A former Catholic nun, Karen Armstrong has written more than 20 books on comparative religions, including A History of God, The Great Transformation, and, most recently, A Case for God. In 2008, she received the TED Prize, which granted $100,000 to support her proposal—her “wish,” as it’s called—for a Charter for Compassion “based on the fundamental principle of the Golden Rule.” Since then, she and TED have parlayed the Charter into a movement of political and religious leaders, as well as, through its website, thousands of people around the world.
Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’
Across the religion blogosphere, some of the most visible discussions of the Haitian earthquake have focused on two topics: Vodou and Pat Robertson. Yet, these two themes barely scratch the surface of the Haiti-and-religion storylines circulating in cyberspace.
Religion Dispatches interviews Bron Taylor, author of the recent book Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future, who has high hopes for new earth-based forms of religion.
Elizabeth McAlister is an Associate Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University and a member of the SSRC’s working group on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life. She is also a leading scholar of Afro-Carribean religions and the author of Rara! Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and its Diaspora (2002). Following the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, Professor McAlister’s words have appeared in numerous publications and she has been interviewed, as well, on a variety of radio programs.
Keane’s account is convincing, but it is important to contextualize the semiotic ideology he defines. I could be misreading Keane here, but it struck me that he reads Calvinists’ views of the Lord’s Supper to glean how they imagined Christian truth. But I would argue that in the hands of Calvinists, this semiotic ideology would only be employed to explain other people’s false religions. The Lord’s Supper was downgraded to the status of metaphor because, like all works, it could play no instrumental role in salvation. What Catholics and idolaters shared in their formal prayers and ritual performances was an overvaluation of human agency and institutions at the expense of the sovereignty of God and the surprising work of the Holy Spirit, which could not be contained in any external institutional, material, or linguistic forms. Against empty forms and rituals, Calvinists sought the real, active, vital presence of the Spirit that animated and invigorated the human body and the social order. To this end, the Holy Spirit worked through what can be described as a metonymic operation that stressed immediate contact and presence.
American civil religion has taken several forms. One type is preoccupied with national cohesion, claiming that the bonds by which the nation coheres are strengthened through the common observance of non-sectarian devotion centered in the sacralization of the nation’s cause. Another approach focuses less on coherence than on what directs citizens to a higher aim, that is, the ideal to which the nation is dedicated. This approach asserts that civil liberties and social justice will thrive when a broadly shared, minimally coercive, and civilly invested set of practices and symbols inculcates moral self-government. God and sacred texts have played a key role in the definition of all versions of American civil religion. But in light of the growth of unbelief documented in recent social surveys, I would like to ask if, in order for any such religion to be effective, it must be grounded in the transcendence of a deity. In other words, must an American civil religion espouse a deity in order to be compelling and effective, however its purpose is conceived?
In an opinion piece at The Christian Science Monitor, sociologist Wendy Cadge shares findings from her research (with Elaine Howard Ecklund) on how physicians learn about and deal with their patients’ spiritual and religious beliefs. She concludes that a “holistic approach to medicine requires physicians to understand the complex role of spirituality and religion in compassionate patient care. The best prescription: Integrate these topics throughout medical education.”
In his 2008 documentary (some might prefer to call it a mockumentary) Religulous, comedian and satirist Bill Maher wonders aloud why religiously unaffiliated Americans are not politically mobilized. Indeed, he issues something of a call to arms to this sector of the American population: “Anti-religionists must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves.” Although neither Religulous nor Maher’s views on religion in general necessarily reflect mainstream American attitudes, the question the film raises about why the religiously unaffiliated are not politically mobilized is well worth exploring.
Ann Taves is a professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and, this year, is serving as president of the American Academy of Religion. After distinguishing herself as a historian, she has recently turned her attention to theoretical reflection. Her latest book, Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building-Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things, proposes a framework for scholars interested in using both humanistic and scientific approaches to study the experiential side of religion.
Today, contemporary voluntary religion entails a “common-sense” epistemology that in some ways is strangely unaware of its own limits. Today’s widespread deference to a liberal voluntarism is so radically “open,” for example, that it can lead to intransigence, and to an inability to imagine that “others” see things differently from the way you do. A parallel development over at least the past three decades is the power of explicitly and unabashedly faith-centered political factions to bring their views to bear in the public square, to exclaim against imminent moral decay in American life, and to rail against rising unbelief.
More and more Americans say they have no formal religious affiliation. National surveys, scholarly findings, and media coverage make that clear. Those identifying with “no religion”—often termed “nones,” “no religionists,” or the “unchurched”—jumped from 8.2 percent of the public in 1990 to just over 15 percent in 2008.
This trend causes some observers to cry out in alarm and others to rejoice. But the transition is far more complicated than a mere movement from faith to non-belief implies.
As the Washington Post‘s Maria Glod reports, a group of yoga instructors in Virginia have asked a federal judge to kill the state’s plan to begin regulating instructor training. Under the plan, the state would certify (for a fee) yoga instructors in the same way that it certifies other vocationally-trained professionals, including dog groomers and bartenders. Yoga enthusiasts have responded to the plan by gesturing toward yoga’s supposed religious essence.
Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported on a controversy that erupted over the decision by Missouri tax authorities to require yoga centers to collect and pay a sales tax on their classes. Yoga instructors have argued that they should be exempt from the tax “because the lessons include spiritual elements.” In this week’s off the cuff feature, we’ve invited a small handful of scholars to comment on the legal and cultural status of yoga and on the right of states to levy taxes on yoga centers.
Controversy has erupted over a decision by Missouri tax authorities to require yoga centers to collect and pay a sales tax on yoga classes. Yoga instructors argue they should be exempt from the tax “because the lessons include spiritual elements.”
In September, Harvey Cox retired after 44 years of teaching at Harvard Divinity School. Retirement, however, has not slowed him down. Last month saw the release of his latest book The Future of Faith, which, in the spirit of his 1965 classic The Secular City, dares to declare that a drastically different role for religion in society is close at hand.
John Lardas Modern, an assistant professor of religious studies at Franklin & Marshall College, draws on Beat poets, phrenologists, prison reformers, and Moby-Dick to show why taking technology seriously forces us to think differently about the boundaries of religion. His article “Evangelical Secularism and the Measure of Leviathan” appeared in the December 2008 issue of Church History. His book Haunted Modernity; or, the Metaphysics of Secularism is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.
In 2002 we reported that the fraction of American adults with no religious preference doubled from 7 to 14 percent during the 1990s. Data from this decade show that the trend away from organized religion continues, albeit at a slower pace. Our analysis of the entire time series, presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2009, led us to the conclusion that the trend probably started earlier than we had thought—probably around 1985, 1986, or 1987—and that our previous estimate of the rate of change was, consequently, too high.
A number of recent studies have attempted to analyze the emergent and fast-growing segment of American society that declines any specific religious identification—a demographic that Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, the authors of one such report, call the religious “Nones.” Kosmin and Keysar’s report has elicited much speculation about the possible repercussions of the growth of the “no religion” population on American politics, religion, and culture; as well as questions regarding the distinct identities of those classed as religious “Nones.”
In last week’s New York Times Sunday Styles section, Allen Salkin reported on the emergence of a “new wave” of spiritual practices and identities among young, urban, professional women. What are we to make of Salkin’s portrait of the self-styled leaders of “a new generation of self-empowerment”? Off the cuff responses to the article from Courtney Bender, Rev. Donna Schaper, Elizabeth McAlister, Mara E. Donaldson, Melani McAlister, Michele Dillon, Carl Raschke, and Kathryn Lofton.
Literary critic Terry Eagleton discusses his new book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, which argues that “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens “buy their rejection of religion on the cheap.” He believes that, in these controversies, politics has been an unacknowledged elephant in the room.
First, you need a name. Not just any name. A weird name: a Biblical misspelling, maybe, or an invocation of some distant land. No matter what: the name needs an O. The O will come in handy when you need to summon a common sphere, encourage chanting, or design a gentle logo. Never deny the utility of its replication, never avoid its allusion, and never miss a moment for its branding. An O is a space anyone can fill with anything.
From the vertiginous summit of his virtue, and against all evidence to the contrary, Heraclitus informs us that “it is wise, listening not to me but to the logos, to agree that all things are one.” Thus, with far greater subtlety than his ancient Stoic heirs, and long before his greatest modern disciple, Nietzsche, Heraclitus enjoins an affirmation of the whole world. But many aspects of this world are hard to affirm—conflict, suffering, death—and he does not ignore them, nor does he dismiss them with the sort of pat theodicy that has given other immanent spiritualities a deserved reputation for insensitivity. Instead, he makes them integral to his paradoxical worldview. […]
Let me assure you. Ongoing neurological studies will not dramatically change religious belief or practice. As Robert Bellah notes in a recent comment, brain research does not have a direct effect on what people believe. Or as Christopher White thoughtfully writes in this forum, there is no wholesale transformation of religion on the horizon. I agree with both. But rather than maintain a defensive posture at this juncture in history, I believe that a more aggressive stance may be called for. […]
What are our moral and spiritual sources? In his magnificent and magnanimous recent book, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor investigates a wide range of modern worldviews that are “sources of fullness,” worldviews that enrich our lives with meaning, arrange our activities to serve higher goals, and thus motivate us at times to act beyond our narrow interests. They are, to borrow from the title of his earlier work, sources of the self. More precisely, they are sources of our highest self. As such, psychoanalysis should be among them. […]
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. […]
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. […]
Charles Taylor, in his magisterial book on the Secular, periodically engages a constituency he calls immanent materialists. I would like to pursue that discussion, focusing on a subgroup within it, to see how its devotees and those Taylor identifies with most might interact in noble ways. […]
By some sort of happy coincidence—or to use the surrealist term referenced by Jeremy Biles, “objective chance”—I watched Youth Without Youth the same day that I viewed another movie about the “facts” of enchantment as they appeared in the twentieth century, Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997). Though doing so with admittedly different artistic aspirations and audiences, both movies allude to historical characters and controversies in the study of religion.
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. […]