COV&R-Bulletin No. 3 (Sept. 1992)
COV&R: A Historical Note
Those not familiar with how COV&R began may be interested in a bit of information on its genesis. COV&R has its historical roots in the Bible, Narrative, and American Culture Seminar (BINAC), which was one of the seminars of the Westar Institute. Robert Funk founded Westar and has directed it since its inception in 1985. The most well known of the Westar seminars was the Jesus Seminar, which became notorious for its work on a color-coded edition of the Gospels that distinguishes what Jesus said, or what is purportedly characteristic of what he actually taught, from additions made in the subsequent tradition.
BINAC was started in the Fall of 1986 when Westar met at the University of Notre Dame. Like all Westar seminars, it met twice yearly. Beginning in 1988 the Spring meeting of all seminars took place in Sonoma, California, the new main office of Westar and its adjunct enterprise, Polebridge Press. The goal of BINAC was to regard American culture from the standpoint of biblical narratives and simultaneously to develop a better hermeneutic out of and for the American context. I proposed to the chairperson that we study the work of René Girard; this proposal was heartily supported by Robert Hamerton-Kelly. The chair, Charles Mabee, accepted this recommendation and most of the other participants agreed to it. Thus began a process that lasted four years. We were fortunate that in 1988, 1989, and 1990 Girard himself spent a day with BINAC at its Spring meetings in Sonoma. Hamerton-Kelly, long a friend and disciple of Girard at Stanford University, initially did more than anyone to bring Girard and BINAC together.
Meanwhile, Funk became very dissatisfied with BINAC. One of the problems was that BINAC did not take up and complete the publication projects demanded by Funk quickly enough to suit him. (It should be noted, however, that at this writing Curing Violence, edited by Theophus Smith and Mark Wallace, with contributions from many BINAC members, is definitely scheduled for publication by Polebridge.) More deeply, however, Funk was displeased with our emphasis on Girard's mimetic model. He has directed Westar in an attack on traditional Christianity and especially on fundamentalism and BINAC did not fit his designs.
So it was clear by the end of 1989 that Funk would eventually (perhaps soon) dissolve BINAC. (In the event, BINAC was eliminated after the meeting in March, 1990.) It was then, toward the end of 1989, that Charles Mabee and I had a couple of long telephone conversations. As it happened, I would be on academic leave to study with Girard at Stanford from January to April 1990. We decided to make a proposal to Girard: to hold a meeting at Stanford of some colleagues who were interested in his work. Since there would be at least one more meeting of BINAC the following March in Sonoma, we could plan a one day session for the day prior to the Sonoma meeting of BINAC. In this fashion BINAC colleagues could easily attend the meeting at Stanford and then travel the sixty miles to Sonoma. The object of the session would be not only to discuss Girard's work with Girard himself present but to propose the launching of a new collaborative group. Girard said yes, the session took place on March 1, 1990, and the Colloquium on Violence and Religion had its beginning.
That session featured a discussion of some of the chapters of Bruce Chilton's manuscript, The Temple of Jesus (Penn State Press forthcoming in September 1992), a passionate response by Girard, and fiery polemics from Hamerton-Kelly. In addition, we took part of the afternoon to get COV&R started. Among those present were the following who are currently members of COV&R: Ed McMahon, Mark Wallace, Diana Culbertson, Bob Hamerton-Kelly, Stefano Cocchetti, Hans Jensen, Byron Bland, Mark Anspach, Richard Keady, René Girard (honorary), Charles Ozeck, Jim Williams, Gil Bailie, Charles Mabee, and Bruce Chilton. If you are wondering about this order of names, I've taken them from the back of the photograph shot before the meeting began.
That first meeting in March of 1990 was of course only a beginning. Of the 25 persons who attended it, 13 came to the meeting last May at Stanford. For the 1991 meeting there were 39 registered participants, plus another 20 or so who were present for Girard's opening address.
It has taken a while to determine what we are able to handle. We definitely "bit off too much" in the beginning, notably a rather precipitous announcement of a journal. The journal project has been postponed until our membership grows to 200-300. But the main thing is that we've made a start, a good start. As of July 1, 1992 we had about 70 members listed in North America and Europe. We are a truly interdisciplinary academic society, with important contributions from those involved interdisciplinarily in literature, psychology, and anthropology as well as in religious studies. We have a bulletin (The Bulletin of COV&R) to be published twice yearly by our Austrian colleagues. We have now a regular practice of two meetings a year: a shorter one in conjunction with the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature and our main conference in the Spring. We are particularly fortunate to have the support of the Theological Faculty of the University of Innsbruck due to the leadership of Raymund Schwager and Wolfgang Palaver. As mentioned, the Bulletin is published there, and the Innsbruck colleagues worked out an arrangement with Kulturverlag that reduces the costs.
For other events since the beginnings in 1990, the first three issues of the Bulletin should give the reader an idea of what has transpired. I should mention one of these events, though it was not a conference of COV&R: the conference on "Dramatische Erlösungslehre" (im Lichte der Theorie Girards) at the University of Innsbruck September 25-28, 1991. There were a number of COV&R people there. It was exciting to be together for four days of discussion, fellowship, and informative contact with colleagues in Europe.
To conclude, BINAC was interred by Westar but the victim was raised from the dead in the form of COV&R. So from BINAC to COV&R--a cutting-edge, poststructuralist society, deconstructing even the deconstructors (see my review of McKenna's book in The Bulletin of COV&R, no. 2 [March 1992], p. 10). Surely a group for the 21st century!
James G. Williams