M.G. Piety

Conference Report

In Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship, Uncategorized on November 25, 2011 at 11:20 am

AAR Book Exhibit

The annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion is the single most important conference for Kierkegaard scholars. There are normally several sessions devoted exclusively to Kierkegaard, but this year there were an unprecedented five. The first was on Saturday  morning. It was co-sponsored by the Christian Systematic Theology Section and the Kierkegaard, Religion and Culture Group. The theme was Christology and Kierkegaard and the session was presided over by C. Stephen Evans of Baylor University. The second was later the same day. The theme of this second session was the work of Edward Mooney. This, for me, was a particularly interesting session because Mooney is as much a poet as a scholar and this was brought out well by the speakers. The third session was late in the afternoon on Saturday (yes, that’s right, there were three sessions devoted to Kierkegaard on Saturday). The theme of this session was esthetics and the speakers included Joakim Garff, the author of Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography (Princeton, 2005) about which I’ve written.

I’m afraid I missed the session on Sunday morning that was devoted to Kierkegaard and Hermeneutics. I’d like to have gotten to that session, if only to see one of my favorite Kierkegaard scholars, Tim Polk of Hameline, who was the session chair. My own paper was scheduled for the same afternoon, however, as part of a session devoted to Kierkegaard’s epistemology, so I spent the morning making the final edits. I made an important discovery at this AAR. If you read your paper directly from your computer, you can keep making edits right up until that last minute!

My paper was well received, though there were few questions. My guess is that this was because it addressed two subjects with which most scholars are not heavily engaged: Kierkegaard’s epistemology and patristics. Mine was also the first paper and people kept streaming in as I was reading. This was distracting, I’m sure, to the people who were already seated and, of course, the people who came late would not have heard the entire paper (the upside of this was that there was standing room only at the beginning of the session).  I met several patristics scholars, including Nathan Jacobs of Trinity International University, who came up to me afterward and told me they had enjoyed the paper and that they felt that there was a very strong relation between Kierkegaard’s thought to that of the Church Fathers. My brief exposure to this area of research supports this view. I plan to do a lot more work on this issue in the future and am grateful for the contacts I made in San Francisco.

One of the highlights for the conference to me was the number of sessions devoted to sex. There were at least a dozen such sections, including a joint session of the Evangelical Theology Group and the Religion and Sexuality Group, the theme of which was “Contemporary Evangelical Sexualities.” This session included a paper that, to my mind, had the best title of any paper at the conference: Erin Default-Hunter’s “Porn Again: What Pornography Can Teach Christians about Good Sex.” I don’t want to give the impression that I’m obsessed with sex or anything. I just think its nice to have such a clear demonstration that religious conviction is not, as is so commonly believed, inversely proportional to a healthy interest in sex. Sex is a gift from God. So I say go for it, you randy religion scholars!


  1. Irenaeus is one of my two favorite Church Fathers (the other, Maximus the Confessor). Because Irenaeus predates Augustine and the rise and dominance of monasticism within Christianity, I find his views on matters like the Creation, the Fall, and human sexuality, to be better and more balanced than almost all theologians who came after him. The fact that you find parallels between the thinking of Irenaeus (and other Church Fathers) and Kierkegaard is fascinating. As you’re probably aware, Grundtvig was greatly influenced by Irenaeus, so much so that he even translated portions of Irenaeus’ writings into Danish. Grundtvig and Kierkegaard have traditionally been seen as polar opposites in 19th century Danish religious thinking, but I have suspected for awhile (without, however, looking into it very much) that these two great Danish figures had rather more in common than many of us may have suspected. Irenaeus could well be a prism through which to see this fact more clearly.

    Have you seen John Behr’s book, Asceticism and Anthropology in Irenaeus and Clement? It’s quite good, I think, for highlighting the many interesting differences between Irenaeus and Clement. Another book that develops the idea of Irenaeus’ “difference” from much of subsequent theology, to an even greater extent, is Christian Thought Revisited: Three Types of Theology, by Justo L. González. And, of course, among (modern) Scandinavian theologians, Sweden’s Gustaf Wingren was profoundly influenced by Irenaeus (he wrote two books about Irenaeus’ theology).

    I certainly will be very interested to hear and read more from you about the affinity of K’s thought to the thinking of the Church Fathers!

  2. I haven’t read any of those books because I’m a philosopher rather than a theologian. I’m very grateful for the references. I’m going to go look them up on abebooks.com right now. I DIDN’T know that Grundtvig liked Irenaeus, or that he had actually translated Irenaeus into Danish. That’s very interesting, of course, because it suggests Irenaeus was better known to the Danish theologians of Kierkegaard’s time than I had originally assumed. Thanks again for all this helpful information!

  3. Here’s a Nordic bibliography on Irenaeus I found online:

    http://www.patristik.dk/A2/Irenaeus.htm

    Also, I just found this page:

    http://grundtvigcenteret.au.dk/en/research/publications/earliereditions/gr-st2004-en/summaries2004/

    On the above page, scroll down to the summary of the following paper:

    Gudbilledlighed og syndefald. – Aspekter af Grundtvigs og Kierkegaards menneskesyn på baggrund af Irenæus.
    [The Image and Likeness of God and the Fall of the Human Being. – Aspects of Grundtvig’s and Kierkegaard’s Conceptions of the Human Being in light of Irenaeus]
    By Niels Jørgen Cappelørn

    • Thanks. I’ll confess to you, however, that I’m not a big fan of Cappelørn, so this is not going to be at the top of my reading list. Additionally, Cappelørn is completely unknown outside of Denmark, so citing him in support of a point will not serve to bolster it.

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