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.


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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.

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.