace Yia-Hei Kao

I received an e-mail today thanking me for supporting the American Academy of Religion for the past 20 years and accordingly inviting me to pick up an “appreciation gift” at the upcoming meeting in Boston (Nov 18-21).

Last week, my colleague Monica A. Coleman and I also led our (Claremont School of Theology’s) monthly PhD Colloquium wherein we spoke to doctoral students about academic conferences in general and the AAR in particular.

Both of those events has gotten me thinking about this year’s AAR.

Some of my current and former students are equal parts excited and terrified about it: they are presenting their research (a handful for the first time ever at the national level), interviewing for faculty positions, and meeting up with senior scholars. When solicited, I’ve done what I can to help prepare them for these high-pressure situations and now wish them well.

Fortunately for me, this is neither a year where I am conducting interviews, nor interviewing. I do, however, have three papers to deliver (n.b. one is for a pre-conference event, so I am safely within the limit) and other professional responsibilities to attend to (viz., steering committee obligations, an editorial board meeting, appointments with current and prospective publishers).

Now, about those papers….

I. The pre-conference event will be held on Friday, November 17 at the Old South Church (645 Boylston). We will be “Celebrating Asian North Americans in Theological Education with Frank Yamada.” The occasion for this session is Dr. Frank Yamada’s recent ascendancy to the Executive Director position of the Association of Theological Schools—the first Asian American to hold such a vaunted position.

The panelists are Faustino Cruz, Boyung Lee, James Lee, and me. Along with the ATS, the panel discussion and dinner is sponsored by a host of Asian American organizations (please see the flier). I do look forward to this most happy occasion.


II. On Sunday (1-2:30pm, Hynes Convention Center-108 (Plaza Level), I’ll be on a “Teaching Animals and Religion” panel that is jointly sponsored by Animals and Religion and Teaching Religion. Here’s the description (A19-206):

David Aftandilian, Texas Christian University, Presiding

For this roundtable, presenters will discuss 1 or 2 specific pedagogical approaches that they have found to work well in teaching about animals and religion. Presenters have been selected to represent a wide range of types of institutions, courses, and instructional practices. Many are also senior scholars in the field who will bring years of experience in teaching about animals and religion to the roundtable. To allow more presenters to participate, and to leave more time for audience participation, the roundtable will follow a lightning-style format. In 5 to 6 minutes each presenter will specify the contexts (type of institution and course) within which they have taught using this approach, describe the pedagogical practice, and discuss how both they and their students have assessed its success. Finally, the audience will be invited to share their own practices of teaching (and learning) about animals and religion in various contexts.


Eric D. Mortensen, Guilford College

Jay McDaniel, Hendrix College

Aaron Gross, University of San Diego

Barbara K. Darling-Smith, Wheaton College

Barbara Ambros, University of North Carolina

David Clough, University of Chester

Lea Schweitz, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago

Grace Kao, Claremont School of Theology

I look forward to talking about my pedagogical approach in the Animal Theology & Ethics course that I’ve taught on three separate occasions since I began working with graduate students in 2009.


III. On Monday (9am-11:30am, Sheraton Boston-Beacon B (Third Level)), I’ll be a part of another panel with the theme “Animal Expression, Theological Thought: How Animal Encounters Ground Theological Construction.”

Here’s the description (A20-104):

“Animal Expression, Theological Thought: How Animal Encounters Ground Theological Construction” is a roundtable dialogue on how face-to-face encounters with animals ground theology. Each panelist will address how personal, autobiographical encounters with particular animals have shaped their theology and ethics. In utilizing auto-biographical narratives of affective encounter as constitutive for theological reflection, we move beyond solely text/tradition or logocentric approaches to the question of animal theology. Thus, we emphasize that the voices of animals themselves ought to be drawn explicitly into theological reflection, recognizing that animal theologies rooted only in the words of texts and traditions ignore the wisdom of the very voices for which they advocate. As such, we seek to not simply re-appropriate theological traditions in an animal-friendly way, but allow animals to speak for themselves and thus directly contribute to the theological imagination in light of their own concerns and passions.

Matthew Eaton, St. John’s University, Presiding


Trevor Bechtel, Conrad Grebel College

Kimberly Carfore, California Institute of Integral Studies

Grace Kao, Claremont School of Theology

Timothy Harvie, St. Mary’s University, Alberta, Canada

This panel grows out of a forthcoming book entitled Encountering Earth: Thinking Theologically with a More-than-Human World. It’s edited by Trevor Bechtel, Timothy, Harvie and Matt Eaton and will be published by Cascade Books in Spring 2018. In my chapter (and paper), I use Mary Hunt’s feminist theological account of friendship to reflect upon my relationship with my childhood cat, Morris. It’s probably the most personal I’ve ever been in a piece of academic writing.


There are two other sessions that I’m looking forward and connected to, though not on the panel.

The first is a co-sponsored session (by Women and Religion and Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society) entitled “Leading Wisdom Asian and Asian North American Women Leaders” on Monday (4-6pm, Marriott Copley Place-Grand A (Fourth Level)).

Here’s the description (A20-302):

Leading Wisdom: Asian and Asian North American Women Leaders is a book panel that celebrates the 30th anniversary of PANAAWTM (Pacific, Asian and Asian North American Women in Theology and Ministry). By putting Asian and Asian North American women’s experiences of leadership at the center of the inquiry, this book makes much-needed contribution to the already existing women and leadership conversations, such as “Lean In” (Sheryl Sandberg), “Thriving” (Ariana Huffington), ”Labyrinth of Leadership” (Eagly and Carli) and being “Strong and Fierce” (Parks and Gillispie).

Leading Wisdom offers women’s first-hand life narratives of leadership experiences in the field of social activism, parish ministry, teaching, US Army chaplaincy, theology, religious history, nonprofit organization, clinical spiritual care education in healthcare system, theological social ethics, and community organizing. And in this panel, participants will discuss three emerging themes of the book: “remembering wisdom,” “unsettling wisdom,” and “inciting wisdom.”

Su Yon Pak, Union Theological Seminary, Presiding


Jung Ha Kim, Georgia State University

Haruko Nawata Ward, Columbia Theological Seminary

Laura Cheifetz, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

Mai-Anh L. Tran, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary


Russell Jeung, San Francisco State University

Melanie L. Harris, Texas Christian University

I am one of the book’s contributors. My chapter, co-authored with one of my graduate students (San-yi (Shirley) Lin), is about Taiwanese American women leaders in the church.

The second is a session sponsored by the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion featuring two recent books by the new FSR Book Series. The session meets on Monday (1-3:30pm, Marriott Copley Place-Vermont (Fifth Level). Here’s the description (P20-223a):

As the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the oldest feminist academic journal in religious studies, so also the new FSRBook Series is interreligious in its subjects, transdisciplinary in its methods, and intersectional in its political analyses. In light of these goals, the panel will discuss FSRBook’s first publications: Congress of Wo/men: Religion, Gender, and Kyriarchal Power by E. Schüssler Fiorenza and Women, Religion, Revolution edited by X. Alvizo and G. Messina.

Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, Drew University, Presiding


Xochitl Alvizo, California State University, Northridge

Maria Pilar Aquino, University of San Diego

Namsoon Kang, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University

Gina Messina, Ursuline College

Fulata Moyo, World Council of Churches and Harvard University

Nancy A. Pineda-Madrid, Boston College

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Harvard University

I have a chapter in the book edited by Xochitl Alvizo and Gina Messina (two of the co-founders of this blog) about how I source the majority of my family’s clothing needs through thrift stores as a way to reduce my complicity in the environmental impact of production as well as the evils of sweatshop labor.

I wish all those attending the AAR a safe and wonderful conference!

*                *                *

Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics and Co-Director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and co-editor, with Ilsup Ahn, of Asian American Christian Ethics (Baylor University Press, 2015). Learn more about her and her work on her personal website.

Categories: Academy

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8 replies

  1. Wow! You go, sister!


  2. Thanks for sharing these loving and deeply sensitive memories, Carol. You are so right that “people like to help each other and we enjoy the physical contact that comes with it.” And there is contact here too at FAR in its own way, so wonderful, just touching our hearts each and everyone.


  3. Wow! Sounds full and exciting and stimulating. If you need imput from a very smart and friendly dog my Watson is available! I’m glad that serious theological study is reaching beyond “man” and “angels”.


  4. That A Great Work You Are Up To.
    I Appreciate It.

    Liked by 1 person

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