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robertogreco : secularism   17

We’re Having the Wrong Conversation About the Future Of Schools
"Despite the rhetoric, modern movements to reform schools have had a devastating effect on education"



"As a full-time teacher, I don’t have a lot of time to look up from the dailiness of the job to consider something as nebulous as the “future” of education. When I do, I feel a vague unease that too many non-teachers seem to have a lot of time to do this kind of thinking.

One thing in my favor is that education reform seems to take the same basic forms, year after year. There’s the standards and accountability movement and the ongoing attempts to give it “teeth.” Then there are the tech giants peddling autonomy and self-direction in lieu of soul-crushing activities like reading The Outsiders and using protractors. And though the latter reformers are often critics of the former, the two have a lot in common.

Both represent billion-dollar industries. Both frequently co-opt a rhetoric of liberation, autonomy, and empowerment. Both can barely disguise a deep disdain for teachers and schools, especially of the “sage on the stage” variety. And both are almost exclusively headed up by white men.

These are the kind of people setting a bold agenda for the future of education.

Admittedly, us unruly American educators would have a hard time coming up with anything coherent enough to compete with the brave visions set forth by the leaders of these two industries. The very fact that such an all-encompassing solution is needed testifies to their dominance in framing the narrative around American schools. Mired in the day-to-day challenges and complexities of actually caring for and educating children, many teachers exhibit a complete failure of imagination when it comes to sweeping monolithic initiatives with pithy acronyms, eye-catching logos, and font pairings that are straight fire.

But we do need to change. Beyond the usual Alice Cooper-type critiques, we teachers have been especially complicit in the widespread marginalizing, neuroticizing, and criminalizing of our most vulnerable students. Yes, we need to stop boring future white rockstars and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. This is already well known. But, more importantly, we also need to stop harming children of color with our whitewashed curriculum, inequitable funding systems, and disparate use of punitive disciplinary measures.

Can today’s reformers help us make progress toward these goals? Or do they exacerbate, perpetuate, and contribute to the very problems we face?

Trying to pin deception, manipulation, and violence on this rag-tag bunch leaves me feeling petty and mean-spirited. After all, they’re often so upbeat and sincere, their rhetoric so humanistic and progressive. Ted Dintersmith, former venture capitalist and billionaire author of the book What School Could Be, recently teamed up with Prince Ea, who has made not one but two viral videos echoing the same message: schools must change. And on the standards and accountability side, David Coleman, “architect” of the Common Core and now CEO of the College Board, has boldly laid out a “beautiful vision” for American schools. In a field plagued by widespread mediocrity and entrenched inequities, shouldn’t we applaud any moves toward a more inspiring, inclusive future?

The problem is that, despite all the rhetoric and good intentions, both these movements have had a devastating effect on education, all while continually escaping blame for their outsized impact. Any negative outcomes are used to justify further expansion and dominance. Poor test scores and persistent achievement gaps aren’t seen as issues with the tests, but as misalignment and implicit bias on the part of teachers. Student attention deficit and boredom aren’t seen as a function of technology addiction, but rather an occasion to blast schools for their inability to fully capitalize on the promise of the digital age.

Not surprisingly, this seeming unassailable innocence reveals close links to the logics of white supremacy culture, especially the values of individualism, objectivity, and so-called meritocracy. They additionally amplify neoliberal beliefs in the absolute goods of privacy and consumer choice, thus shifting the blame away from dominant elites under the guise of “empowerment.” To borrow the central metaphor from Todd Rose’s The End of Average, they ultimately seek to style us as fighter pilots in the “cockpits of our economy,” where we must summon limitless initiative, grit, and resourcefulness just to survive.

Ultimately, their ideas are rooted in America’s original “solutions” to the problems of pluralism, wherein subtle self-effacement and silencing became stratagems for consolidating power. All of this is part of a long tradition in the United States, one that dates back to colonial times, guiding both the “Strange Compromise” of 1789 and the founding of the Common School. Although these roots may be less obvious in our day, they are arguably more powerful and moneyed than ever before."



"Ultimately, the several silences of education reform have proven a powerful gambit for privatization and profit. These industries implicitly offer themselves as neutral alternatives to our fraught political climate, much as Horace Mann’s enjoinder to “read without comment” secularized schools in a sectarian age. They also shift the onus of agency and ownership from themselves onto the student, who assumes full responsibility for finding and following their own educational path.

Whereas Mann, perhaps unconsciously, hoped to indoctrinate students into his supposedly doctrineless Unitarianism, these reformers peddle the so-called empty doctrines of individualism, personalization, objectivity, entrepreneurialism, and meritocracy—all while exacerbating inequities and deprofessionalizing teachers.

Resisting these trends starts by seeing them as two sides of the same coin. Anything that counsels and valorizes silence—before the text, the test, or even the individual student—may partake in this phenomenon. The primary effect is always to atomize: content into itemized bits, classrooms into individualized projects and timelines, and each of us into solitary individuals pursuing personalized pathways.

Among the many omissions implicit in this vision is the notion that each student has equal access to a pathway of choice. Once that false premise is established, you are truly on your own. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, find your own personal road less traveled, dive headfirst into the entrepreneurial shark tank. Unfortunately, far too many smaller-scale reform movements espouse a similar ethos, often flooding Twitter with a toxic positivity that ignores intransigent inequities and injustices."



"None of this is intended to romanticize the educational mainstays of the past: lectures, textbooks, worksheets. But we should note how these more modern trends themselves often devolve into regressive, behaviorist, sit-and-get pedagogy.

Confronted by daunting challenges like widespread budget shortfalls, inequitable funding, increasing school segregation, whitewashed curriculum, and racial injustice, it’s no wonder we would reach for solutions that appear easy, inexpensive, and ideologically empty. At a time when we most need to engage in serious deliberations about the purposes and future of schools, we instead equivocate and efface ourselves before tests and technology, leaving students to suffer or succeed within their own educational echo chamber.

As appealing as these options may seem, they are not without content or consequences. Ironically, today’s progressive educators find themselves in the strange position of having to fight reform, resisting those who would render everything—including their own intentions and impact—invisible."
arthurchiaravalli  education  edreform  reform  history  invisibility  progressive  siliconvalley  infividualism  horacemann  2018  collegeboard  individualism  personalization  commonschool  us  inequality  justice  socialjustice  injustice  race  racism  whitesupremacy  reading  hilarymoss  thomasjefferson  commoncore  davidcoleman  politics  policy  closereading  howweread  ela  johnstuartmill  louiserosenblatt  sat  standardizedtesting  standardization  tedtalks  teddintersmith  democracy  kenrobinson  willrichardson  entrepreneurship  toddrose  mikecrowley  summitschools  religion  secularism  silence  privatization  objectivity  meritocracy  capitalism  teaching  howweteach  schools  publicschools  learning  children  ideology  behaviorism  edtech  technology  society  neoliberalism 
december 2018 by robertogreco
Why Americans see Buddhism as a philosophy rather than a religion — Quartz
"But American secular Buddhism has also produced some unintended consequences. Suzuki’s writings greatly influenced Jack Kerouac, the popular Beat Generation author of On the Road and The Dharma Bums. But Suzuki regarded Kerouac as a “monstrous imposter” because he sought only the freedom of Buddhist awakening without the discipline of practice.

Other Beat poets, hippies and, later, New Age DIY self-helpers have also paradoxically mistaken Buddhism for a kind of self-indulgent narcissism, despite its teachings of selflessness and compassion. Still others have commercially exploited its exotic appeal to sell everything from “Zen tea” to “Lucky Buddha Beer,” which is particularly ironic given Buddhism’s traditional proscription against alcohol and other intoxicants.

As a result, the popular construction of nonreligious Buddhism has contributed much to the contemporary “spiritual but not religious” phenomenon, as well as to the secularized and commodified mindfulness movement in America.

We may have only transplanted a fraction of the larger bodhi tree of religious Buddhism in America, but our cutting has adapted and taken root in our secular, scientific, and highly commercialized age. For better and for worse, it’s Buddhism, American-style."
buddhism  us  counterculture  philosophy  doctrine  2018  sokauniversityofamerica  mindfulness  secularism  religion  beatgeneration  jackkerouac  zen  zenbuddhism  daisetsuteitarosuzuki  thichnhathanh  shakusōen  anagārikadharmapāla  paulvcarus  ernestfenellosa  williamsturgisbigelow  henrydavidthoreau  ralphwaldoemerson  soka  sua 
august 2018 by robertogreco
Can religion be based on ritual practice without belief? | Aeon Essays
"Most Japanese reject religious belief while embracing multiple forms of ritual practice. Are they religious or secular?"



"The combination of worldly concerns with religion is not unique to Japan, of course. However, the discussion above highlights several clear discrepancies between religion in Japan and the typical associations derived from Western monotheistic traditions. So does the word religion describe what we find in Japan? Yes it does, but with one important qualification: for the concept of religion to remain a useful cross-cultural category it must be shorn of its Abrahamic assumptions and understood to refer to a range of concepts and traditions that not only cluster around supernatural beliefs, but also practices, like rituals and festivals.

Some disagree with this view, such as the religious studies scholar Jason Ananda Josephson at Williams College in Massachusetts who explained to me via email that ‘the word “religion” is a fundamentally Eurocentric term that always functions, no matter how well-disguised, to describe a perceived similarity to European Christianity’. Josephson elaborated on this perspective in his well-received book The Invention of Religion in Japan (2012), which details the various negotiations and political struggles involved in deciding what constituted religion in the country during the Meiji era. He highlights that the present-day translation for ‘religion’ in Japanese – shūkyō – is a ‘Meiji neologism’ that ‘transformed the things classified under it and the things excluded from membership’, and also explains that a big problem he has with the term ‘religion’ is that ‘it has a multiplicity of incompatible meanings’.

When I raised these points in a discussion with Ian Reader, he said that although he admires Josephson’s work, he strongly disagrees with his assessment that we should ‘jettison a term in the 21st century which has developed a set of meanings in that context because of its possible mid-19th century derivation’. He also explained that in Japan ‘there is an intellectual and political tradition that accords weight to the notion of “religion” as a category… [and this] indicated clearly that [it] is not some Western structure arbitrarily imposed… by colonial-style powers’. Reader also said that while the term can be vague, he still believes that the concept serves as a ‘viable framework of discussion and interpretation for scholars that enables them to engage… with scholars studying similar issues elsewhere’. This accords with my own experiences as a cognitive anthropologist working on large inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural projects that were only possible because we utilize a shared terminology that includes a nuanced definition of religion.

Religion is not a category of human activity that is always and everywhere clearly distinguishable from other spheres of human life. And it is also true that what would be referred to as ‘religion’ varies across eras and locations. Yet this does not make the term semantically incoherent, nor is it the case that modern usage of the term must cling to usages of the past.

The grand theories of old failed because they conceived of religion as a monolithic phenomenon that evolved linearly over time. Modern approaches do not need to endorse such assumptions. Instead, as with the definitions of religion which are currently favoured in the cognitive science of religion field, it is possible to recognise that religion does not refer to any single thing but rather to a family of related concepts that serve to identify a meaningful and circumscribed field of inquiry. We have no greater cause to abandon the term religion for its inherent fuzziness than we do to abandon other broad terms, like politics or kinship. Ultimately, we must step back from such academic minutiae and return to exploring what we find in the world by putting to use our always-imperfect analytical tools."
japan  religion  secularism  tradition  philosophy  belief  2016  religiosity  buddhism  shintoism  christopherkavanagh 
september 2016 by robertogreco
Why the Kurdish struggle is so important | Green Left Weekly
"This pamphlet aims to provide a short introduction to the Kurdish question for non-Kurdish readers in Australia. The focus is on Turkey and Rojava (the Kurdish majority liberated zone in northern Syria) where the struggle is being led by the revolutionary democratic wing of the Kurdish movement. That is, the People's Democratic Party (HDP), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

This is a mass struggle, involving hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.

Inescapably, there is little in the pamphlet about Iraq and Iran. It also does not deal in any detail with Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan's current war against the Kurds as he schemes to get a majority for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the November 1 parliamentary elections.

The articles, by myself and Tony Iltis, aim to provide essential information and perspective. Apart from that, we felt it was important to let key figures speak for themselves so readers could get a feel for the struggle.

So we have the eloquent and powerful 2013 Newroz (Kurdish New Year) message from jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş's luminous vision of a new Turkey.

Then there are the inspiring interviews with HDP co-leader Figen Yüksekdağ and two Women's Protection Units (YPJ) commanders, which show very clearly the tremendous role women are playing in the fight on both sides of the border.

The final item touches on Australia's minor but shameful role in the conflict — its criminalisation of the PKK as a banned terrorist group.

Importance of Rojava

All around the world, in a myriad of struggles, people are fighting against oppression and exploitation. As socialists we support them all, so what makes the Kurdish freedom struggle today so special?

The answer is the Kurdish freedom struggle in Turkey and Rojava has a clear goal — the creation of an inclusive, secular, radically democratic, feminist, ecological society. It has a revolutionary leadership worthy of the heroism and sacrifice of the people and a strategy to achieve its aims.

So much of what we hear about the Middle East involves sectarian and inter-communal violence. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) embodies this with its murderous intolerance and extremely backward ideology.

The Middle East is a tremendously rich mosaic of different ethnic and religious communities. Fundamentalists of all stripes want to destroy this beautiful diversity through ruthless violence.

This is clear in Syria and Iraq, where the ISIS fanatics control a large territory. It is also the case in Turkey, where the Erdoğan regime — following in the footsteps Turkish government's since the founding of the republic in 1923 — seeks to imprison the whole country in the straitjacket of a mythical Sunni Muslim “Turkish nation”.

Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazedis and a host of other ethnicities and faiths all endure discrimination and oppression.

Celebrating diversity

The progressive Kurdish movement has explicitly rejected such reactionary nationalism. In his Newroz message, Öcalan puts forward a revolutionary perspective in these very moving words: “We shall unite against those who want to divide and make us fight one another. We shall join together against those who want to separate us …

“The peoples of the region are witnessing a new dawn. The peoples of the Middle East are weary of enmity, conflict and war. They want to be reborn from their own roots and to stand shoulder to shoulder …

“The truths in the messages of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are being implemented in our lives today with new tidings. People are trying to regain what they have lost.”

The great success of the HDP in the June 7 elections was based on this approach. It sought to be the party of the oppressed and exploited across the whole country.

And in Rojava, diversity is built into the very foundations of the revolution. Kurds are the largest ethnic group, but conscious efforts are made to engage and incorporate Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen and so on into the self-governing structures of the cantons.

In Cizire canton, for example, where the population comprises Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs and Armenians, the official languages are Kurdish, Arabic and Aramaic. All communities have the right to teach and be taught in their native language.

This is a matter of life and death for the Rojava revolution. The forces of darkness are constantly trying to turn communities against each other. If the revolution cannot adequately counter this, it will fail.

The ISIS killers have gained worldwide notoriety for their barbaric treatment of prisoners — and their public celebration of it. Captives have been beheaded, burned alive and shot in mass executions.

The People's Protection Units (YPG) and YPJ in Rojava have repudiated such inhuman behaviour. Prisoners are treated correctly. Individual lapses are always possible, but the Rojava authorities have an exemplary record on the humane treatment of prisoners.

The YPG/J have also signed the Geneva Conventions on not using soldiers under the age of 18 and have discharged many combatants found to be underage.

However, one has to put things in perspective here: when a 15- or 16-year-old has seen family members killed or when ISIS attacks a village threatening to kill everyone, it is entirely natural that many youth will pick up a gun and join the resistance, irrespective of their age.

Women in the forefront

All great revolutions have drawn women into the struggle. But I think it is true to say that the role women are playing in the Kurdish freedom struggle in Turkey and Rojava is unprecedented in history.

In Rojava women have their own armed force, the YPJ, making up at least a third of the combatants. They are also in the YPG. Women are combatants at all levels, including in the command. They have furnished hundreds of martyrs to the struggle.

Women in Rojava are fighting for a new society in which real gender equality prevails. The Rojava Charter (constitution) says: “Women have the inviolable right to participate in political, social, economic and cultural life … [the charter] mandates public institutions to work towards the elimination of gender discrimination.”

In Afrin canton in 2013, for instance, women made up 65% of the administration. The Prime Minister is a woman, Hevi Ibrahim.

We do not need to idealise anything. Rojava society is patriarchal but under the pressure of war, revolution and a revolutionary leadership, things are changing. Young women cannot be stopped by their fathers or brothers from joining the YPJ or the Asayish, the public order force.

While not everyone is on side and some people are disenchanted, the revolution has inspired and involved whole layers of the population.

I especially like the photo by Yann Renoult on the back cover of our pamphlet. This shows a revolutionary Kurdish family in Rojava looking out with what seems to be hope, determination and courage. There is Ocalan's image on the wall; all the couple's sons and daughters had joined the defence forces as teenagers.

One son had fallen in battle at the age of 18. Their parents were behind them, especially their mother, said the photographer.

Yes, the situation is terrible, but people know what they are fighting for and that gives the revolution a tremendous strength.

I hope this pamphlet can help spread awareness of the Kurdish freedom struggle, build support for it and play a role in the development of a more effective solidarity movement here in Australia."
kurds  2015  women  gender  democracy  rojava  ethnicity  diversity  nationalism  progressivism  secularism  feminism  ecology  environment  sustainability  freedom  newroz  division  inclusivity  fundamentalism  daveholms  tonyiltis  inclusion 
october 2015 by robertogreco
The Charlie Hebdo attacks show that not all blasphemies are equal
"After the murder of Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists, pundits have tried to suss out where blasphemy fits into the social life of the West. Is it a necessary project for shocking Bronze Age fanatics into modernity? Is it a way of defending a free-wheeling liberal culture from the censorship of violent men? Or is it abusively uncivil? When directed at a minority religion, is it racist? Is it an abuse of freedom of speech, the equivalent of a constant harassment that invites a punch in the nose?

We have been told that Charlie Hebdo is an "equal opportunity offender." And in one sense that is obviously true. It drew unflattering pictures of Jesus, of Jews, and of the Prophet Muhammad. The spirit of the magazine was anarchic, atheistic, and left-wing. As Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry points out, it was a very French thing, anti-clerical and Rabelaisian.

But not all blasphemies are equal, because religions are not analogous. A gesture aimed at one can cause an eruption of outrage, but when offered to another it produces a shrug. The intensity of reaction may be determined by the religion's comfort with modernity, or by the history of its adherents. Western Christians are raised in pluralist, tolerant, and diverse cultures, and in powerful nations. Muslims experience the bad side of discrimination as immigrants, and come from cultures that have been humiliated by colonialism, autocracy, and Western incursion. But that doesn't explain all of it.

Pissing on a Bible is similar to pissing on a Koran only as a chemical reaction of urea and pulp. As gestures of desecration they mean entirely different things. The challah bread eaten in Jewish homes on the Sabbath and the Catholic Eucharist both have a symbolic relation to the manna from heaven in the book of Exodus, but trampling on one is not the same as the other, and would inspire very different reactions. Likewise, Charlie Hebdo's images are offered from an anarchic and particularly French anti-clerical spirit, but they are received entirely differently as blasphemies by Christianity and Islam.

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I tried to think of what kind of blasphemy aimed at my own faith would bring out illiberal reactions in me. The infamous Piss Christ of Andres Serrano barely raises my pulse. Although the pictured crucifix reminds me of one I would kiss in worship on Good Friday, I agree with the artist Maureen Mullarkey that it is trivially easy to avoid taking the publicity-and-money-and-status-generating offense it so desperately sought.

But a Black Mass — a satanic parody of the Catholic Mass, in which a consecrated host stolen from a Catholic Church is ritually desecrated — would touch something else in me. I followed the news about proposed Black Masses at Harvard and Oklahoma City intensely in 2014. I monitored the reactions of local bishops. And I thought more highly of Tulsa's Bishop Slattery for his tougher posture. I admired even more the renegade Traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, which organized a march and produced a beautiful video explaining the offense of a Black Mass, and why Catholics would seek to make reparation before God for the offense given by others.

Freddie deBoer says that those defending the practice of blasphemy are arguing against a shadow and doing brave poses against a null threat: "None of them think that, in response to this attack, we or France or any other industrialized nation is going to pass a bill declaring criticism of Islam illegal."

Not only does this ignore the chilling effect violence has on free speech, it is also just wrong. In 2006, the British government of Tony Blair asked for a vote on a law "against incitement to religious hatred." It was a law whose political support came overwhelmingly from Muslims.

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood argued that one of the virtues of the law was that it would have allowed the government to edit Salman Rushdie's work. Luckily, the House of Lords insisted on a revision that would exempt "discussion, criticism, or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult, or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents" from the law, rendering it toothless.

But if I thought about it, I understood the MP's reaction. He hoped that a law against incitement could function as a de facto blasphemy law. I hoped last year that laws against the petty theft of "bread" from a Church could be enforced to prevent the Black Masses.

It often seems the debate over the value of blasphemy is determined by what people fear the most. Do they fear the growth of an Islamic sub-culture within the West that threatens the gains of secularism, religious toleration, feminism, and gay rights? Then blast away. Or do they fear that the majority culture, like Western imperialism itself, is driving Muslims into poverty, despair, and a cultural isolation that encourages fundamentalism? Well, then be careful, circumspect, and polite.

Last week, I suggested that Europe's secularism was aimed at Christianity, and that in some respects secularism was a kind of genetic mutation within the body of Christendom. Charlie Hebdo's kind of blasphemy was a Christian kind of blasphemy. Christianity makes icons, and Hebdo draws mustaches and testicles across them. It pokes at the pretension of religious leaders. This is a kind of blasphemy that Matt Taibbi identifies with "our way of life."

But what if drawing a cartoon of Muhammad is not, theologically speaking, like drawing a parody of Jesus? What if it is more like desecrating the Eucharist, something I think Charlie Hebdo's editors would never do?

Obviously there are debates within Islam about what God demands from believers, unbelievers, and earthly authorities. Just as there are debates about what the Eucharist is within Christianity. And, yes, sometimes state pressure can effect a religious revolution. (Look to the Mormon church and the United States). But Western pressure seems to push Muslims away from liberality.

Fazlur Rahman and other Islamic scholars point out that when Islam was an ascendant and powerful world force it often found the intellectual resources to "Islamicize" the philosophies and cultures it encountered outside its Arabian cradle. But once Islam was humiliated and reduced on the geopolitical stage, these more daring and expansive medieval projects were abandoned. Other modernizing and liberal efforts of jurists like Muhammad Abduh have proven unpopular. Instead, the great modernist projects of Wahhabist and Salafist fundamentalism is what colors movements from the Taliban to the Islamic State.

When Westerners read the editorial from radical cleric Anjem Choudary, they are tempted to think he is stupid for asking why "why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims...?"

"That's not how it works here," we want to reply. But Choudary's view that the state authority is responsible for the moral and spiritual condition of the nation is quintessentially Islamic. It is a reflection of the fact that Islam's great debates are centered on jurisprudence, on the right order of the ummah. This is very different from Christianity where the primary debates center around orthodox faith and morals withing the Church. In an odd way, Choudary's complaint against France is a sign of assimilation. He expects France to assimilate to this vision of Islam. He offers France's leaders the same complaint radical Muslim reformers always offer to lax Sultans and Caliphs.

To ask Muslims to respond peacefully to Charlie Hebdo's provocations makes absolute sense to me, because I want to continue to live by the norms set by a detente between secularism and Christian churches. I suspect many (perhaps most) Muslims want the same. But those Muslims who are faithful to a religious tradition concerned primarily with restoring fidelity to sources from the first three centuries of Islam were not a party to the secularist bargain. And we ought to be aware that we are asking them to live as Christians, and to be insulted like them, too."
michaelbrendandougherty  #JeSuisCharlieHebdo  #JeSuisCharlie  charliehebdo  freedom  freespeech  2015  france  religion  freedomofspeech  racism  islamophobia  extremism  journalism  christianity  andresserrano  maureenmullakey  blackmass  freddiedeboer  blasphemy  islam  khalidmahmood  salmanrushdie  via:ayjay  secularism  fundamentalism  fazlurrahman  anjemchoudary  jurisprudence  assimilation  matttaibbi 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Sarah Churchwell: why the humanities matter | Opinion | Times Higher Education
"The renowned scientist E. O. Wilson recently described the humanities as “the natural history of culture, and our most private and precious heritage”. The humanities are the study of what makes us human, of what it means to be human. As they penetrate every aspect of existence, they can, and should, intersect with the natural and social sciences, but literature, history, art, music, languages, theatre, film – and yes, television and computer games – are the stories and ideas through which we express our humanity.

We understand ourselves and our world through the telling of stories. Visual dramas teach us sympathy, empathy, pity, encouraging us to break out of our solipsistic shells. They explore ethical issues, ask challenging questions, inform the way we view each other. Today we live in a culture more defined by images and stories than ever before. Given this, it is vital that we approach the media, advertising and marketing discourses that influence and often manipulate us with critical thinking. We need improved communication skills; no one is born with them, and just chatting with your family and friends does not teach the precision of language needed to negotiate and reframe our complicated world. In a global age, we need to understand other societies. Anyone who has ever studied a foreign language knows that different phrases can prompt new perspectives and open our eyes to cultural values; studying foreign languages also improves mastery of our own. This rule holds by analogy more generally: when we learn about other people, we also learn about ourselves.

The politicians and corporations telling us that the humanities do not matter are, by no coincidence, the same people who think of us only as workers and consumers, not as citizens or individuals, and who strip away our human rights, one by one. It is the wealthy who insist that we should seek only to work: we don’t need the humanities, they tell us, all we need is to labour in a marketplace that will enrich them, not us.

If we agree that the humanities do not matter, or fail to challenge this assessment, we are colluding in the very practices that reduce our humanity, that impinge upon all the other ways in which we can enrich our lives, our abilities to express our creative individuality. Until we reconsider what it means to lead a truly satisfying life, what the ancient Greeks considered the “good life” – who are by no coincidence the people who invented the study of the humanities – we should not be surprised if we have the politicians and plutocrats we deserve. Why should any politician seek to challenge the source of his (rarely her) power?

The humanities conserve and safeguard those aspects of our being that intersect with the meanings of human existence beyond industry. A certain playwright was said to love humanity as a concept but to have less time for human beings. The same can be said of our so-called leaders, whose lofty rhetoric in support of humanity is belied by their contempt for the study of the humanities. That said, as the historian James Truslow Adams wrote some years ago, it is absurd to think that the powerful will abandon their power “to become spiritual leaders of a democracy that despises spiritual things”.

There is a story that may be apocryphal but is illustrative. Supposedly, Richard Dawkins was once visiting an art gallery in Florence, and as he left was heard to ask, “But what’s all this art for?” Regardless of whether Dawkins actually said it, this question articulates a widely held view among the instrumentalists and technocrats who decide our society’s priorities. Last year it was revealed that scientific studies had “proven” that reading made people more empathetic. At last, some book lovers cried, what we always knew has been proven: book lovers are better people! Anyone who has spent time in a literature department might challenge this jolly notion, but I agree with the critic Lee Siegel, who responded by defending his right to love books regardless of whether they “improved” him. Let me answer the question: what’s all this art for? It’s for us.

When we stopped being citizens and began to think of ourselves – or rather, each other – only as consumers, we relinquished thousands of years of human development. How can we sustain our civilisation if we don’t understand how it works? How can we interpret Magna Carta and defend our rights if no one reads Latin? How will we protect our own laws? How can we hope for transcendence in a secular age if we give up on beauty? Even in instrumentalist terms, the humanities represent 5,000 years of free research and development in what it means to be human. I think we should make use of that.

The humanities are where we locate our own lives, our own meanings; they embrace thinking, curiosity, creation, psychology, emotion. The humanities teach us not only what art is for, but what life might be for, what this strange existence might mean. What kind of humans would think that the humanities don’t matter? We need the advanced study of humanities so that we might, some day, become advanced humans."
humanities  2014  sarahchurchwell  eowilson  humanity  culture  literature  art  history  language  languages  stories  storytelling  theater  film  music  socialsciences  videogames  tv  television  humans  capitalism  policy  politics  markets  richarddawkins  technocracy  technocrats  instrumentalists  leesiegel  secularism  thinking  criticalthinking  thewhy  why  existence  existentialism  purpose 
december 2014 by robertogreco
Troy Jollimore – Godless but good
"Principles are useful, perhaps, but only as rules of thumb, practical guidelines that hold for the most part, but to which there will always be exceptions. At the foundational level, ethics is built not on a system of rules, but on individual human beings who possess character, judgment, and wisdom."
ethics  principles  judgement  troyjollimore  2013  humans  humanism  antoniodamasio  religion  morality  belief  goodness  behavior  theory  experience  secularism 
march 2013 by robertogreco
Off The Record: A Quest For De-Baptism In France : NPR
"Up to now, observers say the de-baptism trend has been marginal, but it's growing. In neighboring Belgium, the Brussels Federation of Friends of Secular Morality reports that 2,000 people asked to be de-baptized in 2010. The newspaper Le Monde estimated that about 1,000 French people a year ask to have their baptisms annulled.

There is much anger across the continent by the recent pedophile scandals. In September, Germans marched to protest the pope's visit.

Christian Weisner, who is with the German branch of the grassroots movement We Are Church, says Europeans still want religion, and they want to believe, but it has become very difficult within the Catholic Church.

"It's the way that the Roman Catholic Church has not followed the new approach of democracy, the new approach of the women's issue," he says, "and there is really a big gap between the Roman Catholic Church and modern times.""
secularism  europe  germany  belgium  france  2012  atheism  baptism  de-baptism  religion  catholicism 
january 2012 by robertogreco
Message to American Atheists - Christopher Hitchens - AA Conference, via Pharyngula - RichardDawkins.net
"The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, & we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.<br />
Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful & abject forces who would set limits to investigation…Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death & human sacrifice & are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped & distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings & incantations.<br />
As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend & uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary btwn Church & State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege…"
atheism  christopherhitchens  death  religion  secularism  us  policy  jefferson  belief  2011  constitution  law  separationofchurchandstate  church  state 
april 2011 by robertogreco
The Meming of Life » Raising Free-linkers Parenting Beyond Belief on secular parenting and other natural wonders
"Raising Freethinkers is chock-full of resources, including several bazillion URLs. Most are manageable, but some are just unforgivably long. Even as we prepared the manuscript, I wondered just how many people would really have the fortitude to type out strings like www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=246. Now Colin T at Science-Based Parenting has prevented an epidemic of carpal tunnel syndrome among secular parents by putting every URL from Raising Freethinkers online. He has even linked to the Amazon page for every recommended book."
secularism  parenting  atheism  belief  freethinking  dalemcgowan 
january 2010 by robertogreco
Culture & Society Articles | Looking at Link Between Religion, Prosperity at National Level | Miller-McCune Online Magazine
"In a paper posted recently on the online journal Evolutionary Psychology, independent researcher Gregory S. Paul reports a strong correlation within First World democracies between socioeconomic well-being and secularity. In short, prosperity is highest in societies where religion is practiced least."
religion  happiness  atheism  morality  secularism  prosperity  government  economics  science  politics  culture  society  sociology  statistics 
november 2009 by robertogreco
Features: 'A narrower Atlantic' by Peter Baldwin | Prospect Magazine May 2009 issue 158
"Despite America’s move to the left under Obama, it’s still assumed that Europe & America are fundamentally different—in their economies, societies & values. But this is a myth...If we compare 4 areas: economy, social policy, environment & religion & cultural attitudes, the evidence in each case allows 2 conclusions. First, Europe is not a coherent or unified continent. The spectrum of difference within even the 16 countries of western Europe is far broader than normally appreciated. Second, with a few exceptions, the US fits into this spectrum...If there is anything that most separates American society from Europe, it is the continuing presence of an ethnically distinct underclass...No one is arguing that America is Sweden. But nor is Britain, Italy, or even France. And since when does Sweden represent “Europe”—at least anymore than the ethnically homogenous, socially liberal state of Vermont does America? Europe is not the continent alone & certainly not just its northern regions."
us  europe  culture  society  statistics  demographics  crime  poverty  literacy  education  socialism  nationalism  comparison  politics  similarities  differences  income  policy  socialpolicy  spending  perception  oil  environment  recycling  consumption  books  reading  energy  religion  govenment  science  barackobama  georgewbush  stereotypes  taxes  economics  evolution  health  families  healthcare  agriculture  secularism  healthinsurance  values 
june 2009 by robertogreco
Secular Homeschooling Magazine
"Secular Homeschooling is a non-religious quarterly magazine that reflects the diversity of the homeschooling community. Its readers and writers are committed to the idea that religious belief is a personal matter rather than a prerequisite of homeschooling. This magazine is for any homeschooler, religious or not, who is interested in good solid writing about homeschooling and homeschoolers."
education  homeschool  secularism  unschooling  glvo  magazines  publications 
december 2008 by robertogreco
The atheist delusion | Review | guardian.co.uk Books
"'Opposition to religion occupies high ground, intellectually & morally,' wrote Martin Amis recently. Over past few years, leading writers & thinkers have published bestselling tracts against God. John Gray on why 'secular fundamentalists' have got it all
atheism  belief  religion  humanity  secularism  philosophy  theology  books  culture  evolution  democracy  progress  christianity  meaning 
march 2008 by robertogreco
Cover story: 'America still works' by Michael Lind | Prospect Magazine February 2008 issue 143
"Barring catastrophes, US in 2050...more racially integrated; remain culturally/linguistically homogeneous...easily afford social security & decent healthcare....challenges-not the ones usually identified....class lines are hardening"
us  economics  pessimism  race  politics  culture  society  religion  racism  diversity  history  future  health  healthcare  immigration  latinos  demographics  census  statistics  language  spanish  secularism  trends  socialsecurity  class  doomsayers  optimism  linguistics  productivity 
january 2008 by robertogreco
Faith and politics | The new wars of religion | Economist.com
"Ironically, America, the model for much choice-based religion, has often seemed stuck in the secular era, declaring war on state-sponsored terror, only to discover the main weapon of militant Islamism is often the ballot box."
atheism  religion  war  politics  government  policy  us  asia  europe  science  islam  christianity  future  secularism  guyfawkes  terrorism 
november 2007 by robertogreco

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