Category Archives: Religion

Women in Islam and gender understood through religion

Am having to face some very difficult questions in class these days on gender equality and religion. What is ‘religious doctrine’ and cultural practice is fuzzy at the edges, particularly since relativism and subjectivity has found its way into almost all but the most cloistered of religious institutions, radically changing the way “religion” is conceived in  rapidly evolving cultures.

I’m a big fan of studying similar spiritual traditions among Abrahamic religions (Chronologically: Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and am in the midst of reading up more on women in Islam. Please feel free to direct me to any good links on the concept of femininity understood through religious tradition or scriptural texts.

Here’s a primer on women in Islam passed to me by Ms Suzie.



Charity and Religion – The issues in ‘godly giving’

By Lee Siew Hua & Jennani Durai, Straits Times, 21 Jul 2o12

SALES manager Benjamin Kong, 39, started giving to his Methodist church in his teens, putting a dollar or two into the offering bag on Sundays. He had simple notions then of how the collection was spent, figuring that ‘the church needs upkeep, the staff need salaries’.

Two decades later, he notices more. The church bulletin carries news about groups supported by his parish, so he senses that cash is worthily deployed. ‘We also get an annual report and I glance at that but don’t query the accounts,’ he says.

He would, however, expect fuller transparency from a charity. So if he donates to a specific cause such as buying walking aids for the disabled but the money is used for something else, he would be upset.

‘But for a church or other religious groups, because expenditure covers such a range of things, people believe the money is going to some good cause somewhere,’ he says. ‘People are less likely to question where exactly the money has gone.’

Across faith groups, this abiding trust in the goodness and wisdom of spiritual leaders seems pervasive.

It is not blind faith but recent charges against leaders of City Harvest Church, for alleged criminal breach of trust, have put back in the spotlight the sensitive issue of religious giving and how best to regulate it.

The sums involved are large. In 2010, religious charities received $1.6 billion.

That figure would be even higher if older institutions such as the Anglican and Catholic churches here, which are exempt from registering under the Charities Act, were included. The stakes are high because the monies being donated are tied to individuals’ faith in their spiritual leaders and God.

The challenge is complicated by the range of religious groups, which differ in size and vintage and leadership structures.

The task is perhaps beyond any one regulator. That is why the Commissioner of Charities (COC) makes plain in its 2011 annual report that it looks to the public to play its role, by ‘donating with generosity and discernment’.

Godly giving

SINGAPORE has in recent years seen the rise of new, rich spiritual players, such as mega-churches. Also, there is a trend of charities engaging in business.

In 2010, the charity sector had a total income of $10.7 billion. Of this sum, the ‘Religious and others’ sector received $1.6 billion (15 per cent) – from donations, government grants and fees for services.

Religion ranked second behind the mighty education sector, which topped the income league of charities by pulling in $6.8 billion (63.4 per cent).

The presence of religious groups is huge. In 2005, the ‘Religious and others’ category formed the lion’s share, or 51.4 per cent, of all registered charities. This figure climbed to 59.5 per cent last year – or 1,245 religious charities. Continue reading

Have we evolved to become religious?

Faith makes social groups stronger and confers an evolutionary advantage

Time, Jonathan Haidt

Read more:

We humans have many varieties of religious experience. One of the most common is self-transcendence — a feeling becoming part of something larger, grander and nobler. Most people experience this at least a few times in their lives. When the self thins out and melts away, it not only feels good but can be thrilling.

It’s as though our minds contain a secret staircase taking us from an ordinary life up to something sacred and deeply interconnected, and the door to that staircase opens only on rare occasions. The world’s many religions have found a variety of ways to help people find and climb the staircase. Some religions employ meditation. Others use spinning, dancing and repetitive movements in combination with music. Some use natural drugs. Many secular people have used these methods too — think of the popularity of rave parties, which combine most of these techniques to produce feelings of “peace, love, unity and respect.” As the great French sociologist Emile Durkheim put it, we are “homo duplex,” or a two-level man.

The big question is, Why do our minds contain such a staircase? I believe it’s because there was a long period in human evolution during which it was adaptive to lose the self and merge with others. It wasn’t adaptive for individuals to do so, but it was adaptive for groups. As evolutionary biologists David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson have proposed, religiosity is a biological adaptation for binding groups together and helping them enter a mind-set of “one for all, all for one.” Groups that developed emotionally intense, binding religions were able, in the long run, to outcompete and outlast groups that were not so tightly bound.

If the human capacity for self-transcendence is an evolutionary adaptation, then the implications are profound. It suggests that religiosity may be a deep part of human nature. I don’t mean that we evolved to join gigantic organized religions — that kind of religion came along too recently. I mean that we evolved to see sacredness all around us and to join with others into teams that circle around sacred objects, people and ideas. This is why politics is so tribal. Politics is partly profane, it’s partly about self-interest. But politics is also about sacredness. It’s about joining with others to pursue moral ideals. It’s about the eternal struggle between good and evil, and we all believe we’re on the side of the good.

Most social scientists have assumed that religion is not an adaptation. They try to explain the rise of civilization using ideas about kinship (we can be nice to those who share our genes) and reciprocity (we can be nice to those who might return the favor some day). Cooperation with strangers that we’ll never see again is assumed to be an evolutionary “mistake.” But if you see religion as an adaptation that helps groups compete, then religions make a lot more sense.

This perspective also helps explains the persistent undercurrent of dissatisfaction in modern life. Ever since the Enlightenment, modern secular society has emphasized liberty and self-expression. We exult in our freedom, but sometimes we wonder: Is this all there is? What should I do with my life? What’s missing? What’s missing is that we are homo duplex, but only our first-floor, profane longings are being satisfied.

One great challenge of modern life is to find the staircase then to do something good and noble once you climb to the top. I see this desire in my students at the University of Virginia. They all want to find a cause or calling that they can throw themselves into. They’re all searching for their staircase. Most people long to become part of something larger. And this explains the extraordinary resonance of this simple metaphor conjured up nearly 400 years ago. “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

This essay is adapted from the conclusion of a talk that Haidt gave at TED 2012.

Did France ignore the Islamic radical threat?

Mohammed Merah

Police surround a property during an operation to arrest 24-year-old Mohammed Merah, the man suspected of killing seven victims including three children in separate gun attacks in Toulouse, France. Photograph: Getty Images

Hugh Scohfield, BBC News, 22 Mar 2012

According to Marine Le Pen, feisty head of the National Front, the Toulouse killings are evidence that France has “dangerously underestimated the threat of Islamic fundamentalism”.

Is that fair?

As a criticism, it cannot be dismissed out-of-hand just because she is on the far right. Seven people have been murdered in horrific circumstances, and the killer found his justification in Islam.

While the identity of the killer was unknown, the preferred theory of the chattering classes was quite clearly that he should be a neo-Nazi. Some even blamed President Sarkozy for inflaming anti-minority passions and creating the conditions where the attacks were possible.

Such insinuations seem utterly tasteless today, and will quite possibly set off a backlash against those who made them. Continue reading

Is religion really under threat?

By Julian Baggini, Guardian, Feb 12 2012 

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins … Often seen by those of vague faith as an aggressive pest. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of secularism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: the pope, politicians from both the Conservative and Labour parties, Melanie Phillips …

It seems odd to borrow the opening words of Marx and Engel’s the Communist Manifesto to describe secularism and to find them so apt. For someone such as myself who has always seen the secularist ideal as the most benign legacy of the Enlightenment, it’s a bit like discovering that your cuddly teddy bear is being portrayed as a rampaging grizzly.

But there is no doubt that secularism is increasingly seen as a threat to liberty rather than its stoutest defender. Conservative party chairman Lady Warsi is the latest to raise the alarm, speaking of her “fear” that “a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies”. She pulls no punches in claiming that “at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant” and that it “demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes”.

Pretty much the same message came from Labour’s David Lammy on Friday’s Any Questions? on Radio 4, when he attacked “an aggressive secularism that is drowning out the ability of people of faith to live with that faith”.

Warsi is taking this message to the pope, which is a bit like taking pizza to Napoli. In the pontiff’s 2010 visit to the UK, he also railed against “aggressive forms of secularism”, likening it to the evils of Nazism and claiming that “the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society”.

Other clerics have followed suit. The leader of the Catholic church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, used his last Easter sermon to decry the “aggressive secularism” that tries to “destroy our Christian heritage and culture and take God from the public square”. Continue reading