Tag Archive: religion

A cultural cold war wind

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I predicted back in 2010 that globalizing and technological trends would lead disparate religious traditions to find common ground on socially divisive issues like abortion and gay rights.

Just as environmentalism, feminism, and indigenous rights were partnering various more liberal church groups with environmental and social justice organizations, contributing to the development of an “eco-egalitarian” global civil religion, so would socially conservative movements — among Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others — lead to a quasi-religion of global “social traditionalism.”

What I didn’t foresee is how quickly this convergent tendency would grow between American Evangelicals and one of the most introverted of international churches — the Russian Orthodox Church. The two had not long ago been arch-rivals in what sociologist of religion Eileen Barker called the “opium wars of the new millennium” — skirmishes over religious turf in the former Soviet Union.  View full article »

I received my copies in the mail this week of the book that arose out of the School of Advanced Research seminar on “Nature, Science, and Religion: Intersections Shaping Society and the Environment.”

It’s a handsome volume, whose contents provide a level of cross-cutting conversation that, I think, is rare among edited collections. Catherine Tucker did a fabulous job editing it.

She and I co-wrote the introductory chapter, which can be read here.

I don’t yet have an electronic version of my closing chapter, “Religious (Re)Turns in the Wake of Global Nature,” but I’d be happy to share a pre-publication version of it upon request. An excerpt of it can be found here.

The news that self-help guru James Arthur Ray has been found guilty of three counts of negligent homicide brings to an end (of sorts) a saga that began with three deaths and numerous injuries at an October, 2009, sweat lodge ceremony outside Sedona, Arizona. Since I’ve written a handful of articles and half a book about Sedona, and some of the people I wrote about have been indirectly affected by the event, I thought it fitting to comment on it here.

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Enchantments to come

Thoughts for a spring equinox…

Complexity theorist (and colleague of mine here at the University of Vermont) Stuart Kauffman takes stock here of the Enlightenment and sings of a re-enchantment to come.

Disenchantment and re-enchantment are long-running tropes in the intellectual currents of modernity, which I’ve frequently explored in my writing (see here for a quick synopsis of those explorations, and here for an entry point into a discussion on The Immanent Frame, one of the most intelligent blogs exploring these issues).

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Just as the Haitian earthquake was followed by a welter of religious interpretations (fundamentalist Christians blaming sinful Haitians for it, Vodoun practitioners weighing in on the events, etc.), so the Japanese quake-tsunami-meltdown trilogy is offering evidence of humanity’s interpretive propensities.

You may have already seen the YouTube troll video satirizing right-wing Christian responses, which scandalized so many viewers that the young videomaker has apparently gone into hiding. I won’t link to it, since it doesn’t really deserve all the hits, but it’s easy enough to find. The gist of it is that “God is soooo great — we prayed for him to smite his enemies and there he did, smashing those godless Japanese to smithereens.” A lot of viewers couldn’t seem to tell the difference between satire and the real thing, which apparently follows Poe’s Law: one can’t satirize fundamentalist religion without it being taken by some as the real thing, because there are enough instances in which the real thing is as bad as that (Glenn Beck being only the tip of the iceberg).

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I’m reorganizing the piece I wrote for the School of Advanced Research workshop on science, nature, and religion so that part of it will fit into the introduction of the book we are producing (which I’m co-writing with the workshop organizer and chair, Catherine Tucker) and the rest will make up the book’s concluding chapter. The original piece had a coherence to it that will be lost somewhat, so I thought I would share the first couple of sections of it here.

(Graham Harman’s recent comments about the slowness of traditional scholarly publishing versus the rapidity and accessibility of open-access publishing, which reiterate the argument that got me to set up this blog in the first place, has encouraged me to want to share at least something of this SAR event that happened a year and a half ago, and that won’t culminate with a publication for several months still.)

The remainder of this piece, including the “cosmopolitical” argument I alluded to in this post at the time, will remain in the book’s conclusion. You’ll have to wait for the book to read the finished version of that. It will be a very good collection, and I hope SAR Press doesn’t make it too inaccessible for the general public.

Here are a couple of excerpts… View full article »

I’m getting ready to head to Spain, where I’ve been invited to give a talk on “green pilgrimage” at the Fourth Colloquium Compostela. Here’s a brief overview of what I’ll be speaking about.


Green Pilgrimage: Prospects for Ecology and Peace-Building

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What a lovely, touching post Tim Morton has written about his conversion to object-oriented ontology. Since my days of doing religious-studies fieldwork, I’ve always gotten ripples of that nameless mixture of joy, pleasure, and sad melancholy — that feeling of being existentially touched, even pierced — whenever I’ve been around people undergoing conversion experiences (whether they were rolling around on the floor during the Toronto Airport ‘Blessing’, or doing Stan Grof’s LSD-without-the-LSD holotropic breathwork). There’s something about the quality of being around someone who’s undergoing radical, life-changing shifts (or what seem that way at the moment) in their understanding, feeling, appreciation, sensibility, and state of consciousness all at once, which is what religious conversion amounts to. It doesn’t matter that I don’t share their conviction, or may not have any overlap with it at all; I can still relate to that piercedness, that sense of being throttled to the core and finding realignment from the bottom up. (Funny that my fingers keep wanting to spell that word “peircedness“…)

What I like about Tim’s note is the upfrontness by which intellectual conversion is acknowledged as religious in nature (though he doesn’t use that term per se). That doesn’t mean there isn’t a strong, and probably central, intellectual component to it; but it’s religious because it’s more than just intellectual. Conversion, at one and the same time, brings sudden comfort — the comfort of having “arrived home,” without having even known that one was away — and a radical transvaluation that involves a feeling of total openness and vulnerability, a stripping of the self to only the naked essentials, the things that really matter.

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found object

I’ve had more than my share of occasions to write and speak about faith, but it’s generally been about others’ faiths, not my own. Summarizing one’s own can be tricky, at least if one prefers to deal with substance and not with labels. The term itself is slippery: is it intended to cover beliefs about the universe (metaphysics, cosmology), principles and guidelines for action (ethics), or the practices by which those beliefs and principles are inculcated into daily life, either collectively (religion) or individually (spirituality)? Is it some combination of all of these?

Some years ago, inspired by the This I Believe public radio series, I decided to sit down and write up a creed I could sign my name to. Having come across it again recently, I’m happy to see that it still seems sensible to me, so I thought I would share it here. The analyst in me feels like treating it as a found object, unpacking it for the ‘isms’ and ‘ologies’ it covers, even speculating about the person who wrote it. But the point of the exercise is really quite different: it’s to express in everyday terms, pithily and pointedly, the orienting concepts that guide you, without reference to schools of thought or faith traditions or other kinds of things that divide us and pose barriers to dialogue.

Here they are, a few years old but more or less congruent with what I still believe.

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the remainder…

For an indication of why I’m interested in the “more” that object-oriented philosophers grapple with, the “remainder” beyond what can be accounted for of an object or phenomenon through relational accounts, I thought it would be appropriate to share a few paragraphs from my 2001 book Claiming Sacred Ground.

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