5/9 TCP Final Comparison of Miracles – “Miracles: So What?”

Speakers: David L. Weddle, Professor Emeritus of Religion, Colorado College; Karen Zwier, Lecturer in Philosophy, Iowa State University

Thursday, May 9th, 7:00 p.m.; Cowles Library Reading Room                                                                                       

The Comparison Project has come to the end of its two-year series on miracles, in which we have heard diverse perspectives from a wide range of disciplines. It is now time to face the question that has haunted the entire series: if a miracle occurs, what does it prove? This is the dreaded “so what?” question. Professors Weddle and Zwier propose this evening to engage the “so what?” question. Please join us in this final conversation on miracles.

David L. Weddle is Professor Emeritus of Religion at Colorado College where he taught courses in comparative religion, ethics, and Christian thought, and is the author of Miracles: Wonder and Meaning in World Religions (2010) and Sacrifice in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (2017).

Karen Zwier is a lecturer in philosophy at Iowa State University. Her research deals with philosophical and scientific methodology as well as metaphysics of science. Her areas of specialty include philosophy of causation, history and philosophy of physics, and science and religion.  

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4/11: Inconvenient Wonders: Ambivalence in Hasidism about the Reputed Miraculous Powers of its Leaders

Nehemia Polen, Professor of Jewish Thought, Hebrew College

Thursday, April 11th, 7:00 p.m.

Sussman Theater, Olmsted Center, Drake University

The founder of Hasidism, Israel ben Eliezer (d. 1760), known as the Baal Shem Tov (“Master of the Good Name”) gained his fame as healer, shamanic adept, and charismatic master. To this day, Hasidic communities tell wondrous stories of their leaders, known as Rebbe or Tsaddik (saint, righteous person). Yet Hasidic sources display a curious ambivalence towards the miraculous, often disavowing the centrality and significance of the paranormal in Hasidic life and thought. This marginalization of the miraculous is often connected to a related theme: appreciation of the wondrous nature of everyday life.

Dr. Nehemia Polen is Professor of Jewish Thought at Boston’s Hebrew College. He is the author of numerous books, among which are The Holy Fire: The Teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto (Jason Aronson, 1994, 1999) and The Rebbe’s Daughter (Jewish Publication Society, 2002), recipient of a National Jewish Book Award. He is an ordained rabbi who has served a congregation for twenty-three years, and is a contributing commentator to My People’s Prayer Book, a multi-volume Siddur incorporating diverse perspectives on the liturgy (Jewish Lights). 

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3/28: Saintly “Miracles” and Yogic “Magic”: The Ethics of Wonder in North Indian Devotional Traditions

Dr. Patton Burchett, Assistant Professor, College of William & Mary

Thursday, March 28th, 7:00 pm

Olmsted Center, Sussman Theater

This talk examines a series of miracle stories in the hagiographical literature of the Sufi and Hindu bhakti traditions of early modern north India in order to highlight some fascinating parallels between Sufi and Hindu bhakti religious attitudes. Dr. Burchett offers a provocative hypothesis: that the category of the “miracle”—broadly shared across the “Abrahamic” traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and defined in contradistinction to the category of “magic”—does not exist in the Hindu tradition until the influence of Islam on Hindu devotional communities in Mughal India. In exploring the miracles of Sufi and Hindu devotee-saints, this lecture investigates the role of ethics in categorizing different forms of wonder (e.g., as “miracle” versus “magic”) and examines the way that the specific narrative form of the miracle story often functions to cultivate virtues and ethical dispositions in its audiences.

Patton Burchett is Assistant Professor at the College of William & Mary. Prof. Burchett’s research focuses primarily on early modern devotional (bhakti) and tantric-yogic religiosity in north India. He is developing a new book project on yoga and the interrelations of magic, science, and religion in the rise of Indian and Western modernities. Burchett’s first book, A Genealogy of Devotion: Bhakti, Tantra, Yoga, and Sufism in North India, is forthcoming from Columbia University Press in May 2019.

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3/7: “Miracles and Medicine: An Interfaith Dialogue”

Moderated by Dr. Richard Deming, Director of the Mercy Cancer Center; Founder and Director of Above + Beyond Cancer                                      

Thursday, March 7th at 7:00 pm

Mercy Hospital, East Tower Conference Rooms 6-7

Do medical miracles occur? If so, in what sense? Do patients seek miracles in the course of medical treatment? Do patients and physicians, or patients and chaplains, discuss the possibility of miracles, and if so, how? Does hope of miracles serve a therapeutic end in medical treatment? Or can hope of miracles be detrimental to the patient’s well-being?

We explore these questions and more in an interfaith dialogue on Miracles and Medicine, hosted by Dr. Richard Deming, Director of the Mercy Cancer Center, and Founder and Director of Above + Beyond Cancer. The dialogue panelists include Monsignor Larry Beeson; Dr. David Friedgood, neurologist at Mercy Hospital; Dr. Rizwan Shah, retired pediatrician at Blank Hospital; Dr. Yosesh Shah, geriatrician at Broadlawns Hospital.

The dialogue will be held in Conferences Rooms 6-7 in the East Tower of Mercy Hospital. Please park in MercyOne’s East Parking Ramp shown on the attached map, entering from Laurel Street. After parking, exit the parking ramp on foot and walk north up 3rd Street towards University Avenue. Enter Mercy’s East Tower on the left hand side of 3rd Street. Take the elevator to A Level. Turn right off the elevators. Go just past the restrooms and turn left down that hallway. East Tower Conference Rooms 6 and 7 are towards the end of that hallway on the right-hand side.

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2/14: What Miracles in the Global South Contribute to Understanding the Human Condition

A substantial number of Samburu (livestock herders in northern Kenya) have claimed to have witnessed the resurrection of family members or neighbors, and others have reported hearing the eye witness accounts of generations elder to them. This talk will describe these accounts and discuss how Samburu understandings of these events bear on a dynamic view of humans as persons in a world of fiercely contested truth claims.

Bilinda Straight is Professor of Anthropology and of Gender & Women’s Studies at Western Michigan University. Her earlier work has focused on gender, material culture, and the nature of human experience. Over the past decade, she has engaged in a series of National  Science Foundation funded studies related to warfare, drought, morality, and difficult experiences, as they are both culturally experienced and sedimented in human bodies.

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12/8: Plymouth Congregational Church

Plymouth Congregational Church 
4126 Ingersoll Ave, Des Moines
Saturday, December 8th, 4:00 p.m.


Join us at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 8th for the inauguration of the interfaith chapel at Plymouth Congregational Church. This Meet My Religious Neighbor event includes not only an open house but also an interfaith dialogue featuring local representatives of six different religious traditions. Visitors are also invited to stay for Plymouth’s 5:30 p.m. “casual service.”


Meet My Religious Neighbor is a monthly open-house series. Each open house allows the public the opportunity to tour a sacred space, learn how religion is practiced in it, and meet the congregation who worships there.

12/6: Firsthand Accounts of a Miracle Investigator

Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
Thursday, December 6th, 7:00 pm
Sussman Theater, Olmstead Center

Joe Nickell is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and investigative columnist for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. With a Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky, Dr. Nickell investigates myths and mysteries, frauds, forgeries, and hoaxes. He has authored more than twenty books, most notably the Science of Miracles. He has also appeared on numerous national TV shows, earning titles such as “the modern Sherlock Holmes,” “the original ghost buster,” and “the real-life Scully” (from “The X-Files” ).  

In his lecture, Dr. Nickell will review some of the allegedly miraculous cases that he has investigated over this career. These include phenomena as varied as the Shroud of Turin, weeping statues, faith healing, and other empirical claims of religion.

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11/15: The ‘Miracle’ Problem: A Lakota Thought Experiment

Fritz Detwiller, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Adrian College
Thursday, November 15th, 7:00 pm
Sussman Theater, Olmstead Center


Fritz Detwiler is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Adrian College, where he has taught for the past 35 years. He is a charter member of the Society for the Study of Native American Traditions and has lived among the Ho Chunk in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. His current research is on Native American ethics, with particular focus on the Lakota, Tlingit, and Diné.

In his lecture, Detwiler will argue that if we are to take Native American lifeways seriously, then we have to address the problem of miracles not in Western terms, but as a window into fundamentally different Native American worldview assumptions. Using concepts that are closer to Native viewpoints—power, personhood, relatedness, and change—Detwiler’s talk will explore an understanding of reality that does not admit of miracles but rather beholds mystery.

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11/4: Meet My Religious Neighbor: Des Moines Zen Center

Des Moines Zen Center 
6901 SW 14th Street, Des Moines
Sunday, November 4

1:00 pm 


Please join us for our next Meet My Religious Neighbor open house, which is to be hosted by the Des Moines Zen Center at 6901 SW 14th Street in Des Moines. From 1:00 – 3:00 pm, the Zen Center will hold an open house during which guests can tour their new facility, meet members of their community, and learn how they practice Zen Buddhism there. At 3:00 pm, there will then be a guest lecture by David Loy, a celebrated professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbo Zen tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism.


Meet My Religious Neighbor is a monthly open-house series. Each open house allows the public the opportunity to tour a sacred space, learn how religion is practiced in it, and meet the congregation who worships there.


10/25: The Intertwining of Healing and Religion in a Contemporary Chinese American Community

Kin Cheung, Assistant Professor of Asian Religions, Department of Global Religions, Moravian College
Thursday, October 25th, 7:00 pm
Sussman Theater, Olmstead Center

Kin Cheung is an Assistant Professor of Asian Religions in the Department of Global Religions at Moravian College. He has written on Buddhist meditation and healing, practical implications of Buddhist ethics, and Buddhist institutions’ involvement in China’s stock market. His dissertation examines how meditation changes the senses of self, using both scientific studies of meditation’s effects on the brain and Chan/Zen Buddhist descriptions.

In his lecture, Prof. Cheung will explore how healing and religion are intertwined in a Chinese-American community in New Jersey, where his father, CHEUNG Seng Kan, teaches a small group of regular students an eclectic practice of qigong meditation, Buddhist dharani chants, geomancy, and various Chinese medical treatments. Cheung has taken on the role of a community healer for his students and their social networks. This presentation argues that healing is one avenue for the contemporary innovation and spread of religion in a Chinese-American diaspora community.


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