Friday, December 14, 2012

Mughal Empire

At the British Library:

Monday, December 3, 2012

The First Ghetto

An overview of the first ghetto - created in Venezia in 1516 - the second photograph in this link shows an entranceway more evocative of the reality of Jews in Early Modern Europe than any other picture I have seen.

The Ghetto in Venice

Monday, November 19, 2012

Creeds, dogma, doctrine

I am on a discussion list designed to find ways to heals rifts in Christianity.  Back in March 2011, I wrote a post here musing on this very topic - or rather musing on the possibility there is no one religion called Christianity, but many, many religions claiming Christ as a central figure.

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

thoughts on living one's faith

As I near the end of another term teaching the history of religion, I think about religion as a way of life. What, exactly, does that mean? Does it mean that you must consult a check list of approved actions and thoughts before doing or thinking? Or is it something more subtle and amorphous? I think the latter as only the most fiercely faithful could maintain that state for long without exploding in a paroxysm of heterodoxy. Rather, for most - or perhaps only for me - faith permeates unseen and only on occasion felt. It informs an attitude of mind and body.

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:

Friday, November 16, 2012

moving into high gear

Well, Friday once again... my weekly time for resolutions... that are usually blown out of the water by Sunday..... but determination is one of my few virtues, so as my grandmother taught me:  Persevere.

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

Art and Faith

I came across the painting by Salvador Dali today on my Artfinder app - then located this youtube video posted by the BBC.

It is worth meditating on:

Christ of St. John of the Cross

Friday, November 9, 2012

Teaching Religious history

When I teach the history of religions - I am not teaching the history of religions.

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

The Hajj on YouTube

Next Wednesday I begin my set of lectures on Islam.  To introduce that, here is a link to YouTube where the Saudis have allowed a live feed to this year's Hajj

The Hajj live on YouTube

Can religion.....

Can religion be studied academically?  Can one apply the discipline of one trained to analysis of historical periods to faith?

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

Not exactly religion

Descartes finishes his drink and the barman says: "Want another?" Descartes says: "I think not" and vanishes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

U.S. Statistics

The American government is forbidden by the first amendment to their constitution from collecting information on religion. So statistics are estimated using standard social science polling techniques by private organisations and reported in the popular media.

Here is the newest, which might make proponents of American exceptional ism revise their hypothesis:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mughal Art

If anyone is lucky enough to be in England between November and next April, add this exhibition at the British Library to your agenda:

Mughal Art at the BL

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Humour and Religion

I was set to thinking today [but not too deeply] about humour and religion.  I use humour when teaching my history of religion classes, but not in the sense that I make jokes about any particular religion.  I may be mad, but I am not stupid... or is that I may be stupid but I'm not mad?  Anyway, I think more to the point, can religion - its history and beliefs - be communicated to others with a light touch?  Or is it so deadly serious that humour has no place?

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

the Calm and the Passion

I have often wondered at the difference meanings given to the words passion and spirituality across Christian denominations.  In some evangelical Protestant churches these terms connote wild outbursts of emotion, passionate singing, shouting out Amen in church services.  For more sedate Anglicans and Catholics, and especially the Orthodox and Uniate churches of the East, it means deep, silent meditation that might produce tears in the one meditating, but more often a total silence and separation from emotion.

Religion and Schools

I was thinking tonight as I walked my dogs about a 1963 essay by George Grant on religion in schools in Ontario.  At that time Grant noted that the public schools - then known as being openly Protestant - taught religion in a rote and unenthusiastic fashion.  He noted their true religion was progress and something he called technique.  By this latter he meant not the word as commonly understood, but as signifying an attention to producing better things - to an almost worship of material improvement.  He went on to say that only the Catholic schools still took religion seriously and taught it as though God were real.  The article in question is called Religion and the State and is found in the collection of essays Technology and Empire [originally published in Queen's Quarterly, 1963].

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

Why Religion will continue

In my World Religions course at the University of Guelph as a last discussion question I ask if human beings are naturally religious.  This sparks a lively debate - despite this being only a bonus question assignment worth 1% of their grade total.  I pose it at the end of term and without much weighting in terms of grades so students will treat it without pressure and think widely and deeply.

They do.

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

art and religion and spirituality

In courses I teach on the history of religion, I stress art work and architecture as intrinsic parts of religion and spirituality.  For literate cultures this is often obvious - places of worship or meditation [in the case of Buddhist temples] are highly decorated in a manner that reinforces beliefs.  The architecture of these buildings is also what the historian William Westfall called a 'sermon in stone'.

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

Ceramic Art from ca. 17000 YA

The University of Cambridge in concert with researchers in Croatia has dated ceramic art to an era much earlier than yet discovered :

Ceramic Art from 17000-15000 YA

Friday, July 13, 2012

Asoka, Hinduism and Buddhism

I am linking here a review of a book:  Ashoka:  The Search for India's Lost Emperor by Charles Allen [reviewed by Burjor Avari].

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.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The theft of religious artifacts....

Perhaps the theft of religious artifacts is some kind of indicator of the importance faith still holds?  I wonder.....

Stolen Artefacts recovered

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


This is not a carefully thought out post - but just some preliminary thoughts that have been bubbling around in my head for some time.

 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

Food for Thought

“Christianity started out in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.” (Robinson, B. A. 2010 August 15).

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

A book worth reading

Here is a review of a new biography of Oliver Cromwell - I hope to get hold of a copy so I can understand better his religious motivations.... Ian Gentles on Cromwell

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Cristeros

For those interested in this Catholic rebellion that raises so many questions for the historian about native/newcomer contact in the Americas, conversion to Christianity, syncretism vs. dual religiosity, religion and violence - here is a behind the scenes look at a new movie. This documentary will be on Salt + Light TV - available to anyone as it is Canada's only live streaming television station.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Back Door Broadcasting

This site has a long list of podcasts on many different academic topics - here is one on modern Iran which ties religion into the mix in understanding this very old and complex civilization. Monarchy, Religion and Nationalism in Modern Iran

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Beauty and Function

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

Thoughts on a misty Wednesday morning

Guilded Sorrow

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

An Anglo-saxon monastery

I stayed up too late tonight to watch an episode of Time Team, a British archaeology show that has been running on Channel 4 there since 1994 - this episode was from about 1999, I believe. I stayed up because long ago I wanted to focus my academic work on Anglo-Saxon Christianity. This monastery in Northumbria - at Hartlepool to be exact - is very early, dating to the period ca. 600s-800s. As was fairly common in Anglo-saxon monasteries it included both monks and nuns under the headship of an Abbess - for a time the famous St. Hild, or as she came to be called, Hilda. One line interested me most - the older burials had the corpses laid north/south in the pagan manner, rather than east/west in the Christian - evidence of syncretism - a holding onto pagan customs even after conversion. Here is the link to the show on TVOntario [I tried to download the app for Channel 4, but it is not available in the Canadian iTunes store - more evidence of how far out of sync copyright is to the 21st century's normal practices - maybe I can find it on Pirate Bay!] St. Hild's Monastery, Hartlepool

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday Meditation

A modern meditation - that is, one produce on the run!

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

An important discussion

I am trying to find snippets of time today to watch this:


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 Pluralism Project

An interesting imitative to map
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


For Catholic and Anglican Christians, today marks the beginning of the penitential and fasting season of Lent.  Orthodox Christians who follow the new calendar, began this past Sunday.  It is a season where the individual believer is expected to give up a favourite food, or practice or habit - or in modern times to add some good practice usually avoided - so little children will give up candy for Lent - I know one adult who gives up the internet for Lent!  You are also supposed to pray more, to be more charitable..... in short to engage in practices that focus you more on the spiritual  life, and which reset and reboot your hard drive in a spiritual sense.

Here is a good short historical look at Lent:

Lent in History

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Essay in Religion

The nature  of the essay...... this brief rumination goes for all essays - but also expresses a view shared by all religious people:  that perfection is an attribute of God, not humanity....


Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, known more commonly and simply as 'Montesquieu'  invented the essay. 

Here is what he invented - and what is still the core of an essay:

He thought about things ... usually the nature of humanity, human society, ideas, etc. ... then sat and wrote his ideas down.... then he might walk his dogs and think some more, rush home and change a paragraph or sentence because he had thought more... or he might read something written by someone else which would cause him to change his mind on a point, and go back and revise his essay.....

The word 'essay' comes from the French 'essai', meaning 'a try, or an attempt' .... that is, unlike science, or mathematics, or engineering, or auto mechanics, an essay in the Humanities, that is that branch of human thinking about humanity, is never complete - because you will always be learning new things, thinking more deeply, encountering other ideas from other people that cause you to change your mind..... 

In our case, of course, we have deadlines - so, your essay will be the state of the art of your thinking at the moment you finish it and hand it in.... but I do not expect perfection, only a good 'attempt'


Monday, February 13, 2012

A Secular Turkey?

Turkey has been the only Islamic country to fully separate religion and the state.... Until now?

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.


Turkey EU minister Egemen Bagis makes Armenian genocide denial comment, may be arrested by the Swiss

Iraq slams Turkey over ‘interference’ in burgeoning sectarian conflict

Rick Perry defends calling Turkish rulers ‘Islamic terrorists’

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.

Postmedia News

Saturday, February 4, 2012

From 2010 on Wikipedia

We are all tempted to use encyclopedias, dictionaries...... and yes, quelle horreur!!! ...even wikipedia when writing essays or posting to a discussion group.

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

The social origins of religion?

The link disappeared!  I will hunt around for it......


Found it!

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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January 18 Day of Protest

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

Rudolf Otto and the Numinous

Otto speaks:

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

Garry Wills

On a listserv I follow, I have taken up a challenge to critique the work of Garry Wills as an historian. Not all his work, but his focus on religion. I had maintained on that list that while he was a very good historian at one time, when he decided to write about religion, he became a polemicist. I have begun with his 'What Paul Meant' in audio book form.

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.