Tuesday, November 06, 2007

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

A few images from the Hortus Deliciarum

Here are a few images from the "ladder of virtues" from the Hortus Deliciarum, which Lindberg refers to in the introduction to the first chapter of the sourcebook. (CIE students: don't panic, this is for my other class.)

Go to ImageShack® to Create your own Slideshow

Notes on writing a blog post (for CIE and RELS-365 students)

So... you've got this assignment: write two "blog posts" per week. But what's a blog post? You've been told it's an "online journal entry", but that could mean a lot of different things. Well, here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, keep in mind that the purpose of the assignment is to create a loose structure -- and I emphasize loose -- for reflective thought. In other words, if you're actually thinking about the material and about the questions it raises, and some of that thinking can be recognized and comprehended by someone reading what you've written, you're probably doing fine. There isn't a single clear goal here other than encouraging open-minded, probing thought. The assignment is intentionally open-ended, and not just because I want to drive you crazy.

Okay, fine. But what are you supposed to do? Start by following these steps.

Make sure you have some free time to think and write. Give yourself, oh, an hour or so. Also, make sure you've already done the relevant reading. Don't try to sit down, race through the reading assignment, and then dash off a post. Instead, read first, and then give it a little time to sink in; then write.

Ask yourself: what seems interesting about this? Try thinking in terms of connections. How does it connect with what the class has been discussing? Or with the previous readings? Or with things going on in the "real" world, or even things in your own life, past or present? What seems strange, or familiar, or surprising, or just wrong about it? Do you have any idea why this text was assigned in this course?
Brainstorm. For me, if I'm drawing a blank, I make a list. That's always the easiest way to get started at this stage. I use either paper or a computer, and I just try to write down, in a fairly condensed form, whatever pops into my head about the topic. Usually, a pattern will start to emerge after a few minutes. Often, though, I skip the list-making step and just start writing.

What are the characteristics of a good blog entry? Here are a few.

  1. You should care about what you're saying, and the reader should be able to tell that you care. (Or, if you're very talented, you may be able to do a wonderful job faking that you care, but that's hard to pull off, and I don't encourage it.) If you're just writing because it's an assignment you've got to finish, and you really don't give a damn, the reader will know, because your writing will be very, very boring.
  2. Remember that blogs -- course blogs like this, anyhow -- are supposed to be open-ended, probing, and questioning in nature. Don't be hesitant to ask more questions than you answer; there's nothing wrong with that. In fact it's usually a good thing. Even if you feel you're rambling and haven't figured out what the point is, try to stick with it. You may discover something insightful.
  3. The flip-side of this is: stay away from simple yes-or-no, thumbs-up-or-down questions. Merely stating a preference is rarely a fruitful way to explore a new idea. Your reaction to a text may well begin with "I liked this" or "I didn't like this," but try not to let it end there -- ask yourself why you feel the way you do and what that says about the text, about your own convictions, or about the world you live in.
  4. Explore points of seeming contradiction, confusion, and conflict. If you find yourself taking sides in some sort of argument, challenge yourself to see it from the other side as well. If the text seems to contradict itself, try to discover a perspective from which the contradiction might seem less problematic.
  5. Be aware, and respectful, of your own and others' feelings. Don't try to write dispassionately about a text you hate; admit that you hate it, and see if you can figure out why you react so strongly. If you liked something but others despised it, again, ask why.

You may notice that the principles I'm laying out here are not that different from the ideas we discussed in the opening class sessions about what makes a discussion productive and interesting: open-endedness, respect, willingness to explore new ideas and to ask questions that don't have clear answers. In a way, a good blog post is like a conversation: with the text itself; with yourself about the text; with other conversation partners, present or absent, real or imagined (friends, parents, the guy from Fight Club, the President, God -- or anyone, really).

Now, give it a shot. Try to enjoy the process, if you can. Let your classmates and me know how it goes. And if you haven't sent me the URL (internet address) of your blog, please do so. If you're having trouble setting it up, let me know.

P.S. Here is a list of bookmarks, which include a few examples of blog posts students have written for me in past semesters.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How to set up your first blog

It's pretty simple. Go to Blogger.com (or just click the orange B in the top left corner of this page), click the link marked "Create your blog now," and follow the instructions.

To view a larger version of these instructions, follow this link, then click on the word "full" in the bottom-right corner of the slideshow.

Student comments: what makes discussion work

Student comments: what makes discussion work
I had my CIE students write short notes following a five-person "fishbowl" exercise. This is an example of one of their evaluations. There's a good deal to ponder here, if you think about it.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Syllabus for RELS-365, Protestant Reformation, Fall 2007

This is a draft of the current syllabus; click here to enlarge; click this link if you want to download or print it. The books can be bought online from Amazon; the list is here. Let me know if you have trouble accessing this information.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Religious bonds divide some parents, kids - USATODAY.com

Some evidence suggests a trend within families towards children s exhibiting greater religiosity than their parents. This story examines a few examples of this in different traditions.
Link - Tue, 10 Jul 2007 02:55:42 GMT - Feed (1 subs)

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Reference work on the "religious right"

This came across my desk the other day. Potentially interesting.
clipped from www.greyhouse.com

The Religious Right: A Reference Handbook
Third Edition

The Religious Right
PDFTable of ContentsPDFSample PagesPDFFull Text Reviews

Order Books
Pub. Date: March 2007
Hardcover: 800 pages
ISBN: 1-59237-113-2/978-1-59237-113-6
Price: $135.00

This text explores the influence of religion on legislation and society, while examining the alignment of the religious right with the political right. A historical survey of the movement highlights the shift to "hands-on" approach to politics and the struggle to present a unified front.

 blog it

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Brainstorming for the next time I teach RELS-211, World Religions

I've been thinking through a major course redesign for World Religions. Below is the beginning of a mindmap on the subject. As of the time of this post, it's less than half finished.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Fightin' monks: Buddhist gangs in Phnom Penh

Think Buddhist monks are all about tea ceremonies, breathing meditation, and "present moment, wonderful moment"? Wrong. Check this photo out.
clipped from news.sky.com
Sky News logo
Bad Karma

News in Pictures

Bad Karma

Updated 15:27, Friday April 20, 2007

This action shot of a fighting monk puts an end to the idea that Buddhist monks spend every waking hour in a state of tranquil meditation.

There are fisticuffs and flying robes as rival groups of monks clash in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

That's got to bring some bad karma to the peace-loving Buddhists' lives.

  • Bad Karma For Brawling Cambodian MonksBad Karma

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    Monday, April 16, 2007

    A "Pastafarian" student is suspended from a North Carolina high school

    An amusing, but actually quite interesting story. A kid decides to identify himself as a member of the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (which is real, if ridiculous), whose adherents are supposed to dress as pirates. When he refuses to remove his eyepatch in school, he's suspended. He claims his freedom of religion was violated ... and who's to say it wasn't?

    A school district official says, rather predictably, that "It has nothing to do with religious beliefs... We respect students’ religious beliefs."

    Further developments here; student's statement here, and a political blogger comments here accurately that this inescapably shows that state authorities are choosing which kinds of religious expression are legitimate. (The blogger thinks this is a bad thing; I think it's probably completely unavoidable.)

    School: Pirates are not welcome


    Weaverville – When you’re a pirate, some dangers just come with the territory: scurvy, grog hangovers, a walk down the plank at sword point.

    But being kicked out of school for a day?

    Buncombe County Schools says the eye patch was disruptive to classroom instruction. The student’s refusal to take it off after four warnings led to discipline, the district said.

    “I feel like my First Amendment was violated,” Killian, 16, said. “Freedom of religion and freedom of expression. That’s what I tried to do, and I got shot down.”

    Freedom of religion?

    Yes, Killian says, his “pirate regalia” is part of his faith — the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    The parody religion, whose “Pastafarian” members worship a sentient, airborne clump of noodles and meatballs, originated in a letter to the Kansas school board urging it to add the religion to its plans to teach evolution and intelligent design side by side.

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    Notes on BattleCry, an evangelical youth organization

    The Revealer, NYU's religion-and-media blog, recently posted a long essay by Jeff Sharlet on BattleCry, an evangelical youth group that's heavy on militant rhetoric and anti-popular culture "rebellion." Here's a key excerpt:

    His Christian code requires a "wartime mentality": a "survival orientation" and a readiness to face "real enemies." The queers and communists, feminists and Muslims, to be sure, but also the entire American cultural apparatus of marketing and merchandising, the "techno-terrorists" of mass media, doing to the morality of a generation what Osama bin Laden did to the Twin Towers.
    "I want an attacking church!" he shouts, his normally smooth tones raw and desperate and alarming.

    Here's a clip from one of their shows.

    And here is an article from Rolling Stone with a few other related videos.

    Sunday, April 08, 2007

    Crucifixion as folk ritual in the Phillipines

    Disturbing. Seven-minute video of a Filipino Christian devotee being nailed to a cross as part of a popular pre-Easter ritual. I think they only put a single nail through one hand, and then they take him down again... but still, it rattled me.

    Friday, April 06, 2007

    Just in time for Easter: a blogger's remarks on Mel Gibson's Passion

    Not the most brilliant or profound post, but an interesting, personal, very autobiographical set of reflections on one person's reaction to watching Gibson's Passion of the Christ. The central point:
    "I can't get past the brutality that so lovingly and sadistically portrayed it not 'as it was' — we can't know that, but there's a lot of sound reason to believe it 'wasn't' — but portrayed an exaggerrated brutality that by it's very existance said, 'What Christ did wasn't bad enough — I've got to make it WORSE to make sure peo[p]le really feel it.'"

    planet pooks

    Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION

    A few years ago I read that Mel Gibson was going to make a movie. Not just a movie, but a movie about The Passion. Not just about The Passion, but a movie in Aramaic with subtitles. I was astounded and entranced and could not wait to see it. I wasn’t sure whether it would be a train wreck or a triumph, but I knew I had to be there, the very first day, to see it.

    When I first heard about his “The Passion,” I assumed it would be an art house film. I mean, how else could an Aramaic subtitled Catholic telling of the Passion be presented? And I couldn’t wait.

    Could. Not. Wait.

    To see how it turned out.

    And it turned out to be a glorified snuff film.

    I believe any filmmaker is beholden to tell their stories their way, and for Mel Gibson to present his “Passion” the way he did was — well, it was pure Mel Gibson. And that wouldn’t have bothered me except –

    Except, he claimed to be telling it “the way it really happened.” Not just his vision, but THE way it happe

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    Thursday, April 05, 2007

    Considering ditching the textbook for next time around

    Book CoverGiven my experiences with the textbook over the past few times I've taught RELS-211 (World Religions), I'm thinking of abandoning it and switching to a homemade concoction of recorded lectures (by yours truly) and a cobbled-together reader of short primary and secondary sources. It is a source of considerable student and faculty frustration that the textbook simply doesn't present the material in a way that fits my preferred approach. The result is that we never really build substantively on the textbook reading or bring it into the classroom discussion. Theoretically, it provides a "backbone" of factual data which we can then flesh out with discussion and other readings, but in practice that's not how it's working out. This has been irritating me a lot. I believe that the kind of basic foundation of factual knowledge -- the kind of stuff you can give a quiz on -- is important, and I've been going on the assumption that the textbook presents it adequately (and I think it does a better job than most or all of the alternatives), but it's not really working out. If I am going to make this shift, it's going to mean a huge up-front investment of time and energy on my part.

    Wednesday, April 04, 2007

    Hinduism, day #3: Rg-Veda, Chandogya Upanishad

    From today:

    1. I move with the Rudras, with the Vasus, with the Adityas and all the gods. I carry both Mitra and Varuna, both Indra and Agni, and both of the Ashvins.

    2. I carry the swelling Soma, and Tvastr, and PuĊĦan and Bhaga. I bestow wealth on the pious sacrificer who presses the Soma and offers the oblation.

    3. I am the queen, the confluence of riches, the skilful one who is first among those worthy of sacrifice. The gods divided me up into various parts, for I dwell in many places and enter into many forms.

    4. The one who eats food, who truly sees, who breathes, who hears what is said, does so through me. Though they do not realize it, they dwell in me. Listen, you whom they have heard: what I tell you should be heeded.

    5. I am the one who says, by myself, what gives joy to gods and men. Whom I love I make awesome; I make him a sage, a wise man, a Brahmin.

    6. I stretch the bow for Rudra so that his arrow will strike down the hater of prayer. I incite the contest among the people. I have pervaded sky and earth.

    7. I gave birth to the father of the head of this world. My womb is in the waters, within the ocean. From there I spread out over all creatures and touch the very sky with the crown of my head.

    8. I am the one who blows like the wind, embracing all creatures. Beyond the sky, beyond this earth, so much have I become in my greatness.

    "So be it, my child. Bring me a fruit from this banyan tree."
    "Here it is, father."
    "Break it."
    "It is broken, Sir."
    "What do you see in it?"
    "Very small seeds, Sir."
    "Break one of them, my son."
    "It is broken, Sir."
    "What do you see in it, my son?"
    "Nothing at all, Sir."
    Then his father spoke to him: "My son, from the very essence
    in the seed which you cannot see comes in truth this vast banyan
    tree. "Believe me, my son, an invisible and subtle essence is the
    Spirit of the whole universe. That is reality. That is Atman.
    "Explain more to me, father," said Svetaketu.
    "So be it, my son. Place this salt in water and come to me
    tomorrow morning."
    Svetaketu did as he was commanded, and in the morning his
    father said to him: "Bring me the salt you put into the water last
    Svetaketu looked into the water, but could not find it, for it
    had dissolved.
    His father then said, "Taste the water from this side. How is
    "It is salt."
    "Taste it from the middle. How is it?"
    "It is salt."
    "Taste it from that side. How is it?"
    "It is salt."
    "Look for the salt and come again to me."
    The son did so, saying: "I cannot see the salt. I only see the
    His father then said: "in the same way, O my son, you cannot
    see the Spirit. But in truth he is here.
    "An invisible but subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole
    universe. That is Reality. That is Truth. THOU ART THAT."

    We did not look at "The Sacrifice of Primal Man."

    [1] A thousand heads had [primal] Man,
    A thousand eyes, a thousand feet:
    Encompassing the earth on every side,
    He exceeded it by ten fingers' [breadth].

    [2] [That] Man is this whole universe, -
    What was and what is yet to be,
    The Lord of immortality
    Which he outgrows by [eating] food.

    [3] This is the measure of his greatness,
    But greater yet is [primal] Man:
    All beings form a quarter of him,
    Three-quarters are the immortal in heaven.

    [4] With three-quarters Man rose up on high,
    A quarter of him came to be again [down] here:
    From this he spread in all directions,
    Into all that eats and does not eat.

    [5] From him was Viraj born,
    From Viraj Man again:
    Once born, - behind, before,
    He reached beyond the earth.

    [6] When with Man as their oblation
    The gods performed their sacrifice,
    Spring was the melted butter,
    Summer the fuel, and the autumn the oblation.

    [7] Him they besprinkled on the sacrificial strew, -
    [Primeval] Man, born in the beginning:
    With him [their victim], gods, Sadhyas, seers
    Performed the sacrifice.

    [8] From this sacrifice completely offered
    The clotted ghee was gathered up:
    From this he fashioned beasts and birds,
    Creatures of the woods and creatures of the village.

    [9] From this sacrifice completely offered
    Were born the Rig- and Sama-Vedas;
    From this were born the metres,
    From this was the Yajur-Veda born.

    [10] From this were horses born, all creatures
    That have teeth in either jaw;
    From this were cattle born,
    From this sprang goats and sheep.

    [11] When they divided [primal] Man,
    Into how many parts did they divide him?
    What was his mouth? What his arms?
    What are his thighs called? What his feet?

    [12] The Brahman was his moth,
    The arms were made the Prince,
    His thighs the common people,
    And from his feet the serf was born.

    [13] From his mind the moon was born,
    And from his eye the sun,
    And from his mouth Indra and the fire,
    From his breath the wind was born.

    [14] From his navel arose the atmosphere,
    From his head the sky evolved,
    From his feet the eath, and from his ear
    The cardinal points of the compass:
    So did they fashion forth these worlds.

    [15] Seven were his enclosing sticks
    Thrice seven were made his fuel sticks,
    When the gods, performing sacrifice,
    Bound Man, [their sacrificial] beast.

    [16] With the sacrifice the gods
    Made sacrifice to sacrifice:
    These were the first religious rites (Dharma),
    To the firmament these powers went up
    Where dwelt the ancient Sadhya gods.

    Interesting, stimulating discussion. I was interested in concentrating on the fact that in the first text, you see the elevation of sacrifice in the abstract above sacrifices in the particular. The text seems to imply a sort of metonymic substitution of the concept "sacrifice" for the entire pantheon and ritual apparatus of Vedic religion. This same pattern seems to recur in the second text, in which the underlying concept of a mystical, intangible substance that pervades and sustains physical existence is extended to include the notion of the human self and human subjectivity itself.

    (Sources: Rg-Veda, Chandogya Up. [PDF], Sacrifice of Primal Man.)

    Friday, March 02, 2007

    Conflict-centered mythmaking and identity formation in popular music

    The song "Young Ned of the Hill," by The Pogues (a punk rock band from Ireland), released in 1989 on the album Peace and Love, exemplifies the mythmaking that Appleby discusses in chapter 5 of The Ambivalence of the Sacred. Click to play.

    Here are the lyrics. A "rapparee" is an outlaw, more or less. Oliver Cromwell, commander of the New Model Army, invaded and conquered Ireland (with legendary brutality) on behalf of the English Parliament in 1649.

    Have you ever walked the lonesome hills
    And heard the curlews cry
    Or seen the raven black as night
    Upon a windswept sky
    To walk the purple heather
    And hear the westwind cry
    To know that's where the rapparee must die

    Since Cromwell pushed us westward
    To live our lowly lives
    There's some of us have deemed to fight
    From Tipperary mountains high
    Noble men with wills of iron
    Who are not afraid to die
    Who'll fight with gaelic honour held on high

    A curse upon you Oliver Cromwell
    You who raped our Motherland
    I hope you're rotting down in hell
    For the horrors that you sent
    To our misfortunate forefathers
    Whom you robbed of their birthright
    "To hell or Connaught" may you burn in hell tonight

    Of one such man I'd like to speak
    A rapparee by name and deed
    His family dispossessed and slaughtered
    They put a price upon his head
    His name is know in song and story
    His deeds are legends still
    And murdered for blood money
    Was young Ned of the hill

    You have robbed our homes and fortunes
    Even drove us from our land
    You tried to break our spirit
    But you'll never understand
    The love of dear old Ireland
    That will forge an iron will
    As long as there are gallant men
    Like young Ned of the hill

    Monday, January 22, 2007

    World Religions course online

    For World Religions students -- I've built a simple web front page for the course. Visit this link and you should find everything you need ... at least, ideally. I'm still working on it.
    Other updates:

    • There's a new page online at the wiki with some notes on last week's discussion.
    • I put the course calendar online as well. You can use this to check upcoming assignments. I'll keep it updated.
    • Did you miss a handout? They're all archived here.
    • Or ... you know you got an email from me, but you can't find it? Those are archived here. This might not work perfectly -- I'm not sure yet -- but it seems like it might be convenient.
    Enjoy. Don't forget, you can edit any of the wiki pages as you see fit. The password is "gobears." Don't tell anyone.