Virginia Graduate Colloquium on Theology, Ethics, and Culture 2017: NORMATIVITY and METHOD

Jeremy Sorgen's picture
Call for Papers
July 1, 2017
Virginia, United States
Subject Fields: 
Religious Studies and Theology, Philosophy, Social Sciences, Political Science


Religion, Method, Normativity



Virginia Graduate Colloquium

Theology, Ethics, Culture

 University of Virginia

13-14 October 2017



Religions make normative claims and scholars have normative commitments. However, religious studies often conceives of itself as an empirical discipline, aligning itself with other disciplines that are ostensibly descriptive, like history, sociology, and anthropology. This tension has led to polarization within religious studies.

The 2017 Virginia Graduate Colloquium aims to point beyond the “descriptive/normative” binary by highlighting new and overlooked methodologies—methodologies that, for example, do not view descriptive and normative approaches as antagonistic, or that are frank about their normative and constructive intentions while remaining alert to the hazards of purportedly objective or universal claims.

We solicit work that exemplifies such methodologies, or that analyzes the “descriptive/normative” binary in illuminating ways. Graduate students from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds are welcome, as are their different approaches to the study of religion.

The prominent social theorist Hans Joas will deliver our keynote address on presuppositions in the study of religion. Joas holds appointments at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and his publications include The Creativity of Action, The Genesis of Values, and The Sacredness of the Person.

 In the role of faculty convener, professors the Department of Religious Studies at UVa will offer extended responses, offering both commentary on papers and reflections on the treatment of normativity in their own work.


We welcome papers addressing the themes above and especially encourage papers from, or in critical dialogue with, the following orientations:


Aesthetics & normativity—

  • strategic uses of aesthetics for political and social projects.
  • the formation or malformation of selves in aesthetic experience.
  • the relationship between justice and beauty.
  • modern approaches to the convertibility of the transcendentals.
    • Faculty convener: Nichole Flores


Normativity from below

  • anthropological and ethnographic methods as a starting point for normative work.
  • normative implications of descriptive projects.
  • ontological and epistemological limits of ethical frameworks.
  • categories of analysis that emerge from particular contexts or the subject-matter under study.
    • Faculty convener: Willis Jenkins


Fragility & normativity—

  • ways fragility motivates or directs the sense of ‘what matters.’
  • undervalued non-Western sources for ethical reflection.
  • fear of madness and suffering in philosophy.
    • Faculty convener: Sonam Kachru




Please submit proposals of 250-500 words by July 1st in the form of a Word attachment (.docx) to VirginiaGraduateColloquium [at] gmail [dot] com. Include your name, institution, and degree-program in the body of the message.

Applicants will be notified by August 1st and final papers will be due by September 15th. Presentations should run for fifteen minutes. Each panel will be followed by a 15-minute faculty response. As in past years, participants will be hosted by current Virginia students and offered meals and transportation. Limited funds are available to off-set expenses for those presenters without departmental support.