The New Institute is promoting a public forum on Religion in Political Life this coming Wednesday, 22 May, 7-8.30pm in the Newcastle Civic Hall's Hunter Room. The format will be a panel discussion with myself, Kathleen McPhillips and Terry Lovat discussing our work in the University of Newcastle's Religion in Political Life Research Program. Further details on the event can be found here.
I sometimes liken studying humanities at Newcastle to engaging the ocean beaches here. In the beginning of your studies you learn to swim, avoid riptides, and maybe start to body surf a bit in the waves. More advanced students eventually learn to make surfboards with wood lying about and some become quite acrobatic. Later even boats can be made and whole crews join massive research vessels that take off to sail the ocean blue. However, it seems to me that advanced studies in philosophy, religion and theology are something more akin to scuba diving. We study those ships that sink, interrogating their integrity under extreme conditions. Our task includes the various disciplines that surf and sail, maybe even sublating them to draw on Hegel's terminology. However, our aim is to look beneath the waves. It might be called an interest in substance, but probably best to leave it vague given how many ways we've come to think of being since Aristotle first identified metaphysics as such.
To some surfers it's hard to tell what we're doing, as we're invisible below the water. To others who care to peak, it seems rather odd that we might be interested in such de(con)struction. Still the passion for scuba is so strong that I've even known some of my colleagues to sink old ships intentionally and wait for the coral to grow. It's messy at first, but soon, whole new ecosystems develop. New schools of fish come to swim and eek out an existence (new sharks too). I've come to think that some of the new things we're doing in religion and theology at Newcastle require some sinking and settling. But there's a reef waiting for us if our wreck catches those age old ocean currents.
The Religion in Political Life Research Program continues its seminar series in 2013 with the following speakers:
- 28 March, 2013, Dr. Russell Blackford, University of Newcastle, “Freedom of Religion and the Secular State”
- 18 April, Dr. Catherine Byrne, Macquarie University, “Religious Education in Secular Australia”
- 23 May, Dr. Tod Moore, University of Newcastle, “Calvinists and ‘Democracy’ in 1640s English Revolutions”
Venue: Auchmuty Library Cultural Collections
Time: Thursdays 3-4.30pm, All welcome for tea, coffee and nibbles
Contact: Linda.Hutchinson@newcastle.edu.au, Executive Officer of the Humanities Research Institute, +61(0)2492 17915
Pope Benedict XVI resigned today and a few news programs in Australia wanted to discuss what it means. The first was a national radio program The Wire. The second was the local television network NBN, which aired a short comment on the 6pm news. Two things of note:
1. They were interested in the likelihood of a south american or african pope. On the one hand, the demographics support this. According to the numbers compiled recently by the Pew Forum, christianity is now a majority southern hemisphere religion. Pewforum.org has an excellent interactive map which compiles the numbers and allows you to easily see where the tradition is located. For instance, roughly 48% of roman catholics live in the americas, with 17% in the north and 31% in the south. Roughly 16% live in Africa (only 0.5% of those in the north), 12% in Asia Pacific, and roughly 24% live in Europe. So, if leadership represented the constituency you'd expect to see the americas play a part, and particular South America. But the actual politics of the Vatican can't be understood by the demographics. So, while some may speak of an Obama effect, where the leader represents a growing multicultural constituency, the likelihood is that it will be more of the Justin Welby effect, the new rather mainstay Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Communion.
2. The other interest concerns Benedict XVI's legacy. I tend to think that he is likely to be remembered as a rather paradoxical pope. That is, he was a strange set of contradictions in a single person. For instance, he maintained all the symbolic power of the medieval papacy in a way rather out of sync with the modern age, e.g. the silk and gold vestments, the relics, and St. Peter's Basilica. At the same time, in the past few months he was seen tapping the first papal tweet into an iPad. The media became as interested in how many followers he had on Twitter as he did in the church at large. Whereas John Paul II integrated the media into the symbolic power of the papacy, Benedict XVI seemed to hold them apart. Another example is the 2006 Regensberg Address, on "Faith, Reason and the University." Here, he made a compelling argument for the relation between faith and reason. At the same time, he fumbled a negative citation from a 14th century Byzantine Emperor, deeply offending Muslims around the world. Lastly, whereas John Paul II integrated suffering and death into the papal witness itself, Benedect XVI seems to have held the office in tension with his frailty as an eighty-nine year old man, breaking with 600 years of tradition in his resignation.
In short, Christianity is fast becoming a southern hemisphere religion. How these demographics will play out in the next leader of the roman catholic church remains to be seen. In any case, the legacy of this particularly paradoxical pope may be the contradictions he held in tension. This, in the end, may be a vital lesson for the future of this institution.
Upon looking for a download of Rowan Williams' "Farewell to Canterbury" documentary on the BBC, I found this debate with Richard Dawkins, chaired by Anthony Kenny. I'm reminded again what a gracious interlocutor Williams was as Archbishop, a public voice who will be greatly missed in that capacity.
Two scriptures always come to mind at these times. Firstly, before the book of Job unfolds into a debate about justice and theodicy, Job's friends respond in silence, presence and empathy: "They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great" (Job 2.13, NRSV). Secondly, notable both for its powerful echo of Job, much more its brevity: "Jesus wept" (John 11.35, KJV). Maybe more theology should begin in tears.
Timothy Beal writes on the Russian protesters Pussy Riot's theology on The Chronicle, - http://bit.ly/PgUqU5
'Yekaterina Samutsevich's statement explains succinctly that the band's "punk-rock adventure" was a creative, seriously playful engagement in the battle over the role of religion vis-à-vis state power. She describes an official state-media project that works to marry Putin's regime to the Russian Orthodox Church, with its traditionally strong "mystical connections with power," in order to establish "more convincing, transcendental guarantees of his long tenure at the helm."... Pussy Riot's religious opponents, Alyokhina says, treat the Gospels "as static religious truth ... that can be disassembled into quotations to be shoved in wherever necessary." On the contrary, she argues, "religious truth," including biblical tradition, "is a process and not a finished product," and it is given meaningful life not in the static institutions and dogmas of church authority but in the ongoing, creative processes of art and philosophy... Taken together, these statements are nothing less than a radical theological apologia for Pussy Riot's media altar crash.'
'About a week after the court's sentencing, Tolokonnikova sent a letter from prison to the cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, thanking him for his support and reporting, in a spirit of rejoicing not unlike that of Paul in his letters from prison, that "this has proven to be the continuation of the political liberation miracle-movement. ... The inmates are learning 'about the violence.'" To which Žižek replied not only with praise and encouragement but also with prayer: "It may sound crazy, but although I am an atheist, you are in my prayers. Prayers that you will soon see your family, children, friends. Prayers that you will at least have some time to read and reflect in peace while in prison!"'