In a recent blogpost on The Immanent Frame, Richard Madsen juxtaposes two polls that suggest almost half of the population of China identifies as “convinced atheist” while 85% participate in “religious practices.” For him, or at least for his readers as he imagines them, such data requires special attention and explanation. He asks,
How, then, can we reconcile reports of widespread atheism with those of widespread religious practice? Continue reading “The Persistence of Belief”
A video that focused on religion among the urban middle class in India a couple of years ago illustrates what happens when people discuss problems with applying the category “religion.” The journalist quotes Ashis Nandy, an internationally recognized scholar, who brings up the problems applying the category “religion” to the context of India (starting at 3:52). Continue reading “Whose Interests Are Served?”
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”
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”
Russell McCutcheon, along with his co-author William Arnal, just published a collection of essays entitled The Sacred is the Profane: The Political Nature of “Religion” with Oxford University Press. The book presses forward the thesis that the category “religion” is one of our own group’s ways of classifying, sorting, and thereby understanding the world around us rather than, as is most often thought, being a natural and thus permanent feature of that world.
Steven Ramey was the 2012-13 President of the Southeast Region of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). Here he gives the Presidential Plenary Address for its annual (held in South Carolina in March of 2013) entitled, “Accidental Favorites: The Implicit in the Study of Religions.” Although not referencing Culture on the Edge explicitly, the themes Ramey discusses are directly related to many of the group’s–as Jonathan Z. Smith named them in his own career–persistent preoccupations.
Presidential Plenary Address for the 2013 Southeastern AAR from UA Religious Studies on Vimeo.
(Thanks to Andie Alexander, a graduate of the University of Alabama’s Department of Religious Studies, for filming Steven.)