Friday, February 29, 2008

Gordon Lynch on the New Progressive Spirituality of the Religious Left

Gordon Lynch has quickly become one of my favorite authors. Lynch is Professor of Sociology of Religion at Birkbeck University of London, and in my estimation, he is one of the more perspective and balanced scholars writing on religion and Wesern culture. Previously I had enjoyed reading his book After Religion: 'Generation X' and the search for meaning (Darton, Longman & Todd, 2002) which discusses not only cultural and spiritual considerations related to Gen X, but which also includes discussion of Lynch's own spiritual journey as he migrated out of evangelical faith in the U.K. (see my previous interview with Lynch on this book's thesis here.) I have also enjoyed his contributions to the study of religion and popular culture, including Understanding Theology and Popular Culture (Blackwell Publishing, 2005), and his most recent work in this area as editor of Between Sacred and Profane: Researching Religion and Popular Culture (I.B. Tauris, 2007). Last night I finished one of his contributions to religious and cultural studies in the form of The New Spirituality: An Introduction to Progressive Belief in the Twenty-first Century (I.B. Tauris, 2007). As the back cover of this book describes, The New Spirituality addresses the "opposite" of the "Religious Right" in the form of "the emergence of a new generation of progressive religious thinkers and organisations on the 'religious left'. The New Spirituality is one of the first books to give a comprehensive and authoritative analysis of this burgeoning progressive religious movement."

Lynch identifies four key concerns identified with the New Spirituality that include: 1) "the desire for an approach to religion and spirituality that is appropriate for modern, liberal societies," 2) "the rejection of patriarchal forms of religion and the search for religious forms that are authentic and liberating for women," 3) "the move to re-sacralize science (particularly quantum physics, and contemporary theories of cosmology)," and 4) "the search for a nature-based spirituality that will motivate us to try to avert the impending ecological catastrophe."

The author discusses the New Spirituality over the course of six chapters. The first looks at the roots of progressive spirituality which have connections to a long and rich tradition within the West, but which have also "been particularly shaped, though, by a range of cultural and intellectual movements that have become increasingly influential on western religion since the 1960s." The second chapter looks at the ideology of progressive spirituality that emphasizes "a lived ideology" where action is emphasized as much as thought. This ideology involves three aspects, including a notion of the divine as ineffable, immanent, pantheistic/panentheistic; and strong senses of nature and the self that are sacralized. Chapter 4 addresses how religion has changed in western societies with the rise of modernization. This chapter is extremely helpful as it summarizes the overlapping but different understandings of various scholars from differing disciplines as to their interpretations of this social, cultural, and religious phenomenon. Chapter 5 looks at the debate as to perceptions of demoralization in the West and how progressive spirituality is to be understood within the context of this debate. Chapter 6 concludes the volume with Lynch's discussion of what the future might hold for progressive spirituality.

This volume is significant for Christians in that not only does it discuss a popular, influential, and increasingly well organized and intellectual alternative to the Religious Right, but it also describes a spirituality that in some ways has developed in reaction to perceptions of the shortcomings if not outright failures of conservative expressions of Christianity. As Lynch describes this:

"The form of religion that is most commonly rejected by progressive spirituality is, as we have already noted, hierarchical religion grounded in a belief in a personal God who is removed from the cosmos. William Bloom refers to such forms of religion as being based on the idea of God as 'General in Command' or 'Chief Executive Officer'. Such religion, it is argued, is authoritarian - dictating what kinds of beliefs and lifestyles its adherents should follow. It is patriarchal - using its power structures to reinforce certain assumptions about who should hold power and what kinds of gender and ethnic identities, or sexual orientation, are more inherently valuable than others. It is rigid and inflexible - asserting timeless doctrines and moral codes without asking whether these are meaningful or constructive in a modern context. It inserts the need for religious authorities and institutions for mediating the divine rather than allowing people to pursue their spiritual search on their own terms. It devalues embodied experience and makes us suspicious and guilty about sexuality. It removes the sacred from the cosmos, and in doing so leaves a desacralized world ripe for capitalist, industrialist exploitation. It places salvation in a life and context above and beyond this one, rather than seeing the cosmos as the only real context in which issues of life and death, salvation and grace are worked out. Because of this, it is argued, traditional hierarchical religion has little to offer by way of a framework for an authentic spiritual search or to inspire constructive responses to contemporary problems." [emphasis mine]

In light of these concerns among advocates of progressive spirituality as well as increasing numbers of people in the West who would not directly identify with the progressive spiritual milieu, I believe this book should be considered esential reading for those attempting to understand a significant aspect of Western spirituality, particularly Christians interested in living and articulating a form of spirituality that avoids or at least appropriately accounts for negative perceptions of prevalent expressions of Christianty in the western world.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

From the latest ReligionLink email newsletter comes an announcement concerning a new American religious demographics survey:

"In a diverse and highly religious country, the details of every new big survey of religious identity are both welcomed and questioned. The extensive U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released Feb. 25 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, is notable because it adds concrete numbers to significant trends that are reshaping American life as well as new demographic details about the adherents of many religious groups, particularly smaller ones that are difficult to study in large national surveys. It also raises questions for American denominations and for American religious life by challenging assumptions and identifying new trends that some people may find troubling."
Following are select excerpts from the report's Summary of Key Findings:

"An extensive new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life details the religious affiliation of the American public and explores the shifts taking place in the U.S. religious landscape. Based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey finds that religious affiliation in the U.S. is both very diverse and extremely fluid.

"More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion - or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether."


"The Landscape Survey confirms that the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country; the number of Americans who report that they are members of Protestant denominations now stands at barely 51%. Moreover, the Protestant population is characterized by significant internal diversity and fragmentation, encompassing hundreds of different denominations loosely grouped around three fairly distinct religious traditions - evangelical Protestant churches (26.3% of the overall adult population), mainline Protestant churches (18.1%) and historically black Protestant churches (6.9%)."


"Like the other major groups, people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion (16.1%) also exhibit remarkable internal diversity. Although one-quarter of this group consists of those who describe themselves as either atheist or agnostic (1.6% and 2.4% of the adult population overall, respectively), the majority of the unaffiliated population (12.1% of the adult population overall) is made up of people who simply describe their religion as "nothing in particular." This group, in turn, is fairly evenly divided between the "secular unaffiliated," that is, those who say that religion is not important in their lives (6.3% of the adult population), and the "religious unaffiliated," that is, those who say that religion is either somewhat important or very important in their lives (5.8% of the overall adult population)."


"The survey finds that constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace, as every major religious group is simultaneously gaining and losing adherents. Those that are growing as a result of religious change are simply gaining new members at a faster rate than they are losing members. Conversely, those that are declining in number because of religious change simply are not attracting enough new members to offset the number of adherents who are leaving those particular faiths.

"To illustrate this point, one need only look at the biggest gainer in this religious competition - the unaffiliated group. People moving into the unaffiliated category outnumber those moving out of the unaffiliated group by more than a three-to-one margin. At the same time, however, a substantial number of people (nearly 4% of the overall adult population) say that as children they were unaffiliated with any particular religion but have since come to identify with a religious group. This means that more than half of people who were unaffiliated with any particular religion as a child now say that they are associated with a religious group. In short, the Landscape Survey shows that the unaffiliated population has grown despite having one of the lowest retention rates of all "religious" groups."

A few survey highlights:

* Mormons and Muslims are the groups with the largest families; more than one-in-five Mormon adults and 15% of Muslim adults in the U.S. have three or more children living at home.

*Nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists have obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about one-in-ten of the adult population overall. Hindus and Jews are also much more likely than other groups to report high income levels.

*In sharp co ntrast to Islam and Hinduism, Buddhism in the U.S. is primarily made up of native-born adherents, whites and converts. Only one-in-three American Buddhists describe their race as Asian, while nearly three-in-four Buddhists say they are converts to Buddhism.

*Jehovah's Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religious tradition. Only 37% of all those who say they were raised as Jehovah's Witnesses still identify themselves as Jehovah's Witnesses.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Robert Ellwood Introduces Japanese Religions

Robert Ellwood has been writing on religion and religious movements for quite some time. I recently contacted him about his new book Introducing Japanese Religion (Routledge, 2007). He agreed to an interview through direct responses to my questions as well as exccerpts from his book.

Morehead's Musings: Dr. Ellwood, thank you for agreeing to discuss your new book from Routledge as part of their World Religion Series. What was it that led you to have an interest in Japanese religions, and then to agree to write this introduction to the topic for the publisher?

Robert Ellwood: It was observation of Japanese religion as a Navy chaplain, asking inner questions about how to understand both Shinto and Buddhism, and my own Christian faith, in the same world; reading Eliade, which gave me a new way of looking at it than just the "these people believe this, we believe that" kind of approach, but also finding common structures of sacred and profane space and time (which my rather ritualistic Episcopal church certainly had like the Japanese, with their colorful festivals and richly set-apart temples and shrines). So, not wanting to stay in the Navy the rest of my life and having nothng better to do, I decided to apply for graduate work in History of Religion at the University of Chicago, where Eliade then was. As for this particular book, written long after I retired in 1997, that was because Charles Prebish (he is now at Utah State, incidentally) unexpectedly me to write an online text on Japanese Religion for a series is editing under the JBE (Journal of Buddhist Ethics) aegis; they also have an arrangement with Routledge for simultaneous hardcopy versions of the same book. I decided to accept.

And an exerpt from Introducing Japanese Religion on this question:

"My own understanding of the general nature of religion, as over against particular religions, was greatly enriched by my first encounter with Japanese religion, which was also my first encounter with religion outside the basically Judeo-Christian culture of North America and Europe. It was when I was a chaplain with the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s, and was sent to Okinawa and Japan. Though I had only limited understanding of their meaning, I was struck by the atmosphere and color of Japanese religious sites: the rustic grace of Shinto shrines, the deep peace and soft glowing light of Buddhist temples, even the white robes and quiet power of the noro, or shamanesses, of Okinawa. On occasion, I was thrilled by the lively energy of matsuri, the festivals associated with Shinto shrines, with their drums, their sacred dances, their processions with the mikoshi or palanquin containing the kami-presence. I could not help wondering how all this related to the religious world with which I was familiar.

"I then read a book by Mircea Eliade, the distinguished historian of religion. Emphasizing the phenomena of religion -- what appears, what is seen and done -- this writer pointed to the way cultures everywhere separate off sacred space and time. This is the space within the church or shrine or temple, where one almost instinctively thinks and acts in special, reverent ways. It is the time of festivals, whether Christmas or Hanukkah or the Shinto matsuri, which likewise feels different from ordinary workaday time. If you are at all like what Eliade called homo religiosus, a traditionally religious person, being inside a church or temple just doesn't feel like being on the street or in a factory, and Christmas morning, or New Years or matsuri-day in Japan, just doesn't feel like an ordinary Monday morning. To me, this was a way of thinking about religion that cuts through starting with doctrine -- we believe this, those people believe that. Instead, this approach, technically called phenomenological and structuralist, looks for "what appears" in the practice of religion, then goes behind them to ascertain what the basic patterns or structures are, and what worldview underlies it all.

"This perspective was, and is, especially important in coming to grips with Japanese religion. Western Christianity tends to start with belief, at least in theory. In Japan religion is above all the sacred space and time kind of experience, most often at the Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple, that comes first. It then takes account of the family and community bonding of which shrine and temple can be the hub."

Morehead's Musings: You discuss a variety of elements in the religious mix of Japan, including Shinto, and various forms of Buddhism. To many Westerners Japan might look more secular than religious. Can describe how all of these influences come together to form the religious mix of this interesting country?

Robert Ellwood: a) Most Japanese will say they are not religious and Japanese has virtually no religion, despite appearances. This is because to them religion means a revealed religion demanding exclusive faith and commitment, which they think many other countries have, but not Japan. b) Yet they do practices that look religious, but they think of them as just honoring natural stages of life, like birth, marriage, death, or festivals that go with the seasons, or shrines and temples of exceptional beauty or even power -- but to them this is "natural," not religion in the sense they think other countries have it. I think the views of Ana on this in the attached are very insightful. What all this does is challenge one's definition of religion. And also of secularism. c) Religion versus secularism is then in the eye of the beholder. Not too many Japanese are personally devout in the western sense of the term, yet "religion" is present everywhere, even where it is not here. Businesses and factories very often have Shinto shrines on the wall or even the roof, and Shinto priests routinely perform blessing and purification ceremonies on the premises. The mighty Toyota Corportation has a shrine in its headquarters park to the god and goddess of metal; it would be hard to imagine even a Christian equvalent at General Motors. It's just different. d) Most Japanese have a relation to both Shinto and Buddhism; the idea that religion ought to be rigorously logically consistent is alien; different traditions have a place in different areas of life, and in any case ultimate truth is beyond words. And religion is situational, like courtesy a matter of the right thing at the right time, with the right people; it doesn't have to the logically consistent, any more than half of what we do and say on an average day probably is; that's all part of the homey, family, community character of religion in Japan.

Introducing Japanese Religion excerpt:

"Some years ago, when I was studying in Japan, my wife and I leased a house which belonged to a Japanese professor teaching in a technical field for a year at a university in Mississippi. We exchanged correspondence on matters relating to the maintenance of the house, and finally the Japanese visitor in America asked me what I was doing in Japan. I said I was doing research in Japanese religion; he replied that was an odd thing to do, since most Japanese have no religion. Surprised, I responded mentioning all the temples and shrines, the ceremonies and festivals, I saw all around that seemed to be religious. He answered those are not religion, just folk customs.

"Obviously a problem had arisen as to what one means by "religion." I finally realized the other was undoubtedly thinking in terms of the Japanese word shukyo, usually used for religion in modern translations, but literally meaning the "teaching of a sect," such as a particular school of Buddhism. There is, significantly, no Japanese word meaning everything the hard-to-define word “religion” can indicate in English -- though as W. Cantwell Smith has pointed out, our usual view of "a religion" as a separate, optional, detachable part of a culture, and of there being several different "religions" around, is a modern concept, and a modern use of the word, in all cultures. (In medieval Europe "religion" meant following a rule like a monk's.)

"My Japanese correspondent, then, thought that one was not religious unless one consistently followed the doctrine and practice of a particular sect, and he rightly judged this was not the case with Japanese. (In Mississippi, he said, people really were religious. They were members of, and regularly attended, a particular church, most often Baptist; even the state legislature might debate whether certain proposals were in accordance with the Bible.) But this was not how I, as a historian of religion, had been trained to think about the subject: I was more inclined to look for religious "phenomena" -- sacred spaces, sacred times, rituals and pilgrimages -- and I saw them everywhere.

"Fully to answer the question of whether the Japanese are really religious one needs to think of religion in a way different from how many westerners think about it. Here is a country in which the great majority of people have a relation to both Shinto and Buddhism, typically considering that Shinto has to do with the joyous occasions of this life, Buddhism with the ultimate mysteries of the universe and what happens after one dies. “Born Shinto, die Buddhist,” they say.

"So it is that Shinto matsuri or festivals are celebrative community affairs with a carnival atmosphere, marriages are often solemnized in Shinto shrines, and newborn children presented to the kami of the family shrine. Funerals and memorial services, on the other hand, are likely to be under Buddhist auspices, with interment perhaps on the local temple grounds. Probably most people would not think of Shinto and Buddhism as inconsistent with each other; as we have seen, certain medieval systems of thought made the kami local guardians or manifestations of the more cosmic buddhas. Confucian family and ethical values can be a powerful gird underlying them both. The Christian holiday of Christmas, at least in its Santa Claus, gift-giving aspect, is popular, as are Christian-style weddings, though most Japanese are not Christian.

"Is all this religion, folk customs, or what? Does it really matter what we call it? From the point of view of Japanese culture, perhaps it does not. Japan has been called kotoba ga aganu kuni, the country where words need not be spoken, where indirect hints and wordless understandings often suffice, and not everything needs to be named or categorized.

"Ama Toshimaro has argued that the reason the Japanese, though they may take part in many apparently religious activities and may even profess a spiritual sensibility, do not like to call themselves or these practices religious is because, in their view, that would commit them to a particular teaching – while for them all these are just something “natural,” part of being Japanese, even just part of being human or of nature itself. Practices from the first shrine visit to a Buddhist funeral are to them “natural religion,” not religion in the revealed sense they think obtains in certain sects, or in certain other countries. “Natural religion” seems most comfortable, and what is more natural than a “homeland of the heart” and its sacred cycles?"

Morehead's Musings: You also describe the impact of other religious ideas in Japan such as Christianity and Confucianism. Can you share some examples as to how these shaped the cultural consciousness?

Robert Ellwood: I hope the following excerpt covers Christianity sufficiently. Confucianism is not a formal religion even in the sense it was in traditional China, with its Confucian temples and rites, yet is the basis of Japanese traditional ethical and moral values, and probably still impacts the consciousness of the average Japanese more deeply than anything else in moral terms: values like reciprocal obligation, loyalty, respect for parents, etc. The lotus pond of Japanese religious diversity can be thought of as surrounded by a steel wall of Confucian ethics.

Introducing Japanese Religion excerpt:

"We may note that contentment with “natural religion,” together with a deep sense of family and community identity, helps explain why Christianity and other missionary religions have not been particularly successful in modern Japan. In general, Christianity is respected, but it is extremely difficult psychologically for Japanese to break with family and community, with traditional shrine and temple symbols of identity, to become something else. Polls have indicated that while formal, committed members of established Christian churches are no more than one percent of the population in the early twenty-first century, a percentage several times higher considers themselves Christian in some informal, personal sense.

"Indeed, one significant and characteristic modern Japanese movement has been Mukyokai or “No Church” Christianity, founded by Uchimura Kanzo (1861-1930). It has no formal doctrines, services, liturgies, sacraments, or clergy, though it embraces pacifism, and was a center of resistance to Japanese militarism during the 1930s and 40s. Adherents meet for Bible study and quiet prayer. Its some 35,000 followers include a good number of intellectuals and academics. The movement spread to Taiwan and Korea; Ban Ki-moon, the Korean diplomat elected Secretary-General of the United Nations in 2006, is a “No Church” Christian."

Morehead's Musings: Scholars are talking increasingly about the influence of Japan on global popular culture through things like manga and anime. How do you see these exports transmitting Japanese spiritual, mythical, and religious themes to the rest of the world?

Robert Ellwood (from book excerpt): "As manga, anime, and Japanese computer games take hold on one continent after another, pushing out other vehicles of popular culture like British music groups or Hollywood movies, no doubt they are increasingly shaping the inner consciousness of their generation around the world. Therefore it is important to appreciate the worldview that underlies these media of popular culture. In doing so we will find themes and figures stepping out of the pages of Japanese mythology and religion now going global.

"At first one may find, say, global Nintendo a depressing thought, since it some eyes the games, like manga, seem to involve little more than obsessing with mindless, comic-book-level sex and violence. But that is not quite the case. The do tell stories, they create alternative worlds, they provide models for oneself – just as do traditional religion.

"Four motifs from traditional Japanese religion suggest themselves in a close examination of the anime, manga, and Nintendo universe. First: the idea of a separate, magical reality which one can enter by a few definite, as it were evocational, gestures which transport one from the everyday to the alternative reality. As we have seen, such special, sacred times and places are very important: the matsuri, the sacred mountains of the yamabushi, the mandalas of esoteric Buddhism, the Pure Land, the Zen garden. . . entered through the magic portal of a certain chant, mudra, or method of meditation.

"Second, in this set-apart world, spirits and supernatural realities are very much alive. Ghosts, kami, and the sort of powers evoked in martial arts are part of the other side, calling forth an atmosphere of wonder and dread, where anything-may-happen, however glorious or horrible. (One may also notice the frequent appearance of robots, which may suggest an over-regulated society in contrast to the world of wonder.)

"Third, sex and violence are thoroughly mixed in with the beauty and terror, often in wild and grotesque forms. As Susan Napier has acutely observed in her study of anime, this is not unlike the world of Shinto. Shinto myth, and above all the matsuri or festival, do not merely present some impossibly transcendent kami-realm, but mix the human with the divine till they're virtually all one. The festival (like the myths) may contain phallic, violent, ribald, comic, eating, and excessive drinking themes that sometimes disconcert outsiders. But the Shinto idea is that these are all part of life, whether human or kami. By bringing them into the pure space of the shrine and the matsuri it is shown that in their inner nature they can be unpolluted, as pure as anything else in its own nature. To be sure, Japanese pop media certainly contains repellantly unwholesome, even sadistic, material. Yet there is a nonwestern cultural context into which some of this, insofar as it is merely frank and fun and not degrading, can be put.

"Fourth, let's note that the central, saving figure in many of these vehicles, perhaps especially anime, is often a shojo, young girl. The only comparable western fairy tale heroine I can think of is Dorothy in L. Frank Baum's modern classic, The Wizard of Oz. But in Japan a female figure with special powers, seemingly weak but in the end able to redeem the situation, takes us back to Amaterasu and the ancient shamaness, up through certain samurai tales to anime like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.

"These productions of the great animator Miyasaki Hayao splendidly exemplify all these features. Take Spirited Away (2001), Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi in Japanese (the last word, kamikakushi, is translated “spirited away,” but could literally be “hidden by the kami.”). While moving from one town to another, the family of a young girl, Chihiro, gets lost and finds its way into a community of gods and spirits, centered around a bath-house where kami go to rest and purify themselves. We are immediately reminded of the importance of the public bath in Japanese society, and of washing and purity in Shinto ritual. Chihiro has to work in the baths, but her real challenge is to rescue her parents, who have been changed into pigs by over-eating in a “free” restaurant in this kami-town (karma? the Circe myth from the Odyssey?), and to find their way out. All this she does in the end.

"Another Miyazaki anime, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, though not set in Japan but in a fantasy-land (nor is she the Nausicaa of the Odyssey), is still another film by this great creator centered on a strong, heroic young girl.

"Princess Mononoke (1997), put into late samurai days, when guns were beginning to come into Japan, essentially tells the story of supernatural guardians of the forest (Mononoke means woodland spectre or ghost, even monster) who battle against the humans in “Irontown” trying to exploit nature's resources and destroy it, making firearms. San (Princess Mononoke, the Princess of the Spirits) is a human girl raised by wolves but, like a shamaness or kami, close enough to the woods to be on its side. She thinks she is a wolf, rides a wolf, and is a leader of forest spirits. San meets a human boy, Ashitaka, who befriends her and convinces her she is human too. Finally, after terrible battles, they create harmony between humans and the forest. But San returns to the forest; Ashitaka helps rebuild the town, but says he will come to visit her. Here is a separate supernatural world, full of wonder and violence, which one can enter; a young girl at the center; and a modern ecological theme.

"Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke) has (like Spirited Away and Nausicaa) determined women as focal figures on both sides: Lady Eboshi is the ruler of factory-like Irontown, San of the wild. In a Japanese way, the struggle is not represented as dualistically good versus bad as a western parable of the human destruction of nature might be. Lady Eboshi does indeed want to destroy the forest and kill its kami, the Spirit of the Forest (Shishigami), for the sake of industry. But she can also be kindly. She rescues lively girls from brothels, as well as heavily bandaged lepers who make guns for her fighters, and she treats both better than they had been before. Mononoke loves the forest, but has too indiscriminate a hatred for all humans. Creatures change sides and character more than once: the true enemy is always hatred and anger, which can turn anyone on either side into a demon. The real background is the unpredictible wildness of nature as it is, the real victor is life itself, which goes on despite total war and destruction – like Japanese life after 1945.

"Some might see an odd Shinto versus Buddhism theme in the movie. A major troublemaker is Jigo, a plausible but scheming monk who is too clever by half, and has his comeuppance at the end, while Shishigami, clearly one of the kami from the primieval world, manifests simple nobility. But although the Buddhist cleric who is not all he should be is a familiar figure in Japanese literature old and new, one should not read too much into a film meant to be mainly entertainment. All the same, this film hints at the recent, “post-Aum” [shinrikyo now Aleph] trend away from Buddhism, toward other, especially primordial, sources of Japanese spirituality."

Morehead's Musings: Dr. Ellwood, once again, please accept my thanks for promoting your new book, and the fascinating topic of Japanese religion and popular culture.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Performative Interpretations of the Jesus Story and Inter-religious Dialogue

Regular readers of this blog are no strangers to the fact that I support and practice inter-religious dialogue, particularly between Christianity and new religious movements. I also attempt to approach this subject from a variety of perspectives, and a source that I interacted with previously on another issue provided an unexpected source for reflection and application on dialogue.

Not long ago I interviewed Max Harris on the topics of festival and folk performance which I had previously applied to my research and graduate thesis on Burning Man Festival. As follow up to my interview, Harris contacted me and suggested that I look at his book The Dialogical Theatre: Dramatization of the Conquest of Mexico and the Question of the Other (St. Martin’s Press, 1993). In Dialogical Theatre Harris explores “indigenous dramatizations of the theme of conquest in Mexico” and is surprised to find that it contains “signs of dialogue between Catholic and Indian on the morality of colonization.” Harris examines the dialogical nature of such drama by exploring the work of Bakhtin and Tzvetan Todorov, and then moves to a consideration of the application of dialogical drama in folk performance to cross-cultural encounters with “the other” in Christian mission.

I especially enjoyed the third section of Harris’s book, “The Question of the Other. This is comprised of three chapters including Chapter 9 “Barbarians and Other Neighbors,” Chapter 10 “Performing the Scriptures,” and Chapter 11 “Incarnation and Other Dialogues.”

Chapter 9 traces the Greek classicist view of Aristotle of the other as barbarian contrasted with “the biblical injunction to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’.” Harris rightly notes the constant struggle in cultures between conceptions of of the cultural other as of equal value with the cultural insider and the opposing view which sees them as inferior. This trouble has plagued the Christian church as well, and here Harris notes that [w]hile the biblical narrative may be said to endorse pluriformity within the Christian community, its attitude towards the external other is arguably more ambivalent.” This phenomenon has further complicated Christian attitudes toward cultural and religious others in general, and particularly in evangelism where Harris states that it can “appear to preclude love for the neighbour in her or his otherness and to demand instead that the neighbour become as oneself in order to be loved.”

Chapter 10 builds on the discussion from the previous chapter which recognizes the legitimacy of the cultural other and the need for a “dialogical mode of encounter and communication.” It addresses the issue of dialogue with other faiths and suggests how this might be “enriched by the language of the theatre.” One of the ways Harris explores this topic is through interaction with an essay by Nicholas Lash titled “Performing the Scriptures.” It's important to understand what Lash and Harris mean by "performing the Scriptures." A musical score may be said to be "interpreted" when a group of experts discuss its origins, its composition, and how it might sound. But it is also "interpreted" when a group of musicians perform the music. The latter is the interpretation for which the music was written. The church has tended to regard the interpretation of Scripture as an intellectual exercise, something like discussing a musical score. But the mode of interpretation for which the Scriptures were written is their performance by individual Christians and by the Christian community. The Scriptures were written to be lived; study may help toward the right living of the Scriptures, but it is not an end in itself. It follows from this that there is not just one possible faithful performance of a musical score or theatrical script. There are performances that arguably have little or nothing to do with the score or script they claim to be interpreting, but there are necessarily many possible differing performances that can claim fidelity. The Scriptures, simply because they are texts for performance, do not aim at uniformity of performance but at a diversity of faithful performances.

Lash believes that the New Testament is also the kind of text that is to be performed in that it tells the story of Jesus and the first Christian community. Such an approach to the New Testament results in a “performative interpretation” of the biblical text. From this suggestion that the Christian community perform the Jesus story, Lash draws several conclusions, including the idea that the church engage in a reciprocal form of performative interpretation where not only does the Christian community perform its text for and hopefully with the external other as audience, but Lash also suggests that it is appropriate fort the Christian community to engage in a reciprocal relationship wherein they perform the other’s text as well. But Harris notes, “This is something that the Christian community, it its fear of contamination by ‘paganism’ or ‘syncretism’ or of participation in ‘idolatrous worship’, has often been reluctant to attempt.” But Harris reminds us that the incarnation of God into the human story in Jesus provides a model for us to emulate in this regard in that,

“To put this in theatrical terms, God began by playing the other’s part. Rather than approach humanity as a divine outsider wielding a prescriptive text, or even as an understanding dramatist offering the human race a script for its communal performance, he became human, offering his own performance within the human community as a model for subsequent human mimesis (Ephesians 5:1).”

In Chapter 11 Harris considers additional ramifications for the idea of the incarnation as a form of dialogical theater. Here he suggests that, “If the incarnation is to be the model for the Christian’s encounter with others, then the church’s cross-cultural mission will start with the Christian’s ‘living entry’ into the other’s world.” He then discusses examples of such attempts in the history of Christian mission in Matteo Ricci in China, Roberto de Nobili in India, and Pedro Paez in Ethiopia. In each case the result was a successful Christian interpretation of each culture as well as the corresponding interpretation of Christianity in each culture thereby resulting in differing cultural forms of the faith. With this as background, and as Harris draws this chapter and this book to a close, he states that for the Christian interested in communicating across cultural boundaries,

“She is called to perform, at one and the same time, the text of her faith and that of her culture. If she then decides to engage in cross-cultural evangelism, she is faced with the choice of exporting the gospel as it is performed in her own culture or of living into another culture as a Christian. In either case, the gospel will be embedded in cultural forms. The incarnation models the latter move. For according to the biblical narrative, God chose to enter the other’s world and there to perform, dialogically (and therefore simultaneously), his own holy text and a fully human script.”

As we consider the performance of one’s own sacred script and entering into performance of another, Harris reminds us that it is important to understand Bakhtin's concept of vzhivanie (live entering), especially as he applies it to the Incarnation. Vzhivanie means fully retaining one's own perspective while, at the same time, fully entering into the other's perspective. It is a dialogical engagement. Christ entered fully into the human experience, while remaining fully divine. It is this "live entering" that enabled him to be fully human, yet without sin. So, the Christian's "live entering" into another's cultural world does not mean that the Christian abandons his or her Christian identity. Rather, it means that the Christian lives a Christian life (performs the Scriptures) within the cultural forms of the other. Our performance of the Scriptures is always within some set of cultural forms. Our mistake is to assume that "our" cultural forms are somehow more Christian than "their" cultural forms. All cultural forms are tainted by human sin (individual and structural). Our call is to live fully Christian lives within the particular culture that God places us, either by birth or by sending (missionary).

In my view dialogical theater provides important considerations for Christian reflection in relation to inter-religious dialogue, particularly the relatively recent expressions of dialogue with new religious movements. The missionary offer of the Christian scriptures for performance by another culture is not only an opportunity for others to learn about God but also an opportunity for the members of the missionary community to learn things about the Scriptures that they cannot see from their own cultural perspective. Where another group's faithful performance differs from the familiar performance of my own group is just where I need to probe a little to see what it is about the Scriptural text to which I have been blind.

Surely there are several aspects of theatrical dialogue that will cause evangelicals concern, such as the notion of reciprocal performance of sacred texts, but perhaps we can be thinking about how we might increasingly and authentically live and perform the Christian story and spirituality in other religious or spiritual cultures. Dialogical theater provides us with important considerations that might add new elements to our dialogical efforts.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Beyond the Burning Times" Scheduled for June U.K. Release

I am pleased to be able to begin promotion for the forthcoming book, Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue, by Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega. This volume was approximately three years in the making from conception to finished product, and it is now in the final stages as Lion Publishing prepares for its marketing and publishing. I was privileged to serve as editor and project coordinator for this book, which represents a major step forward in dialogue and understanding between Paganism and Christianity, and which we hope is but the first of a continuing series of steps in communication between our religious communities.

Interested readers can click on the image accompanying this post for promotional information, including endorsement statements from leading Pagans. The book is currently available for pre-order through, and should be available in the U.S. through in the coming months as the book is scheduled for a June 2008 release in the U.K.

I will be leaving town Friday to attend the Pantheacon Pagan conference in San Jose, in part to promote this book.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rejection of Book Manuscript Reveals Troubling Evangelical Attitudes

Readers might recall from my interview last year with Australian scholar John Bracht (see part 1 and part 2) that in the 1980s Bracht wrote an excellent masters thesis. As I wrote previously, this was written for the

"Department of Religious Studies at The University of Sydney, and [it was] supervised by Garry Trompf. The topic for John's 1988 thesis was "Mormonism: The Search for a Personal God." John's perspective on this is both academically rigorous, as well as personally sympathetic and engaging in that John brings together his former involvement with Mormonism along with his academic abilities, and his encounters with evangelical apologetic approaches to Mormonism from the time that continue to be influential today."

Since that time I encouraged Bracht to update, revise and expand his thesis and to submit it to a publisher so that it might result in a book that can benefit evangelical academics engaged in Mormon studies, as well as rank and file evangelicals who might benefit from the sympathetic treatment of such an important topic in Mormonism. Unfortunately, the publisher we initially submitted the manuscript to rejected it, claiming that the document was well written but that it likely would not find a sufficient reading audience to justify publishing costs. The publisher suggested submitting the manuscript to an organization that analyzes manuscripts for Christian writers and makes suggestions as to whether or not certain publishers would consider their projects. The results of their review are instructive, and troubling.

As their letter to Bracht states, the manuscript was declined "with mixed feelings," in that while reviewers noted that the "style is forthright and compassionate," and the author "reveals good theological training" and is a "competent writer," nevertheless the book was rejected because it was hard to find the correct niche for it in that "[i]t is about Mormonism but not like other anti-Mormonism books." As the letter continues part of the problem seems to be that the manuscript at temps to move beyond anti-Mormon and counter-cult approaches to the topic. Although I disagree with their assessment in the first sentence of the following paragraph, it represents the main thrust of their concerns:

"In the main, American Christians do not see Mormons as deceived. They are thought of as predators to be feared and against whom they feel revulsion. Most of the books that have sold at all take the point of view that Mormonism is one of the cults -- not very different from Swedenborgianism, Christian Science, Rosicrucianism, Jehovah's Witnesses, or Christadelphians. There is little interest in preparing to minister to Mormons. We find your heartfelt concern admirable."

In other words, "Thanks for trying to buck the publishing trend in evangelical treatment of 'cults,' but this reading audience has difficulty with any other perspective." Tragically, I fear this assessment of the state of affairs among evangelicals is accurate. I have experienced it myself in regards to writing projects in regards to the subject matter of new religions. Our book Encountering New Religious Movements (Kregel Academic & Professional, 2004) was likely only accepted because we had a contact with the publisher, and even then it was a struggle to negotiate with the publisher for the manuscript to be accepted in its existing form. Another example comes in the form of the Christian-Pagan dialogue book I will discuss here later this week. This project was rejected by a number of evangelical publishers in the U.S. as being worthwhile but unmarketable, until Lion in the U.K. accepted it as a worthwhile gamble.

Some good work has been done by evangelicals in publishing on the new religions for a popular market that runs contrary to evangelical expectations and stereotypes, but sadly we have an uphill battle and a long way to go in moving beyond conceptions of Mormons, and perhaps adherents of other new religions and alternative spiritual pathways, as fearful predators who cause revulsion in the evangelical community. Never mind new ways in which to engage the "religious other." We've got a lot of work to do in our own religious community.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

West Memphis Three Movie and Dimension Films

I found the following news item posted at Movies Online. It is a news story about the future filming of Devil's Knot, based upon an outstanding book that details the miscarriage of justice surrounding the West Memphis Three who were caught up in a satanic panic in Arkansas in the 1990s. Dimension Films has picked up the project, and filmmakers behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose are putting this film together. I find it interesting that at at least in the case of Scott Derickson, I find some measure of pleasur in knowing that he is a Christian filmmaker who prefers to work in the genre of horror. I look forward to seeing the results of this project:

Dimension Films has reached an agreement with Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman, the team behind the hit movie "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," to write the screenplay for "Devil's Knot," a film that will be based on the book of the same name written by Mara Leveritt and the actual events surrounding the 1993 murders in Arkansas of three 8-year-old boys and the subsequent convictions. Derrickson will also direct the project, which will be produced by Elizabeth Fowler, Paul Harris Boardman and Clark Peterson ("Monster"). Production is expected to begin towards the end of 2006.

"Devil's Knot" is the riveting story based on true events surrounding the brutal murder of three eight year-old boys in a small, rural and socially conservative town in Arkansas, which is plagued with corruption and violence. The story follows the trial of three teen suspects with alleged ties to satanic rituals who are ultimately convicted of the crime, in spite of the mishandling of the crime scene and forensic evidence.

"Our goal is to make a movie that is extremely engaging and is also an accurate portrayal of what really happened," said Boardman. "This story is as fascinating as it is important, and we intend to respect it by staying true to the facts," said Derrickson. Bob Weinstein, co-chairman of Dimension Films, stated, "Scott and Paul are incredibly talented filmmakers and I’ve been very impressed with the work they have done since I first worked with them. Their expertise in bringing true events to the big screen is an excellent match for this compelling real life story."

Elizabeth Fowler stated, "I am honored and thankful that there are filmmakers like Derrickson and Boardman who have the insight and sensibility to accurately portray the events that occurred. I am confident that the filmmakers will handle this project brilliantly and couldn't be happier about working with Dimension." "This is one of the most compelling true stories I've ever encountered," said Clark Peterson.

"The reality of what happened in West Memphis is truly astonishing." Saperstein and Matthew Stein, senior vice president of production, will oversee the project on behalf of Dimension Films.

Andrew Kramer, executive vice president of business and legal affairs, Barry Littman, executive vice president of business and legal affairs, and Lumumba Mosquera, senior vice president of business and legal affairs, negotiated the agreements on behalf of Dimension Films. Boardman and Derrickson are represented by Endeavor and Karl Austen, of Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum & Morris, negotiated on their behalf. Wayne Kazan, of Weissmann, Wolff, Bergmann, Coleman, Grodin & Evall LLP, negotiated on behalf of Fowler and Peterson.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Romney campaign took the pulse of nation on LDS faith

Peggy Fletcher Stack is the author of an interesting and troubling article in today's Salt Lake Tribune. The article may be accessed here. It is posted below for reflection, particularly by evangelicals who might want to consider the ramifications of this situation on three fronts. First, in a postmodern world Mormon beliefs are likely to be considered as "strange" as more mainstream Christian beliefs. After all, we do believe that a peasant Jewish carpenter who claimed to be Messiah was literally raised from the dead. Strangeness in religion is a fairly subjective endeavor these days. Second, America is increasingly pluralistic, and mainstream Christians will have to more carefully negotiate their place in the American landscape, especially in the political sphere. Third, it would seem that we have made at least some strides in evangelical-Mormon understanding and relations, but we have a long way to go, and thus more dialogue is needed. I echo Richard Bushman's comments below: We desperately need "a new age of conversation where we don't preach or debate, but learn to converse candidly in a straightforward way with curious outsiders and contribute to mutual understanding."

Romney Campaign took the pulse of nation on LDS faith
By Peggy Fletcher-Stack

Mitt Romney dragged fellow Mormons into the presidential race, whether they liked it or not.

Most thought publicity for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether positive or negative, would be a good thing. With optimistic naiveté, many believed the more people knew of Mormonism, the more Latter-day Saints would be accepted into mainstream America, legitimate players on the national stage.

That didn't happen. Instead, some said, Romney's failed campaign revealed what many Americans really think about Mormons. It forced Latter-day Saints to acknowledge that they don't just belong to another American denomination.

"We have to live with the fact that a lot of people think our beliefs are strange," said LDS historian Richard Bushman, the professor emeritus at Columbia University who helped explain Mormonism to a skeptical public. "Mormons have never had so much exposure as we have in the last year, so much genuine curiosity on the part of high-level media. I don't think we'll ever be the same."

If it has been tough for many Latter-day Saints to see themselves as others do, it has been equally hard to face the country's continued bigotry, said others.

Romney's candidacy "exposed a real intolerance for Mormonism in parts of this country, something this country should be embarrassed about," ABC News senior political analyst Jake wrote on his blog Thursday. "And I'm not just talking about Evangelicals, I'm talking about supposedly tolerant liberal-types, too."

National news Web sites posted photos of LDS undergarments, reporters asked Romney questions about where Jesus would touch down at his Second Coming and Republican candidate Mike Huckabee "innocently" wondered whether Mormons believe that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers.

Authors in liberal publications such as The New Republic and Slate suggested that anyone who believed the seemingly outlandish story of Mormon origins was not fit to be president, while at least one conservative Christian declared that a vote for Romney was a vote for Satan. Career anti-Mormons had a field day on the Internet and in mailings to potential voters, accusing Latter-day Saints of being racist, misogynist and polygamist.

An August 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 25 percent of Americans would be less likely to vote for a Mormon and just 53 percent of the public had a favorable opinion of Mormons. The tone of the questions and comments is what upset Nancy Dredge, editor of Exponent II, a Mormon women's magazine published in Boston.

"It's OK to challenge our beliefs but no one wants to be treated like they're weird," she said. "When commentators asked 'Who would vote for someone who believes the Garden of Eden is in Missouri?' and other mocking things about our beliefs, I felt very attacked and hurt."

The anti-Mormon whispering campaigns in the Bible Belt may also have permanently derailed the growing political alliance between Mormons and evangelicals.

"As long as the Republican Party is primarily a party with an evangelical base, I don't see how any Mormon could do any better than Romney," said Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. "You can't explain how a relatively competent, successful businessman and governor could do so badly in the Southern primaries without pointing to his Mormonism."

Still, Bushman hopes this new awareness will usher in "a new age of conversation where we don't preach or debate, but learn to converse candidly in a straightforward way with curious outsiders and contribute to mutual understanding."

--- * PEGGY FLETCHER STACK can be contacted at or 801-257-8725.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Religious Boundaries and Religious Interaction: Rethinking our Assumptions

Over the last week or so I have interacted with a couple of individuals over the Internet, and these exchanges prompted me to make this post. The first exchange I had came with Don Venoit of Midwest Christian Outreach. Don leads this countercult ministry and is also the current president of Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, a consortium of countercult ministries. On "Crux," the MCO blog, Don wrote a piece titled "Boundary Maintenance," and you can read his article and my responses to it and other reader comments where I tried to respond to misconceptions related to my views.

Related to this is the concept of bounded and centered sets as they relate to ministry approaches. Without going into depth here since I have blogged on this topic previously, I believe that countercult understandings of and responses to new religions represent more of a bounded set approach which, as the illustration accompanying this post states, devotes much of its energy into "maintaining the boundaries, to keep a sense of distinction from other" groups, whether they are similar or not. While I recognize that religious groups have and need boundaries, and these boundaries are constantly reassessed and negotiated in response to the "religious other," I am concerned about those approaches that focus largely or solely on boundary maintenance and bounded set approaches that are often used as if they were a centered set approach. I refer readers interested in this topic to my previous post referenced above for a further analysis of this and its implications for the Christian life and ministry. I hope that Don is able to adjust his understanding of my views on this topic so as to more accurately reflect my position, especially since he is presenting a plenary session at the upcoming EMNR conference on this issue.

Another recent exchange I had is also related to the issues of boundary maintenance and bounded sets. As readers can see from a comment in resonse to my post on the Food, Fellowship, and Faith Dialogue Dinners, it has been asserted that such events which bring traditional Christians and "religious others" together is somehow inappropriate and contrary to biblical teaching. This concern looks at certain biblical passages which touch on the issues of separation and purity for the Christian and their faith, and I think these are important issues that need to be addressed from a perspective that provides for further reflection and a different perspective.

Terry Muck of Asbury Theological Seminary is the author of a number of helpful books, including Those Other Religions In Your Neighborhood: Loving your neighbor when you don't know how (Zondervan, 1992). One chapter in this book is titled "Doesn't the Bible Teach Us to Avoid Personal Contact with Non-Christians?," and Muck wrestles with 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, a passage referenced by the critic of my Evangelical-Latter-day Saint dinner. Muck summarizes the variety of ways in which Christians have interpreted this passage:

"Like many key Scripture passages, 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 has been interpreted in a number of ways. One way is to understand the context of the first-century Corinthian church where Christianity was a new, struggling religion needing all the purity it could muster to survive. Since we do not have that situation today, such interpreters insist, the text does not really apply to us. A second way is to distill a foundational principle from the text that works in all cultures and at all times - Don't associate with unbelievers - and appy it as one would apply a law against speeding: Don't ever do this. A third way is to come to the text with a modern need - for example, a reason to emphasize the importance of religion as a factor in successful marriages - and find in it a passage that disallows mixed marriages.

"What does this text mean for us? Nothing? Is it an argument for separation? A warning against mixed marriage?"

As Muck seeks to answer these questions he looks at the context of 2 Corinthians 6, and in his discussion he notes that Paul was writing to a struggling church filled with people experiencing pain and suffering, and in response Paul notes that God will bring consolation. In Muck's view the suffering/consulation dichotomy is essential to understanding this text in context, and everything which follows in the text flows from this perspective. As Paul moves to personal application for the individual it appears that some people were struggling with desires to return to their former ways of life before embracing Christ. In response Paul tells believers that the point of 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 is that Christians look at life from their new perspective in life as "new creatures" in Christ.

Muck then moves to discussion of how this worked out in specific ways in the first century context and he summarizes it in part as follows:

"This is not a call for separation in the legal or physical sense (as a strict rule). There may be times for such separation, but it is not a hard and fast commandment; it is a call for recognition of the metaphysical separation that our commitment to Christ entails."

Muck then moves from interpreting the text in its original context to discussion of its application for Christians in the pluralistic United States. He suggests guidelines that flow from our pluralistic situation in light of Paul's teaching. These guidelines for interreligious engagement include:

1. Does this contact jeopardize my commitment to the new creation?

2. Does this contact jeopardize my brother's or sister's commitment to the new creation?

3. Will Jesus Christ be glorified by this contact?

4. Will the church be glorified by this contact?

5. Will the non-Christian I am involved with be helped by this contact?

Muck devotes brief space to discussion of each of these, and after stating number five he states:

"Some kinds of contact will not reflect positively on others. Overly aggressive or manipulative evangelistic campaigns hurt rather than help those who belong to non-Christian religious traditions. The 'do no harm' principle of physicians regarding medical treatment is a useful one to consider in concert with the other four principles."

As Muck concludes this chapter and summarizes his analysis of this issue he mentions once again Paul's teaching that Christians should look at life in new ways, and this new perspective informs the way in which we interact with others:

"We should evaluate our own contacts in the same way. As long as we are looking at the world through transformed Christian eyes, contacts with those of other religions have great potential. We live in a culture and world where making such contacts [with "religious others"] has never been more important.

"The key to successful contact is belonging to a community of believers where the new way of looking at life, the transformed worldview, is assumed and supported. From such a base, the question of whether or not to have fellowship with non-Christian religions becomes much easier to answer in the affirmative."

I encourage interested readers to seek out Muck's book in order to read this chapter (as well as the entire book), rather than relying solely upon my summary of his thinking. I believe these ideas are worthy of further thought, and that perhaps many of our biblical and theological assumptions about interaction with "religious others" are in need of careful and critical reflection.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Food, Fellowship & Faith Dialogue Dinners

Formal dialogues have been taking place between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints for some time now, both in private academic forums as well as public events. I believe these activities and venues are important and that they should continue. I also believe that other forms of dialogue need to take place, and that perhaps the most promising venue for understanding is in our neighborhoods. I have been amazed in Utah as at times I have seen LDS wards meeting for services each Sunday right next to traditional Christian churches, and yet each religious community rarely acknowledges the existence of the other, let alone attempts to engage in dialogue.

We are experimenting with a process that we hope will address this situation. This coming weekend we will be hosting what we hope will be the first of many potluck gatherings that will include a small number of Latter-day Saints from my neighborhood, as well as traditional Christians. This will not be a place for proselytizing by either religious community, and it will be constructed as a safe space for the development of relationships and understanding. The first meeting is designed to bring us together around food and fellowship, and members of each religious community will have an opportunity to share their testimony and faith story. We hope to build on this with future gatherings as we build relationships and feel more comfortable talking about issues of faith.

Perhaps our small gathering will serve as a model for dialogical dinners that can be replicated in other neighborhoods.

Friday, February 01, 2008

New Content at Sacred Tribes Journal

New content has been added to Sacred Tribes Journal over the last two weeks. This content includes a news story on the death of LDS Church President Gordon Hinckley, a brief story touching on the recent controversy surrounding an unauthorized biography of Tom Cruise (featured on the home page of the journal), and two new entries in the Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements, incuding one on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an entry on the Church of Scientology, which accompanies the previous entries on Western Paganism and Contemporary Druidism.

Those interested in the possibility of submitting additional encyclopedia entries or paper submissions should review the Contributor's Guidelines.