3–5 June 2019, The University of Chicago Divinity School

American culture, from its founding on, has employed biblical texts and traditions to reinscribe the subordinate place and role of women, muting their voice and agency. This looks to be changing: women‘s voices are playing a prominent and forceful role in public discourse. The women‘s pussy-hat march on Washington DC and across the United States, the #metoo and Times Up movements, and the toppling like dominos of formerly untouchable assaulters are all landmarks urging the dignity of women and the need for deep social change. Uniquely in the Bible, The Song of Songs celebrates the voice and agency of women — domestic and erotic, natural and exotic. But it has long been marginalized by Judeo-Christian traditions, occluded by allegorical interpretations that explain away its frank eroticism and deflect its celebration of the individual with discourses privileging the divine, history, nationhood, and the like. The Song of Songs enjoyed some rehabilitation during the rise of feminist and structuralist interpretation of it in the 1980s and 1990s, but such inquiry was deeply shaped by “second-wave” feminism and has since receded from view. This conference aims to bring The Song of Songs into a public dialogue shaped by the complex concerns of the current moment. It provides a forum for religion in the public sphere, with The Song of Songs at the center of inquiry. This inquiry will move in two directions with a reciprocally informing dynamic: How might the text be a recoverable resource for public thought? How do currents in contemporary thought newly condition and challenge our understanding of this unusual ancient poetry?

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