The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the wider Islamist movement of which it is an instance, are in many ways a secular phenomenon. If we define “secularity” not only as the weakening of religious belief, but also as the idea that faith becomes one option among others; and “secularization” as the process of institutional and functional differentiation of modern state structures and the resultant marginalization of religious authority, then the Brotherhood, similarly to other Islamist entities, can be seen as a product of modernity and the “secular age.” This transpires in two ways. First, for the Brotherhood, “Islam” is an identifiable set of beliefs that can be actively implemented and used as guidelines to reform society. Second, the parameters of the political order it proposes are defined by the context of the secular, modern nation-state.
Posts Tagged ‘belief’
It is a distinct honor when someone as lettered as Leon Wieseltier takes one on in public, as he does in “Dumbing Religion Down in the New York Times,” published October 24 in The New Republic. He does seem to have written this essay in one of his grumpier moods. He accused me of proselytizing for religion (or, to capture the tenor of the critique, of turning The New York Times into a Pentecostal tent revival, as one of my own readers, Jon Bialecki, pointed out). That’s not my understanding of the intent of my columns or of my work. I see myself as pointing out that an activity which makes many readers of The New York Times spit nails—or at least shake their heads in bafflement—has something to recommend it. I mostly ignore the politics because, while there is much to say about the political swing of many evangelicals, sharp writers like those who appear in The New Republic and The New York Times already say it well. But there is nothing inherently right-wing about evangelical religion and there are a lot of left-wing evangelicals to prove it. My goal, instead, is to follow the lead of one of the great founders of anthropology, Emile Durkheim, who said that we could not understand religion if we began with the premise that religion was founded on a lie. He did not mean that God was real (he was a devout atheist). He meant that if we wanted to understand why religion is so palpably important to so many people, we need not to begin with the assumption that they are idiots.
Climate change and the environment can be contentious issues, particularly in American politics. Despite political differences, weather events such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires in the United States have highlighted environmental issues for impacted communities, including various religious groups and faith traditions. In recent years religious individuals and organizations have become increasingly vocal about various environmental issues, and the following roundup presents some of the latest perspectives from different faiths.
Allison Kaplan Sommer and Dahlia Lithwick write at The New Republic write about the struggles of an emergent form of feminist protest among Modern Orthodox Jewish women in an Israeli city. The article profiles a struggle against the unofficial gender segregation that these women are sometimes pressured to comply with.
The new Economic Values Survey carried out by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institute has surveyed the American religious landscape according to a new set of criteria and found a significant number of religious progressives, particularly within younger generations, suggesting an increase over time.
A new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that an increasing number of American adults identify as religiously unaffiliated, and nearly one half of respondents said that the increase in non-religious individuals is a “bad thing” for American society.
Over at CNN, Chika Oduah writes about the assertion by Igbo Jews that they are descendants of Jacob and one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, noting that the claim is highly disputed by some.
The Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University is co-sponsoring a conference later this week on “credulity.”
This short piece attempts to come at the current debate on law and religious freedom from two unusual angles. I end by looking at the strange and revealing positioning of “religion or belief” in current legislation in England and Wales. And I begin by putting a different spin on religious freedom by exploring the terrifying freedom of the concepts of religion and belief. We have never needed the rise of Al Qaeda, so-called Islamicism or a hardline religious right to terrify us with a resurgent specter of specifically religious (as opposed to purely “political”) “terror.” Instead of bearing down on us like some old specter of the Turk or Moor at Europe’s gates, the terror of religion emerges—or insurges (if “insurge” can be made into a verb)—from within the normative conceptualizations of religion in the so-called modern West.
According to a recent poll by 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair, a majority of Americans do not believe that Scientology is a real religion.
Adopted in 1950, Article 17 of the Indian Constitution legally abolished untouchability—the ancient Hindu system of social discrimination—forbade its practice in any form, and made the enforcement of any discrimination arising out of this disability a criminal offence. At the same time, the Indian Constitution guaranteed freedom of religious belief and practice under Article 25 and autonomy of religious institutions under Article 26. The discussion of Employment Division v. Smith in Winnifred Sullivan’s post and subsequent comments reminded me of the very substantial jurisprudence surrounding Article 26.
As a historian of religion, much of my recent work has focused on tracing the genealogy of what we call religious freedom in developments internal to European Christianity. My goal has not been to frame a normative theory of what limit ought to be placed on the freedom of religion—whatever this word is taken to mean—in any contemporary jurisdiction nor (apart from the effect of British colonialism on India) to trace the very different histories of the modernization of cultural traditions in other parts of the world, as these traditions have been shaped by the complex forces of economic development, nationalism, and technologization.
It was their final conversation. She would soon die, although neither of them knew it at the time. St. Augustine and his mother waited for a ship that would take her across the sea, to Africa, where she had raised him. She had always prayed he would become a Catholic; now, after many years, he was one. “There we talked together,” he writes in his Confessions, “she and I alone in deep joy.” This common joy stemmed from their shared company, but also their shared belief in God.
What is religious freedom supposed to free? That is, what is the operant understanding of “religion” behind the claims of religious freedom such that religion requires its own forms, practices, and concepts of freedom under the law? Is there something about religion that gives freedom of religion either a privileged or a peculiarly worrisome character different in kind from artistic, political, or sexual freedom? And to this list, why not add occupational, associational, or, say, economic freedoms?
This Friday, March 30, at 12:30pm, the Committee for the Study of Religion at the City University of New York Graduate Center is hosting a lecture by Steven Lukes with the title “Is Durkheim’s Understanding of Religion Compatible with Believing?” The lecture marks the centenary of the publication of Émile Durkheim’s classical work, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.
Like a good movie, the story of international religious freedom offers something for everyone. It pits cowardly oppressors against heroic saviors. It is a story of the triumph of international law over those who fail to adhere to global norms and standards. It is a story of secular tolerance versus violent religion. And today especially, it is a story of the need for the U.S. government and its friends to “convince” others—particularly Muslims—that they should endorse a particular model of religious liberty as a template for organizing and democratizing their politics and societies.
The Guardian has been hosting a series of posts on the question of whether faith is necessary in order to appreciate religious art. A post by Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin highlights the recent work of atheist artist David Mach to contest the assumption that religious art is necessarily made by believers
A post at the New York Times philosophy blog “The Stone” reflects on the differences between religious and secular underpinnings of human rights. The author, Anat Biletzki, critiques the argument that human rights are impossible without religion, or, particularly, belief in God. Instead, she asserts that the secular basis for human rights is in fact more faithful to humanity than religious justifications, which she defines as rooted in the authority of a superhuman creator (i.e., God) rather than in the value of the human.
At The Stone, philosopher Sean D. Kelly muses on Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of God and considers contemporary culture in light of Nietzsche’s epidemiology of modern nihilism. Aside from the oddness of seeing Nietzsche analyzed in the The New York Times, there are a few particular issues one could take with Kelly’s brief essay.
Anyone who has entered the labyrinth of A Secular Age should welcome this volume as a guide. Its contributors unwind many threads—some leading deeper inside, others promising a way out—but this series of posts can follow only one. Taking up Taylor’s distinction between traditions of transcendence and those of immanence, while remaining sensitive to its subtleties, William Connolly divides these traditions still further, observing that they are constituted not only by the beliefs they affirm about the world but also by the emotions they cultivate toward the world thus affirmed. Not content to delineate merely abstract possibilities, though, he adds that “each tradition is equipped to honor Jesus by offering a distinctive interpretation of his calling and mode of inspiration.” Accepting his invitation, this post (and those to follow) will attempt to offer such an interpretation—from the perspective of the Heraclitean tradition.
Why is it so difficult to treat religion as just another cultural phenomenon?
Following the release last week of the results of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, which was widely reported as having demonstrated Americans’ considerable lack thereof, we invited a dozen leading scholars to weigh in on the survey’s significance.
What, we asked, do the results of Pew’s quiz tell us about knowledge—and ignorance—of religion in the United States? And how important is the sort of religious knowledge that the survey tested to American public life?
Conventional wisdom states that the Czech Republic is the least religious society in the West. At The Guardian, Dana Hamplová discusses the historical origins of the Czechs’ famed secularity, which reach back before Communism, and highlights the abiding forms of religious activity in the former Soviet satellite.
Last week I wrote about the conversations I get into when I tell people what I do. Answering that I study religion usually leads to a conversation about it—a topic about as uncomfortable as politics during an election year. One of the first things people ask me in these conversations is what I believe. This question comes in a lot of forms, and every answer I give is an educated guess meant to quickly defuse any tensions. Sometimes I’m not particularly religious; other times I was raised Christian; and sometimes I’m simply an atheist.
Barbara Herrnstein Smith is a distinguished literary scholar at both Brown and Duke, who, since her undergraduate days, has had a special interest in the uses and misuses of scientific psychology. Her latest book, which stems from her 2006 Terry Lectures at Yale University, is Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion (Yale, 2010). It explores the ways in which contemporary cognitive science and evolutionary psychology are being called upon to, once and for all, explain religion. Also, don’t miss her contributions to The Immanent Frame’s discussion “A cognitive revolution?”
CNN profiles the growing “spiritual but not religious” population, contrasting the views of some who fear that the spiritual turn is symptomatic of a decline in meaningful commitments with those of others who are more sanguine, if not enthusiastic, about its significance.
One of the things that intellectual historians show us, although often only implicitly, is the fluidity of the terms of debates that we take to be self-evident. In An Atheism that Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought, Stefanos Geroulanos shows us this fluidity by focusing on the French history of objections to (and reformulations of) humanist discourse from 1929 to 1952, a history that suggests that the rigidity of the categories of “religion” and “humanism” in Anglophone discourse is exceptional and unnecessary.
Garrett Baer interviews Stephen Prothero, author of God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter.
Nathan Schneider profiles John Templeton and the Foundation he built, in The Nation.
Though currently on sabbatical at the University of Zürich, Richard Amesbury teaches religious and philosophical ethics at the Claremont School of Theology, where he is is involved in establishing a new School of Ethics, Politics, and Society. He is the author of Morality and Social Criticism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and Faith and Human Rights (Fortress, 2008), as well as numerous articles. His interests reach across many themes and fields in which the concept of “religion” is constructed and mobilized, from human rights law to civil religion to the New Atheism.
Recently, there was a brief back and forth at Cif Belief between Michael McGhee and Stephen Clark. The former, a self-described secular humanist, is currently on the philosophy faculty at Liverpool University, where the latter, “a professing Christian,” is Professor Emeritus.
Sociology of Religion has just published a study by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons on US professors’ belief in God. Unsurprisingly, the American professoriate is less religious than the general population. But as the study shows, 35% of those surveyed believe absolutely that God exists, while another 17% believe so with some reservations, which is not small by any means.
At Bloggingheads.tv, Eddie Glaude, Jr. and Josef Sorett discuss what it means to be black and Christian in the present, “post-soul” moment.
I had the opportunity to sit for a conversation with the Swiss philosopher Tariq Ramadan at the end of the 2009 meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Montreal. Ramadan is a public intellectual who has been a figure of both much praise and much condemnation, occasioned by controversial statements and positions that have cast him alternately as courageous and dangerous. As an activist, Ramadan continues to call for European Muslims to resist the encumbrances of minority status and to strive to play a central role in European public life as engaged and active citizens. Through his writings and lectures, he speaks both with and on behalf of Muslims in the West, as well as for Islamic revival in the Muslim world. He is active in the academy and in various grassroots engagements, lecturing extensively on social justice and the necessity of inter-cultural dialogue. Ramadan describes his work as at once protecting “Muslim identity and religious practice” and encouraging the European Muslim “to recognize the Western constitutional structure, to become involved as a citizen at the social level and to live with true loyalty to the country to which one belongs.”
At the Guardian‘s Comment is Free blog, Madeleine Bunting offers a stocktaking of the “God debate” since the publication of Dawkin’s The God Delusion. She focuses mostly on publications by British writers, including Terry Eagleton and Karen Armstrong. With a sense for paradox that would make Chesterton proud, Bunting concludes that, in a kind of dialectical inversion, the New Atheists’ attempt to make religion unacceptable had the effect of spurring more interest in it.
When Francis Collins was appointed director of the National Institutes of Health last year, he stepped down from leading the BioLogos Foundation, which “explores, celebrates, and promotes the harmony of modern science and the Christian faith.” But the position won’t stop him from releasing a new book with HarperOne next month, entitled Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith.
At the New York Times, Charles M. Blow weighs in on new data showing that “Young adults are looking for spirituality but not necessarily through organized religion,” a topic being explored in depth by the SSRC’s project on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life.
At Trans/Missions, Diane Winston comments on an unusual and interesting new study, which finds that the most popular New York Times pieces tend to be “articles that elicit an emotional sense of awe.”