GOD LOVES UGANDA explores the role of the American evangelical movement in Uganda, where American missionaries have been credited with both creating schools and hospitals and promoting dangerous religious bigotry.
The film follows evangelical leaders in America and Uganda along with politicians and missionaries as they attempt the task of eliminating “sexual sin” and converting Ugandans to fundamentalist Christianity.
As an American-influenced bill to make homosexuality punishable by death wins widespread support, tension in Uganda mounts and an atmosphere of murderous hatred takes hold. The film reveals the conflicting motives of faith and greed, ecstasy and egotism, among Ugandan ministers, American evangelical leaders and the foot soldiers of a theology that sees Uganda as ground zero in a battle for billions of souls.
I just received an invitation to attend the Quebec premier screening of the shocking documentary God Loves Uganda to be aired at the D. B. Clarke Theater of Concordia University on Feb. 25th at 7:00pm. Here is another prime example of how Christian fundamentalism can also engender devastation. Below is the synopsis and official trailer:
McGill University's Faculty of Religious Studies, Department of Psychology and Centre for Research on Religion will be hosting an exciting conference entitled: Evolution, Cognition, and History with Professor Emeritus Luther H. Martin (Department of Religion, University of Vermont). Dr. Martin has done extensive work on Cognitive Science of Religion, and among his numerous publications, he recently co-edited, Past Minds: Studies in Cognitive Historiography. The event is also sponsored by the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC). For more on Prof. Martin's work, you can watch the following interview conducted by LEVYNA, the Laboratory for the Experimental Research on Religion:
Here is also the poster of the event:
I just received the program for this year's meeting of the Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism Network (NGN) that will be held at l'Université Laval on February 28-March 2, 2014. This year, the group will be reading in Coptic the Discourse on the Eight and the Night (NHC VI,6). Here is the schedule:
During Thursday's conference with Dr. Piovanelli, the Chair of the Department of Religion, Dr. Lorenzo DiTommaso gave a list of upcoming events to be held and/or organized by Concordia's Department of Religion. Some students asked if I could send them the information, so I thought I would also share with you this list of upcoming conferences, seminars, and presentations that could surely be of interest to some of you:
12 February: CLARG Luncheon with Graduate Presentations by Joseph Brito and Antoine Paris.
6 March: 19th Annual Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference (contact: Tina Montandon at the Dept. of Religion).
12 March: CLARG Luncheon with Graduate Presentations by Derek Bateman and Sandra Hlavenka.
14 March: Public Lecture by Touraj Daryaee, University of California, Irvine "The Sasanian Empire as a Garden: Rivers and Walls of Iranshahr" (Iranian Studies, Prof. Richard Foltz).
5 May: GRECAT / CLARG 5th Annual Workshop at Concordia (Profs André Gagné, Louis Painchaud and Carly Daniel-Hughes).
8-11 May: SSHRC conference, "Coming Back to Life," Montreal (Prof. Carly Daniel-Hughes).
13 May: ACFAS (at Concordia): Colloque sur « Nouveaux regards sur le phénomène de l'antisémitisme dans l'histoire du Québec » (organized through the Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies by Ira Robinson).
20-23 May: SSHRC conference, 5th biennial Enoch Graduate Seminar, Montreal (Prof. Lorenzo DiTommaso).
6-10 August: 10th biennial International Society for Iranian Studies conference, Montreal (Iranian Studies, Prof. Richard Foltz).
Last Thursday and Friday (Feb. 6-7th), we had the pleasure of hosting a conference with Prof. Pierluigi Piovanelli (University of Ottawa). Dr. Piovanelli's Thursday evening lecture was entitled: Back to Renan, Schweitzer, and Bultmann, or Putting Historical Jesus Research Back into Historical Context. The event attracted 110 people and was sponsored by the Department of Religion, the Religions and Cultures of Late Antiquity field area (RCLA), and the Christianity and Late Antiquity Research Group (CLARG). The following day, Prof. Piovanelli was a guest at the Nag Hammadi Seminar, in conjunction with the RCLA Seminar Series. He presented his research on new Ethiopic fragments. I wish to thank everyone who attended these events. Thank you to Mary Harvan for the pics from the conference and seminar.
Since the beginning of the year, we started reading tractates from Codex II. As part of this endeavor, yesterday, we had the honor of having Prof. Louis Painchaud at the Nag Hammadi Seminar. He led a fascinating discussion entitled: "The Contrasted Meaning between the Hypostasis of the Archons (NHC II,4) and the Writing Without a Title on the Origin of the World (NHC II,5)". Here are a few thoughts from his handout:
“While it is widely acknowledged that the doctrines exposed in the Hypostasis of the Archons (HA) and of the Writing without Title on the Origin of the World (OOW) are similar (Rasimus 2009), and that they might have made use of common sources (Barc 1978; Bullard 1989; Bethege 1989) or are literarily dependant on each other (Tardieu 1975), their similarities or differences when it comes to their “message” has never been discussed in any significant way. Thus, the object of our discussion will be to examine the similarities and differences of the messages of HA and OOW. The focus will be on the writings as “communication objects” and our approach will be “rhetorical criticism or analysis”. Our aim will be to determine how both texts try to persuade their intended audiences to adopt a certain doctrine, attitude or behavior. In this perspective, we need to address all the aspects of the writings, all the literary devices used to expose the subject, demonstrate its existence, its importance or utility, or whatever is to be demonstrated to establish the character or authority of the implicit author (or speaker), i.e. the image the author tends to give of him- or herself in the discourse, and to create certain emotions in the intended readers. Rhetorical criticism is an art which implies a certain amount of subjectivity, it makes use of tools which are provided in rhetorical handbooks, Greco-Roman (Aristotle, Hermogenes, Cicero, Quintilian) or modern (Olbrechts-Tyteca Perelman 1988).”
For those interested, Prof. Painchaud produced an important edition of the OOW which was published in the Bibliothèque copte de Nag Hammadi: L'Écrit sans titre : Traité sur l'origine du monde (NH II,5 et XIII,2 et Brit. Lib. Or. 4926). Avec deux contributions de W.-P. Funk. Vol. 21, Bibliothèque copte de Nag Hammadi, section «Textes». Québec/Louvain: Presses de l'Université Laval/Éditions Peeters, 1995. Thank you to Mary Harvan for taking pictures of the event.
I spent most of my holidays working on an upcoming book on the Gospel of Thomas and reading. I still did see family and friends! But what I like to do most during the holidays season is to buy a couple of new books (some are dated; it's just that I've been wanting to read them for a while). I got a couple of excellent reads which should keep me busy for a couple of weeks.... then I will need to replenish once more!
The first on the list is Sam Harris' book entitled Free Will. Harris tackles an important question which has been debated for ages: Are human beings free agents? We certainly have the impression of being in control of our actions, thoughts and decisions, but from a cognitive perspective this is not the case. Harris argues that "free will is an illusion" (p.5), and that "we are conscious of only a tiny fraction of the information that our brains process in each moment" (p.7). Harris reports a fascinating lab experiment using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). People were asked to push one of two buttons while they watched a random sequence of letters on a screen. Subjects indicated the letter they saw when they decided to press either button. Scientists reported a surprising outcome: "experimenters found two brain regions that contained information about which button subjects would press a full 7 to 10 seconds before the decision was consciously made" (p. 8). As Harris says, such findings are difficult to reconcile with the idea of free will and the feeling of being conscious of our actions. If free will is an illusion, how does it affect decisions and actions in the realm of religion, politics and moral responsibility? Can people really claim to be the architects of their own achievements and successes? This is a short book that I highly recommend.
Three important books in the field of Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) are also on my reading list; two by Ilkka Pyysiäinen entitled: How Religion Works. Towards a New Cognitive Science of Religion and Supernatural Agents. Why We Believe in Souls, Gods, and Buddhas; one by Pascal Boyer called Religion Explained. The Human Instincts that Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors. Boyer explains how religion emerged as a by-product of preexisting cognitive capacities, and Pyysiäinen shows how religious ideas are counter-intuitive and come from an evolved mind capable of crossing boundaries that separate ontological domains such as people, living things, and solid objects.
An interest in CSR requires one to revisit evolutionary theory as well. With this in mind, I purchased Daniel Dennett's classic work Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, and Jerry A. Coyne's riveting read, Why Evolution is True - by the way, he also has an interesting blog! In his book, Dennett sets out to show how Darwin's "idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life meaning and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law" (p. 21). Coyne does a great job at laying out the evidence for evolution. He also objects to people who say that evolution is "only a theory". He explains: "In science, a theory is much more than just a speculation about how things are: it is a well-thought-out group of propositions meant to explain facts about the real world. ... For a theory to be considered scientific, it must be testable and make verifiable predictions. That is, we must be able to make observations about the real world that either support it or disproves it. ... Because a theory is accepted as 'true' only when its assertions and predictions are tested over and over again, and confirmed repeatedly, there is no one moment when a scientific theory suddenly becomes a scientific fact. A theory becomes a fact (or a 'truth') when so much evidence has accumulated in its favor - and there is no decisive evidence against it - that virtually all reasonable people will accept it. This does not mean that a 'true' theory will never be falsified. All scientific truth is provisional, subject to modification in light of new evidence. ... scientist, unlike zealots, can't afford to become arrogant about what they accept as true" (p.15-16). This is something to remember!
The last book on my list piqued my curiosity. Peter Boghossian's A Manual for Creating Atheists is really making waves! In a nutshell, Boghossian's goal is to reason people out of faith by using the Socratic method. But what is faith exactly? He provides two definitions: (1) Belief without evidence; (2) Pretending to know things you don't. According to Boghossian, faith is an unreliable epistemology. If someone says to know something either without evidence or when a claim is contrary to evidence, this is when the word "faith" is used (p.24). He also dedicates an entire chapter to interventions and strategies, giving tips on what to discuss and what to avoid, as well as examples of conversations with people of faith. Boghossian values critical thinking and would like people of faith do the same. During a critique of Boghossian's book on radio, the creator of the "Veggie Tales" series said that Christians fear teaching critical skills because "our children will actually use them". It seems that believers are getting worried that Boghossian will indeed succeed in creating what he calls an army of "Street Epistemologists", capable and equipped for creating atheists.
A lot of great things will be going on at the Nag Hammadi Seminar this coming semester! During our Friday meetings, we will be reading and discussing tractates 4-7 from Codex II. At the beginning of February, we will be hosting our 4th Annual Public Conference with guest speaker Prof. Pierluigi Piovanelli from the University of Ottawa. Prof. Piovanelli is a world-renowned scholar of Early Jewish and Christian texts. On Thursday evening, February 6th, the conference will be: Back to Renan, Schweitzer, and Bultmann, or Putting Historical Jesus Research into Historical Perspective. On Friday afternoon, Prof. Piovanelli will be leading a RCLA / CLARG seminar on newly discovered Ethiopic manuscripts.
From February 29 - March 2, members of the Nag Hammadi Seminar will be heading to Quebec City, in order to participate in the workshop of the Nordic Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism Network. This year, graduate students and scholars from around the globe will meet for three days to read The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth (NHC VI, 6) in Coptic.
Just before the start of summer, we will be host the GRECAT / CLARG Annual Workshop at Concordia on Monday, May 5th. This year we will be celebrating the 5th anniversary of this joint venture between Concordia University and l'Université Laval. As usual, students and faculty will be presenting their ongoing research in the field of Early Christianity (New Testament, Fathers of the Church, Nag Hammadi, etc.).
For more information, you can consult our schedule on the Nag Hammadi Seminar page.
We recently hosted two interesting events at Concordia. The first was our second CLARG Luncheon this fall. We had two amazing research presentations by Meaghan Matheson (Epiphanius of Salamis, Prophecy, and Gender) and Spiros Loumakis (Excessive Behavior and its Remedy: Intertextuality in Vergil and Livy). We will be hosting two other luncheons in during the winter semester. The other event was the second meeting of our new Cognitive Science of Religion Seminar (CSRS). We are currently reading and discussing Imants Barušs' book: Alterations of Consciousness. An Empirical Analysis for Social Scientists.
There are a lot of great things going on at Concordia! This is only possible because faculty and students show commitment by getting involved in our many diverse and exciting projects. A big thank you to everyone who make all of this happen! The following pictures were taken by Mary Harvan.
Last Friday, the Religions and Cultures of Late Antiquity Lecture Series (RCLA-LS) and the Christianity and Late Antiquity Research Group (CLARG) organized a conference with Prof. Dr. Simon Claude Mimouni (École pratique des hautes études, Paris) in the Department of Religion. Prof. Mimouni is a world-renowned scholar of Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity, and has written extensively in this area of research. Some of his latest books are: Le judaïsme ancien du VIe siècle avant notre ère au IIIe siècle de notre ère: des prêtres aux rabbins; Early Judaeo-Christianity. Historical Essays; La circoncision dans le monde judéen aux époques grecque et romaine: Histoire d'un conflit interne au judaïsme. His talk was entitled: Judaïsme synagogal en Palestine entre le IIe et le IVe siècle (read abstract here). I wish to thank Mary Harvan for taking pictures of the event.