After a long day of air travel, I’ve arrived in San Diego for the 2007 edition of the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature conference.

I managed to make it down to the expansive San Diego conference center by about 4 pm, in time for what turned out to be a rather abstruse deliberation by a group of scholars about the interpretation of the Qur’an. I wish I could summarize what they were talking about, but, well, I have no real clue. Something about some lost manuscript or other.

Actually, a presentation in that session about the idea of “holy land” in Islam did bring up the Hajj pilgrimage. I get those crazy ideas, after the Rural Studio show, of going on some literal radio pilgrimage to Mecca, with some eloquent Islamic scholar who can reflect on the whole experience. Or maybe go down to the Ganges when the largest pilgrimage in the world descends on that river.

Later on, after killing some time in San Diego’s Gaslamp District, eating Cashew Chicken and a coconut-and-pineapple smoothie at a Thai restaurant, I made my way back to the conference center. A plenary session featured the president of the AAR, Jeffrey Stout, giving an address called “The Folly of Secularism.” I think he could be an interesting speaker to the continuing theme of atheism vs. secularism we’re trying to properly explore on the show. He made some interesting responses to secularist calls to banish religion, the kind of calls that are made by authors like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I do think a show with Stout would continue to provoke the non-religious segment of our listenership in a rather non-constructive fashion, though. If we did get him on, I think it would be in the context having two voices.

Note to self: come up with a proper schmoozing script to use when approaching potential guests. “Hey, loved the speech, babe, it was fab.” I did introduce myself to him afterward but, for some odd reason, I actually told him that I would get in touch with “his people.” Are these words actually coming out of my mouth?!

A couple of AAR Book Prize winners seem interesting, particularly Leela Prasad of Duke University, who won for her book on “oral narrative and moral being in a small Indian town,” namely the pilgrimage town of Sringeri, Karnataka. It triggered my interest because it seems it’s about stories of everyday people and how they construct moral meaning through religion, practice, poetry, and a bunch of other stuff.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to her in the crush of bodies, because someone overheard me introducing myself to Jeffrey Stout as a producer from Speaking of Faith. The young man then wanted to talk to me about how I got there. Funny, about a year ago, I asked Krista the same question, and here I am…


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