Plenary Speakers

International Conference on Religion and Spirituality in Society will feature plenary sessions by some of the world’s leading thinkers and innovators in the field, as well as numerous parallel presentations, by researchers and practitioners.

Wendy Doniger Steve Shoemaker
Robert McKim Sara Anson Vaux

Garden Conversations

Plenary Speakers will make formal 30-minute presentations. They will also participate in 60-minute Garden Conversations – unstructured sessions that allow delegates a chance to meet the speakers and talk with them informally about the issues arising from their presentation.

Please return to this page for regular updates.

The Speakers

Wendy Doniger
Wendy Doniger’s research and teaching interests revolve around two basic areas, Hinduism and mythology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Her courses in mythology address themes in cross-cultural expanses; her courses in Hinduism cover a broad spectrum that, in addition to mythology, considers literature, law, gender, and ecology. Cross-cultural offerings have included courses about death, dreams, evil, horses, sex, and women.

Among her many books published under the name Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty are three Penguin Classics: Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook, Translated from the Sanskrit; The Rig Veda: An Anthology, 108 Hymns Translated from the Sanskrit; and The Laws of Manu (with Brian K. Smith). She has also published Śiva: The Erotic Ascetic; The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology; and several books with the University of Chicago Press: Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts; Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities; Tales of Sex and Violence: Folklore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa; and Other Peoples’ Myths: The Cave of Echoes. Under the name Wendy Doniger, she has published Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India; The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade; The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth; a new translation of the Kamasutra (with Sudhir Kakar); The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was; and The Hindus: An Alternative History. In progress are Hinduism, for the Norton Anthology of World Religions (2011); Faking It: Narratives of Circular Jewelry and Deceptive Women; Horses for Lovers, Dogs for Husbands (a novel); and a memoir.

Robert McKim
Robert McKim is Professor of Religion and of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His current research interests include the philosophical and theological implications of religious diversity and fundamental questions concerning religion and environmental thought. He has published extensively in philosophy of religion, the history of philosophy, and applied ethics, and he has taught courses in all of these areas. His many publications include these books with Oxford University Press: On Religious Diversity (forthcoming in 2011); The Morality of Nationalism, co-edited with Jeff McMahan; and Religious Ambiguity and Religious Diversity:

Recent and forthcoming articles include “The Goodness of the Real,” “Berkeley’s Notebooks,” “A Path to (and beyond) Tolerance,” “On Religious Ambiguity,” “Cooking with Philip Quinn,” and “Environment and Ecology in Religions.”

McKim was Head of the Department of Religion at Illinois from 2005-2010.

Steve Shoemaker

Steve Shoemaker has hosted a weekly hour-long public radio live interview show about “Spirituality, Religion, Ethics and Values” in the Midwest since 1999. The regional NPR station at the University of Illinois, WILL-AM 580 (and, has broadcast “Keepin’ the Faith” Sundays, 5-6pm over their 5,000 watt channel and also at FM 90.9 HD3. Guests have ranged from poet laureates to movie critics, from Imams to Rabbis, from student activists to theologians. Shoemaker has a Ph.D. in Religion from Duke University and is a graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He has taught as an adjunct instructor at Parkland College (where he helped begin the Department of Religion) and at the University of Illinois. Currently he is teaching his third course at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the U of I.

Shoemaker was Chair of the Committee on the Homeless for the City of Champaign, and for 17 years co-chaired the Steering Committee for the Men’s Emergency Shelter for Urbana-Champaign. He has served on the Martin Luther King Advocacy for Justice Committee for 28 years. He is on the Board of Directors for Protestants for the Common Good.

A Presbyterian Campus Minister, Shoemaker served at North Carolina State University (1973-1981) and at the University of Illinois (McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church/Foundation 1981-1999; University YMCA (1999-2008). His poetry, sermons, reviews and articles have been published in Judaism, The National Catholic Reporter, The Anglican Theological Review, The Christian Century, The Christian Ministry, Response, These Days, and many other publications.

Sara Anson Vaux
Sara Anson Vaux is a lecturer for the Department of Religious Studies at Northwestern University. She is also the Director of the Office of Fellowships and a Fullbright Program Adviser.

Having received her BA in English at Allegheny College and her PhD in English at Rice University, she also has studied at McCormick Seminary and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Her selected works include Dying Well with Kenneth L. Vaux, Will You Ever Kill Anyone Again, Karl, Unforgiven: the Sentence of Death and Radical Forgiveness, Finding Meaning at the Movies, and Divine Skepticism: The Films of Robert Bresson. She has also contributed to the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. Much of her work has surrounded spirituality in film and she has been a keynote lecture discussing such films as True Grit, Big Fish, and Gran Torino. She currently teaches at Northwestern University and teaches classes on The Fool Figure in Film and Literature, The Films of Robert Bresson, The Films of Clint Eastwood and Jean-Pierre Melville, and Cinematic Cuisine.