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

image001

David Craig, associate professor of Religious Studies at IUPUI

A Religion and Ethics Roundtable

Friday, September 26, 4:00-5:30 pm

The Poynter Center, 618 E. 3rd St., Bloomington IN

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.

This is a public program open to all. An RSVP to agitlitz@indiana.edu 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: lsideris@indiana.edu.

Rev. Harold Good to speak on peace in Northern Ireland and Indianapolis roots

untitled

The Rev. Harold Good

INDIANAPOLIS — The Rev. Harold Good, an internationally renowned peacemaker, will be at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis on Sept. 10 to speak about Indianapolis and the road to peace in Northern Ireland.

As former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Good played a key role in Northern Ireland’s peacemaking process.

The lecture, at 1 p.m. in the Lilly Auditorium of University Library, is free and open to the public.

“Rev. Good is in a unique position to speak about issues of peace, justice and reconciliation,” said Robert White, chair of the Department of Sociology in the IU School of Liberal Arts. “Along with the late Father Alec Reid, Rev. Good was one of two members of the clergy trusted enough by paramilitaries that he was asked to witness the final decommissioning of weapons of the Provisional Irish Republican Army in 2005.”

A native of Ireland, Good spent several years in Indianapolis as a student and pastor before returning to Ireland in the 1970s.

Good has demonstrated a lifetime commitment to peace, justice and reconciliation. During his time as Methodist Church leader, Good joined Northern Ireland’s other main church leaders to press for peace and engage in talks with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair. Known for his ministry on the streets of Northern Ireland, Good displayed both physical and spiritual courage in working to reconcile the Protestant and Catholic communities, and urging the end to violent action and reaction.

The lecture is sponsored by the IUPUI Common Theme on Civil Discourse, the Office of International Affairs, the Sociology Department of the IU School of Liberal Arts, IUPUI Honors College, and the Methodist Church of Indiana and Christian Theological Seminary.

Study: “The Bible in American Life”

UntitledThe year 2011 marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. It also marked the beginning of a three-year Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI ) study of the Bible’s place in the everyday lives of Americans.

With a $507,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture – a program of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI – set out to answer questions of how, where, when and why ordinary Americans use the Bible.

According to findings made public online in the 44-page “The Bible in American Life” report, the four-centuries-old King James Version of the Bible is far from dead. Despite its archaic language and a market flooded with newer, more modern English translations, more than half of the individuals and two-fifths of the congregations surveyed still prefer the King James Bible.

And of those surveyed, African Americans reported the highest levels of Bible engagement.

Seventy percent of all blacks said they read the Bible outside of public worship services, compared to 44 percent for whites, 46 percent for Hispanics and 28 percent for all other races.

Bible memorization is highest among black respondents, 69 percent, compared to 51 percent among white conservative Protestants and 31 percent among white moderate/liberal Protestants.

“There are no measures, individually or in congregations, where ‘black’ is not strongly correlated with the most conservative, most active, most involved level of scriptural engagement, no matter which other group comes closest,” the report says.

“If one wanted to predict whether someone had read the Bible, believed it to be the literal or inspired Word of God, and used it to learn about many practical aspects of life, knowing whether or not that person was black is the single best piece of information one could have.”

The report first looks at the practice of scripture reading in the United States, and then explores eight measures among those who read the Bible, such as Bible translation used; scripture memorization habits; favorite passages; and race.

Roughly half of Americans have read religious scripture outside of a public worship service in the past year. For 95 percent of those, the Bible is the scripture they read.

What did the study reveal about Bible readers?

Most of those people read at least monthly, and a substantial number – 9 percent of all Americans – read every day.

Women were more likely to read than men; older people were more likely to read than younger; Southerners were more likely to read than those of any other region.

The percentage of verse memorizers among Bible readers (48 percent) equates to roughly a fourth of the American population as a whole, or nearly 80 million people.

Psalm 23 – which begins “The Lord is my shepherd” – was the most popular Biblical passage.

Younger people, those with higher salaries and, most dramatically, those with more education among the respondents read the Bible on the internet or an e-device at higher rates.

The written report, based on survey questions on both the General Social Survey (1,551 individuals) and the National Congregations Study III (denominations represented among the General Social Survey respondents), is the first stage of the study and offers sociological data about the role of the Bible.

“Historians and sociologists have been working for years to understand how religion is lived out on a daily level,” said Philip Goff, executive director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture and one of the three principal investigators who led the study. “This gives us a good snapshot of the practice of Bible reading. That should also help ministers understand the people in their pews.”

Goff’s co-investigators are Arthur Farnsley, associate director of the center; and Peter Thuesen, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at IUPUI.

full article found here

Notre Dame historian and professor to discuss ‘The Bible Then and Now’ in public talk

Dr. Mark Noll

Dr. Mark Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame

INDIANAPOLIS — Noted historian and National Endowment for the Humanities medal recipient Mark Noll will deliver a public talk Thursday, Aug. 7, as part of the IUPUI Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture’s The Bible and American Life Conference.

Noll will present “The Bible Then and Now” at 7:30 p.m. at Christ Church Cathedral, 125 Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. Registration is not required for this keynote talk, which is open to the entire Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus as well as the general public.

Noll is the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. His numerous books include “The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith” (InterVarsity Press, 2009); “God and Race in American Politics: A Short History” (Princeton University Press, 2008); and “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis” (University of North Carolina Press, 2006). He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; in 2006 he received the National Endowment for the Humanities medal at a White House ceremony.

The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture is part of the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. The Bible and American Life Conference, taking place Wednesday through Friday at Sheraton Indianapolis City Centre, is the second stage of a project that seeks to provide the first large-scale investigation of the Bible in American life.

Earlier this year, the center released the first part of the project: a report based on a national survey of American Bible reading. Among its many findings, the study discovered:

•    There is a 50/50 split among Americans who read any form of scripture in the past year and those who did not.

•    Among those who read any form of scripture in the past year, 95 percent named the Bible as the scripture they read.

•    Despite the proliferation of Bible translations, the King James Version is the top choice — and by a wide margin — of Bible readers.

•    The strongest correlation with Bible reading is race, with African Americans reading the Bible at considerably higher rates than others.

•    Bible readers consult scripture for personal prayer and devotion three times more to learn about culture war issues such as abortion, homosexuality, war or poverty.
A conference schedule and registration information are available online.

Davis continues ‘telling stories’ in new novel with a twist to an old theme

unnamed

Stock Photo

INDIANAPOLIS — Thomas J. Davis’ third and latest novel brings something new to the age-old tale of a man selling his soul to the devil.

In The Devil Likes to Sing (Cascade Books), Davis, professor of religious studies and associate dean for academic programs in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, tells the story of Timothy McFarland, a failed theology student who begins writing fiction. Feeling he’s a hack, McFarland strikes a deal with Lucifer, who offers to shape him into a success.

“The book is a look at self-identity,” Davis said. “How we think of ourselves, who we are, whether or not we accept ourselves. Within all of us we have these self-doubts, thinking there is a way to change who we are that will make us more acceptable to others.”

Struggling with self-identity and self-doubt often opens protagonists up to searching for change.

“That’s where the notion of temptation comes in—at what price is one willing to make changes . . .” Davis said. “Once you hit the notion of temptation—especially for me, because I’ve spent my scholarly life studying the history of Christianity—the devil becomes an interesting tool by which to explore temptation because the devil as an image has the benefit of representing both an external force as well as something deeper, an internal struggle.”

Bringing something new to the age-old concept of the deal with the devil story was the author’s challenge. How could his devil differ from interpretations such as Milton’s Paradise Lost, the German myth of Faust, contemporary portrayals such as Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, and even Saturday Night Live?

Davis’ solution is a devil who can be funny, witty and enjoy sublime Anglican church music as well as American rock and roll.

“The character needed balance—a balance of lightheartedness and darkness, gravitas and humor, familiarity and distance, friendship and contempt,” Davis said. “That was the hardest thing to maintain while writing the devil. He had to appear almost friendly, almost helpful, almost fun while currents of evil still ran beneath him. That had to leak out around the edges, but not too much.”

The Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor wanted to be a storyteller long before his first foray into fiction, but he focused instead on his education and academic career. The professor’s jump into novel writing was eventually triggered by boyhood memories of stories told by his father.

“My father was grieving about the disappearance of a way of life in the north Georgia mountains that he had known as a boy,” Davis says. “He would tell stories about when he was a kid, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to capture my father’s sense of wonder in a novel and write about north Georgia through his perspective.’”

That exercise grew into his first novel, The Christmas Quilt (Rutledge Hill Press), a story about a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother’s final months of life. The book earned a Reader’s Choice award and was a selection in the Doubleday Book Club. “That book came from my need to pay homage to my ancestry,” Davis said.

Storytelling also plays a role in his classroom. “Much of what I teach is the history of Christianity, and it tends to be very narrative driven—I tell a lot of stories in class,” Davis said. “I’ve noticed that students tend to be drawn in with a good story.”

In Davis’ new novel, the devil also takes the storytelling approach, only he twists religious history to suit his needs. Davis warns that the epigraphs that open the book—selections from Milton, Blake, and the New Testament on the nature of the devil—are important for the reader. The book also ends with a warning that readers shouldn’t take the devil’s word on matters of Christian faith and practices at face value.

“He is, after all, somewhat biased,” Davis said.