Religion Program Events

Monday, December 9, 2019

A God’s Second Life: Adi Atti Varadar Utsava

The festival Adi Atti Varadar Utsava is celebrated only once in 40 years. At that time, the original wooden image of Viṣṇu, the main deity of the Varadarāja temple in the South Indian city Kanchipuram, emerges from the huge temple tank and is venerated for 40 days, only to be immersed again in the temple tank for another 40 years. I will talk about the different myths connected to this second statue of Viṣṇu and trace the historical roots of this event, which in summer 2019 attracted more than one million visitors from all over India.

Time: 3:10 pm – 4:30 pm
Location: Olin, Room 102
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Past Events



Monday, December 9, 2019

A God’s Second Life: Adi Atti Varadar Utsava

A Talk by Dr. Ute Huesken
Head of Department, Cultural and Religious History of South Asia
Heidelberg University

Olin, Room 102  3:10 pm – 4:30 pm
The festival Adi Atti Varadar Utsava is celebrated only once in 40 years. At that time, the original wooden image of Viṣṇu, the main deity of the Varadarāja temple in the South Indian city Kanchipuram, emerges from the huge temple tank and is venerated for 40 days, only to be immersed again in the temple tank for another 40 years. I will talk about the different myths connected to this second statue of Viṣṇu and trace the historical roots of this event, which in summer 2019 attracted more than one million visitors from all over India.

Sponsored by: Asian Studies Program; Religion Program
Contact: Richard Davis  845-758-6822
  Thursday, November 7, 2019

Israel’s Occupation at 50: Territory and Demography in the West Bank

Yinon Cohen, Columbia University
Olin, Room 102  4:45 pm – 6:00 pm
In this talk, Yinon Cohen demonstrates that the strategies Israel has deployed to dispossess Palestinian land and settle Jews in the West Bank have been uncannily similar to those used in Israel proper. After briefly analyzing the Judaization of space from the Jordan Valley to the Mediterranean Sea, he focuses on territorial and demographic processes in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) since 1967.  He Shows how the settler population has flourished demographically and socioeconomically, thereby enhancing Israel’s colonial project in the West Bank.

Yinon Cohen is Yosef H. Yerushalmi Professor of Israeli and Jewish Studies in the department of sociology at Columbia University.  Before moving to Columbia in 2007, he was a professor of sociology and labor studies at Tel Aviv University. His research focuses on labor markets, social demography, ethnic inequality, and immigration. His most recent publications are on Israel’s territorial and demographic politics (Public Culture, 2018), Ashkenazi-Mizrahi education gap among third-generation Israelis (Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 2018), and rising inequality in fringe benefits in the US (Sociological Science 2018).
Sponsored by: Human Rights Program; Jewish Studies Program; Middle Eastern Studies Program; Sociology Program
Contact: Joel Perlmann  845-758-7667
Thursday, October 24, 2019

Jacob Neusner Memorial Lecture in Jewish and Religious Studies

Professor Moshe Halbertal
NYU & Hebrew University

at 4:45pm in Olin 102 & Sunday, October 27th at 7PM at The Sixth Street Community Synagogue  Thursday, October 24th at 4:45pm in Olin 102

"The Biblical Book of Samuel and the Birth of Politics: Two Faces of Political Violence"
The Book of Samuel is universally acknowledged as one of the supreme achievements of biblical literature. Yet the book's anonymous author was more than an inspired storyteller. The author was also an uncannily astute observer of political life and the moral compromises and contradictions that the struggle for power inevitably entails. The lecture will explore the ways in which the book of Samuel understands political violence political violence unleashed by the sovereign on his own subjects as it is rooted in the paranoia of the isolated ruler and the deniability fostered by hierarchical action through proxies.

Sunday, October 27th at 7PM
The Sixth Street Community Synagogue
325 E. Sixth Street
New York, NY

"Confronting Loss: The Meaning and Experience of Mourning form the Talmud to Maimonides"
The experience of loss and mourning is a painful and ultimately inescapable feature of human life. Jewish law established practices of mourning that prescribe a rather detailed structure of the mourner’s conduct as well as the response of the community to the mourner and its obligation to provide consolation. Maimonides codified this body of regulations in his great code of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah, in the section titled “The Laws of Mourning.” This lecture will focus on the attempt to understand the meaning and practice of mourning in the Talmudic tradition and in Maimonides’ thought. It will explore the relationship of the concept of mourning in the Jewish tradition to other understandings of the dynamics of mourning such as Freud’s seminal essay “Mourning and Melancholia.
Sponsored by: Jacob Neusner Memorial Lecture Fund, Jewish Studies, Religion, and Political Studies program
Contact: Shai Secunda  845-758-6822
Thursday, October 3, 2019

Making the Buddha: The Origin and Development of the Buddha's Image

Robert DeCaroli, Director of the MA Program in Art History Professor, George Mason University
Campus Center, Weis Cinema  11:50 am – 1:00 pm
Robert DeCaroli is a specialist in the early history of Buddhism and has conducted fieldwork in India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia.  He received his Ph.D. in the South and Southeast Asian art history from UCLA.  The majority of this work deals with early aspects of South Asian material culture and its interaction with forms of regional religious practice.
He is the author of two books: Haunting the Buddha: Indian Popular Religions and the Formation of Buddhism (Oxford UP 2004) , and Image Problems: The Origin and Development of the Buddha’s Image in Early South Asia (U Washington Press 2015). He is co-curator of the Encountering the Buddha exhibit at the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.  He is currently an ACLS/Robert H. N. Ho Foundation Fellow, working on a project entitled “The Gods of Buddhism: Regional Deities and Spirits in Early South Asia.”
Sponsored by: Art History Program; Asian Studies Program; Religion Program
Contact: Richard Davis  845-758-7667
  Monday, September 16, 2019

Get to Know the Religion Program

From Om to Oprah, Talmud to Trump: Reflections on the Scope and Significance of Academic Religious Studies
Olin, Room 205  5:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Professor Kathryn Lofton (Yale University) will lead a panel discussion with Profs. Nora Jacobsen Ben Hammed, Bruce Chilton, and Shai Secunda on “From Om to Oprah, Talmud to Trump: Reflections on the Scope and Significance of Academic Religious Studies.”

Pizza will be served.
Sponsored by: Religion Program
Contact: Shai Secunda  845-758-7389
Monday, May 6, 2019 – Friday, May 10, 2019

Sand Mandala Construction

The Venerable Tenzin Yignyen
Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Reem-Kayden Center Lobby  8:30 am – 3:30 pm
From Monday, May 6, to Friday, May 10, the Venerable Tenzin Yignyen, a Tibetan monk from the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery and professor of Tibetan Buddhist studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, will construct a sand mandala of the Buddha of Compassion in the lobby of the Reem-Kayden Center on the Bard College campus. Community members are invited to observe the process of construction and to speak with Lama Tenzin during his work, from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm each weekday. On Friday morning at 9:00am, the mandala will be dismantled, and the sand taken in procession to the waterfall on Bard campus, where it will be sent off toward the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean.

“Mandala is an ancient Buddhist art form used for meditation, as taught by the Buddha Shakyamuni 2,500 years ago,” says Lama Tenzin. “It is said that the seed of enlightenment in each person’s mind is nourished by the dynamic process of visualizing and contemplating a mandala. The mandala is also a visual form of Buddha’s enlightened compassion and wisdom.”

The Venerable Tenzin Yignyen is a monk belonging to Namgyal Monastery, the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery. He was born in the Tibetan village of Phari, and fled with his family to India after the 1959 Chinese invasion of Tibet. Monastery trained, he is a master of sutra and tantra. He has taught and constructed mandalas at many places, including Los Angeles’s Natural History Museum, Windstar Foundation, Cleveland Museum of Art, Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery, The Asia Society, Trinity College, St. Lawrence College, and Cornell University. He has taught at Hobart and William Smith Colleges since 1998. He has visited Bard College since 2007; this will be his seventh mandala construction here.

This event is sponsored by the Warren Hutcheson Fund, administered through the Religion and Asian Studies Programs.
Sponsored by: Asian Studies Program; Religion Program
Contact: Richard Davis  845-758-7364
Monday, April 15, 2019

Text Unbound: (Re-)Imagining the Talmud

Multiple Locations, See Poster  11:45 am – 6:00 pm
Judaism is often thought of as a religion of the book, and the most influential book in the Jewish canon is the Talmud—a famously complex, genre-defying text that has been at the center of Jewish life and learning since the Middle Ages. Nowadays, the Talmud is most often encountered in book form, typically in large tomes whose pages are imprinted with an iconic, typeset design. And yet the Talmud is considered to be the culmination of Judaism’s Oral Torah, and it was produced and originally transmitted orally by rabbis living in late antique Iraq. This workshop will gather scholars, artists, a printer, a digitalist, and a performer to consider the many manifestations of this classical work and related Jewish textualities, from late antique graffiti and lament; to contemporary fiction, illustration, and printing; to the virtual universes of digitization and the internet, and experimental voice art. These explorations bear relevance not only for Jewish Studies, but also for broader matters such as the study of writing and orality, and the future of the book in the digital age.
Zachary Braiterman is professor of religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University.

Jessica Tamar Deutsch is a New York based artist. In 2017, she published The Illustrated Pirkei Avot: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Ethics.

Victoria Hanna is a Jerusalem based composer, creator, performer, researcher, and teacher of voice and language.

Galit Hasan-Rokem is a poet, translator, and Grunwald Professor of Folklore and Professor of Hebrew Literature (emerita) at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Scott-Martin Kosofsky is an award-winning printer, book designer, and typography expert based in Rhinebeck.

Ruby Namdar is an Israeli novelist based in New York City. His novel The Ruined House (Harper, 2018) won the Sapir Prize, Israel’s most prestigious prize in Hebrew literature.

Jonathan Rosen is a writer and essayist, and wrote The Talmud and the Internet (Picador, 2000). He is the editorial director of Nextbook Press.

Karen B. Stern is associate professor of history at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. 

Shai Secunda holds the Jacob Neusner chair in Jewish Studies at Bard College.

Sara Tillinger Wolkenfeld is the director of education at
Sponsored by: Experimental Humanities Program; Jewish Studies Program; Middle Eastern Studies Program; Religion Program; Translation and Translatability Initiative
Contact: Shai Secunda  845-758-7389
  Thursday, March 28, 2019

Writing for a Broader Public with New York Times Book Critic Parul Sehgal

CFCD Common Room Conversation
Supported by the Calderwood Foundation  

CFCD Common Room  4:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Please join Parul Sehgal and interested faculty members in the Common Room for a conversation about writing and publishing beyond the academy. Discuss how to pitch stories and reviews, techniques for addressing broader audiences, and avenues for publication. 

Parul Sehgal is a book critic at the New York Times. She was previously a senior editor and a columnist at the New York Book Review. Her work has also appeared in the Atlantic, the New Yorker, Slate, and Bookforum, among other publications. She has been a featured speaker at TED and was awarded the Nona Balakian Award from the National Book Critics Circle for her criticism.
Contact: Dominique Townsend  845-758-7389
  Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Confucian Role Ethics: A Challenge to the Ideology of Individualism

Roger T. Ames
Peking University
Berggruen Research Center

Olin, Room 205  3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
In the introduction of Chinese philosophy and culture into the Western academy, we have tended to theorize and conceptualize this antique tradition by appeal to familiar categories. Confucian role ethics is an attempt to articulate a sui generis moral philosophy that allows this tradition to have its own voice. This holistic philosophy is grounded in the primacy of relationality, and is a challenge to a foundational liberal individualism that has defined persons as discrete, autonomous, rational, free, and often self-interested agents. Confucian role ethics begins from a relationally constituted conception of person, takes family roles and relations as the entry point for developing moral competence, invokes moral imagination and the growth in relations that it can inspire as the substance of human morality, and entails a human-centered, a-theistic religiousness that stands in sharp contrast to the Abrahamic religions.

Roger T. Ames is humanities chair professor at Peking University, cochair of the academic advisory committee of the Peking University Berggruen Research Center, and professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Hawai’i. He is former editor of Philosophy East and West and founding editor of China Review International. Ames has authored several interpretative studies of Chinese philosophy and culture: Thinking Through Confucius (1987), Anticipating China (1995), Thinking from the Han (1998), and Democracy of the Dead (1999) (all with D. L. Hall); Confucian Role Ethics: A Vocabulary (2011); and, most recently, “Human Becomings: Theorizing ‘Persons’ for Confucian Role Ethics” (forthcoming). His publications also include translations of Chinese classics: Sun-tzu: The Art of Warfare (1993); Sun Pin: The Art of Warfare (1996) (with D. C. Lau); the Confucian Analects (1998) and the Classic of Family Reverence: The “Xiaojing” (2009) (both with H. Rosemont), Focusing the Familiar: The “Zhongyong” (2001), and The “Daodejing” (with D. L. Hall) (2003). Almost all of his publications are now available in Chinese translation, including his philosophical translations of Chinese canonical texts. He has most recently been engaged in compiling the new Sourcebook of Classical Confucian Philosophy, and in writing articles promoting a conversation between American pragmatism and Confucianism.
Sponsored by: Asian Studies Program; Historical Studies Program; Philosophy Program; Religion Program
Contact: Robert Culp  845-758-7395
  Thursday, March 7, 2019

Lizzie Widdicombe of the New Yorker Visits the Calderwood Seminar in Public Writing

Hegeman 106  1:30 pm – 3:50 pm
The New Yorker’s Lizzie Widdicombe joins students in the Calderwood Seminar in Public Writing to discuss interview techniques as well as her work as a writer/editor. This Calderwood Seminar focuses on cultivating writing and editing skills with a focus on writing about death and dying.

Lizzie Widdicombe is a writer and editor for the New Yorker. She has written about subjects ranging from technology start-ups to Taylor Swift, and is currently editing the magazine’s Talk of the Town section.
Sponsored by: Religion Program
Contact: Dominique Townsend  845-758-7389
Monday, February 18, 2019

Agents of Faith: Ex Votos, Votive Offerings, and Beyond

Ittai Weinryb
Associate Professor, Bard Graduate Center

Olin, Room 202  5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Throughout time and across cultures people have made objects and offered them as acts of faith. Known as votives, these objects are expressions of fundamental human needs and concerns. They may be offered as tokens of desire or gratitude, to make a pledge or fulfill a vow, to preserve a memory or commemorate a miracle. The lecture will explore varieties of votive giving in order to unpack the spiritual concerns and material solutions votives have to offer.
Sponsored by: Art History Program, and Asian Studies Program; Religion Program
Contact: Richard Davis  845-758-7364
  Monday, February 4, 2019

Soulful Contentions: Debates on the Soul in Post-Avicennian Islamic Thought

Nora Jacobsen Ben Hammed, Lecturer in Philosophy, Purchase College, State University of New York
Olin, Room 102  5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
What am I? Am I only the sum of my physical parts, or is there an intangible, essential aspect of myself that survives the death of my body? If there is a soul, then what is its relation to my body, and what can it experience when disembodied after death? The question of the nature of the human being, and thus her relation to the divine, was at the center of philosophical and theological discussions of the medieval Islamic world. With the Muslim theologians al-Ghazālī (d. 1111) and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1210), we witness what has been termed the “Avicennian turn” in Ashʿarite theology. These thinkers, who have often been wrongly censured as the very theologians who stifled the Islamic philosophical movement (al-falsafa), engaged with the falsafa tradition so deeply that their own theology was fundamentally transformed by it.

This talk will begin with a discussion of the understanding of the human being as developed in mainstream Islamic theology, then turn to al-Ghazālī and particularly Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s engagement with the philosophy of Avicenna (d. 1037) and the fundamental shift that they introduced into Islamic theology with their acceptance of the existence of a noncorporeal soul (al-nafs). With an examination of the development of the concept of the soul in Islamic philosophy and theology, we also find ourselves challenging the very paradigm that held that orthodox theologians dealt a death blow to the falsafa movement in the 12th century. Instead, we witness that Islamic philosophy continued to thrive not only through a rich commentary tradition but also as it was absorbed and transformed in Islamic theological and mystical trends.
Sponsored by: Dean of the College; Religion Program
Contact: Richard Davis  845-758-7364