Who do you know?

Just last week I finished up reading Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. The book  is not new. It has been around since 2007/2008.

In short, it’s based on the Gallup World Poll data and is one of the largest data collection surveys in history. The goal is to let people speak for themselves, rather than the more typical portrayal that is given by pundits or pop culture. There’s a lot of value in it. So I’d commend it to you as a starting point for reflection and discussions.

But what I really wanted to get at it is something more basic than what’s in the book. I guess, in some sense, it is a replacement for the book. Rather than having some massive study representative of billions of people tell you what the world thinks, my question is this:

Who do you know? What do they think? 

There are many perceived conflicts in the world. Whether along religious lines or political or social issues or even theological issues, there are a whole host of opportunities to find some group of people with whom you are at odds.

I’m in no way dismissing the importance of any of these stands. Oftentimes disagreements are truly over serious issues. There are many weighty debates. Not every dispute is petty trifling. They often emerge because people hold sincere beliefs. They stand for something.

But I wonder what we know of those on the other side?

Or, as I asked above, who do you know?

Have you ever spent time with those with whom you disagree? Have you sat down for a conversation? Not a debate, but just talked about life? Have you ever “loved your neighbor” (to put it in Biblical terms)?

We can start by reading a book – to tell us “what a billion Muslims really think” – but maybe, just maybe, we’d all be better off we knew what even just one person thought.

Review: God’s Century

Last fall I read the book God’s Century. I really benefited from the book and felt the authors did a very good job of analyzing the role that religious actors can and do play in international affairs. They also provide a theoretical framework for helping to understand why a particular religious group in a particular setting acts the way that it does.

I wrote a review for e-International Relations and you can view it in full there: Review – God’s Century

Here is the conclusion to my review:

What will the next century look like? Will it be appropriate to label it “God’s Century?” We can’t know for sure but the trends appear to indicate that religion and religious actors will be significant in the shaping of the political landscape. Toft, Philpott, and Shah offer insight that governments would be wise to heed in their policies and actions. The final chapter is structured around their 10 Rules for Surviving God’s Century directed specifically at Western politicians and policy makers that is summarized in their conclusion:

“Only if policymakers in the United States and other Western societies come to understand that religion matters and how religion matters in global politics will they enjoy strategic success in engaging those contexts – including their own countries – where God’s political comeback will not soon be reversed.” (4716)

More than Neutral

Life over the last few weeks has been filled with lots of reading of articles on the issue of secularism, particularly in the Turkish context, but also in general. Now some people might find this rather dry. Sometimes it admittedly is, but overall I actually enjoy it. Which is good since I have plenty more reading and writing to do on the topic over the next few months.

Today I read an article that I found referenced on The Immanent Frame, which is a blog/site that is a collaboration of a number of individuals who are thinking on issues of secularism, which is really concerned with religion in public life.

This comes from an article by Craig Calhoun published in The Hedgehog Review and he makes a really important observation that secularism is not necessarily something neutral or an absence, merely what is left once you subtract religion. It adds something. Whether you consider it an ideology or a worldview or a constitionual approach or whatever you would like to label it.

So why does this matter? It matters because if it is simply an absence then there is not really anything to talk about. But if it is more than neutral then it is something that needs to be discussed and considered and understood. It is an issue and it is worth considering because it is prevalent in a number of areas, in western society I think we almost assume it and forget that it is there until we come into contact with someone who has not accepted it. This is where issues of controversy arise.

So the point of this post? Realize that your particular worldview, be it secular or otherwise, may not be the universal worldview, not everyone adopts the same approach. So it is necessary to ask some of the foundational questions to understand why the stances we may adopt towards issues vary so widely.

Wednesday 2.22.12

How to Boost Your Reading Comprehension – Do you find you have more to read than you can ever possibly finish? Do you actually take time to chew on what you read? There is a certain amount of value of being able to read and understand lots but it is easy to get lost in the flood and never profit from all you read. This article has some good tips for managing your reading work flow.

Five Thoughts on Vocation – A few brief thoughts on what the theology of vocation is and why it is so important that we see not just the “spiritual” acts of our life but all of life as before the face of God.

Finally, the theology of vocation is fundamentally about who we are created to be – both as human beings in general, and as specific creatures.

Review: Islam Without Extremes – a good overview of a book I’m really excited about Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty that summarizes some of its main arguments and shows why the book is valuable.

I honestly think it is one of the most important books of 2011; if you have any serious interest in Islam and its future, do make sure you read this.

Secularism: Its Content and Context – this is a pretty heavy article but makes some really interesting and strong points about what secularism should be and how it should be argued for. He, in a very interesting way, argues against relativism in a way that I really resonated with. While there are some areas of disagreement with the author I really liked the piece overall. (I’d recommend reading the full article, though a heavy 35 pages) because this excerpt just gets started on the good stuff!)

Re-Thinking Secularism Abstract

So one of the ways in which I’m hoping to profit from blogging this year is through sharing some of the work I’m doing other places and generating feedback and helping to develop ideas. In my articles that I plan to post on Thursday’s (or Friday’s!) I will often be drawing from reading and writing I’m doing for grad school. Today I sent in the last of my projects for the fall semester. So I am now officially done! I’m looking forward to a few weeks off. It was mildly anti-climactic though because I’m going to be continuing some of the same topics next semester as I work on my master’s thesis.

Below is the abstract for a paper that will form the basis for my thesis. Thoughts? Questions? Ideas?

Re-Thinking Secularism: Religion in Public Life in Turkey

Abstract:

What does it mean to be a secular state? Is there a universal understanding of the place religion should occupy in a democratic state? This paper considers the conceptions of secularism and the particular brand of secularism that Turkey has embraced throughout its history. It is argued that a variety of factors make it untenable for the state to continue in a path of strict secularism through the  control of religion but secularism should be reconceptualized in a way that assures the freedom of religion from the state and the state from religion. A theoretical model is proposed that is better suited to the current realities of the Turkish experience and identifies some of the unique issues of concern. As Turkey continues to develop a robust and stable democracy and desires to remain a leader in the implementation of democracy in the Muslim majority world it must continue to make progress in the place of religion and public life.