On Oceans (and Ascetics) and Mechanisms (and Revolutionaries)

For Yuri; an afterthought to how Dostoyevsky may have replied to Gerard’s objections to the focus on tending to the heart, and his championing of economic development and rationalization of the social world as the primary route leading to the reduction of the world’s problems and, seemingly, the improvement of human nature — in which moral and ascetical practices, such as tending to one’s heart, are seen as superfluous at best. What follows below is not an argument against this (who would begrudge development?), simply an attempt at being an amanuensis of sorts.  Continue reading

The Genealogy of Secularization

Jan Bremmer is an impressive figure. (–but do not confuse him with the political scientist Ian Bremmer, whom you should follow on Twitter.) I was first acquainted with Jan’s work as a ravenous undergrad taking courses on the classics, when a professor suggested a book of his along with Walter Burkert’s standard tome. He has quite a large list of publications under his belt (you can browse the Amazon.com selection), having written some of the standard secondary texts on ancient Greek (pagan) religion, and branching out into early Christianity and myths and ritual worship in general.

About fifteen years ago Dr. Bremmer took to writing a remarkably concise set of notes, in the form of a narrative, titled “Secularization: Notes Toward a Genealogy“, published in a collection of essays titled Religion: Beyond a Concept edited by Hent de Vries. (The article may be visible in Google Books, and this is great, because the pages of the Academia.edu upload didn’t scan well near the spine.) Continue reading

Some Rambling Thoughts on Chinese Shadow Puppet Plays, as Well as a Vonnegut Quote and its Context — Oh, and Simone Weil

The Harvard Ed Portal near me hosts several events, and yesterday’s was “Wu Man and the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band” (there is a YouTube clip of the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band here (that family has been doing this for eleven generations!), and an NPR clip of Wu Man here; there is also a disc they were selling at this event titled “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble”, available as a disc and for streaming, YouTube trailer here — more on this disc later, and its accompanying school lesson-plan material, which prompted this post). The event was, in several ways, both eye-opening and beautiful (alien in its tones and stories and some of the conventions of singing; familiar in its musical similarity to Blues and the visual similarity of the puppets to certain Late Antique Anglo-Saxon and Celtic knotwork illuminated manuscript conventions; moving all around).

I loved the show, the performers seemed like wonderful people, and they were very gracious in fielding our questions. I was sad to hear that there were fewer than thirty people left in China who knew this trade — the performers told me that they were 12 when they made their first puppet (out of cow skin, via a rigorous process), and 20 when they could manipulate the flat figures, which each have three poles to move the many parts, with one hand only (to see what I’m talking about, expand this post by clicking “continue reading” below, then look at the image on the header of the expanded post). The younger generations want to leave the villages, want lucrative careers, just want to watch cartoons — though they flock to the performances when they’re held. Thankfully, the Chinese government recognizes the cultural value of this profession, and supports the mission of these puppeteers (similar to how Irish Gaelic survives in the state-sponsored Gaeltachtaí).

On my way out the door, however, I was dismayed to find that an American product was being pushed at the door that, despite its best intentions, was not only smugly imperialist in its self-assured nihilism but insulting to the richness of the Chinese tradition, and its clear apprehension that value is real, and insulting to the Western European tradition, which has also traditionally recognized that what is worth pursuing is worth pursuing because of its inherent worthiness. Continue reading

Secularization — Is Christianity No Longer the Norm?

Good summary of the article on secularization as it bears upon conscious affiliation (i.e., explicit commitment), and the benefits of this for everyone. Read the very short article he links to at the bottom, and do yourself a favor and scan the other posts by Ormerod at the top. Ormerod suggest that things, as they are, will remain so “for at least the next 100 years” or something. Optimistic? Perhaps. Christianity is, as one atheist put it, “the stone in the shoe that one cannot quite get rid of”; our present culture has deep roots, and most of us are not aware of the elements of our culture, or their provenance and sustaining springs; it is a live question for me as to whether we ever really become “post-Christian” in anything more than a superficial sense — though if we do, we certainly become post-Christian. To this end, read Blumenberg’s The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Löwith’s Meaning in History, and Taylor’s A Secular Age to get a better sense of this relationship from multiple angles. Then, of course, there is Nietzsche, together with a host of other authors. One thing is clear, though: secularization is not irreligion or atheism. It is something else. More soon. (But give Imagining Sociology a follow: it’s a classroom resource for a UK teacher, so it’s not as regular as some blogs, but the posts are always brief enough that it’s inexcusable not to follow it, and it’s a quite-profitable read.)

EDIT: the ever-provocative Richard Dawkins tweeted about this phenomenon here (though it might be simply anti-Islam that lurks behind that); Nietzsche similarly thought that Christianity was a buffer for some things that he thought were worse, though I can’t remember where, and can’t find it on a quick look-through.

Sociology with LDV

Here are the key highlights from the article by Peter Ormerod (link below).

  • “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good,” Prof Stephen Bullivant
  • Ormerod argues that it’s a mistake to assume that under 30s have changed that drastically because there is a significant evidence that they are still willing to wholeheartedly embrace alternatives to religion.
  • Older generations are not completely embracing rationality either because new age movements such as astrology are enjoying a renaissance
  • Linda Woodhead points out that although lots of British teenagers identify that they have no religion, most don’t describe themselves as atheists.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/22/christianity-norm-underground-mystery?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Email

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…and to All a Good Night?

First, some (contestable) definitions. Our habits become conventions when we negotiate and then share them with others, and become custom when they sink deeper to take on a regulative role within the life of our community; these customs have something like a self-perpetuating power, and outlive the contexts that gave them birth and made sense out of them, mutating in the transition from context to context, at least intermittently demanding verification or reaffirmation.

Here, I was originally going to explore, loosely, the curiosities associated with the secularization of Christmas — Christmas as a custom. I am forced to cut this short, however, with no guarantee that I shall be able to return to it soon, as the semester has begun in full swing. Here are the first two of the five sections of the original.

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