Friday, December 14, 2012
Monday, December 3, 2012
Monday, November 19, 2012
Today there was a rambling post on that discussion listserv about two Christian credal statements: the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. The poster did not make a lot of sense as he thought the Apostles creed was more specific than the Nicene, while the opposite is true. What interested me is the propensity to attempt to delineate faith. Muslims have the Quran, but also the Hadith.. and also arguments over how one should interpret these and live by them in the world. While there are not the thousands of divisions as exist within Christianity, there are quiet a few actually. Jews, of course have several divisions also. None of this can take account of what goes on in an individual's head and heart either. What is particularly telling for me is how this listserv which began with Catholics, many types of Protestant and many types of Orthodox debating, often in an most uncharitable way, how to achieve unity - now consists mostly of Catholics and Anglicans and a few Calvinists. I doubt unity is possible - and perhaps not even desirable.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Watching worshippers and studying the actions of the faithful of many religions across time has led me to this conclusion.
Here is John Ruskin's idea of the attitude proper to Christians. Note it is an attitude of mind, not an assent to dogma .
“it is so consistent with all that Christian architecture ought to express in every age (for the actual condition of the exiles who built the cathedral of Torcello is exactly typical of the spiritual condition which every Christian ought to recognize in himself, a state of homelessness on earth, except so far as he can make the Most High his habitation),”
Excerpt From: Ruskin, John. “The Stones of Venice, Volume II (of 3),.” iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.
Check out this book on the iBookstore: https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=361588366
Friday, November 16, 2012
Today a lot of organizing and marking - but I will set aside time to put chunks of my work on Islam into my iBook Author program - with something added: I am going to try videos of my talking head. If it works well, I will add these to my online courses.
Beginning with Islam is especially important in this day and age - I have many Muslims in my Guelph/Humber classes and they are earnest, decent and hard working - and have good senses of humour [my personal gauge for character] - and need some counter action to the violent radicals that infect so much of humanity.
Not really an academic post.... but just a few random thoughts on my motivation to begin my Religions of the World portal with Islam.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Friday, November 9, 2012
What I am doing in my underhanded, nefarious way is teaching evidence-based critical thinking. Like the character Grissom in the original CSI television show set in Las Vegas, I teach the basic principle of careful, judicious thought: Follow the evidence.
By this I mean that my job is to convince students to look at any issue in life almost with their minds a tabula rasa - a wiped hard drive - and fill it with evidence, then use that evidence to form a provisional conclusion. I say provisional because uncovering or learning later evidence should allow you to change your mind.
By evidence, as I teach in the Humanities and more specifically in History, I mean the entire context of a period in time and how change occurs from time to time. So... for example, if you want to understand the hot button issue of violence and its connection to religion, and even hotter button, Islam and violence, you must begin by understanding the full context in which Islam arose, and the various contexts in which it spread - keeping all the while a careful, neutral mind set and letting the evidence speak to you. The evidence must look at all possibilities and aspects - political events, cultural norms, physical geography, climate, human psychology, trade and commerce, finance.... everything.
So .. the study of religions in history serves as a lens to focus on the primary duty of any thinker in the Humanities - critical, evidence-based, contextual thought.
I suspect this habit of mind will benefit anyone in any profession in life, not to forget one's personal relationships with family, friends and strangers.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
I do this... but is it a sign of one with no faith? Or was Descartes correct that one can isolate parts of your mind, yourself really, into discrete sections that do not touch each other. The man who turned me from an interest in legal and constitutional history to the study of religion in history advised that you should only study a religion not your own. In that way only he thought, could you study with proper scholarly detachment. Among Canadian historians of religion, he is the only one I know of who actually did this, however. He is Michael Gauvreau, simply the best historian of religion in this country. The others are very good, but seem to focus on aspects of Christianity they have a personal connection to. I cheated a bit when I got my union ticket [PhD] - I focussed on Canadian Anglicanism. A cheat because while I researched and wrote my dissertation, I was a Catholic - but I was raised in the Anglican Church of Canada and have kept a soft spot for this complex institution.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Here is the newest, which might make proponents of American exceptional ism revise their hypothesis:
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Saturday, September 15, 2012
In my last class [my only face-to-face teaching], I touched briefly on the Hasidim - how they see joy as central to their beliefs. Even when times are dark, the Hasidim believe one should be filled with joy. Why? Well, because creation overall is from God and must therefore be wonderful and joyful. The vicissitudes of life are temporary and perhaps [well one hopes this] aberrant and not the norm.
There are preachers who use humour on occasion - but it is rare. Only rarely do you see any kind of joy or laughter when the topic of religion arises.
I do not think it appropriate to laugh at any part of a religion - say in the adolescent style of that American TV show Saturday Night Live. But religion can be discussed, debated, learned, explored with a light touch - with a smile of recognition or of surprise.
That's my intent and goal, anyway.
Monday, September 10, 2012
A good overview of three critics of modern society and its technological bias can be found in this article:
Context and Content: Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan and George Grant and the Role of Technology in Modern Society by Philip Massolin in Past Imperfect, Vol. 5, 1996
Monday, August 13, 2012
Usually a number point out that religion is not the same thing as spirituality and that humans may be naturally spiritual but not naturally religious. Religion is seen as the structure of religions - institutional in form. Spirituality as numinosity is defined by Rudolph Otto in his still important work Das Heilige/The Idea of the Holy.
I was thinking about this today and thought something different. First of all, 'religion' can mean the structured, institutional and organized - but organized what? I would say organized spirituality. Human beings may indeed in general [but not in every case] be naturally spiritual. But human beings are social animals and immediately begin to organize. Those who discover others with similar spirituality create organizations with leadership, meeting places, rituals, etc.
Secondly I was thinking about why people are spiritual and therefore religious. Most students in the discussion noted that religion used to supply answers that science now fulfills. I think there is another, more profound level to this. Religion and its foundation, spirituality, supply not answers, but purpose. I was thinking back to the debate I watched online between Rowan Williams the current Archbishop of Canterbury and the famous atheist, Richard Dawkins. Prof. Dawkins insisted that there is no purpose in the universe - it is all a colossal accident. That everything that exists now is the result of an initial random occurrence and a series of occurrences spiralling out of that. Archbishop Williams insisted on purpose in the universe.
I think spirituality and therefore religion will always exist as a primary force in human life because humans need purpose. Science may someday explain every mechanical act, but cannot answer or even pose, the question, 'why?'
Sunday, August 5, 2012
I am cautious, however, and have some latent doubts when I post material on non-literate societies. Cave paintings are a good case in point. Are paintings of animals examples of what used to be called sympathetic magic? That is, were they painted to aid in the hunt? Or were just examples of a human love of representation ... of art?
I like to watch an English show called Time Team, where archaeologists have three days to unearth and interpret remains in the British Isles. I am surprised at how many times the interpretations require so much imagination where corroborating evidence is absent.
This all reminds me that in the study of religion in history, an open mind must be cultivated and an agility in dropping pet theories maintained.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Friday, July 13, 2012
Although a book review, this article is actually what is called a review essay and gives good detailed information not only on the long historiography of Hinduism and Buddhism in India, it also provides a good overview of that history and in particular the role of this remarkable ruler, Ashoka.
Saturday, July 7, 2012
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
What set me to write a bit on this - that is, to think out loud - was not the usual nonsense about religion being the major cause of war [a simple accounting of wars in history disprove this without much doubt] - but a thought that public atheists and also those less public that one knows or casually cross paths with, use violent language frequently. I'm not thinking here about actual physical violence; about prominent historical atheists such as Stalin or Pol Pot or Hitler, but about atheists who preach atheism either in public fora or in private at bars, or family dinners or in classrooms. Atheists preach reason, but use contempt, and a refusal to listen to any opinion other than their own.
I have encountered only one exception to this general practice. It can be found here:
Prof. Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury debate at Oxford
About an hour and a half, it is a rare instance of an atheist and a theist debating in a civilized manner.... come to think of it, a rare instance of civilized debate at all....
Friday, June 22, 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Monday, May 21, 2012
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Saturday, May 12, 2012
I am reading through the Open University course material for their World Religions course - the section I read most recently discussed definitions of religion - meditating on the differences between functional and substantive definitions. Put briefly, a functional definition tends to be vague as almost anything could provided meaning to life [the principle functional definition], while substantive definitions list very specific characteristics and are too limiting.
But, then I re-read the following thoughts from John Ruskin on beauty and function ..... For me, religion is more about beauty than purpose.... while I think for most people religion is a combination of purpose and habit. Whenever one discusses religion, people discuss/argue/debate/fight over lists of doctrines/historical events/rituals etc. When I think of religion I feel it..... I feel the beauty or ugliness of art work in a church.... I feel the beauty or ugliness or plainness of the external architectural style....I feel the beauty or ugliness or plainness of ritual....
Anyway, here is what John Ruskin said:
you have been so created as to enjoy what is fitting for you, and a willingness to be pleased, as it was intended you should be. It is the child’s spirit, which we are then most happy when we most recover; only wiser than children in that we are ready to think it subject of thankfulness that we can still be pleased with a fair color or a dancing light. And, above all, do not try to make all these pleasures reasonable, nor to connect the delight which you take in ornament with that which you take in construction or usefulness. They have no connection; and every effort that you make to reason from one to the other will blunt your sense of beauty, or confuse it with sensations altogether inferior to it. You were made for enjoyment, and the world was filled with things which you will enjoy, unless you are too proud to be pleased by them, or too grasping to care for what you cannot turn to other account than mere delight. Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance; at least I suppose this quill I hold in my hand writes better than a peacock’s would, and the peasants of Vevay, whose fields in spring time are as white with lilies as the Dent du Midi is with its snow, told me the hay was none the better for them.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
I am reading through the material publicly available from The Open University in Britain (courtesy the iTunes store) in their World Religions course. What particularly caught my eye this morning was embedded in a description of Buddhism. The first precept - called 'noble truth' of Buddhism is that suffering is the default position in life. The Buddhist says there are indeed episodes of happiness during life, but that these are merely incidences of 'Guilded sorrow'.
My experience of life thus far matches this description. But I have always wondered at the many others I have known in my 61 years who have seemingly reversed this - who seem usually happy with episodes of unhappiness. Are they presenting a brave face to the world? Or do they disprove the Buddhist paradigm? Or, in Buddhist terms, are they farther along the path to Nirvana than I?
I am a Catholic Christian (albeit on vacation from the Church right now) where it is assumed, as in Buddhism, that humanity is fallen and broken and that true happiness, as opposed to the ephemeral happiness of here and now, comes only with heaven. Eastern Christians, who focus on matters of the spirit more than on the legal strictures so evident in my church, call this 'deification'. This seems little different from the Nirvana of the Buddhists, the moksha of Hindus, the paradise of Muslims.
Well, my morning coffee is done, and on to other things now!
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Friday, April 20, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Saturday, April 7, 2012
This was prompted by listening to a show dedicated to the choral work of Orlande de Lassus, a Low Countries Renaissance composer, who lived his composing life in Munich. While he was known also for secular compositions, he is remembered for his Motets, Masses, Magnificats.... and that got me to thinking about the almost entirely human-centred nature of all the arts today. With the notable exception of Arvo Pärt, music, painting, sculpting, poetry, novels..... etc. etc. are human centred in the western world. Islam is noted for religious art and architecture - but that was almost all produced in the past as far as I know. The vitality of the artistic heart beats best in the West - but is human centred.
Can anyone correct me?
[post scriptum: I do not apologize for the wikipedia links - if academics bothered to put good information on the net where the world lives today we would not NEED Wikipedia]
Sunday, March 18, 2012
In it, Sir Anthony Kenny, an Oxford philosopher and agnostic moderates a dialogue - a friendly debate - between Dr. Rowan Williams, the current [though outgoing] Archbishop of Canterbury and Professor Richard Dawkins, the well known proponent of atheism and materialism. The dialogue lasts nearly an hour and a half, and I have only managed to view the first 20 minutes so far. But it is indeed worth the time to watch.
At this early point, if I were able to pose a question to Richard Dawkins, it would be along these lines: What, as an evangelist of atheism would you have to offer someone like myself who is dysfunctionally right-brained? That is, I am religious primarily because of intuition and because for me, a sense of poetry, art and beauty exists as integral to the universe about me and is also integral to myself as a part of this universe. Logic follows beauty in my breathing in and breathing out. In what I have heard from Prof. Dawkins to this point, mechanistic and chaotic chance take precedence in the essential nature of reality, and beauty and ugliness both are irrelevant byproducts of this process.
Years ago, I had a young girl student in a class I teach called Religion and Society in the Modern World, who was one of the few admitted atheists in the class when I conducted an informal survey. For her, unlike Prof. Dawkins, beauty was the first element she saw in the mechanistic universe. For her, it was primary, without denying the ideas of full atheism. I would find this position more appealing to my right-brained dysfunction, than Prof. Dawkins's approach. Put another way, poetry trumps physics, for me.
Now to other things - I hope to view more, and to view the video again.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
The religious contours of the United States. It began in 1991 in Boston with the work of Dr. Diana L. Eck of Harvard. Here is a link to the original project, on Boston. It has since spread to other American cities. It is, alas, profoundly ahistorical.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Here is a good short historical look at Lent:
Lent in History
Friday, February 17, 2012
Monday, February 13, 2012
By Fulya Ozerkan
Writing in the National Post on February 9/12
ANKARA — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comment that his government wants to “raise a religious youth” has touched a nerve in society, fuelling debates over an alleged “hidden agenda” to Islamise secular Turkey.
“We want to raise a religious youth,” said Erdogan, himself a graduate of a clerical school and the leader of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), during a parliamentary address last week.
“Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise an atheist generation? That might be your business, your mission, but not ours. We will raise a conservative and democratic generation embracing the nation’s values and principles,” he added.
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Erdogan’s remarks drew strong criticism from the staunchly secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, with its leader calling him a “religion-monger.”
“It is a sin to garner votes over religion. You are not religious but a religion-monger,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, accusing Erdogan of polarising the country by touching its faultlines.
“I’m asking the prime minister: what can I do if I don’t want my child to be raised as religious and conservative?” wrote prominent liberal commentator Hasan Cemal in Milliyet daily.
“If you are going to train a religious and conservative generation in schools, what will happen to my child?” he asked.
Columnist Mehmet Ali Birand also criticised Erdogan this week in an article titled, “The race for piety will be our end.”
“What does it mean, really, that the state raises religious youth? Is this the first step towards a religious state?” he wrote in Hurriyet Daily News.
Erdogan must explain what he meant, otherwise a dangerous storm may erupt and go as far as fights about being religious versus being godless, he argued.
Neither religious nor political uniformity can be imposed on Turkey given regional, ethnic and sectarian diversity in the country, wrote Semih Idiz in Milliyet daily on Tuesday.
He said millions of people “have subscribed to secular lifestyles” even before the republic.
Erdogan’s AKP has been in power since 2002 and won a third term with nearly 50 percent of the vote in the 2011 elections, securing 325 seats in the 550-member parliament.
But since then the influence of the military, considered as guardian of secularism, has waned.
Dozens of retired and active army officers, academics, journalists and lawyers have been put behind bars in probes into alleged plots against Erdogan’s government.
Critics accuse the government of launching the probes as a tool to silence opponents and impose authoritarianism.
Secular quarters argue Erdogan’s conservative government is also step by step imposing religion in every aspect of life, saying many restaurants already refuse to serve alcohol during Ramadan.
They also criticise recent changes to legislation under which religious school graduates will now be able to access any university branch they like, while in the past they had only access to theology schools.
Birand expressed fears that the changes would not be confined to this and would lead to censorship in television broadcasts.
The Turkish television watchdog RTUK “will restrict all kissing scenes; they will confuse pornography with explicit broadcast and all television screens will be made pious,” he added.
“Then will come religious foundations. After them, it will be municipalities. All kinds of Koran teaching courses, legal or illegal, will mushroom.”
Observers say Erdogan’s message contradicts what he had said during a recent tour of Arab Spring countries, in September.
“As Recep Tayyip Erdogan I am a Muslim but not secular. But I am a prime minister of a secular country. People have the freedom to choose whether or not to be religious in a secular regime,” he said in an interview with an Egyptian TV, published by Turkish daily Vatan.
“The constitution in Turkey defines secularism as the state’s equal distance to every religion,” he said in remarks that provoked criticism from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Monday, February 6, 2012
Saturday, February 4, 2012
So I thought I would say a few words on these resources. Unlike many instructors I do not entirely disparage wikipedia... but the caution I will post here applies to it as well as more usual encyclopedias and dictionaries.
All three of the resources are useful ONLY to give a you quick background into a topic which is unfamiliar... but none of them should be used to prove a point in an essay or in a discussion. The reason for this has nothing to do with how rigorously the facts in each type of source are checked and double-checked. The basic problem with them as source is they are syntheses of the work of many scholars... and often will give you only one version on a debatable topic - and you may not be able to trace which part of each article was written by which scholar. Wikipedia has additional problems in that it is rarely double and triple checked and is only rarely produced by scholars who are trained to think carefully and speak only when they have checked as many sources as possible. Wikipedia does have the strength that often it lists scholarly sources at the bottom of the article....
So use wikipedia! Use standard encyclopedias! Use dictionaries!
BUT only to give yourself a quick overview of a topic - then go to scholarly sources for your essay or discussion posting.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
if Cavemen used facebook
The rather tenuous connection to religion: that 'community', that is society... is natural to humanity and religion, quite apart from its 'truth' or 'falsehood' is intrinsically communal - as well as individual - which is what this article is suggesting.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Not religion - but the internet is under attack by large, traditional media companies who are using legislatures to contain, restrict and mould the net, including the world wide web, into their restrictive practices. Tomorrow a number of sites will be 'black' in protest - I took this from the Wikipedia English language site, but it applies generally - even here:
We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression. For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make to sense of it.
But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
I recall vividly a conversation I had with a Buddhist monk. He had been putting before me methodi cally and pertinaciously the arguments for the Buddhist 1 theology of negation', the doctrine of Anatman and ' entire emptiness'. When he had made an end, I asked him, what then Nirvana itself is; and after a long pause came at last the single answer, low and restrained : ' Bliss—unspeakable'. And the hushed restraint of that answer, the solemnity of his voice, demeanour, and gesture, made more clear what was meant than the words themselves.
Friday, January 6, 2012
Here, slightly edited for this space, are my first thoughts:
I have finally found time to look
at Garry Wills's work on religion 'as an historian' - and I emphasise this - I am not critiquing his thinking (for that is what writing is) for literary technique or for passion, but in how he uses his sources and how he presents the context within which evidence is analysed.
I decided to present little snippets in blog, or as we used to
say, journal form as I read. This is a purely practical need due to
personal circumstances which force me to do much of my thinking in the interstices which now and for the foreseeable future comprise my intellectual life.
I have begun reading Dr. Wills in that same necessary way by downloading an audio book of his from my local public library to listen to while multitasking. I had hoped to begin with one of his books that caused a furore, but the one available is less well known. 'What Paul Meant' will serve just as well, I think.
I have just begun listening and have already had my eyebrows raised - but perhaps only
temporarily as he may indeed do better as an historian when I get deeper into the book.
He refers to Paul's 'dark theology'. ( a nice phrase, BTW, skilfully setting his tone and establishing his thesis), his thesis being that Paul was worse than Judas. Judas merely caused the death of Jesus's body through betrayal while Paul betrayed and killed our Lord's spirit, Dr. Wills says.
At this point he has done quickly and easily what every undergraduate history student must learn: to state clearly and in your first paragraph your thesis or theme.
But, he gets a failing grade at this early point - or at least my red pen would be out (actually I
would be inserting comments in red font) for the first sources he quotes. He seems to think that Thomas Jefferson, George Bernard Shaw and Friedrich Nietzsche are good sources to understand the theology of Paul and Jesus in historical, or for that matter, ahistorical context. So immediately I began to appreciate Garry Wills's skill as a polemicist, but not yet as an historian.