Archive | February 2011

‘Society without God? Religion and the Study of Religion in Norway’ (via Religion And Society Edinburgh Network)

This sounds like it is going to be excellent, and hopefully should be relevant to my studies, and build on previous knowledge gleaned from Phil Zuckerman’s “Society Without God” and work by Peter Luchau. Scandinavia has a fascinating religious makeup which doesn’t fit with any standard secularisation or sacralisation models.

Come and find out more :-)

A special Religious Studies lecture: 'Society without God? Religion and the Study of Religion in Norway' Professor Ingvild Sælid Gilhus, University of Bergen Wednesday 16 February at 4pm in the School of Divinity, Martin Hall, New College Ingvild Sælid Gilhus is Professor of the History of Religions in the Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion at the University of Bergen. She is also Vice-president of the International … Read More

via Religion And Society Edinburgh Network

I think I could turn and live with animals…

“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of
owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of
years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.”

From Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, available in full here.

The Sacred Santa

“Del de Chant’s The Sacred Santa (2002) […] disagrees with those who argue that Christmas has been secularised. Rather, de Chant contends that Christians have lost the holiday to a cultural religion in which meaning and value emerges from elaborate practices of commercial acquisition and consumption. He builds a narrative about this ‘religion of consumption’ that helps us make sense of a complex social phenomenon.”

From Mahan, Jeffrey H. 2007. Reflections on the Past and Future of the Study of Religion and Popular Culture. In Between Sacred and Profane: Researching Religion and Popular Culture, ed. Gordon Lynch, 47-62. London: I.B. Tauris, p. 54.

I HAVE to see this book. Seemingly it sums up position on Christmas. Christians do not have a monopoly on the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas. In fact, if anything, the ‘true’ meaning is now what De Chant seems to describe.

Anyone read it?



Carl Sagan on Science, Religion and Meaning

Carl Sagan on our place in the universe, and the relationship between science and religion.

“One of science’s alleged crimes is revealing that our favorite most reassuring stories about our place in the universe and how we came to be are delusional. Instead what science reveals is a universe much older and much vaster than the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors.

We have found from modern astronomy that we live on a tiny hunk of rock and metal, third from the sun, that circles a humdrum star in the obscure outskirts of an ordinary galaxy which contains some 400 billion other stars, which is one of about a 100 billion other galaxies that make up the universe and according to some current views, a universe that is one among an immense number, perhaps an infinite number of other universes.

Also, see here for a review of the recently published collection of Sagan’s essays “Billions and Billions”

In this perspective the idea that our planet is at the center of the universe much less that human purpose is central to the existence of the universe is pathetic. Does life thereby lose all meaning, I think not. I think we make our lives meaningful by the courage of our questions, by the depth of our answers, by how widespread our understanding is of the essential tools for managing our future, for how skeptical we are of those in authority and of our obligation to care for one another.”

See here for the full text.

‘Genuine Social Relationships’ and ‘Anonymity’ Online

“Psychologist Robin Dunbar, in his book, Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language, argues that the figure of 150 people in a typical group has a deeper evolutionary basis. It turns out that 150 is roughly the number of living descendents (wives, husbands, and children) a Palaeolithic couple would produce in four generations at the birthrate of hunter-gatherer peoples. […] Even modern farming communities, like the Hutterites p…] average about 150 people.

[…] Sociologists know that once groups exceed 200 people a hierarchical structure is needed to enforce the rules of cooperation and to deal with offenders, who in the smaller group could be dealt with [160] through informal personal contracts and social pressure. […] Even in the modern world with a population of six billion people crowded into dense cities, people find themselves dividing into small groups. [… It also works for the size of military ‘companies’, and] for the size of small businesses, of departments of larger businesses, of departments in large corporations, and of efficiently run factories. […] The average number of people in any given person’s address book also turns out to be about 150 people.

[…] The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuine social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us. Putting it another way, it’s the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.

[… This] helps explain why people in big cities can get away with being rude, inconsiderate, and uncooperative – they are anonymous and thus not subject to the normal checks and balances hat come with seeing the same people every day.”

Shermer, Michael. 1999. How we Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science. New York: W.H. Freeman, pp. 159-160.

I am sure that many people will have written on this matter since 1999… since the internet became an ever increasing ‘big deal’ for most of us living in the West. However, this did throw up a couple of interesting thoughts for me:

1) What does this say about those people who ‘collect’ friends on Facebook? I know I used to be guilty of that. In fact I really need to do another purge. Currently I am standing at 482 ‘friends’, although I imagine I ‘know’ literally half of them if not even a smaller proportion. I guess it’s most telling when you see a Facebook ‘friend’ walk past you on the street and you both make a conscious effort not to get the other’s attention so that you don’t have to have that awkward conversation where you realise neither of you actually know anything about the other. Not that I think this is always a bad thing… it has certainly been great for getting in touch with some long-lost friends from school, and family members etc. But, to use one example, I have a ‘friend’ on Facebook who currently has 1818 friends. How on earth could you actually have a relationship with any of these people? Why collect them all and why feel the need to tell them things about your life? I actually deleted this person a while back… because I don’t in any way know them… we were involved in a short-term project over three years ago. It seemed natural for us to ‘move on’. However, they then felt the need to ‘add’ me again, and ask why I had deleted them in the first place! I told them why and accepted their persistent request… maybe they are reading this? Who knows… but this must say something about our contemporary need for validation from people we normally wouldn’t care in the slightest about. It’s… sad…

2) This also says something generally about the way people treat the internet. Online you are, in many situations, anonymous. And this has led to people having a remarkable lack of respect and tact… but equally it has given people a place to voice their opinions in situations where they might not have felt able to (such as, topically, in Egypt). However, these attitudes have also started to seep into situations where people are not anonymous… Twitter and Facebook being prime examples. I imagine it will be a few years before the legal system works out how to deal with things that people say in the spur of the moment online without really thinking things through…

Think about it…




Satanism conference (Stockholm University, Sweden, Sept 25-27, 2011)

Satanism is a subject that has always drawn a lot of media attention as
well as interest from the general public. Scholarly studies of the subject,
however, have more often focused on socially constructed “Satanic Panics” than on Satanism as a religious alternative in itself. Recently, this has begun to change, and anthologies such as “Contemporary Religious Satanism” (Ed. Jesper A Petersen, Ashgate, 2009) have started to fill the gaps in scholarly knowledge concerning Satanism. A further attempt to remedy the situation was made when the first ever international scholarly conference on Satanism was organized in Trondheim, Norway, in 2009. The conference was a great success, and resulted in an anthology that will be published by Oxford University Press later this year. In September 2011, we welcome you to Stockholm, Sweden for the follow-up to 2009’s gathering of specialists.

Keynote speaker: Marco Pasi

Deadline for abstracts: May 22, 2011. Submit your abstract to: and (remember to submit abstracts to both organisers).

Papers dealing with most aspects of Satanism are welcome (including Satanism in literature, cinema, etc). However, we discourage papers treating “the Satanic panic”, “Satanic ritual abuse”, etc, as these themes have received sufficient scholarly attention.

Conference fee will be announced later.

Darwin on the innateness of ‘religion’

“The belief in God has often been advanced as not only the greatest, but the most complete of all the distinctions between man and the lower animals. It is however impossible, as we have seen, to maintain that this belief is innate or instinctive in man. On the other hand a belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies seems to be universal; and apparently follows from a considerable advance in the reasoning power of man, and from a still greater advance in his faculties of imagination, curiosity and wonder.”

From Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, Vol. II, 1871, p. 395

Science as a Myth of Our Time

It has been a long time since I posted anything… clearly I have been busy. This is just a flying post, with a long quotation from Michael Shermer, which expresses something quite simple but profound.

“In fact, science is a type of myth if we think of myths as stories about ourselves and our origins (and not in the pejorative sense of myths as things “untrue”). Many gain considerable emotional, even “spiritual,” satisfaction from reading scientific articles and books by geologists about the creation of the Earth, by palaeontologists about the evolution of life, by paleoanthropologists about human origins, by archaeologists about the genesis of civilisation, by historians about the development of culture, and especially by cosmologists about the origins of the universe. Tens of millions of people watch Carl Sagan’s 1980 Cosmos series with rapt attention. In 1997 the PBS series Stephen Hawking’s Universe gripped viewers every Monday night. Books on evolution by Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Donald Johanson, and Edward O. Wilson are eagerly sought by readers and often find themselves on bestseller lists. Why? Because at these boundaries of scientific knowledge the lines between science, myth, and religion begin to blur as we ask ultimate questions about ourselves, our origins, and our place in the cosmos.”

Shermer, Michael. 1999. How we Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science. New York: W.H. Freeman, p. 29.

I think I have mentioned this before, but the way in which many people gobble up books on evolution, cognitive science, cosmology etc does seem to suggest an overriding underlying human need for narrative.  This narrative might have been provided in the past by religion, but now more and more are turning to other forms of narrative. This is not to say that religion is ‘right’… just that it might fulfill a fundamental human function which can be replaced with other narratives…

Worth a think, eh?


The World of Islam and the West (via Religion And Society Edinburgh Network)

I’ll be going to this one! Some epic names on there that it would be great to put a face to. Thoroughly recommended. 8th March… be there.

You are invited to ‘THE WORLD OF ISLAM AND THE WEST’, a panel event introduced by the Principal, Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, and with contributions from the Directors of all six of the Alwaleed Centres worldwide, namely Prof John Esposito (Georgetown University), Prof Roy Mottahedeh (Harvard University), Dr Robert Myers (American University of Beirut), Dr Jerry Leach (American University in Cairo), Prof Yasir Suleiman (University of Cambridge) … Read More

via Religion And Society Edinburgh Network