Spring 2019 National Meeting

March 20-23, 2019   ●   Santa Rosa, California


The Spring Meeting is over; here you'll find resources from the meeting

Summaries of the public talks here

Archive of the livestream of the public talks here

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.

James Carroll


Cockpit of Violence, Ground of Hope

Jews, Christians, and Muslims have Jerusalem in common as a source of faith: it is the place where the God of Israel was fully recognized, to which Jesus of Nazareth came in fulfillment of his mission, from which Muhammad had his most important mystical vision. It has been both a cockpit of violence and a center of resistance to violence.

On the positive side, Jerusalem sponsored monotheism and a breakthrough understanding of God as unknowable, as well as a vision of human rights, even, ultimately, of democracy. Out of Jewish resistance to violence came the vision of Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace. On the negative side, Constantine rooted the Roman imperial imagination in Jerusalem, thereby sacralizing violence. When Muslims took the city, the three faiths became impossibly entangled. Crusaders sealed Jerusalem in blood, planting it in the heart of European obsessiveness.

Today the “City on a Hill” triumphalism shows up in white supremacy, rampant militarism, and even in a premature shifting of the U.S. embassy. To retrieve the authentic meaning of the city is to return to its first purpose—a place where God is understood as turning away from violence, where human beings surpass themselves to be better, where peace and hope come down to earth

Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Workshops: 9–10, 10:30–11:30 am,

Q&A: 1-2pm

Panel Discussion: 2:30-3:30

James Carroll is the author of twelve novels, most recently The Cloister, which The New York Times called “incandescent,” and eight works of nonfiction, most recently Christ Actually. Other books include the National Book Award winner An American Requiem, New York Times bestseller Constantine’s Sword, and Jerusalem, Jerusalem, named a 2011 Best Book by Publishers Weekly. Carroll is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and an Associate of The Mahindras Humanities Center at Harvard. He lives in Boston with his wife, writer Alexandra Marshall.

John Caputo & Bernard Brandon Scott

History or theology?

Must we choose between them?

Historical study girds theology against supernaturalism, forcing it to confront the traces of a man largely lost in the fog of history along with the tradition of sayings and stories that sprung up in his memory. It forces theologians to ask: What are we to make of these memories? What do they say about life and death, good and evil?

This is the issue we hope to discuss by taking up two specific questions in which the constructive collaboration of history and theology is on full display. First, if the parables of Jesus keep deflecting attention from God on high to mustard seeds and treasures hidden in a field, who is the absent and silent god in these parables? Secondly, once we see exactly why Jesus was killed, what happens to the classical theologies of atonement?

Thursday, March 21, 2019
9–10 am - The absent and silent god in the parables of Jesus
10:30–11:30 am - Paul’s theology of the Cross: speaking truth to power

Photo of John D. Caputo

John D. Caputo (Ph.D., Bryn Mawr College) is a hybrid philosopher/theologian who works in the area of radical theology. He is the author of many books, including Hermeneutics: Facts and Interpretation in the Age of Information (2018) and The Folly of God (2016).

Bernard Brandon Scott (Ph.D., Vanderbilt University) is the author of many books, including The Real Paul (2015) and The Trouble with Resurrection (2010). A charter member of the Jesus Seminar, Scott is chair of Westar’s Christianity Seminar.


Paul’s Brain Science of Emotions

The apostle Paul addressed the nations of ancient Rome with the rhetoric of the “law of Christ”(Gal 6:2) and the “spirit of the law” (Rom 8:2). He tried but failed to teach them selfless love as the emotional foundation for faithfulness to God. Did he know what he was talking about?

According to Thandeka, modern science may reveal things that Paul understood at an instinctive level—things that we can see now with much greater clarity. Using the tools of affective neuroscience, she will examine Paul’s first-century attempt to teach selfless love, demonstrating how this love relates to human psychology, and asking if selfless love is the true value and future of religion.

Thursday, March 21, 2019
1–2 pm
2:30–3:30 pm

4-5pm: Book Discussions

Doing Theology in the Age of Trump, featuring Clayton Crockett

Love Beyond Belief, featuring Thandeka

Thandeka (Ph.D., Claremont Graduate University) is creator and president of the  Love Beyond Belief™ initiative and founder of Contemporary Affect Theology, designed to explain emotional development in religious settings and terms. A major figure in American liberal theology, she is a former Emmy award-winning television producer, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and the author of several books, including most recently Love Beyond Belief (2018). Thandeka was given her Xhosa name, which means “beloved,” in 1984 by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Interview with Thomas Sheehan

Tom Sheehan’s interests range from philosophy of religion to Jewish and Christian apocalyptic, from the early Jesus movement to the fate and future of Christianity. In 1986, he published the The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity. His subsequent work with the Jesus Seminar grew out of his interest in conjugating the message of Jesus with issues of economic, social, and political justice, in the spirit of Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo’s bon mot, “Now that God is dead we can love one another.”

Tom grew up in Irish-Catholic working-class San Francisco, the son and grandson of union organizers. For ten years in seminary, he studied classical and modern languages as well as philosophy and theology, and he spent summers organizing farm workers. He has taught in Europe, the U.S. and China. During the 1980s, between semesters, he worked with the Jesuits and the FMLN in El Salvador. His freelance articles on the war ran in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times.

Tom will be in conversation with his life-long friend John Van Hagen, a retired psychologist, independent scholar of Judaism and Christianity, and author of Rescuing Religion. Sheehan lives in the Bay Area with his partner Diana Myatt and their three sons.

Friday, March 22, 2019
7:30–9 pm

Thomas Sheehan (Ph.D., Fordham University) is Professor of Religious Studies at Stanford University. He is the author of The First Coming (1986), as well as books on philosophical figures, including Becoming Heidegger (2006), Edmund Husserl (1997), Karl Rahner (1987), and Heidegger, the Man and the Thinker (1981). Sheehan has been honored by the Ford Foundation as a Fellow (1983–85), the American Academy in Rome as Resident Scholar (1983), the National Endowment for the Humanities (1980), the Fritz Thyssen Foundation (1979–80), and with a grant from the Mellon Foundation.

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

Begun in 2013, the Christianity Seminar aims to rewrite the history of early Christianity. The scholars of the seminar have broken through to new understandings of many disparate movements in the first four centuries of the Common Era. As the Seminar enters the second half of its first decade, these historians of religion are poised to write their first major book for the public on the first two centuries. Already it is clear that there is much to re-think.

The March Meeting of the Seminar is working on one of its last major research projects for this rewriting.  In the March Meeting the Seminar will examine a number of different Jesuses in the second century.  In dramatic contrast to Westar’s (in)famous Jesus Seminar of the 1980s and 1990s, in which the Seminar made history itself by proposing new understandings of who the historical Jesus of the early first century was, March’s sessions examine the Jesuses produced in the second century.

Here the question is not who the real Jesus was.  But rather this March Meeting of a different Westar Seminar tries to make sense of the extremely different and diverse portraits of Jesus produced by Christ people of the second century.  In contrast to master narratives from early historians which painted the second century as when the true orthodox Jesus was distinguished from the heretical ones, the Christianity Seminar is working on meanings from the insistent diversity of Jesuses in the many different second century enclaves.  This set of new kinds of examinations of who “Jesus” was for the many creative, rambunctious, and contentious groups and authors, rejects any final validity from either the early first century or dogmatic systems that began to form in the third through 20th centuries.  Rather what the Seminar seeks are active historical processes working alongside one another and producing tensive, improvised, and ambitious different meanings for different groups of people.

The Christianity Seminar sessions begin with an interactive session by the Seminar co-chair, Hal Taussig, that both reviews the creative progress made by the Seminar in the last five years and prepares for the new research coming from five different papers to be discussed on the day itself.  Westar’s new Praxis Forum of creative religious leaders will insert important perspective and leadership into this initial Associates forum at the beginning of the day.  This introductory session aims to help the audiences of the day hear how the new papers may relate to the larger Seminar work and give a plainspoken overview of those essays.

The first Christianity Seminar session itself on the Jesuses of the second century features two new faces.  Fresh from the new publication of her Palgrave Macmillian book, Mary and Early Christian Women: Hidden Leadership, Professor Ally Kateusz’s paper describes several female Jesuses of the second century.  Professor David Wilhite examines how the mid-second century Jesuses in the writings of Justin Martyr and Marcion were similar, different, hybrid, and original.  His 2014 The Gospel According to Heretics and 2017 Ancient African Christianity provide important perspectives.

The second session focuses on Professor Justine Smith Wilson’s paper using interpretational (hermeneutical) approaches to several extracanonical texts and their pictures of Jesus.  Having worked extensively in the treaty rights/Native sovereignty movements and within environmental, social justice, and women’s health organizations, Professor Wilson reframes meaning-making about Jesus in the second century through experiences of North American Native peoples.  After having finished her Harvard Ph.D. Studies with Professors Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza and Karen King, she teaches at North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Institute and pastors at the First American United Methodist Church in Norman, Oklahoma.

The third session of the day is led by Professor Bob Miller, whose recent Cascade Books Helping Jesus Fulfill Prophecy guides an approach to how second century Jesuses reframe how meaning gets made in different settings through the notion of Jesuses who are prophetic.  Miller is a major leader of Westar scholarship over the past three decades.  A short portion of the third session introduces Hal Taussig’s forthcoming article “The (In)Appropriateness of ‘Christian’ in the First Two Centuries CE.”

Seminar on God and the Human Future

The academic Seminar on God and the Human Future began its work in 2013. Inspired by the pioneering research and public notice of the Jesus Seminar, it has sought to attract a new generation of scholars to the mission and ongoing work of the Westar Institute. In a short time it has attracted over thirty participating Research Fellows who together are exploring new ways and new images for thinking about God in a post-theistic context.

First session: This year’s first session is focused on a book by the Canadian philosopher J. L. Schellenberg: Evolutionary Religion (Oxford University Press, 2013). Schellenberg, who is Professor of Philosophy at Mount Saint Vincent University, will present on the book’s ideas, and in a second session will give us a taste of the evolution in his thinking represented by two new books of his: Progressive Atheism: How Moral Evolution Changes the God Debate (Bloomsbury, 2019) and Religion After Science: The Cultural Consequences of Religious Immaturity (Cambridge University Press, 2019). Both books will be out in the summer. Schellenberg is well known in philosophy for his ‘hiddenness’ argument for atheism, developed in his first book back in 1993, and for a subsequent trilogy on the philosophy of religion, which was honored by a special issue of the Cambridge journal Religious Studies in 2013.

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.

Christianity Seminar Papers

Contents Westar Fall 2019 Seminar Papers

Justin Martyr by Robert Miller

The (In)Appropriateness of  "Christian" in the Fist Two Centuries CE By Hal Taussig (Reserved for special publication & used for Christianity Seminar March meeting)

Is Jesus YHWH by David E. Wilhite

Decolonizing Reality by Neela Bhattacharya Saxena

 Jesus Woman by Ally Kateusz

Gospel of Judas and the Ravenmocker by Justine Smith Wilson

God Seminar Papers

Evolutionary Religion  J.L. Schellenberg

 After Evolutionary Religion J.L. Schellenberg

(John Schellenberg will present on his recent book. Watch a clip of him speaking here.)

Polebridge Authors & Books

New and recent Polebridge authors appear at these free afternoon book talks and include a book signing. This event will feature Thandeka on her new book Love Beyond Beliefand contributors to the book Doing Theology in the Age of Trump

Thandeka is creator of the Love Beyond Belief™ initiative for progressive congregations and the founder of Contemporary Affect Theology. Her books and publications have secured her place as a major figure in American liberal theology. Formerly an Emmy award-winning television producer, she is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and congregational consultant who was given the Xhosa name Thandeka, which means "beloved," by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1984.

This book is a work of theological resistance. It is not so much about the presidency of Donald Trump as it is about what his popularity and rise to power reveal about the state of Christianity and the moral character of the evangelical Right in the United States today. More specifically, it is about the threat of white Christian nationalism, which is the particular form that the nationalist populist movement of Trumpism has adopted for itself. The contributors are all fellows from the Westar Institute’s academic seminar on God and the Human Future, and include many of the leading figures in theology and Continental philosophy of religion. This volume provides a form of theopolitical resistance based on intersectionality.

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: [email protected].

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 20, 2019
4–5 pm

A showcase of projects the Praxis members have been working on over the year.

Friday, March 22nd and Saturday, March 23rd


Presentations on the papers of the two Seminars which will include overviews of the papers, basic descriptions of the arguments, and discussion with featured Seminar members. The purpose is to help all of us non-scholars understand the papers that will be discussed later.


1:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Registration & Exhibits

7:00 PM - 10:00 PM

Hospitality Suite

Dates & Deadlines At-a-Glance

January 2Early Bird Deadline
February 18Discounted room rates expire
February 19Pre-registration Deadline
March 11Registration cancellation deadline
All registration refunds must be requested in writing.
March 20-23National 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.

For livestreaming options click here; use code PREREG for $5 off through Feb. 19th.

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

Wednesday – Saturday Registration Options Member Nonmember
Early Bird (by Jan 2, members save $95) $295 $325
Pre-registration (by Feb 19, members save $70) $320 $350
Registration (after Feb 19, members save $50) $340 $370
Early Bird (by Jan 2, members save $65) $195 $225
Pre-registration (by Feb 19, members save $45) $215 $235
Registration (after Feb 19, members save $35) $225 $245

Option 2—Single Sessions

Member Nonmember
Wednesday session with James Carroll $65 $70
Thursday sessions with Caputo and Scott, and Thandeka $65 $70
Thursday morning session with Caputo and Scott only $35 $40
Thursday afternoon session with Thandeka only $35 $40
Thursday reception ticket $40
Friday academic seminars $65 $70
Friday evening interview with Thomas Sheehan $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 11 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 $149 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 18 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 (3/18/2019 to 3/25/2019), 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 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