FaithWorld

‘Clash of Civilizations’ author dies, thesis lives on

Political scientist Samuel Huntington, whose controversial book “The Clash of Civilizations” predicted conflict between the West and the Islamic world, has died at age 81, Harvard University said on Saturday. You can see our story here.

In his 1996 “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” which expanded on his 1993 article in Foreign Affairs magazine, Huntington divided the world into rival civilizations based mainly on religious traditions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism and said competition and conflict among them was inevitable.

His thesis was one of the most influential, controversial and widely debated in foreign affairs circles in the past decade or so.

His focus on religion rather than ideology as a source of conflict in the post-Cold War world triggered broad debate about relations between the Western and Islamic worlds, especially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

Huntington famously asserted that Islam has bloody borders.”

“In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame,” he wrote. ”This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines.”

Can policymakers use Darwin’s insights? New twist on old debate

The latest issue of The Economist has a provocative essay on Darwinism asking if Charles Darwin’s insights can be used profitably by policymakers. You can read it online here.

America … executes around 40 people a year for murder. Yet it still has a high murder rate. Why do people murder each other when they are almost always caught and may, in America at least, be killed themselves as a result?” it asks.

It goes on to ask why men still earn more than women 40 years after the feminist revolution and why racism persists.

Did climate change stoke past religious persecution?

A thought-provoking new book on Christianity’s “lost history” holds that one of the central causes of 14th century religious persecution may well have been climate change. You can read my interview with author Philip Jenkins about “The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia — and How It Died” on the Reuters website here.

“The Chronology of Christian sufferings under Islam closely mirrors that of Jews in Christian states,” he writes, noting that “Around 1300, the world was changing, and definitely for the worse.”

If we seek a common factor that might explain this simultaneous scapegoating of vulnerable minorities, by far the best candidate is climate change, which was responsible for many economic changes in these years, and increased poverty and desperation across the globe.”

Exercised over yoga in Malaysia

Of all the things to get exercised about, yoga would seem to be an unlikely candidate for controversy. But such has been the case in Malaysia this week.

Malaysia’s prime minister declared on Wednesday that Muslims can after all practice the Indian exercise regime, so long as they avoid the meditation and chantings that reflect Hindu philosophy. This came after Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council told Muslims to roll up their exercise mats and stop contorting their limbs because yoga could destroy the faith of Muslims.

It has been a tough month for the fatwa council chairman, Abdul Shukor Husin, who in late October issued an edict against young women wearing trousers, saying that was a slippery path to
lesbianism. Gay sex is outlawed in Malaysia.

Thirst for faith in Angola, but which kind?

“Those who are thirsty need to seek the right fountain: the one without the spoilt water” — Angolan Cardinal Alexandre do Nascimento

There seems to be quite a thirst for faith these days in Angola, which abandoned Marxism in the 1990s after three decades of civil war and is now experiencing a boom in religious sects that often mix traditional African belief in witchcraft with elements of the Christianity brought by the Portuguese colonialists.

Some 900 religious groups are waiting for the official registration required by the government, which has launched a campaign to stamp out illegal sects in the capital Luanda and provinces bordering Democratic Republic of Congo where witchcraft is believed to be widespread. Last week, an ailing 28-year-old woman died when her sect barred her from seeking medical treatment and 40 children were rescued from two other religious groups that accused them of possesing evil powers.

Cardinal Alexandre do Nascimento, the leading Catholic cleric in this mostly Catholic country, told Reuters in an interview (full story here) that he saw a bright side to the sect boom: “The positive side of this phenomenon is that it shows there is an increasing thirst for God. But those who are thirsty need to seek the right fountain: the one without the spoilt water.”

Headscarves new target for Austrian far right

It’s already been a big theme in Germany, FranceTurkey and the Netherlands, and now the Austrian far right is asking: Should public employees be allowed to wear Muslim headscarves at work?

 

Two women have become the first schoolteachers in Vienna to wear headscarves while teaching.

 

One is also a local centre-left Social Democrat politician.

 

Teachers in other parts of the country already wear headscarves, and there is no law banning public employees from wearing such items as there is in some other European countries.  

“Religulous” — a film call to atheist arms

Maher and director Larry Charles pose during Toronto International Film Festival, 7 Sept 2008/Mark BlinchComedian and talk-show host Bill Maher has issued the latest “call to atheist arms” in his recently released documentary “Religulous.”

He wants his fellow non-believers and doubters to “come out of the closet” to counter what he views as religion’s dangerous influence on the world. To do so, he preaches to the converted in “Religulous”, a scathing documentary that skewers Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The film is part of the “neo-atheist” backlash to the rising influence of religion in public life, following a path recently blazed by a trio of best-selling books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Dawkins, a renowned Oxford biologist, has also presented a documentary critical of religion called “Root of all Evil?” on British television.

“Common Word” Christian- Muslim talks kick off at Yale

Yale Common Word conference sign, 25 July 2008/Tom HeneghanAnd they’re off!

Readers of this blog will know we have been following the “Common Word” initiative for Christian-Muslim dialogue from its beginning last October. We already have a long list of blog posts about how the 138 Muslim scholars invited Christian leaders to a new dialogue, how some churches responded promptly and positively while others (especially the Vatican and some evangelical Protestants) were more wary but came around, how the preparations for their dialogue have progressed, etc. Now the first in their series of dialogue conferences, with a Christian side made up mostly of United States Protestants (including some evangelicals), has kicked off at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut.

The conference started with a closed-door meeting among theologians from Friday to Monday for an initial round of discussions of how Christianity and Islam view what the Common Word says are the two core principles they hold in common, i.e. that love of God and love of neighbor are the foundations of both faiths. This is one of the novel aspects of the Common Word initiative, identifying core concepts that many Christians and Muslims did not think they shared so closely. This half of the meeting is partly a getting-to-know-you session, since most of the Muslims come from the Middle East and Europe while most of the Christians come from the United States. But it is also a forum to test out some theological ideas in debates without television cameras or journalists hanging on every word. The journalist in me would like to be in there following the debates, Sign outside Yale Divinity School, 25 July 2008/Tom Heneghanbut it’s obvious the participants need a little time warming up before they can discuss these issues in public. The second session, from Tuesday to Thursday, will be open to the public.

Since I’ve been in New York all this month at Union Theological Seminary attending a research colloquium run by CrossCurrents magazine, I was able to dash off to New Haven for the start of the conference and will be covering it this week. Here is my opening report on the meeting.

Orthodox Anglicans skate around schism at conference

Religion reporters have been tracking the slow disintegration of the Anglican Communion since 2003 with one word itching away at the tips of their typing fingers — schism. We don’t get to write history with a capital “H” that often and the few times we do can be career high points. So the prospect of covering an event where you can draw parallels to the Great Schism of 1054 (east-west back then, north-south now, etc) is tempting. In the meantime, though, even a hint of a schism is enough to land the term in a story. But it has to have the right packaging — adjectives such as “potential” or “looming” or something else — to indicate the big kaboom has not actually happened (or at least not yet). So we can scratch the itch a bit, but not too much.

Covering the current orthodox Anglican conference GAFCON in Jerusalem, the Daily Telegraph has scratched at that itch really hard with a story headlined “Anglican church schism declared over homosexuality.” It took a 94-page guidebook for “a pilgrimage to a Global Anglican future” as proof that Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinole and his allies have finally cut their ties to the Anglican Communion. “Hardline church leaders have formally declared the end of the worldwide Anglican communion, saying they could no longer be associated with liberals who tolerate homosexual clergy,” it wrote.

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 28 Oct 2005/Antony NjugunaWell, up to a point, as our news story reports. The guidebook, entitled “The Way, The Truth and The Life”, goes to the rhetorical brink of schism … and stops. “There is no longer any hope … for a unified Communion,” Akinola writes. “All journeys must end some day.” He gives no road map for the future.

A rabbi, an imam and a priest discuss their “painful verses”

The Painful Verses, published by Editions Lessius, BrusselsA rabbi, an imam and a Catholic priest have written a book about the “painful verses” in scriptures that offend other faiths. Instead of plucking quotes out of each others’ holy books, however, they went to their own texts and picked out the passages they found difficult themselves. The result, recently published in France in the book Les Versets douloureux (The Painful Verses), amounts to an interfaith dialogue that goes straight for some of the most sensitive topics between different faiths.

The trio — Rabbi David Meyer, Imam Sohaib Bencheikh and Rev. Yves Simoens — thought it was a needed switch from the polite interfaith meetings they were used to attending.

Here’s a feature I wrote today after their book presentation this morning. Meyer said there were no plans yet to translate it but their publisher Editions Lessius was in contact with counterparts in Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain.