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Best of American Academy of Religion 2017

Here are some of my notes from my three favorite sessions at 2017’s AAR.

Louis Ruprecht, “Plato's Tragicomic Ascent of the Soul”

  • Plato’s cave is more skeptical than we normally acknowledge.
  • Socrates builds a word-picture with his invocation of “let us make an image.” Glaucon’s response of “I see” is, therefore, highly ironic, given the theme of sight, shadows, and images.
  • Plato is condemning images ironically, through an image (much as, elsewhere, he condemns writing in writing).
  • It is not pity that motivates the former prisoner to return to the cave, but it is much more of a doom, and inability to escape. We are all in the cave, it is only the gods who can see the true sun.
  • Philosophers are the unhappy folk who are trapped yet aware in the cave. All philosophers really know is the pain of shadows to light, and vice-versa; a disturbed eyesight, for it is the same dizzying experience, to move into light or into darkness.
  • Education attempts to distinguish enlightenment from a growing twilight; it is an awareness of a disturbance in your sight.
  • To re-enter the cave, as the prisoner does, is first comedy, then tragedy.

Kevin Grove, “Exercises in Wayfaring: Augustine’s Expositions of the Psalms of Ascent as Communal Explorations of Exile and Migration”

  • For Augustine, a peregrinatio is a wayfaring, a purposeful journeying, a pilgrimage, and a migrancy. It is a spiritual pilgrimage, towards an unknown but intuited destination, the City of God.

Simeon Zahl, “Tradition and Its ‘Use’: Theological Retrieval as Ethical Drama”

  • Particular people encounter law and gospel in the embeddedness of their lives. The same law or scripture can be experienced differently, depending on their personal encounter, experiences, and location.
  • A saint experiences the law differently than a sinner.
  • A thing can be true but still ethically or personally disastrous.
  • Ultimately, Luther relativizes substance, things no longer have an independent, Aristotelian existence (where purpose is inherent in it), but a relational ontology, a relationship to us.
  • Any text can be idolatrous or a guide. For Luther, St. Augustine was a guide. Luther, like Augustine, has a suspicion of settled things, if something is settled then it is potentially idolatrous.

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