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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘religion

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that a study of Epsilon Eridani’s debris disk hints at the existence of planets.
  • Inkfish notes that global warming is harming the nutritional value of rainforest leaves.
  • Joe. My. God. quotes Larry Kramer being an alarmist.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money examines the Ted Cruz candidacy.
  • Marginal Revolution reports on a study suggesting the continuing underrepresentation of women on television and in the movies.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog links to a report on the changing religious demographics of the United States.
  • Torontoist notes that the Scarborough rapid transit line is getting a makeover.
  • Window on Eurasia observes that irredentism is popular among Russians.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • Gerry Canavan produces his own compendium of interesting links.
  • Centauri Dreams speculates about the colours indicative of extraterrestrial life, and ecologies.
  • Crooked Timber takes a look at Northern Ireland and the legacies of past violence.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on a hominid fossil that may indicate a much greater diversity in our ancestral gene pool than we thought.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Edward Hugh wonders when the European Central Bank will start to taper interest rates.
  • The Frailest Thing warns that the promises of tech giants to free people from the shackles of the past should be seen critically.
  • On St. Patrick’s Day, Joe. My. God. and Michael in Norfolk both note the extent to which attitudes towards GLBT people in Ireland have changed.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money wonders about the good sense of going off of anti-depressants.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen proclaims Scarborough to be one of the world’s best food cities.
  • Savage Minds makes the case for anthropologists to aid the post-cyclone people of Vanuatu.
  • Spacing interviews the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair on urban issues.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s David Bernstein is unhappy at the consequences for Israel of Netanyahu’s reelection, while Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at income disparities in Israel.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that high inequality and low social mobility in Russia will doom the country, notes the potential for water-driven conflict in Central Asia, and notes Russian interest in acquiring more slots of Muslim pilgrims after Crimea’s annexation.

[URBAN NOTE] “Why Do Severed Goat Heads Keep Turning Up in Brooklyn?”

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New York Magazine‘s Adrian Chen takes a look at the phenomenon described in the title. The goat heads may, or may not, have connections to any number of Latin American and Caribbean folk religions. Chen’s engrossing investigation on the ground is fascinating journalistic ethnography.

At the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street in Brooklyn, the heart of Park Slope’s tree-lined prosperity abruptly gives way to grittier windswept blocks that march south to Sunset Park and west to the Gowanus Canal. Trucks and cars speed down Ninth Street as dusty construction workers, sharply dressed professionals, nannies with strollers, and roughhousing teens hustle across Fifth Avenue, all on their way to somewhere else. Perhaps this neither-here-nor-there-ness explains why two skinned goat heads that appeared without explanation above the intersection last November remained there for days. The heads were tied together at the base of the skull with twine and slung over a light pole on the intersection’s northeast corner. After at least four days, an employee from a nearby car service knocked the goat heads down with a pole and threw them in a garbage can.

Or maybe the sluggish reaction to the Park Slope goat heads signals the extent to which such discoveries have become a routine occurrence in the area. Severed goat heads keep turning up in nearby Prospect Park. Last year alone, readers sent the blog Gothamist photographic evidence of three goat heads found in the park. (In all of these cases, the goat heads had their skin still attached.) Gothamist seems to be experiencing something like goat-head fatigue, judging from the increasingly nonchalant tone of its goat-head coverage. Pretty soon it will probably take a cow head to get them excited. “It’s New York,” one spectacularly unimpressed passerby told DNAinfo. “I’ve seen the towers come down, so beyond that, nothing really stings that bad.”

But while repeated exposure to goat heads may have inured some local residents, others have sensed an unsettling trend. Many news reports about the Park Slope goat heads suggested a dark link to the goat heads discovered in Prospect Park. “Residents have questioned whether the incidents could be connected to religious animal sacrifice,” The Wall Street Journal wrote. The specter of Santería was invoked. The Drudge Report picked up the story. The goat heads went global. As I read all this in my apartment a few blocks from the site of the hanging goat heads, I was riveted. A mysterious flood of goat heads is the only interesting thing that has happened in Park Slope since I moved to the neighborhood three years ago. Yes, the rush to blame a little-understood religion practiced largely by immigrants smacked a bit of lazy xenophobia, but the idea of Park Slope as a hotbed of animal sacrifice, in addition to child-friendly bars, was undeniably intriguing. In a city where everyday occurrences are casually weighed against the events of September 11, 2001, it was shocking to find that so many of my neighbors and I were actually shocked. The goat heads seemed to rear out of some shadow New York City that was even gnarlier than the pre-Guiliani version I’d seen in the movies, and at the edge of Brooklyn’s most thoroughly gentrified neighborhood, to boot. When New York asked me to investigate the goat heads, I leapt at the chance. I wanted to see if the world they hinted at lived up to the hype.

I quickly learned that any answers would not be forthcoming from official channels. The NYPD opened an investigation into the hanging goat heads back in November, but a public information officer with Park Slope’s 78th Precinct informed me that “no further information has been found out.” A spokesman for the Prospect Park Alliance said, “I don’t think anyone in the park is going to have that much to say about it.” A FOIL request I filed with the New York City Parks and Recreation Department (for “all records related to reports of decapitated animal corpses and animal heads found in New York City parks between the years 2010–2014”) didn’t seem to be at the top of their list of priorities.

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • blogTO notes that the cash-strapped CBC may be forced to sell its iconic downtown Toronto headquarters.
  • James Bow reflects on winter in Kitchener-Waterloo.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper studying the relationship between exoplanets and circumstellar dust discs.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a simulation of the polar atmosphere of Venus and notes concerns that India’s Hindustan Aeronautics might not be able to manufacture French Rafale fighters under contract.
  • Far Outliers notes Madeleine Albright’s incomprehension of Cambodia’s late 1990s struggles and looks at the way the country lags its neighbours.
  • The Frailest Thing notes how human traffic errors reveal we’re not quite up to some of the tasks we’d like.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Finland’s president has signed a marriage bill into existence.
  • Languages of the World notes the problem of where the homeland of the Indo-Europeans was located.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the often-ignored pattern of lynching Mexicans in the United States.
  • Marginal Revolution notes (1, 2) the problems of human beings with algorithmic, computer-driven planning.
  • Otto Pohl notes how Germans in Kyrgyzstan were forced into labour battalions.
  • pollotenchegg looks at demographic indicators in Ukraine over the past year, noting a collapse in the east.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer looks at deep history, looking at the involvement of war in state-building in Africa and noting the historically recent rise of inequality in Latin America.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at one Russian’s proposal to give a Ukrainian church self-government, notes Russia’s inability to serve as a mentor to China, and looks at rural depopulation in the North Caucasus and South Russia.

[LINK] “Crimea’s Vanishing Religious Communities”

Writing for Transitions Online, Felix Corley suggests that many religious communities in Russian-occupied Crimea–particularly ones with Ukrainian or Western links–are facing quiet repression.

Almost 18 years after it was founded, a small Catholic convent in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, was forced to close down in November when its three Franciscan nuns had to leave. They were refused the possibility of extending their residence permits in Crimea, the chancellor of the Odessa and Simferopol Catholic diocese, Krzysztof Kontek, told Forum 18 News Service from the Ukrainian city of Odessa on 15 January. The sisters, who are from elsewhere in Ukraine and Poland, had been helping in pastoral work in the city’s Catholic parish. Their enforced departure came a month after the parish’s main priest was similarly forced to leave.

In addition, December saw the enforced departure of the last of Crimea’s 23 imams and Muslim teachers from Turkey, a spokesperson for the Muslim Board told Forum 18 from Simferopol on 20 January.

Officials from the Crimean branch of Russia’s Federal Migration Service said in October that only registered religious communities are able to invite foreign citizens. No religious community in Crimea or Sevastopol (an administratively separate city) has state registration recognized by the Russian authorities.

A Russian law from 31 December extended the deadline for re-registering religious communities (and other entities) in Crimea until 1 March.

Fines for religious books the Russian authorities regard as “extremist” seem to have reduced in recent months, though they did not stop. However, as a moratorium on raids, seizures of literature, and prosecutions in such cases ended, it remains unclear if such raids, fines, and confiscations will resume. Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and librarians have been particular targets.

The moratorium was announced by the head of Crimea’s Russian-backed government, Sergei Aksyonov, in mid-October.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 5, 2015 at 10:56 pm

[LINK] “Angry White Buddhists and the Dalai Lama: Appropriation and Politics in the Globalization of Tibetan Buddhism”

Savage Minds has a guest post from anthropologist Ben Joffe, talking about the ways in which the conflict in the Tibetan Buddhist community between worshippers of the Dorje Shugden and followers of the Dalai Lama has been co-opted by Western converts. I don’t necessarily agree with this–as Joffe himself notes, there are serious complaints to be had with the Dalai Lama’s policy towards this minority sect and its practitioners–but it’s an interesting viewpoint.

In November of last year, the fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso completed an extensive lecture tour of the USA. Of the thousands who showed up for the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s talks, one group arrived without fail to each of his events: crowds of mostly white protestors in Tibetan robes who came to boycott the religious leader. Brandishing placards and shouting slogans, they accused the Dalai Lama of being a hypocrite, a liar and a denier of religious freedom. Calling the leader ‘the worst dictator in this modern day’ and a ‘false Dalai Lama’, the demonstrators seemed to be channelling the most zealous of Chinese Communist Party ideologues. Yet these were no party cadres. Rather, they were converts to the Dalai Lama’s own school of Tibetan Buddhism. As representatives of the ‘International Shugden Community’ (ISC), the protesters came to highlight their grievances over the Dalai Lama’s opposition to a Tibetan deity known as Dorje Shugden, and the discrimination and human rights violations they claim the religious leader’s rejection of this being and its followers has engendered.

The ISC is a major mouth-piece for the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), a sect of almost exclusively non-Tibetan converts to Tibetan Buddhism that currently spearheads the global pro-Shugden, anti-Dalai Lama agenda. On the surface, the NKT’s almost two decades-long global campaign against the Dalai Lama and his supporters – that is, the overwhelming majority of the ethnic Tibetan and Tibetan Buddhist global population – appears to be primarily about a dispute hinging on opposing theological positions within a single tradition. The Dalai Lama believes that Dorje Shugden is a dangerous demon masquerading as a benign deity, the NKT believes that the being is a bona fide Buddha. What I want to argue here is that the controversy, and specifically NKT’s involvement in it, points as well to the politics of race, appropriation, and privilege involved in conversion and new religious movements, and highlights ongoing tensions between ethno-nationalist and universalist impulses in the globalization of Tibetan Buddhism and culture.

The Dalai Lama and NKT converts are all members of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism, in which at least since the 19th century, Dorje Shugden has been seen by some practitioners as a particularly potent ‘protector’ (in Tibetan Buddhism protectors are powerful, yet ferocious, egotistical spirits that have been ritually converted into defenders Buddhism). Although the Dalai Lama is technically not the highest spiritual authority in the Geluk school, his line’s historical political leadership of Tibet has made him one of the school’s most prominent figures. His dual role as a national leader and sectarian authority, however, has generated some tension, and historically the Dalai Lamas’ more inclusive, nationally orientated policies have clashed with the narrower sectarian priorities of some Gelukpa elites. Himself once a Shugden propitiator in accordance with his Geluk education in Tibet, the current Dalai Lama began to voice reservations about the spirit in the 1970s. Shugden’s reputation for ruthlessly punishing (and assassinating) prominent Gelukpa practitioners who engage with teachings from other schools has made the spirit iconic of a certain brand of Geluk supremacism. Such bias is in fundamental conflict with the Dalai Lama’s particularly non-sectarian vision of Tibetan Buddhism and a Tibetan nation in exile. Thus, to protect himself and the Tibetan people from what he sees as a dangerous demon, the Dalai Lama has prohibited those with ritual commitments to the spirit from attending any of his teachings, and has purged exile monastic and government posts of anyone associated with the being.

[. . .]

NKT members have made their quarantine into something of a virtue. NKT converts claim Tibetans have become too worldly and politically-focused to be worthy of functioning as custodians of pure Buddhist teachings. Though inji monks and nuns entering the NKT rely on a Tibetan guru, adopt Tibetan names, wear traditional robes and preserve lineage practices hailing from Tibet, any direct engagement with Tibetan politics or culture is denounced as retrogressive and unnecessary. The NKT’s philosophy is one of ‘one lama, one yidam (meditational deity), one protector’ in reference to their sole reliance on Kelsang Gyatso and his particular teachings, a stance distinctly odds with how Tibetan Buddhism has historically been practiced. Today, the NKT curriculum is based exclusively on Kelsang Gyatso’s texts, and ritual activity and teaching in NKT centres worldwide happens pretty much entirely in languages other than Tibetan.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 2, 2015 at 10:37 pm

[LINK] “Tending the ‘Stolen’ Sheep in Latin America’s Booming Bible Belt”

An interesting Christianity Today article by Morgan Lee reports on the diversity of Protestantism in Central America, where different countries seem to have different traditions.

For most of the past century, almost all (more than 90%) of Latin Americans were Catholics. But decades of attrition have resulted in a record 1 in 5 Latinos now identifying as Protestants.

Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua lead the way, where Protestants constitute 4 in 10 residents of each nation. But Protestants in those 3 countries diverge on many measures of orthodox belief and practice, according to a detailed survey of 19 Latin American countries and territories by the Pew Research Center.

Guatemala’s Protestants arguably seem the most mature. They are the most likely of all 19 surveyed groups to evangelize weekly (53%), to believe only Christ leads to eternal life (74%), and to exhibit high commitment (75% pray daily, attend services weekly, and consider faith very important). Even their millennials are the most religious (71% are highly committed).

Protestants in Nicaragua and Honduras are more varied. Only 1 in 3 share their faith on a weekly basis. About 6 in 10 are highly committed to church attendance and prayer. On Christianity’s exclusive access to eternal life, only two-thirds of Hondurans and half of Nicaraguans agree. And only 45 percent of Nicaragua’s millennials are highly committed to their faith.

Further, Honduran Protestants are among Latin America’s most syncretistic, with 42 percent exhibiting medium to high engagement with indigenous beliefs and practices (a figure that’s higher than Catholics in most Latin American countries). Nicaraguan Protestants exhibited similarly high levels (35%), but only 24 percent of Guatemalan Protestants are similarly syncretistic.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 28, 2015 at 11:28 pm

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