Friday, December 17, 2010

Stephen H. Webb: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter

For a few months now I have been working to solicit and collect essays for a special issue of Sacred Tribes Journal (hopefully for publication in the summer of 2011) that will focus on neglected issues of dialogue between Latter-day Saints and traditional Christians. This has been a slow process as those I have contacted are very busy, but a few expressions of interest, and even a submission, have trickled in. One individual who has expressed an interest is Stephen H. Webb.Webb did his PhD at the University of Chicago, and he teaches in religion and philosophy at Wabash College. If the Wikipedia entry on him is accurate, he has shifted along various Protestant backgrounds before finding a home in Roman Catholicism a few years ago.

Webb has written on various topics, including Mormonism, where he came across Robert Millet and Gerald McDermott's dialogue book Claiming Christ, found the interaction and subject matter intriguing, and wrote a piece for Reviews in Religion and Theology. This review brought him to the attention of Mormon bloggers:

In my interactions with Webb he has let me know that he has written a book that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press. It is Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter, where he argues that traditional Christians can learn from Mormonism regarding the notion of divine embodiment. Indeed, he goes so far as to argue for a traditional Christian notion of God's materiality, and that orthodox Christian theology needs to reflect further on this topic. Here is the official description of the book:
If modern physics teaches us that matter is more mysterious than people used to think, could the spiritual be more material than theologians ever imagined? This book conceptualizes matter and spirit not as opposites or even contraries but as the very stuff of the eternal Jesus Christ. The result is a Christian materialism based on a new metaphysical interpretation of the incarnation. Webb provides an audacious revision of some of the deepest layers of Christian common sense with the goal of constructing a more metaphysically sound orthodoxy. Taking matter as a perfection (or predicate) of the divine requires a rethinking of the immateriality of God, the doctrine of creation out of nothing, the Chalcedonian formula of the person of Christ, and the analogical nature of religious language. It also requires a careful reconsideration of Augustine’s appropriation of the Neo-Platonic understanding of divine incorporeality as well as Origen’s rejection of anthropomorphism. Webb locates his position in contrast to evolutionary theories of emergent materialism and the popular idea that the world is God’s body. He draws on a little known theological position known as the “heavenly flesh” Christology, investigates the many misunderstandings of its origins and its relation to the Monophysite movement, and supplements it with retrievals of Duns Scotus, Caspar Scwenckfeld and Eastern Orthodox reflections on the transfiguration. Also included are discussions of classical figures like Barth and Aquinas as well as more recent theological proposals from Bruce McCormack, David Hart, and Colin Gunton. Perhaps most provocatively, the book argues that Mormonism provides the most challenging, urgent, and potentially rewarding source for metaphysical renewal today.
Webb is going to try to submit an essay that draws upon the thesis of his book, and may interact with John Bracht's book Man of Holiness (Sacred Tribes Press, 2010) discussed here previously. Frank Beckwith at Baylor University has agreed to write something for the journal as well, either interacting with Webb's essay or reviewing his book.

I hope to bring additional contributors into the mix on this special issue of the journal, and I hope that traditional Christians and Latter-day Saints will find the subject matter worthwhile for reflection and ongoing dialogue.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

By Common Consent Review of New Davies Book on Mormonism

The latest academic exploration of Mormonism by Douglas Davies is now available in the form of Joseph Smith, Jesus, and Satanic Opposition: Atonement, Evil and the Mormon Vision. (Ashgate, 2010). I am awaiting my review copy for Sacred Tribes Journal, but in the meantime there is an interesting review by a Latter-day Saint at the By Common Consent blog. I would draw attention to the reviewer's discussion in Davies in regards to LDS binitarianism (in contrast with evangelical foci on polytheism or henotheism), the significance of apostasy to LDS theology and ecclesiology (a factor in dialogue that serves as a reminder that while evangelical reluctance to call Mormons Christian bothers them, the significance of evangelical apostasy from their perspective is equally troubling to us), and an emphasis on folk theology (often ignored or neglected in evangelical approaches).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chapter on Matrixism in Forthcoming Handbook of Hyper-Real Spiritualities

I recently heard from Adam Possamai, editor of the Handbook of Hyper-Real Spiritualities (Brill, forthcoming), that my essay on Matrixism was accepted. It is titled “'A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries': Matrixism, New Mythologies, and Symbolic Pilgrimages." I am privileged to be a part of a number of top-notch contributors on new and minority religions, and hyper-real spiritualities, those religions that draw upon aspects of popular culture for metaphorical inspiration. Other topics include chapters on things like Jediism, vampirism, Heaven's Gate, Satanism, Otherkin, and the Raelian Movement.

A summary of my essay in this volume:
In this essay I draw upon the proposal of Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe regarding the significance of myth in understanding new religions, coupled with the work of other scholars who suggest that science fiction is an especially significant source of mythic inspiration for our time. Then I consider how science fiction mythic narratives provide new religions like Matrixism with the imaginative tools necessary to engage in practices similar to more traditional religions. By drawing upon Jennifer Porter’s exploration of fan participation at Star Trek conventions as a form of pilgrimage in fulfillment of an embodied ideal, combined with the thesis of Roger Aden on participation in imaginative narratives of alternative worlds that allow adherents to transcend and critique the habitus of daily life as well as grand narratives of culture, I suggest that the symbolic pilgrimage of Matrixism parallels pilgrimage as found in more traditional religions, yet also differs in that they take place primarily in the realm of the sacred imagination.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Media Stereotypes of Vampires and Other Alternative Subcultures Continue with Alleged Abduction of Teen

Recently the news media reported on the October 11 disappearance of 16-year-old Shelby Ellis from Georgia, with allegations that Ellis had been abducted by an "underground vampire cult" given Her interest in the Goth movement and having visited a website with a URL that alarmed her parents. One article I read recently even went so far as to offer commentary on just how dangerous such groups are. The problem is, no such groups exist, and this media narrative was shaped by the residual effects of anti-cult stereotypes, misrepresentations of the vampire community, and the legacy of satanic panics. Beyond this, on Nov. 4 Ellis was found alive and well in Washington state.

In response to this the Atlanta Vampire Alliance issued the following statement to help correct such unfortunate media misundersandings and misrepresentations:

The Atlanta Vampire Alliance [AVA] would like to express its disappointment with the news media, both national and local, in their decision to run sensationalized headlines about the very sober and serious situation of a teenaged runaway. We urge the news media to resist the temptation of sensationalism, and employ maturity and sensitivity rather than hysteria. There is categorically no such thing as "underground vampire cults," and employing the flawed language of hysteria at best shows a lack of respect for the facts, and at worst succumbs to flights of fancy which could serve to distract an ongoing search for a missing person.

We would also like to take this opportunity to point this coverage out as "teachable moment" in media hysteria. The insistence on using the term "vampire cult" is at once prejudiced, irresponsible, and poorly-informed; it relies on a series of common folk beliefs about "cults" which have been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked by experts. They have no place in serious social dialogue of any kind, much less in a discussion about a teenager who has run away from home.

The suggestion that such "cults" exist, and are indicated by their choices of music, clothing, or non-Christian symbols, is directly related to a cultural prejudice commonly known as "Satanic Panic." Satanic Panic is an urban legend which plays on religiously-generated fears of other peoples' religions and cultures to create an imaginary narrative of "cults" which practice criminal behavior in a pseudo-religious context. No such "cults" have ever existed, and the myth of the "cults" has been repeatedly debunked; but the prejudice created by the myth still harms innocent people today.

The discredited "satanic panic" narrative stereotypes a wide range of normal behavior as potentially dangerous. These normal behaviors include choices of clothing and music, the ordinary symbols of valid non-Christian religions, and even what novels one might read. Fear of these ordinary activities has led historically to censorship and the abuse of individuals wrongly accused of being "in cults," and feeds a vicious prejudice based solely on fear.

We would also like to note that the social networking site is not a vampire-oriented website, and is not considered a participating entity in the online vampire community. Confusing the social networking site with vampire folklore, fiction, or the vampire community is a mistake based apparently on the site's URL. The site, apparently in an attempt at stylishness, calls their interest-based user communities "cults." This should not be confused with any "cults," real or actual, of course. Perhaps this is where the "cult" terminology started getting tossed about the press, but if that's the case, the usage appears to be entirely facetious.

Friday, October 29, 2010

New Essay at Religion Dispatches

My latest essay for Religion Dispatches is now online, titled "Evangelicals, Halloween, and the Macabre." It can be read here.

There is also another essay just posted this morning of interested, "Crying Witch: Learning From the O'Connell 'Dabbling' Debacle" by Spencer Drew.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Burning Man "Hot Academic Topic"

My friend Scott Eggert recently let me know about a new academic group through Google which focuses on Burning Man Festival research. After I joined the group I noticed in one of the posted messages that there was a recent article in the Los Angeles Times titled "Burning Man becomes a hot academic topic." The byline of the story by Catherine Saillant reads "A growing number of sociologists, business professors and theologians view the event's mix of hipsters, artisans, zany theme camps and outdoor art gallery as more than a party. They see fertile ground for research."

Regular readers of this blog may recall that I wrote my MA thesis on Burning Man in 2007. The abstract:

Burning Man Festival is an intentional community and alternative cultural event involving nearly 40,000 people that meet annually in the desert of Nevada. Scholarly analysis of the festival tends to interpret it through Victor Turner’s framework of liminality and ritual. While this perspective sheds valuable light on understanding the event, other theoretical frameworks are helpful, including the “homeless mind” and secondary institutions thesis of Peter Berger, Brigitte Berger, and Hansfried Kellner used to explain the 1960s counterculture. This thesis has been updated by Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead to include the turn to the self now involving life-enhancing secondary institutions. Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone also presents promising interpretive options for understanding this event. From these perspectives, Burning Man may be understood as an alternative cultural event that functions as a secondary institution and new spiritual outlet in rejection of mainstream institutions and traditional religion. The same dynamic can be seen in the historic contrast of Burning Man with other alternative cultures, such as the Rainbow Family of Living Light. Critical reflection on this phenomenon by Christians engaged in ecclesiological reflexivity provides a means for a better understanding of alternative cultural events, and possibly the revitalization and renewed credibility of Christianity in the post-Christendom West.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Christians and Satanists Clash in Oklahoma City

Recently a controversy has brewed between satanists and Christians in Oklahoma City where the satanists performed a ritual mocking Christian exorcism at the Oklahoma City civic center. A strange example of the clash of religions in the public square described in several news clips from local television stations. A number of video clips at YouTube show additional Christian reaction to the ritual but do not include an embed feature. Search YouTube under "Oklahoma satanist ritual" for news reports on how this controversy developed:

Religion Dispatches: Evangelicals, Hindus, and Yoga

There is a thought provoking essay in the recent Religion Dispatches by Andrea R. Jain titled "Is Downward Dog the Path to Hell?". The essay touches on the controversy in evangelical circles over the popularity of yoga in America and the West, evangelical opposition to the practice, and the formation of evangelical alternatives to it. This kind of critique is not new to evangelicalism, even if the national attention it is receiving is. But what is surprising in this essay is that fundamentalist Hindus are united with evangelicals in their concern, albeit for very different reasons.

With this post it is not my intention to weigh in on whether the practice of yoga by evangelicals are permissible or not, but rather, to note other implications that follow from Jain's piece. Following are some excerpts from Jain's article which I found significant for evangelical reflection:
"But this attempt to produce a monolithic vision of yoga ignores the fact that it, like religion itself, is anything but a stable phenomenon. Yoga has a long history whereby adherents of numerous religions, including Hindu, Jain, and New Age traditions, have constructed and reconstructed it anew. Even Hindu forms of yoga vary widely in ideology and practice. Thus yoga does not belong to Hinduism nor any other monolithic tradition.

"But evangelical Christians have an odd bedfellow in the argument for a monolithic vision of yoga as Hindu: some Hindus. They reflect the same ahistorical, religiously fundamentalist tendencies but with an entirely different agenda. The two agree that yoga is Hindu and that its global popularity is a bad thing. But rather than argue that yoga’s popularity is bad because it is incompatible with Christianity, they claim that non-Hindu yogis fail to give Hinduism credit for being the tradition from which yoga arose.

"Both the evangelical Christian yogaphobic position and the Hindu essentialist yoga-belongs-to-Hinduism position reflect religious fundamentalist tendencies to define ideas and practices not as human constructs that are subject to change over time, but as monolithic stable products that belong in specific traditions and accordingly do not belong in others."
The ideas included in the above paragraphs must be factored into evangelical analysis of yoga as a practice, both in terms of a proper understanding of it, as well as in assessing its (im)permissibility as a practice for Christians.

Further along in the essay Jain draws attention to yoga's place in the West as a part of consumer culture, with its underlying metaphysical concerns, and specifically as a practice which draws upon the idea of the sacralized body. She writes:
"In this new phase of capitalism, the attainment of physical fitness transcends the mere exchange of capital for material goods. Physical fitness is sacred. Modern yoga fits right in with this socio-historical context. In other words, modern yoga is a reflection, not of “spooky” Hindu gods or “demonic” practices, but of our contemporary culture’s tendency to envelope physical fitness into the sacred routine of self-development."
My hope is that evangelicals will not get bogged down by Jain's dismissal of concerns over "spooky" religious aspects of yoga, but will pause to consider that perhaps we have lost a sense of the body as sacred.

Whether evangelicals accept the legitimacy of yoga as a practice compatible with Christianity, Jain's essay provides food for thought in a variety of other contexts.

Related posts:

"Positioning Yoga"

"Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion"

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Understanding Paranormal America

Gordon Melton, author of The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, 3rd ed. (Visible Ink Press, 2010), made me aware of a new book that presents a sociological look at the paranormal and the cultures that surround it. The book is Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture, by Christopher Bader, F. Mencken, and Joseph Baker (NYU Press, 2010). The book's website includes the following description:
Paranormal America provides the definitive portrait of Americans who believe in or have experienced such phenomena as ghosts, Bigfoot, UFOs, psychic phenomena, astrology, and the power of mediums. However, unlike many books on the paranormal, this volume does not focus on proving or disproving the paranormal, but rather on understanding the people who believe and how those beliefs shape their lives.

Drawing on the Baylor Religion Survey, a multi-year national random sample of American religious values, practices, and behaviors, as well as extensive fieldwork including joining hunts for Bigfoot and spending the night in a haunted house, authors Christopher Bader, F. Carson Mencken, and Joseph Baker shed light on what the various types of paranormal experiences, beliefs, and activities claimed by Americans are; whether holding an unconventional belief, such as believing in Bigfoot, means that one is unconventional in other attitudes and behaviors; who has such experiences and beliefs and how they differ from other Americans; and if we can expect major religions to emerge from the paranormal.

Brimming with engaging personal stories and provocative findings, Paranormal America is an entertaining yet authoritative look at a growing segment of American religious culture.
And a couple of endorsement statements/reviews:

"An essential text for our ongoing consideration of the esoteric realm... This work assembles in a very accessible and readable form all the sociological data currently available on the public's acceptance of experiences of unusual psychic experiences, our growing toleration of some extraordinary claims about the existence of UFOs, mysterious animal species, and ghostly apparitions, and our quiet dabbling in things occult. This volume has created a foundation for all future inquires."

-- J. Gordon Melton, author of Melton's Encyclopedia Of American Religions

"Paranormal America is an authoritative but extremely readable analysis of an important but often ignored subculture. This fine book explains how many people seek personally-relevant meaning in a chaotic and often alienating world. In these pages we learn much not only about believers in ESP, Bigfoot, and astrology, but also about the general ways in which all human minds make sense of our perplexing position in the universe."

-- William Bainbridge, author of Across the Secular Abyss: From Faith to Wisdom

This book can be purchased here.See the book's official website for further reviews and information.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Druidry: Official religion in UK, and new historical and ethnographic study

One of the interesting news items out of the world of Paganism came recently with the announcement that Druidry had been officially recognized as a religion in the UK. The Telegraph reported on this event:

"The Druid Network has been given charitable status by the Charity Commission for England and Wales, the quango that decides what counts as a genuine faith as well as regulating fundraising bodies.

It guarantees the modern group, set up in 2003, valuable tax breaks but also grants the ancient religion equal status to more mainstream denominations. This could mean that Druids, the priestly caste in Celtic societies across Europe, are categorised separately in official surveys of religious believers.

Supporters say the Charity Commission’s move could also pave the way for other minority faiths to gain charitable status."

In connection with this event I am pleased to recommend the new ebook by Michael Cooper, Contemporary Druidry: A Historical and Ethnographic Study (Sacred Tribes Press, 2010).

ISBN: 978-1-4524-7132-7
Download Sample Chapter: Chapter One
Price: $10.99

Dr. Michael York, professor (retired) of sociology of religion at Bath Spa University College and author of Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion (New York University Press, 2003).

"Michael T. Cooper’s Contemporary Druidry: A Historical and Ethnographic Study is a profoundly sensitive account of a pagan identity from an Evangelical Christian researcher. The work amounts to an interfaith breakthrough. Not only a sympathetic and enlightening understanding of Druidry itself, but Cooper also manages to open the possibilities of intellectual and empathetic exchange between a pagan position and a Christian one. Comfortably grounded with a balance of sociological tools and understandings, Cooper’s remarkably human and informative narrative holds appeal to the insider as well as outsider, to the generally curious as well as those with specific interest. . . . In all, this intelligently and well-written study of the Celtic Druid faith is one to be highly recommended."

The book can be purchased and downloaded in a variety of formats here.

Monday, October 11, 2010

PBS Frontline - God in America

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

From the website:

How has religious belief shaped American history? What role have religious ideas and spiritual experience played in shaping the social, political and cultural life of what has become the world's most religiously diverse nation?
Religious Knowledge Quiz

For the first time on television, God in America, a presentation of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and FRONTLINE, will explore the historical role of religion in the public life of the United States. The six-hour series, which interweaves documentary footage, historical dramatization and interviews with religious historians, will air over three consecutive nights on PBS beginning Oct. 11, 2010.

God in America examines the potent and complex interaction between religion and democracy, the origins of the American concept of religious liberty, and the controversial evolution of that ideal in the nation's courts and political arena. The series considers the role religious ideas and institutions have played in social reform movements from abolition to civil rights, examining the impact of religious faith on conflicts from the American Revolution to the Cold War, and how guarantees of religious freedom created a competitive American religious marketplace. It also explores the intersection of political struggle and spiritual experience in the lives of key American historical figures including Franciscan Friars and the Pueblo leader Po'pay, Puritan leader John Winthrop and dissident Anne Hutchinson, Catholic Bishop John Hughes, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, reform Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, Scopes trial combatants William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, evangelist Billy Graham, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Moral Majority's Jerry Falwell.

"The American story cannot be fully understood without understanding the country's religious history," says series executive producer Michael Sullivan. "By examining that history, God in America will offer viewers a fresh, revealing and challenging portrait of the country."

To extend the reach of the series beyond the television screen, God in America has formed strategic partnerships with The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, the Fetzer Institute, Sacred Space International and other organizations. An integrated multimedia campaign set to launch six months prior to broadcast will include community engagement activities, media events and a comprehensive God in America Web site. The campaign will deepen public understanding of religion and spiritual experience in the life of the nation by encouraging the public to explore the history of their own religious communities and their individual spiritual journeys.

"Americans are awash in a sea of faith, but their knowledge about religious faiths and religious history often runs as shallow as their commitment to religion runs deep," notes Stephen Prothero, chief editorial consultant for God in America, professor of religion at Boston University, and author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -- And Doesn't. "A series like God in America can help correct that imbalance and provide the basis for a common understanding of the role religion has played in American public life."

God in America is an AMERICAN EXPERIENCE/FRONTLINE co-production, headed by series executive producer Michael Sullivan, series producer Marilyn Mellowes, series director David Belton, and producer/directors Greg Barker and Sarah Colt. The executive producer for FRONTLINE is David Fanning. The executive producer for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is Mark Samels.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Media and Law Enforcement "Drinking the Kool-Aid?"

Julie Ingersoll of the University of North Florida has an interesting article in Religion Dispatches titled "Did We Drink the Kool-Aid in 'Suicide Cult' Disappearance?". The article looks at the way the media responded recently to the California Prayer Group which "disappeared" for a short period while the media and law enforcement feared the group would commit mass suicide. Ingersoll draws attention to the "suicide cult" template that the media and law enforcement are quick to view minority religions through and notes its connection to the anti-cult movement. Although Ingersoll's essay is missing the important distinction between the secular anti-cult movement which focuses on "deed not creed" and the evangelical "counter-cult" movement which focuses on doctrine, nevertheless it does point out the importance of understanding the framework from which new religions view the world, a framework that rarely conforms to the suicide cult template.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pre-emptive Quote on Halloween

Tomorrow is October 1, and with this month comes an increased focus on Halloween by evangelicals. Radio programs, websites, and books will raise serious concerns about the holiday, and the things they usually associate with it. In order to get a jump on the critique I present the following quote by historian Ronald A. Hutton from his book The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 383-4.

"An attack upon the celebration of Hallowe'en, especially in schools, correspondingly developed in the late 1980s, and continues at the time of writing ... It has been organized by evangelical groups in Protestant denominations ... and rests upon two arguments. The first is that Hallowe'en is a glorification or glamorization of evil powers. The second is that it is essentially unchristian ... a Christian feast of the dead is thoroughly embedded in the history of Hallowe'en and that its legacy is usually impossible to distinguish from that of paganism in the practices and associations of the night. It is of course maintained by what is still by far the largest of the world's churches, the Roman Catholic. To describe the feast as fundamentally unchristian is therefore either ill-informed or disingenuous."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pew Forum: U.S. Religious Knowledge Quiz

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently released the results of their U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey:
"Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new Pew Forum survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions."
In many ways there is nothing new in this as it is part of the problem of religious illiteracy in America as individuals know little of other religions, including their own. See my previous discussion of this topic with Stephen Prothero. What is surprising is to find Mormons scoring higher than evangelicals with the former tending to emphasize the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures rather than the Bible in their devotional life.

Pew's discussion of the survey can be read here, and the quiz can be taken here. The Salt Lake Tribune contacted me for a local perspective on this issue in Utah, particularly as it relates to Mormons and evangelicals. See the article by Peggy Fletcher Stack for quotes and perspectives of evangelicals, Mormons, and atheists.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Issue of Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue

Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue, Issue 1.3 (Summer 2010) is now available for download. It includes a description of and interaction with Richard Mouw's ideas related to convicted civility in relation to interreligious dialogue. The issue can be downloaded through the journal's web page.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Religion Dispatches Essay - "I Believe You're Wrong: The Trouble With Tolerance"

I co-authored an essay with Charles Randall Paul of the Foundation for Interreligious Diplomacy titled "I Believe You're Wrong: The Trouble with Tolerance" with the tagline "A personal recipe for peaceful co-resistence with religious rivals." The essay appears in Religion Dispatches, and it represents a unique effort by a Protestant and Mormon scholar coming together to address religious disputation in the public square with the New York City Muslim community center and mosque controversy as the application.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tension Among Evangeicals Over Beck "Off the Reservation"

Julie Ingersoll, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida, has an interesting article in Religion Dispatches titled "Evangelical Tells Beck He's 'Off the Reservation'". The article describes a recent episode of an evangelical radio program hosted by Brannon Howse who expressed concerns that radio talk show host and Fox Television host Glenn Beck is trying to lead folks astray and into Mormonism. Howse is quoted as expressing his concerns in this way:
"He has swerved into theological and doctrinal realm in the last few weeks. He’s said things on the air that makes my skin crawl. . . a ‘works based’ theology that is based in Mormonism. . . . We are not serving the god of Mormonism that says you can be like God… a religion that said Jesus and Satan were brothers. . . . Leave your pagan—your cult—religion. . . ."
Of course, it didn't help that Howse's guest was Ed Decker, an extreme member of the evangelical counter-cult community with the organization Saints Alive who has specialized in painting caricatures of Mormonism, literally in the case of his film The Godmakers which used animation (an art form associated with children's entertainment in the West) to depict Mormon sacred history and beliefs.

Howse has gone even further on his website, arguing that Beck is not only opening the door for seduction by Mormonism, but Paganism as well. He continues his warning for fellow evangelicals.

Even so, many evangelicals like Howse seem to be willing to set aside theological differences for now given agreement over the political and moral state of the country. However, it remains to be seen how long this will last, and whether the Ed Deckers and Kirk Camerons of Protestant evangelicalism and fundamentalism will become more vocal and issue calls for these camps to distance themselves from Beck.

This interesting situation is part of a historical animosity between evangelicals and Mormons, which may have been tempered in recent years by the decline of the religious right, younger evangelicals who find doctrinal disagreement with other religions a lower social priority than a previous generation of evangelicals, the ongoing evangelical-Mormon dialogue, and a greater willingness to allow political agreement to have priority over theological disagreement. With a possible Mitt Romney presidential bid it will be interesting to see how the Beck phenomenon plays a part as a backdrop.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Forthcoming Book on Sacred Folly

A friend and ministry colleague of mine attended Burning Man Festival recently and has been posting his photos and a few observations on his Facebook profile. The latest profile update mistakenly identified Burning Man as neo-pagan, and asked why the festival included a strong emphasis on festivity. This has led to my posting several comments on my own in response, correcting the claim that Burning Man is neo-pagan, and borrowing from an argument by Peter Berger in A Rumor of Angels that play and festival can serve as a "signal of transcendence."

Today I received an email from Max Harris informing me of his book Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools (Cornell University Press, forthcoming). This book will update and correct remarks Harris has made previously about the Feast of Fools in his book Carnival and Other Christian Festivals: Folk Theology and Folk Performance (University of Texas Press, 2003). As I have argued previously in my masters thesis on Burning Man, and in several posts on this blog, western evangelicalism would do well to reflect on the importance of festival and play in connection with ecclesiology and worship and how the historical Feast of Fools, properly understood in its historical and ecclesiological contexts in the past, might be recontextualized in certain subcultural contexts for the present.

See my previous interview with Harris on Carnival and Other Christian Festivals here. Related to Harris's forthcoming book is his article "A Reassessment of the Feast of Fools: A Rough and Holy Liturgy," See also my post "Burning Man and Play Theology."

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Christian Clashes in the Public Square: New Theologies of Religious Disputation

Religious conflict has dominated the national discourse for several weeks. For a while now the proposed building of a Muslim community center and mosque in lower Manhattan has dominated national airwaves of radio and television. But the last few weeks have seen a shift of discussion to a focus on a small church in Gainesville, Florida where Pastor Terry Jones planned on burning Quran’s on September 11 as a protest to the Muslim world. As this post was written news broke that Pastor Jones canceled the controversial event.

Public clashes between Christians and those of other religions is, of course, not merely an American phenomenon. A while ago the Associated Press reported that a group of Evangelical Christians attacked a group of voodou practitioners in Haiti as they gathered publicly to pray, sing, and conjure spirits in order to make offerings. According to their report Christians shouted at the voodou practitioners, threw rocks, and urinated on the voodoo objects. Whether the New York City controversy, or that of Haiti, surely emotional considerations are at play, with the former coming from the damage to the national psyche as a result of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the latter in response to a natural disaster. But something else may be at work here. In an increasingly pluralistic world, adherents of various religious pathways are encountering each other as never before, and at times these encounters result in a clash of ideas. Recent examples of this clash between Christianity and other religious traditions provide opportunities to reflect on attitudes and theologies toward other religions.

Concerning the reactions of the Christian converts from voodou in attacking the artifacts of their former religion, at times converts react strongly to the religion of their past in light of new religious commitments. We see a similarly strong public statement made by those who converted to Christianity out of ancient magical traditions in Acts 19:19. It should be noted that this passage was used by Pastor Terry Jones as the scriptural foundation for his plans to burn Qurans. But a careful reading of this passage demonstrates that the pastor and his congregation engaged in a misreading. In the Acts passage the new Christian converts burned their own implements of their former religious ways as a result of a public statement about their new faith in relation to the old. The Christians who led them to embrace a new religious pathway did not burn their magical texts as a means of protest or a form of evangelism. Beyond this Christians might also consider that the New Testament also points out that it is possible to maintain a good witness and to do so without blaspheming the deities of other religions, or desecrating their religious items, and that this can provide a positive testimony for the gospel (Acts 19:37).

It is likely that clashes between American Christians and members of other religions will continue in the future for a number of reasons. But a better way forward beyond talking (or shouting) past one another, public protests, and the desecration of religious artifacts and symbols, and our theologies of conflict, involves new theologies and praxis that include respectful forms of religious disputation and dialogue.

New book: Perspectives on Post-Christendom Spiritualities

Perspectives on Post-Christendom Spiritualities

Authors: Michael T. Cooper, J. Gordon Melton, Gerald R. McDermott, Ross Clifford, James Chancellor, Craig L. Blomberg, John W. Morehead, Michael L. Yoder, Stephen P. Kennedy, Terry C. Muck, Ole Skjerbaek Madsen
Cost: $22.00

This book explores perspectives on new religious movements and western spiritualities. From contributors Michael T. Cooper, J. Gordon Melton, Gerald R. McDermott, Ross Clifford, James Chancellor, Craig L. Blomberg, John W. Morehead, Michael L. Yoder, Stephen P. Kennedy, Terry C. Muck and Ole Skjerbaek Madsen there is a wealth of information provided to understand new spiritualities.

A hard copy of the book can be ordered through Morling College Press, and and an electronic book can be ordered at Sacred Tribes Press.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Patheos and the Future of Paganism

Patheos has a focus on The Future of Paganism that is wrapping up as the websites feature. Several articles are of interest to me, especially the following:

"Are Solitaries the Future of Paganism?" by Helen Berger

"Gods and Geeks in the Endless American Twilight" by Christopher Knowles

"Paganism in the News" by Sarah Pike

"Paganism and the Role of Interfaith Dialogue" by Gus diZerega

"Gods and Geeks," with its look at mythological heroes in comics and pop culture will be the focus of an upcoming post at TheoFantastique. "Paganism and the Role of Interfaith Dialogue" mentions the dialogical work of myself and some of my colleagues with the Pagan community.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

American Christianity, Islam, and the Public Square

Franklin Graham recently made controversial statements concerning Islam that are the focus of much discussion on the Internet and in the media. The controversy arises in large measure because of the inaccuracies in Graham's portrayal of the religion. In the video clip above you can hear Stephen Prothero's response to Graham's characterization of Islam. (See my previous interview with Prothero on religious illiteracy here.)

In a related story, the media is now reporting on the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida that is planning to burn as many copies of the Qu'ran as it can find on September 11, which the church has dubbed "International Burn a Koran Day," even though the city has denied them the appropriate permit for a fire. A review of the church's website reveals a penchant for inflammatory confrontation with Islam through the phrase "Islam is of the Devil," which can be found in Pastor Terry Jones' book title, a sign in front of the church, and t-shirts with the slogan that the church is making available to others who want to support their efforts.

These episodes demonstrate at least two things. First, we need more reflexivity in the failures of those in our own religious community historically who have not lived up to the teachings of Jesus. For a sobering reminder of some of our shortcomings see Gary Laderman's recent opinion piece in Religion Dispatches, "Dangerous Religion."

Second, Evangelicals still have a long way to go in their understanding and portrayal of other religions, particularly Islam. The events of 9/11 had a traumatic effect on the national conscience, and that these events were connected to Islam makes it easy to understand how sensitivities could be heightened in regards to Islamic religion, but the misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and grotesque confrontation with Islam through the burning of its scriptures merely exacerbates negative perceptions of Christianity in the United States (not to mention the Muslim world), and further deepens our problems in the public square.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Patheos on The Future of Mormonism

Patheos has a great series of articles on "The Future of Mormonism": Magic and the Supernatural

I recently found a great network that includes a series of fascinating conferences and research topics. The network is, and following is an upcoming conference:

Magic and the Supernatural
March 17-19, 2011
Prague, Czech Republic

Bewitched. I Dream of Jeannie. The Exorcist. Charmed. Buffy. Dr. Who. Dracula. Dark Shadows. Twilight and The Twilight Zone. Sookie Stackhouse and Bill Compton. Dresden Files. Harry Potter. The fascination and appeal of magic and supernatural entities pervades societies and cultures. The continuing appeal of these characters is a testimony to how they shape our daydreams and our nightmares, as well as how we yearn for something that is “more” or “beyond” what we can see-touch-taste-feel. Children still avoid stepping on cracks, lovers pluck petals from a daisy, cards are dealt and tea leaves read.

A belief in magic as a means of influencing the world seems to have been common in all cultures. Some of these beliefs crossed over into nascent religions, influencing rites and religious celebrations. Over time, religiously-based supernatural events (”miracles”) acquired their own flavour, separating themselves from standard magic. Some modern religions such as the Neopaganisms embrace connections to magic, while others retain only echoes of their distant origins.

This inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary project seeks to examine issues surrounding the role and use of magic in a wide variety of societies and cultures over the course of human history. People with access to magic or knowledge of the supernatural will also be examined.

Papers, presentations, reports and workshops are invited on issues on or broadly related to any of the following themes:

~ Magic as “paranormal,” anything alleged to exist that is not explainable by any present laws of science
~ the distinctions between “magic” and “religion” and “science”
~ Magical thinking and the equation of coincidence with causality
~ Folk magic and “traditional” systems of magic
~ “Magick” and “Wicca” as religious systems in modern society
~ Witchcraft in the European context
~ “Witchcraft” and animism in African or Asian contexts
~ Magic as illusion, stagecraft, sleight-of-hand
~ Magic in modern literature (ex. Harry Potter, Harry Dresden, the saga of Middle Earth, the Chronicles of Narnia, etc.) and in traditional literatures (folk or fairy tales, legends, mythologies, etc.)
~ Magic in art and the depiction of magical creatures, practices or practitioners
~ the associations of magic with the “monstrous” or “evil;” does one imply the presence of the other?
~ the portrayal of magic, magical creatures, and magical practices or practitioners on television and in film
~ the roles or uses of magic in video games, on-line communities, role-playing games, subcultural formations and identities
~ the similarities and differences of magical creatures across societies and time periods
~ the interplay of “magic” and “religion” as well as “science”
~ the “sciences” of demonology and angelology
~ the role of divination or prophecy in societies or religions
~ the use of “natural” vs. “supernatural” explanations for world events
~ Magic and the supernatural as coping mechanisms for individuals and societies

The Steering Group also welcomes the submission of pre-formed panel proposals. 300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 1st October 2010. All submissions are minimally double blind peer reviewed where appropriate. If an abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft paper should be submitted by Friday 4th February 2011. Abstracts should be submitted simultaneously to the Organising Chairs; abstracts may be in Word, WordPerfect, or RTF formats with the following information and in this order:

a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, d) title of abstract, e) body of abstract

Please use plain text (Times Roman 12) and abstain from using footnotes and any special formatting, characters or emphasis (such as bold, italics or underline). We acknowledge receipt and answer to all paper proposals submitted. If you do not receive a reply from us in a week you should assume we did not receive your proposal; it might be lost in cyberspace! We suggest, then, to look for an alternative electronic route or resend.

You can learn more about the conference and submission information here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Proselytism and religious identity theft: a key topic for interreligious dialogue

Is sharing your religious faith with another in an attempt to persuade a form of identity theft? Some certainly think so. If this is not the specific objection, some in various religious or spiritual traditions certainly see proselytism as an unethical and disrespectful of the other (as my Pagan contacts have shared with me).

This important issue that needs to be part of interreligious dialogue is taken up in an article by Thomas Farr titled "Proselytism and religious identity theft" that appeared in The Washington Post. The biographical material for Farr that accompanies this article describes him as follows:

Thomas F. Farr, a former American diplomat, is Visiting Associate Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He is also Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, where he directs the Religion and US Foreign Policy Program.

As the article begins, Farr frames the issues and lists a number of significant questions related to the topic. He then writes:
The way these and related questions are addressed and answered will have enormous implications for American interests, justice, and world peace in the 21st century.
Farr then discusses how proselytism has gone back and forth between Christianity and Islam and eventually comes to the following conclusion:
On balance, it seems reasonable to conclude that both religion and democracy can benefit if the activity of sharing one's faith is both permitted and conducted with respect. But there is much work to do before such a conclusion is broadly accepted.
You can watch Farr discuss this topic at YouTube at this link.

I think this is a very important topic that must be addressed by adherents of various religious traditions as they come together in dialogue and consider the place that proclamation and persuasion plays in the overall dialogue process, and especially how this relates to perceptions of religious traditions of proselytism in connection with identity.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sacred Tribes Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 2010)

The latest edition of Sacred Tribes Journal, Volume 5, Number 1 (Spring 2010), is now available online. As the Table of Contents indicates below, this issue features an interesting article by Paul Markham on religious conversion in light of neuroscience, and a review of The Kingdom of the Occult by Douglas Cowan for those interested in new religions and Western esotericism, as well as previews of electronic books available at Sacred Tribes Press.

Table of Contents

Editor's Introduction

Featured Article

Practicing Religious Conversion: Lessons from Neuroscience - Paul N. Markham

Special Features from Sacred Tribes Press

What Mormons Believe About God - John L. Bracht
Introduction to Apologetics, Mission and New Religious Movements - Philip Johnson
From the Occult to Western Esotericism - J. Gordon Melton

Book Reviews

The Kingdom of the Occult - Douglas E. Cowan

Call for Future Articles

Monday, July 05, 2010

International Journal of Mormon Studies Vol. 3, No. 1 (2010)

The new issue of the International Journal of Mormon Studies Vol 3, No. 1 (2010) is now available online. Articles include:

Father, Jesus and Lucifer in Pre–Mortal Council by Douglas J. Davies

Meaning and Authority in Mormon Ritual by Walter E. A. van Beek

The Religious “Other”: Reflecting upon Mormon Perceptions by Mauro Properzi

The Rise of the Nazi Dictatorship and its Relationship with the Mormon Church in Germany, 1933–1939 by Steve Carter

Religious Freedom in Belgium: A Limited Study of Challenges as experienced by LDS Children and Youth in Flemish Classrooms from the 1970’s until Today by Ingrid Sherlock-Taselaar

Utah and All These Cherries: Mormonism in Fallaci’s Un cappello pieno di ciliege by Massimo Introvigne

Oriana Fallaci, the Mormons and Me: A Personal Recollection by Michael W. Homer

Poles Apart? A Look at Mormon Doctrine in Light of Historic Christianity by Johnnie Glad

Are Jesus and Satan Brothers? A Short Exploration in Mormon Christology by John Walsh

This issue also includes Front Matter, an Editorial, and Book Reviews.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

James Henderson: Christian self-diagnostics

A great article by kindred spirit Jim Henderson pursuing alternative ways of engaging others, in this case by interacting with atheists for their perspective on church! I especially like these two segments in the piece which need to be asked by Christians about those of all stripes in their lives:
"Atheists are also wary of being seen as "projects." Does continued contact and eventual friendship with the Christian in their life depend on them converting?"

"If you want to have influence, I said, you have to be willing to be influenced. If not, I asked, would anyone want to have a conversation with you?"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Douglas Davies' Forthcoming Book on Mormonism: Jesus, Satan and Joseph Smith

Ashgate has its new catalog out in Religious Studies and Theology promoting its new titles for 2010. One that caught my eye as a forthcoming volume is Jesus, Satan and Joseph Smith: The Mormon Cosmic Triad, but listed as Joseph Smith, Jesus, and Satanic Opposition: Atonement, Evil and the Mormon Vision on Ashgate's website. The book is by Douglas Davies of the University of Durham who has written two previous volumes on Mormonism, including The Mormon Culture of Salvation (Ashgate, 2000), and An Introduction to Mormonism (Cambridge University Press, 2002):
This book explores Mormon theology in new ways from a scholarly non-Mormon perspective. Bringing Jesus and Satan into relationship with Joseph Smith the founding prophet, Douglas Davies shows how the Mormon 'Plan of Salvation' can be equated with mainstream Christianity's doctrine of the Trinity as a driving force of the faith. Exploring how Jesus has been understood by Mormons, his many Mormon identities are described in this book: he is the Jehovah of the Bible, our Elder Brother and Father, probably also a husband, he visited the dead and is also the antagonist of Satan-Lucifer.

This book offers a way into the Mormon 'problem of evil' understood as apostasy, from pre-mortal times to today. Three images reveal the wider problem of evil in Mormonism: Jesus' pre-mortal encounter with Lucifer in a heavenly council deciding on the Plan of Salvation, Jesus Christ's great suffering-engagement with evil in Gethsemane, and Joseph Smith's First Vision of the divine when he was almost destroyed by an evil force.

Douglas Davies, well-known for his previous accounts of Mormon life and thought, shows how renewed Mormon interest in theological questions of belief can be understood against the background of Mormon church-organization and its growing presence on the world-stage of Christianity.

Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion

I just received a review copy of a new release by New York University Press, Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion by Lola Williamson. From the Preface:
This book is about Walter, Aaron, Jennifer, and others like them who have practiced meditation under the auspices of a Hindu guru for twenty or more years. It is also about the meditation movements in which they participate: Self-Realization Fellowship, Transcendental Meditation, and Siddha Yoga. These are three of many such movements that, taken together, comprise a new hybrid form of religion. This new religion combines aspects of Hinduism with Western values, institutional forms, modes of teaching, and religious sensibilities. Lying at the conjunction of two worldviews, this phenomenon could be called "Hindu-inspired meditation movements," or HIMMs. Through personal, historical, and cultural lenses, this book explores the contours of Hindu-inspired meditation movements and their implications for American culture.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Foundation for Interreligious Diplomacy Conference: Mormon Engagement with the World Religions

Last week I had the privilege of attending the 2010 inaugural conference sponsored by the Mormon Chapter of the Foundation for Interreligious Diplomacy titled "Mormon Engagement with the World Religions: Perspectives and Possibilities with the Abrahamic Traditions." The event was held June 11-12 on the campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, an appropriate place for a conference on interreligious dialogue in that this location is the most religiously diverse area of the world as documented by Diana Eck of Harvard University in her Pluralism Project research.

When I first received the invitation to attend in May I was unsure if I would be able to participate. The recession has impacted my non-profit organization to the extent that no travel funds are available this year. If I was going to attend something dramatic would have to happen, and fairly quickly from the time of the invitation to the time of the event. After making my invitation known a few people came forward to assist. One colleague provided the airfare, and two individuals affiliated with the event donated my hotel room. My heartfelt thanks goes to these individuals who made my attendance and participation possible.

To provide context for the conference some background information is needed related to the founding organization, and the chapter that sponsored the conference. The Foundation for Interreligious Diplomacy (FID) was founded by Charles Randall Paul. The organization's website describes it as follows:
The Foundation is organized to promote and facilitate communication between people experiencing conflicts inspired by religious differences. It seeks to enroll and train religiously bi-lingual “interreligious diplomats” who can engage in deep dialogue encounters to decrease ill will and build trust even while in the midst of difficult conflicts.

Foundation membership affiliation is open to all persons who are willing to engage in respectful interreligious diplomatic exchanges and receive training from the Foundation. Members of the same religious or ideological persuasion are encouraged to inquire about forming chapters of the Foundation, guided by FID principles and methods but directed by local members working to achieve their goals for interreligious communication.

The Mormon Chapter was one of the first to be formed by FID, brought together under the leadership of Brian Birch who teaches at Utah Valley University. This inaugural conference by the Mormon Chapter was, as the conference invitation stated, "designed to explore various perspectives and methods for thinking about Latter-day Saints among the great traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It's aim will be to connect theology with practice in allowing space for Mormons to think more carefully about the activity of interreligious exchange and the possibility of mutual transformation."

The conference involved eight sessions over the course of two days. On Friday this included "The Latter-day Saint Approach to Interreligious Relations" with a presentation by Elder Bruce D. Porter of the First Quorum of the Seventy, "Latter-day Saints and Interreligious Engagement," a session on "Judaism," and concluding the day's events with "The Grand Fundamental Principle: The Theological Question of Religious Diversity." Saturday's presentations included "The Mormon Voice in a Pluralistic Society," "Catholic and Orthodox Christianity," "Protestant Christianity," and a session on "Islam." Each session involved a panel of presenters including representatives of the religious tradition under consideration, and LDS respondents. Each presenter spoke for twenty minutes, and ten minutes were provided for audience questions and answers with the panel.

Given that I am part of the Protestant Christianity tradition I was most interested in this panel where my colleague and WIIS affiliated scholar Terry Muck of Asbury Theological Seminary was speaking. David McAllister-Wilson of Wesley Theological Seminary was another representative of this tradition, with Deidre Green from Claremont Graduate University and J. Spencer Fluhman of Brigham Young University responding. Unfortunately, the previous session went long and pushed the lunch hour back, and when this was coupled with my departure flight time I was unable to hear much of this session beyond a few minutes of Fluhman's opening remarks. Since the event's proceedings were videotaped I look forward to them being made available in the near future on the FID Mormon Chapter's website.

As to my thoughts on the conference, I believe that interreligious dialogue is an important task for representatives of all religious traditions to be able to engage in faithfully in regards to their own traditions, and effectively in terms of appropriate means of communication. In my view FID sets forth the right approach which they describe as respectful contestation. This approach avoids the two problematic extremes of liberalism and some forms of ecumenism on the one hand that dismiss the importance of truth claims (person over truth), and the other extreme of disrespectful forms of proclamation and dialogue (truth over person).

A few observations:

I was surprised and pleased to learn of Latter-day Saint efforts and successes in developing relationships and dialogue with representatives of other religious traditions that have been going on for several years. The work with Judaism and Roman Catholicism were especially interesting.

Elder Porter made a few statements that struck me as curious. At one point in the question and answer period he stated that dialogue and proselytizing were two different hats that were worn at different times. This can surely be the case, but not necessarily so, as the position of FID makes clear. Elder Porter also spoke of a uniformity of beliefs among LDS, and while the LDS Church has done a good job at providing teachings to be used throughout the Church with the aim toward this uniformity, what little scientific research I have come across in this area indicates some level of diversity, which is to be expected in a diverse population, even if there is an official and popular "center of gravity" for beliefs.

At several points during the conference I felt like a fly on the wall, and an uncomfortable one at that, as I watched and listened to another religious tradition wrestle with issues both intra- and inter- in regards to other religions. I found it refreshing that a group of Latter-day Saints was active in moving beyond its own religious community to understand and relate in the public square. Such interests compliment a faith very much interested in the process of proselytization.

If I were to offer a critique of the conference, I would like to have seen fewer people on the panel, and/or less time given to presentations so as to allow greater time with panel participants interacting with each other and the audience. In addition, I would like to have seen some incorporation of "practical" and grassroots examples of dialogue that moves beyond the institutional and academic levels to our neighborhoods.

One of the benefits of attending a conference like this is not only the event itself, but the ability to meet people, network, and develop relationships. As one example, Terry Muck and I were able to spend some time together, and we will be working with an initial group of charter members to form the Evangelical Chapter of FID. This chapter will put together an inaugural conference in the near future, and will work to equip Evangelicals to become effective participants in respectful contestation, and in the training of bi-lingual diplomats fluent in multiple religions who can engage in interreligious dialogue.

In a separate but related item, the Spring 2010 issue of Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue is available for download. This issue focuses on theologies of religions, and it features an article on the subject by Matti Kärkkäinen of Fuller Theological Seminary with a number of respondents including myself in a piece simply titled "Supplemental Reflections." Readers may enjoy this discussion of a timely theological and cultural issue as it relates to interreligious dialogue.