Religion

A. S. Eddington and the intersection of science and religion

December 4, 2007
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A. S. Eddington and the intersection of science and religion

The perceived conflicts between science and religion have dominated the media lately with controversies surrounding everything from intelligent design to stem cell research making headlines almost daily. But nowhere was this apparent contradiction more fully resolved than in the figure of A. S. Eddington (1882—1944), a pioneer in astrophysics, relativity, and the popularization of science, and a devout Quaker. Matthew Stanley’s new book Practical Mystic: Religion, Science, and A. S. Eddington provides an in-depth study of how Eddington successfully incorporated both religious and scientific values into his life and work. In a recent edition of Nature magazine reviewer Owen Gingrich explains: To analyse the relationship between science and society (including religion), Stanley examines the bridging function of what he calls “valence values”. Like the bonding ring of electrons, these values facilitate the interaction between science and culture. Through the lens of these values, Stanley uses Eddington as a test case for exploring the interaction of science and religion in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century. Unlike the natural theologians of the previous century, Eddington did not seek a harmonization between science and religion. He saw both as processes of seeking. As he reminded his audience at the . . .

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Press Release: Narayan, My Family and Other Saints

November 15, 2007
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Press Release: Narayan, My Family and Other Saints

It’s the late 1960s. You’re nine years old, living in Bombay, and your family is a bit … complicated. Your mother was born in America, but she has fully adopted Indian dress, customs, and attitudes. Your Indian father, meanwhile, is cynical, worldly, and deeply suspicious of anything that smacks of mysticism or religion—which includes much of Indian culture. Then, out of the blue, your sixteen-year-old brother announces that he’s leaving home to go live with a guru and become holy. How on earth are you supposed to go about the business of growing up in such a complicated family? With My Family and Other Saints, Kirin Narayan shows us how. Her funny, touching memoir tells the story of her brother’s quest and its effects, revealing a family full of love, yet always on the verge of disintegration. As their house becomes a waystation for the army of hippies, gurus, and charlatans flooding India, Narayan also brings late-60s Bombay to life, taking us back to a time and place when nearly everyone, it seemed, was embarked on some sort of spiritual quest and Western seekers were obsessed with all things Indian, from yoga to transcendental meditation. Deeply moving, yet frequently hilarious, . . .

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Press Release: Akerman and Karrow, Maps

November 14, 2007
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Press Release: Akerman and Karrow, Maps

Maps are universal forms of communication, easily understood and appreciated regardless of culture or language. This truly magisterial book introduces readers to the widest range of maps ever considered in one volume. A companion to the most ambitious exhibition on the history of maps ever mounted in North America, Maps will challenge readers to stretch conventional thought about what constitutes a map and how many different ways we can understand graphically the environment in which we live. Collectors, historians, mapmakers and users, and anyone who has ever “gotten lost” in the lines and symbols of a map will find much to love and learn from in this book. Read the press release. Also see a special website for the book. . . .

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My Family and Other Saints, a bicultural memoir

November 7, 2007
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My Family and Other Saints, a bicultural memoir

Kirin Narayan’s new book My Family and Other Saints is the author’s captivating memoir of growing up in a culturally diverse household in India. With an American mother eagerly attempting to adopt an Indian lifestyle and an Indian father who is skeptical of it, Narayan’s memoir focuses on her family’s attempt to find peace of mind even while torn between the often conflicting ideologies of east and west. Narayan’s story revolves around her brother’s decision to quit school and leave home to seek enlightenment with a guru. As a recent review in Shelf Awareness notes, Narayan “sees this event (which bemused rather than alarmed her family) as setting the entire family in a slow-forward motion along their own spiritual journeys.” The review continues: She describes the next few years with fine impressionistic prose, weaving together her parent’s disintegrating marriage, her father’s descent into alcoholism and her brother’s departure for the U.S. with visits to ashrams, friendhips with gurus and tales from her paternal grandmother, Ba, who was regularly visited by Hindu dieties.… Some of their stories end sadly or without resolution (“Who knows why I became a drunkard?” her father asks at the end of his life), but Narayan, a . . .

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And the controversy continues…

September 10, 2007
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And the controversy continues…

The New York Times reported today about the controversy surrounding the work of Barnard professor of anthropology Nadia Abu El-Haj, whose 2001 Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society has sparked disputes in and out of academe since its publication. El-Haj’s work is an analysis of archaeological practice in Israel, attempting to explain the complicated interplay of politics and science in the Middle East and the ongoing role that archeology plays in defining the past, present, and future of Palestine and Israel. El-Haj is currently up for tenure at Barnard, but due to the controversial nature of her work, she has some powerful opponents who claim that her own findings have been influenced by political interests. From the New York Times: It is Dr. Abu El-Haj’s book, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, that has made her a lightning rod, setting off warring petitions opposing and supporting her candidacy, and producing charges of shoddy scholarship and countercharges of an ideological witch hunt.… The Middle East Studies Association, an organization of scholars who focus on the region, chose her book in 2002 as one of the year’s two best books . . .

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Review: Kripal, Esalen

July 2, 2007
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Review: Kripal, Esalen

The current issue of the Atlantic Monthly is running a great review of Jeffrey Kripal’s new book Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. The review begins by describing Esalen as “equally a phenomenon and an institute” responsible for fostering many of the revolutionary ideas of the 1960s counterculture and playing host to its most notable figures—people like Kerouac, Leary, and Ginsberg, just to name a few. The review goes on to praise Kripal’s new book for managing a rather lucid investigation of this counter-cultural hothouse, despite his psychedelic subject matter: Kripal, a religious-studies professor at Rice University, examines Esalen’s extraordinary history and evocatively describes the breech birth of Murphy and Price’s brain child. His real achievement though is effortlessly synthesizing a dizzying array of dissonant phenomena (Cold War espionage, ecstatic religiosity) incongruous pairings (Darwinism, Tantric Sex), and otherwise schizy ephemera (psychedelic drugs, spaceflight) into a cogent, satisfyingly complete narrative. The he reconciles all this while barely batting an eye is remarkable; that he does so while writing with such élan is nothing short of wondrous. Read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Jeffrey Kripal interviewed in San Francisco Chronicle

May 23, 2007
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Jeffrey Kripal interviewed in San Francisco Chronicle

Monday’s San Francisco Chronicle featured an interview with author Jeffrey Kripal on the topic of his new book Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion. In his interview with the Chronicle‘s David Ian Miller, Kripal discusses “Esalen’s contributions to the evolution of religion, the state of spirituality today, and the importance of maintaining many paths to enlightenment.” Situated on the edge of the pacific coastline, the Esalen institute has long been a world leader in alternative and experiential education, as well as an influential player in the creation of the American counterculture. Popularized by such luminary figures as Aldus Huxley, Ram Das, and Ansel Adams—all of whom either lived at or visited the institute—Esalen has had a long and fascinating intellectual and spiritual legacy that continues to influence American culture to this day. To learn more about Esalen and its legacy check out Kripal’s interview on the SFGate website. We also have an excerpt from the book. Kripal was also featured Tuesday, May 22, on KQED radio’s Forum with Michael Krasney. Get the audio here. . . .

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Press Release: Brague, The Law of God

May 16, 2007
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Press Release: Brague, The Law of God

In The Law of God: The Philosophical History of an Idea Brague takes his readers back three thousand years to trace the idea of divine law in the West from prehistoric religions to modern times. Brague explains how divine law, which served in ancient Greece as a metaphor for natural law, was seen in ancient Israel as divine revelation. Then, in the Middle Ages, it took on different sacred meanings within Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Illuminating these meanings with a wide array of philosophical, political, and religious sources, he goes on to address the recent break in the alliance between law and divinity—when modern societies, far from connecting the two, started to think of law simply as the rule human community gives itself. Powerfully expanding on the project he began with his critically acclaimed The Wisdom of the World, Brague explores what this disconnect means for the contemporary world, ultimately inviting us to re-imagine the implications of our own modernity. Read the press release. . . .

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Jeffrey Kripal on the BBC’s Thinking Allowed

May 15, 2007
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Jeffrey Kripal on the BBC’s Thinking Allowed

Jeffrey Kripal, author of Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion was featured last Wednesday on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed. Kripal was joined by Eileen Barker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology with Special Reference to the Study of Religion at the London School of Economics to discuss “the history of Esalen, its philosophy, and the effects it has had on the new age.” The Esalen institute was one of the leader’s in alternative and experiential education during the sixties and seventies. The revolutionary ideas, transformative spiritual practices, and innovative art forms it fostered attracted such luminary figures as Henry Miller, Joseph Campbell, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson, and others to it’s stunning locale on the face of the Pacific coastline. In Esalen, Kripal recounts the spectacular history of the institute and its profound influence on the American counterculture—an influence that continues to shape modern American society to this day. Read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Review: Brague, The Law of God

May 10, 2007
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Review: Brague, The Law of God

Yesterday’s New York Sun features a review of Rémi Brague’s new book The Law of God: The Philosophical History of an Idea. Comparing Brague’s newest work with his fascinating cultural history of cosmology, The Wisdom of the World, reviewer Adam Kirsch writes: In The Law of God, Mr. Brague undertakes another journey through the buried continent of the ancient and medieval mind. But his topic this time—the idea of divine law, as it was understood from the ancient Greeks through the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish middle ages—does not seem nearly so remote. Humanity has long conceded that the structure of the inanimate world is the province of science. But most of us continue to believe that the moral law has other, deeper sources. … That is why The Law of God strikes the reader with more intimate force than The Wisdom of the World. Mr. Brague’s earlier book was archaeology, the digging up of something dead and buried; his new one is genealogy, tracing the descent of ideas that are still living. … Brague’s sense of intellectual adventure is what makes his work genuinely exciting to read. The Law of God offers a challenge that anyone concerned with today’s religious . . .

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