At the AAR

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For the past couple of days, I’ve been in Chicago attending the annual meeting of that big, baggy association of scholars known as the American Academy of Religion. From a balcony outside the lavish Conrad Room (as in Paris’s forebear) high atop the Chicago Hilton on Michigan Ave. you can look down at the white tents in Grant Park, where Barack Obama will speak words of either joy or consolation to a hometown crowd tomorrow night. Beyond, Lake Michigan stretches out to Canada, whither many AAR members contemplate moving should consolation be in order.
Not really, but while Obama may still be struggling to line up the country’s frequent worshipers, he has carried the day with those who study them and what and whom they worship. And like liberals everywhere, the scholars have been glued to their TV sets and computer screens, worriedly reading the entrails of the polls for any sign their champion is flagging–in Pennsylvania, in Colorado, wherever. Not that there aren’t critics, but they tend to be from the left rather than the right. About Obama’s stated intention to pursue the war in Afghanistan more vigorously, his less than thoroughgoing health care plan, grumbling can be heard. There’s regret that he has found it necessary to keep the the hem of his garment well away from the American Muslim community, though the reasons for this are acknowledged.
At a session dealing with her recent book, The Party Faithful: How and Why the Democrats are Closing the God Gap, Amy Sullivan allowed as how her subtitle might have been a tad premature. One of the reasons, she suggested, was that the Obama campaign had not taken advantage of opportunities to pursue evangelicals, young ones in particular, including on the campuses of colleges like Wheaton and at Christian music festivals over the summer. The religious focus of the Obama campaign, as in previous Democratic ones, has tended to be on African American churchgoers–who, she quipped, hardly needed much energizing this year.
I presided yesterday at a lively and well attended session on religion and the campaign that included a wealth of smart comments by a clutch of bright young scholars: Erik Owens of B.C., Corey Walker of Brown, Melissa Proctor of Holy Cross, Eric Gregory of Princeton, and Jerome Copulsky of Goucher. At the end, a questioner asked what would happen if Obama were elected and within a short time it became clear that nothing much had changed.
Yes, prophecy fails. But for the moment at least, it seemed like the risk was more than worth taking.