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Finding God in Maximum Security Prison

It was simple curiosity that guided photographer Serge J-F. Levy to New York’s Green Haven Correctional Facility in 2002. “Without having any personal predisposition to any religious activity but having a fascination with how people can work on their spirituality and healing their souls, I was interested in how this was happening in an environment that seemed to be everything but conducive to that,” Levy said.

Jihad most misunderstood concept of Islam: Historian
Jihad normally evokes images of bearded men shaking their fists, smoke bellowing from two towers and hooded men wielding grenade launchers. “So ingrained is the fear of the word that my lecture in Chennai almost got cancelled after some people raised concerns over jihad being the topic,” historian S Irfan Habib said on Friday.
The Times of India

Hydropower and spirituality cannot co-exist
Narendra Modi has criticised the Congress Government of Uttarakhand for not being able to push hydropower projects. He has said that the people of the state are unemployed, but the UPA Government is not concerned. He has also suggested that Uttarakhand should be named a different type of SEZ—Spiritual Environment Zone. He has thus projected hydropower as a solution to the problem of unemployment and he sees no conflict of this with spiritual life. Modi’s understanding is wholly misplaced.
The Free Press Journal

Homosexuality and Islam – Indian Muslims’ Responses
How could a religious minority be against sexual minority, asks a Muslim journalist,  M. Reyaz, who does not see any conflict with being a “believer” and a part of religious minority while at the same time being an empathizer with sexual minority. ‘Not that I was ever a champion of rights of LGBT, certainly my religious beliefs restrains me. But at the same time, I never suffered with homophobia.’ His suggestion for orthodox Muslims is not to impose one’s moral values on others. ‘No one is forcing Muslims to drink alcohol, no one is forcing us to have extra-marital affairs and no one is forcing Muslims to “turn” homosexual. So why this hue and cry? Simply because we do not believe in something, are we thence going to prevent others from practicing it too?’

BJP takes a jab at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 1984 anti-Sikh riots
Stung by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remark that Narendra Modi will be “disastrous” for the country as PM, BJP hit back suggesting whether Singh should apply the same yardstick to Rajiv Gandhi under whose tenure the 1984 anti-Sikh riots took place.
The Economic Times

Political Islam: A movement in motion
If Maulana Maudoodi, one of two or three people who gave birth to modern political Islam, were to travel through the Muslim world now, he would find some mildly pleasant and very unpleasant surprises. Some 35 years after his death, the political movement he founded, Jamaat-i-Islami, remains an influential force in Pakistan, especially in the area bordering Afghanistan. In Bangladesh, meanwhile, the movement’s leaders look likely to be executed (one has been already) on war-crimes charges relating to the country’s independence struggle in 1971, which they opposed.
The Economist

More Jewish parents question circumcision
When his pregnant wife first challenged circumcising their son, Mike Wallach had a gut reaction: “That’s what we do, we’re Jews!” But doubts about whether the surgery was medically necessary and concern over his wife’s opposition forced Wallach to confront some questions. Can you be Jewish without Judaism’s oldest ritual? he says he asked himself. What does it mean to be Jewish?
The Columbian

Dating, Drugs, Religion & Faith
I am surprised every single day by the world of online dating and fascinated by how dumb men are. Not stupid, although some are, but just dumb. How is it that a man can think using the words sexy, sensual, intimacy, lover, or oral in their profile names will make them attractive? Who told a man that posting a selfie while sitting on the toilet was going to be acceptable? What kind of man thinks pictures of him lying in bed without a shirt on is going to get a woman excited about meeting him? Come on gentlemen.|
Jewish Journal

The Top 11 from ’13: Academic Journals of Sociological Research on Religion
It’s 2014 and time for an annual review of the religion-related articles in the top journals in sociology. As I have done in the past, I use the ISI Web of Knowledge Journal Citation Reports to create the ranking of all sociology journals ranked by last year’s Impact Factor. Below I include a marker “tie” for those that appear in the same journal in the same year. It’s the journal rank that counts so those articles should be more or less ranked about the same. That said, 7 of the first 19 journals with the highest impact factor contained 11 articles related to religion. As of this writing the December issues of the American Journal of Sociology and Sociological Theory were not available so it’s possible that these rankings will miss important articles here.

The Art of Enjoying Life
In Hinduism, appreciation of life is viewed as an art one learns through maturity of thought and experience. In contrast, in western countries there is an assumption that enjoying life is something we acquire through situations or objects. Yet for almost a decade, western governments have seen that “in wealthy countries a continuing increase in economic growth is not increasing well-being,” as the New Economics Foundation states. A NEF study in 2008 found that “life expectancy, voice and accountability, climate, and natural capital were more important than GDP per capita” when measuring life satisfaction in 79 developing and developed countries.
Huffington Post

This Pope Makes Me Want to be an Atheist
The arguments about the current pope’s interpretations of Jesus’ true teachings is convincing me that an atheist has a better chance of hearing him with clarity. The question is why. Why do I come to this conclusion? I think it’s because when I apply this pope’s words, most of the atheists I know are better Christians than many of the Christians I know.
OpEd News

Shine on: 1,600 years of Irish Christianity
Treasures of Irish Christianity defies easy description. It is at once a book of articles with a strong historical bent and a miscellany of devotional or contemplative essays. Seventy-three authors, many of them well-known scholars, provide pieces on many aspects of Irish Christian tradition and belief. The book shines a light on well-known and on comparatively obscure episodes in the history of Irish Christianity from the Conversion, through all the vicissitudes of medieval times to the present day.
The Irish Times

Christianity Makes No Sense
During a talk I gave this fall on the psalms, I confessed: I am, in fact, just like King David. Though I acknowledged that many major details of our lives (gender, epoch, occupation, sling-shot skills, number of spouses, and current sex partners, for instance) are as different as different can be, the more of David’s psalms I read, the more I realize much of our internal lives are same-same. We’re both walking contradictions.
Christianity Today

What If Operating Systems Were Religions?
There is one true religion in operating systems, and it is UNIX. Or maybe it’s not the one true faith: there’s an earlier, older, more arcane religion with far fewer followers, MULTICS, from which UNIX sprang as a stripped-down rules-deficient heresy in the early days of the epoch. Either way, if MULTICS is Judaism (and the metaphor is questionable at this point, for unlike MULTICS, Judaism is still alive), then UNIX is Christianity.

Pakistan court heightens Christians’ wariness
A Pakistani court’s order for only the death sentence to be levied for insulting Islam’s prophet will further endanger Christians and heighten the powers of the Islamic court that issued it, Morning Star News reported from sources inside the country.|
Baptist Press

Real Story of My Spiritual Journey to Reform Judaism
Over the past two weeks I’ve been both heartened and horrified by the spectrum of response to what, I felt, was a spontaneous and sincere statement of unity and joy — my proclamation of “aliyah” to Reform Judaism, made at the biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism.
The Jewish Daily Forward

Savage Harvest: Stories of Partition
Sarna’s characters are mostly common people. Their religious identities — as Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs — suddenly become the sole deciders of their fate after the border is drawn. On meeting after Partition, they are distrustful of one another. But as they slowly mingle, they realise that their pasts are similar; they’ve all lost loved ones or been separated from them and, in this similar twisted fate, they find solace in each other as human beings rather than religious beings. This is brought out beautifully in ‘Of one community’ where a Hindu lady, on drinking ‘Muslim water’ instead of ‘Hindu water’, has an urge to throw up when she discovers her ‘mistake’.
The Hindu

Why Do Hindu Beliefs Vary Widely?
Many religions have a clear history that’s easy to trace. Many are founded by one person or inspired by one person. Hinduism is not like that. In ancient times there were simply beliefs and practices. The people in what is now India lived in a certain way and the name for their way of life was simply The Eternal Truth. At that time they had no need to codify or distinguish their beliefs from others. Everyone believed what he believed and there were some common threads and common ideas and worship practices, but people mostly believed and worshiped the way others around them did in their little area.

Govt schemes don’t reach 93% backward caste Muslims: Study
The study was conducted by Razia Patel, head of the Minority Cell, Indian Institute of Education, a semi-government organisation in Pune. Minister of State for Home (urban and rural) and Rural Development Satej Patil released the report at the IIE Friday. “The biggest misconception among the common people and higher officials alike is that Muslims do not have a caste system. There are castes that fall in the category of nomadic tribes and de-notified tribes (NT/DNT) who have issues just like NT/DNT Hindus. These castes are not registered or acknowledged and have had no place in census and socio-economic researches so far,” said Patel.
The Indian Express

Tunisia MPs reject Islam as main source of law
Tunisian lawmakers rejected Islam Saturday as the main source of law for the country that spawned the Arab Spring as they voted for a second day on a new constitution. The voting comes amid concerns that a January 14 deadline for the new  charter’s adoption may not be met because of disruptions and the slow pace of  deliberations.
New Strait Times



Is Religion Good for Business? New Study Reveals Surprising Link

You might think that religion may deter business, but researchers have now found that the opposite is true. It turns out that businesses with head offices in places with high levels of “religiosity” are less likely to experience stock price crashes as a result of not disclosing bad financial news. The findings reveal that if you’re looking for a business to invest in, you may want to consider one that’s religious.
Science World Report

Zoroastrians mull future at India meeting
The world’s tiny but hugely successful Zoroastrian community will confront a demographic crisis which threatens its very existence when it gathers en masse in its spiritual home of Mumbai this week. The four-day World Zoroastrian Congress, beginning on Friday, brings together followers of one of the world’s oldest religions, many of whom are descended from Persians who fled to India to escape persecution more than 1000 years ago.

Atheists are standing up for religion
The most prominent thinker in the first wave of religion-friendly atheists was Alain de Botton, the Swiss-British author of Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion (2012). De Botton worried that as fewer and fewer of us went to church, temple, mosque or reading room, we would come to lose our sense of being members of a community with responsibilities to one another. We atheists, he wrote, have much to learn from religion about care, compassion, forgiveness and duty. We belittle the inter-personal or social accomplishments of religion at our peril.
The Province

Circumcision of young boys is not a right
It is a basic tenet of human rights law that one right may well conflict with another. The classic case is the right to privacy vs. the right to free speech. Regarding the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons, children’s right to physical integrity conflicts with parents’ right to freedom of religion. As many of its resolutions show, the assembly has been a strong supporter of religious rights. But in this case, when considering the relative weight of the human rights in question, the assembly gave precedence to the rights of children.

To what degree is it reasonable to describe Paganism as ‘a religion’?
What is the relationship between religion and spirituality? These are big questions, by anyone’s standards. When you start out along a Pagan path, these questions may be visible to you and troubling. Equally they may be invisible, which can make the questing a good deal harder. The very nature of Paganism makes tidy answers difficult to find.

Jesus, Christianity And Social Justice
Christianity in India was—and is—not a monolith of social conservatism or progressivism, very much like Europe or elsewhere (as we saw in the preceding discussion). This duality of the Christian tradition continued during the colonial rule and continues still in many visible and invisible ways. Put otherwise, the emergence of phenomena such as the Christian right and Liberation theology have their local versions all over the world. Thus, in regard to India (where 85 per cent Christians are subalterns or dalit-adivasis who embraced the religion in the hope of freedom from caste-class oppression), the Christian leadership has to decide whose legacy it carries and celebrates.

Try Buddha’s eightfold path to restore amity and sanity
Although some might construe Buddhism as an Oriental intrusion intended to discombobulate the predominantly Judeo-Christian culture of the Occident, those who revere the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are most likely to appreciate the contribution that Buddhism could make to remove the mental fetters that have caused much agony and discontentment (dukkha) among people living in a society driven by excessive materialism.
Sri Lanka Guardian

How an atheist deals with Christmas
“Part of my interest in being a vocal atheist is to let more people know that we are out here,” [Ron] Herman said. “We are members of the community and we’re responsible members of the community with integrity like other people. And we strive to do good even though we don’t have gods. I like to let people know, hey, we’re not all believers.”
Albuquerque Journal

A Christian Musician With More Questions Than Answers
Last year, Christianity Today magazine named Josh Garrels’ Love & War & The Sea in Between its album of the year. In 66 minutes, Garrels mentions Jesus exactly once. The album is a lyrical, haunting exploration of what it means to be a Christian.
NPR Music

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