Images of Perfection: An Interdisciplinary Conference in the Study of Religion

Images of Perfection: An Interdisciplinary Conference in the Study of Religion
Activity Date: 
Monday, Jan 5, 2015 to Wednesday, Jan 7, 2015

Last Monday afternoon as a major winter storm approached Jerusalem, the joint Buber-Scholion Images of Perfection: An Interdisciplinary Conference in the Study of Religion began with two plenary lectures and a musical performance. Jonathan Garb of the Hebrew University spoke about perfection and lack in religion. After some introductory remarks about the concept of perfection in Judaism, Buddhism, and other traditions, Professor Garb focused on the later modern period, when some religious thinkers came to understand perfection as problematic and searched for alternative approaches that took into account a new sense of lack. Justin McDaniel of the University of Pennsylvania then delivered a captivating talk that begin with the observation that although Buddhists have traditionally failed at creating totalizing structures, they have succeeded wildly in one specific area: cosmology. Professor McDaniel discussed and presented images of modern architectural efforts to create cosmological models for Buddhists, and then focused on the major efforts of a twentieth century Buddhist couple to build impossibly large, complex, and perfect cosmological structures. Immediately following the lectures and right before the reception, participants were treated to a set of beautiful compositions played on the tar with accompanying percussion by the accomplished musicians Peretz Eliyaho and Gil Hameiri. Peretz’s gorgeous music and the thoughts he shared on perfection in music were a true highlight of the conference.
On Tuesday the participants got down to work and heard and discussed perfection in religion and philosophy. There were talks about divine perfection, visuality, and virtuality (Zachary Braiterman, Syracuse); on perfection in philosophy (Stoics – Sharon Weisser, Tel Aviv; Hindu thought – Jessica Frazier, Oxford and Kent; Schelling and Rosenzweig – Karin Nisenbaum, Scholion; Spinoza – José María Sánchez de León Serrano, MBSF); in ritual (Hindu – Don Handelman, HUJI; Rabbinic –Mira Balberg, Northwestern); in Early Christianity (Jonathan Stavsky, Scholion; Yonatan Moss, MBSF), and also some further discussion of imperfection (in rabbinic family life – Haim Weiss, Ben Gurion; in Zoroastrian ritual – Eva Kiesele, Princeton and Shai Secunda, MBSF).
As the clouds continued to gather, participants were unfazed and went out to a delicious dinner next to the souk, where they continued the day’s discussion and planned for the final day of the conference, which could not be held in Jerusalem due to the impending snowstorm. Fortunately, Jonathan Stavksy of the Scholion Center quite graciously offered to host some remaining papers in his apartment in Tel Aviv. And so the conference concluded with two fascinating lectures on perfection in Buddhism by Tari Shulman (Scholion) and Rupert Gethin (Bristol) held in a lovely Tel Aviv living room as a winter storm raged outside.