I originally envisioned this conference as an ongoing dialogue. And I attempted to implement this in the very organization of the panels. The panels, in some ways, can be seen as interactive, with later panels commenting on the topics of earlier panels. With this in mind, I created the closing discussion as a “respondents’ panel,” in which the respondents could take the insights from their panels and put them directly into dialogue with one another in order to identify cross-panel themes as well as identify a few gaps in the conference, providing fertile directions for further inquiry. (Unfortunately, our third respondent, Jack Hawley, could not be with us, and so I am going to fill in for him, but by no means are my comments or interests reflective of his.)
Bracketing issues suggested in the call for papers but not really discussed today, one key aspect of the institutional shaping of religion that has briefly emerged in this conference and should receive serious sustained interrogation as we move on from this setting is pedagogy. In fact, I was discussing this with Adam Lobel, and told him if I were to organize this conference all over again, I would have called for a panel on pedagogy. Indeed, we are primarily hired as professors in order to teach. And so how we teach what we teach and navigate the vagaries of funding, student interest in particular subjects, student expectations of certain topics, and institutional habits of course development (even how course titles are negotiated between student interests and “inherited” courses) will shape how religion is understood as we present it primarily to our undergraduate students.
When it comes down to it, who reads our research? How many people will read my dissertation and our scholarly monographs? Versus how many people will we teach? And, in this instance, how textbooks for such courses are used (or ignored) and how those books present “religion/s” to students, whether upheld or deconstructed by the instructor, have great impact, in my opinion, for the dissemination of our understandings or misunderstandings of what we study. We should think of how we communicate (or do not communicate) with our students engaging both their and our assumptions (Luke’s discussion of competitive economies of knowledge may be helpful here). Thus, in teaching, how we do what we do develops in interaction with institutional habitus (so to speak) as well as student interest and expectation. The exact analysis of these interactions at various institutions would be an important contribution to the concerns we have investigated today. (Adam’s analogy [given in the discussion period of the first panel] of seminar reading practices versus Buddhist monastic reading practices of the same text producing different forms of knowledge illustrates this point quite well.)