Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality"

Paul Heelas & Linda Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality (Blackwell, 2005).

This is a very interesting book, written by scholars of religion, on the topic of whether traditional religion is giving way to those who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" (known as SBNRs in the literature).  SBNRs, often associated with the New Age movement, might associate with a stunningly wide-variety of practices and beliefs: yoga, crystal magic, homeopathy, tarot, holistic medicine, and more.  As Heelas & Woodhead note, "Even a cursory glance around the local bookshop or a stroll around the shopping centre leaves little doubt that Christianity has a new competitor in 'the spiritual marketplace'" (p. 1)

Helpfully, Heelas & Woodhead fit the rise of SBNRs into a broader social context: that of the rise of subjectivism in general.  Subjectivism is a turn towards individualism, and "has to do with states of mind, memories, emotions, passions, sensations, bodily experiences, dreams, feelings, inner conscience, and sentiments" (p. 4).  The rise of subjectivism can be noted in everything from self-help books to motivational speakers and more, and has a key element that "[t]he subjectivities of each individual become a, if not the, unique source of significance, meaning and authority". (p. 4)  The authors contrast this "subjective-life" with "life-as" culture, which emphasizes external authority, hierarchy, and role-recognition.  Traditional religion is strongly related to "life-as" culture, whilst the new move towards spirituality is strongly related to "subjective-life" culture.

In order to gauge the relative strength and future trends of traditional religion versus the new spirituality, Heelas & Woodhead study what they call the "congregational domain" (traditional religion) versus the "holistic milieu" (SBNRs) in a single small English town (Kendal) of about 27,000 people.  Through an extensive, multiyear project, the authors and their team of researchers gauged the extent of activities taking place in the congregational domain and the holistic milieu.  They reached some very interesting conclusions.  First, and contrary to my own perception, they found very little overlap between participants in the two areas: only 4% of participants in the congregational domain also participated in the holistic milieu (p. 31-32), and only 16% of persons active in the holistic milieu were regular churchgoers (p. 48 n.10).  I found this surprising based on other material I've read which argues that a "cafeteria" spirituality is common, where many people, including regular churchgoers, have picked from the menu of New Age beliefs.  "In Kendal at least, such a  post-modern condition is scarcely in evidence.  Instead, the congregational domain and holistic milieu constitute two largely separate and distinct worlds."  (p. 32)    Second, the authors were able to assess the regular strength of each area: they found that participants in the congregational domain outnumbered those in the holistic milieu by about 5-1.  No overwhelming "spiritual revolution" has taken place yet.  Third, however, they found that trends clearly favour the holistic milieu--not only has there been a dramatic rise in the area in just the past few decades, but there has been a slow but gradual decline in the congregational domain.  Further, the holistic milieu has gained extensive visibility in general culture, as seen by books, classes at gyms, newspaper columns, etc.  It's quite conceivable that in just a few decades, participants in the holistic milieu will exceed those in the congregational domain.

There's a lot of other good material in the book, and I highly recommend it.  The law review article I'm working on now is about what the rise of the "holistic milieu" means for our understanding of religious freedom.

Monday, April 7, 2014

"Noah" Banned as Blasphemous

Catching up on some old news, Religion Clause Blog has a brief post about the recent movie Noah being banned in Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates for offending Islam.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Comic Book Banned in Malaysia

A story combining two of my favourite things: comic books and blasphemy!  The always-useful Religion Clause Blog reports that Malaysia has banned an issue of a comic book titled "Ultraman the Ultra Power" (a title I've never heard of) because of a line connecting the titular super hero to Allah.

Forthcoming Article in University of Queensland Law Journal

I'm happy to report that the University of Queensland Law Journal will publish my article Religion, Secularism, and the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"To Ban or Not to Ban Blasphemous Videos"

Evelyn M. Aswad, To Ban or Not to Ban Blasphemous Videos, 44 Georgetown Journal of International Law 1313 (2013).

This article discusses the worldwide outcry over the Innocence of Muslims video and the calls by many outside (and some inside) the United States to ban it.  Aswad's goal, specifically, is to examine the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which the U.S. is a signatory) to determine whether that document requires members to suppress material like the video.  The key provision at issue is Article 20(2) of the ICCPR, which states that "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law."  The U.S. filed a reservation to this section when it signed the ICCPR, stating that it would not suppress material protected by the First Amendment.

To my mind, this answers the question of any legal obligation the U.S. might have at international law, but Aswad takes the analysis a step further and argues that, even without a reservation, the Convention does not require suppression.  Through a textual analysis of the provision, she argues that Article 20(2) is focussed on advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement, and that "[i]t would not constitute 'advocacy' for a speaker adhering to religion X to simply criticize, question, mischaracterize or ridicule religion Y without the intent to promote hatred against members of religion Y." (p. 1319)  Thus, in order for Article 20(2) to require the suppression of the Innocence of Muslims video, Aswad concludes that evidence would have to be adduced that its maker had
the intent of promoting hatred towards Muslims.  Further, she argues that the use of the word "incitement" in Article 20(2) is rather vague, as it does not disclose the degree of proximity needed between the act in question and the result which the section hopes to prevent (p. 1319-20).

Another interesting aspect of this short paper is a summary of the drafting history of Article 20.  Aswad concludes that "the point of Article 20(2) was to prohibit expression where the speaker intended for his or her speech to cause hate in listeners who would agree with the hateful message and therefore engage in harmful acts toward the targeted group.  There is no indication in the negotiating history that Article 20 was intended to prohibit speech about a targeted group that would offend the feelings of members of that group." (p. 1322).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Scooped: Two New Articles on Fortune-Telling and Religious Freedom

Two new articles on fortune-telling and religious freedom have appeared on SSRN (thanks to Religion Clause Blog for the pointer.  First, Nicole Jones has written Did Fortune Tellers See this Coming? Spiritual Counseling, Professional Speech, and the First Amendment.  Second, Mark Movsesian has written Defining Religion in American Law: Psychic Sophie and the Rise of the Nones.

These comes as I'm in the middle of writing my own article on fortune-telling, witchcraft, and religious freedom, so in some ways I've been scooped.  But I plan to continue forward, as I've been collecting materials on the topic for several years and I'm sure my article will take a different approach than these two (in part, because I'll be incorporating Canadian and Australian materials).  I've decided to finish my first draft and then read the new articles and discuss them in a new section.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Recent Blasphemy Stories

A few stories involving blasphemy have caught my eye over the past month.

*  Religion Clause Blog has a story about a British citizen of Pakistani origin named Muhammad Asghar who has been convicted and sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy.  The man wrote letters to several people, including police, claiming to be a prophet.  The man has a history of mental illness.  According to the report, Pakistan has a de facto moratorium on the death penalty and so an actual execution is unlikely (his conviction is also the subject of an appeal).

Volokh Conspiracy discusses a story from The Guardian about a Greek man who has been convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to 10 months in prison for comparing a revered priest to a pasta dish on a Facebook page.  The conviction is also under appeal.

*  A very interesting article in The New York Times about Penguin Books India pulping its entire run of a scholarly book about Hinduism in response to a lawsuit claiming the book was "malicious", "dirty", and "perverse."  The decision is seen as a sign of concession to growing right-wing radicalism in the country.