Dr. Stephen Selka presents “Mapping the Moral in African Diaspora Tourism in Brazil”

Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephen Selka At 12:00pm on April, 30th the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute will host Dr. Stephen Selka.  His lecture will explore African diaspora tourism in Bahia, Brazil, particularly African American “pilgrimages” to the Afro-Catholic festival of Our Lady of the Good Death (or simply Boa Morte) celebrated every August by women of African descent involved with the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé. Although recognized as part of the official heritage of Bahia, Boa Morte occupies a complicated position on the Afro-Brazilian moral landscape. To evangelical Christians, for example, Boa Morte and Candomblé are diabolical; from this perspective, Afro-Brazilian religion is something to leave behind. By contrast, to the extent that the festival of Boa Morte is understood as a celebration honoring the ancestors, it is particularly appealing to African Americans seeking to “recover” their ancestral past. Nevertheless, ancestors are understood to be dangerous and morally unpredictable in Candomblé; therefore Boa Morte is something morally ambiguous for many Candomblé practitioners, contrary to what most African American visitors might expect. Accordingly, this talk focuses on the contested links between heritage, personhood, and morality that are enacted at the festival of Boa Morte.

Stephen Selka is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at Indiana University Bloomington. A cultural anthropologist, he researches religion, politics, and cultural heritage tourism in Afro-Brazilian communities in northeastern Brazil, where he has conducted ethnographic fieldwork since 1999. His first book, Religion and the Politics of Ethnic Identity in Bahia, Brazil (University Press of Florida, 2007), explores the various ways that Afro-Brazilians in both Christian and African-derived religious communities construct their ethnic identities and struggle against racism.

This public program is part of the Religion and Ethics Roundtables series of the IU Consortium for the Study of Religion, Ethics, and Society. Religion and Ethics Roundtables highlight the work of scholars at IUB, IUPUI, and beyond, with the goal of engaging the IU community and the public in dialogue about important issues at the intersection of religion, ethics, and society.

Taylor Symposium at IUPUI shares city’s religious diversity through performances

2015 Joseph T. Taylor Symposium Flyer

2015 Joseph T. Taylor Symposium Flyer

The practice of one’s religion isn’t limited to beliefs and sacred texts, according to contemporary religious studies scholars.

The 2015 Joseph T. Taylor Symposium at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis offers participants the opportunity to explore Indianapolis’ religious diversity through performances inherent in the practices of various religious groups.

The symposium, “Encountering Religions Through Performance,” takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17, in the IUPUI Campus Center, 420 University Blvd.
“Much of the recent scholarship on religion has emphasized that religious traditions are not just about beliefs and texts,” said IU School of Liberal Arts professor Peter Thuesen, event co-organizer and chair of the Department of Religious Studies in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.

“Religions are also expressed through performances. These performances may involve such activities as singing, dancing, drumming or chanting, but they can also consist of devotional rituals observed either publicly or privately,” Thuesen said.
Symposium presenters include:

  • Light of the World Gospel Ensemble
  • Mohamad Saltagi, an IU School of Medicine student who has memorized the entire Quran
  • Anil Bajpai, Hindu Temple of Central Indiana board of trustees member

In lieu of a luncheon speaker, Sancocho Music will perform and participate in a facilitated discussion. Sancocho is dedicated to researching and performing African-derived music and dance from Spanish-speaking cultures of the Caribbean.

“We’re thrilled with the lineup of speakers and performers. … And we’ve paired each guest with one of our own religious studies professors, who will serve as moderator and interviewer,” Thuesen said. “Each session will be like a mini introduction to what we study in the field of religious studies.”

The 2015 Taylor symposium is presented by the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI in partnership with its Department of Religious Studies. The annual event honors the late Joseph T. Taylor, the first dean of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, for his many contributions to the university and to the greater Indianapolis community. The event highlights topics of interest to urban communities, particularly communities of color.
“Indianapolis is a city of remarkable cultural diversity, but many local residents are unfamiliar with the range of religious groups represented here,” Thuesen said. “We hope through this year’s symposium to highlight the ways performance factors into several of the religious traditions that thrive in our city. In seeking to understand other people and traditions, we build community, which was one of Dr. Taylor’s goals as an educator.”

Morning symposium sessions, held in the theater on the lower level of the Campus Center, are free and open to the public, but advance registration is requested.

The noon luncheon will take place in Campus Center Room 450. Luncheon seating is limited and requires registration and pre-payment. Luncheon tickets are $35 each, if purchased by Jan. 26, or $40 after Jan. 26. Organizations are also invited to become table patrons for the luncheon ($550 for a table of 10).

For symposium registration and additional information, visit the Taylor Symposium website.

Lecture: Andrea Jain, “Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture”

Andrea JainJanuary 21, 2015 | 12:00-1:00
Location: IUPUI University Library, Room 4115P
Free tickets available below
Premodern and early modern yoga comprise techniques with a wide range of aims, from turning inward in quest of the true self, to turning outward for divine union, to channeling bodily energy in pursuit of sexual pleasure. Early modern yoga also encompassed countercultural beliefs and practices. In contrast, today, modern yoga aims at the enhancement of the mind-body complex but does so according to contemporary dominant metaphysical, health, and fitness paradigms. Consequently, yoga is now a part of popular culture. In Selling Yoga, Andrea R. Jain explores the popularization of yoga in the context of late-twentieth-century consumer culture. She departs from conventional approaches by undermining essentialist definitions of yoga as well as assumptions that yoga underwent a linear trajectory of increasing popularization. While some studies trivialize popularized yoga systems by reducing them to the mere commodification or corruption of what is perceived as an otherwise fixed, authentic system, Jain suggests that this dichotomy oversimplifies the history of yoga as well as its meanings for contemporary practitioners.By discussing a wide array of modern yoga types, from Iyengar Yoga to Bikram Yoga, Jain argues that popularized yoga cannot be dismissedthat it has a variety of religious meanings and functions. Yoga brands destabilize the basic utility of yoga commodities and assign to them new meanings that represent the fulfillment of self-developmental needs often deemed sacred in contemporary consumer culture.Dr. Andrea R. Jain is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and author of Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture (Oxford, 2014).

IUPUI professor’s new book examines ‘Islam in the African Diaspora’

'The Call of Bilal' cover

‘The Call of Bilal’ cover

A new book by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor Edward Curtis examines Islam in the global African diaspora, showing the many ways Islam is practiced by people of African descent while looking at the ways those practices have been influenced by their experience and interpretation of diaspora.

Bilal, whose mother was Ethiopian, is the historical figure whose rise from slavery inspired future Muslims of African descent to “claim his heritage as proof of their legitimate role as moral leaders for Muslims worldwide,” Curtis writes in “The Call of Bilal: Islam in the African Diaspora,” published by the University of North Carolina Press. Bilal not only rose to become Muhammad’s companion but was asked by the Prophet to call Muslims to prayer. He issued the adhan — the call to prayer — for the remainder of his life.

Curtis is the Millennium Chair of Liberal Arts and professor of religious studies at IUPUI. The concept for “The Call of Bilal” began for Curtis while he was visiting villages along the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley.

“In Jordan on one of my study abroad trips there for IUPUI, I met and spoke with many Muslims of African descent,” he said. “These encounters made me want to learn some of their stories, and to learn those of other Africana Muslims in the diaspora.”

The professor said that as he looked to African diaspora in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia, he came to understand better how Muslims of African descent sometimes dismiss the idea that they are part of an African diaspora. Others cherish the connections they have to African-descended people around the globe, though their political and cultural ideas about what binds them together differ.

He realized that the idea of diaspora was also sometimes interpreted in a religious fashion to emphasize the theological, ethical, aesthetic and ritualized elements of the African diaspora, orientations that linked the destiny of the black diaspora as much to the heavens as to the Earth.

Most Muslims in the African diaspora are Sunni Muslims, Curtis said, meaning that they identify with the majority tradition in Islam that makes incumbent certain basic interpretations of Islam (sometimes called the pillars of faith) and the “five pillars of practice” (the declaration of faith, daily prayer, fasting during Ramadan, pilgrimage to Mecca and alms for the poor).

“But what it means to be a religious Muslim beyond these shared traditions shatters any facile, American-based assumptions about the practices of black Muslims,” he said. “For example, I studied the prayers, healing rituals, instrumental music, singing, spirit possession ceremonies and dancing performed by some Siddi and Habshi Muslims in Pakistan and India at shrines devoted to their African ancestor saints, Bava Gor (or Gori Pir) and his sister, Mai Mishra. These saints are not household names among African American Muslims. (Generally speaking, the veneration of Muslim saints is not very popular in the Americas as opposed to in Africa and Asia.)”

Curtis encountered many surprises during his research, despite his long history of studying Islam.

“In the end, what seemed most important to me is that by studying Islam in the African diaspora, you can develop a very thorough understanding of Islamic tradition,” he said. “Since they have been part of so many Muslim countries and regions, their experience offers a wide view on what it means to be Muslim.”

Consecrating Science Wonder, Ethics, and the New Cosmology: a Roundtable with Dr. Lisa Sideris

Lisa Sideris

Lisa Sideris

What is the role of wonder in contemporary environmental discourse? Come join Dr. Lisa Sideris on Friday, December 5 at 1:30 p.m. in the IUPUI University Library, Room 4115P, as she examines a constellation of movements referred to as the New Story/Universe Story/Epic of Evolution/Big History—forms of science-based ecospirituality that have emerged in recent decades. One of her central claims is that these narratives encourage awe and wonder at scientific information and expert knowledge as that which is most “real,” over and above lived encounters with the natural world. She questions whether these new myths are likely to engender the environmental values and ethics they seek to cultivate. This privileging of abstract information is pronounced in iterations of the new cosmology that take inspiration from the work of E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins—who promote a mythopoeic rendering of science as a superior rival to religion—but many of the same criticisms can be made of the new cosmology as it has come to dominate the broad discipline of “religion and ecology.” Dr. Sideris’s talk will draw comparisons between the forms (and objects) of wonder celebrated in these movements and accounts of wonder as an enduring orientation, such as Rachel Carson defends in The Sense of Wonder and other writings.

LISA SIDERIS is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the IU Consortium for the Study of Religion, Ethics, and Society (CSRES) at Indiana University Bloomington. Her research interests include environmental ethics, religion and nature, and the science-religion interface. She is author of Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology, and Natural Selection (Columbia, 2003) and editor of Rachel Carson: Legacy and Challenge (SUNY, 2008). Her current research focuses on the role played by wonder in discourse at the intersection of science, religion, and nature, and the turn to science for a common sacred narrative.

This is a public program open to all. An RSVP to Abby Gitlitz agitlitz@indiana.edu is appreciated but not required. Religion and Ethics Roundtables highlight the work of scholars at IUB, IUPUI, and beyond, with the goal of engaging the IU community and the public in dialogue about important issues at the intersection of religion, ethics, and society.

Spirit and Place Festival explores life’s journey

imagesLife’s journey is filled with movement and meaning, but this Nov. 7 to 16, “Journey” also is the theme of a quest for thousands of curious people during the 2014 Spirit & Place Festival in Indianapolis.

The 19th annual festival will explore the various aspects of “Journey” in nearly 40 events scattered throughout the city, focusing on the impact of such topics as immigration, incarceration, marriage and dozens of others, all led by partnerships linking various civic, cultural and religious groups.

Spirit & Place was created 19 years ago by The Polis Center at IUPUI to engage the city’s population in unique conversations about each year’s festival theme.

This year, individual events will study life’s journey, all leading to the annual festival finale: the public conversation. This year’s event will feature renowned authors Gail Sheehy and Mark Nepo and Dr. Timothy Quill and focus on the “Journey’s End” at 4 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Christian Theological Seminary’s Shelton Auditorium.

All three are linked by loss and the quality of one’s end of life. Sheehy, the author of “Passages,” cared for her husband in the last stages of his life. Nepo is a two-time cancer survivor, and is scheduled to tour with television host Oprah Winfrey to discuss his perspectives on the importance of palliative care. Quill is the director of the Center for Ethics, Humanities and Palliative Care at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

The three also will participate in the Mary Margaret Walther Program in Palliative Care Research and Education symposium “Passages and Promises: Innovations in Palliative Care Research Education and Practice” at the IUPUI Campus Center on Nov. 17.

Linking to other community events of importance is a Spirit & Place goal, said David Bodenhamer, the executive director of The Polis Center and one of those who helped create the festival.

“Spirit & Place’s success ultimately rests upon its ability to connect to the larger civic interests and concerns represented by an ever-growing number of groups in our city who, like Spirit & Place, want to make Indianapolis an even better place tomorrow than it is today,” Bodenhamer said.

Simple, open-ended themes are a deliberate choice, said Pam Blevins Hinkle, the festival director.

“We purposefully choose themes that are timely and resonate broadly in the community,” she said. Such themes help organizations find intriguing partnerships with other groups and explore issues more deeply.

Bodenhamer said he has been pleasantly surprised by some of those partnerships.

“I underestimated both the desire to contribute and the ways in which people wanted to collaborate across sectors,” he said. “People want to experience the whole city, not only their part of it. In this sense, Spirit & Place has touched a longing for connections that make a difference. The festival has encouraged this city’s cultural re-awakening and its belief in itself as a city of worth.”

Simple themes “evoke a wide range of feelings, images, memories and reflections that stoke the imagination and create a sense of anticipation for the November festival,” Hinkle said. The themes often offer an interesting mix of individual and community journeys.

Though other cities have shown an interest in imitating the impact of Spirit & Place, Bodenhamer said none have been able to replicate it.

“Spirit & Place is unique because Indianapolis is unique: we have our own history, our own traditions, our own sense of time and space,” he said.

by Ric Burrous

Learn more about this year’s festival.

 

Call for Nominations: Max Planck Research Award

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Excellent scientists and scholars of all nationalities who are expected to continue producing outstanding academic achievements in international collaboration – not least with the assistance of this award – are eligible to be nominated for the Max Planck Research Award.

On an annually-alternating basis, the call for nominations addresses areas within the natural and engineering sciences, the life sciences, and the social sciences and humanities.

The Max Planck Research Award 2015 will be conferred in the area of humanities and social sciences in the subject

Religion and Modernity: Secularisation and Social and Religious Pluralism
.
The multidisciplinary field “Religion and Modernity: Secularisation and Social and Religious Pluralism” addresses a range of diverse fundamental, partly interconnected research questions with reference to the development and change of religious thought and practice on their way to modernity and up to the present time. Is the conventional equation between modernity and secularisation a valid one? To what extent is the system of values, which shapes modern culture and society, rooted in the Christian tradition of the Middle Ages or in that of the early modern period (individualism, human rights, the intrinsic value of a secular order in contrast to a spiritual one)? Other questions playing a role within this debate address the adaptability of different religious and confessional communities to the challenges of modernity, as well as the relationship between state/secular authority and church(es) or other religious communities in the recent past and particularly in our present time. Concepts which are important in this area are for example laicism (Laïcité) or “civil religion” or privileging large religious communities. Finally the rise of religious pluralism and the individualisation of religious experience are relevant phenomena for this topic.

Every year, the Humboldt Foundation and the Max Planck Society grant two research awards to one researcher working abroad and one researcher working in Germany. These two awards will be bestowed independently.

The Presidents/Vice Chancellors of universities and the heads of research institutions in Germany are eligible to make nominations (c.f. list of eligible nominators). Direct applications are not accepted. As a rule, each award is endowed with 750,000 EUR and may be used over a period of three to a maximum of five years to fund research chosen by the award winner.

Sponsor deadline: 31 Jan 2015, Nominations

Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung Max Planck Research Award

David Craig and The Public Ethics of Healthcare Reform: A Religion and Ethics Roundtable

image001

David Craig, associate professor of Religious Studies at IUPUI

The national debate surrounding the Affordable Care Act is understandably divisive. It is divisive because nothing less is at stake than competing visions of a just society. Yet we can understand the competing visions and their associated public ethics of health care obligation by listening to the moral, economic and religious concerns that people bring to the debate and interpreting the underlying values charitably. Surprisingly, neither the reigning conservative nor liberal vision of health care justice fits how health care has been organized in the United States. This talk illustrates that discrepancy with lessons learned from interviews with leaders of religious hospitals and religious activists lobbying for reform. It calls on scholars to do ethics in public—and with the public—to advance the cultural change required for the Affordable Care Act to succeed.

About the speaker
David Craig is associate professor of Religious Studies at IUPUI and author of Health Care as a Social Good: Religious Values and American Democracy (Georgetown University Press, 2014). He has convened conversations about how religious congregations and partner organizations can support a shift toward a more affordable, community-based health care system. He is also the author of John Ruskin and the Ethics of Consumption (Virginia, 2006), along with articles on virtue ethics, ritual studies, philanthropic studies, and environmental, economic and health care ethics.

When: Friday, September 26, 4:00-5:30 pm
Where: The Poynter Center, 618 E. 3rd St., Bloomington IN
This is a public program open to all. An RSVP is appreciated; however it is not required to attend.

Religion and Ethics Roundtables highlight the work of scholars at IUB, IUPUI and beyond, with the goal of engaging the IU community and the public in dialogue about important issues at the intersection of religion, ethics, and society. For more information, contact CSRES director, Lisa Sideris.