09 November 2011

Ramayana Row Divides India

Ramayana Row Divides India, by Sudha Ramachandran (Asia Times, 10 November 2011)

India's liberal intellectual tradition has received a stunning blow with the removal of an essay that celebrates diversity from Delhi University's BA history (honors) syllabus. The decision marks the "surrender of academic freedom to political pressure", eminent Indian historian Romila Thapar has lamented. The essay in question is the late A K Ramanujan's Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translations. Written in 1987, the essay drew attention to the "astonishing" number of "tellings" of the Indian epic, Ramayana (the story of Ram) over the past 2,500 years in different languages, regions and mediums.

"Just a list of languages in which the Rama story is found makes one gasp: Annamese, Balinese, Bengali, Cambodian [Khmer], Chinese, Gujarati, Javanese, Kannada, Kashmiri, Khotanese, Laotian, Malaysian, Marathi, Oriya, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan - to say nothing of Western languages. Through the centuries, some of these languages have hosted more than one telling of the Rama story. Sanskrit alone contains some 25 or more tellings belonging to various narrative genres. If we add plays, dance-dramas and other performances, in both the classical and folk traditions, the number of Ramayanas grows even larger," Ramanujan wrote.
Link: Ramayana Row Divides India

Synagogue rises from ruins in German town with Jewish tradition

Synagogue rises from ruins in German town with Jewish tradition, by Igal Avidan (Deutsche Welle, 8 November 2011)

Jews had lived in Speyer for 1,000 years, before being deported and murdered in the Holocaust. A former church has been converted into a new synagogue, which is making the community visible once again.

"We are here and we don't want to hide from anybody," said Daniel Nemirovski, who manages the affairs of the organization known as the Jewish Community of Rhineland Palatinate.

Here, on the pastureland not far from the main station in Speyer, is the former home of the Catholic St. Guido Foundation. After it was closed in 1996, it suffered the same fate as an adjacent church. In that same year, new immigrant Jews founded their cultural association.

Frankfurt architect Alfred Jacoby converted the abandoned church into a synagogue for the area's new Jewish population. He finds it particularly appealing to be involved with this re-establishment of Jewish life in the area. "My design has connections with the Christian history of Speyer," he said.
Link: Synagogue rises from ruins in German town with Jewish tradition

Blessing a Building — Building a Blessing: How the New Synagogue in Mainz Has Its Cake and Eats It Too

Blessing a Building — Building a Blessing: How the New Synagogue in Mainz Has Its Cake and Eats It Too, by Gavriel Rosenfeld (Jewish Daily Forward, 29 September 2010)

The construction of a new synagogue is always an occasion for celebration, so it was with particular pomp that the Rhineland city of Mainz recently dedicated its new synagogue and Jewish community center. The dedication ceremonies, held September 3, featured an array of German politicians, including German President Christian Wulff. Many of them blessed the new building and underscored its symbolic significance. Yet, while the synagogue received its share of blessings, it also gave physical expression to them in its architectural form. Designed by the German-Jewish architect Manuel Herz, Mainz’s striking new synagogue complex traces its inspiration back to the third “blessing” in the Amidah — the Kedusha. The connection between the word and the synagogue’s appearance is not immediately obvious. But Herz’s drawings for the building reveal that its sawtooth form partly derives from the jagged pattern produced by the word’s five Hebrew letters: kuf, daled, vav, shin and hay.
Link: Blessing a Building — Building a Blessing: How the New Synagogue in Mainz Has Its Cake and Eats It Too

08 November 2011

Eid: Being LGBT and Muslim

Eid: Being LGBT and Muslim, by El-Farouk Khaki (Huffington Post, 7 November 2011)

Eid in Arabic means feast or festivity. Muslims celebrate two religious Eids: Eid ul-Fitri is the celebration at the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. It is the more festive celebration after a month of abstinence and self-control; children receive money (Eidi) or presents and new clothes, so do some adults. Everyone will wear his or her finery.

The Eid that we are celebrating now is the more somber festival and has multiple names including Eid al-Adha or Eid e-Qurban (both meaning Festival of Sacrifice) and Eid ul-Hajj (Festival of Hajj). It celebrates the end of the Hajj or the pilgrimage to Mecca during which Muslims around the world celebrate along with the almost 3 million pilgrims in Mecca.

The story of Eid ul-Adha is mostly narrated as the story of the miracle of God replacing Abraham's son with a ram at the moment of intended sacrifice by Abraham of his son Ismail. The miracle is celebrated with the sacrifice of an animal and the distribution of the meat to family, community and the poor. It is a grand tale of patriarchy and submission.
Link: Eid: Being LGBT and Muslim, by El-Farouk Khaki (Huffington Post, 7 November 2011)

03 November 2011

Watch the Hajj Live on Youtube

The Hajj is an ancient ritual, but now, through the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information's YouTube channel, millions of people from around the world will be able to experience and comment on the event via livestream on Youtube.


Exploring Ties Between Halacha and Shariah

Exploring Ties Between Halacha and Shariah, by Ben Sales (The Jewish Daily Forward, 2 November 2011)

Abraham and Isaac — or, as some would have it, Ibrahim and Ishmael — took center stage when some of America’s most prominent Modern Orthodox rabbis and Muslim imams discussed their respective legal systems and foundational texts, and their implications for Jewish-Muslim relations today.

The October 30 seminar “Ancient Texting” brought together 15 rabbis expert in Halacha, or traditional Jewish law, and 15 imams steeped in Shariah, traditional Muslim law, for a recent daylong seminar at Manhattan’s historic Temple Emanu-El, a Reform congregation. While much of the day’s discussion was theoretical and textual in nature, conversations often revolved around issues concerning both communities. The speakers also touched on areas of conflict between them, such as differing positions regarding Israel, and problematic texts in the tradition of each faith.
Link: Exploring Ties Between Halacha and Shariah

02 November 2011

Where Did Religion Come From?

Where Did Religion Come From? By Robert N. Bellah (SSRC, The Immanent Frame)

When an interviewer for the Atlantic Monthly blog asked me “What prompted you to write this book?” I apparently replied, “Deep desire to know everything: what the universe is and where we are in it.” I don’t deny that I said it—it’s just that I would have thought I would have given a more pedestrian reply, because I am a sociologist, with a Ph.D. in my discipline and some 40 years experience as a professor at Harvard and Berkeley. And I am quite aware that early in the last century Max Weber, in a famous 1918 talk called “Science as a Vocation,” warned that “science has entered a phase of specialization previously unknown and this will forever remain the case.” It does seem that he didn’t apply this dictum to himself, but he was talking about the future when huge projects like his own would no longer be possible. So what is this “deep desire to know everything” in a world of super-specialization? When I look at books like Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God, Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct, Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. and Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, recent books that might seem parallel to my own new book, I can only say Weber was right—these books should not have been written, or, to be charitable, they may be good journalism but they are not serious contributions to understanding.
Link: Where Did Religion Come From?

01 November 2011

Holy smoke: Islamic preachers are drawing on a Christian tradition

Holy smoke: Islamic preachers are drawing on a Christian tradition (The Economist, 29 October 2011)

Screaming hordes of teenage girls are a common sight at pop concerts and film premières. They are less usual when waiting to hear a religious preacher. But such girls—one gasping “I can see him, I can see him” through the folds of her niqab—awaited Moez Masoud, an Egyptian televangelist, recently in Cairo. He is part of a growing band of Islamic preachers who are true celebrities, says Yasmin Moll, a researcher at New York University, who attended Mr Masoud’s talk.

They draw on a Christian tradition pioneered in the 1950s by such preachers as Billy Graham. For the past ten years Amr Khaled, an Egyptian one-time accountant turned televangelist star, has led the way. Previously television preachers fitted the stereotype of white-haired, bearded sheikhs in white robes, monotonously exhorting the faithful, in classical Arabic, to follow the strictures of Islam more exactly.

In 2001 Mr Khaled burst onto screens with his show “Words from the Heart” and his brand of modern, moderate piety. Sharp-suited, mustachioed and speaking colloquial Egyptian, Mr Khaled and his audience (of men and women) discussed the concerns of young Muslims, such as whether Islam forbids cinema-going.
Link: Holy smoke: Islamic preachers are drawing on a Christian tradition

Holy relevance: Faith can influence economic behaviour—but not always directly

Holy relevance: Faith can influence economic behaviour—but not always directly (The Economist, 29 October 2011)

As Protestant Europe, in its own eyes virtuous and thrifty, wrestles with the debt problems of the continent’s Catholic and Orthodox countries, the idea that religious affiliation may influence the way people save, work and spend is more appealing than ever. The toppling of Arab tyrants has lent urgency to a similar enquiry: do Islam and Islamism permit the legal and social conditions that make for prosperity?

Clearly many modern religious leaders have strong ideas about economics. In western Europe, organised Christianity often acts as a modest voice in the ranks of the egalitarian left. This month’s anti-banker protests in London initially found a friendly base for their tent city at Saint Paul’s cathedral. (In recent days, Richard Chartres, the bishop of London, has asked them to leave, while acknowledging that they had raised important issues.) In America religious voices both praise and decry the capitalist order. Also on the borderline between economics and ethics, many religious leaders have taken up the cause of climate change, and urged people to change their behaviour—though this week an Australian cardinal, George Pell, bucked that trend by addressing a group of climate-change sceptics in London.

But all the most interesting theories about religion and behaviour refer to unconscious influences. The best-known was devised by Max Weber, a father of modern sociology, who drew a connection between the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Noting that Protestant parts of Germany were doing better (in the 19th century) than Catholic ones, he thought the “inner loneliness” of Protestants—who can never be sure if they are saved in the eyes of God—made them work harder. Unlike many other forms of faith, Protestantism has no mystical rite to absolve sin.
Link: Holy relevance: Faith can influence economic behaviour—but not always directly

U.S. Hispanics Choose Churches Outside Catholicism

U.S. Hispanics Choose Churches Outside Catholicism, by Barbara Bradley Hagerty (NPR Morning Edition, 19 October 2011)

As their numbers grow, Latinos are not only changing where and how they worship; they're also beginning to affect the larger Christian faith. You can see evidence of that in the Assemblies of God, once a historically white, suburban Pentecostal denomination. When you walk into the denomination's largest church, it's sensory overload: The auditorium is jam-packed with hundreds of Latino worshipers singing in Spanish, swaying and dancing.

In little more than a decade, New Life Covenant Church in Chicago has grown from 68 people to more than 4,000 members; it had to abandon its old building and meet in Clemente High School. When you include the other churches New Life has started, its membership comes to some 12,000 people.
Link: U.S. Hispanics Choose Churches Outside Catholicism

Dalai Lama: Inner Peace, Happiness, God and Money

The Dalai Lama on Inner Peace, Happiness, God and Money