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Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Linking the Living and the Dead by Paul Koudounaris

In anthropology, religion, society, sociology, South America on July 30, 2014 at 16:57

From: Linking the Living and the Dead: Skull Worship in Bolivia by Paul Koudounaris, United Academics, www.united-academics.org

In a corner of the interrogation room of the homicide division at the police headquarters in El Alto, the largest barrio of La Paz, Bolivia, two skulls sit in plexiglass cases on a table top. Respectively known as Juanito and Juanita, the latter has been kept in the room for over thirty years, while the former has been there for perhaps a century. They are not evidence in some unsolved murder, however, nor are they reminders of some grisly local slaying. Instead, they are there to solve crimes, the same as the detectives who use the room to question suspects. While it might seem unlikely that these silent crania can provide much assistance in criminal investigations, they are credited by Colonel Fausto Tellez, a retired commander of the department, with helping to solve hundreds of cases during his tenure. He even refers to Juanito as “longest-serving officer on the force.”
Identically dressed in knit caps and wide-band sunglasses, Juanito and Juanita are surrounded on the table top by various offerings. These include coca leaves, cigarettes, votive candles, and candy, all left by officers in thanks for services rendered. On difficult cases, homicide detectives traditionally write requests for information on slips of paper, which are placed in the shrines of the skulls. If need be, prayers may also be offered to the pair. Tellez estimates that the use of the skulls cuts investigative time in half, and notes that they also assist in interrogations. “They are brought in during the questioning of difficult people,” he explains, “and even if they want to lie, they cannot if the skulls are present. When the skulls are involved, people always tell the truth.”
To an outsider, this all sounds at the least unusual, if not downright bizarre, but it is not so here. Juanito and Juanita are ñatitas — the term literally means“the little pug-nosed ones,” but specifically refers to human skulls which house souls of the deceased, and act as protectors, helpers, and intercessors for the iving. While the veneration of these crania is little known outside Bolivia, within the country, and particularly in La Paz, their powers are renowned. Juanito and Juanita are merely two of thousands of similar skulls, found in homes or offices, their shrines familiar enough to be quotidian. Here, high up in the Andes, where traditional belief systems were never fully eradicated by European colonization, the ñatitas provide a unique insight into the bond
between the living and the dead.
Not every human skull is a ñatita. Those so designated are ones which have been adopted by individuals, families, or groups, who then perform rituals to honor the soul housed within the skull. The ñatita, then, is not simply the skull, but rather the  combination of the skull and a spirit which uses the skull as a locus, and provides various forms of supernatural assistance for its benefactors. Treated as close friends or family members, many ñatitas are passed down over several generations — it is not uncommon to find people who report that a skull has been with their family for many decades. In some cases, such as that of Juanito in the homicide division of the El Alto police office, a ñatita’s history of service may stretch back an entire century.

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Reposted with permission from: United Academics

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The Ethics of Suicide by John Danaher

In ethics, philosophy, religion, society, sociology on May 18, 2014 at 07:39

From: The Ethics of Suicide: A Framework by John Danaher, IEET, http://ieet.org

A. The Competency Question: Was the person mentally competent and sufficient rational and self-governing to be responsible for the act of self-killing?

I think this is possibly the most important question. In many cases, the default assumption is that the person who commits suicide lacks mental competency or rationality. Indeed, the act of killing oneself is often taken to be conclusive evidence of this. People don’t accept that the reasons typically stated for suicide (feelings of hopelessness etc.) can be embraced by the rational mind. That this is the default assumption seems to be proven by the fact that people only accept the rationality of suicide in certain extreme cases, e.g. terminal illness, self-sacrifice to a greater good. The thought of a rational, fully competent adult, who faces nothing more than the ordinary slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, ending their lives is too much countenance. Such an individual must be mentally or rationally deficient.

I’m not entirely convinced by this default assumption. This is for two reasons. First, it’s not clear to me that, say, a nihilistic worldview which holds that all lives are meaningless and devoid of hope, is all that irrational. To be clear, I don’t accept this worldview and I have argued against it in the past. Nevertheless, it doesn’t strike me as being significantly more irrational other philosophical commitments that we are we don’t judge in the same way (say: moral anti-realism or epistemic internalism). If a person can competently and rationally embrace those views, why can’t they competently and rationally embrace nihilism?

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

The becoming-girl of the Virgin Mary by Em McAvan

In gender, philosophy, religion, society on March 25, 2014 at 03:22

From: The becoming-girl of the Virgin Mary by Em McAvan, Rhizomes: Issue 22, http://www.rhizomes.net

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

“difference is monstrous” (Gilles Deleuze, Repetition and Difference, 37)

[1] To study religion with Gilles Deleuze is to already be involved in a contradiction of sorts. The dominant theological traditions of Christianity have been metaphysical enterprises grounded in a transcendent being (God), who guarantees all life and all meaning. This is the onto-theological argument, fairly succinctly formulated by Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica where he says that the name of God “signifies being itself.” God “is who he is” (as the Christian gloss on Exodus goes), he is pure being itself. Indeed, Aquinas goes so far as to state that “God is pure act without any potentiality whatsoever” (quoted in Kearney The God Who May Be, 83). In contrast to the hegemonic Christian tradition, Deleuze formulates a critique of “the order of God” (Logic of Sense, 332), preferring immanence to transcendence and the radical unpredictability of becoming. He writes approvingly of Nietzsche’s Antichrist, who is “characterized by the death of God, the destruction of the world, the dissolution of the person, the disintegration of bodies, and the shifting function of language which now expresses only intensities” (Logic of Sense, 334).

[2] It is difficult to recuperate Deleuze for a thoroughly orthodox project. However, Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the rhizome – which gives this journal its name – already makes clear the necessity of connecting his work with disparate, unlikely disciplines, transforming each in the process. Daniel W. Smith points out that Deleuze can be best understood as post-religious, since he “harbors neither the antagonism of the ‘secular’ who find the concept of God outmoded, nor the angst or mourning of those for whom the loss of God was crisis-provoking, nor the faith of those who would like to retrieve the concept in a new form” (“The Doctrine of Univocity,” 167). Deleuze provides us neither with a master key for religion nor an outside from which to critique, instead he provides an occasion for transmutation, for becoming—the becoming-Deleuzian of religion and the becoming-religious of Deleuze. As we can see in work over the last decade in Mary Bryden’s collection Deleuze and Religion, in feminist process theologian Catherine Keller’s Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming, and in the work of deconstructionist John D. Caputo, the encounter between Deleuzian thought and religion can be a fruitful one. In this essay, I will connect Deleuze with religion in another way, connecting his work on becoming-girl and repetition with the archetypal figure of a girl, the Virgin Mary. I will argue that, paradoxically, Mary becomes a girl after the Event of the birth of Christ, and that this particular movement is repeated in the faithful/faithless folds of the Virgin’s image found in various situations.

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Reposted with permission from: Rhizomes

The Bachelor Century by Jon Rich

In civilisation, ethics, Europe, government, history, North America, politics, religion, society, war, world on March 2, 2014 at 21:07

From: The Bachelor Century: Single Sinners Seeking God’s Job by Jon Rich, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Since the sixteenth century, writing has aspired towards permanence. That horrific century brought a succession of powers, churches, popes, writers, politicians, and artists who made attempts at immortality by making their marks on the rocks of time. The Catholic Church has remained tenaciously faithful, in a sense, to the fifteenth century. The Church’s guards, popes, teachings, sermons, and its Bible have been the center of attention since Michelangelo finished his marvelous works at the Sistine Chapel. As is the case with other holy books, the Bible is a hymnal. Its hymns are recited and sung in the same fashion as the hymns found in other holy books. The fact that the Bible is a hymnal means that there’s a strong tendency, which has remained strong for centuries, to convert it from the written to the oral realm. In the latter realm, it is no longer simply a book, a physical artifact that will fall victim to the deleterious effects of light and humidity, but an invocation that unites all, regardless of their faith. The recitation and the sound of bells are meant to be familiar even to heretics and infidels. This phenomenon finds a perfect match in other holy books like the Torah and the Quran. Religions have, since the beginning, sought to make the word of God familiar and approachable. People who treated divine texts as primarily written words became priests, irrespective of their vocational inclination: infidels, heretics, atheists, priests, or theologians. Voltaire is no less priestly than St. Augustine.

Let’s go back briefly to Nietzsche to remind ourselves that collective human memory—what makes us human—is activated by pain and suffering. To oversimplify Nietzsche, we could say that our collective memory has privileged reactive thinking as a tool of evolution. A man who likes a woman for purely physical reasons is ready to reproduce with her but calls this attraction love. This reactive thinking extends to food, sleep, comfort, sport, work, and achievement. In fact, this sense of urgency to react is directly connected to scarcity. When we read Joseph’s story in the Torah, or the Quran, or The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, we are taken by the pain and joy of very specific people. For these people to invest so much effort into finding their better halves elevates love to a universal human value.

With the supremacy of television and the ubiquity of the internet, this elevation of love becomes nearly impossible. No woman is a man’s better half and no death is pure and final on TV. Television recycles better halves infinitely, giving them new names, new bodies, and new faces. It also portrays death and suffering in myriad ways, creating a variety that impels us to admire and be entertained by it. This bombardment by images of horror leaves little room in one’s heart for a tinge of discomfort, like the one Lionel Messi might feel upon missing a shot on goal.

All of this was impossible to predict before the events of the Arab Spring. It has become clear, with the abundance of images of death and bloodshed coming out of Syria in the past two years, that death itself has become incapable of pushing us, even for a tiny moment, to think about the death of an individual. More deaths will follow, and staying up to date with them will mean having no time for sorrow, and certainly no time to mourn.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Social Covenants… by Seth Kaplan

In Africa, Asia, culture, ethics, Europe, human rights, political science, religion on January 12, 2014 at 00:57

From: Social Covenants Must Precede Social Contracts By Seth Kaplan, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

The differences between the two ideas are stark. Social contracts are written agreements entered into on the basis of self-interest for specific purposes. Social covenants, in contrast, are sustained not by the letter of any law or by self-interest. Instead, they depend on fidelity, trust, and loyalty. As moral philosopher and religious leader Jonathan Sacks writes,

Social contract creates a state; social covenant creates a society. Social contract is about power and how it is to be handled within a political framework. Social covenant is about how people live together despite their differences. Social contract is about government. Social covenant is about coexistence. Social contract is about laws and their enforcement. Social covenant is about the values we share. Social contract is about the use of potentially coercive force. Social covenant is about moral commitments, the values we share and the ideals that inspire us to work together for the sake of the common good.

In societies riven by divisions and lacking any organization that can be relied upon to adjudicate disagreements between competing groups effectively, such as the state, some form of agreement between important groups is crucial to ending conflict and dividing up power in a way that ensures a degree of common understanding on how the state ought to work. Such agreements—between different actors within society, not between the state and society—must occur before determining the nature of government, just as the U.S. Declaration of Independence preceded the U.S. Constitution.

The power of a social covenant flows less from its conception and implementation than, as Elazar points out, from:

The way it informs culture, especially political culture, endowing particular peoples with a particular set of political perceptions, expectations, and norms and shaping the way in which those perceptions, expectations and norms are given institutional embodiment and behavioral expression.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

How Do We Care For Future People? by J. Hughes

In biology, ethics, humanities, medicine, religion, society, theory on December 9, 2013 at 19:45

From: How Do We Care For Future People?
 Buddhist and Jain Ideas for Reproductive Ethics by J. Hughes, IEET, http://ieet.org

Link to Part 1, Link to Part 2, Link to Part 3

Many questions in contemporary bioethics turn on views about the nature of personhood and which creatures possess it. Christians and many other faiths believe that humans, and only humans, possess a supernatural soul that confers moral significance, that they possess it from conception to death, and that it is not capable of evolution or improvement. Modern secular bioethics, on the other hand, focuses on the emergence and dissolution of a psychological self dependent on the brain. For secular bioethics humans share elements of this psychological self with other animals, the self changes throughout the life course, and it is open to improvement through the use of science and technology. Jainism and Buddhism stand between these views on the self and humanity in ways that can contribute to contemporary bioethical thought.

Buddhism and Jainism can connect with and illuminate contemporary bioethics around a shared belief in an evolutionary trajectory and moral continuity from animal to human to posthuman.

* Buddhism and Jainism differ radically in how they connect with bioethical debates on personhood, with Jains adopting substance dualism and Buddhists closer to neuroscientific reductionism.

* Liberal Buddhists and Jains could, however, set aside literal interpretations of ensoulment and adopt a materialist, neuroscientific view of ensoulment that would permit some abortion and distinguishes between the karma incurred from harming different kinds of animals.

* While some secular bioethicists believe it is permissible to genetically enhance humans and animals, and Abrahamic faiths generally oppose genetic enhancement, Jains and Buddhists would use virtue consequentialism to judge genetic enhancements, approving of those that give future generations maximal opportunity for spiritual growth, meaning not only that enhancement for health and cognitive ability might be obligatory, but also enhancement for moral and spiritual traits.

* Jains and Buddhists are more open to the radical optimism of the Enlightenment that we may transcend our humanness.

Read the articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Reposted with permission from: IEET

 

Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures

In political science, religion, society, sociology, theory, writers on October 5, 2013 at 01:43

From: Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures: “Facing Gaia. A New Inquiry into Natural Religion”, Figure / Ground Communication, http://figureground.ca

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Read full PDF of  Facing Gaia

“Bruno Latour is Professor at Sciences Po Paris and has also been Professor at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris and visiting Professor at University of California (San Diego), at the London School of Economics and Harvard University.

After field studies in Africa and California he specialized in the analysis of scientists and engineers at work. In addition to work in philosophy, history, sociology and anthropology of science, he has collaborated on many studies in science policy and research management, producing significant works such as Laboratory Life, Science in Action, The Pasteurization of France, and more recently Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor Network Theory.

He has also published an anthology of essays, Pandora’s Hope: Essays in the Reality of Science Studies, which explore the consequences of the “science wars” and has made a valuable contribution to the political philosophy of the environment with the book Politics of Nature. In a further series of books, he has explored the consequences of science studies on religion in On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods and Rejoice (the latter to be published by Polity Press).

There could be no better theme for a lecture series on natural religion than that of Gaia, this puzzling figure that has emerged recently in public discourse from Earth science as well as from many activist and spiritual movements. The problem is that the expression of ”natural religion” is somewhat of a pleonasm, since Western definitions of nature borrow so much from theology. The set of lectures attempts to decipher the face of Gaia in order to redistribute the notions that have been packed too tightly into the composite notion of ”natural religion”.”

Reposted with permission from: Figure / Ground Communication

On Incest by Avi Garelick

In biology, philosophy, psychology, religion, sexuality, society on September 24, 2013 at 00:17

From: On Incest: Its Whys and Why Nots by Avi Garelick, The Hypocrite Reader, http://www.hypocritereader.com

Academically, we are obviously all morally opposed to incest and rightfully so. At the same time, there is an argument to be made in the Swiss case to let go what goes on privately in bedrooms. (Matthew Galluzzo)

Is it wrong to wonder what’s wrong with incest? Will it sit still as an object of reasoned inquiry? If you offer an explanation for the rational underpinning of the taboo, will that satisfy the deep feeling of disgust that surrounds it? There is something about the question what is wrong with incest that suggests the more transgressive question is something wrong with incest. Aren’t we naturally averse to incest, anyway? If so, the pertinent question is not so much why is incest wrong as why is it prohibited?

For Freud, incestuous urges are at the beginning of human experience. This is famously expressed in his concept of the Oedipus Complex—love your mother, kill your father. The basic Freudian notion of sex and incest is this: A human being’s sexual character is as old as he or she is. Sexual character does not arrive unprecedented at the onset of puberty, ready to attach itself to a previously non-sexual subject. Rather, the formation of adult sexuality patterns itself on the circuits of pleasures and prohibitions established in the subject’s early years. This is an immanent account. If you begin your life suckling at your mother’s breast, achieving pleasure and nourishment simultaneously, that is your first erotic enjoyment. All later enjoyments are in some sense a variation on that first one. Pleasure is fundamentally incestuous, and without a denial of these initial pleasures it might remain so. This denial is provided by the exclusive daddy-mommy pairing; the child is pushed away from the parent he loves by the other’s rights. This prohibition is the point of departure for all prohibition; it is internalized in the subject’s development of a sense of shame and repression around sex. The incest taboo thus has its origin in the strength of paternal prohibition. It is this prohibitive character that motivates the displacement of sexuality into an arena of strangers. But in Freud, the original incestuous urge never dissolves. It is merely redirected towards an acceptable object.

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Reposted with permission from: The Hypocrite Reader

Is absolute secularity conceivable? by Simon During

In humanities, philosophy, politics, religion on July 7, 2013 at 17:45

From: Is absolute secularity conceivable? by Simon During, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/

Is absolute secularity conceivable? The question arises from the paradoxical intuition that the secularization thesis is simultaneously both right and muddled. Perhaps the most fundamental problem with the broader secularization thesis (which I take to claim that, over the past half-millennium or so, Western society has undergone a systemic diminution of religious practice) is that it isn’t clear what the non-secular is. After all, it can be extended from those beliefs and practices that avowedly depend on religious revelation to those that affirm some form of transcendentalism, though they may make no room for God as such. But for a long time both radical atheists and Christian apologists have argued that what looks as if it is secular through and through may not, in fact, be secular at all. From this point of view, important elements of enlightened secularity in particular can be understood, not as Christianity’s overcoming, but as its displacement. Thus, for instance, in his Scholasticism and Politics (1938), Jacques Maritain, following Nietzsche, speaks of the “Christian leaven fermenting in the bosom of human history” as the source of democratic modernity. Here the secular, political concept of human equality is seen to have a Christian origin and to bear a continuing Christian charge, even though its purposes and contexts have changed.

Numerous applications of the displacement model of secularization are current, but here I will point to just one. It concerns philosophical anthropology. The argument is that certain post-Enlightenment concepts of the human (or of “man”) remain Christian in their deep structures. Of these, the most important is the philosophical anthropology of negation (to use Marcel Gauchet’s term), according to which human nature is not just appetitive but necessarily incomplete, that is to say, inadequate to its various ecologies and conditions, and for that reason beset by fear, uneasiness, anxiety, and so on. For those who accept the displacement model, this anthropology, even in its modern forms, remains dependent on the revealed doctrine that human nature as such is fallen. Philosophical anthropology is important for thinking about secularization because the secularization thesis often becomes a proxy for the argument that secularity places human nature at risk.

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

Apologies by Michael Bavidge

In philosophy, politics, religion, sociology on June 19, 2013 at 19:04

From: Apologies: Notes on the Philosophy of Asking Forgiveness by Michael Bavidge, The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXVIII No. 2, http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk

Apologies are other-directed in a strong sense. Apologizing is something we do. And what we do is directed at another person. There are other morally important actions, states of mind and feelings which have a relation to other people, but which are not directly interactive. Shame, for example, relates to others. But that does not make it dialogical in the same way as apologies, confessions or guilty pleas. What are the elements of an apology understood in this sense?

The Greek word apologia means a defence or justification, offering defensive arguments, making excuses. Socrates’ Apology or Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Mea are apologies in this sense. But in modern usage an apology, at least a good apology, requires the suppression of pleas and excuses. The OED defines apology as a frank acknowledgement, by way of reparation, of offence given, or an explanation of that offence as not intended, with expression of regret for any offence given or taken. This suits well enough though it implies, but does not quite say, that an apology is offered by a person who has committed an offence to the person offended.

Another way to look at it is to say that apologies can be distinguished from other related but different activities. For example, an apology is not a confession. You can confess your faults to anyone who is prepared to listen, but you can apologize only to the one you have harmed. There is a website called Joeapology. It is an amusing and interesting site, but it is misnamed. It should be called Joeconfession. Its mission statement acknowledges the point: JoeApology.com is a site where people can freely and anonymously post their apologies. Think of it as a confessional of sorts (without the religious ties, that is). Are you feeling sorry about something you did? Do you want to get something off your chest? Go on, tell me about it…and remember, it’s completely anonymous. Just post your apology, no matter how big or small, and you’ll feel so much better. I promise. -Joe Apology [see box below]

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: The Philosopher

Living Without An Afterlife by Doug Muder

In humanities, philosophy, religion, society on June 12, 2013 at 08:18

From: Living Without An Afterlife by Doug Muder, the new Humanism, http://www.thenewhumanism.org

The unspoken questions. The first time my father realized that I wasn’t expecting us to meet again in Heaven, he asked: “So you think we just die and that’s it, like animals?”

He said “like animals” as if it were obvious to any five-year-old that animals have no souls. I was fascinated by that assumption. But then I thought about who I was talking to. Dad has been a farmer all his life. He has killed, seen killed, or sent to be killed countless chickens, pigs, and cattle. And yet, I don’t believe he has ever murdered a human being.

Why is it OK to kill animals but not people? That’s an important question for any meat-eating farm culture. My father’s Christianity answers by putting a great metaphysical gulf between animals and humans: We have eternal souls and they don’t.

Meaning and the afterlife. The inevitability of death throws a monkey wrench into our stories. Usually our short-term stories get their meaning from the longer-term stories they fit into. Studying at 2 a.m. is meaningful because it’s part of the story where I ace tomorrow’s test. But the test is only meaningful as part of the longer-term story where I pass the class. And that matters because of the story where I get my degree, and so on.

But what if the longest-term story I can tell is the one where I die? Doesn’t that undercut all the others?

Because I might die at any moment, the stories I think I am in the middle of may never conclude in any satisfactory way. And even if my life is not cut off prematurely, then eventually I arrive at decrepitude and senility. What kind of climax is that?

So you see the problem. It’s not just that I will die. As I said at the beginning: That’s easy; everybody does it. But given that I am going to die, how can I tell the story of my life in a way that engages me and motivates me and gives me a sense of meaning?

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Reposted with permission from: the new Humanism

Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley

In Asia, Europe, government, interview, North America, politics, religion on June 3, 2013 at 21:12

From: Breaking the Social Contract by Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

Pelin Tan: In Infinitely Demanding, you describe a distinction between active and passive nihilism. As I understand it, this description has a theological basis. You offer Al-Qaeda as an example of active nihilism. However, I have my doubts about this distinction. I think active nihilism cannot be explained in terms of local and specific conditions, since its meaning is based in Western epistemology. Do you think Western thought is capable of explaining oppositional radical movements such as Al-Qaeda by way of nihilism?

Simon Critchley: It is a question of the political uses of religion, or civil religion in the way Rousseau talks about it in The Social Contract. We could think of religion as ideology. My view is that things like class, ethnicity, and the rest are hugely important, but the question concerns how a polity such as a state acquires legitimacy and is able to motivate citizens to act on its behalf. And the answer to that question requires some understanding of civil religion. In The Social Contract Rousseau comes to the conclusion that politics requires a quasi-religious apparatus of rituals, including flags, national anthem, pledges of religions, and all the rest. Turkey is a very good example. Ataturk basically tried to invent a kind of civil religion using nationalism. So for me, all political units, especially states, justify themselves and try to motivate citizens by appealing to a form of civil religion. Here in the US, that works through the Constitution and the way constitutionality begins with an appeal to God—”In God We Trust.” And this becomes the basis for a political fight, the question of how the civic creed of the United States is to be interpreted. Does it justify a Republican or Democratic governmental order? Analogous situations exist elsewhere. The French elections took place last Sunday and France also has a civil religion, even though the country is purportedly secular.

PT: What is your opinion on the relationship between secularism and liberal democracy nowadays?

SC: I think that all political units make an appeal to something like the sacred, some conception of the sacred. And to me, the history of political forms is a history of different forms of sacralization — from Mesopotamia through Sumeria to the ancient world, and to where we are now. So in my opinion the secular is another expression of the sacral. Of course, secularists usually insist that God has no role in the political realm, that we cannot appeal to God. This is usually based on some progressivist idea of history, which is also religious. Secularism takes over the providential narrative of Christianity, changes some key elements, and comes up with the idea that liberal democracy is the completion of history. The idea is that one is either on the right side of history or the wrong side of history—as Saint Obama has said. So for me, secularism is another appeal to something sacred, the sacredness of human rights, the universality of human rights. This is ideology. I come out of a Gramsician leftist tradition that took a very particular form in England in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where thinkers like Ernesto Laclau, who was very influential for many years, tried to follow Gramsci’s insistence that ideology is important. Ideology isn’t just superstructure. Marxism is about socioeconomic conditions, class, and all the rest—of course that’s true. But ideology, and therefore politics, is that field where social groups are articulated. So for me, ideology has huge importance. And it’s in relation to that notion of ideology that religion takes on this particular importance. So it is not religion, ethnicity, or class inequalities that are important, but the way in which the articulation of each of those terms also appeals to notions of the sacred.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Colors / Ash by Meghan Dailey

In aesthetics, languages, philosophy, religion, theory on May 29, 2013 at 22:34

From: Colors / Ash by Meghan Dailey, Cabinet Magazine, http://cabinetmagazine.org

The identity of ash as a color is questionable. Ash is not ashen—drained of color—but variously gray, whitish, black-like, flecked, dirty, streaked. It can be steely and cold, or the harsh, smoky yield of raging flames. Intangible, abstract, but also very much there, even if only in trace form, ash is an absolute result. Elsewhere, ash is a mood. It speaks of melancholy, New England maybe—turning leaves on ash trees under overcast skies in damp autumn air, that sort of thing. Ed Ruscha’s drawing Ash (1971), rendered in gunpowder and pastel, perfectly crystallizes its valences and free–floating (literally) signification. For Ruscha, words are ever the stuff of extended reflection, of puns and hidden meanings, presented as plain as day. I like to think that he must have enjoyed the particular convergence between word and medium (a combustible substance in its pre-asheous state).

One can experience ash by wearing it. The LL Bean catalog sells “Bean’s Sloggs,” an outdoor shoe available in color ash as well as color black, and also some men’s casual trousers in ash—just one among many barely distinguishable neutrals the company offers: taupe, beige, moss, peat, stone, timber, fatigue. The clothing and colors signify the outdoors, and are situated and named as part of nature’s continuum. But peat and stone are going to outlive the whims of consumer taste.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet Magazine

A Bat in a Jar by Elke Weesjes

In aesthetics, biology, Europe, history, medicine, North America, religion, science on April 24, 2013 at 07:06

From: A Bat in a Jar – Wet Specimen and the History of the Curiosity Cabinet by Elke Weesjes, United Academics, http://www.united-academics.org

Jeiven teaches taxidermy classes at the Brooklyn Observatory. She followed in Walter Potter’s footsteps and specialized in anthropomorphic taxidermy. This means attributing human characteristics to taxidermied animals. Jeiven’s animals wear clothes, are usually posed in tableaux, and often represent a parable or a story. In last week’s workshop, Jeiven went outside of her comfort zone and taught a group of enthusiasts the arcane art of wet specimens. These stunning artifacts fill natural history, medical, and anatomy museums. They are deceptively simple to the eye, but in fact, demand special skills to do properly. And Jeiven’s students were lucky; these skills are generally taught only in professional apprenticeships rather than classes for the general public. I was fortunate to be among her students; this blog post describes my experience.

Ewen and Ewen note that the practice of creating curiosity cabinets goes back to the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church assembled relics of saint’s artifacts associated with Jesus and the Madonna to provide believers with concrete evidence and firsthand access to stories from the Old and New Testament. Myriad religious souvenirs were brought back from the Holy Land as part of the crusades and people viewed them with a fervent sense of awe. “In sealed cases, some ornately crafted a panoply of sacred remnants could be found, including such items as a drop of the Virgin’s milk, a pot that figured at the miracle at Cana, a scrap of a martyr’s shroud, nails, or a fragment of wood from the true cross or the comb of Mary Magdalene.”[2] Human remains were also brought into Europe; for example, the arm of the apostle James and parts of the skeleton of John the Baptist. Interestingly, alongside these sacrosanct objects ‘legendary’ artifacts like griffin’s eggs, tortoise shells, and unicorn’s horns were also part of the same collection.

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Reposted with permission from: United Academics

Rediscovering Gandhi by Tridip Suhrud

In Asia, books, history, poetry, politics, religion, research, theory, writers on March 16, 2013 at 15:54

From: Rediscovering Gandhi: New insights from recent books on Gandhi by Tridip Suhrud, The Caravan, http://www.caravanmagazine.in

IN CONVERSATIONS, social theorist Ashis Nandy fondly recalls an exchange between philosopher Ramachandra Gandhi and poet Umashankar Joshi. The philosopher argued that MK Gandhi was inconceivable without his spiritual strivings, while the poet—and one suspects Ashis Nandy too—insisted that Gandhi’s significance lay in his willingness to engage and transform the “slum of politics”.

This divide between the religious, spiritual Gandhi and the political one or, more aptly, the divide between Gandhi the ashramite and Gandhi the satyagrahi has come to shape not only our academic engagement with the life and thought of Gandhi, but also our memory of the man whom we revere, revile or remain indifferent to. The dichotomy is a superficial one. Gandhi saw himself as a satyagrahi and an ashramite. His politics was imbued with spiritual strivings and his relationship with religion was a deeply political one.

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Reposted with permission from: The Caravan

The Humanist Interview with Gloria Steinem by Jennifer Bardi

In gender, government, human rights, interview, media, religion on February 24, 2013 at 00:53

From: The Humanist Interview with Gloria Steinem by Jennifer Bardi, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

The Humanist: So let’s talk a little about women in secularism. I attended the first-ever Women in Secularism conference in May, and I’m wondering if it would surprise you to learn that there are problems with sexist behavior within the secular movement, including in online forums and at conferences.

Steinem: No, it doesn’t surprise me to learn that there is bias and sexism everywhere, just like there are problems of racism and homophobia stemming from the whole notion that we’re arranged in a hierarchy, that we’re ranked rather than linked. I think we’ve learned that we have to contend with these divisions everywhere.

There might have been more surprise, say, in the 1960s and ’70s when people were active in the antiwar movement or in the Civil Rights movement, only to discover that women sometimes had the same kinds of conventional positions there. But I think there’s a much deeper understanding now of how widespread patriarchy is, on the one hand, and that it didn’t always exist, on the other.

The Humanist: So, if humanists and secularists consider themselves enlightened individuals—reasonable, progressive, and so forth—shouldn’t we hold these men up to a higher standard in terms of sexist behavior?

Steinem: Yes. But, it’s not only holding humanist men up to a higher standard, it’s saying you can’t win unless you’re a feminist. Because the patterns that are normalized in the family—the whole idea that some people cook and some people eat, that some listen and others talk, and even that some people control others in very economic or even violent ways—that kind of hierarchy is what makes us vulnerable to believing in class hierarchy, to believing in racial hierarchy, and so on.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism by Slavoj Žižek

In Asia, economics, Europe, government, politics, religion, society on February 24, 2013 at 00:39

From: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism by Slavoj Žižek, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

The ultimate postmodern irony of today is the strange exchange between Europe and Asia: at the very moment when “European” technology and capitalism are triumphing worldwide at the level of the “economic infrastructure, the Judeo-Christian legacy is threatened at the level of “ideological superstructure” in the European space itself by New Age “Asiatic” thought, which, in its different guises ranging from “Western Buddhism” to different “Taos,” is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. Therein resides the highest speculative identity of opposites in today’s global civilization: although “Western Buddhism” presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement. One should mention here the well-known concept of “future shock” that describes how people are no longer psychologically able to cope with the dazzling rhythm of technological development and the social changes that accompany it. Things simply move too fast, and before one can accustom oneself to an invention, it has already been supplanted by a new one, so that one more and more lacks the most elementary “cognitive mapping.” The recourse to Taoism or Buddhism offers a way out of this predicament that definitely works better than the desperate escape into old traditions. Instead of trying to cope with the accelerating rhythm of techno-logical progress and social changes, one should rather renounce the very endeavor to retain control over what goes on, rejecting it as the expression of the modern logic of domination. One should, instead, “let oneself go,” drift along, while retaining an inner distance and indifference toward the mad dance of accelerated process, a distance based on the insight that all this social and technological upheaval is ultimately just a non-substantial proliferation of semblances that do not really concern the innermost kernel of our being. One is almost tempted to resuscitate the old infamous Marxist cliché of religion as the “opium of the people,” as the imaginary supplement to terrestrial misery. The “Western Buddhist” meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity. If Max Weber were alive today, he would definitely write a second, supplementary, volume to his Protestant Ethic, entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet

In books, culture, ethnicity, government, history, North America, philosophy, politics, religion on January 5, 2013 at 05:24

From: The Supreme Love and Revolutionary Funk of Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet, Killing the Buddha, http://killingthebuddha.com

West has been called “perhaps the preeminent black intellectual of our generation” by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., himself a candidate for that mantle. It might be more accurate to say that West is the preeminent intellectual of our generation, no qualifiers. No other scholar is as widely read, no other philosopher courted by presidential candidates, no other Ivy League professor referenced not just by other academics but by popular filmmakers (The Matrix trilogy, in which West played a bit role, was inspired in part by his work) and musicians (West has collaborated with Prince, Talib Kweli, and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, among others).

West came to his sense of self by way of a peculiarly American convergence of influences. His is not an “only in America” story but an “especially in America” one, part Emersonian self-reliance, part Motown funk. He’s an intellectual mutt in the best sense, a “freestyle, California spirit,” as he puts it, “rooted in gutbucket blues and jazz dispositions.” Even his trademark black suit is layered with influences—beneath jazz and the blues, there’s 19th century Russian literature. “It’s in emulation of Masha,” he says, one of the heroines of his favorite play, Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, a drama of provincial manners set amidst the Russian gentry. West identifies with the lonely woman at the heart of the story. “She’s wearing black, says she’s in mourning.” Her father has just died, she’s trapped in a pointless marriage with a boring man. “But it’s even deeper than that. How do you make deep disappointment a constant companion and still persevere? There is this sense with Masha, when you see her in that black dress, of having a sad soul with a sweet disposition.”

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Reposted with permission from: Killing the Buddha

Ancient religious texts among the 25,000 new images online

In archaeology, art, books, history, information science, religion, research on January 3, 2013 at 16:25

From: Ancient religious texts among the 25,000 new images online, Past Horizons Archaeology, http://www.pasthorizonspr.com

Launched in December 2011,  the Cambridge Digital Library has already attracted tens of millions of hits on its website. Among the 25,000 new images being made freely available are a 2,000-year old copy of  The Ten Commandments on the famous Nash Papyrus and also one of the most remarkable ancient copies of the New Testament; the Codex Bezae.

While the latest release focuses on faith traditions – including important texts from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism – many of the manuscripts being made available are also of great political, cultural and historical importance.

One, the tenth-century Book of Deer, is widely believed to be the oldest surviving document from Scotland, and it contains the earliest known examples of written Gaelic.

A thirteenth-century Life of Edward the Confessor provides an account of the early English saint and king, produced by a later king for political purposes, and boasts masterpieces of English illumination, including a very graphic portrayal of the Battle of Hastings.

The extensive Cairo Genizah collections, which are being gradually released through the digital library, provide fascinating glimpses into the everyday life of a Jewish community in Egypt over a period of a thousand years. Based at the crossroads of trade and intellectual exchange, the archive of this community represents one of the most important sources for understanding the wider medieval world.

The Library is also beginning to release digital versions of its Islamic and Sanskrit collections, which include both secular and religious texts. The Islamic manuscripts collection includes some of the earliest surviving Qur’ans, while the Library’s Sanskrit manuscripts cover all the major religious traditions of South Asia and include some of the oldest known manuscripts of key religious texts.

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Reposted with permission from: Past Horizons

Zen and the Art of Poetry: An Interview with Jane Hirshfield by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler

In art, books, Europe, interview, literature, North America, poetry, religion, theory, writers on January 1, 2013 at 19:48

From: Zen and the Art of Poetry: An Interview with Jane Hirshfield by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler, AGNI online, http://www.bu.edu/agni/index.html

IK and KT: Were you a Buddhist first and then a poet, or a poet first and then a Buddhist?

JH: If I think about this, the question begins to feel constrictive. At any moment is a person “this” or “that?” To label oneself is to close off the possibilities of being. But in the sense you are asking, the ordinary, narrative sense, poetry came first. I began to write poems as soon as I learned to write. After my first book came out, when I was 29, my mother pulled out of a bottom dresser drawer a big piece of paper I was given, probably around second grade, on which was written: “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” I have no idea where that came from. But writing was the way for me to craft a self I could unfold on my own, in private, and to find a life that was mine, one that didn’t belong to others.

Still, the two paths have intertwined for me from the beginning—the first book of poetry I bought, from a stationary store on East 20th Street, was a one dollar Peter Pauper Press book of Japanese haiku. I was maybe eight years old. I don’t know what drew me so strongly to those poems or what I could have seen in them at that age, but I recognized something that I absolutely knew I had to have in my life. The path has also been circular. Poetry brought me to Zen, and Zen returned me to poetry. In 1985, I took on the co-translation that became The Ink Dark Moon, a collection of poems by the two great women poets of classical-era Japan, whose work I had first read in a handful of English translations when I was 17. Their poetry, steeped in both eros and Buddhist views, was part of what turned me toward Zen as well as part of what shaped my sense of poems—how they move, what work they do. I had no idea then that I would work further on these women’s poems; if anything I thought that a path not taken. I did know that I wanted the book to exist, and I waited 15 years for someone else to translate it, before suddenly finding the chance to do it myself after all. So you see, each mode—poetry, Zen—has always returned me to the other. Thus far, they have been the left foot and the right foot of my life. It may, I suppose, look exotic. But from the inside, this life has felt like the most ordinary course possible, one choice simply following another.

IK and KT: In your essay, “The Question of Originality,” you write: “Originality requires the aptitude for exile.” Can you talk about any experiences of exile you may have had, and how they may have fed your work?

JH: I think the sense of exile I have always felt led me to practice Zen. I should add that Zen is what was congenial to me, but I certainly don’t believe there’s only one correct spiritual path—there are as many spiritual paths as there are people, and probably sparrows and frogs and pebbles as well. Still, for me, the not uncommon sense of being exiled from presence in the world brought me to both Zen and poetry. Perhaps urban, contemporary life is already an exile of a kind, perhaps it was more familial, perhaps it was spiritual. There is a Taoist poet in Women in Praise of the Sacred, Yu Xuanji, who said at the end of one poem, “Everywhere the wind carries me is home.” That was not something I felt as a child.

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Reposted with permission from: AGNI

Wine and Spirits: Baudelaire’s Orgy and Attention by Michael Kinnucan

In art, education, philosophy, poetry, religion, society, writers on December 21, 2012 at 18:06

From: Wine and Spirits: Baudelaire’s Orgy and Attention by Michael Kinnucan, Hypocrite Reader, http://hypocritereader.com

Weil’s description of efforts of attention is an attempt to silence the future by turning us away from the objects of attention and toward attention as such. No time is wasted so long as it is spent attentively; to the question “what should I attend to?” Weil answers that the question itself is always a mistake, that it is sufficient simply to attend. The suspicion that one may be attending to the wrong thing is precisely what will prevent you from ever attending; let the question go, let your moments go, find your way out of time for a while.

In Baudelaire’s formalized conception of drunkenness, one can get drunk on almost anything: wine, poetry or virtue, it doesn’t matter at all. Drunkenness is defined by its opposite, and its opposite is consciousness of time as a ticking clock. We are temporary, temporal beings, and all the clocks tick us away; we have only so much time to spend. How shall we spend it? By forgetting that. If Weil tells us: always attend, because there’s only one thing to attend to, Baudelaire tells us: always get drunk, because there’s only one thing to forget.

Baudelaire’s endless fascination with the figure of the poet can be read as an inquiry into the question: What does it take to “marry the crowd”? Baudelaire’s poet is “accursed,” loathed by his family, misunderstood by his readers, absolutely alone; all this is not evidence of despair but a prerequisite for intoxication. The proud bourgeois cannot marry the crowd because he is too full of himself, too busy; he has too much to lose. He does not have a free and arbitrary will, only petty interests. The poet, to plunge at every movement, must have nothing to lose in the fall. Even Baudelaire’s famous irony, most vicious when turned against himself, reflects not world-weary bitterness but the pleasure of crowds. Irony serves the poet as self-flagellation serves the monk: it humbles the flesh to free the spirit. The poet lacerates his ego because his ego is what holds him back from the crowd.

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Reposted with permission from: Hypocrite Reader

Longing for ‘normality’ by Cynthia Cockburn

In culture, ethnicity, Europe, gender, government, history, human rights, law, politics, religion, society, war on December 8, 2012 at 22:02

From:  Longing for ‘normality’: women’s experience of post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina by Cynthia Cockburn, OpenDemocracy, http://www.opendemocracy.net

Many of the women I spoke with used the word ‘normality’ to express what they pine for, strive for, dream of. They used the word to allude to another time and place where things were or would be very different from present reality they deemed profoundly abnormal. In one sense the normality referred to a ‘fairer’ and less class-riven society, and one in which women have equality with men. More often, though, they were using the notion of normality and abnormality to characterize relations between the three ‘constituent peoples’ of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were comparing modern BiH, flawed by extremes of religious and national identification and hatred with an ideal community in which ethno-national difference is, was or could be, de-emphasized, of minimal significance. Thus Edita Ostojic referred to ‘people who think normally’, i.e. people who ‘don’t want to be infected by this nationalist way of thinking.’

Many remembered pre-war Federal Yugoslavia in this light. I had met Amira Frljak when she was a gynaecologist in Medica during the war. Now she has her own clinic in Sarajevo. She said, ‘We were normal in Yugoslavia.’ It had not been normal Yugoslavs who had brought about the disaster that ruined the country. Rather, ‘it was crazy people who started the war.’ Vahida Mustafic was a kindergarten teacher in Medica during the conflict. She agreed with Amira. What happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina had been brought about by people from outside, many from the diaspora. These women remember Yugoslavia and its ‘normality’ with a great sense of loss. Vahida said, ‘We didn’t have a lot of material goods, but there was love, respect and freedom. I felt safer. It was safe to walk around on the street. And we could travel a lot’. They recall how shocked and disbelieving they had been when the country they had taken for granted collapsed into division and war.

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Reposted according to CC copyright notice from: OpenDemocracy

A Traditional Artistic Training Method for Landscape Painting by David Clayton

In architecture, art, Europe, history of art, nature, religion, visual arts on November 24, 2012 at 01:04

From: A Traditional Artistic Training Method for Landscape Painting – How We Can Apply This Today by David Clayton, The Way of Beauty, http://thewayofbeauty.org

Thomas Girtin trained in England in the late 18th century and trained for three years from the ages of 14-19. He was apprenticed to the established artist Edward Dayes and began by doing supporting work (grinding pigments etc) and by watching his master painting. Only later he was allowed to copy his master’s work. He was expected at this stage to pick up the idiosyncrasies of his teacher’s style as a necessary stage in the longer term goal of his emerging with a similar but independent style. From the start he was given talks about art and especially the moral purpose of art. Consistent with academic theory and following Joshua Reynolds in his Discources given to the Royal Academy, Dayes announced that the artist only selects the best parts of the natural world in order to reflect an idealised Nature. In addition, Girtin was expected to read in order to form his taste.

For his painting training, he would be introduced to colour by being asked to colour prints (so don’t hesitate to photocopy and colour-in today!). He then progressed on to his own landscapes by working in the studio and creating amalgamations of different works by Dayes and others and drawings and sketches.

In painting from nature, he would start to observe and sketch doing either line drawings or broad tonal renditions depicting scenes using sweeps in monochrome; through this he could start to control the sense of space by changing the intensity of shadow according the to distance from which it was viewed. He would also do repeated studies of individual items – bushes, trees and so on – both from works of others and direct from nature.

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Reposted with permission from: David Clayton (The Way of Beauty)

Encountering the archive by Simon Coleman

In anthropology, history, North America, religion, sexuality, society on October 27, 2012 at 19:49

From: Sex abuse in the Catholic Church: Encountering the archive by Simon Coleman, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/

A more historical question relates to the framing and trajectory of the issue in the archive itself and whether, for instance, we can discern a shift away from an exclusively spiritual framing of behavior by church officials towards one where both legal and psychiatric languages are being brought in, if sometimes also conspicuously ignored.

Thinking about the archive in terms of the history of Christianity prompts another question for me. I wonder about the extent to which invoking history suggests both causality and context. In other words, does locating these sexual acts in the context of the history of Christianity or Catholicism either explain them or explain them away? The answer to both of these questions should, I think, be “no,” but we still need to look for patterns and shifts in the trajectories of opinion or activity that we might deem to be significant. In what follows, I use different histories to show how they inflect my readings of the archives, though I do not attempt to connect these four historical fragments in a systematic way.

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

The Ideology of Color by Fernando Castro

In aesthetics, art, culture, ethnicity, Europe, history of art, politics, religion, sociology, South America, visual arts on October 15, 2012 at 19:07

From: The Ideology of Color by Fernando Castro, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

Many of the works of The Ideology of Color arose from Texas ́ history class when one of my Mexican students of Native-American descendance asked me when white people first arrived. Any artist who ever painted people knows that white is perhaps the only color not to be used for human skin –unless you are painting dead people. Even the ghostly skin of Giovanna Cenami in Van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Marriage (1414), is conspicuously different from the truly white headpiece she is wear- ing. After this two-second thought I blurted out, “There are no white people.”

Noticing the skeptical expression on my student’s face I took out a piece of white paper and added, “There is nobody this color.” In order to show my young students how white people would look like if they existed, I decided to make photographs of truly white people. I went through my negatives to see which ones I could use for what would become the White People series. Back in 1988 I had taken pictures of people and their dogs in a canine competition in Peru. These images were fitting because some of the ideas behind the motivation of many people to call themselves “white” are connected to the project of selectively breeding dogs to obtain Dobermans, French Poodles, etc. I painted the skin in the black-and- white negatives with an opaque medium so that they printed totally white.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

Lonesome No More! Kurt Vonnegut’s Freethinking Heritage by Heather Augustyn

In community, literature, nature, North America, religion, science, writers on October 11, 2012 at 05:57

From: Lonesome No More! Kurt Vonnegut’s Freethinking Heritage by Heather Augustyn, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

… It was after the interview was published by In These Times (Vonnegut was honorary editor of the Chicago-based magazine), that I became more interested in what Vonnegut had to say to me about his family heritage of freethought, a topic upon which not only he wrote, but his great grandfather Clemens Vonnegut too, in published essays and in his own eulogy. Freethought was rich in German culture, as well as the cultures of other European immigrants to the United States. In fact, Clemens Vonnegut founded the Freethinkers Society of Indianapolis in 1870 and served as president of the organization for many years. He was also the founder of a freethinker Sunday school and fought against religion in schools as a member of the Indianapolis Public School Board. In those days many freethinkers were involved in educational issues. Today, freethinkers may choose to be called secular humanists, agnostics, or atheists but to Kurt Vonnegut Jr. they were skeptics and they were his kin. Naturally, skepticism and kinship are two themes that run throughout his fiction.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

Traditional Values and Human Rights in Africa by Leo Igwe

In Africa, culture, ethnicity, gender, politics, religion, society on October 1, 2012 at 01:39

From: Traditional Values and Human Rights in Africa by Leo Igwe, IEET, http://ieet.org

On March 24 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution titled, Promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind in conformity with international human rights laws.’

This resolution, which was proposed by Russia and supported by the OIC states and the Arab League, has been generating heated debates and criticisms mainly because of its ‘grave’ implications for universal human rights.

For instance, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights described the adoption of the resolution as ‘highly dangerous’.  ‘Such a concept’, its states, ‘has been used in the Arab region to justify treating women as second class citizens, female genital mutilation, honor crimes, child marriage and other practices that clearly contradict with(sic) international human rights standards. Does this resolution now mean that such practices are acceptable under international law? I really think it does. Some states have also voiced concerns over the resolution citing that it could lead to cultural relativism. They said it could be used to justify human rights abuses particularly the rights of minorities.

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Days of the Locust: An Interview with Jeffrey Lockwood by David Serlin and Jeffrey Lockwood

In biology, ecology, Europe, history, North America, religion, research, society, writers on September 28, 2012 at 04:37

From: Days of the Locust: An Interview with Jeffrey Lockwood by David Serlin and Jeffrey Lockwood, CABINET Magazine, http://cabinetmagazine.org

In the summer of 1875, an infestation of Rocky Mountain locusts measuring 198,000 square miles—a square 450 miles on each side, containing an estimated 3.5 trillion locusts—descended upon the midwestern United States, the largest locust swarm ever recorded. (By comparison, the second-largest swarm, in Kenya in 1954, covered fewer than one hundred square miles.) Although an unprecedented convergence of specific climatic, agricultural, and ecological conditions was responsible for creating the 1875 outbreak, many communities interpreted the locust swarm as an objective sign of pending apocalypse and confirmation that the modern world could not escape the wrath of an angry God. By the early years of the twentieth century, however, the Rocky Mountain locust, with its turbo-charged capacity for devastation and destruction, had vanished, leaving scientists, theologians, and historians to ponder the cause of its mysterious disappearance.

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Reposted with permission from: CABINET Magazine

Hegel and Islam by Muhammed Khair

In Asia, civilisation, culture, Europe, history, philosophy, politics, religion on September 3, 2012 at 21:40

 

From: Hegel and ISLAM  by Muhammed Khair, The Philosopher, http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk

So when it comes to Islam as seen by Hegel, Anglo-Saxons have a blind spot. Standard works on Hegel, like that of the Canadian Hegelian Charles Taylor (Fellow of All Souls, Oxford), ignored Hegel’s observations on Islam in his Philosophy of History, based on a series of lectures in 1822 and published posthumously by his son. (And compare this with his most famous work on the Phenomenology of the Spirit published in 1807!) But Hegel has an interesting and illuminating short chapter on Islam, somewhat incongruously located in the final section on the German world and not, as one might expect, in the earlier section on the Oriental world. This in itself begs the question as to Islam’s place in world history.

For a recent work which hints at the true locus of Islam one must turn to the Bosnian academic Muslim – and its first president – an intellectual who can be compared to Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic. Aliya Ali Izetbegovic it is, who entitled his work Islam between East and West and located Islam in the spatial and temporal congruence between the sacred and the secular, a phenomenon that appears as it does in the 7th century of the Christian Era, seen now in the full light of history.

Scholars in the past have found Islam to be a product of late Classicism, like Christianity arising out of the Levant and heavily indebted to neo-Platonism, and only gradually Orientalised as its centre of gravity moved from Syria (in the 7th century CE) to Mesopotamia (Iraq), and as its rulers changed from Arabs (who had heavily invested in the translation project of the Greek philosophic corpus into Arabic) to neophyte newcomers from Turkish Central Asia (see the Tunisian writer Hichem Djait’s Hegelian Study of Europe and Islam, University of California of Press translation, 1985).

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Reposted with permission from: The Philosopher

Wilde Christianity by Simon Critchley

In books, ethics, humanities, philosophy, politics, religion, society, writers on September 1, 2012 at 17:38

 

From: Wilde Christianity by Simon Critchley, The Montréal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

I think this idea of a faith of the faithless is helpful in addressing the dilemma of politics and belief. On the one hand, unbelievers still seem to require an experience of belief; on the other hand, this cannot-for reasons I will explore below-be the idea that belief has to be underpinned by a traditional conception of religion defined by an experience or maybe just a postulate of transcendent fullness, namely the God of metaphysics or what Heidegger calls “onto-theo-logy.” The political question-which will be my constant concern in the experiments that follow-is how such a faith of the faithless might be able to bind together a confraternity, a consorority or, to use Rousseau’s key term, an association. If political life is to arrest a slide into demotivated cynicism, then it would seem to require a motivating and authorizing faith which, while not reducible to a specific context, might be capable of forming solidarity in a locality, a site, a region-in Wilde’s case a prison cell.

This faith of the faithless cannot have for its object anything external to the self or subject, any external, divine command, any transcendent reality. As Wilde says: “But whether it be faith or agnosticism, it must be nothing external to me. Its symbols must be of my own creating.”

We appear to be facing a paradox. On the one hand, to be true everything must become a religion, otherwise belief lacks (literally) credibility or authority. Yet, on the other hand, we are and have to be the authors of that authority. The faith of the faithless must be a work of collective self-creation where I am the smithy of my own soul and where we must all become soul-smiths, as it were.

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Reposted with permission from: The Montréal Review

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