About

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Roy Harris / Pulitzer's Gold

Natalie Berkowitz / Winealicious

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

James Fleming / Atmosphere: Air, Weather, and Climate History Blog

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

Grzegorz W. Kolodko / "Truth, Errors, and Lies"

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

Michael LaSala / Gay and Lesbian Well-Being (Psychology Today)

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

Archive for the 'Religion' Category

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

Mother Teresa’s Miracles

The Miracle Myth

“How should one go about justifying belief in miracles? As the Vatican approaches this question, one must look for evidence that, first, some event has occurred for which there is no scientific explanation; and second, that the event occurred as a result of prayer to the deceased candidate for sainthood. Philosophers have a name for the inference involved in this kind of search. We call it an inference to the best explanation.” — Larry Shapiro

This week, our featured book is The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural Is Unjustified, by Larry Shapiro.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Miracle Myth.

Mother Teresa’s Miracles
By Larry Shapiro

Nothing against Mother Teresa, whose elevation to sainthood seems as deserving as any, but I think a condition for sainthood – the performance of at least two miracles – is about as silly as they come. To understand why, let’s begin with a crucial distinction – a distinction between the existence of a miracle and the justification for believing in a miracle. Some event may have occurred and yet believing so could still be unjustified. Perhaps it rained on this date in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Still, we are not justified in believing that it did. Why not? We lack any evidence for the occurrence. No archaeologist has discovered a scrap of papyrus on which was scrawled “Today, September XX, 16 a.d. in Jerusalem it rained.” Nor is there a record of testimony to the event. There’s simply no reason to think that it did rain in Jerusalem on this day 2000 years ago.

With respect to miracles, this distinction between an event’s occurring and justification for believing that the event has occurred plays out like this. Perhaps Mother Teresa did perform two miraculous healings. However, we may still ask whether anyone is justified in believing so. More specifically, we should wonder whether the investigators whom the Vatican assigned to research the case for Mother Teresa’s canonization were justified in their eventual belief that she had performed the miracles attributed to her. Obviously, if they were not justified, then their conclusions should be disregarded. (more…)

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

Introducing “The Miracle Myth”

The Miracle Myth

“[M]ore people believe in heaven than in hell not because they have reasons to believe in one and not the other but because they want it to be true that there’s a heaven and don’t want it to be true that there’s a hell. In other words, the people who believe in heaven but not hell have abandoned reason and instead hang their belief on nothing more than hope—hope that because the idea of heaven is so nice, it must exist, and hope that because the idea of hell is so horrible, it must not exist.” — Larry Shapiro

This week, our featured book is The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural Is Unjustified, by Larry Shapiro.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Miracle Myth.

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural Is Unjustified

The Miracle Myth

“Shapiro does more than hammer some more nails in the coffin of miracles that David Hume fashioned. He marshals much of what we have learned about inference to the best explanation and Bayes’s theorem in the 270 years since Hume’s inquiry. Yet he does it with Hume’s lightness of touch, a wealth of relevant examples of contemporary credulousness, and no equations. It is a book to enjoy and then pass on to friends given to wishful thinking.” — Alex Rosenberg, author of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions

This week, our featured book is The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural Is Unjustified, by Larry Shapiro. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, June 17th, 2016

A Media Roundup for “The Other Catholics”

The Other Catholics

This week, our featured book is The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion, by Julie Byrne. For our final post of the week, we’ve collected some of the media coverage that The Other Catholics and Julie Byrne have received.

Visit Julie Byrne’s website.

Read “Sunday Dinner with Pope Francis,” by Julie Byrne at the Huffington Post. In her article, Byrne addresses Pope Francis’s views on the role of women in the Catholic church:

I loved the pope’s recent statements on climate change, capitalism, annulments and so much more. I read the pope’s letter granting priests faculties to forgive women who confess to abortions during the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy. It is an extraordinary gesture to absorb among American Catholics, whose bishops made anti-abortion activism the overweening political concern for years, even as Catholic rates of abortion are higher than that of the Protestant population.

But the same letter makes another point starkly clear: the pope extends mercy to women in positions of dire need, while he cannot fathom women in positions of church power.

(more…)

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

Guadalupe Stays Street

The Other Catholics

“Independent Catholics do things like this all the time. They step in when ordinary Catholics of whatever stripe need something and the big churches can’t or won’t provide.”—Julie Byrne

The following post is by Julie Byrne, author of The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion. Originally written just before Christmas, Byrne’s essay explores how independent Catholic clergy fill a niche when Roman Catholic official policies leave people on the sidelines:

It’s the night before Christmas Eve, but I’m a bit of a goddess girl, so the Virgin of Guadalupe remains an all-Christmas, all-year saint for me. I pay attention to her appearances around the city.

This year, as for the past few years, the parish of All Saints gathered with Queens community members for a midnight celebration of Guadalupe’s feast day in the streets of Long Island City.

All Saints and its pastor Father Mike Lopez are independent Catholics, part of the United American Catholic Church. Most of the Long Island City participants were Roman Catholic. So why weren’t they attending their own parish celebration? Good question. A few years ago, the local Roman parish declined to continue the traditional late-night street fiesta. The Guadalupe confraternity called Father Mike. “We have to keep it going,” confraternity members said. She’s the people’s saint.” Father Mike told them that he was independent. It didn’t matter to them. They just wanted a priest.

Independent Catholics do things like this all the time. They step in when ordinary Catholics of whatever stripe need something and the big churches can’t or won’t provide, from a wedding to a baptism to a popular (perhaps worrisomely unregulated) sacred block party. I don’t question the big churches’ reasons. But factually speaking, nature abhors a vacuum, and so does religion. Where there is Catholic lack, independent Catholics often fill it.

Father Mike himself lived this dynamic. I had the chance to hang out with him a few weekends ago in East New York. He grew up locally and always loved both the streets and the church. Eventually a Vincentian brother on track to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest, Mike fell in love and left the seminary to marry and have kids. After some fortuitous encounters, he realized he could be a Catholic priest and be married, since many independent churches allow clerical marriage. Keeping his day job in New York City law enforcement, Father Mike founded All Saints a few years ago.

Like most independent parishes, All Saints rents space for mass — and turns it into an ecumenical opportunity. They need the worship space. Ridgewood Presbyterian in Queens welcomes the vitality. Now the younger Latin@-and-everybody All Saints often joins with the older mostly-white Presbyterians for community events.

All Saints is at 5914 70th Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens, New York City.

Father Mike says everyone is welcome. All Saints can handle all the worrisomely unregulated situations just fine.

Que Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe!

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

The Other Catholics Book Tour

The Other Catholics

This week, our featured book is The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion, by Julie Byrne. Today, we are happy to provide the initial schedule for Julie Byrne’s The Other Catholics Book Tour. Professor Byrne is also available for New York City metro area bookings this summer and other cities in the future.

Saturday, June 18, 4:00 PM
Bensalem, PA
Barnes and Noble in the Neshaminy Mall

Saturday, June 25, 3:30 PM
Santa Fe, NM
Santa Fe Public Library (145 Washington Ave)

Thursday, July 14, 6 PM
Chicago, IL
The Seminary Co-op Bookstore

Sunday, July 17, 10 AM
St. Louis, MO
St. Stanislaus Parish (1413 N 20th Street) (more…)

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

Introducing “The Other Catholics”

The Other Catholics

“With their own histories and polities, independent Catholics decide things like eligibility for ordination as freestanding churches. They decide what Catholicism means in ways both similar to and different from the major communions.

In short, not all Catholics are Roman Catholics.”
– Julie Byrne

This week, our featured book is The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion, by Julie Byrne. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present Byrne’s introduction, in which she explains exactly who “the other Catholics” are, and what makes independent Catholicism different from Roman Catholicism.

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion

The Other Catholics

“This beautifully written study illuminates the range of groups that exist across the whole Catholic spectrum. Linked, despite their diversity, by a shared identification as Catholic and common emphasis on succession, sacrament, and saints, Byrne surfaces the complex, often unnoticed interactions between independent Catholics, Roman Catholics, and numerous religious traditions. This fresh approach opens a provocative window through which to view the meaning and making of Catholicity.” — Ann Taves

This week, our featured book is The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion, by Julie Byrne. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Other Catholics. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, June 17th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, June 10th, 2016

A Media Roundup for “Black Gods of the Asphalt”

Black Gods of the Asphalt

“Black men’s bodies are overdetermined by racism and poverty on the court, but to stop there is to strip ballplayers of agency and to overlook their lived experiences of the games. In a twist of irony that rivals the sleight of hand of a crossover dribble, social scientists have attempted to explain black basketball by setting aside the subjective experiences the players have of it. In their desire to remain objective and to adhere to disciplinary boundaries, scholars have reduced basketball to a set of rules predetermined by external conditions.” — Onaje X. O. Woodbine

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. For our final post of the week, we’ve collected a number of the best articles and interviews on and with Onaje X. O. Woodbine looking at his new book.

First, at Killing the Buddha, read an excerpt on the 2013 Fathers Are Champions Too basketball tournament and other streetball tournaments from Black Gods of the Asphalt:

Black men’s bodies are overdetermined by racism and poverty on the court, but to stop there is to strip ballplayers of agency and to overlook their lived experiences of the games. In a twist of irony that rivals the sleight of hand of a crossover dribble, social scientists have attempted to explain black basketball by setting aside the subjective experiences the players have of it. In their desire to remain objective and to adhere to disciplinary boundaries, scholars have reduced basketball to a set of rules predetermined by external conditions. The powerful socioeconomic forces of poverty, racism, and mascu­line role constrain black male bodies, push­ing them toward limited definitions of self as ballplayers, gang­sters, and hustlers. This “symbolic violence,” as Bourdieu refers to it, is often embodied and internalized by the players. But to stop there is to leave us with only a thin sense for the human and lived dimensions of these games. The experience of the court as a vehicle of self-emancipation is stripped away. The living dimension of this urban religion is lost.

Woodbine was interviewed twice at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station. First, listen to Woodbine discuss how his desire to tell the stories that come up in his book led him to take Black Gods of the Asphalt to the stage.

“It was storytelling,” Woodbine says. “This was inner-city, street-level storytelling. And I thought, ‘Why not actually, consciously, do this on the stage and create a conscious, ritual space in the theater? And so, I wrote a script with my father and my wife to try to tell these stories in a way that can impact audience beyond the streets.”

(more…)

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

The Creation of “Black Gods of the Asphalt”

Black Gods of the Asphalt

“I want the book to elevate the conversation on black masculinity and sports…. I want people to recognize that you can find religion in strange places, that this community has its own innate healers, its own innate capacity to heal, that these young men have agency, and that there is freedom within this community in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find it.” — Onaje X. O. Woodbine

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. Today, we have excerpted part of an interview with Onaje X. O. Woodbine, conducted by Matthew Reed Baker, that originally appeared in Boston Magazine, in which Woodbine discusses his creative process and what he hopes the book will achieve.

At any point did you think that nobody could’ve written this book but you? It seems like the perfect match of author and book.

Howard Thurman, one of my favorite scholars and thinkers, has this phrase that we all have a “working paper.” The best scholarship is autobiographical. I’ve always viewed scholarship as a deeply personal project. In some ways, I do agree with you that only I could have written this particular project, but in other ways, part of the insight I learned from writing the book is that my self is made up of other selves. And so, if you dig deep enough within, you come out on the other side, you recognize the social world. Some of the best scholarship recognizes that society and the person are not mutually exclusive.

I think the experiences that are happening in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan are happening across other cities because the social context is very similar. There may be some changes in style and variation in the way that it is expressed, but they’re dealing with societal challenges and poverty, and these basketball courts are spaces of refuge, especially for young black men who don’t have access to traditional buffers against structural violence. They don’t go to church as much anymore, they don’t have access to quality therapy, and as you can see in the book, the family is largely fragmented.

Black men have always been linked to the physical, so the myth has been that black men are bound in body but not in mind. Sports dramatize that myth in such a powerful way that many black men in inner cities are attracted to it. They may be attracted to it because they’re pushed by race or poverty or social narrative, but when they get on the court, the lived experience of running up and down the court, rubbing your body next to your brother, and expressing your pain…it transcends the reasons why you got there in the first place. It’s deeply personal and deeply social at the same time.

There’s such a weaving of style and form in this book. What was your approach?

I wanted to mirror the culture in my scholarship, but I didn’t want to strip the community of its language. In the history of African American culture, different genres of self-expression have always been complementary. During the Harlem Renaissance, jazz and basketball often were performed on the same stage on the same night. In the hip-hop generation, it was b-boy/b-girl dancing and rap music, while basketball was performed in the same park at the same time, and you’d have the boombox out there. So it was a confluence of different forms of African American self expression.

It was a labor of love, and I wanted it to be in a language that the academy and general public could understand, but also that the community would recognize as authentic. That required an interdisciplinary approach. On one hand I had to use social theory, the theory of masculinity and race to recognize the objectifications of the black male body. On the other hand I needed poetry. I needed religious studies. I needed the first-person account to call into question those things. You need all of those tools. That as the hardest obstacle I faced. It took a few years to really find the tools, understand how to apply them, and there was a lot of grappling in the dark.

When a book mixes ideas and genres well, it’s seamless. How do you do it?

When I read it for the first time in full after all those years of work, you know what was the metaphor I had in my head? A basketball. [Laughs] It really felt round. The book itself, it felt like there were no corners, nothing stuck out. It felt like a cohesive unit. I kept thinking of a ball, a basketball. I kid you not.

You mention in the book that you had to leave your community in order to write about it.

This book was also born out of personal trauma of experiencing the violence of the inner city. I myself embody the pain of living in a racialized and poverty-stricken community, and with growing up, I constantly felt as if my life was in danger. I’d walk out of my house, and there was a gang right on the corner in front of my door. I went through this. I was depressed for a while growing up. I had very low self-esteem. I wondered—because I was in the METCO program—why the students I went to school with out in the suburbs had nice homes and we didn’t. I also wondered about my past. I wondered if I really was just a slave or a descendent of a slave, if there was nothing prior to that.

When we’re born into that kind of world, you internalize it, you take it for granted, and often you turn the pain inward. You blame yourself or the people around you. And you can’t necessarily prove how the larger society, mainstream society, and dominant culture has created a society in which you are meant to feel that way. I needed to leave that environment to heal. I needed to see other people who looked like me, who weren’t angry all the time, or weren’t part of a gang, or weren’t depressed, or weren’t smoking drugs because something had happened in their life. I needed to see that I could be something else.

But at the same time, once I got to Yale and into university culture, I also didn’t fit in there. I realized there was a tremendous loss associated with being out there. On the one hand, I was safe, I wasn’t constantly worried about violence. But on the other hand, I had to leave all the people I cared for behind, and my culture. Living in two worlds and being in that middle space, in some ways, was a privilege. I see myself as a bridge and I’m very thankful. And yet you feel like you’re always an exile, you’re always homeless.

What do you want this book to achieve once it comes out?

I want the book to elevate the conversation on black masculinity and sports. I think that the old messages of trying to solve structural racism are important, but need to be expanded upon. Particularly unconscious bias, and the kind of racism and bias that lives in our bodies. My question is: How do you transform people’s consciousness, that both they and others are human beings? I think that requires getting into your body and recognizing the trauma and the history that lives within us. I want people to recognize that you can find religion in strange places, that this community has its own innate healers, its own innate capacity to heal, that these young men have agency, and that there is freedom within this community in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find it. The standard view in literature on sports and race is that these young men are determined by a desire for social mobility and socioeconomic status, and that’s why they’re on the court. Part of what I want to do is challenge that narrative and say, “No, there are deeper human reasons why they are on the court in predominant numbers.”

Read the interview and accompanying article at the Boston Magazine website.

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

Listen to Onaje X. O. Woodbine on All Things Considered

Black Gods of the Asphalt

“What [often] gets missed is the level of meaning and feeling that is experienced in the game itself. And the feeling of freedom and transcendence can’t be really captured in social scientific language. You need religious studies, you need poetry, you need music to really understand how these young men are creating meaning in this space.” — Onaje X. O. Woodbine

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. Today. we are happy to present a fantastic interview with Onaje X. O. Woodbine on NPR’s All Things Considered on the new book, Woodbine’s history, and why we need religious studies, poetry, and music to understand how young black men create meaning through basketball and other sports.

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Introducing Black Gods of the Asphalt

Black Gods of the Asphalt

“Everyone possessed a unique way of dancing on the blacktop, but there was no mistake that it was a beautifully choreographed dance. And in the flow of the game we could discover a feeling of worth that the larger society would not afford us.” — Onaje X. O. Woodbine

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to share an excerpt from the introduction.

Monday, June 6th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball

Black Gods of the Asphalt

“This narrative is more than academic prose; it is a deeply personal and poetic travel through the author’s own story of racial struggle and the survival tactics of the players he befriends…. In this majestic study of basketball as ritual, religion, and culture, Woodbine plunges into the courts of Boston with an insider’s savvy to catalogue the urban sport’s pulsating (and potentially transcendent) dialogue.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Black Gods of the Asphalt. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, June 10th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Dharma and Drugs

Altered States

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In the final post of the week’s feature, we are happy to share Douglas Osto’s conversation with Erik Davis on the Expanding Mind podcast as they talk perennialism, experiential narratives, the limits of reason, and Altered States.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

A Neuropsychological Model of Altered States of Consciousness

Altered States

“Since the feeling of being transported to “somewhere else” in an altered state appears to be a cross-cultural, psychological universal, possibly related to the physiological hardwiring of the human brain, one could hypothesize the existence of certain naturally occurring chemicals in the brain, like DMT, that can act in similar ways as LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline.” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s post,

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Douglas Osto on the relationship between Buddhism and psychedelics in America

Altered States

“I wrote this book because I was interested in a question, and the question was, ‘what’s happened in the relationship between Buddhism and psychedelics since the 60s?’” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s video, Osto details some of the questions that led him to write, the methods he used in his research, and the structure of the book itself.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Buddhism, Psychedelic Spirituality, and the Religious Landscape of America

Altered States

“These altered states by their very nature exceed the bounds of reason and challenge existing paradigms. We as human beings tend to fear the novel, strange, weird, and extraordinary. Thus it is not surprising that the status quo often is highly suspect of new religious movements, or “cults,” and generally attempts to suppress them, often with extreme prejudice. However, fear is not our only instinct, and hopefully not our strongest.” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s post, excerpted from the book’s preface, Osto explains that he hopes to tell “the story of how Buddhism and psychedelic spirituality coemerged, mutually influenced each other, and forever changed the religious landscape of America.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

“Man’s greatest dread is the expansion of consciousness.”
—Henry Miller, Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud

This book does not promote breaking the law of any land; nor does it demonize, denigrate, or dismiss anyone’s religious/spiritual beliefs or practices. As an American born and bred, I have a strong conviction in the individual’s right to freedom of religion. As far as my political views concerning the use of psychoactive substances, I describe myself as libertarian. I believe every adult individual’s body is her own sovereign domain; thus every rational person has a right to do whatever she wants to her body without the interference of a paternalistic government legislating what is in her best interests. Also, in regard to morality, my Catholic upbringing has convinced me of the supremacy of one’s individual conscience. And legality and morality are clearly different things. For example, many today (myself included) would regard the persecution of someone for his sexual orientation or possession of another human being as someone’s property to be immoral acts. However, in the United Kingdom, for example, homosexuality was punishable as a crime until 1967, and slavery was legal in parts of the Empire until 1843.

It should be clear from the above comments that I am not against the use of psychoactive substances for religious/spiritual purposes, regardless of whether such use is deemed “illegal” by some governments. Since I believe an individual’s freedom to religion, absolute sovereignty of her own body, and individual conscience each trump any current laws of the land, I find arguments against the religious use of psychoactives based on the legal status of these substances unconvincing. Moreover, claims that someone should not practice his religion because it could be “dangerous” to his health are equally unconvincing. First, the real health risks of the classic psychedelics appear minimal when compared to the risks of using legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Second, legislating against a person’s or group’s religion out of concern for their health is paternalistic in the extreme. Early Christianity was both illegal and hazardous to your health if you lived in the Roman Empire. And yet, as Tertullian wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” In other words, without the outlawed and dangerous activities of the early Christians, Christianity would not be a world religion today. (more…)

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America

Altered States

Altered States genuinely moves forward in laying a path for new, insightful, and valuable information on the American Buddhism that is developing in our global society. Osto’s groundbreaking research will be appreciated by scholars, and his accessible style will be enjoyed by non-academic readers.” — Charles Prebish, Utah State University

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Altered States. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 13th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, May 6th, 2016

On “Imagine”

A None's Story

“How quickly one’s isolation can flip into expansive belonging! To suddenly become aware of one’s being present in the room, alongside the presence of others, to contemplate the world anew and then to consider it through alternate perspectives. Worship can help us do this and more; an evening of improv was having a similar effect.” — Corinna Nicolaou

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

On “Imagine”
Excerpted from A None’s Story, by Corinna Nicolaou

Back at home, I realized it was time to come to some conclusion. What was I? My spiritual house had been spiraling around this strange cyclone for several years. Now, presumably, the winds were dying down and it was time for it to land . . . but where? I kept asking myself: what do you believe? As I was cooking dinner or walking the dogs or waking up first thing in the morning: what do you believe? Then I would take another approach. Just pick one, I would tell myself. Perhaps it wasn’t important what I selected. The goal was to settle in one spot, grow roots, develop, and evolve. I just had to commit to something.

Now I was blogging in real time, and I needed to bring the journey to some conclusion. The problem, as I began to see it, was that in selecting one version of one belief system, I was rejecting all the others—or at least that’s how it felt. In my imagination, I would make my choice. I would picture signing some official declaration of faith. Trumpets would sound. I now had license to declare myself a practicing such-and-such. But this scenario always made my stomach turn. My mind would wander to the options I wasn’t picking, and I would feel queasy at those potential paths I had refused. On some fundamental
level, settling down felt wrong. It occurred to me that perhaps my problem was emblematic of the criticisms regularly hurled at today’s younger generations. Our disengagement is a sign of some critical flaw manifesting in humankind. An aversion to hard work leaves us craving quick fixes. We want all the answers in our palm for no more effort than the light touch of an index finger. We don’t have the patience for deep thinking. We’re too blasé and easily bored to struggle—especially with the intangible. I weighed these as possible causes of my indecision, but none seemed an appropriate explanation. In fact it felt like the opposite. I suspected the problem might be too much interest, too much caring.

Nor was my reluctance to pick tied to a newly discovered distaste for religion. On the contrary, I had found pockets of profound insight tucked within each faith. How was I to choose? In becoming a Christian, I could not be a Jew. In Judaism, I was not Muslim. In being Muslim, I gave up Buddhism. I had reached this strange crossroads where not picking among the religions felt like the best way to honor the religions. My not choosing wasn’t coming from a place of denial but, rather, a place of acceptance. And if I chose no affiliation, wasn’t I also—in a funny way—opting for all of them? It made me think of the symbol of the open circle, so important in mystical traditions like Kabbalah. Represented in everyday parlance as a zero, it implies absence—but at
the same time it also suggests receptivity.

In thinking this through, I was reminded of something that had made headlines briefly a couple years earlier. It had been a minor occurrence, no more than a footnote in popular culture, but I had paid attention because it seemed to hint at something bigger. In a live, televised performance from Times Square on New Year’s 2012, pop singer CeeLo Green sang John Lennon’s classic “Imagine.” A great vocalist paired with a fantastic song; lyrics that envision a world healed of conflict and violence. What could go wrong? Nothing—but for one tiny detail. CeeLo changed two words. In his version, “nothing to kill
or die for / and no religion too” became “nothing to kill or die for / and all religion’s true.” Lennon’s utopia got tweaked.

Instantly, the Internet lit up with comments. CeeLo received an avalanche of tweets and messages on his Facebook page. Most were voices of displeasure, saying the singer should be ashamed of himself—or worse. Rolling Stone magazine ran a brief story about it on its website, which produced a chain of almost six hundred remarks.

Among the more thoughtful commenters were those who speculated on what John Lennon meant (“I think ‘no religion too’ means they are fake! All religions are fake.”) or what CeeLo’s change implied (“I don’t get it. ‘All religion’s true’ seems to be an oxymoron!”). A few voices defended CeeLo. One wrote, “If I’m not mistaken, isn’t the meaning of the song to imagine a world without the ideas that separate us . . . If all religion were true wouldn’t that mean that all religion exists in harmony where people aren’t killing others because of differing beliefs?”

The Rolling Stone article characterized those whom CeeLo had outraged as “John Lennon Fans.” But was all the fuss really motivated by love for the lost Beatle? I suspected the truth was a bit more complicated. I thought they were more likely people whose distaste for religion had made the song—and in particular that line within it—something of an anthem. Lennon himself had a much softer take on religion. Among his many famous quotes is this: “People always got the image I was an anti-Christ or anti-religion. I’m not. I’m a most religious fellow. I was brought up a Christian and I only now understand some of the things that Christ was saying in those parables.” He also said, “I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”

Almost immediately after the controversy, CeeLo tweeted a mea culpa. Not long after that, he deleted it. In his next public mention of the kerfuffle, he sounded much less sorry. He said he stood by the altered lyric. I thought it was brave what he had done, and I now felt I understood it even better.

The whole point of each belief system I had explored, the motivation of its original thinkers, was to heal—ourselves and the societies in which we live; to help us see that we are a part of something, whole and connected. Yet too often they become another means of discord. Our belief systems keep us feeling special or superior, which are just different ways of feeling isolated. But it’s not religion that’s torn us apart, because even lack of belief does the trick if clung to with white knuckles. To eliminate the certainty—to take the conviction out of religion—changes everything.

I think more and more people are sensing this, which is why the ranks of the Nones continue to grow. What many of us are saying with our lack of affiliation is that we don’t want to take sides. Our stance overlaps with that of agnostics, who also maintain neutrality, though for slightly different reasons. Technically, an agnostic would pick a side if evidence proved which was right. Most Nones aren’t interested in who’s right. As far as we’re concerned, there is no right, only different paths to the final destination. One group claiming the truth at the expense of another is just the sort of thing we’re sick of because we see the destruction it’s done; used again and again to justify not taking care of one another or, worse, destroying each other. Perhaps Nones are trying something new: not picking sides is the side we’re picking. It might even be the most deeply religious decision we will ever make, our way of taking a stand for a more peaceful and loving world. If John Lennon were alive, I like to think he’d be right there with us.

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Corinna Nicolaou on Jihad

A None's Story

“While digging around for information on the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial, I happened on an article about the multifaith chapel that had been constructed when the building was repaired. Apparently the Pentagon had accommodated a variety of religious services for many years, but never before had a space been specially designated for the purpose. Now the location had been chosen by the nose of an airplane.” — Corinna Nicolaou

This week, our featured book is A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam, by Corinna Nicolaou. In today’s post, Nicolaou ventures into the Pentagon’s post-9/11 multifaith chapel and examines the disconnect between common perceptions of Islam and her experiences learning about it.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!