from India Insight:

What makes a religious symbol conspicuous?

August 24, 2009

Last week, a college in Mangalore in India banned a student wearing a burqa from attending class. The principal told local media the college had a policy of not allowing symbols of religion.

How God (or more precisely, meditation) changes your brain

August 17, 2009

how-god-changes-your-brainSome book titles are too good to pass up. “How God Changes Your Brain” is neuroscientist Andrew Newberg‘s fourth book on “neurotheology,” the study of the relationship between faith and the brain. All are pitched at a popular audience, with snappy titles like “Born to Believe” or “Why God Won’t Go Away.” Anyone reading the latest one, though, might wonder if the title shouldn’t be “How God Meditation Changes Your Brain.” As he explains in an interview with Reuters here, the benefits that Buddhist monks and contemplative Catholic nuns derive from meditation and intense prayer are also available to atheists and agnostics. The key lies in the method these high performing believers use, not in the belief itself. But that would have made for a more awkward title.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Jewish Custom in the Time of Swine Flu

August 13, 2009

ISRAEL/In Israel, the death count for the H1N1, or swine flu, outbreak reached 7 yesterday, and for some citizens, fighting the virus has taken on some religious dimensions.

from Global Investing:

Islamic finance faces diversity crossroads

August 12, 2009

Is diversity of opinion boon or bane for Islamic finance?

Market participants gathered for a conference at Thomson Reuters’ London headquarters earlier this week discussed the need for more convergence in the industry estimated to be worth $1 trillion.

Is a moral instinct the source of our noble thoughts?

August 11, 2009

judgmentUntil not too long ago, most people believed human morality was based on scripture, culture or reason. Some stressed only one of those sources, others mixed all three. None would have thought to include biology. With the progress of neuroscientific research in recent years, though, a growing number of psychologists, biologists and philosophers have begun to see the brain as the base of our moral views. Noble ideas such as compassion, altruism, empathy and trust, they say, are really evolutionary adaptations that are now fixed in our brains. Our moral rules are actually instinctive responses that we express in rational terms when we have to justify them.

Beware brain scientists bearing gifts (gee-whiz journalists too…)

August 9, 2009

boot-camp-shirt1Knowing what not to report is just as important for journalists as knowing what to write. We’re inundated with handouts about some pioneering new scientific research or insightful new book. Should we write about it? It’s refreshing to hear experts who can dazzle you with their work but warn against falling for any hype about it. This “let’s not overdo it” approach has been a recurrent theme in the Neuroscience Boot Camp I’m attending at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Cognitive science gaining ground in U.S. academic religion studies

August 7, 2009

teehanThe academic study of religion has come a long way from the days when knowledge of scripture, history and a few ancient languages were the main qualifications a scholar needed. Psychology, sociology and other social sciences have been applied to the field for over a century. Over the past 20 years, cognitive science has been edging into the field, especially with the explosion of neuroscience research. Some of the hottest research into religion is now being done with brain scanners searching for data on what happens inside believers’ heads when they pray or feel a special connection to God.

Religion, poverty and strife: what comes first?

August 6, 2009

An uprising by a radical Islamic sect in northern Nigeria may ostensibly have been about religion, but such bloodletting will recur unless underlying issues of poverty, unemployment and education are addressed.

from Global News Journal:

One dent at a time, Turkey’s nation-state edifice erodes

July 31, 2009

"Happy is he who calls himself a Turk."

One of the first things that catches your attention when you drive out of the airport of Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's famous phrase engraved on mountain slopes in big white letters.

Philanthropy outlook upbeat, but not for religious charities

July 30, 2009

oxfamPhilanthropy does not seem to have been hit by the global economic downturn. Contrary to some initial fears after the stock market plunge last year, giving by the rich to charitable causes seems to be rising as younger donors get more active in the field. But the report by Barclays Wealth, the wealth management arm of the British bank, says faith-based charities face falling donations because they’re not in step with this new generation of philanthropists.
(Photo: donation box in London Oxfam shop, 2 Dec 2008/Simon Newman)

The report, entitled Tomorrow’s Philanthropist, is upbeat about charitable giving based on the bank’s survey of 500 “high net worth investors in the UK and US.” As it said in a summary of the report: “Despite the global downturn, three quarters (75 per cent) have not decreased their contributions, whilst more than one in four (26 per cent) have increased their giving in the last 18 months.”Buried in the report is a sobering angle for churches and religious charities: “The future is less certain for the traditional recipients of charitable donations, such as the arts and religious organisations. On balance, high net worth donors stated that these causes had become less important to them over the past ten years, and that this trend would accelerate over the next decade if the causes in question failed to engage in a meaningful way with the next generation of givers.”In a report graphic, religious charity seems set for the biggest reduction in donations, -16%, while health and medical charities should see a +58% rise in gifts. The other losers are the arts (-14%) and animal causes (-6%) while the number two and three growth leaders are children (+41%) and environment (+35%).These results could be skewed by the sample group that Barclays Wealth used. The report did not analyse the expected drop in faith-linked donations any further, so it’s not clear whether a wider survey of donors below the report’s rarified donor group might show better support for religious charities.Do any readers have recent information about how religious charities are doing in the downturn? (UPDATE: please read the first comment below for more information on this)Here is the PDF file of the report and Barclay Wealth’s summary of it. Below is a short video on it by Hayley Platt of Reuters Television. Since video clips are short and reports like this long, the report’s main points are copied below the video.The report’s main points are:• We are at the beginning of a new age of philanthropy – A new breed of wealthy philanthropists is emerging who are more socially aware and more motivated to give back to the communities they came from, as well as global causes.• The wealthy are still giving despite the downturn – The recession has failed to dampen philanthropic spirit; the commitment of those who already give will remain resolute, and some wealthy individuals are actually increasing the levels of their funding in order to ensure that their charitable goals are met.• The wealthy will play an increasingly important role, compared to governments, in funding welfare projects – The recession will potentially increase the role of the wealthy philanthropist on a broad basis, as governments around the world become more constrained in the causes they can fund. High net worth givers will become an invaluable source of innovation and investment for charities.• The wealthy prefer to fund projects directly – Respondents increasingly feel that they can make a bigger impact and drive change more effectively by giving directly to charities, rather than supporting causes indirectly through taxation.• High net worth donors are becoming increasingly active philanthropists and now seek to solve rather than simply to support – Historically, high net worth individuals have donated money and time to charities to support their endeavours. Now, however, the wealthy are far more ambitious in their philanthropic aims and are wanting to see visible or measurable change.• The worlds of charity and business are converging – Smaller, nimbler and more accountable charities are becoming increasingly attractive to donors compared to the large, traditional charities. This will have a knock-on effect and in the future, we will see the emergence of more commercial ventures which have a philanthropic aim at their core.