Spring 2018 National Meeting

March 21-24, 2018   ●   Santa Rosa, California


A Death That Would Not Die

A Primer on Jesus & the Passion

Arthur J. Dewey

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Purchase an audio set of the lecture

CD label for Arthur Dewey from Spring 2018

From Good News to Fake News

Sarah Morice Brubaker

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Purchase an audio set of the lecture

CD label for Sarah Morice Brubaker from Spring 2018

Interview with Charles Hedrick

Charles Hedrick

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CD label for Charles Hedrick from Spring 2018

Program Overview

Public Lectures

The national meeting is open to anyone interested in scholarship about religion and religious literacy. Participants come from all walks of life, professions, and religious backgrounds. To support greater understanding of religion, Westar hosts public lectures conducted by Westar Fellows and other leading figures in the scholarship of religion.

Diana Butler Bass


A Revolution That Can Change Us and the World

Social scientists and spiritual teachers agree that gratitude is good for us—that thankfulness drives out negative emotions and leads to physical health and mental well-being. In a recent survey, 78% of Americans said that they felt “deeply grateful” in the previous week. At the same time, however, Americans also said that they felt angry, afraid, and had lost hope in the future. How can that be? If gratitude is as powerful as researchers insist, why is there a gap between the goodness of giving thanks and the anger driving our society? In these lectures, Diana Butler Bass explores the “gratitude gap” by delving into social science, theology, and spirituality, and helps us understand gratefulness anew—that gratitude is a radical spiritual practice and a transformative social structure, a vision that is found at the very heart of the Hebrew Bible and the teachings of Jesus.

Photo of Diana Butler Bass

Diana Butler Bass (Ph.D., Duke University) is an independent scholar specializing in American religion and culture. She is the author of nine books, including A People’s History of Christianity (2009), nominated for a Library of Virginia literary award, and the bestselling Christianity for the Rest of Us (2006), named as one of the best religion books of the year by Publishers Weekly. Bass also writes for The Huffington Post and The Washington Post and is a regular commentator on religion, politics, and culture in the media, including USA Today, Time, Newsweek, CBS, CNN, FOX, PBS, and NPR. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards including the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize of the American Society of Church History.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
9–10, 10:30–11:30 am

1–2, 2:30–3:30 pm

Arthur J. Dewey

A Death That Would Not Die

A Primer on Jesus & the Passion

How did the grim facts of the death of Jesus become the occasion for the invention of the passion narrative? Following his death, Jesus believers took a courageous stand against the Roman Empire’s attempts to liquidate all traces of Jesus. Why did his death matter to them? How did they go about making sense of it? Arthur Dewey will ask whether Jesus anticipated his death, what crucifixion entailed, and why it was employed by the Romans. He will explore the various ways in which Christian communities creatively remembered the death of Jesus.

Photo of Arthur Dewey

Arthur J. Dewey (Th.D., Harvard University) is Professor of Theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati. A distinguished teacher, writer, translator and commentator, he is the author of Inventing the Passion: How the Death of Jesus Was Remembered (forthcoming Fall 2017) and co-author of The Complete Gospel Parallels (with Robert J. Miller, 2011) and The Authentic Letters of Paul (with Roy W. Hoover, Lane C. McGaughy, and Daryl D. Schmidt, 2010). His Wisdom Notes: Theological Riffs on Life and Living (2016) brings forward his poetic perspective that was aired on Public Radio in Cincinnati for more than a dozen years, as well as his editorials in The Fourth R.

Thursday, March 22, 2018
9–10, 10:30–11:30 am

Sarah Morice Brubaker

From Good News to Fake News

Theologians have had plenty to say about the difference between truth-telling and lying, and truth-tellers and liars. But what about the person who pronounces things with great certainty, even when she is in no position to know whether she is correct? Is she a liar? Is she simply mistaken? Does it matter whether what was said is itself true, or false? Sarah Morice Brubaker invites participants to think of the overconfident person as a bad neighbor. She shows how overconfidence, which goes back to antiquity, is now built into current economic forces and communication technologies. Why is overconfidence so handsomely rewarded in contemporary culture? Are there effective ways to challenge the devastating theology of overconfidence? Brubaker identifies strategies that can work, as well as obstacles to avoid.

Photo of Sarah Morice Brubaker

Sarah Morice Brubaker (Ph.D., University of Notre Dame) is Assistant Professor of Theology at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and author of The Place of the Spirit (2013). Her shorter writing has appeared in The Christian Century, Religion Dispatches, Geez Magazine, This Land Press, and Salon. She currently serves as program chair of the Liberal Theologies Consultation of the American Academy of Religion.

Thursday, March 22, 2018
1–2, 2:30–3:30 pm

Interview with Charles Hedrick

Charlie Hedrick grew up in the Mississippi delta. He initially plan ned to become a Southern Baptist Minister but later opted for an advanced degree in religion. As a graduate student, his education took a sharp turn when he chanced upon the Nag Hammadi texts and began studying Coptic. Soon after, he found himself in Egypt working with the UNESCO International Committee for the Nag Hammadi Codices, reconstructing and translating texts and later excavating at the site of the discovery.

Charlie’s CV contains credits that are unusual for a university professor: For thirty years, he served as a U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain. He was called up for active duty at the Pentagon during Operation Desert Storm and later retired with the rank of Colonel. He is a recipient of the U.S. Armed Forces “Legion of Merit” award. He also worked for thirteen years as an L.A. County Probation Officer.

Though a leading Coptologist, Charlie prefers to describe himself broadly as a historian of Christian origins. He especially enjoys reading texts that have not been seen since antiquity. His current book, in preparation for press, sports the working title, Unmasking Biblical Faith: Short Essays Exposing the Marginal Relevance of the Bible for Contemporary Religious Faith.

Photo of Charles Hedrick

Charles W. Hedrick (Ph.D., Claremont Graduate University) is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Missouri State University and a charter Fellow of the Jesus Seminar. He is the author of many books including Parabolic Figures or Narrative Fictions? (2016), The Wisdom of Jesus (2014), House of Faith or Enchanted Forest? (2008), and Parables as Poetic Fictions (1994). In 1988–89, he served as President of the National Association of the Baptist Professors of Religion and in 2010 was selected for the Wall of Fame at Missouri State University.

Friday, March 23, 2018
7:30–9 pm

Academic Seminars

Westar Institute conducts collaborative, cumulative research in the academic study of religion, addressing issues, questions, and controversies that are important both to the academic community and to the general public. Two seminars are currently in progress: the Christianity Seminar and the Seminar on God and the Human Future.

Christianity Seminar

Planned for much of the last year, it’s right around the corner. Westar’s Christianity Seminar’s mega-task of rewriting early history of the Christ movements enters a pivotal phase at its March national Santa Rosa meeting.

The March meeting will receive a major public-friendly summary of 14 issues already addressed in its first five years. Six scholars of the Seminar will critique, appreciate, and parse the summary. The Seminar will spend most of its sessions on this important turn in its work.

Read More

Why is this a turn? Two major benchmarks are at hand. One, there are only three more topics to cover before the Seminar produces a public book on its findings. Two, the Seminar has already started writing components of that big, controversial, and reader-friendly tome, and two more components of the book will be presented in March.

Some of the biggest Seminar ballots addressed by the summary paper and its six respondents include:

  • The so-called “parting of the ways” between ‘Christianity’ and ‘Judaism’ has been botched by scholars and needs to be placed much later.
  • “Gnosticism,” the bogey-man of alleged second-century Christian heresies was manufactured by later Christian scholars. It never existed in the early churches.
  • New, yet unfinished, work on early Christ-related literature’s gender wars shows both an adventuresome queerness and the same old vicious patriarchy.
  • Violence by the Roman empire influenced significantly early Christ-related stories and imagination.
  • Comical and creative supper clubs were the main social organization of the early Christ movements.
  • The ideas of Paul were not very popular in the second century.

The six Seminar scholars responding to the Seminar summary are Lillian Larsen, Arthur Dewey, Celene Lillie, Judith Perkins, Joanna Dewey, and Jeffrey Robbins. The summary itself is written by Seminar co-chair Hal Taussig. Material for the public book presented in March are in papers from Nina Livesey and Brandon Scott.

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Seminar on God and the Human Future

The first phase of the work of the Seminar on God and the Human Future is nearing completion. The seminar has been exploring the varieties of post-theism over the past three years. This began by defining the task in reference to Paul Tillich’s “non-theism” in an important vote that has shaped much of the subsequent work of the seminar. Since that time, the seminar has hosted many of the leading North American voices in contemporary theology and sought to critically examine and integrate their signature contributions to our thinking through the post-theistic options, including the following:

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  • The weak theology of John Caputo
  • The anatheism of Richard Kearney
  • The paratheology of J. Kameron Carter
  • The panentheism of Catherine Keller
  • The pantheism of Mary-Jane Rubenstein
  • The natural theologies of Bart Campolo and Carol Wayne White

For the 2018 spring meeting in Santa Rosa, the scholars from the seminar will be devoting time to reflecting on this work thus far and developing a plan for its dissemination and publication.

In addition, we will be opening up a new line of inquiry by inviting scholars to address us on the challenges and prospects for decolonizing theology and alternative spiritualities. Three new scholars to the God Seminar will be leading us through this discussion: Devin Singh, An Yountae, and Mary Keller.

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Participation in Academic Seminars

Westar has developed a new model of scholarly discourse that is open, public, accessible, collegial, and rigorous. Its academic seminars engage leading scholars from accredited institutions worldwide, while also embracing the public and the media as observers and participants.

All others, scholars and non-scholars alike, are welcome to audit the seminars.

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 available to the public and will be posted when they come available, usually 2 to 3 weeks prior to the event. Hard copies of the papers will be available at a cost of $25 each.

Order hard copies of seminar papers
Read papers online

Polebridge Authors & Books

New and recent Polebridge authors appear at these free afternoon book talks and include a book signing.

Praxis Forum

The Praxis Forum is committed to bridging the gap between the academic study of religion and the on-the-ground experience of religion and spirituality in contemporary culture. We seek to support continued research and scholarship on the origins and impact of the Christian tradition, as well as fostering the faith and spiritual growth of religious communities.

Known previously as the Young Leaders in Religion Forum, this program is being spearheaded by mostly Gen-X and Millennial religious leaders with training in church, arts, chaplaincy, non-profit, social advocacy, new faith communities and social service work. Westar is actively seeking interested members. If you feel you or someone you know would be a good candidate for this program, please visit our website or contact us for more information: praxis@westarinstitute.org.

Praxis members should not use the regular registration form to sign up for the Spring 2018 forum. Registration instructions will be emailed to members.

Join the Praxis Forum as they discuss presented scholarship and its intersections with contemporary society.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
4–5 pm


Wednesday, March 21
9:00 AM - 10:00 AM
10:30 AM - 11:30 AM

Diana Butler Bass

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
2:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Discussion - Diana Butler Bass (cont)

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM


Praxis Forum

Join the Praxis Forum as they discuss presented scholarship and its intersections with contemporary society.  Learn more about this session.

Thursday, March 22
9:00 AM - 10:00 AM
10:30 AM - 11:30 AM

Art Dewey

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
2:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Sarah Brubaker

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Authors & books

8:00 PM - 10:00 PM


Friday, March 23
9:00 AM - 10:30 AM
11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Academic Seminars & Associate Forums

7:30 PM - 9:00 PM

Charles Hedrick Interview

Saturday, March 24
9:00 AM - 10:30 AM
11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Academic Seminars & Associate Forums

7:00 PM - 10:00 PM


Dates & Deadlines At-a-Glance

January 2Early Bird Deadline
February 19Discounted room rates expire
February 20Pre-registration Deadline
March 12Registration cancellation deadline
All registration refunds must be requested in writing.
March 21-24National Meeting

Registration & Fees

Not a Westar member? You can add a Westar membership ($50) 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 OptionsMemberNonmember
Pre-registration (by Feb 20, members save $70)$320$350
Registration (after Feb 20, members save $50)$340$370
Pre-registration (by Feb 20, members save $45)$215$235
Registration (after Feb 20, members save $35)$225$245

Option 2—Single Sessions

Wednesday session with Diana Butler Bass$65$70
Thursday sessions with Dewey and Brubaker$65$70
Thursday morning session with Dewey only$35$40
Thursday afternoon session with Brubaker only$35$40
Thursday reception ticket$40
Friday academic seminars$65$70
Friday evening interview with Charles Hedrick$20$20
Saturday academic seminars$65$70
Saturday banquet ticket$55
Hardcopy of seminar papers $25 Electronic seminar papers (available free online)$25

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

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 contact us with any questions.


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 MuseumSafari 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.

Hotel & Travel Information

All events will take place at:

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

The convention room rate at the Flamingo Resort is $139 single or double occupancy, plus tax. For reservations, call 800-848-8300/707-545-8530 and reference the group "Westar Institute" or visit the Flamingo Resort website. A block of rooms will be held until February 19 at which time they will be released for sale to the general public. Book early to ensure a room. Reservations after the deadline will be on a space available basis at the group rate. To reserve rooms at the convention room rate beyond the meeting dates (3/19/2018 to 3/26/2018), call the hotel directly and reference the group "Westar Institute" 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 www.airportexpressinc.com 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