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The Contemplative Studies Unit at the American Academy of Religion is sponsoring five panels at the annual conference in San Antonio, TX from November 18-21, 2023:

Spirit Medicine toward Ethical and Decolonial Psychedelic Research and Praxis. Saturday, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM. Grand Hyatt-Bowie B (2nd Floor).

With private investment in psychedelic development, the FDA anticipating approving the first psychedelic medicine within the next years, U.S. cities decriminalizing enforcement, and corporate psychedelic retreats considered to stimulate employee creativity, in practice, unregulated psychedelic experimentation is becoming popular and more dangerous in the West. Ethical concerns exacerbate the need for safe understanding of these medicines and warn against its use without corresponding evidence and epistemic material abuses and violations against the rights of Indigenous communities. This panel explores Indigenous Spirit medicines and their appropriation in Western psychedelic research and practice, encouraging scholars to explore frameworks for decolonizing psychedelic research. The session considers Indigenous Peoples’ experiences and perspectives, the trajectory of the psychedelic experience and its relation to psychotic events, warnings of drug development and clinical trials, and ethical considerations for research imperative to the resurgence of the therapeutic use of Spirit medicine (aka psychedelics) in the United States.

Seth Schermerhorn, Hamilton College

Rebecca Mendoza Nunziato, Harvard University 
The White Shaman Mural of Texas: Prepositions of Relationship as Decolonial Praxis

Ari Brouwer, University of Wisconsin – Madison
F. LeRon Shults, University of Agder
The trajectory of psychedelic, spiritual, and psychotic experiences

Yuria Celidwen, University of California, Berkley
Spirit Medicine Framework for Use in Ethical Decolonial Psychedelics

The Elements in Practice: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Space in Yoga and Tantra. Saturday, 12:30 PM – 2:30 PM. San Antonio Convention Center – Room 225C (Meeting Room Level).

How have contemplative traditions throughout time and place utilized the primary elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space within practices of attention and self-transformation? This panel explores the theorization of the elements as material categories in contemplation, ritual practice, and as technologies of information for ordering kinds of knowledge about human bodies and environments within South Asian and Tibetan contemplative traditions of Yoga and Tantra. Through responses representing geographically and historically diverse contemplative traditions, papers attend to the emergent theme of the elements as relational media that operate between various domains of experience: embodied and environmental; individual and cosmic; private and public; and theoretical and practical domains of contemplation.

Elaine Lai, Stanford University

Christopher Chapple, Loyola Marymount University
Living in the Landscape of the Five Elements

Michael Sheehy, University of Virginia
Materializing the Gnostic Body: Six Element Theory in the Sixfold Vajrayoga Practices of the Kālacakra Tantra

Devin Zuckerman, University of Virginia
Elements of Experience: Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind in the Seventeen Tantras (Rgyud bcu bdun)

Samuel Grimes, University of California, Berkeley
Senses, Gross Elements, and the Dissolution of Duality in Newar Buddhist Ritual

David Monteserin Narayana, Stanford University
The Varieties of Spatial Experience: the Contemplation of Space as Consciousness, Trans-corporeal Embodiment, and the Porous Self in the Vijñānabhairavatantra

Lorilai Biernacki, University of Colorado

Liberative Uses of the Imagination. Sunday, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM. San Antonio Convention Center – Room 217B (Meeting Room Level).

In Buddhist philosophy, the imagination is often viewed negatively. It is posited as one of the primary ways ignorance functions, and so, in some basic sense, it’s in virtue of the imagination that we suffer. Yet the imagination is also essential to liberation from suffering. Many different traditions of Buddhist religious practice and meditative cultivation involve forms of imaginative construction. So, in another basic sense, it’s in virtue of the imagination that suffering can come to an end. How do we reconcile the imagination’s negative operation with its liberative use? Does the imagination function in the same ways in both cases? What is at stake in debates about the use and abuse of imaginative construction? To answer these questions, this panel will explore some of the different ways that the imagination functions positively and productively toward the end of liberation in Buddhist philosophy and religious practice.

Davey Tomlinson, Villanova University

Ian Nicolay, University of Hawaii
Bhāvanā: Contemplative Imagination in Indian Buddhism and Mīmāṃsā Philosophy

Jiang Wu, University of Arizona
Religious Imagination in the Lotus Sutra

Rae Dachille, University of Arizona
Mere Fabrications and Profound Shortcuts: Imagination and Ritual Efficacy in a Fifteenth-Century Tibetan Debate on Body Mandala

Vesna Wallace, University of California, Santa Barbara
Imagining While Caring for the Dead and Reciting the Kālacakratantra

Catherine Prueitt, University of British Columbia

From Knowledge and Liberation to Unbounded Wholeness through The Great Bliss Queen: In Honor of Anne C. Klein. Sunday, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM. San Antonio Convention Center – Room 225 (Meeting Room Level).

Over the past two-and-a-half decades, Professor Anne C. Klein has pioneered new pathways in the academic study of Buddhist Studies, Gender Studies, and Contemplative Studies. To honor her celebrated career in the academy, this roundtable convenes scholars and students to discuss her many contributions, including her eight books. Presentations from the six panelists will foreground discrete aspects of the multiple epistemologies at work in Klein’s publications from Geluk discourse between Sautrantika and Madhyamaka in Knowledge and Liberation (1987) and Knowing, Naming, and Negation (1997) to gender-specific ways of knowing in Meeting the Great Bliss Queen (1995) to the logic of the nonconceptual in Unbounded Wholeness (2006) to epistemologies of perfection in her forthcoming, Being Human and a Buddha Too (2023). Each panelist, either as a scholar influenced by her work or as a graduate student mentored by Klein, will discuss how different ways of knowing – first-person, gendered, textualized, and so forth – are present in Klein’s body of work, giving the roundtable discussion a syncretically whole epistemological theme.

Michael Sheehy, University of Virginia

Sarah Jacoby, Northwestern University

Kali Cape, University of Virginia

Jue Liang, Denison University

Martijn Van Beek, Aarhus University

Learned Foote, Rice University

Renee Ford, Rice University

Anne C. Klein, Rice University

Beyond Insider/Outsider: Theorizing Practitioners, Scholars, and Critical Methodologies. Sunday, 12:30 PM – 2:30 PM. San Antonio Convention Center – Room 007D (River Level).

This roundtable panel robustly problematized and theorizes methodological approaches used by those known as practitioner-scholars or scholar-practitioners in the field of Tantric Studies. Grappling with and centering practitioner-informed perspectives and methodologies, we examine, identify, confront, and navigate the unique challenges and advantages of this perspective, which can benefit both practitioner-scholars and non-practitioner-scholars. Given the recent turn toward more intersubjective and participatory forms of research, rigorous and theoretically engaged explorations of the scholar as practitioner in Tantric traditions are timely and vital, and can benefit researchers across disciplines in Religious Studies. Exploring traditional and virtual field research, digital Tantra, and medieval textual scholarship, this panel interrogates various collaborative, decolonial, and innovative strategies for practitioner-scholars working in a variety of contexts: in the field with both folk and temple-based traditions, online, with texts, and within the academy itself.

Sundari Johansen Hurwitt, California Institute of Integral Studies

Sangseraima Ujeed, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Sravana Borkataky-Varma, Harvard University

Anya Golovkova, Lake Forest College

Meera Kachroo, Other

Jose Cabezon, University of California, Santa Barbara

Contemplative Embodiment Across Traditions. Monday, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM. Grand Hyatt-Bonham D (3rd Floor).

This papers session addresses the use of contemplative praxis accross disparate religious traditions finding a thematic convergence among them on the ideal of lived exteriority.

The first paper address the seventeenth-century kabbalist R. Naftali Bakrakh of Frankfurt and the contemplative practices he developed in the wake of the well-known mystic Isaac Luria.

The second paper examines the role of contemplative practices in the proposed construction of transcendental and inherently gendered devotional subjectives in the 16th century Gaudīya Vaiṣṇava tradition.

The third paper addresses contemplative praxis within the Ruist (=Confucian) tradition. It focuses on the 11th century Ruist, Cheng Yi, as he engages in quiet-sitting and other practices grounded in the central mindset of “reverence(敬).”

The fourth paper draws from evangelical religiosity to suggest a shift in focus away from understanding religious practice in hermeneutical terms towards instead an embodied human encounter.

Harold D. Roth, Brown University
“Contemplative Embodiment Across Traditions”

August Higgins, Oblate School of Theology
The Problem of the Body for a People of the Book: Refiguring Human Experience and the Evangelical Imagination

Avraham Kelman, Stanford University
Contemplating the Exterior in Early Modern Kabbalah

Bin Song, Washington College
A Study of Cheng Yi’s Quiet-sitting Meditation and Other Contemplative Practices in the Ru (Confucian) Context

Eileen Goddard, University of California, Santa Barbara
Contemplative Constructions & Expressions of Female Devotional Subjectivities in the Gaudīya Vaiṣṇava Tradition

Lorilai Biernacki, University of Colorado

The Platonic Tradition, Nature and the Environment. Monday, 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM. San Antonio Convention Center – Room 214A (Meeting Room Level).

The Platonic tradition has, throughout history, offered a radically alternative understanding of the relationship between humans and nature, and between humans and non-human animals. This panel invites papers that explore both historical and contemporary instances of the Platonic conceptualisation of nature. We encourage contributions that explore the contemporary application of this tradition for the task of reconceptualising our collective understanding of nature. Exploration of the relationship between Platonic realism across multiple religious traditions is encouraged, as well as constructive proposals for inter-religious ecologies. Papers may draw upon sources from antiquity to the present, ranging from the philosophical and theological to the poetic and artistic.

Alexander Hampton, University of Toronto

Douglas Hedley, University of Cambridge

Jacob Sherman, California Institute of Integral Studies
At Once the Poet and the Poem: Coleridge’s Regenerate Natural Philosophy

Annalea Thiessen, University of Chicago
Nature Beyond Anthropocentrism: Logos, Kinship and Flourishing in Maximus the Confessor

Seth Hart, Durham University
Goethe’s Platonic Natural Philosophy: How Goethean Science Provides an Alternative Conception of the Cosmos

Aviva Farkas, Independent Scholar
Shakespeare’s Bookish Rulers: Philosophy, Power, and Nature in the Henry VI Plays and *The Tempest*

Heart Openings: The use of micro-phenomenology in the study of religious and contemplative experience of love and associated states. Tuesday, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM. San Antonio Convention Center – Room 301A (Ballroom Level).

All four participants on this panel are part of the five-year Heart Openings project, commenced in Fall 2022 under the auspices of the European Research Council. This project inquires into the experience and cultivation of love in religious and contemplative practice. Methodologically, it gathers information through interviews and participant observation conducted in collaboration with Buddhists, Christians and Muslims in Denmark, United Kingdom, USA, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Egypt. Using audiovisual and micro-phenomenological methods, Heart Openings seeks to examine in detail the sensory and emotional structures of concrete and specific experiences of love. Through focused interviews, participant observation and life history ] interviews, the project examines and compares how the cultivation and experiences of love impact and emerge from people’s everyday lives across different contemplative and religious traditions.

Anne C. Klein, Rice University

Claire Petitmengin, l’Institut Mines-Télécom Business School
Veiling and unveiling processes in Buddhist meditation and Micro-phenomenology

Martijn Van Beek, Aarhus University
On the Edge of Awareness: Micro-gestures and Effortlessness in Dzogchen Meditation

Renee Ford, Rice University
Languages of Love: Understanding Open-Hearted Experiences Across Cultures

Christian Suhr, Department of Anthropology, Aarhus University
Light flowing from the heart: An analysis of how micro-phenomenological interviews and audiovisual media can be applied to describe religious experience

Christian Suhr, Department of Anthropology, Aarhus University