But I did hear two presentations tonight: first, Rebecca Todd Peters (Elon University), President of the regional AAR, presented her paper "Beyond the Financial Crisis: Rethinking the Moral Foundations of Political Economy." Peters's paper was very interesting, especially given my affinity for capitalism. Peters, perhaps predictably, finds fault with the capitalist system, primarily in its assumption (reification?) of an individualistic anthropology. As a biblical scholar with a penchant for sociological theory, I found a lot to agree with in her critique of the individualistic foundations of Western culture (and especially economics), though I did not see myself in her description of capitalism. What made her paper interesting (and not just anti-capitalistic tripe, which it certainly was not) was her refusal to advocate a dehumanizing (my word) socialism that denied the importance of the individual. The task before all of us—whether you identify as a capitalist or otherwise—is to maintain a respect for and appreciation of the individual while simultaneously appreciating (and accounting for) the individual's embeddedness in social worlds. I'm not sure Peters's paper did this, but her call for a prophetic rather than a profit-centered motivation was interesting. I'm not sure these are mutually exclusive, but I think she's right that the prophetic conscience (and calling) ought to have economic impact. Other thoughts swirling in my head, but I must move on.
Second, Scott Spencer (Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond), President of the regional SBL, presented his paper, "Can We Go On Together With Suspicious Minds? Doubt and Faith as Both Sides of the Biblical-Interpretive 'Coin' (Luke 15:10)." Spencer's presentation was significantly more sermonic than was Peters's, but it was a serious academic discussion in its own right. Spencer challenged both perspectives—that suspicion ought to be the guiding principle in biblical appropriation, and that suspicion is invalid as an aspect of appropriating the Bible, even in communities of faith. Spencer focused on Feminist biblical critiques, which he both valued and appropriated critically (a refreshingly new approach, in my own limited experience). Spencer presented four considerations with respect to the Feminist employment of (and suspicion towards) suspicion as a hermeneutical tool, and I wish for the life of me that I had taken these down. He then finished with a brief reading of Jesus' "Lost Parables" in Luke 15, and especially the Parable of the Lost Coin. Spencer makes a case for the role of suspicion in motivating ongoing, tenacious, persistent engagement with the text, an engagement that may be motivated by a belief that to whoever seeks (ζητέω; cf. Luke 15.8) God in the text will find him.
All in all a promising start. I won't disclose how much I've spent on books (in case my wife looks online), but I will have some 'splainin' to do when I get back. I hope to summarize tomorrows meetings tomorrow, while they're still fresh.