How’s your religious literacy? (cont’d.)

Although it’s four years old already (ancient in terms of news cycles these days), the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey is still making waves. Montclair State University sociologist Jay Livingston offers an explanation for why Atheists/Agnostics, Jews, and Mormons all performed better on the survey than Christians.

(h/t to The Dish for the link)

How’s your religious literacy?

Find out by taking the U.S. Religious Knowledge Quiz. No, this isn’t another one of those “Which Flavor of Ice Cream are You?” internet timesink quizzes. It’s the 15-question short informal quiz version of the Pew Forum’s 32-question U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey. I’ve used this quiz to good effect at the start of Intro to Religious Studies and World Religions courses. The result not only ranks you in comparison to how people who took the survey answered these questions, it also allows you to compare your answers with those of various respondent groups (white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants, black Protestants, white Catholics, hispanic Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Atheists/Agnostics, and Nothing-in-Particulars).Anyway, click here to take the Quiz, and see how well you do.

Easier said than done …

… but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth striving for.

One of the things I find most striking about Zen Buddhism … and I’d say much the same thing about Roman Stoicism as well … is how much of it so readily transcends religious and cultural boundaries, in practical if not in theoretical terms. It’s good advice for whoever, wherever, whenever you are, or aren’t, as the case may be.

Muslims are denouncing the Islamist Nonstate.

A group of young British Muslims released a YouTube video #NotInMyName against the Islamic State on Wed. 10 Sept. 2014 …

About a week and half later, thousands of ordinary Muslims gathered for public prayer protests against the Islamic State in seven German cities on Friday 19 Sept. 2014.

And now, on Wed. 24 Sept 2014, 126 Muslim scholars from around the world have signed and disseminated an open letter to the Islamic State‘s self-appointed leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and his followers, calling on them in the strongest possible terms to stop what they’re doing and return to the practice of Islam.

The letter’s executive summary is worth quoting in its entirety …

1. It is forbidden in Islam to issue fatwas without all the necessary learning requirements. Even then fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts. It is also forbidden to cite a portion of a verse from the Qur’an—or part of a verse—to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and Hadith teach related to that matter. In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot ‘cherry-pick’ Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith.

2. It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.

3. It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.

4. It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know.

5. It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.

6. It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.

7. It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.

8. Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct.

9. It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares disbelief.

10. It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture’.

11. It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture.

12. The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.

13. It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.

14. It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.

15. It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.

16. It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct
procedures that ensure justice and mercy.

17. It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.

18. It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.

19. It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God.

20. It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.

21. Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler and not allowing people to pray.

22. It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.

23. Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.

24. After the death of the Prophet, Islam does not require anyone to emigrate anywhere.

The original text is of course in Arabic, but a complete English translation of the whole letter is available here. And I must say I would love the opportunity to teach a course in scriptural reasoning in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam with this letter (among others) as a base text.

Those peaceful Muslims: you can’t hear them …

… if you’re not listening. Plenty of Muslim community leaders have in fact been speaking out pretty loudly against radical Islamism and Islamist terrorism ever since when. A new Tumblr blog, Muslims Condemning Things, offers a representative sample of links, tweets, and journalism to help put that old canard about moderate Muslims’ silence to rest. See here for more on MCD.

Religious Studies is a humanism.

If you asked me what the academic discipline of Religious Studies is (good) for, I’d probably begin by directing your attention to two effectively succinct essays: (1) Russell T. McCutcheon’s “What is the Academic Study of Religion?” and (2) “Why the World Needs Religious Studies” by Nathan Schneider.

One thing Religious Studies is (good) for, both authors suggest, is that it helps you make sure you know what you’re talking about when you’re talking about what people (think they) are doing when they’re being religious. The immediate purpose of Religious Studies isn’t to help you adjudicate truth claims, deciding who’s right and who’s wrong; it’s about accurately describing and interpreting (explaining and understanding) what the various truth claims actually are. You may argue for or against (the efficacy of) any religious belief, experience, or ritual you like, but if your argument is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the issues involved, all you’re really doing is farting at straw men (not to put too fine a point on it). First you need to learn how to ask the right questions; then you need to learn how to shut up and listen, because that’s the only way you’ll learn how to ask better questions.

Religious Studies is a humanism: according to McCutcheon, it is anthropological (about what people do), not theological (about what God/the gods do); descriptive (about what people actually do), not normative or prescriptive (about what people should do); it is non-evaluatively comparative, suspending judgment (what Schneider refers to as epoché) for the time being, pending adequate understanding. It is, after all, the field’s humanism that makes all the difference between appropriate “instruction about religion” and inappropriate “religious instruction” (catechesis) in the US Supreme Court’s 1963 Abington School District v. Schempp decision regarding the study of religion in public education.

But Religious Studies is no zero-sum Insider vs. Outsider game, either. Schneider argues, from experience:

Walking around [at] the A[merican] A[cademy of] R[eligion annual meeting] each year, I feel like I’m seeing Isaiah’s vision about wolves and lambs [Isa. 11.6] coming true—aside from the considerable academic bickering, of course. I love it. There are people in collars and saffron robes and turbans among the tweedy professors. It’s full of rational and fascinating discussions about the loftiest subjects that anyone can think of, but with no suicide bombers, no ordeals by fire. Again, this isn’t supposed to be possible, but it is. The world needs more of it.

What it is, is seriously dialogical, and without that, without a principled commitment to empathetic, open-ended, respectful, rigorous conversation between responsive and answerable Insiders and Outsiders—both learning how to view oneself as another and the Other as oneself—nothing of any practical value would come of it. And that practical value turns out to be not so much a means for adjudicating truth claims as a foundation for lasting community building and peacemaking. In the dialogic process, the urge to judgment ends up giving way to the lure of relationship.