Tales of Sorrow, Tales of Power: Critical questions about religious rhetoric (Spring 2015 Meeting)

Thank you to all who made the Spring 2015 national meeting and celebration of Westar’s 30th anniversary such a success! We are excited to announce a number of new initiatives:

  • Contribute to a new $30,000 challenge grant
  • Nominate someone you know for the inaugural Advocate for Public Religious Literacy (APRL) award
  • Join the Young Leaders in Religion Forum

As always, you can read and share reports on all national meeting sessions on the Westar blog.

Program Highlights

Public Lectures

Academic Seminars

Young Leaders in Religion Forum

Polebridge Authors & Books Sessions

National Meeting Banquet

  • Marcus Borg Memorial
  • Celebrating Westar’s 30th Anniversary

Public Lectures

Bernard Brandon Scott

The Real Paul

A slow rumbling, that has been building up among New Testament scholars for the past twenty years, is only now beginning to make its effects felt on a more general public. A new Paul is beginning to emerge—one who differs from the Paul of Augustine and Luther, who is no friend to the traditional orthodoxy that has co-opted him for almost two thousand years. In a program based on his new book The Real Paul (forthcoming March 2015), Bernard Brandon Scott will present a radical new reading of Paul’s letters. Come prepared to abandon your assumptions about the old Paul. And to give the new Paul a chance. He may turn out to be quite different than you expect. He may prove an even more radical challenge to the church than did the historical Jesus. Related resources: Event flyer (PDF), “Finding Paul,” an excerpt from The Real Paul

Bernard Brandon Scott

Bernard Brandon Scott (Ph.D., Vanderbilt University) is the Darbeth Distinguished Professor Emeritus of New Testament at the Phillips Theological Seminary, Tulsa, Oklahoma. A charter member of the Jesus Seminar and Chair of Westar’s Christianity Seminar, he is the author of several books, including The Real Paul (forthcoming March 2015), The Trouble with Resurrection (2010), and Re-imagine the World (2001).

Wednesday, 9 am–3:30 pm

Jennifer Wright Knust

Christian Sacred Scriptures and the Martyrs

If “canon” and “sacred scriptures” are measured by what was read aloud, preached and regarded as inspiring, then martyr stories were every bit as foundational to the development of Christianity as the books that would later become the New Testament. Modern editors have tended to obscure this phenomenon, treating pre-Constantinian martyr acts as a matter of history rather than piety. As a result, the central place of non-canonical books, including books about martyrs, is often overlooked. Returning to the material evidence and re-examining “scripture” as a matter of practice rather than doctrine destabilizes the ostensible centrality of canon in developing Christianity. Related resource: Martyrs Handout

Jennifer Wright Knust

Jennifer Wright Knust (Ph.D., Columbia University) is Associate Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Boston University. The recipient of many fellowships and awards, she is the author of Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions on Sex and Desire (2011) and Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity (2005).

Thursday, 1–3:30 pm

Peter Steinberger

Thinking about Thinking about God

The theist claims to believe that there exists an all-powerful, willful, immortal and profoundly benevolent entity whom we call God and who is the creator of the universe and everything in it. The atheist asserts that no such entity exists and that the universe is the product of natural and scientifically discoverable forces. The agnostic claims to be unsure, one way or the other, and awaits further evidence. Peter Steinberger will argue that each of these positions is incoherent. With respect to God, there is only one position that makes sense, only one position that’s possible for us coherently to adopt. Steinberger calls it aprolepticism, and he will suggest that we should all be—and, indeed, already are—aproleptics. Related resource: Event flyer (PDF)

Peter Steinberger

Peter Steinberger (Ph.D., University of California, Riverside) is Professor of Humanities and Political Science at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. A writer whose essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Christian Science Monitor, he is the author of several books, including The Problem with God (2013) and The Idea of the State (2009).

Thursday, 9–11:30 am

An Interview with Joanna Dewey

An internationally acclaimed expert on the Gospel of Mark and renowned for her work on orality in the gospels, Joanna Dewey is also known for her many contributions to the women’s rights movement and work in developing women’s liberation theology. “Joanna is beloved in the academy. Her work is always creative, generative, and pioneering,” writes a colleague. “She invests herself in relationships with intensity, insight, and humor. She has been colleague and friend to so many, collaborating with them and supporting them even as she offers penetrating constructive critique. Her insistent voice for justice will not be stifled or compromised. She names the truth with love and commitment.” Related resource: Event Flyer (PDF)

Joanna Dewey

Joanna Dewey (Ph.D., Graduate Theological Union) is the Harvey H. Guthrie, Jr., Professor Emerita of Biblical Studies at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of several books including The Oral Ethos of the Early Church (2013) and Mark as Story (3rd ed., 2012).

Friday, 7:30–9 pm

Academic Seminars

Christianity Seminar

Martyrdom, Memory, and the Construction of Christian Identity

Dramatic portrayals of second- and third-century Christ followers being tortured and killed by Roman authorities became an important way Christian identities were shaped and debated. What are the dangers in interpreting these portrayals as historical record?

  • What was at stake in these graphic tales of death at the hands of imperial violence?
  • How do second- and third-century stories of martyrdom compare with first-century accounts of the death of Jesus?
  • Why did martyrdom stories explode in popularity even as Roman violence against early Christians subsided?

The Spring 2015 session brings fresh new thinkers together with established scholars to think about what role these martyrdom stories had in the emergence of Christianity. Long-time and leading thinker on these matters Judith Perkins, Professor of Classics and Humanities (Emerita) at Saint Joseph College and author of The Suffering Self, will respond to the exciting ideas of Carly Daniel-Hughes (Concordia University) and Maia Kotrosits (Westar Fellow/Denison University). Well-known national speaker Jennifer Wright Knust of Boston University will discuss her current research—presented Thursday afternoon—with a response from Phil Harland of York University (Toronto), an important author on early Christian identities.

The Seminar will feature some familiar faces as well. Hal Taussig will ensure awareness of the broader landscape of martyrdom studies by reviewing the work of ten scholars who cannot be in Santa Rosa, and Susan Elliott will contribute a presentation on death in the arena. Brandon Scott will introduce Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ death, giving the Seminar its first chance in two years to think about how much—or little—the first century had to do with Christianity’s eventual second- or third-century emergence.

Friday, 9–10:30 am, 11 am – 12:30 pm, 2–3 pm, 3:30–5 pm

Seminar on God and the Human Future

Is God Needed in the “Kingdom of God”?
Celebrating the Work of John D. Caputo

In sessions 1 and 2, the Seminar on God and the Human Future will review, respond to, and debate issues raised in two seminal works by John D. Caputo—The Weakness of God (2006) and The Insistence of God (2013). The first book approaches God as an artistic expression that conjures hope. Westar founder Bob Funk once said that God was the oncoming future, and Caputo’s idea resonates with this but exposes God as unstable or weak. The second book introduces an image of God as the great peut-être (perhaps) of life, which is God as a consistent if not persistent openness to mystery and the unforeseen. God persists—insists—from a future that breaks apart the now. In session 3, the Seminar will review and discuss papers on the work of Caputo and on the question of whether “God” is needed in the vision Jesus called the Kingdom of God.

Caputo John D crJohn D. Caputo is Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion Emeritus at Syracuse University and David R. Cook Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Villanova University. A hybrid philosopher/theologian who works in the area of radical theology, Prof. Caputo is the author of several books including The Weakness of God, which won the American Academy of Religion award for excellence in the category of constructive theology.

Saturday, 9–10:30 am, 11–12:30 pm, 2–3:30 pm

Seminar Papers

The Seminar Papers, which will become available in March, are the basis for the discussions in the Friday and Saturday sessions. They will not be presented orally at the event. Persons wishing to follow the discussions should read the papers in advance.

Electronic copies of the Seminar Papers are included with registration (follow link below). Hard copies of the papers will be available at a cost of $25 each.

Read online (free)
Order hard copies of seminar papers

Young Leaders in Religion Forum

Helping clergy and other leaders ages 20 to 45 to translate and transform religion scholarship into meaningful forms for their communities

Westar Institute is forming a new Young Leaders in Religion Forum. If you are between the ages of 20 and 45, and are a trained religious leader in church, arts, chaplaincy, non-profit, social advocacy, new faith community or social service work, we invite you to join this new solidarity network, which launches at Westar’s national meeting in Santa Rosa, March 18–21, 2015.

Anyone interested in joining this gathering is invited to contact academic director David Galston for more information and to register: [email protected]

This is an opportunity for the next generation to experience a Westar meeting with a supportive community of peers. In Spring 2015, on Wednesday evening, March 18, participants will come together for orientation prior to the deliberations of Westar academic seminars, which begin on Friday. This will be an occasion to raise and address issues, challenges, and goals facing Westar-friendly leaders. On Wednesday and Thursday, daytime lectures by Jennifer Wright Knust, Bernard Brandon Scott, and Peter Steinberger, will further stimulate discussion, while the Thursday evening reception affords a venue for casual conversation, accompanied by wine and cheese. Plans for additional gatherings throughout the national meeting are in the works (times are currently tentative; more details to come).

One of the goals of this initial gathering is to identify leaders to help shape the future of the Forum. The Young Leaders in Religion Forum is all about the joy and challenges that contemporary issues bring to the practice of leadership in religion today. Pilot members of the Forum receive financial support with Spring 2015 meeting registration. If we can secure additional funding, we plan to develop further networking resources for religious leaders of all ages.

How to Register: Pilot members of the Young Leaders in Religion Forum should not use the online registration form. Please follow registration instructions provided by program coordinators.[divider style=”hr-dotted-double”]

Authors & Books

Creative Faith

Religion as a Way of Worldmaking

Creative Faith: Religion as a Way of Worldmaking (Cupitt, sm)Westar Fellow Arthur J. Dewey will host a conversation about Don Cupitt’s latest book Creative Faith: Religion as a Way of Worldmaking. A Life Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge UK, Cupitt was the subject of a six-part BBC documentary, Sea of Faith, which gave rise to a worldwide network of people dedicated to exploring and promoting religious faith as a human creation. Creative Faith, his fiftieth book, reflects Cupitt’s life goal—to transform our understanding of life, of religion, and of Christianity in order to reach a faith appropriate for today’s world.

Wednesday, 4–5 pm, free event

The Search for the Real Paul

Author Roundtable

The apostle Paul skips from one metaphor to another in his attempt to communicate his understanding of “God’s world-changing news.” By selecting one of his many metaphors and treating it as though it were the “deep metaphor” for his thought, scholarship wrongly turns Paul into a systematic theologian and his message into a set of doctrinal propositions. If we acknowledge that Paul’s mode of communication was highly specific and tailored to individual communities rather than a statement of universal theology, what conclusions can reasonably be drawn about the metaphorical language found in his letters? How do we do this without (1) uncritically following along with the traditional answers to that question, and (2) reading our own desires into Paul’s letters? Join Bernard Brandon Scott, William O. Walker, Arthur J. Dewey, Roy W. Hoover, and Lane C. McGaughy to discuss this and other cutting-edge issues in Paul Studies.

Thursday, 4–5 pm, free event

The Real Paul Paul and His Legacy: Collected Essays by William O. Walker, Jr. Authentic-Letters[divider style=”hr-dotted-double”]

Learn more about Marcus BorgNational Meeting Banquet

Marcus Borg Memorial
Celebration of Westar’s 30th Anniversary

You are cordially invited to a memorial presentation for Jesus Seminar Fellow Marcus Borg (1942–2015) at the Westar Institute Spring 2015 national meeting banquet 7–10 pm on March 21, 2015 at the Flamingo Resort Hotel, 2777 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa, California. Bernard Brandon Scott, Darbeth Distinguished Professor Emeritus of New Testament at the Phillips Theological Seminary, will speak about Marcus’ role in the Jesus Seminar. Robin Meyers, Distinguished Professor of Social Justice at Oklahoma City University and author of Saving Jesus from the Church, will give remarks on Marcus’ influence on progressive Christianity. Tim Stover, the Campus Minister at Oregon State University, will share about Marcus’ impact at OSU. The memorial will include a rendition of Marcus’ favorite hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” accompanied by organist Harold Julander. Please purchase banquet tickets in advance to ensure adequate food and seating.

The banquet will also include remarks on the occasion of Westar Institute’s 30th anniversary from the Chair of the Board of Directors Perry Kea, Academic Director David Galston, and Marketing & Outreach Director Cassandra Farrin.[divider style=”hr-dotted-double”]


Wednesday, March 18

9–10, 10:30–11:30 am, 1–2, 2:30–3:30 pm
Bernard Brandon Scott

4–5 Authors & books

Thursday, March 19

9–10, 10:30–11:30 am
Peter Steinberger

1–2, 2:30–3:30 pm
Jennifer Wright Knust

4–5 pm
Authors & books

6–8 pm
Young Leaders in Religion Forum Pilot Session

8–10 pm

Friday, March 20

9–10:30, 11–12:30, 2–3:30, 4–5 pm
Christianity Seminar

Young Leaders in Religion Lunch Session

7:30–9 pm
Joanna Dewey Interview

Saturday, March 21

9–10:30, 11–12:30, 2–3:30 pm
Seminar on God and the Human Future

Young Leaders in Religion Lunch Session

7–10 pm
Banquet[divider style=”hr-dotted-double”]

Registration & Fees

Lectures and seminars take place in the Flamingo Ballroom. Westar Institute registration and the Polebridge Press bookstore will be located in the Alexander Room, across the lobby from the hotel registration desk.

Not a Westar member? You can add a Westar membership ($45) to your registration and register at the member price. Westar members receive a subscription to The Fourth R magazine (6 issues annually), discounts on national meeting registration, and 20% off Polebridge books & media. Learn more.

Option 1 — Bundled Sessions
Includes reception, banquet & electronic seminar papers*

Wednesday  Saturday

Registration Options Members Non-members
Early Bird (by Dec 31 Jan 2, members save $95) $295 $325
Pre-registration (by Feb 17, members save $70) $320 $350
Registration (after Feb 17, members save $50) $340 $370

Thursday evening – Saturday

Registration Options Members Non-members
Early Bird (by Dec 31 Jan 2, members save $65) $195 $225
Pre-registration (by Feb 17, members save $70) $215 $235
Registration (after Feb 17, members save $35) $225 $245

Option 2 — Single Sessions

Members Non-members
Wednesday session with Scott $65 $70
Wednesday Authors & Books (Cupitt) Free Free
Thursday sessions with Steinberger & Knust $65 $70
     Thursday morning with Steinberger only $35 $40
     Thursday afternoon with Knust only $35 $40
Thursday Authors & Books (Paul) Free Free
Thursday reception ticket $40
Friday academic seminars $65 $70
Friday evening interview with Joanna Dewey $20 $20
Saturday academic seminars $65 $70
Saturday banquet ticket $55
Hardcopy of seminar papers* $25

[button url=”https://westarinstitute.org/national-meetings/spring-2015-registration/” class=”button” size=”large” color=”black” target=”_self” lightbox_content=”” lightbox_description=””] Register Online [/button]

Refunds are available if requested by March 2, minus a $40 administrative fee. No refunds will be given after that date.

*Seminar Papers
The Seminar Papers, which will become available in March, are the basis for the discussions in the Friday and Saturday sessions. They will not be presented orally at the event. Persons wishing to follow the discussions should read the papers in advance. Electronic copies of the Seminar Papers are included with registration. Hard copies of the papers will be available at a cost of $25 each.

Order hard copies of seminar papers

Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are available on request. Attendance at Westar events qualifies for CEUs for clergy and other educators. Full attendance at Westar’s national meetings earns 2 CEUs (.5 per day). Please notify us of your interest when you register, or fill out the CEU request form. During the event, applicants will be asked to check in with a Westar staff member each day on arrival and departure. A certificate will be sent immediately following the event. Please call 503-375-5323 with any questions.[divider style=”hr-dotted-double”]


Polebridge Press Bookstore
Polebridge Press, the publishing imprint of Westar Institute, publishes up-to-date reference works for biblical scholars, primarily in support of research on the origins of Christianity and the historical Jesus; scholarly books produced by Westar seminars, research projects, and by individual scholars; and books and periodicals that disseminate the results of critical scholarship on religion to the public. The national meeting bookstore offers Polebridge books and books by featured speakers at a 20% discount to attendees.

The bookstore is open every day of the conference before, during and following sessions.

Westar national meetings are more than the sessions themselves; Westar is a community of people who enjoy candid, intellectually honest conversations about religion in general and Christianity in particular. The Garden Room is made available each day for casual conversation with other attendees over complimentary drinks and snacks. Usually the Garden Room is available between sessions and hospitality is offered after sessions.

Local Restaurants & Sightseeing
Santa Rosa is a blend of wine country, farms, redwood forests and ocean views. Local museums and features include the Charles Schulz Museum, Safari West wildlife park, and Pacific Coast Air Museum. The 800-acre Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is located 45 minutes outside Santa Rosa. Visitors interested in ocean views, seafood, and coastal hikes can drive to Jenner or Bodega Bay in approximately 40–45 minutes.

No visit to Santa Rosa is complete without enjoying local award-winning wines. Visit the Santa Rosa Convention & Visitors Bureau restaurants page and Taste Santa Rosa for more information on local dining options.[divider style=”hr-dotted-double”]

Accommodations & Travel Information

All events will take place at:

The Flamingo Resort Hotel
2777 Fourth Street
Santa Rosa, California 95405

Lectures and seminars take place in the Flamingo Ballroom. Westar Institute registration and the Polebridge Press bookstore will be located in the Alexander Room, across the lobby from the hotel registration desk.

The convention room rate at the Flamingo is $119 single or double occupancy, plus tax. For reservations, call 800-848-8300/707-545-8530 or visit the Flamingo website. A block of rooms will be held until February 17 at which time they will be released for sale to the general public. Book early to ensure a room. Reservations will be on a space available basis at the group rate. To reserve rooms at the convention room rate beyond the meeting dates (March 17th through 21st, 2015), call the hotel directly rather than using the online link.


By air

Alaska Airlines provides nonstop service to the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa (STS) from Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Santa Rosa is also served by San Francisco (SFO) and Oakland (OAK) airports.

The Airport Express provides service from SFO and OAK to Santa Rosa. Travel time is about two hours. The fare is currently $34 one-way with a $2 discount for seniors (62+), military, and students. The new Santa Rosa drop-off point is located 1.8 miles from the Flamingo at the Veterans Memorial building. From there you must get a cab.

Currently buses depart San Francisco airport every hour, on the half-hour, from 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Airport buses pick up on the Lower Level (outside Baggage Claim area) in the center island at the pillars marked “Airporters.” Buses depart Oakland airport every two hours, on the half hour, from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Buses pick up outside the Baggage Claim area, at the Ground Transportation Center platform marked “4D Scheduled Buses.”

Airport bus schedules change frequently. To be sure of up-to-date schedules and fares, for maps, and to get online discounts, visit Airport Express or call toll free at 800-327-2024.

By car

The Flamingo Hotel is located at the corner of 4th Street and Farmers Lane in Santa Rosa, approximately 55 miles north of San Francisco.

Take Hwy 101 North to Santa Rosa
Exit Hwy 12 (East toward Sonoma)
Stay on Hwy 12 (which joins Farmers Lane) to 4th Street