2/27/2009 11:54:43 AM
With 40 percent of the world’s 7,000 languages in danger of extinction, the recording of endangered languages is becoming ever more important to linguistic research. Anthony Kaufman previews for Seed the documentary The Linguists, which examines the global issue of language endangerment and loss. This PBS documentary prominently features two researchers who locate speakers of rare languages and record them: K. David Harrison and Greg Anderson, of the nonprofit Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. Harrison and Anderson are amassing an online dictionary of remote languages, which includes sound files of native speakers. Interestingly, Anderson also cites technology like Youtube, text messaging, and chat rooms as increasingly popular ways for communities to share and thereby preserve endangered languages.
Source: Seed, PBS, Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages
2/24/2009 12:51:26 PM
An anonymous guerilla artist known as Princess Hijab has been drawing dark veils, or “hijabizing,” the scantily clad and sexualized women who appear on advertising around Paris. “Princess Hijab knows that L’Oréal and Dark&Lovely have been killing her little by little,” according to the artist’s website. Her response is more anti-corporate than religious, but in a city with a history of tension surrounding headscarves, the religious implications are inevitable.
“There’s no way of knowing if Princess Hijab is a hijabi. Or even a Muslim,” Ethar wrote for the excellent Muslimah Media Watch blog back in December. That aspect makes the project more intriguing. The artist describes herself as “not involved in any lobby or movement be it political, religious or to do with advertising.” In fact, if she’s not a Muslim, Ethar writes that she could lend “credibility to the idea that the dislike of being exposed to ‘visual aggression’ is not necessarily rooted in religious belief.”
Since she was profiled on the Muslimah Media Watch blog, her Flicker page and her Art Review profiles have been taken down, but more information is available from an interview with Menassat.
(Thanks, the Scoop.)
Image courtesy of Princess Hijab.
Sources: Princess Hijab, Muslimah Media Watch, Menassat
2/23/2009 12:28:45 PM
In an essay for Religion Dispatches, Daniel Schultz argues that Barack Obama’s political hope-mongering is too shallow for our troubled times, and less useful than a theological approach to hope, which would concentrate on “imagining a new way altogether” rather than “fixing what already exists.” While lacking in specifics on what that new way might look like, Schultz calls on “progressive believers” to take back “‘hope’ as a theological category” in a way politicians can’t:
For what goes unstated in Obama’s vision of hope, indeed in all the visions of hope that spill from the mouths of politicians, is the shocking, unsettling idea that perhaps we can’t. Not alone, anyway. The things we hope for the most in our lives—our health, our wealth, our security, our happiness—cannot always be reached or worked or fought for. They are the gifts of a good and gracious God. And hope—real, honest, gritty hope—consists not in the Pollyannish belief that these things can be realized if only we try hard enough, but in the hard-nosed assertion that God purposes them for the good of all people. Hope results in the immoderate belief that any and all barriers to the realization of that purpose must be torn down now. Moreover, it results in the troubling assertion that our end goal is to do the tearing down.
… Hope, finally, is also the quiet assurance that God always gets what she wants in the end. What economic downturn can stand against that?
Source: Religion Dispatches
2/20/2009 12:08:16 PM
“Suppose you spent 1 million dollars every single day starting from the day Jesus was born, and kept spending through today…You would still have spent less money than Congress just spent.” This comparison opens an anti-stimulus package television ad launched today by the conservative American Issues Project.
By invoking Jesus’ name, the ad suggests that he too would have been opposed to the stimulus plan. It is jarring to think of Jesus—who wasn’t a huge proponent of storing up treasures on earth—spending one million dollars every single day. (Are we to assume that Jesus would have spent nearly all of one day’s million-dollar allowance on this ad?)
What’s odd is that the ad says nothing substantive about Jesus’ views on money. Instead, it manipulates people by referencing Jesus in an ad that’s really about objections to economic policy; it’s a classic example of the unlikely marriage between fiscal conservatives and conservative Christians.
It’s hard to know whether or not the stimulus package will work, let alone what Jesus would have thought of it.
Maybe he would have said something like, “Sell all you possess and distribute it to the poor,” or “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Or he could have looked to Jerusalem’s history for past leaders’ responses to crises. Like when King Jehoash hired carpenters and masons to repair the temple after a period of civil turmoil, or when Nehemiah ended exploitative lending practices and returned peoples’ mortgaged land to them during a famine.
2/19/2009 4:09:07 PM
Social scientists find it helpful to think of ideas and religions spreading like infectious diseases. Phrases like “going viral” and “tipping points” are often used to describe the spread of memes. Though many religious adherents are loath to admit it, Sam Kean writes for Search Magazine that “genes, germs, and memes of religious ideas all seem to spread through societies in the same way.”
One social scientist takes the idea a step further, saying that real diseases (the kind spread by microbes) help explain the spread of religions. Corey Fincher points out that diseases are more common in places near the equator, and there’s a vast disparity of religions in those regions, too. Up north, in places like Norway, both diseases and religious diversity are less common. Fincher believes that this is not a fluke. People tend to isolate themselves from others to stay away from diseases, and isolation breeds new ideas, so a greater number of diseases would lead to a wider variety of religions.
Even with plenty of research, most people wouldn’t cite disease as the reason for their religious beliefs. But as Harvey Whitehouse, an Oxford University anthropologist points out, “It’s not that what people say is wrong, it’s that it’s often a poor guide to people’s implicit beliefs.
Image by Orange Tuesday, licensed under Creative Commons.
Source: Search Magazine
2/18/2009 3:28:30 PM
Since its release, The Wrestler has been lavished with critical praise and attention. For all the commentary, though, S. Brent Plate thinks reviewers have neglected a crucial thread of analysis—namely, what he sees as the film’s obvious religious undertones. In a compelling essay for Religion Dispatches, he discusses the Christian symbolism of The Wrestler and why critics have such trouble talking about it.
In Plate’s mind, the religious references aren’t particularly subtle. He wonders:
“[D]id the reviewers blink their eyes, or reach down for another bite of popcorn, at the images of a tattooed Jesus Christ on Randy’s back? Or the ‘Job’ (pronounced with long ‘o’) inked into the skin of his middle finger? Or the white fleece vest he wears on his entrance into his final fight?”
It might be easy to chalk up the silence to religious illiteracy, but Plate believes something more complicated is going on. He argues that people tend to connect religion with the mind and spirit, while viewing the body as more earthly and mundane. From such a perspective, it might be difficult to read The Wrestler—with its visceral focus on the body—as a religious film.
Sources: Religion Dispatches
2/16/2009 12:49:37 PM
As the baby boomers who embraced Buddhism in the wake of the Vietnam War age, many wonder what American Buddhism will look like in coming years.
Buddhism today is not as counter-cultural as it was in the 60s and 70s; words like karma and zen are part of our vernacular, and meditation and mindfulness practice are mainstream. But while younger generations may include more dabblers in Buddhist thought, there are fewer full-fledged converts and formally trained teachers, pushing American Buddhism further to the Oprah side of the religion to self-help continuum.
The Winter 2008 issue of Buddhadharma includes a forum on “the future of Buddhism in a post-baby boomer world” (excerpt only online). Four Buddhist practitioners of various ages discuss the current state of Buddhism, the future of the dharma when the baby boomers are gone, and ways of making it more relevant and inviting to young people.
A few highlights:
On the tension between popularized Buddhism and its traditional forms:
Norman Fischer: [In America today] there is mindfulness training of various kinds and lots of research on mindfulness and health…So, a perspective that you can define very broadly as Buddhist is now one of the key streams in our society. Somebody might say that…isn’t really Buddhism. I wouldn’t argue that it is, but I would say that it’s heavily Buddhist-inflected. Far from waning or atrophying, then, I’d say Buddhism is morphing and becoming more and more important all the time.
Sumi Loundon Kim: As Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and other aspects of the Buddhist tradition become diffused and permeated throughout mainstream society, at what point do we say that it is Buddhism anymore?
Sumi Loundon Kim: There is something appealing about the integrity of a tradition that has liturgy, cosmology, ethics, and practices that have been developed over the centuries so that they work together to transform a person. In the wake of globalization and the dissolution of tradition, there will be people who will seek the roots that come with a tradition.
Iris Brilliant: But I’m also excited when any group of young people wants to get together and learn just about the techniques of meditation...even if they’re doing it in a secular and detached way.
On efforts to reach out to younger generations:
Rod Meade Sperry: There are young people retreats and people of color retreats and queer retreats, and that’s certainly not a bad thing, but it sometimes misses the point. If you’re a young person and your best bet is to join a retreat like that, which means that the practice community doesn’t really include you, it’s like being relegated to the kids’ table at a family function. It’s nice, but it’s also sort of dismissive. What do you do when you’re sent off to the kids’ table? You either sneak off with the other kids and go play, or you find that one cool uncle who will chat you up. What dharma centers need are more cool uncles, more people who will automatically bring younger voices into the everyday life of their sangha.
Sumi Loundon Kim: I have a beef about the whole dharma scene being so meditation-oriented and retreat- and program-oriented. As a mother of young children, I have no time for retreats…There’s a pretty strongly antisocial or nonsocial component to dharma centers in general. I don’t understand how anybody…can really feel like they’re part of a community.
Iris Brilliant: I think socially engaged Buddhism will be a strong driving force for younger people...People are using practice, especially mindfulness, in a way that is deeply intertwined with social justice.
2/13/2009 2:58:24 PM
Church and state are becoming increasingly intertwined in Georgia, reports EurasiaNet, noting that “the Georgian Orthodox Church has become one of the most prominent actors in Georgia’s social and political life.”
Church patriarchs have gotten involved in political frays; the church gets $15 million a year from the state budget; and 86 percent of Georgians consider the Orthodox patriarchy to be Georgia’s most trustworthy institution, according to Molly Corso at EurasiaNet, the Soros-funded news outlet we turn to for rock-solid reporting about the “Stans” and all their neighbors at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
“Now it is much more difficult to say you are atheist, for example, than it was four or six years ago,” Georgian sociologist Giorgi Nijaradze, who conducted the poll, tells EurasiaNet. “People consider themselves obliged to declare their respect toward the church; they are very afraid to say something against it.”
Corso reports on an instance in which the church allegedly exerted pressure on state media, but no matter the depth of church-state collusion, it’s clear even at a glance that Georgians are undergoing a religious rebirth.
“On the streets of Tbilisi, public expressions of faith are becoming ever more commonplace,” she writes. “Pedestrians and drivers alike routinely stop in front of churches—or within sight of a church—to cross themselves.”
Image by Temo Bardzimashvili, courtesy of EurasiaNet.
2/13/2009 1:51:56 PM
It’s not news that the Catholic Church faces a priest shortage. Advocates for married priests have been met with indifference. Advocates for women priests have been met with hostility—even excommunication. Some desperate American bishops are now turning to foreign-born priests, effectively making the United States "mission territory."
The U.S. Catholic reports on the trend and all of its complications:
"International priests seem to be most common in the West, the South, and the New York City area, according to Dean Hoge, sociologist at American Catholic University in Washington and a noted expert on the priesthood.
"Father Richard McBrien, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame ... sees it as part of a pragmatic strategy of 'certain conservative bishops who are desperate for more priests but who cannot even consider the possibility of married priests, much less women priests. It’s a Band-Aid approach to the priest shortage because it fails to address the systemic causes of the vocations crisis.'
"Sister Christine Schenk, C.S.J., whose Cleveland-based reform group, FutureChurch, advocates optional celibacy for priests and ordination of women, says it’s unjust that so many priests come from developing countries, where they are needed far more. Priest-to-parishioner ratios in Europe and North America are about 1-to-1,400 but can be as high as 1 to 4,800 in Africa."
Realistically though, some have a hard time speaking English, and others are finding it difficult to assimilate to American culture, who are sometimes only here for three years before heading back to their native country. One frustrated parishioner in the Dallas-area who struggled to decipher the weekly sermon, set up a fund in his wife’s name entitled the Mary O’Malley Memorial Accent Reduction Program.
“There are just a handful of intensive cultural orientation programs” like the one at St. John’s University in New York. “During the first week of June each year at St. John’s Queens campus, 25 to 30 foreign priests spend five days studying a broad range of topics that include church development in the United States, psychological issues and personal growth, and interpersonal and cross-cultural communication.”
Historically, the idea of missionaries heading to America is not a new thing, as many have come to serve their native immigrant populations and are well aware of their parishioner's cultural identity. Nowadays most congregations have long been assimilated--and they want a leader who can speak their language.
2/13/2009 11:25:28 AM
When the organization Islamicity.com organized a hajj in the video game Second Life, pilgrims were faced with a question: Is a religious experience possible with a virtual avatar dressed in a Batman costume? In an article for Religion Dispatches, Rachel Wagner explores some of the strange issues involved in virtual spirituality. Wagner taught a class called “Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality,” where she led her students on the virtual hajj in the game Second Life. Unfortunately, the avatar she used was dressed in a Batman costume. Considering her class, and religiously themed video games both banal and disturbing, Wagner eventually concludes that spiritually enriching experiences are possible online, but it “must in some way change how we live our lives offline.”
Source: Religion Dispatches
2/13/2009 11:24:59 AM
Dan Leonard is an activist with all the right credentials: he’s been to Palestine, he’s worked with the poor in Uganda, he could claim roots in a notoriously poor neighborhood of Philadelphia. Leonard’s father is a “middle class, Republican, suburban evangelical.” In an essay in the latest issue of Geez, Leonard dissects his years of “empire toppling activities,” an exercise inspired by a transformative moment on a bridge with his father:
“On my most recent trip home, fresh back from Palestine, I met my father outside the train station. The bridge leading from the train station to my father’s office is home to many homeless folk, and as we approached bridge I reached in my pocket for change with the intention proving something to my dad. But as we crossed the bridge, I noticed that each homeless person we passed greeted my father by name.
“He was a celebrity on the bridge. And not a single person asked him for money. It occurred to me that he did something few activists do—walk the same path five days a week for 30 years.
“We stopped and talked to one woman, Rona. My dad introduced me and she mentioned that she had heard all about my upcoming marriage and my work with the church. She was not particularly interested in my work with the poor, but instead told me how wonderful my father was.
“I realized later that for all the times I had protested in support of the poor, not one poor person in Philadelphia knew me by name.
“It teaches me to stay in one place. Transience is dead. Activism belongs to those who have committed their lives to people and who have learned to stay put.”
2/12/2009 4:11:59 PM
Historically, sex has been subject to strict personal and religious rules. Just 50 years ago, a person’s sex life was thought of as a direct reflection of moral standing and character. Food, on the other hand, was a matter of personal choice. People ate what they were going to eat, and it wasn’t a matter of public concern.
Today, however, the societal rules surrounding food and sex have switched, Mary Eberstadt writes for the Hoover Institution Policy Review. Proper food consumption has become a moral imperative, with vegetarians, vegans, and locavores playing the roles of ethical evangelists. Sex has become a matter of personal choice, one that is best left to the people involved. This dynamic, according to Eberstadt, has resulted in a the popularization of “mindful eating, and mindless sex.”
The problem, Eberstadt writes, is that both food and sex, “if pursued without regard to consequence, can prove ruinous not only to oneself, but also to other people, and even to society itself.”
, licensed under
Source: Hoover Institution
2/11/2009 11:23:45 AM
Lou Rawls famously sang, “Love Is a Hurting Thing.” Little did he know that he was illuminating the Buddha’s second noble truth—that suffering comes from attachment. Mitra Bishop-sensei writes for Buddhadharma that the same is true of cheesy Spanish-language pop songs, including “Que Duele Querer,” or “How painful [it is] to love?” Bishop-sensei writes about how Buddhists should strive for “unconditional love” one that is free from attachment and can be extended to the whole world.
And here's Lou Rawls:
2/11/2009 9:53:36 AM
In the latest issue of Tikkun, Josephine Donovan illuminates animal ethics through a feminist lens. Developed in the 1980s largely in response to books like Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights, the feminist approach to animal care interrogates systems that govern human interaction with animals, such as hierarchical dualism, which values humans over animals. Donovan questions Singer and Regan’s utilization of natural rights theory to justify their arguments, since it assumes an inherent similarity between humans and animals in order to defend the individual rights of animals. She calls for an animal care ethic that instead recognizes the differences between humans and animals without privileging one over the other. In this way feminist engagement with animal care theory attends to both the suffering of individual animals and the political and economic systems which support that suffering.
It should be interesting to note how evolving language around the ethical treatment of animals will infuse related issues, such as sustainable agriculture and global food supply.
2/5/2009 2:56:57 PM
Before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, Genesis says they “were both naked, and were not ashamed.” Once they gained knowledge of good and evil, they immediately covered themselves with fig leaves. This shows, according to Alan Jacobs in Cabinet, “Even fear of God’s wrath must be set aside so that the shame of nakedness can be removed.”
Adam and Eve’s reactions to their own nudity reveal the human connection between nudity and shame, Jacobs writes. Both of them tried to deflect the wrongdoing onto someone else: Adam onto Eve, and Eve onto the Serpent. This is a different reaction from feeling guilty, where one feels more personal responsibility. Shame is all about the exposure of wrongdoing. Jacobs writes, “Guilt must be learned; shame, it appears, comes naturally.”
2/3/2009 8:48:30 PM
Unlike many Americans, Russians don't put on their happy face for the benefit of strangers. In fact, Russians seldom crack smiles in public, but that doesn't mean they've come down with "a nationwide case of the blues," reports Marina Krakovsky for Psychology Today.
While the sharp difference in the number of smiling citizens you'll encounter in public places in the United States and Russia can’t be explained by a wide gap in general happiness, it could be attributed to differences in the ways we separate our public and private lives. Krakovsky points to a psychological study that found that in group-oriented cultures, like Russia, people tend to express less emotion in public because “tamping down emotional displays reinforces the borders between friends and strangers, which in collectivist societies are hard to cross.” In the States, where “relationships come and go more easily,” people tend to be more expressive, even with strangers.
Krakovsky notes that Russians’ straight-faced public demeanor could also have grown out of a number of other aspects of Russian life—their rough history or severe climate, for instance. However it became ingrained in the national psyche, it’s a custom guided by an unwritten code of conduct, Russian linguist Iosif Sternin told Psychology Today. That code says showing off one’s dimples isn’t a way “to lift another’s spirits,” and that it's only done “for good reason.”
2/2/2009 5:18:23 PM
Ever wonder what life would be like living in a convent as a nun? Well, Sisters at the San Jose convent in Southern Spain are opening their doors to a world wide audience. You can watch the nuns reading, praying, baking and sewing with Spanish messages overlaid the still pictures. Russia Today reports that the mother superior, Mother Isabel, turned to the internet to entice new members to the profession, and help save their 14th century convent from closing. She says, “If the rest of the world is on the internet, then why shouldn’t we be there too?”
For the record, the nuns posted their video several weeks before the Vatican jumped on YouTube.
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