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Dr. Stephen Ogden. Religion: LIBS 7023  Introduction  Subject of academic study.  Course practices.  Literary justification.  Definition of the term.

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Presentation on theme: "Dr. Stephen Ogden. Religion: LIBS 7023  Introduction  Subject of academic study.  Course practices.  Literary justification.  Definition of the term."— Presentation transcript:

1 Dr. Stephen Ogden

2 Religion: LIBS 7023  Introduction  Subject of academic study.  Course practices.  Literary justification.  Definition of the term.  Anthropological status.  Range of comparative project.  Concept of Faith

3 DR. STEPHEN A. OGDEN   : Instructor, BCIT Liberal Studies  : Lecturer, SFU English Department  : IT Specialist, Manager, Technician  2003, 2010: Lecturer in Religious Studies, History and Philosophy of Science—SFU Department of Humanities  Academic publications and conference papers: science and religion.

4 Religion: Subject of Academic Study  academic study treats religion as a subject of description and analysis.  academic study is not partisan, personal, nor prejudiced  academic study looks at religion as follows:  Origins  Development  Defining characteristics  Human effects  Philosophy (nature of its claims to truth and validity )

5 Academic Study: Limitations  Academic study is uniquely valuable but limited.  academic—empirical—study is effective solely for subjects accessible to empirical study: a necessary (a priori) truth.  empirical (weight, height, measure, etc.) study returns material evidence accessible by the senses:  the statement ‘only what is accessible by the senses is real’ is a limiting statement of dogma; an ideological declaration; not a necessary truth.  academic approach to one’s love life, family life, or personal loyalties (sport teams, patriotism, fashion & decor, etc.) is inadvisable…even absurd.  Examples: instrument limits—“if you are a hammer the whole world is a nail.” ….

6 Academic Study of Religion: “Describe”  Description—clearly, accurately, exhaustively recording the salient and identifying details—is a self-evident human benefit.  Academic study has high social value for making and cataloguing proper description.  Challenges:  not all description is empirically straightforward  ineffable qualities are often the most important: are even the defining qualities: e.g. patriotism.  partisanship interprets neutral description as offense  do you want someone giving a neutral description of your mother? your fiancé? your country? your Vancouver Canucks?  the emotional dimension is real and of equal worth to the rational  a rational description of pædophilia is incomplete without the emotion: description of pædophilia limited to solely empirical is evil: the correct term is ‘sexual abuse of children.’

7 The Extremist’s Problem with Description  For an extremist (of any and all kinds and partisan affiliations), the following are true.  Of what the extremist approves, a neutral description is effectively a criticism (if you don’t love it you must be against it.)  Of what the extremist disapproves, a neutral description is the same as an approval (if you don’t hate it you must be for it.)  Dialectic is the only hope. As will follow….

8 Academic Study of Religion: “Analyse”  To analyse is to break into parts.  E.g. chemical analysis  Plato: “cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and to try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do...”  All-but impossible to properly understand an unknown object without analysis (and, conversely, an unknown part remains meaningless without knowledge of its whole.)  Problems  “Our meddling intellect \ Mis-shapes the beauteous form of things: \ —We murder to dissect.”  Analysis can fail to find the defining quiddity of an important whole:  vivisection, ‘team chemistry’, national character, etc.

9 Course Website   Syllabus  Assignment details  Rules and Regulations  Preparation information  Random posts on interesting, useful, or entertaining stuff, relevant to the course.  Opportunity for published student comment.

10 Course Method  Four contemporary novels: one for each of four major world religious belief systems.  Read the novels ahead of class.  Lecture on the historical, cultural, doctrinal, and liturgical description of each belief system.  Dialectical approach: after description, first a favourable and then a critical analysis of the religion—followed by the students’ conclusion of the dialectic, done in small groups.  Each class, a short, online, article on the lecture topic of the week will be assigned. Students will read the article, analyse it in group setting, and present consensus conclusion to class.

11 Exemplar: Dr. Chin Banerjee  Professor Emeritus, SFU English.  In upper-division seminar, gave a derisory reading of the religious component of a 17 th C. poem by John Donne—to the open delight of the atheist students.  Week following, gave a majestic presentation of the Christian metaphysic animating the Donne poem.  Dialectic.

12 Benefit of literary site on which to excavate understanding of Religion.  Imagination is a clear and definite human cognitive faculty.  has unique human value.  Literary authors have Imagination to a superlative degree: like Einstein, say, has cogitation to a superlative degree.  In fiction, information and ideas are transmuted into a story.  Story—narrative—is a human universal: Aristotle explains that human beings imitate by their nature: homo reddo.  human beings respond to stories—characters, setting, plot—universally from birth. “Mimesis.”  this transmutation of fact and idea removes the ‘film of familiarity’: facts made invisible by being familiar are shown newly, as if in a mirror.  untried ideas—political, religious, moral—can be shown in their human effects: a virtual reality of the future is created.  A novel allows us to experience religion in variety of aspect:  personal, familial, cultural, doctrinal, ideational.  The novelists chosen have a high quality of religious expression.

13 “Religion”  A common term, an uncertain meaning.  The sole scholarly authority on history and meaning (etymology) of English words, the Oxford English Dictionary, presents the meaning as uncertain.  “….the supposed original sense of ‘religion’ would have been ‘painstaking observance of rites’, but by later authors (especially by early Christian writers) with religāre religate v., ‘religion’ being taken as ‘that which ties believers to God’. Each view finds supporters among modern scholars.”religate v.  Cicero: L. relegere (to treat carefully)  Lactantius: L. religare (to bind)

14 “Religion”  Commonly—vulgarly—assumed that ‘God’ is intrinsic to the concept of religion. However:  Islam  Sikhism  Buddhism  Jainism  Confucianism  all in this list have been reputably classed as religions  yet it is academically credible to view this list as a descending (or ascending) order of systems of belief going from presence to absence of ‘God’.

15 RELIGION: Modernist & ‘Westernist’ Assumption  One problem immediately for defining and classifying (two ways of saying the same thing) religion, is the on-going development of understanding of Western civilisation bias in Science.  As a fact of anthropology, the scientific method is a Western invention, and all its assumptions are Western civilisation assumptions.  Thus, categorising, dividing, taxonomising, and comparatively analysing World religions is a Western project—and one that some non-Western civilisations reject  criticising it as, among other things, cultural Colonialism.

16 RELIGION: Modernist & ‘Westernist’ Assumption  For example, the assumption by Western academics of a separation between religious and secular spheres is considered (even increasingly by some Western academics) to be at best arbitrary and at worst Western civilisation bias: cf. ‘post-colonialism’.  Even Wikipedia—which is the worst of the three classes of information repositories—allows this.  Additionally, the ranking of ‘high to low’ among religions (in effect from folk animism, e.g. Shintoism and Druidism, to systematic theologies, e.g. Hinduism and Catholicism) is increasingly compromised as being merely another form of Western intellectual Imperialism.

17 RELIGION: PROVISIONAL DEFINITION  For our present purposes, let us work from a definition of ‘religion’ that is broad enough to be free of bias and assumption yet specific enough to be academically productive.  this honours Cicero’s derivation ‘to treat carefully.’  Applying Lactantius’s OED derivation, ‘to bind’, to the general OED etymology, we can use this for a working definition of ‘religion’: A set of beliefs and practices, referencing some larger & all-encompassing power, system, or idea that is acknowledged to be Good, and which has the force of both prohibition and reverence, that binds together a self-identified group.


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