OK, I like SOME Christian music. Shemekia Copeland.

Last month  there was some blogonoise that I joined in on about the most hate-worthy hymns. I even twisted a few arms to get others to sing along.

So, here is something rather more listenable! It doesn’t quite redeem the whole damn church for all for its horrible music (and other stuff), but jeez, it does go a good bit of the way:

Beats the HELL out of the old hymns, don’t it?

Shemekia Copeland. Gotta love it!

Quote of the Day (and some giggles): Aliens and Politics

“Watching political platforms wishy-washy from election to election gives one little hope that extraterrestrials really are guiding Terran civilization.” (William Doty, Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals)

See Mike Draw: you will like Mike's drawing...


Textbook recommendations needed. A Faith Unfriendly Introduction to the Bible?

Well, not really “unfriendly”, just “unprivileged”.

I’m teaching a general intro to the Bible next semester, looking main at its main themes, genres, and what Christians and Jews have made of the various canons over the centuries. I’m looking for a distinctly non-sectarian introduction that does not presume much previous knowledge of the Bible, Judaism or Christianity. The one’s I’ve looked through often have a slant towards protestant preconceptions, but I need something that will fit right in with a secular program in world religions and pay some attention to Judaism along with the various flavors of Christianity. I also want the course to help non-religious studies students appreciate the impact of the Bible on western art, literature, etc. Less important are the various theories of origins, etc. I do a subsequent course on the Hebrew Bible and historical criticism using Collins.

I’ve taught the course once before with a variety of reading from diverse sources and the “Very Short Introduction” from Oxford and a book on the Bible in art, but I wasn’t happy with the end result.  Any suggestions?


I’m thinking of Kugler and Hartin from Eerdman’s, supplemented by references to works of art, etc. but I’ve just started my search.

The Way to Pray Away the Gay!

There’s a lot in the news and blogosphere about the “Pray Away the Gay” (bowel) movement. But the problem is, they’re all suggesting the wrong damn prayers. So I fixed that.

Stolen from http://www.womanist-musings.com

Our Father, who aren’t homo,
Masculine be thy pronouns, despite your being asexual.

They Spirit came
Into some dame
But not in the earthly way, because even hetero-sex is icky, except when we do it within lawful marriage, or outside of it, if we don’t get caught. You were, but you talked your way out if it like a total bitchin’ rockstar from Mars!

Give us this day our daily rant,
About forgiving gays
Only when they stop being the way you made them.
And deliver us from reality. Please, we’re dead serious about this last point.

For thine is the homophobic power of gay-bashing
Forever and ever, or at least until we really think about it.

Aman, and awoman, lawfully married.

Vote for my new cheery cat!

Saw this pic and I got inspired.

Have a nice day!

Ehud Ben Zvi Speaking at the University of Lethbridge

My friend and former professor, Ehud Ben Zvi of the University of Alberta will be speaking at the University of Lethbridge next week.

“Memory Studies and the Historical Study of
Ancient Israelite Prophetic

What did the reading of the prophetic books “do” to the target readership of the prophetic books? Why the prophetic books develop certain common features?  This paper explores ways in which memory-studies informed approaches may help us to formulate questions, heuristic frameworks and explanatory hypotheses about the social functions of the prophetic books in Jerusalem and the Persian province of Yehud.

The talk will be Monday, March 14, at 4:00 pm at U. Hall C-674.  Everyone is welcome and refreshments will be provided.

Ehud’s reputation as a leading scholar of the Hebrew Bible and Persian era Jerusalem’s scribal community and their productions needs no rehearsal. He is the author of numerous books and articles and is editor of the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. Here is a cut and pasteed blurb from his website:

Ben Zvi has authored or co-authored eight volumes, such as Two Sides of a Coin: Juxtaposing Views on Interpreting the Book of the Twelve/the Twelve Prophetic Books (2009); History, Literature and Theology in the Book of Chronicles (2006); Hosea (2005); Signs of Jonah: Reading and Rereading in Ancient Yehud (2003); Micah (2000) and A Historical-Critical Study of The Book of Obadiah (1996). He has edited or co-edited about a dozen books (including The Concept of Exile in Ancient Israel and its Historical Contexts [2010, with Christoph Levin), The Production of Prophecy: Constructing Prophecy and Prophets in Yehud [2009; with D.V. Edelman], A Palimpsest: Rhetoric, Ideology, Stylistics and Language Relating to Persian Israel [2009, with D.V. Edelman and F. Polak] and Utopia and Dystopia in Prophetic Literature [2006]), and more are forthcoming. He has written numerous essays on the historical and prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible in which he explores the ways in which ancient Israelites construed their past and the significance of these images of the past for them.

It will be great to see him again (he can usually only be spoken too on the fly at SBL meetings, he is a pretty busy boy). It will also be great to have him visit my Hebrew Bible class on Monday too! I hope my students realize what an academic treat this is. You can visit his website’s list of teaching resources here.

Signs and Wonders of Church Fails

I saw this over at Godless Girl and I thought I would share it. http://www.godlessgirl.com/

Then I found these, and thought I would get all trinitarian. First, here is proof that religion is based on anthropomorphism. http://www.christswitness.com/copel.php

And then there is this:

Please, come to Sunny Hills Church but leave your ill rockets at home. They have to go elsewhere for their surgery.

Moronville’s Catholic School Obscenity.

The Globe and Mail reported on Friday on the efforts of a few families in Mornville (north of Edmonton a little way) to send their kids to a secualr public school as the ONLY schools in this town ov over 8000 are part of the “Catholic” school board. Alberta has an absolutely perverse educational organization with essentially 2 school system on the public purse across the province, the “Public” and the “Catholic” systems. Most town have both operating side by side, with distinct boards, administrators, schools, buses etc. In Morinville, however, amalgamation of public schools left all of the town in the hands of the “Catholic” board while the Public schools are in the rural areas surrounding the town. Here’s some excerpts from the article:

“It wasn’t until her seven-year-old son asked her if he’d burn in hell that Marjorie Kirsop became concerned.

A Catholic education is the only local option for the Kirsop family and everyone else in Morinville, Alta., a community of 8,100 northwest of Edmonton. It’s a unique situation, rooted in the town’s origins as an outpost of French-Canadian Catholicism in the late 1800s. But this fall, when five-year-old Sarah Kirsop declared she had converted to Catholicism, her mother joined a group of local families who are challenging the status quo.

Their campaign for religion-free public education has met resistance from the local public school board – the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division – and drawn little more than a polite hearing from local politicians and Alberta’s Ministry of Education.

This really pisses me off. Governments’s own as much to secular families as they do the members of the Catholic church and all too-often criminal clergy. School board and Government resistance is simply the typical bend-over-and-take-it-like-sheep attitude too many people have of deferring to religion, and forms of Christianity in particular. It is the preservation of a never deserved and now hopelessly obsolete social status. That these people wouldn’t care that kids are coming home worried about burning in some hell shows just how numb they are to the scope of Christian privilege and how blind they are to people’s concerns.

The Alberta School Act allows children to be excused from religious or patriotic exercises or instruction. “But in a Catholic school, the entire curriculum is permeated with the Catholic theology, hence the problem,” said Frank Peters, an expert in school governance and a professor of education at the University of Alberta.

To wit: see my earlier post about the English “teacher” (I use the term loosely) in a Catholic school who spoke down here in Lethbridge at the teacher’s convention. He addresses “science” in his Religion classes and tries to reconcile evolution and Catholicism claiming that:

“The creationists will find all of the evidence that can point in their direction. The evolutionists find the evidence that points in their direction,” he said. “And so, in a sense, both are really practising bad science. Good science says, ‘Hey, let’s look at the data. What does the data tell us?’”

Even the nature of “science” must be brought into line with religion, even if it is done by an English teacher! Anyway, back to the Globe and Mail story.

Only Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta still have patchworks of public and separate, protestant and Catholic school divisions. Over the years, protestant divisions have become secular and many have amalgamated with like-minded neighbours. Mass amalgamations in 1995 in Alberta left Morinville being serviced by a single public Catholic board, while the region’s secular board, the Sturgeon School Division, was confined to areas around Morinville.

Even today, Sturgeon’s head offices are in an old school building in the heart of Morinville, but the district’s boundaries trace a doughnut around the town.

“It’s a pretty unusual set-up,” said Michele Vick, Sturgeon’s superintendent.

Her district is amenable to making arrangements for busing Morinville children to a non-denominational Sturgeon school. This is one of the options put forward by the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division that Ms. Hunter’s parent coalition finds unacceptable.

Here’s a better idea: Dump all sectarian schools, combine all the resources into a single system, preserving the best of both, and let parents and churches pay to do the church’s work.

Dr. Jim’s Pedagogical Pride and Joy: Research in Religious Studies Conference

This past week I had to write a history of the Research in Religious Studies Conference for the University of Lethbridge’s new president. I started reflecting on how much it really means to me, so rather than write a post bitching about things or poking fun at something (i.e., the usual Thinking Shop fare), I would share that history here as it really is the one thing that I’ve done academically that has probably touched the greatest number of people in a possible way (besides just lecturing or marking papers and exams).

The conference started back in 2003 and is now going into its 9th season. It is open to undergraduates and Masters students (we will accept PhD papers, but doctoral candidates would probably be better off trying to get into professional meetings) with papers on any academic subject pertaining to religion. The diversity we get is tremendous. The conference is modelled after the regional American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature meetings: sessions of 3 or 4 papers of half an hour each, including about 10 minutes of discussion after each. The main difference comes in applying. We found that it is impossible to designate sessions ahead of time. The reason is that one can never be sure what upper level seminars are being conducted in various universities, so most pre-planning will probably come to naught. Also, students are quite nervous and are typically unsure if their papers will “fit” any pre-arranged theme. Many of the most interesting papers cut across boundaries anyway, and so we will take whatever papers that sound well researched. We make up the sessions after. It is often a chore as there is always one that doesn’t fit, but we always make them fit in somewhere, and it usually works quite well. Many students comment on the nice mix of papers.

We also have a policy of accepting any paper whose abstract indicated a good level of thought and a good methodology. There is, therefore, no upper limit to the number of paper. Since the conference is intended to be pedagogical, proposals that leave us with some reservation will often not be rejected outright but returned for further clarification. Often, students simply cannot write a good abstract while the paper itself is quite acceptable. Some proposals, however, are rejected.

My first attempt at organizing a student conference was back when I was an undergraduate at the University of Alberta. My firend Aaron Hughes and I thought it would be a good idea. Our few presenters and somewhat skeptical but supportive professors all thought it a great success although, unfortunately, it lasted only one year after we graduated. During my time at the U. of A., however, I was encouraged attend professesional conferences as well, and even had two papers accepted for presentation at the annual meetings of the Pacific Northwest Region of the Society of Biblical Literature/American Academy of Religion (PNW-AAR/SBL, covering Alberta, B. C., Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington).

This left a great impression on me, so when I joined the faculty of the U. of L. in 2002 I proposed such conference. At a meeting in September of that year, many students expressed an interest and also concerns of the quality of their degree in comparison with the programs of larger departments of Religious Studies, such as that at the University of Alberta and especially Calgary (one of the largest departments in Canada).

Our first meeting was in early May 2003, when a handful of students presented papers to a small body of their peers, parents and a few professors in early May, 2003. The next year twelve papers were presented and in 2005 we advertised the conference at the University of Calgary where some of our former students were continuing their studies. A strong showing from there brought our total to over twenty presenters. Needless to say, our undergraduates clearly showed they could hold their own against their counterparts from other universities.

In subsequent years, Calgary proved to be our greatest supporter and we began pulling in presenters from further afield. In 2006 well over forty papers were presented by students from Alberta, British Columbi., Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and even Vanderbilt University in Nashville (by a Calgary alumnus). With this response, we were quickly forced to extend the meeting to over two days and have simultaneous sessions, a format that we retain. The succeeding year our meeting was as large and held immediately prior to the PNW-AAR/SBL conference which we also hosted. This time we included participants from Ontario, Washington, Tennessee Alabama, and Oregon. The many faculty who stayed for both meetings all expressed very positive reactions to the quality of research and presentation skills and the tremendous pedagogical benefit of the meeting.

The 2008 and 2009 meetings were smaller althoughboth drew contributors from near and far. These lower numbers seemed due to the economic downturn as many students were forced to cancel their plans to attend as their universities could no longer cover their travel expenses. Coming at the very end of the school term, many students are hard-pressed to fund such excursions on their own.

There have been some notable successes for our undergraduate presenters from the U. of L. Both Chelsea Masterman and Natasha Fairweather (nee Elder) presented on a number of occassions and the student’s research journal, Axis Mundi (peer reviewed by graduate students) accepted two of their conference papers; Natasha’s  Effing the Ineffable: Demystifying the Muhammad Cartoon Controversy and Chelsea’s A Mutual Advantage: Interreligious Dialogue and the Discipline of Religious Studies. Natasha was also asked to join the editorial board despite being still an undergraduate.

The confidence that comes from having their papers accepted for our conference has led to some students presenting papers at professional conferences. Chelsea Masterman presented  her paper at the meeting of the (PNW-AAR/SBL, in Seattle. Sarah Ginn-Christianson) delivered a fine paper on Shakespeare’s allusions to the Reformation at our meeting in 2009. On the encouragement of myself and some of the faculty from other institutions who heard it, she submitted it to the PNW-AAR/SBL undergraduate essay contest and we were pleased to hear that she won.

Perhaps the greatest signs of the impact of the conference on its participants is the fact that every year there are repeat presenters and with every new call for papers issued I receive numerous emails for past participants reaffirming the positive impact of the conference on their academic careers and expressing their regrets that they cannot take part this time around.

We are hoping the conference grows and we are looking towards starting an online venue for publishing the proceedings and other good student papers in religious studies.

Here are a few of the papaer abstracts from last year:

Raj Balkaran, University of Toronto “Virtue and Valour in the Vālmīki Rāmāyana: The Dance of  War and Peace”

Is violence ever justified? While modern Just War doctrine, evolved from Roman and early Christian thinkers, stipulate criteria where forceful means is legitimized, how applicable is that ideology to the discourse on violence of ancient India? Vālmīki’s monumental Sanskrit epic, Rāmāyaṇa, has functioned as a repository of Hindu values for over two millennia. Despite its vast receptive history, the epic’s moral themes remain vital aspects of modern Hindu thought and culture. What, then, does the Rāmāyaṇa have to say about the legitimization of force? Through careful textual analysis, this twofold study firstly demonstrates the distinct presence of all seven modern Just War criteria within the text, including: (1) Just Cause; (2) Right Intent; (3) Legitimate Authority; (4) Net Benefit; (5) Last Resort; (6) Proportionality of Means; and, lastly, (7) Right Conduct. As such, this study enables unprecedented dialogue between Hinduism and Christian Just War ideology. While Vālmīki says much about just warfare, he also has much to say about nonviolence (ahiṃsā). Therefore, this study secondarily demonstrates that although just war ideology is useful in examining the epic’s legitimization of force, it is insufficient in accommodating the Rāmāyaṇa’s complex attitudes towards peace. By analyzing the significance of nonviolence throughout the epic; particularly as it manifests as the tension between the opposed values of kingship and asceticism  I challenge the extent to which the Rāmāyaṇa ultimately valorizes the duty of the warrior, arguing that although thetale glorifies the ideal warrior waging a righteous war, it nevertheless critiques the very enterprise of warfare. Vālmīki accords nonviolence with so lofty a status as to ethically blemish even righteous warfare, demanding that we question whether violence is ever justified. The tension between the sociopolitical necessity of violence (the duty of the king) and moral imperative of nonviolence (the duty of the ascetic) is a lasting one within the Hindu religious tradition, one remaining as irreconcilable in the Rāmāyaṇa as in the religious culture which continues to cherish it.

Lauren Chomyn, University of Alberta “Violence as Beauty in Trito-Isaiah”

While it is often referred to as the book of comfort, Isaiah’s infamous utopian visions of a peaceful new heavens and new earth, in which the wolf and the lamb will graze together, are evenly matched with scenes of horror and violence (Isaiah 65: 25). Violence is not only the defining characteristic of the Israelites’ chaotic post-exilic state from which they hope YHWH will deliver them, but paradoxically, violence is also the tool by which Trito-Isaish hopes that God will establish and maintain a new and peaceful world. Isaiah’s tendency to mix violence and beauty in both its utopian visions and in its characterization of God, I suggest, are based on an ancient near eastern creation theology, by which violence not only is the means through which beauty is produced, but is itself a component of beauty.

Lara deBeyer, University of Victoria “Islanded in a Stream of Stars: Sacred Space and Sacred Time in Battlestar Galactica”

In the 2004 re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica (BSG), the remnants of humanity wander the cosmos in search of Earth, the mythical homeland of one of their ancestral tribes. Following a trail left behind thousands of years previous, they search for the way to this world mentioned only in religious scripture. They seek refuge from the Cylons, the race of robots that wiped out the majority of the human population. BSG, as science fiction, sets out to do what few oeuvres in the genre have done before: address religious belief not as a cult or a misunderstanding of natural phenomenon but as a part of daily life. The search of Earth is both a practical search for a new home and a spiritual quest for those who undertake it. According to John Gillis, [t]he sacredness of a place is directly proportional to the effort it takes to reach it. The journey to the landscapes of the holy is always a ritualized ordeal.  The nature of the quest in this space-scape is one of both mythical and quotidian
proportions, without replaying the old binary of “sacred” and “profane”. Using research by John Gillis and Mircea Eliade as a starting point, I hope to show how BSG reframes the ancient notion of the spiritual quest in the desert or at sea by transposing it into the 21st century unknown, outer space, and thus reinvigorates the inherited notion of humanity’s nostalgia for paradise.

Michael Kok, University of Alberta “The True Covenant People:� Ethnic Reasoning in the Epistle of Barnabas”

There was no abstract conception of “religion” in antiquity, but ethnicity and cult were intertwined. Building on Denise Buell’s thesis, I investigate the use of ethnic reasoning in Christian identity  formation in the epistle of Barnabas. Barnabas utilizes ethnic reasoning and re-appropriates Israel’s epic to construct a distinct Christian ethnic identity with pure origins and represent the Judaean as an adversarial foil.

Ali Ahmad Rasekh, Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec) “Messianism and Power: the Prerequisites of Mahdi’s Advent in Shiism”

In Shiite thought, the return of a messianic figure, called Mahdi “rightly guided-among people” occupies a central locus. In the rule established by the Twelfth Imam of the Shiites, peaceful, just, and righteous values overcome values represented and established by the demonic and cruel forces. The creation of such a society is a utopian idea.

The time of the Imam’s returning is not indicated, but it will happen before the world comes to an end, based on the Shiite thought. There are two sides here. On one side is the Imam, whose advent and rule will be an answer to the human being’s needs at that time. The date of his returning is known out of his follower’s control; an issue recognized by them. On the other side, however, is the society or, more precisely, the Imam’s followers during the time of his Occultation. This paper searches the task or, even, the responsibility of Shiite community during the absence of their leader from community. From the Shiite perspective, the time of the Imam’s advent is not in his adherents’ hands, but they might delay or hasten his coming by their behaviour. What kind of behavior and responsibilities must they commit themselves to?

The Shiites have taken two fundamentally different positions. One of these views argues for active participation in socio-political life and battling against unjust ruling power holders, while the second position invites people to take a passive position towards political affairs even when they are corrupt.

We can find representatives of these two opposing views in Twentieth Century Iran. Their rationales, social status, and connection to political power can be analyzed in this paper.

Peter Sabo, University of Alberta “The Dream and the Text: Reading Isaiah 66: 7-16 as Wish Fulfillment”

This paper attempts to read Isaiah 66: 7-16 from a Freudian perspective, specifically that of wish fulfillment. On the one hand it is clear that Jerusalem is personified as the perfect mother in this text and thus operates as the ultimate object of desire in replacement of the poet’s (pre)Oedipal mother. Yet, the portrayal of Yahweh seems to flip back and forth between fatherly (masculine) and motherly (feminine) imagery, which could be interpreted as a sign of dream censorship.
This censorship is not only present in the text, but can also be seen in the way that several biblical scholars interpret the text by cautioning against too strong of an association between Yahweh and motherhood.

Jessica Swann, University of Lethbridge “Was Pope Pius XII Anti-Semitic? An Analysis of a Man bothChampioned and Condemned”

The actions of Pope Pius XII before, during and concluding the Holocaust will be analyzed in order to come to a conclusion on the often debated accusation that the Pope was anti-Semitic because he failed to intervene to save and support European Jews using what his detractors argue was his substantial power to do so. The examples often given in favour of Pope Pius XII being anti-Semitic will be analyzed, such as his notable silence, as well as those who oppose the accusation with both sides motivations being examined. An attempt to conclude if he was acting in the norm of the time will be made through an analysis of the actions of other spiritual leaders and authorities of the same time, such as Protestant groups, in order to see if the actions of the Pope were drastically different. Even into the twentieth century anti-Semitism was often the norm, even if current Western societies choose not to acknowledge it. It is possible for Pope Pius XII to have been considered an ally of the Jewish at the time, as he did privately condemn Nazi Germany. An examination of the pope’s actions following the Holocaust will be done to further understand his previous motivations and overall character.� Finally, a look at the Catholic Church’s current stance on both Pope Pius XII and Judaism will be analyzed in order to help answer the heated question “Was the Pope Anti-Semitic” in terms of the current understanding of the word and also in regards to the norms of his time.

Anyway, the whole thing is a load of fun and it is great to end the academic year hearing well done student papers! And I learn a lot too!

And the Winner is…

Yes, voting is officially closed for the Lolcat Jim West Contest! And we have a winner and a prize! Go Contest Page for the results!

And the winner  can now claim to be is a total bitchin’ rockstar from Mars!

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