Posts Tagged ‘culture’

June 13th, 2016

Secularization histories as cultural-political programs

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In a The Immanent Frame post on buffered selves, Charles Taylor commented that “The process of disenchantment, involving a change in us, can be seen as a loss of a certain sensibility that is really an impoverishment (as against simply the shedding of irrational feelings).” For Taylor, selves that have been sealed against currents of transcendence flowing through cosmos and community are symptoms of an epochal process of secularization that has rationalized or disenchanted both individuals and whole societies. While not being the only one on offer—Jürgen Habermas and Daniel Dennett provide rival Kantian and naturalist accounts—Taylor’s account of a “disembedding” of the transcendent brought about by a self-alienating religion is probably the dominant philosophical history of a “secular age.” Given that Taylor aligns secularization with “Reform Christianity” and dates it to the 1500s, however, what should we make of the fact that the term was not used to refer to an epochal process of rationalization until the early nineteenth century?

November 18th, 2013

Buddhism in context

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For Tricycle, an independent Buddhist publication, Linda Heuman interviews David McMahan, scholar of Buddhism and modernity, and author of The Making of Buddhist Modernism.

September 11th, 2012

The secular as space, the secular as process: The 2012 UCSIA summer school

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At the end of August, the two of us joined approximately 30 scholars from around the world in Antwerp, Belgium for the 2012 Universitair Centrum Sint-Ignatius Antwerpen (UCSIA) Religion, Culture and Society Summer School. UCSIA annually invites select early-career researchers (doctoral and post-doctoral) and senior scholars for a weeklong program designed to stimulate interdisciplinary and international discussion on a theme, this year’s being “secularism(s) and religion in society.”

May 25th, 2011

Every moment an Aha! Moment!

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Kathryn Lofton’s Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon is a work, first and foremost, of cultural anthropology. The back cover confirms this fact. Yes, the book is about the incorporations of Oprah. But more significantly, it is an ethnography of “American astonishment,” of what it feels like to live before screens that enlighten and advertise and encompass (the virtual counterpart of living within the effervescent glare of studio lights and perpetual applause). Lofton captures, as few writers can, the everyday magic of our viral time—what, in the ritual grammar of Oprah, are referred to as “Aha! Moments.”

April 18th, 2011

De-provincializing Oprah

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In Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, Kathryn Lofton holds up a lustrous mirror to the polymorphously perverse dynamics of boom and bust, surplus and lack, and redemptive optimism and paranoid anxiety that characterize America (and much of the world) at the turn of the twenty-first century…. [Her] insight into the intense and extensive contemporary intra-activity of materiality and spirituality is a powerful explanatory tool. For example, it helps explain the explosive growth of global Neo-Pentecostal networks and cultures, which operate through mass media and popular culture to spread a gospel of health and wealth based on the notion that spiritual salvation, economic success, and physical well-being are mutually implicative.

April 5th, 2011

Oprah, the Rorschach test

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Focusing on Oprah as an icon/inkblot, we can use our reactions to her as a Rorschach test:  What do we project onto Oprah and what analytical blind spots result from these projections and the discursive anxieties that underlie them? The uneasiness, evident in Lofton’s tone throughout the book, is an index of fundamental contradictions that many of us, as members of the intellectual elite, embody.

February 25th, 2011

States of Devotion, a brand new blog

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The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at NYU has recently launched States of Devotion, a trilingual blog serving as “an interactive forum for news, analysis and opinion-making about religion and politics in the Americas.”

February 13th, 2011

Competitive theism at the Grammys

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In anticipation of the Grammy Awards tonight, Neill Strauss asks, “Why do so many musical superstars think that their careers are part of a divine plan?”

December 1st, 2010

Culture, nature, and mediation

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Matthew Engelke is right: religion is about mediation. Ironically so, because it is about the divine; but because the divine is never directly available, religion must instead be about how the divine is indirectly manifest. . . . Because religion is about mediation, it naturally refuses any duality of nature and culture. Reality, as the true nature of things, is sacred, but it must be mediated by particular human relations and practices. Culture, therefore, can be neither merely arbitrary nor totally opposed to nature, since it is what truly discloses the latter.

November 19th, 2010

Muslims and their garb

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A few weeks have passed since Juan Williams, the erstwhile NPR commentator, said that he gets nervous when he sees passengers in “Muslim garb” on an airplane. A website called Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things has exposed just how ludicrous the concept of “Muslim garb” is.

July 9th, 2010

The quiet (ir)religion of the polite and apathetic

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For many Minnesotans, religion is a private matter that shouldn’t be talked about—not even among friends. For others, it hardly makes sense to think of religion as public or private because it seems so obviously embedded in both spheres. As someone who has to talk about religion a lot, two rough groups emerge for me: on the one hand, there are the public non-theists; and on the other, there are those who talk about religion, whether or not they are actually religious themselves.

July 1st, 2010

Traditionalism and female subordination in church

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In her article, “The Persistence of Patriarchy,” subtitled Hard to believe, but some churches are still talking about male headship, founding member of the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, Anne Eggebroten laments the institutionalized gender inequality still present in some Christian services and lifestyles.

April 20th, 2010

Reshaping Islam’s image with… comic books?

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The events of September 11th, 2001, changed the image of Islam for many in the world. The religion that, most Muslims argue, is one of peace came to be seen by many as inherently violent and backwards. Naif al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti psychologist with several degrees from American universities, wanted to counter this image, one he saw as confusing Islam as a religion with the extremism of a few of its followers. As reported recently in an interview with The Atlantic, al-Mutawa responded in an unexpected way—by creating a comic book series.

April 13th, 2010

Re-evaluating Flannery O’Connor

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In Commentary, Terry Teachout writes that for many years, Flannery O’Connor’s readers and critics failed to grasp the meaning of her œuvre because their secularist frame made them blind to the importance of her spirituality and orthodoxy.

March 15th, 2010

The (really) strong program

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Whenever there is talk about an ‘emerging strong program’ and ‘a new sociology of religion,’ we need to keep in mind not only where we might be going, but where we have come from. Given the apparent centrality of religion to much of the modern world, and what now appear to be the limitations of the secularization thesis, we should welcome any sign of a revival of the fortunes of the sociology of religion. However, I have serious doubts about its annunciation. We will need more than research into which religions are figured as independent variables, or which receive some positive evaluation from social scientists, in order to herald the birth of a strong program.

July 8th, 2009

Humanists as cultural agents

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Without art, Victor Shklovsky writes in “Art as Technique,” “life is reckoned as nothing. Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war….And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life.” In this spirit of freedom from anaesthetizing habit we can, and urgently should, take up the torn threads that tie humanism up with civic education. We humanists can join artists as cultural agents who promote creativity and interpretation as resources for social development. The objective is not a partisan victory but the formation of “thick” civic subjects who are alive to the world and exercise the free judgment that we learn, as Kant taught us, through developing a disinterested enjoyment of beauty. Democracy depends on sturdy and resourceful citizens able to engage more than one point of view and to wrest rights and resources from limited assets. In other words, non-authoritarian government counts on creativity to loosen conventional thought and free up the space where conflicts are negotiated, before they reach a brink of either despair or aggression.

October 21st, 2008

A speck, a fleck, and—voila!—a governor

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Clifford Geertz said it first (riffing on Ryle): the difference between twitches and winks could only be accomplished by “sorting out the structures of signification” through “thick” descriptions. So there she is, winking at all of us, giving a “shout out” to third graders (no spousal dap that could be misconstrued as a “terrorist fist jab”). What, then, is the “speck of behavior” and “fleck of culture” that gives rise to Governor Palin’s winks? And what “webs of significance” have academics made from the lines spooled out in this nasty season, from the often moribund dyad “religion and politics”? […]

August 1st, 2008

Let’s get clear about materialism

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David Brooks’s op-ed, “The Neural Buddhists,” is premised on a variety of conceptual confusions that are worth trying to clear up, although the widespread nature of some of these confusions says something quite interesting about innate human cognitive biases. I think he is mistaken about the precise character of the cultural impact of recent neuroscientific work, but the kinds of mistakes he makes points toward ways in which the contemporary neuroscientific model of the self continues to be misunderstood. […]

July 15th, 2008

Polyandry now!

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I wonder about those Lost Boys of fundamentalist Mormonism, the boys ejected as teenagers from their families and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS): how do they make their lives intelligible to themselves?

June 26th, 2008

Reforming culture

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What exactly was wrong with the Yearning for Zion ranch—home to a group identified with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—as a place to raise children? It is plain that with respect to any child for whom there is reason to believe that there is ongoing sex abuse—and the state did receive a phone complaint from a girl complaining of abuse—the state of Texas has a pretext—even a duty—to intervene. Texas authorities say they were worried about the “culture” at the ranch. The Supreme Court of Texas, in its May 29 decision ordering the return of the children, said that the state was concerned that the ranch had “a culture of polygamy and of directing girls younger than eighteen to enter spiritual unions with older men and have children.” What is a “culture of polygamy”? Is it separate from or the same as the rest of the culture of the Yearning for Zion ranch? How are they related to what Texas authorities called “mainstream culture”?

June 24th, 2008

A religious history of American neuroscience

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Not long ago, researchers wired up the atheist Richard Dawkins with a helmet that would create magnetic fields partially simulating the brain activity of temporal lobe epilepsy, which they linked to dramatic visionary religious experiences and to less dramatic feelings of sensed presences. It turns out, though, that hooking up a hardboiled atheist to a machine, known as the transcranial magnetic stimulator, produced no such experiences. “It was a great disappointment,” Dawkins related after 40 minutes on the machine. “Though I joked about the possibility, I of course never expected to end up believing in anything supernatural. But I did hope to share some of the feelings experienced by religious mystics when contemplating the mysteries of life and the cosmos.” As my own mind was being massaged with images of Richard Dawkins having his temporal lobes stimulated, an odd notion popped into my head: namely, when it comes to religion, history and culture trump neurology. […]

May 30th, 2008

The cognitive revolution and the decline of monotheism

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To appreciate the cultural impact of the “cognitive revolution” discussed by David Brooks in his New York Times op-ed column “The Neural Buddhists” (May 13, 2008), we need to be clear about what has and has not been revolutionized by neuroscience. Brooks gets the research essentially right, but he overlooks some key issues raised by “neural Buddhism” that make me question his view of its future effects on religion and culture. […]

February 3rd, 2008

Well done better than well said

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The Super Bowl is an annual ritual celebration of the classical virtues embodied in the game of football, virtues that help fortify our national character. I know that not everyone will see so much in the event. For some critics, the Super Bowl is a mere spectacle, empty pomp and crass consumerist craze, all as meaningless as the silver glitz of the Patriots cheerleaders’ pom-poms. […]

December 14th, 2007

A Catholic Modernity?

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catholic-modernity.jpgSome readers of Sources of the Self, particularly its last few chapters, might have wondered how exactly Taylor’s indirect plea for theism, which he makes there, might be related to his personal religious conviction. But the book itself and Taylor’s publications in general make it rather difficult to answer this emerging question. As George Marsden remarks, “Only the most acute readers might surmise that the author is Catholic, if they did not know that already.”

November 26th, 2007

The new universalism

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There is a sense among those who are watching that the ground is shifting in U.S. constitutional jurisprudence with respect to religion, particularly with respect to what is known as the “establishment clause.” Disestablishment is coming to mean less privatized pluralism through the separation of religion from public life and more a religiously pluralistic and inclusive public accommodation of religion, religion-in-general. Government funding and endorsement of religion, heretofore regarded as taboo, are becoming constitutionally plausible. […]

November 10th, 2007

The mundane against the secular

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The research university has long been at the heart of European, and thence global, secularism—if we think of secularism as the progressive social/intellectual distantiation from supernaturalisms. The implications of this alignment press on us not least because it means that academic anti‐secularist arguments risk bad faith. […]