A Group of the American Academy of Religion
January 1999 Vol. 22, No. 1

Kelly Bulkeley, Editor; D. Andrew Kille, Layout




"I'm not religious..."








Papers are invited on the following topics:

Papers focused on other themes dealing with self, culture, and religion are also welcome.

Proposals should be no more than two double-spaced, typewritten pages in length, and should be sent no later than March 2, 1999 to Lucy Bregman, Department of Religion, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122; office phone 215-204-1746; e-mail bregman@vm.temple.edu.

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The quality of the PCR program was quite strong in 1998, with a good mix of new and veteran presenters and a broad range of topics, perspectives, and methodologies. Some of the most lively discussions stimulated by these presentations became the basis for the call for papers questions for 1999, listed above. The steering committee does its best to keep its ears open to the current interests of the PCR membership, so that an exciting new issue that comes up in one year's session can be explored in greater detail at the next year's meeting.

The steering committee also listens carefully to member complaints, and at the 1998 meeting there were two particular problems that numerous PCR members asked to be addressed. The first regarded the Disney World setting. Many people had trouble finding affordable meals and lodging near the conference site, and the transportation system was frustratingly inadequate. Many people also expressed great distaste for the whole Disney milieu, although some members did bring their families and made a vacation out of it. In our group's annual report to the AAR we expressed these concerns, and given the vocal dissatisfaction of many other AAR/SBL groups it is unlikely that any future meetings will be held at Disney World.

The second common complaint regarded the scheduling of the PCR sessions. With the first PCR presession coming Friday afternoon and the last main session coming Tuesday morning, many people were forced for travel or work reasons to miss sessions they otherwise would like to have attended. Although the PCR steering committee does not control AAR/SBL program scheduling, we did include in our report the request that we not be stuck year after year with a Tuesday morning session.

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Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Person, Culture, and Religion Group. Steering Committee Chairperson Lucy Bregman is preparing a bibliography of publications whose first appearance was as a PCR presentation. If you would like to add your references to the bibliography, contact Lucy at the address above. We will make the final document available to all PCR members and to the AAR/SBL administration. This bibliography promises to be an impressive testimonial to the fertile scholarly conversations the PCR group has generated over the past quarter century.

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Review of 1998 Session:

'I'm Not Religious...But I'm Spiritual': Religion Scholars on a World of New Age Healing

Franz Aubrey Metcalf
Steering Committee Member

This was a high-profile session for the PCR, attracting a gratifyingly large crowd of non-members. It grew out of the panelists' divergent work on healing and dying, as I will describe.

Linda Barnes, a scholar, spoke first, stressing that the definition of Complementary and Alternative Medicine must include immigrant healing practices, indigenous practices, 19th century practices like homeopathy, and appropriations of these practices by mainstream practitioners. Barnes claimed persuasively that without wider and more patient-centered definitions of healthcare many good practitioners will not be recognized as legitimate, nor be paid by HMOs.

Considering this article a review, I'm thus permitting myself criticisms; beware. Here is the first: Barnes's presentation was better suited to the American Medical Association; she ought to have made some effort to adapt it to the PCR, our interests, and her proposal.

Greg Plotnikoff, a physician, then spoke engagingly about the difficult position of MDs. He asked what MDs are supposed to do when patients want healing through faith, and how MDs should address issues of meaning in death. Finally, he lamented MDs' lack of training in dealing with non- Western patients and families. Plotnikoff had no ready answers to his questions. Indeed, he was quite moving in calling his presentation "a plea" for scholars of religion to somehow help out.

The theologian, Neil Gilman, presented on Jewish ideas of resurrection. On issues of healing, his most pertinent comments came from his personal experiences with the gravely ill. For Gilman, the determination of patients to live acts as a kind of ritual that mobilizes the placebo effect. But for Gilman this effect is not an aberrant result but a nearly miraculous manifestation of our power to transform the world.

Megery Anderson, a worker with the dying, protested how poorly we die in this society. Hospital chaplains give quick visits to mainstream believers, but what can they do for those who need more or who are not mainstream? But while chaplains may need to do more, Anderson criticized New Age practitioners for their cavalier appropriation of rituals without permission or understanding. In her own work she is looking for more help from scholars, suggesting "that scholars of religion can give authenticity, especially to those in New Age traditions."

The discussion that now followed was both wide-ranging and lively. Indeed, I found it the best part of the session. Topics included placebos, rituals in dying, and the dehumanization of medicine. There was enthusiastic applause, much lingering up front, and finally an announcement that we had to vacate the room for the next session. By these criteria the panel was a smashing success, so why was I so frustrated?

My frustration had increased throughout the session. Some came from several of the papers being simply read (always boring clearly wrong for what was billed as a "panel"). Some came from the sheer boldness with which the panel strayed from the session's announced topic. Indeed, only one panelist even mentioned the title, and that only in passing; and only one spoke to the subtitle. This was their proposed topic, for goodness' sake, not ours. All this combined made me feel their proposal to our steering committee was false advertising.

But stop prevaricating, Franz, tell us how you really feel. Okay, one more tirade, since you insist. Again, I overstate for your amusement: I found the calls for scholars to help out healthcare professionals both lazy and naive. Plotnikoff wants guidance; Anderson wants "authenticity." Fine, but haven't we already supplied guidance? Haven't we been doing this for years, decades even? If healthcare professionals don't know our work, is this our failing? How much advising is necessary? Isn't the real need for healthcare professionals to SIT DOWN AND READ THE BOOKS? This is their responsibility as professionals. As for authenticity, well, I love the concept of scholars supplying it, I really do. I pine for the day religions think that way. Perhaps in that glorious day scholars would actually command the respect to supply authenticity through our imprimatur. Until then, it is naive to think one might gain authenticity through us. Until then, authenticity will continue to come only one way: through hard work. Healthcare professionals, like us, will have to accept their responsibilities and do the library searching and the soul searching it takes to live up to them.

Franz Aubrey Metcalf

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John Haule (New England Jung Institute) has a book coming out in May of 1999 from Samuel Weiser, titled Perils of the Soul: Ancient Wisdom and the New Age. The book takes up a number of New Age themes, such as aura reading and manipulating, near-death experiences, out-of-body travel, channelling, encounters with and abductions by aliens, and the like, and finds in the claims of those who have stuck with their experiences (and not jumped from one thing to another) a new form of the myth of ancient Gnosticism. John's focus is on what the experiences have done to the experiencers, looking at them from a viewpoint very compatible with the interests of the PCR group.

Catherine M. Roach (University of Alabama), who gave a videotaped presentation at the Saturday morning PCR presession in Orlando, gave birth the day before, Nov. 20, to Nathaniel David Roach Trost (aka Thaney). Catherine, her husband, and the 8 lb. 12 oz. baby are all doing fine (although the former two are understandably sleep-deprived). Congratulations, Catherine!

Dan Merkur (The Psychocultural Institute) has a book just being published by SUNY Press titled Mystical Moments and Unitive Thinking, which starts by noting that current developmental psychologists have abandoned the theory of subject-object nondifferentiation; thus, there is no stage in infancy to which mystical experiences can be argued to be "regressing." Dan's book offers an alternative theory of mysticism that blends Freudian and Piagettian approaches in arguing that unitive thinking is a line of cognitive development (analogous, e.g., to time perception). Another major contention is that, just as object relations theory contends all experience consists of self and object in interpersonal relationships, so all solipsistic mystical experiences imply a relationship, conscious and/or unconscious, with a transcendent Thou. The book also explores mystical deaths, experiences of apparent nothingness, the psychology of miracles, and other aspects of unitive thinking. Dan also announces that as of September 1999 the one-year clinical program in transpersonal psychotherapy at the Psychocultural Institute, Toronto, where he serves as adjunct faculty, will be offering an accredited M.A. degree in Human Development through St. Mary's University of Minnesota.

Jim Dittes (Yale Divinity School) reports that he has recorded what he's learned from 45 years of teaching pastoral counseling at Yale Divinity School in a textbook published in march 1999 by Westminster John Knox, titled simply Pastoral Counseling: The Basics.

Bill Rogers (Guilford College) recently retired as President of Guilford College, and is now enjoying his newfound freedom. In addition to interesting work on four different foundation boards, he is teaching executive seminars for the University of North Carolina on human values, covering everything from Winthrop to de Tocqueville to Becker and Tillich. Bill reports that he has restored a good balance of reading and writing with physical work (carpentry, woodmanship, etc.) and sports (tennis and sailing) as well as the arts (sculpture, music). Much of this has focused on building a new post and beam "bow" house on Penobscot Bay in Maine over the last four years. (Editor's query: can PCR members come visit?)

Bonnie Miller-McLemore (Vanderbilt Divinity School) announces the forthcoming publication of Feminist and Womanist Pastoral Theology (Abingdon), which she co-edited with Brita Gill-Austern and which includes articles by Kathleen Greider, Pamela Couture, Carrie Doehring, and Carroll Watkins-Ali. The book examines the major shifts that have occurred in pastoral theology with the advent of feminist theory, discourse theory, liberation theology, and other intellectual movements in the last few decades. What, the book asks, does it mean that so many new works in pastoral theology have been written by feminist scholars? How will this influence pastoral ministry and care in congregations? And how will it shape theology schools and the academy of religion? Bonnie's book aims to identify prominent changes in definitions, to describe and develop new methods and approaches, and to explore the implications of these changes for theological education and congregational care.

Charles Simpkinson (Common Boundary Magazine) announces the recent publication of Soul Work: A Field Guide for Spiritual Seekers, co-authored with Anne Simpkinson (Harper Collins, 1998). The book provides a single authoritative source describing various modalities of soul work that integrate body, mind, and spirit. Included are descriptions of reciting written prayers during a religious worship service, engaging in spiritual direction, Hindu chanting, Christian contemplative prayer, Tai Chi, shamanic trance counseling, spiritually attuned psychotherapy, Sufi dancing, subtle energy body work, and the expressive creative arts. The book provides concise, easily understood explanations of each of these practices showing how each is similar to or different from other practices, so readers can make their own informed choices.

James Poling (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary) is currently doing research and teaching courses on economics and class in relation to psychotherapy, and on the relationship between domestic violence, power, and religion.

Kathleen Greider (Claremont School of Theology) has received a 1998-1999 Luce Fellowship for her project "Meaning and Ministry in Narratives of Mental Illness: Persons with Emotional Disabilities Discuss Soul-Sickness, the Sacred, and Healing." This project entails a pastoral theological study of narratives produced by persons and families suffering from mental illness and other forms of emotional disability, and will explore the fresh insights these narratives offer into acute psychospiritual suffering and healing that may augment the expertise of scholars and clinicians in significant and surprising ways. The goals of the project are to enrich theological construction and understanding in regard to psychospiritual suffering and healing, to increase the church's understanding of its mission in regard to care and social transformation ministries in contexts of emotional pain and recovery, and to decrease the social marginalization of the emotionally disabled and their families as reflected in most theological and religious communities.

Welcome, New Member!

J. Jeffrey Means (Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center) is working in the area of the interaction and distinction between human-induced trauma and evil. More specifically, Jeffrey is interested in how evil creates and exacerbates rifts within and between persons that are then supported systematically through institutional and cultural processes, thereby contributing to the ongoing propagation of evil. As a pastoral psychotherapist he is also interested in therapeutic approaches to healing these rifts. He and a colleague are writing a manuscript related to this area that grows out of their pastoral counseling work with survivors of abuse. His other area of interest is the professional formation process as it pertains to preparation for ministry and pastoral counseling.

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