In my first session Unclean was a part of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion book session. There I talked a bit about disgust, monsters, infrahumanization and scapegoating. The basic idea I talked about is how disgust-based group psychology masks social scapegoating by creating monsters through the process of infrahumanization. (That last sentence is so ridiculously nerdy, but if you've read Unclean you know what I'm talking about.)
In my second session I participated in a new SBL program unit The Bible and Emotion. In this inaugural session a panel was convened to discuss the work of Martha Nussbaum as a resource for connecting emotion and biblical studies. Nussbaum chaired the session and responded to the papers. Given that Nussbaum is sort of a big deal and that I use her work in Unclean it was exciting to get to meet her and participate.
My talk was entitled "Beyond Disgust and Dumbfounding" and it focused on material from Chapter 4 in Unclean. The basic argument I made was that when the church regulates its experience with the idiom of purity it becomes vulnerable to what Jonathan Haidt calls moral dumbfounding. To introduce moral dumbfounding to the audience I read the moral dumbfounding scenarios from Haidt's research, scenarios I've shared before on this blog. To recap, Haidt reads scenarios like this to people asking them to judge what, if anything, is morally wrong and why it might be wrong:
1. A family’s dog was killed by a car in front of their house. They had heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dog’s body and cooked it and ate it for dinner.Haidt's observation in relation to these scenarios is that people have a strong visceral response that something is wrong in each scenario. However, people tend to struggle with coming up with a principled moral reason why something is wrong. This disjoint between moral emotion and moral reasoning is what Hadit calls moral dumbfounding.
2. A brother and sister like to kiss each other on the mouth. When nobody is around, they find a secret hiding place and kiss each other on the mouth.
3. A man goes to the supermarket once a week and buys a dead chicken. But before cooking the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he thoroughly cooks it and eats it.
Anyway, responding to my paper Nussbaum wanted to revisit each scenario, one by one, to see if there was, in fact, a consistent moral principle being violated. Nussbaum is a classic liberal, so she was trying to apply the harm principle to each scenario. I don't think she was very successful in this as Haidt did his homework and crafted scenarios that precluded harm. For example, with the incest scenario Nussbaum reflected on issues related to power in sexual relations between adults and children. But Haidt's example is about siblings. Regarding the dog, Nussbaum talked about animal ethics and not harming animals. But the family didn't kill the dog, the dog was already dead.
And finally she got to the chicken scenario. She starts with these words, "Now the case of necrophilia is an interesting example..." She then begins to muse about the moral issues involved in necrophilia. And I'm thinking to myself, "This is what happens when you invite a psychologist to AAR/SBL, you get people like Martha Nussbaum musing about necrophilia. Good times."
On a final note, I did stick to my guns and spoke extemporaneously (background here). It seems to have been appreciated. The feedback I received was that my presentations were lively, engaging, and humorous.
Musing about sex with chickens, I'm sure, helped with all that...