2010 Annual Meeting in Atlanta
Our Centennial Celebration will conclude at the 2010 Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. Program plans are still being developed, but to date we know that Ann Taves, who will serve as President in 2010, is planning an interesting series of Plenary Addresses.
Under President Tave’s guidance the Atlanta program will return to single plenary speakers who will address the broad theme of Religion and Science, with particular attention to the ways that new research on the brain/mind, and new scholarship on primatology can inform thinking about religion. Plenary speakers for the Atlanta meeting will include Frans B. M. de Waal (Emory University), and Anne Harrington (Harvard University). In addition, the AAR will hear from Jonathan Z. Smith (University of Chicago) who will deliver our “learning of a lifetime lecture.”
Ann Taves, an internationally recognized historian of Christianity and of American religion, is the Virgil Cordano Chair in Catholic Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. Taves holds a PhD from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. A prolific scholar and award-winning author, she is well known for her work on religious experience.
Over time, the focus of her research has shifted from answering historical questions about religion to using historical materials to explore how people make sense of ambiguous events and experiences that inhabit the indeterminate space between imagination and reality, craziness and inspiration, fiction and faith. Increasingly her attention has turned to the underlying processes whereby people decide that experiences and events are religious and then, in some cases, develop traditions of practice to recreate them in the present. In exploring these processes, she works comparatively to generate the detailed descriptive analyses favored by scholars of religion and to explore the naturalistic explanations developed by researchers in the social and natural sciences.
Taves' current research project, Channeled Entities and Revealed Texts: A Group Psychology of Revelation, looks at the process whereby new entities and/or new texts emerge. The focus of her analysis is on selected twentieth century new age channelers compared and contrasted with earlier new religious movements, such as Mormonism, and non-religious phenomena, such as alter personalities, imaginary companions, fictional characters, and computer based avatars.
Frans B.M. de Waal is a Dutch primatologist and ethologist. De Waal received his doctorate in biology from Utrecht University in 1977 after training as a zoologist. In 1981, he moved to the United States for a position at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, and in 1991 took his current position as the Charles Howard Candler professor of Primate Behavior in the Emory University psychology department in Atlanta, Georgia, and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.
The contributions of de Waal to primatology started with Chimpanzee Politics (1982), which offered the first description of primate behavior explicitly in terms of planned social strategies. De Waal has never shied away from attributing emotions and intentions to his primates. Recently, de Waal's work has emphasized animal empathy and even the origins of morality.
His research into the innate capacity for empathy among primates has led de Waal to the conclusion that non-human great apes and humans are simply different types of apes, and that empathic and cooperative tendencies are continuous between these species. His book Our Inner Ape (2005) examines human behavior through the eyes of a primatologist, using the behavior of common chimpanzees and bonobos as metaphors for human psychology.
Anne Harrington, Chair of Harvard's History of Science Department, specializes in the history of psychiatry, neuroscience, and the other mind and behavioral sciences. Harrington received her PhD in the History of Science from Oxford University. For six years, she co-directed Harvard's Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative. She also was a consultant for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Mind-Body Interactions. Currently she serves on the Board of the Mind and Life Institute, an organization dedicated to cross-cultural dialogue between Buddhism and the science. She is also co-editor of Biosocieties, a journal concerned with social science approaches to the life sciences.
Other research interests include the history of the neurological case history, and especially changing interests in the "inner world" of brain disorder; and the origins and larger significance of current visions of partnership between Buddhism and the brain sciences — so-called "contemplative neuroscience."
Jonathan Z. Smith is a historian of religion whose research has focused on such wide-ranging subjects as ritual theory, Hellenistic religions, nineteenth-century Maori cults, and the notorious events of Jonestown, Guyana. Smith graduated with a PhD in the history of religions from Yale University in 1969; with a dissertation on anthropological thought, focused on James Frazer's The Golden Bough and the method that Frazer used in the comparison of different religions. Since then much of Smith's work has focused on the problem of comparison and how best to compare data taken from societies that are very different from one another.
After holding positions at Dartmouth College and UC Santa Barbara, he began teaching at the University of Chicago, where he served as Dean of the College from 1977–1982 and was appointed Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor of the Humanities. Smith has also written on pedagogy and the reform of undergraduate education in the United States. Smith's recent research has focused on Western theories of difference ranging from contemporary accounts of alien abduction to Greek and Roman ideas about the way climate shapes human character.