The eleven volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism has been the subject of both media coverage and special events, including a recent conference hosted at the University of South Carolina. The encyclopedia developed from an international collaboration as a project of the India Heritage Research Foundation (IHRF), “founded, guided, inspired and led by one of India’s most revered spiritual leaders, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji.” The swami’s description of the encyclopedia suggested the foundational assumptions of the encyclopedia. Continue reading “Scholarly Foundations”
A New York Times article on Sunday about the use of emoji (the increasing number of smiley face options for texts and social media) discussed differences in the ways people use those symbols in different societies. A Facebook project manager, for example “traveled to India and Japan to better understand the differences.” After his travels, he is quoted as saying.
“We discovered that in the Asian culture, the expression on an emoji face isn’t necessarily what conveys emotion. It’s the context of where that face is located,” Mr. Marra said. Continue reading “What did you say?”
Discourse sorts our world, as Craig Martin illustrated nicely in a post last week. Identity labels are an aspect of discourse, but they also operate in another way, beyond organizing people. Labels also push people to conform by presenting a normative sense of who they are/should be. Continue reading “When the Labels Don’t Fit”
People involved in Kopimi, a movement promoting the free exchange of information and file sharing over the web (in opposition to anti-piracy and copyright regulations), have begun the process of registering as a religion in Russia. Their strategy is to use the special protections in Russia for religious sentiments (which recently went into effect following the Pussy Riot episode last year) to challenge anti-piracy regulations. Their argument is that the anti-piracy laws contradict their belief that “the process of exchanging data is sacred.” This is not the first time the Kopimi movement has worked to become a religion, as it is recognized in Sweden as Kopimistsamfundet. Continue reading “Strategic Religion”
Last Thursday, a court in Bangladesh revoked the charter of the political party Jamaat-e-Islami (see news reports here and here). According to the petitioners who requested the ruling, some aspects of Jamaat’s charter contradicted Bangladesh’s constitution, particularly Jamaat’s promotion of a “religious” agenda that contravenes Bangladesh’s foundation as a secular nation. Continue reading “Democratic Principles or Convenient Principles?”
The assumptions within the assertions of identification in the Reza Aslan/Fox News interview have received some attention this week, including Craig Martin’s “Identity Claims Play out on Fox” and Russell McCutcheon‘s “Are You Buying It?” both on this blog. A different comment from Aslan, though, grabbed my attention (unfortunately not for its uniqueness). In addition to emphasizing his academic credentials to defend his study of the historical Jesus, published as Zealot, he argues that his identification as Muslim is irrelevant because his book “overturns pretty much everything that Islam also thinks about Jesus.” Since his work is not trying to promote Islamic orthodoxy, it seems that his religious identification is irrelevant.
A recurring assertion of the contributors to this blog, as evidenced in the quote on the banner from Jean-Francois Bayart, is that identity is not something inherent or static. Identity is constructed, malleable, temporal. The implications of this assertion are many, and the reality of violence, both recent and past, makes those implications even more significant. Continue reading “The Violence of Constructed Identities”
‘NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.’
These opening lines of Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times came to mind recently when I read an opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education written by Peter Wood, the President of the National Association of Scholars. The piece related to the recent news that, when he was governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels (now president of Purdue University) had an email exchange questioning the use of Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States in Indiana schools, which Daniels reportedly described as “anti-factual” and a fraud, in his less colorful moments. In his commentary, Woods argued that Daniels was correct in questioning the worth of Zinn’s tome, pointing to a range of reviews of the work from historians teaching at prestigious universities that critiqued Zinn’s construction of his narrative. Continue reading “Asking the Wrong Questions”
Let me begin with a confession. I do not watch the BBC scifi series Doctor Who regularly. After hearing colleagues rave about Doctor Who, I watched one episode that left me underwhelmed. We can make sense of the discrepancy between my response to Doctor Who and the responses of some of my colleagues through a comparison. Perhaps my limited mental acumen in comparison to these colleagues leaves me unable to appreciate fully the multiple levels on which they find Doctor Who intriguing. Perhaps the difference reflects my preference for more stimulating activities than passive consumption of mass media. Both comparisons, as attempts to organize difference, reflect the interests of whomever selects what elements are relevant to the comparison and what elements are not, specifically anything that undermines the desired organization of difference. Continue reading “The Incomparable Doctor Who”
A book in the local library, Chris Stedman’s 2012 memoir Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious (Boston: Beacon Press), attracted my interest recently. In this book, Stedman, who self-identifies as an atheist, promotes pluralism and interfaith dialogue among the religious and non-religious. He strives to encourage people of different commitments to respect and listen to each other, as well as challenge each other, to counter the belligerent approach to religious people of those dubbed the New Atheists. He asserts that reconciliation can legitimize the status of the non-religious within society in a way that belligerence towards the religious never can. Continue reading “Making Religion Central”