Tag Archive | secularity

The Place of Religion in the Public Square: Schools, Symbols and Secularists

I read the following in a mailing that I received from the AHS – The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies.

Bishops Demand “Public Faith”

This week, three bishops are leading calls for the Church of England to make a public statement which defends the right of Christians to wear a cross. They have signed a motion condemning the “silencing” of outward displays of Christianity in Britain, and a “growing trend” towards the “restriction of religious liberty” which is to be debated at the Church’s national assembly.

The motion cites “ludicrous” cases of Christian practices and symbols being forbidden, saying attempts to scrap prayers at council meetings and to ban employees from wearing the cross could ultimately lead to religion being confined to the home. Read more about this story here.

What is publicly permissable is not always professionally appropriate – this is the key point which the motion fails to recognise. Leading a communal prayer in a church is an expression of public freedom – leading a communal prayer in a council meeting, with no reason to presume that everyone present wishes to pray along with you, is professionally inappropriate. No one would give a second glance to a person wearing a cross in public – but if that person happens to be a schoolteacher, with a responsibility to provide students with an education free from personal bias, then they have no business wearing it at work.

While the necessity to restrict religious expression may vary from one profession to the next, it remains a question of professional etiquette, NOT an attack on public freedom. Discriminating the attire and behaviour of employees is an essential part of any successful workplace…

…that’s why you can’t play your tambourine in the office.

I’m afraid I have to take issue with some of this. As regards communal prayer at council meetings – spot on. Of course people who do not wish to pray should not be made to sit through this. And what business does a secular council have bringing prayer in anyway? And what is with this assumption that one person’s prayer will work for another? If people want to pray at council meetings, they are welcome to. But communal prayers seem entirely inappropriate.

What I take issue with is the stance on the wearing of religious symbols. How does wearing an item of jewellery or some specific type of clothing mean that your teaching suddenly has bias? Really… how does it? So children can look at you and assume that you might have a personal stance… it may even provoke them to ask you about it. But that doesn’t mean that they are being taught the teacher’s own personal opinions. This is just utter nonsense. Many people who wear crosses don’t wear them for religious reasons anyway… they look cool, thanks to years of vampire movies and goth culture.

Do religious symbols cause offense?

Boiling it down to basics – if you don’t believe in the efficacy of a symbol, or in the belief system which it represents, why should it offend you? Or if you are an atheist parent worried that your child might see a cross, ask about it and then be converted… would you remove all crosses from public media, buildings, etc? Maybe you would… but surely that says more about your confidence in your own ability as a parent than about people’s right to wear what they want.

I somehow feel the reaction would have been a bit different if the teachers in question were wearing those atheist “A” pin badges, or an evolution t-shirt or something. Then they would be hailed as a hero for taking a stand against the unjust system and professing the truth. But maybe that is just me being judgemental.

I can understand an employer stepping in to tell a member of staff to take off a necklace with a severed head on it… or to stop wearing a t-shirt with swear words on when they are teaching children. But this is just a matter of common sense. A cross… that’s not offensive. A Qur’an in the classroom… that’s not offensive. A t-shirt which says ‘Jesus Saves’, ‘Dharma Dude’, “Manchester United’ or ‘Vote Conservative’ isn’t offensive. One which says ‘All homosexuals burn in hell’ is. It’s all about degrees.

But bringing things back to rather bias… perhaps you think that religious issues should be kept out of the classroom? Well.. yes… except where they are taught in Religious Studies, Philosophy, History, Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology etc. Religions are social facts and should be taught as such. They are part of history, part of culture… part of many, many people’s lives and simply must be studied. Should a teacher put their own spin on it and/or tell children about their own faith/lack of faith? Well… no, not generally. However, in real life things are not that simple. But what if the children ask? Is it better that they lie? Or just keep deflecting questions? You tell me…

Sorry. Rant over.

NSRN Launch New Website!

I have been working on this website for months now, and launch day has finally happened! It would be great if you could all take a look and let me know what you think :)

NSRN Launch New Website!.

Upcoming Conferences on Secularities, Information & Religion, Multi-Faith Spaces, and Antropology of Religion

Multiple Secularities and Global Interconnectedness, University of Leipzig, 13 – 15 October 2011

In this conference, we further the debate on secularism and secularity by focusing on the challenges arising from globalization and different forms of interconnectedness. Discussing these challenges from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective, the conference addresses, amongst other topics, path dependencies and their transformations; vernacular secularities and the vexing question of translatability and interculturality; the usefulness of the ‘Multiple Modernities’ approach as well as the complex interfaces between secularism, colonialism and post-colonial culture.

The conference will start with an opening session on Thursday, 13 October, at 18:00 and end with a plenary session on Saturday, 15 October, at 17:00. The conference is open to all interested participants. Registration can be done through the conference website. The participation fee is 25euro, which includes coffee in the breaks.

http://www.uni-leipzig.de/~cas/de/annual-conference

Second Annual International Conference on Information & Religion

Theme: Preservation and Access: Facilitating Research in Information and Religion
Keynote: Carisse Berryhill, Ph.D., Special Collections Librarian, Abilene Christian University
May 18-19, 2012 ~ Kent State University, Kent, OH

Call for Papers and Posters


The Center for the Study of Information and Religion (CSIR) will host its Second Annual International Conference on Information and Religion in May 2012. This call for papers seeks original contributions in all areas related to information and religion. The conference theme invites participants to share their work in a variety of areas in which scholars are exploring the intersections of religion and information. Topics that might be addressed include but are not limited to the following:

  • Preserving and making available religious texts and information objects associated with communities of faith;
  • Social uses and appropriations made of these texts and objects;
  • The information-seeking behavior of clergy;
  • The role of the sermon as an influential communication medium in society; case studies in the sermon preparation task;
  • Information in its application to local congregations as communities of practice;
  • Faith and many types of intelligence (e.g., emotional intelligence);
  • Dissemination of  faith messages;
  • Intersections of interests in the study of information and religion, where different disciplines might find it worthwhile to collaborate in research.


Prospective participants are encouraged to submit abstracts that report on recent research and scholarship. Contributions to this call for papers should not have been previously published. We also welcome proposals for poster presentations. There are no restrictions on research methodology.

Instructions for submitting refereed paper or poster extended abstracts: The abstract should be no longer than 250 words (including research question, methods, results). Include the title of the paper/poster, names, affiliations, and contact information of the authors (with one author to be designated as the contact for the paper). Submit abstracts in PDF or Word format by Dec. 31, 2011, to Dr. Rosemary Du Mont, CSIR Associate, at rdumont@kent.edu. Notification of acceptance: February 1, 2012.

Papers accepted for presentation at the conference will be considered for publication in ASIR (Advances in the Study of Information and Religion). Details regarding submission of full papers will be given to those whose abstracts are accepted for conference presentation. Please note: Presenters are responsible for their own expenses related to the conference, including but not limited to registration fees, lodging, transportation and meals.

For more information, please contact Dr. Don Wicks (dwicks@kent.edu), Interim Director of SLIS and Director of CSIR, or Dr. Dan Roland (droland1@kent.edu), CSIR Primary Researcher.

http://csir.slis.kent.edu

International Conference on Multi-Faith Spaces, 21st – 22nd March 2012, University of Manchester, UK
This conference will bring together key outputs from the three year research project Multi-Faith Spaces: Symptoms & Agents of Religious and Social Change, funded by the AHRC/ESRC under the Religion and Society Programme. The project considers how individuals from different religious and cultural backgrounds might be brought together, concretely, within new types of ‘faith space’ that are often simultaneously religious, spiritual and secular. The conference will coincide with the launch of a touring photographic exhibition.
Further details can be found at: www.manchester.ac.uk/mfs
In addition to presenting our findings, we hope to encourage contributions from stakeholders within the extended project, alongside a number of individuals working in the area of multi-faith provision (from academic, professional or practitioner backgrounds). To facilitate conversations across disciplinary boundaries, we envisage a range of attendees and contributors from academia, architectural practice, chaplaincy, interior design, public policy, and a host of other fields.
We are currently preparing our programme, and would welcome expressions of interest within the following areas (note: this list is not exhaustive, and other contributions are encouraged):
– Multi-faith theologies and spatial practice
– Theorising multi-faith space
– The architecture of multi-faith space
– Design and ‘best practice’ issues in multi-faith space
– Public policy around multi-faith space
– Multi-faith space as sacred space
– The management of multi-faith space
Please indicate whether you would be interested in:
     Contributing a long paper (20 min. presentation)
     Contributing a short paper (10 min. presentation)
     Taking part in a panel
     Contributing to a workshop
     Attendance only
Further information regarding registration and programme will be sent in early October 2011. We currently envisage that there will be no cost for the conference itself, with limited bursaries for meals/refreshments, travel and accommodation, considered on a case-by-case basis.
Researching Religion: Methodological Debates in Anthropology and the Study of Religion
When: October 18-19, 2011
Where: Aarhus Universitet
Website: http://aal.au.dk/antro/conference-2011-researching-religion/Invited speakers from abroad include:
  •    Joel Kahn, La Trobe University
  •    Joseph Bulbulia, Victoria University of Wellington
  •    Webb Keane, University of Michigan
  •    Ann Taves, University of California-Santa Barbara
  •    William Waldron, Middlebury College
  •    David Wulff, Wheaton College
  •    Michael Lambek, University of Toronto (keynote speaker)
Local participants will likely include:

  •    Sally Anderson, Educational Anthropology
  •    Martijn van Beek, Anthropology
  •    Jørn Borup, Religion
  •    Nils Bubandt, Anthropology
  •    Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger, Religion
  •    Armin W. Geertz, Religion
  •    Else-Marie Jegindø, Religion
  •    Hans Jørgen Lundager Jensen, Theology and Religion
  •    Jeppe Sinding Jensen, Religion
  •    Maria Louw, Anthropology
  •    Anders Klostergaard Petersen, Religion
  •    Andreas Roepstorff, Anthropology
  •    Marianne Schleicher, Religion
  •    Jesper Sørensen, Religion
  •    Cameron David Warner, Anthropology

For more information, please contact Cameron David Warner, etncw@hum.au.dk

Qualitative Methods for Nonreligion Studies

For anyone vaguely interested, I have another publication. It’s freely available to download. If you are interested in the wide variety of research being currently conducted into Nonreligion from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives, then I suggest you give it a look.

Report: Qualitative Methods (NSRN Methods for Nonreligion and Secularity Series)  PPSIS, University of Cambridge, 14 December 2011

I have also added this paper, and another, to my recently created Academia.edu page.