Strategic Religion

kopimiPeople 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”

Democratic Principles or Convenient Principles?

Sheikh Hasina votes in December 2009 Bangladeshi election after which she became Prime Minister
Sheikh Hasina votes in December 2009 Bangladeshi election after which she became Prime Minister

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?”

Misplaced Agency

Reza AslanThe 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.

Continue reading “Misplaced Agency”

The Violence of Constructed Identities

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”

Asking the Wrong Questions

‘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”

The Incomparable Doctor Who

Dr Who

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”

Making Religion Central

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”

All-American Fireworks, Hamburgers, Frankfurters and Yoga

With all-American Fourth of July festivities like fireworks, frankfurters, and hamburgers, we continually construct our identification with an imagined community, as Benedict Anderson  emphasized thirty years ago. Like the nation, the values that we associate with the United States, (e.g., democracy, equality, and liberty) are imagined constructs whose conceptions shift over time.

The United States is a nation of immigrants with the Statue of Liberty welcoming the “huddled masses” one of those frequently invoked traits. Beyond questions over the place of Native Americans in the nation of immigrants and contemporary debates over “immigration reform” and “border security,” the recent court case involving a yoga program in the Encinitas, California, public schools (which I have discussed previously here and here) illustrates the imagined nature of this national trait in a surprising way. Continue reading “All-American Fireworks, Hamburgers, Frankfurters and Yoga”

Agreement and the Right to Speak

People who identify themselves as a member of a community sometimes limit who can represent “their” community, especially if they perceive the community as marginalized or misrepresented in some fashion. Generally, the argument is that only those identified as being within the community have the right to make public representations of it. As an example, a few who identify as Hindus have complained about those not born as Hindus making public and academic assertions about things designated “Hinduism.” Continue reading “Agreement and the Right to Speak”

Why is a Praying Atheist Newsworthy?

This week, several media outlets (Washington Post and Huffington Post) have highlighted an atheist who advocates prayer. The man has blogged that when he started a twelve step program he began praying regularly to a being he created (without believing in the existence of a deity), which changed his life for the better. Last summer, I pondered a somewhat similar hypothetical scenario in which a self-identified atheist maintained a belief in god in order to illustrate, as my colleagues here at Culture on the Edge have been saying, that identifications are strategic, not intrinsic. That blog post received pushback from some friends asserting that atheists, by definition, cannot believe in god. Continue reading “Why is a Praying Atheist Newsworthy?”