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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Life’s Matrix by Philip Ball

In astronomy, biology, literature, nature, philosophy, research, science on January 14, 2013 at 06:41

From: Life’s Matrix by Philip Ball, http://www.philipball.co.uk

In myth, legend, literature and the popular imagination, then, water is not a single thing but a many-faced creature: a hydra, indeed. This is the essence of water’s mystery, and it remains even when water is picked apart by science. Water is the archetypal fluid, the representative of all that flows, and yet science shows it also to be a profoundly anomalous liquid, unlike any other. Some scientists doubt whether water inside living cells, the very juice of life, is the same stuff as water in a glass; at the molecular scale, they think its structure may be altered; perhaps cell water even congeals into a kind of gel. Water behaves in unexpected ways when squeezed or cooled below freezing point. Life needs water, but it remains a profound mystery why water, a lively and reactive substance, didn’t break apart the complex molecules of the earliest life forms on Earth almost as soon as they were formed.

When a substance becomes mythical, it works curious things on our imagination, even without our knowing it. Substances like this are ancient, and they have magical powers. Gold and diamonds, bread and wine, blood and tears are agents of transformation in story and legend. But none, I think, surpasses the beauty, the grandeur, the fecundity and the potency of water. This is why water is, and must always be, much more than a simple compound of hydrogen and oxygen, or a dance of molecules. To explain its role in our imaginations, its life-giving potential, its bizarre and perplexing properties, its sweet nourishment and its glittering surface-to fully explain these things, we do perhaps have to reduce water to its mundane constituents. But even when we do so, we have to remember what we are dealing with: not just a chemical compound, but a fundamental part of nature, with aspects that are serene, enchanting, enlivening, profound, spiritual and even terrible. In the voice of the babbling stream, says Wordsworth, ‘is a music of humanity’. And Bachelard bids us listen well to this music: ‘Come, oh my friends, on a clear morning to sing the stream’s vowels! Not a moment will pass without repeating some lovely round word that rolls over the stones.’

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Reposted with permission from: Philip Ball

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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

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

Choose Your Choice by Claude S. Fischer

In culture, government, North America, politics, psychology, sociology on October 14, 2012 at 16:25

From: Choose Your Choice: The Great American Obsession by Claude S. Fischer Boston Review,  http://www.bostonreview.net

Choice has vastly expanded over American history, and not just in the material realm—the thousands of items in the supermarket, the world of travel destinations, and so on—but also in terms of social opportunities. Through changes in access, custom, and law, Americans have obtained freedom to choose their life paths and companions. Marrying across religious and racial lines, for example, has become increasingly common and acceptable. Gay marriage is coming, too, and already here in some places. Chacun à son goût, say the French, but it’s the Americans who really mean it.

Not only are there now more choices to make, but, over time, more kinds of Americans have gained the power to choose. The ideology of the eighteenth century held that only people who were truly independent—white men of property—were competent to choose wisely. The vote was, sensibly, then, restricted to such men. The next couple of centuries brought the working class, racial minorities, women, and young adults greater rights to choose and also more realistic choices. When women, for instance, could own their own property, earn their own income in respectable professions, and be heard in court, marriage became more equitable and more a matter of equal choice.

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Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

The politics of spirituality by Courtney Bender and Omar M. McRoberts

In academia, North America, politics, research on October 11, 2012 at 05:37

From: The politics of spirituality: What does spirituality mean in America today? posted by Courtney Bender and Omar M. McRoberts, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org

Social scientists frequently juxtapose spirituality to religion and identify the former by way of what it lacks in comparison to the latter. In particular, spirituality would appear to lack institutions, authority structures, community, and even history—all of which are considered integral to religion, such as it is widely understood today. Congregational identity, membership, and attendance are key markers for studies of Americans’ religious convictions, and the congregation, therefore, is taken to be an especially important, if not the definitive, site for the political and social mobilization of religious Americans. Against this backdrop, the rising number of “religious nones” (as well as shifts in congregational styles [see Chaves 2009]) emerge not only as new empirical facts but, insofar as their presence is measured against a norm of voluntary participation, also appear to engender a certain anxiety on the part of the scholars who study them (e.g., Olson 2010; Putnam and Campbell 2010). Though “religious nones” may be believers, they appear to lack the kinds of social connectivity that are recognizable to scholars, and that the latter have deemed essential to voluntary political participation. Insofar as spirituality emerges as a term associated with such individuals—and one that seems to sound the alarms about the problems of individualism—it appears as either the weak cousin or the crazy uncle of the norm that continues (or that should continue) to endure (see, e.g., Bellah et al. 1985), or as the spark of regeneration and the movement toward a “new” social order (e.g., York 1995).

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

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

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

How religion promotes confidence about paternity

In anthropology, gender, religion, sociology on June 10, 2012 at 21:39

 

How religion promotes confidence about paternity, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Phys.Org, http://phys.org/

In the traditional religion, menstrual taboos are strictly enforced, with women exiled for five nights to uncomfortable menstrual huts. According to Strassmann, the religion uses the ideology of pollution to ensure that women honestly signal their fertility status to men in their husband’s family.

“When a woman resumes going to the menstrual hut following her last birth, the husband’s patrilineage is informed of the imminency of conception and cuckoldry risk,” Strassmann said. “Precautions include postmenstrual copulation initiated by the husband and enhanced vigilance by his family.”

“The major world religions sprang from patriarchal societies in which the resources critical to reproduction, whether in the form of land or livestock, were inherited from father to son down the male line,” Strassmann and colleagues write. “Consistent with patrilineal inheritance, the sacred texts set forth harsh penalties for adultery and other behaviors that lower the husband’s probability of paternity. The scriptures also place greater emphasis on female than on male chastity, including the requirement of modest attire for women and the idealization of virginity for unmarried females.”

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Losing Your Religion: Analytic Thinking Can Undermine Belief

In psychology, religion, science on May 10, 2012 at 22:33

 

Losing Your Religion: Analytic Thinking Can Undermine Belief – Marina Krakovsky – Scientific American

People who are intuitive thinkers are more likely to be religious, but getting them to think analytically even in subtle ways decreases the strength of their belief, according to a new study in Science.

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