Department of Religion Highlights

University of Manitoba - Department of Religion 2016 Fall Colloquium

Department of Religion Fall Colloquium Poster

Jeizelle Bacuetes: Derrida & Sovereignty

Ian Whicher: Yoga & Liberation

Friday, October 14, 2016
2:00 - 4:00 pm
St. John’s College
Room 111 (Quiet Room)
Pizza & Snacks
All Welcome

University of Manitoba and University of Regina - Departments of Religion Third Annual Joint Conference / Department of Religion 2016 Spring Colloquium

Department of Religion 2016 Colloquium Poster

Thursday April 28, 2016

Location: 111 St. John’s College

8:30-9:00        - Coffee 

9:00-9:30        - Nathan Dyck
9:30-10:00      - Victoria Davies
10:00-10:30    - Matt Sheedy

10:30-10:45    - Break

10:45-11:15    - Chris Lindenbach
11:15-11:45    - Zitong Cao
11:45-12:15    - Cory Daley*

12:15-1:15     - Lunch

1:15-2:15      - Keynote by Darlene Juschka: “Ancient Spartan Masculinities and Pain.”

2:15-2:30      - Break

2:30-3:00      - Heather Penner
3:00-3:30      - Heather Patrick
3:30-4:00      - David Hutten
4:00-4:30      - Matt Gordon


University of Manitoba

Heather Penner: “Rotting Saints and the Power of Seeing”

This paper, “Rotting Saints and the Power of Seeing,” argues that from the third to the sixth century CE Christians enjoyed reading about the rotting flesh of ascetic saints because these readers adhered to an ideology that dictated Christians were a community of sufferers and ought to desire a life of suffering. In keeping with this view, saints with superhuman abilities that allowed their bodies to suffer mortifying injuries and oozing ulcers became evidence of God’s power on earth and provided support for the belief that the bodies of saints, both living and dead, were an important locus of that divine power. Moreover, the authors of such hagiographies employed repetitive detailed descriptions of maggot infested wounds and festering abscesses to draw in audiences and evoked powerful realistic sensory experiences. These hagiographical descriptions also provided the audience access to otherwise hidden bodies, satisfying a voyeuristic compulsion to look upon the otherwise secret putrid bodies of saints. This paper will not only consider the rotting flesh of saints such as Symeon the Elder, Symeon the Younger, Daniel the Stylite, Heron, Stephen, and Syncletica, in light of the insights of Judith Perkins and Andrew Crislip regarding the function and meaning of illness and suffering in the lives of saints, it will also apply the argument of David Frankfurter about sado-erotic violence and voyeurism in martyrologies to hagiographies that feature rotting saints. It will do so by considering these texts in tandem with the popularity of modern horror and slasher films and by relying on Patricia Cox Miller’s analysis of ancient seeing which argues that voyeuristic scenes in the lives of saints produced a sensory realism that bridged the gap between the reader and the text.

Nathan Dyck: “Heresy and Holiness:     Authoritative Practices in Late Antique Christianity”

Drawing upon examples from late antique heresiology and hagiography, I would like to demonstrate, as Brent Nongbri implies in Before Religion, that the term religion is a problematic taxonomic category to describe what is actually occurring in a pre-modern world. Instead a redescriptive framework is needed, one derived from Russell McCutcheon who argues we are scholars of “socially authorizing practices.” Rather than viewing charges of heresy as religious arguments, it is much more helpful to see them as individuals carving out authoritative political space for themselves. Similarly, hagiographical narratives from late antiquity provide us with the authorizing of the transfer of vast wealth from Roman imperial families to Church coffers through tropic use of the chronicling of their tithes. By viewing these narratives as “authorizing”, we can begin to demystify them and see the social intent lying behind what is otherwise viewed as sacrosanct or divinely inspired.

David Hutten: “Lonely Thoughts: Thinking in Pieces on the Threshold”

This essay is an examination of the ethical questions of life in the current phenomenon of the so-called "Anthropocene," the latest epoch, and the threat of the 6th great extinction, that of a human caused extinction according to Ursula K. Heise. I will examine complications in the thinking of "anthropocene" and consider ethical problems that present themselves through traditional development to present on concepts such as "capacity," "life," and the threat of human self-caused destruction by way of environmental challenges currently threatening the existence of human life on the planet.

Heather Patrick: “Have we lost our collective sense of humour?”
This paper is part of a larger exploration I am in the midst of undertaking in which I question our contemporary (and seemingly widespread) scholarly failure to recognize satirical and parodic elements in a number of first and second century CE Greco-Roman and early Christian texts. This oversight, I argue, is rooted in the anachronistic labeling of these texts as “sacred”—a taxonomic undertaking that then functions to inhibit or preclude plainer readings of the texts in question. Further, because many of these texts are deemed to be of a “religious” and/or “medical” nature—the purview of the “sacred” in modernity—, we tend to conflate the seriousness with which we now attend these subjects with the (presumed) gravity of the original authors. That is, our default position when interpreting these texts is to assume authorial sincerity.

Aelius Aristides’ (117-c.180 CE) Sacred Tales—the appended title, itself, a problematic anachronism—is one example of a work that has been traditionally treated with this misplaced sacralization. Here, I examine the history of scholarship on the Sacred Tales. Such an examination presents us with two distinct, yet entwined, problems: (1) the troubling and problematic extent to which the Sacred Tales has been used to reconstruct a biography of the historical figure, Aristides, and (2) the pervasive failure to address adequately the question of the genre/form of Aristides’ Tales—the latter a consideration of which suggests a fairly extensive element of soteriological satire at work in the Tales.

Victoria Davies: “A Mythic and Holistic Approach to the Purity of The Ganges River”

Kelly D. Alley’s essay, “Idioms of Degeneracy: Assessing Ganga’s Purity and Pollution”, explores the paradoxical views between the physical cleanliness and ritual purity of the Ganges river in Banaras, Varanasi, India. I will relate this to the different approaches to consciousness in Hinduism as explained by Georg Feuerstein in his work, "Wholeness or Transcendence?" I will begin by explaining the importance of the river Ganga in the Hindu religion, followed by an explanation of Feuerstein’s depiction of the mythic and holistic approaches to Hindu spirituality. I will use Alley’s article to illuminate the residents of Dasasvamedha’s and local priests take a mythic approach in their views of the filth and bodies in the river. Finally, I will discuss the attempts that have been made to counteract the issue of pollution in the river as outlined by Alley, and explain why a more holistic approach is necessary in order to maintain and protect the Ganges river.

Matt Sheedy: “You’re All a Bunch of Liberal Apologists and Reverse Racists: A Secular Rationalists Guide on How to Respond to the Charge of Islamophobia.”

The propositional logic that imagines ‘religion’ as a distinct category that can be neatly separated from things like culture, ethnicity, politics, or economics is pervasive in popular culture and informs much of the logic behind that idea the religion causes violence, where ‘Islam’ stands in as the most common and pervasive contemporary example. Thinkers who have pushed this line, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sam Harris, Maajid Nawaz, and Michael Walzer, have all had their views on religion challenged in recent years and have been forced to respond to the charge of Islamophobia by calling their detractors “liberal apologists,” “cultural relativists,” and “reverse racists.” In this paper, I tease out some of these arguments in response to the charge of Islamophobia, and argue that it provides a useful instance on the pitfalls of hyper-rationalism, along with the limits of liberal definitions of religion that are tied to binary thinking.

University of Regina

Matt Gordon: “On Shintō and Science: the Historical Process of Adoption and its Lasting Post-War Influence.”

What is commonly called Shintō is in fact a conceptual term with a rather short history, and a reified religion with an even shorter history. Before the 19th century, Japanese religion was a largely undifferentiated, syncretic blend of Shintō, Buddhist, Confucian, and folk or Daoist beliefs. With the start of a certain type of scholarship (kokugaku) in the late 18th century, we can begin to see formations of the concept of 'Shintō' as an identifiable mode of thought or unique way of thinking. Contrary to the popular belief that religion and science are inherently incompatible, this paper will present an example wherein a particular religion (Shintō) was created to support, and continues to reflect or reinforce, 'scientific' advancements and worldviews.

Chris Lindenbach: “Problematizing Assumptions of Canon and a Distinct Enochic Community in the Study of 1 Enoch”

This paper argues that 1 Enoch, specifically, the Book of the Watchers, is in conversation with other ANE myths, such as the Apkallus and Atrahasis. As well, other ideas regarding sacrifice, sin, and the problem of evil, and possible politics of priestly struggles and political striving such as foreign occupation, and struggles both human and spiritual have similarities in the texts. This is to show that it is problematic to ascribe priority to one document based on it’s hegemonic placement in scholarship, as is often done with Genesis in relation 1 Enoch, and to show that it is reasonable to approach 1 Enoch as not dependent on Genesis.

Zitong Cao: “Buddhism in China: its combination with divination in Tang Dynasty”

In this essay, I will be focusing on the Chinese Buddhism. How Buddhism combined with the folk religion has been existed for a long time in China before the Buddhism came in, such as magic, medicine, spiritual beliefs, and ancestor beliefs, these are the most popular and prominent forms that Buddhism syncretized in China. This syncretism helps Buddhism spread all over China. Among those the most representative one is divination that can be seen as a part of magic. The Tang Dynasty is a period that Buddhism is being one of the main religions in China. The concept of karma from Buddhism has been injected into the traditional Chinese divination to become a new divination system in Buddhist temple, and the concept of karma was absolutely being one of the most important theoretical supports. The new divination system (qiuqian) in the Buddhist temple was being extremely universalization since Tang Dynasty that can be seen as a huge advantage for spreading Buddhism later on. People are encouraged getting good karma to be immortal or at least getting better life to live in the future or next life, this is objectively emphasizing the ethics function of Buddhism in the society, and the Buddhism became even more reasonable to be spread in Chinese society or even in the ruling class. So, the divination qiuqian naturally became to a traditional of the Chinese Buddhism.   

Cory Daly: “Valentinian Sacraments and the Bridal Chamber.”

The Valentinian Sacraments are a set of rituals which were practiced by those who were followers of Valentinus in the second century CE. These rituals include: Baptism, Eucharist, Chrism, Redemption, and the Bridal Chamber. It is unclear whether these rituals were practiced individually or collectively by the participants. Nonetheless, they were all important to this community. My research has provided some interesting insights into the practice of these sacraments and specifically around the Bridal Chamber. The Bridal Chamber is both a uniting of a husband and wife in real life marriage but also a symbolic spiritual marriage (uniting of two syzygies). This spiritual marriage was practiced with a “kiss.” Although consummation of a real marriage was important then and remains an important aspect of marriage today, the spiritual marriage can be seen as consummated by this ritual “kiss.” The uniting of two syzygies is also an important concept in Valentinianism and the concept of the Pleroma (Greek for the “fullness” or the “entirety.” The upper celestial realms where the aeons live (Nicola Denzey Lewis, pp.286). The Bridal Chamber is also significant as some scholars believe that Jesus was united with Mary Magdalene in the ritual of the Bridal Chamber, or uniting of two syzygies, in a spiritual but not real marriage. The focus of my presentation will be on the rituals generally and the Bridal Chamber more specifically.

2016 Religious Studies
Student Conference


Undergraduate-Graduate Student Conference

University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, MB
April 28, 2016

The Religious Studies Departments of the University of Regina and the University of Manitoba are pleased to co-host the 2016 Religious Studies Undergraduate/Graduate Student Conference.

Students are invited to submit abstracts of papers that focus on historical, contemporary, or theoretical issues in the field of religious studies.
Abstracts should be between 150-300 words and should be submitted to either Dr. William Arnal at or Dr. Kenneth MacKendrick at
Abstracts will be accepted until March 31, 2016.

For any questions please contact conference coordinators
Dr. Arnal or Dr. MacKendrick at the addresses listed above.