Archive | January 2012

Invented Religions: From Jedism to the Church of All Worlds

We’re into week three of The Religious Studies Project, and this week we have a real treat for you.

What is an “Invented Religion”? Why should scholars take these religions seriously? What makes these “inventions” different from the revelations in other religions? What happens when an author does not want their story to become a religious text?

In this interview with David, Carole M. Cusack (Associate Professor in Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney) answers these questions and more, exploring her notion of “Invented Religions” and introducing the listener to a wide variety of contemporary and unusual forms of religion. Discussion flows through a range of topics – from Discordianism and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to Scientology, Jediism and the New Atheism – and demonstrates how the works of authors such as Thomas Pynchon and Robert A. Heinlein can be transformed by others and take on a life of their own. In her own words, “This is a fiction so good it should be true…”

You can download this interview and find out more here, or subscribe to receive our weekly podcast on iTunes.

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What We’re Learning from the Cognitive Study of Religion

 

 

What We’re Learning from the Cognitive Study of Religion

By Erika Salomon, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 27 January 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Armin Geertz on ‘Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion’ (23 January 2012).

In Armin Geertz’s recent interview with the Religious Studies Project, he provides an excellent overview of the methods and challenges in the cognitive study of religion and provides examples of some interesting theories and findings from the field. I would like to delve a little further into this latter part by providing a brief review of some of the interesting and important work that has resulted from the cognitive approach.

As Geertz’s interview suggests, researchers in this field have largely focused on the idea that supernatural agents (beings with minds that can think and plan), are a central feature of religious cognition. Such beliefs take many forms and are found throughout the world—from the God of Christianity to the ancestor spirits of the Fang. Two of the most active areas within the cognitive approach to religion are explaining why such beliefs are so widespread and studying how they are like or unlike other kinds of thoughts.

The general consensus among researchers in this area is that humans are “cognitively prepared” for belief, even before they are capable of understanding the complex ideas of any given religious or supernatural belief system. Evidence from developmental psychology suggests that adult religious cognition may develop from a series of underlying cognitive biases displayed by children. Deborah Kelemen’s (1999) research, for example, suggests that children have a tendency (termed promiscuous teleology) to see natural objects as serving some kind of purpose—for example, that trees are for climbing.

Continued reading here.

In the absence of religion…

I read this and was rather taken aback… needless to say, I do NOT agree:

“In the absence of religion, people tend to believe anything rather than nothing, and the task of the church must be to engage empathetically with culture and society, offering shape, colour and articulation to the voices of innate and implicit religion.”

Percy, M. 2004. Losing our space, finding our place. In Religion, identity and change, ed. S. Coleman and P. Collins, 26-41. Aldershot: Ashgate, p. 39.

Scientology Publicity…

This came through my door the other day. The first time I have ever received a Scientology leaflet. I’m touched…

Westminster Faith Debates

A series of debates on religion in public life, running from February to May 2012 at RUSI, 61 Whitehall, SW1A 2ET, Wednesdays fortnightly, 5.30-7pm.

Between 2007-2012 £12m was invested by two research councils, the AHRC and ESRC, in the largest-ever funded research programme on ‘Religion and Society’. In this series leading academics will present findings arising from that research, for response by public figures. Together they will open up debate about the place of religion in public life today.

The series is organised by the Rt Hon Charles Clarke, Professor Linda Woodhead and Dr Rebecca Catto, in co-operation with Theos.

1. Religious Identity in ‘Superdiverse’ Societies – 8th Feb

  • Trevor Phillips, Dominic Grieve, Kim Knott, Therese O’Toole

2. What’s the Place of Faith in Schools? – 22nd Feb

  • Richard Dawkins, John Pritchard, Jim Conroy, Robert Jackson

3. What have we Learned about Radicalisation? – 7th March

  • Mehdi Hasan, Ed Husain, Mark Sedgwick, Marat Shterin, Mat Francis

4. What role for Religious Organisations in an era of Shrinking Welfare? – 21st March

  •  David Blunkett, Peter Smith, Adam Dinham, Sarah Johnsen

5. What Limits to Religious Freedom? – 18th April

  • Lisa Appignanesi, Maleiha Malik, Peter Jones

6. What are the main Trends in Religion and Values in Britain? – 2nd May

  • Aaqil Ahmed, Cole Moreton, Linda Woodhead, Grace Davie

Please email p.ainsworth@lancaster.ac.uk to register for the debates you would like to attend, and visit http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/faith_debates for further details.

The Religious Studies Project

For the past few months I have been alluding to a secretive project that I have been working on… now it is finally here, and I could use all the support I can get in terms of spreading the word, facebook liking etc etc.

It is a website called “The Religious Studies Project” and it has been founded by myself and David G. Robertson, and presented in association with the British Association for the Study of Religions.

Every Monday, we’ll be putting out a new podcast featuring an interview with a  leading international scholar, presenting a key idea in  the contemporary socio-scientific study of religion in a concise and accessible way. Our first podcast features Professor Emeritus James Cox (University of Edinburgh) speaking to David about the phenomenology of religion. You can find the podcast and accompanying notes here, or alternatively subscribe on iTunes.

Every Wednesday, we’ll feature a resource to help postgraduate students and aspiring academics. And every Friday, we’ll be publishing a response to the podcast, reflecting on, expanding upon or disagreeing with the Monday podcast. Plus conference reports, opinion, publishing opportunities, book reviews and more when we have them.

In the meantime, please have a look around the site, follow us on Twitter, “Like” us on Facebook, rate us on iTunes, tell all your friends about us… and let us know what you think!

Many, many thanks!

Chris

New Atheism, Open-Mindedness and Critical Thinking

The diary for 2012 is sure filling up! I’ll be presenting the following paper at Lancaster University as part of the (New) Atheism, Scientism and Open-Mindedness Conference, 2-3 April 2012.

New Atheism, Open-Mindedness and Critical Thinking

Based upon prevalent emic and etic presentations of “New Atheism” in the media and online, it is unlikely that one would feel inclined to describe the dominant discourse as ‘open-minded’. However, as I have argued elsewhere, the situation is much more nuanced than such a superficial overview would suggest. One of the key criticisms levelled at “religion” by four illustrative exemplars of “New Atheism” – Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens – is that it stands in the way of knowledge and progress, and fosters a “totalitarian” atmosphere of submission to unquestionable authority. This portrayal of closed-minded “religion” is contrasted with one of the key aspects of the worldview they promote, where fully naturalistic and rational education is presented as essential for the good of humanity, allowing individuals – according to Dennett – “to make their own informed choices”.

Drawing upon William Hare’s extensive writings on the subject of “open-mindedness” and Harvey Siegel’s subsequent clarification of the relationship between “open-mindedness” and “critical thinking”, this paper shall consider the following three interrelated areas of “New Atheist” discourse: a) their critique of religion, b) the worldview they promote, and c) the framework within which these occur. I shall demonstrate that “critical thinking” – described by Siegel as a “sufficient (but not necessary) condition of open-mindedness” – is a key epistemic virtue extolled throughout the “New Atheist” texts. This contrasts markedly with the “religion” portrayed in their critique. I conclude, with reference to Thomas Kuhn’s idea of “paradigms” (adapted by Wayne Riggs), that the “New Atheist” position cannot be understood as “open-minded” (and neither, following Siegel, as involving “critical thinking”) through their apparent failure to engage with “religion” on its own terms, and the tendency towards propaganda and rhetoric inherent in their texts.

Free to Download Articles on Secularism and Irreligion

Although I have not had a chance to read any yet, I have just downloaded ten articles from the ISSSC stream on Scribd. I don’t much like Scribd, and I cannot comment on the quality of the articles, but they are written by some excellent folk including Frank Pasquale, Barry Kosmin and Ryan Cragun, so if their usual standard is anything to go by I should have something interesting for you in a few weeks…

 

Shelley Segal

One of the things I do for research purposes (and sometimes for personal enjoyment) is listen to a few skeptical or irreligious podcasts so that I can keep abreast of what is happening in the field. One that I do not listen to for pleasure is the Humanist Hour produced by the American Humanist Association. I think it just grates on me because it might as well be called the “Atheist Hour” or even the “Anti-Theist Hour” and there is only so much of that I can take in a day… but at least it is only published once a month, and it sometimes has some interesting material.

This month’s podcast was about music… basically music for atheists… however, it did inspire me to look up one of their guests – a young singer-songwriter from Melbourne named Shelley Segal. She has an album coming out shortly entitled “An Atheist Album” and the tracks I have heard are really good… funny, intelligent, inspiring and with a cool kinda reggae feel in places. So… check her out on MySpace, Twitter, Facebook and her own website… and hey, why not even listen to the latest edition of the Humanist Hour. It’s just not really my cup of tea, but still worth a listen.

Here’s one of Shelley’s songs, “Saved”, from YouTube:

#Occupy2012 (feat. Noam Chomsky & Anonymous)

This probably won’t be my only post concerning 2012.. but I have friends who understand much more about it than I do, so I shall likely be just reblogging their stuff. I have just seen this video from The Juice, and thought it was a funny introduction to the whole thing: