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Ed Webb

God and the Ivory Tower- By Scott Atran | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • On a global scale, Protestant evangelical churches (together with Pentacostalists) continue to proliferate, especially in Latin America, but also keep pace with the expansion of fundamentalist Islam in southern Africa and eastern and southern Asia. In Russia, a clear majority of the population remains religious despite decades of forcibly imposed atheism. Even in China, where the government's commission on atheism has the Sisyphean job of making that country religion-free, religious agitation is on the rise. And in the United States, a majority says it wants less religion in politics, but an equal majority still will not vote for an atheist as president.
  • for nearly a century after Harvard University psychologist William James's 1902 masterwork, The Varieties of Religious Experience, there was little serious investigation of the psychological structure or neurological and biological underpinnings of religious belief that determine how religion actually causes behavior
  • the greater the investment in outlandishness, the better. This is because adherence to apparently absurd beliefs means incurring costs -- surviving without electricity, for example, if you are Amish -- which help identify members who are committed to the survival of a group and cannot be lured away. The ease of identifying true believers, in turn, builds trust and galvanizes group solidarity for common defense
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  • recent research echoes the findings of 14th-century historian Ibn Khaldun, who argued that long-term differences among North African Muslim dynasties with comparable military might "have their origin in religion … [and] group feeling [wherein] mutual cooperation and support flourish." The more religious societies, he argued, endured the longest
  • the same logic that makes religious and sacred beliefs more likely to endure can make them impervious to compromise. Based on interviews, experiments, and surveys with Palestinians, Israelis, Indonesians, Indians, Afghans, and Iranians, my research with psychologists Jeremy Ginges, Douglas Medin, and others demonstrates that offering people material incentives (large amounts of money, guarantees for a life free of political violence) to compromise sacred values can backfire, increasing stated willingness to use violence. Such backfire effects occur both for convictions with clear religious investment (Jerusalem, sharia law) and for those that are at least initially nonreligious (Iran's right to a nuclear capability, Palestinian refugees' right of return).
  • Although this sacralization of initially secular issues confounds standard "business-like" negotiation tactics, my work with political scientist Robert Axelrod interviewing political leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere indicates that strong symbolic gestures (sincere apologies, demonstrating respect for the other's values) generate surprising flexibility, even among militants, and may enable subsequent material negotiations. Thus, we find that Palestinian leaders and their supporting populations are generally willing to accept Israeli offers of economic improvement only after issues of recognition are addressed. Even purely symbolic statements accompanied by no material action, such as "we recognize your suffering" or "we respect your rights in Jerusalem," diminish support for violence, including suicide terrorism. This is particularly promising because symbolic gestures tied to religious notions that are open to interpretation might potentially be reframed without compromising their absolute "truth."
  • seemingly contrary evidence rarely undermines religious belief, especially among groups welded by ritualized sacrifice in the face of outside threats
  • Religious issues motivate only a small minority of recorded wars. The Encyclopedia of Wars surveyed 1,763 violent conflicts across history; only 123 (7 percent) were religious. A BBC-sponsored "God and War" audit, which evaluated major conflicts over 3,500 years and rated them on a 0-to-5 scale for religious motivation (Punic Wars = 0, Crusades = 5), found that more than 60 percent had no religious motivation. Less than 7 percent earned a rating greater than 3. There was little religious motivation for the internecine Russian and Chinese conflicts or the world wars responsible for history's most lethal century of international bloodshed.
  • studies by behavioral economist Joseph Henrich and colleagues on contemporary foragers, farmers, and herders show that professing a world religion is correlated with greater fairness toward passing strangers. This research helps explain what's going on in sub-Saharan Africa, where Islam is spreading rapidly. In Rwanda, for example, people began converting to Islam in droves after Muslims systematically risked their lives to protect Christians and animists from genocide when few others cared.
  • When competing interests are framed in terms of religious and sacred values, conflict may persist for decades, even centuries. Disputes over otherwise mundane phenomena then become existential struggles, as when land becomes "Holy Land." Secular issues become sacralized and nonnegotiable, regardless of material rewards or punishments. In a multiyear study, our research group found that Palestinian adolescents who perceived strong threats to their communities and were highly involved in religious ritual were most likely to see political issues, like the right of refugees to return to homes in Israel, as absolute moral imperatives. These individuals were thus opposed to compromise, regardless of the costs. It turns out there may be a neurological component to such behavior: Our work with Gregory Berns and his neuroeconomics team suggests that such values are processed in the brain as duties rather than utilitarian calculations; neuroimaging reveals that violations of sacred values trigger emotional responses consistent with sentiments of moral outrage.
  • research in India, Mexico, Britain, Russia, and Indonesia indicates that greater participation in religious ritual in large-scale societies is associated with greater parochial altruism -- that is, willingness to sacrifice for one's own group, such as Muslims or Christians, but not for outsiders -- and, in relevant contexts, support for suicide attacks. This dynamic is behind the paradoxical reality that the world finds itself in today: Modern global multiculturalism is increasingly challenged by fundamentalist movements aimed at reviving group loyalty through greater ritual commitments to ideological purity
Ed Webb

The perils of mixing religion and politics: the case of Turkey | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • Turkey was touted as a model of secularism in Muslim society, which could only be achieved, it was argued, top-down through state imposition. By the end of the century, however, when postmodern multiculturalism prevailed, Turkey began to be seen as an example of authoritarian secularism, intolerant of religious expression.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Not wrong, but the passives here hide who held these opinions.
  • Erdoğan’s rejection of the designation and his unconcealed intention to institute an Islamic regime throw in doubt the existence of a difference between the goals of the so-called “moderate” and “radical” Islamisms, except perhaps in terms of political method. On 28 November 2019, during the closing session of a meeting of the Religious Council of Turkey, Erdoğan clearly stated his priorities as President:“According to our faith, religion is not restricted to certain spaces and times. Islam is a set of rules and prohibitions that embrace all aspects of our lives. … We have been commanded to live as Muslims … No one can deny these tenets, because a Muslim is obligated to adapt his life to the essence of his religion and not the religion to his conditions of existence. … Even if it may be hard for us, we will place the rules of our religion at the center of our lives and not the requirements of our time.”
  • I want to question the wisdom of mixing religion and politics, as pursued by the AKP government.
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  • in foreign affairs, the government pursues a “neo-Ottomanist” policy, building on Muslim Brotherhood networks, losing allies and tending to resort to military hard power in the region instead of diplomatic soft power
  • Domestically, intervention in people’s life-styles, primarily in the form of restricting the consumption of alcohol through exorbitant taxation and a policy of limiting times and zones of alcohol sale and consumption, does not only violate citizens’ freedom of choice, but has also indirectly caused loss of lives owing to the illegal production and sale of fake drinks to evade the restrictions
  • discrimination on the basis of religious identity or degree of religiosity, including in public employment, has been rampant
  • Erdoğan’s repeated calls since 2012 to “raise pious generations” led to a radical overhaul of the entire educational infrastructure. Religious instruction began to occupy a greater part of the curriculum at all levels. More specifically, Imam-Hatip Schools, originally created in the early republican period to train preachers and prayer leaders employed by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DRA), began to turn into a mainstream venue for secondary education for both boys and girls.
  • The total number of Imam-Hatip middle and high schools (the former had been previously closed but then reopened by the AKP government in 2012) went from 2215 (in 2013-2014) to 5017 (in 2018-2019), housing over one million pupils.
  • the success rate of Imam-Hatip graduates in university entrance exams is the lowest among all types of high schools
  • Nearly half of the 200+ (public and private) universities in Turkey have faculties of theology, the majority of which opened since 2010, and currently enroll more than 100,000 students, 60 percent of which are women. Moreover, the recent trend in the appointment of university rectors by President Erdoğan has been in favor of those with Islamic theology backgrounds.
  • A pamphlet prepared by the DRA and distributed free of charge in early 2019 expounds the inverse relationship between secular education and religiosity, and suggests that higher levels of education encourage “individualism and freedom” and discourage “belief and worship.”
  • The threat that “secular education” poses to the government is not illusory. There is indeed an inverse relationship between the level of education and the level of religiosity, and, likewise, the electoral support for the AKP is in an inverse relationship with the level of education, but in direct correlation with the level of religiosity.
  • Those youths from the secularist upper and middle classes, whose families could afford to send them abroad for better education, have begun to leave the country. Those youths from the conservative lower classes, whose families have been the power base of the AKP, may be unable to leave but they have begun to turn away from religion. Reports indicate a decline in religiosity and rise in deism and atheism, alarming the AKP government and its religious establishment. It appears that mixing religion with politics does not even serve religious purposes. Politics needs to be kept free of religion.
  • After 9/11, Turkey was flaunted again, this time as a model of “moderate Islam,” an alternative to the presumably dangerous “radical” version
Ed Webb

Civic Religion and the Secular Jew - 0 views

  • Who would speak alongside President-elect Sanders on the steps of the Capitol Building? Who would deliver the invocations and the benedictions? Would there be more rabbis, or more pastors and priests? Would Sanders be sworn in on a Bible, a Tanakh, something else? Might Sanders, a staunch defender of the separation of church and state, object to the presence of prayer altogether?  The difficulty of answering these questions illustrates just how significant a change from the status quo the election of a secular Jewish president would be. It remains conventional wisdom among pundits and pollsters that America is a deeply religious country, and that any presidential candidate must speak—and speak authentically—about their faith in order to win. The election of Trump—who transparently has no spiritual life to speak of and who has proven utterly incapable of speaking convincingly about matters of faith—should have finally proven this idea false. Yet the expectation has persisted. 
  • there is, paradoxically, something almost unassimilable about Sanders’s secular Jewishness.
  • While Sanders readily admits that he is “not actively involved in organized religion,” it isn’t quite accurate to describe him as “religiously unaffiliated.” That’s because, like many of the conventional frameworks for understanding faith and religious identity in the US, this kind of binary—religiously affiliated vs. unaffiliated—is not adequate for understanding American Jewish life
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  • The binary of theism vs. atheism is likewise unhelpful in understanding Jewish identity.
  • while discussions of Christianity often center around personal faith, it’s not uncommon, even in relatively observant American Jewish communities, for questions of ethics, ritual, and practice to take much greater priority than questions of faith or belief in God
  • Sanders does not belong to a synagogue—and he has this in common with two-thirds of American Jewish adults, according to Pew’s 2013 “Portrait of Jewish Americans.” He is part of an interfaith family, as are 44% of married Jewish adults. (Sanders married Jane O’Meara, a practicing Catholic, in 1988, when the rate of intermarriage was around 41%, but the share of Jews marrying non-Jews has since increased: roughly 60% of Jews who married after 2005 married a non-Jew.) On Israel, the self-described “100% pro-Israel” Sanders is a conventional liberal Zionist: strongly critical of Benjamin Netanyahu, still committed to a two-state solution, and willing to use US government pressure to hold Israel accountable for its actions. Most American Jews hold similar views: the majority feel positively about Israel, disagree with its government’s policies, support a two-state solution, and believe the US should exert pressure on Israel to achieve peace.
  • That so many Jewish institutional leaders, as well as Jewish journalists, have chafed at, second-guessed, or rejected Sanders’s kind of Jewishness says much more about their own disconnection from the great majority of American Jews than it does about Sanders.
  • his particular religious vocabulary—of trauma, solidarity, this-worldly justice—also fits uneasily into the hegemonic, Christianity-inflected form of American religious discourse writ large, which emphasizes notions like personal salvation, faith, and grace
  • Sanders’s secular Jewishness is among the most common forms of Jewish identity in the US, yet it is a religious identity that has never before appeared so prominently on the national political stage. The question of its intelligibility to non-Jews is also the question of the intelligibility of American Jewish life
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